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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Friday, January 31
 
Zonitics points the way

I had a pleasant surprise this afternoon: Edward Boyd of Zonitics wrote me in regard to the red state/blue state post immediately below. Trying to end the two-U.S.-senator-per-state allocation would be especially difficult to achieve, he noted, because the Constitution’s Article V (explaining the amendment process) gives each state veto power in regard to changing its own number of U.S. senators. I had no idea of that stipulation.

The article says that “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” That’s an indication of how strongly the representatives of small states looked on the issue during the original constitutional debates.

My thanks to the insightful and mysterious Mr. Boyd.



 
Red vs. blue

Here is the lead editorial in today's World-Herald:

Residents of the Bush "red states" had best beware.

Three years ago, they were verbally ripped for giving George W. Bush what critics insisted on viewing as an unfair electoral-vote advantage. That margin allowed him to trump Al Gore's popular-vote majority, provided by urbanized "blue states." In recent months, red-state-bashing has enjoyed a resurgence, spurred by what appears to be ferocious blue-state resentment of last year's $182 billion farm bill.

National newspapers and TV networks are sending reporters onto the high plains, searching for tales of woe. A range of opinionmeisters has even taken up the cry that the very settlement of the Great Plains was a historic "mistake." Blue-state enthusiasts are crunching numbers in remarkable variety -- electoral-vote allocations, state-by-state distribution of federal tax dollars, population represented per federal officeholder -- to find yet one more dart to hurl in the direction of red-state residents.

A key example: Low-population, GOP-leaning states such as Nebraska and other Plains states get two electoral votes each for their two seats in the U.S. Senate. Such an arrangement, critics claim, amounts to a slap in the face to heavily urban, Democratic-friendly states with far larger populations.

Fair enough. But, of course, this country might well have failed to reach agreement on a federal Constitution had it not been for the crucial compromise that protected the interests of small states by giving each of them two seats in the Senate. If blue-staters want to propose a constitutional amendment to end that arrangement, they're welcome to try. The likelihood of passage seems minuscule.

In fact, before critics leap to dismiss small-state protections as anachronistic and irrelevant in the 21st century, they should consider how things are handled in the 15-member European Union. There, voting power is weighted to give small states considerably more clout than their populations alone would warrant. Otherwise, the EU would lack the consensus needed to function.

Moreover, political scientist Jacob T. Levy of the University of Chicago notes that the Electoral College's "over-rewarding" to rural (red state) constituencies is largely counterbalanced by an advantage given to urban (blue state) ones. "The Electoral College over-rewards Democrats for their urban majorities in states such as New York," he writes, "and denies Republicans any benefit from their large rural votes in such places."

Nebraska's capital is named after a great American who promoted sectional reconciliation and fellowship. That ideal is still worthy of reverence. We urge those eager for a red-state/blue-state dustup to direct their energies toward more constructive pursuits.




Thursday, January 30
 
Searching in the dark

Colin Powell hit the ground running after the State of the Union Address this week, doing interviews with five different European TV networks (from France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain). From his interview with French television:

Q: How much time are you ready to give to the inspectors?

Powell: It's not how much time for the inspectors. People keep saying give the inspectors more time. More time to do what? Search in the dark? More time to be deceived by Saddam Hussein? That's not the right question.

The right question is: How much more time do we give Saddam Hussein? If he were to come out this afternoon and say, "I'm now going to tell the truth, here's where the biological weapons are, here are where the chemical rounds are, here is the rest of my nuclear program, here are the documents, here are all the people you want to interview," if he were to do that, then how much time the inspectors need almost doesn't make any difference. Give them as much time as they say they need to verify that they have destroyed all this material.

But the problem is he is not doing that. He continues to deceive. He continues to deny.

Powell was certainly diplomatic when interviewed by German TV:

Q: The policy of the German Government is contradictory to what you've just said and to the American position. Do you feel this is a difference of opinion among friends that happens, or is it more serious?

Powell: It's a very strong difference of opinion between and among friends. Germany is a friend of the United States. As you may know, I began my military career in Germany. I've lived in Germany. I think I know Germany, and I have the warmest feelings toward Germany and the German people. But we have an honest disagreement on this issue. ...

Till another time: I'd intended to post tonight on the West's water woes, but I'm nodding off at the keyboard, so I will have to postpone. Four new posts on a variety of topics are immediately below, however.





 
Mr. Clark’s remarkable maps

Gary Moulton, a history professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has labored for 20 years in overseeing the editing and production of the only complete multi-volume set of journals by the Lewis and Clark expedition. Moulton, much-praised for his work on the project, not only meticulously edited the journal entries but also developed an extensive index and oversaw a team of consultants who provided annotations on botany, zoology, astronomy, archaeology, linguists and medicine. Such detail explained the full context of the journal entries.

The University of Nebraska Press is the publisher. (UNP is the nation’s second-largest state university press, in terms of annual titles produced, behind only the University of California Press.) UNP, in a collaborative effort, is going to put the journals online, beginning in February with several hundred pages.

Moulton says he was especially impressed with William Clark’s cartographic skills:

The first volume of the new edition, Atlas of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was published in 1983. The maps were published first so that they could be used as a resource and reference tool for succeeding volumes. Not all of the 129 historic maps in the Atlas came directly from the hand of Clark, the principal mapmaker, but all were closely associated with the expedition and most of them were Clark’s handiwork. Being my first foray into expedition materials, I was amazed at the beauty, elegance, and precision of Clark’s cartography. With no apparent training, working with crude and often unreliable instruments, and using dead reckoning for distances, one stands in awe of his draftsmanship. Clark’s maps are models of cartographic excellence.




 
Burden of history

South Carolina native Hastings Wyman, who has written the Southern Political Reporter since the late 1970s, spoke from the heart in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post:

Later, from 1967 through 1972, I served as legislative assistant to Sen. Thurmond. In 1970, I took a six-month leave of absence to manage the South Carolina gubernatorial campaign of Republican congressman Albert Watson. I was still a segregationist, comfortable with the racial politics of both Thurmond and Watson. Only months before the campaign started, Watson gave an anti-school integration speech in the small town of Lamar. Several days later, segregationists turned over a school bus bringing black children to Lamar's formerly white school.

Today, I cringe when I think of that campaign, not so much because of anything I remember Watson saying -- he had plenty of company in Deep South politics at that time -- but because I remember what I did. The campaign, with my knowledge and participation, stressed opposition to school integration and to "the bloc vote," i.e., black voters who voted heavily Democratic. The race issue was the major focus of the campaign, one we used in television spots and more graphically in leaflets mailed
anonymously to white voters in precincts that George Wallace had carried in the 1968 presidential election. Despite our best efforts, moderate Democrat John C. West won. ...

Over time, like the region that I come from and still write about, I have changed. But it didn't happen all at once, like being saved at a revival and becoming a born-again Christian. The old beliefs got eroded, usually after I got to know African Americans. ...

Most Southern whites, like those in the rest of the country, have changed their racial views substantially over the years. However, the amount of transition is relative, and some of our best friends, as it were, still harbor, if not hostility toward African Americans, then insensitivity to their understandable concerns. ...

Moreover, white Southerners seldom shun people who would be personae non gratae in the rest of the country. In my home state, for example, many people have a very negative reaction to the views -- religious and political -- of Bob Jones University, but they don't reject a candidate who makes a speech there. BJU is just part of the state's political landscape.

This leaves many of us, especially those who no longer live down South but maintain close ties with family and friends there, trying to straddle a gap between the two worlds. We have one foot in our new and better understanding of humanity, one that leads us to more enlightened attitudes on racially charged political issues and -- perhaps more importantly -- lets us know and be friends with people across racial lines. The other foot, however, is still in Dixie, enjoying the warmth and friendship of family and friends, and indeed, the identity of being a Southerner. It is a conflict we live with, sometimes well, sometimes not so well.




 
Water’s edge

Deborah Orin, a columnist writing in the New York Post, quotes an unnamed Democratic strategist as offering this advice: “If you support Bush on Iraq and he wins, you gain zip. If you support him and he loses, you lose along with him. But if you oppose him and things go bad, you stand to be a big winner.” (via The Note)

Sleazy. Orin’s characterization of it: “breathtaking and revolting.”

Meanwhile, a piece in today's Washington Post talked about how Democrats are arguing, more legitimately, that the sharpness of the White House attacks on Sen. Mary Landrieu in last fall's Louisiana Senate contest, despite her record of centrist support for Bush on a number of measures, shows that the administration will give the back of its hand to Democrats no matter how they vote.

By the way: Orin writes, “It's a tradition that politics stops when America goes to war and everyone gets behind the troops.” Not exactly. Republican members didn’t meekly follow in lock-step behind Harry Truman’s decisions and strategy during the Korean War.

And I remember an article in Presidential Studies Quarterly years ago that talked about how, regardless of the stops-at-the-water’s-edge stereotype, Lyndon Johnson and other congressional Democrats were quite tart in their public assessments of Eisenhower’s foreign policy in the late ’50s. Sure, the political divisions over Cold War policy were considerably less than in the post-Vietnam era. But it’s mistaken to imagine that diehard partisans in the “golden age” of foreign policy bipartisanship didn’t stoop now and then to shameless political opportunism.



 
Methodism and free thought

In addition to the insightful Donald Sensing post on Islam that Glenn Reynolds linked to, One Hand Clapping also has a post that underscored the decentralized nature of most Protestant denominations -- including the freedom to criticize one's denominational leaders. (My own religious affiliations, by the way, are mainline Protestant. I'm a member of the United Church of Christ and am also close to the Disciples of Christ.)

Don's post is slugged “This Methodist bishop does not speak for me.” In it, Don, a United Methodist minister, writes:

According to a local TV news story, United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert will appear in an anti-Iraq-war TV ad campaign. The ad says that an American attack on Iraq would "violate God's law."

He says Iraq hasn't wronged the United States and that would war would only create more terrorists.

The commercial is expected to be broadcast beginning Friday to New York and Washington viewers of the CNN and Fox cable news networks. ...

As a United Methodist, I want to explain a couple of things:

Bishop Talbert does not speak for the United Methodist Church; by our denomination's polity, he cannot speak for the denomination. Only the General Conference may issue statements of denominational positions. It meets only every four years, with the next meeting in 2004.

The bishop recently went to Iraq (December, as I recall), where he let Saddam spin him like a top. He saw only what Saddam wanted him to see, he spoke only to the people Saddam wanted, he heard only what Saddam intended. ...

As Glenn Reynolds would say, read the whole thing.



 
'Our common values'

Just a quick note. It's been mentioned by Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan (among others) today, but here is the full text of the letter from several European leaders expressing support for the United States in the current effort against Iraq. Quite encouraging:

By Jose Maria Aznar, Jose-Manuel Durao Barroso, Silvio Berlusconi, Tony Blair, Vaclav Havel, Peter Medgyessy, Leszek Miller and Anders Fogh Rasmussen

The real bond between the U.S. and Europe is the values we share: democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the Rule of Law. These values crossed the Atlantic with those who sailed from Europe to help create the United States of America. Today they are under greater threat than ever.

The attacks of Sept. 11 showed just how far terrorists -- the enemies of our common values -- are prepared to go to destroy them. Those outrages were an attack on all of us. In standing firm in defense of these principles, the governments and people of the U.S. and Europe have amply demonstrated the strength of their convictions. Today more than ever, the transatlantic bond is a guarantee of our freedom.

We in Europe have a relationship with the U.S. which has stood the test of time. Thanks in large part to American bravery, generosity and farsightedness, Europe was set free from the two forms of tyranny that devastated our continent in the 20th century: Nazism and Communism. Thanks, too, to the continued cooperation between Europe and the U.S. we have managed to guarantee peace and freedom on our continent. The transatlantic relationship must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world security.

In today's world, more than ever before, it is vital that we preserve that unity and cohesion. We know that success in the day-to-day battle against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction demands unwavering determination and firm international cohesion on the part of all countries for whom freedom is precious.

The Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass destruction represent a clear threat to world security. This danger has been explicitly recognized by the U.N. All of us are bound by Security Council Resolution 1441, which was adopted unanimously. We Europeans have since reiterated our backing for Resolution 1441, our wish to pursue the U.N. route, and our support for the Security Council at the Prague NATO Summit and the Copenhagen European Council.

In doing so, we sent a clear, firm and unequivocal message that we would rid the world of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. We must remain united in insisting that his regime be disarmed. The solidarity, cohesion and determination of the international community are our best hope of achieving this peacefully. Our strength lies in unity.

The combination of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism is a threat of incalculable consequences. It is one at which all of us should feel concerned. Resolution 1441 is Saddam Hussein's last chance to disarm using peaceful means. The opportunity to avoid greater confrontation rests with him. Sadly this week the U.N. weapons inspectors have confirmed that his long-established pattern of deception, denial and non-compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions is continuing.

Europe has no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Indeed, they are the first victims of Iraq's current brutal regime. Our goal is to safeguard world peace and security by ensuring that this regime gives up its weapons of mass destruction. Our governments have a common responsibility to face this threat. Failure to do so would be nothing less than negligent to our own citizens and to the wider world.

The U.N. Charter charges the Security Council with the task of preserving international peace and security. To do so, the Security Council must maintain its credibility by ensuring full compliance with its resolutions. We cannot allow a dictator to systematically violate those resolutions. If they are not complied with, the Security Council will lose its credibility and world peace will suffer as a result. We are confident that the Security Council will face up to its responsibilities.

Messrs. Aznar, Durao Barroso, Berlusconi, Blair, Medgyessy, Miller and Fogh Rasmussen are, respectively, the prime ministers of Spain, Portugal, Italy, the U.K., Hungary, Poland and Denmark. Mr. Havel is the Czech president.




 
Germany and America

The blog Amiland provides a very useful window on aspects of German politics and foreign policy. I appreciate Amiland's link to my post below about the Dilacerator's analysis on Germany's state elections.

By the way: A set of fresh posts will await visitors here on Friday morning (well, it will be morning in the U.S. time zones, anyway).



Wednesday, January 29
 
Forcing Al-Qaida to fight on our own terms

The United States is forcing al-Qaida to act before the terrorists are ready to do so, Austin Bay argues in an insightful and encouraging new column:

Strategy is always about applying one's own strength to an opponent's weakness. Al Qaeda's historical pattern is to wait patiently, for years if necessary, and carefully prepare a terror operation until it's certain of success. ...

Since the loss of its Afghan base, Al Qaeda has experienced extraordinary pressure. Time to plan is squeezed. The United States has used diplomacy, police work, better intel and military presence to exert the pressure. ...

The massive American build-up around Iraq serves as a baited trap that Al Qaeda cannot ignore. Failure to react to the pending American attack would demonstrate Al Qaeda's impotence. For the sake of their own reputation (as well as any notion of divine sanction), Al Qaeda's cadres must show CNN and Al Jazeera they are still capable of dramatic endeavor.

This ain't theory. Al Qaeda's leaders and fighters know it, and the rats are coming out of their alleys. In Afghanistan, several hundred Al Qaeda fighters in the Pakistani border region have gone on the offensive. They specifically link their attacks to America's pending assault on Baghdad. ...

Al Qaeda's offensive thrust in Afghanistan produces open targets for the 82nd Airborne Division. Moving and communicating terror cells are terror cells more vulnerable to police detection. Moreover, the terrorists are no longer operating on their time line, but on America's time line. ...

But the big blow to Al Qaeda will be the loss of Baghdad. Baghdad is a counter-terror intelligence trove. Saddam's fall will loosen knowledgeable tongues. Al Qaeda will have fewer alleys to inhabit.

But the big loss will be access to Saddam's WMD. A WMD spectacular is the kind of operation that can reverse Al Qaeda's international propaganda decline.

That ain't theory, either. Al Qaeda's leaders know it, which is why they seek nukes and nerve gas. It's why American strategists who know Al Qaeda know the axis of evil must be utterly broken.




 
Not enough water for the West

This week I began a series of posts about water issues in the West. I’d intended to run several water-related posts today, but instead I’m going to parcel those out, since I have so many new posts here today anyway.

Rick Henderson, an editorial writer with the Las Vegas Review-Journal who formerly worked at Reason magazine, sent me some sharply argued observations on the water issue. (Rick, who runs The Deregulator blog, is, like myself, a grad of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

Rick writes:

My gut feeling is that the Law of the River may have to be completely revamped; otherwise, the Southwest may face unprecedented restrictions on population growth and new business development.

The current situation makes it nearly impossible to use market forces to alleviate water shortages, as seen in California's Imperial Valley, where farmers have first claim on seven-eighths of the water Southern California gets from the Colorado River. As a result, the Imperial Valley can raise water-intensive crops in the desert, and there's no incentive to sell water at premium prices to residents of San Diego, Orange County, and L.A. The IID [Imperial Irrigation District] is now trying to prevent Gale Norton from enforcing the Law of the River by refusing to agree to a water pact (which requires California to live within its allocation within 15 years), even though the deal would have given the area money to subsidize the construction of modern irrigation infrastructure.

The Imperial Valley could have continued raising the same types of crops while using a lot less water. Didn't matter; the farmers refuse to give up a drop of water.

The coastal areas of California are in the process of starting up (and heavily subsidizing) desalination plants, which have gotten more efficient over the years, but continue to costs twice as much to produce water as the water districts now charge their customers. [The issue is examined, Rick says, in this editorial from his paper.]

Current law also makes it nearly impossible for "surplus" water to be shipped across state lines. Residential users in Phoenix or Las Vegas might be willing to bid a pretty penny for Imperial Valley water, but that may not be allowed by the existing legal structure.

Clearly, if market forces were allowed to function, they would disrupt agriculture in Central and Southern California (not to mention Arizona, where cotton and alfalfa are grown in the desert). But water would flow to those who are willing to pay for it, and some of the most wasteful and environmentally harmful agricultural practices on the planet would have to stop.

Rick also addressed the issue in a blog post in December:

The problem is that 70 years of welfare via farm subsidies has led to stasis, giving many farm-state residents incentives to remain dependent on agricultural welfare and maintain an otherwise-unsustainable lifestyle.

Farm welfare of another type could cause havoc in the Southwest, where a handful of farmers in the Imperial Valley of California are basically holding the residents of at least three states hostage. Farmers get water for next to nothing from the Colorado River and use it to grow cotton in the desert, among other things. Monday, farm reps deep-sixed an agreement which would have given the residents of Southern California, Southern Nevada and Arizona reliable water sources for several decades ... all because ag interests insist on keeping Stalinist-style farm policy alive.

Had New Deal-era subsidies been allowed to expire years ago, people in these farm communities would have gradually adopted more sensible, productive ways of life and saved consumers a bundle in the process.

Coming soon: The damage and anxiety that the current drought is causing in much of rural Nebraska, plus a variety of historical nuggets on the Western irrigation issue.


 
Off to war, Gov. Sanford?

Mark Sanford, newly inaugurated governor of South Carolina, says that he will leave the governorship to join his Air Force Reserve unit if it called up for service this year.

After his election last November, Sanford said he might resign his commission should the unit be called up. But he backtracked after he was then accused of seeking the military commission merely to pad his resume for political gain.



 
Able was I ere I saw SpongeBob

My son, a third grader, used a stencil of SpongeBob SquarePants the other day to begin a drawing. The figure in its final form wound up looking nothing like SpongeBob.

I noticed that under the picture he had written what at first seemed to be a nonsensical string of letters: “bobegnopsspongebob.”

He explained: It was a palindrome. (He knows that word.)

Just one more reason I look forward to seeing what the future will bring for that young fellow. A most remarkable mind.

By the way: When I mentioned to my son that I was going to write about his palindrome, his sister, age 6, overheard and asked if I would mention something about her. (She has been home from school for three days with the flu. She looks like a wilted flower.)

Writing something special about her is easy: She understands me in ways that no one else does.

It’s true. One morning last week, I started my day in an unusually down mood. Amid the early-morning hubbub, neither my wife nor my son (nor, for that matter, the three cats) noticed that a thing was off-kilter for me.

My daughter did. As soon as she saw me.

“Why the long face?” she asked.

Those are only four little words, but they speak volumes about her sensibility and character. I look forward to seeing what the future will bring for her, too.



 
Alternative-universe 9/11s

From a column by Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe:

America was attacked by people who took things on planes, so now everyone who takes things on a plane must be restricted, hassled and occasionally embarrassed.

It is a classic case of fighting the last war. And how many terrorists has it exposed? To the best of my knowledge, none. The only case of a passenger-terrorist since 9/11 is the convicted shoe bomber, Richard Reid. He slipped through security because nobody was on the lookout for explosive footwear. And if Reid had instead tried to blow himself up with explosive eyeglasses? In that case, passengers who wear glasses would now have to put them through the X-ray machine -- and screeners still wouldn't be looking for explosive footwear.

I wrote last year that if on 9/11 al-Qaida had destroyed four movie theaters, today we would have to reserve movie tickets in advance and get to the cineplex (with photo ID) two hours early -- while at the airport there would be no armed guards and a box cutter in your carry-on wouldn't raise any eyebrows. We would still be as vulnerable to a hijacking-massacre as we actually were on 9/11 -- but almost no one would be thinking about that, because the "last war'' would have taken a different form.

“The war will be won,” Jeff writes, “only when our enemies' cause lies in ruins. And their cause will lie in ruins when the terror masters are brought down.”



 
Russia, a magnet for stolen cars

Three Russia-related items from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

  • The military command of Russia's ground forces has issued a secret directive to the Russian peacekeeping contingents in Bosnia and Kosova ordering them to curtail their activities and to be prepared to return to Russia, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 22 January. ... Moscow currently maintains about 1,000 troops in the Balkans. The article argues that Russia has failed to gain political leverage vis a vis NATO through its deployment in Kosova and that that deployment is pointless because most of the Serbian population of Kosova has left the province. ...

  • Nationalist politician and State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, arrived in Israel on 21 January for his first-ever visit to that country, Russian and international news agencies reported. Zhirinovskii renounced his many notoriously anti-Semitic remarks, saying, "they are in the past, [and] I now think differently." ... He also denied that he has Jewish roots, although the Jerusalem Post on 21 January quoted one of his books in which he writes that his father was an ethnically Polish Jew. It is not clear who invited Zhirinovskii to Israel ...

  • Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 23 January, Walter Schmoelzing, a representative of the leading European insurance companies operating in Russia, said that as many as half of the 1.5 million cars illegally imported into Russia in recent years were stolen in Europe, mainly in Germany ... However, only a few hundred of the vehicles have been recovered because the stolen cars have been registered in Russia, making it difficult to take them away from their new owners. Schmoelzing said the situation is further complicated by the fact that many state officials, including high-ranking Interior Ministry officers, are using stolen cars.




  • Monday, January 27
     
    More on 'astroturf'

    "Astroturfing" (faux-grassroots letter campaigns) has been a recent topic here. The New York Times has an article today about how newspapers are working to prevent such letters from getting into print.



     
    Can the West’s ‘hydraulic society’ be saved?

    Is the American West’s system of providing water to its thirsty cities and farms -- to Southern California subdivisions, to Arizona metro areas, to Nebraska soybean fields -- somehow going to muddle through? Or is the current, record-setting drought finally going to push the region’s fragile, enormously stressed system of water allocation into deep crisis?

    I can’t offer answers (I’m still learning about the subject), but I have pulled together information on this important topic and will be posting this week on various water-related tangents (although there will also be plenty of posts on other topics, as illustrated by the set of new posts that follow this one). I welcome input on the water topic from anyone stopping by this week.

    Consider three quotes:


    This American West can best be described as a modern hydraulic society, which is to say, a social order based on the intensive, large-scale manipulation of water and its products in an arid setting.

    -- Donald Worster, historian, 1985


    We would be wise to remember every moment that roses also blossomed in Mesopotamia and Syria and Tunis and Ur of Chaldees -- and they are desert wastes now.

    -- Bernard De Voto, historian, 1948


    During last summer's scorching drought, some metro Denver neighborhoods, including Highlands Ranch, continued to enforce covenants that require heavy watering of lawns to keep them green.

    -- Denver Post, Jan. 24, 2003




    The Arizona Republic recently summed up the severity of the current drought in vivid terms:

    By most reckoning, it's the deepest to sweep the West in more than a century, and some scientists now say it rivals the meanest dry spells of the past 1,400 years. ...

  • Water levels are well below capacity in every major reservoir system in the West, and many are at record lows. Some of the smallest have dried up, leaving farmers with no water at all. Cities across Colorado were forced to limit or, in some cases, ban outdoor water use. The situation is similar in Utah and Montana, and in Las Vegas last week, officials warned residents to expect strict use restrictions this summer. ...

  • Arizona recorded its driest water year (October 2001 through September 2002) in history, as did Colorado. Snowpack was nearly nonexistent in many parts of both states. The Colorado River, which draws snow from the high country in Colorado and Wyoming, flowed at barely one-fourth its historic average ...

  • Soil moisture levels barely registered by late fall, leaving acres of dead or dying trees and shrubs. Ponderosa and piñon pines across Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, weakened by the lack of water, are falling victim to an epic plague of bark beetles, which have killed more than 2 million trees in northern Arizona alone. ...

  • Agriculture took the hardest hit. Dry farmers, who rely solely on rainfall, abandoned thousands of acres across Utah and Colorado, and crops withered in areas of Arizona. The rangelands turned barren, forcing ranchers to sell cattle at huge losses. ... Nationwide, crop production fell sharply in 2002. Wheat output dropped 14 percent, the cotton harvest fell 11 percent, and corn and soybean production also fell. ...

  • On the same day that that article appeared, the Washington Post’s T.R. Reid described the continuing wrangling over the allocation of water from the Colorado River; the stakes involved in that battle are very high, not least in Southern California:

    A "compact" devised by the federal government in the 1920s allocated the water among the seven states of the Colorado River Basin ... For eight decades, six of the states used less than their allocated share, letting California take much more water than it was legally entitled to.

    But a combination of rapid growth and repeated drought prompted the upstream states to demand that the compact be enforced. The Clinton administration ordered California to cut its thirst by Jan. 1, 2003.

    California's water users refused to meet the deadline, so Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton enforced the Clinton order. She closed the spigots at Hoover Dam on New Year's Day, cutting California's annual share of Colorado River water by about 13 percent, or 260 billion gallons -- enough to supply about a million households for a year. ...

    California's water users say they may sue. Los Angeles and San Diego say they will draw from water stored in reservoirs to make up for the diminished flow in their canals. Agricultural users have less stored water and may have to cut production.

    ... nobody expects the Bush administration's crackdown on California to bring peace to the century-long battle over Colorado River water.

    "The big fear is that this is going to produce a series of new water wars," says Jim Lochhead, a Glenwood Springs, Colo., attorney who has represented the state of Colorado in the dispute.

    In Colorado, one of Nebraska’s western neighbors, the anxiety over water continues to climb. This recent editorial notes that at the end of December, Colorado reservoirs held 48 percent of capacity and statewide, the snowpack was at 86 percent of normal. Here is a frequently updated roundup of the state’s drought woes, from the (Denver-based) Rocky Mountain News. This Denver Post article describes current peace talks in the state to try to resolve Colorado’s conflicting regional interests when it comes to water use and conservation.

    More, later. And don’t hesitate to write me on this.



    Sunday, January 26
     
    Overstretch for Britain’s military?

    That’s what this analysis argues:

    On Jan. 20 the UK announced that it was to send another 26,000 troops to the Persian Gulf region. As the British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon put it, this commitment "was no ordinary measure." Indeed, while somewhat dwarfed by ongoing American mobilizations, this new deployment is unexpectedly large, and means over a quarter of the British Army will soon be deployed for a possible war with Iraq. Proportionally, this is a larger commitment of British troops than took part in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

    Moreover, if prolonged it will subject the UK's armed forces to a severe risk of "overstretch," with British troops fulfilling commitments as far a field as Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Northern Ireland, and some 19,000 military personnel currently providing emergency coverage for striking British firefighters.

    Even without such commitments, the deployment of such a large proportion of the UK's armed forces to the Persian Gulf in anticipation of potential military action against Iraq is unlikely to be sustainable beyond three or four months, and may well necessitate a larger call up of British reservists than has hitherto been the case.

    Are the claims exaggerated? I’ll defer to those with an in-depth understanding of military affairs, but I wanted to point out the piece.



     
    Modern art as torture (literally); da Vinci’s design takes flight

    The history-oriented blog Cronaca is serving up some enjoyable nuggets. Among them:

  • Useful observations about why some ancient Roman names have survived into modern usage in the English-speaking world, and why others didn’t. (My thanks to David, the Cronaca blogmeister, for his link to my related post about the use of such names in Southern slaveholding.)

  • “A Spanish art historian has uncovered what was alleged to be the first use of modern art as a deliberate form of torture, with the discovery that mind-bending prison cells were built by anarchist artists 65 years ago during the country's bloody civil war.”

  • “A glider based on drawings by da Vinci has made its maiden flight from a hillside in Sussex. It is part of a widespread revival of interest in da Vinci’s hundreds of mechanical designs, many of which lay forgotten in libraries for hundreds of years.”

  • Cronaca links to a debunking of Gavin Menzies' “1421: The Year China Discovered America.”

  • “Archaeologists excavating Denmark's most important site -- a huge Viking manor house complex on Lake Tissø, west of Copenhagen -- are gleaning key information about the life style of the Norse elite over one thousand years ago.”

    Isn't all that simply grand? Thanks, Cronaca!



  •  
    Wonders of Thailand

    Have you visited Brink Lindsey's blog lately? He has great stuff about his recent trip to Thailand. Just check out the lead post and keep scrolling down. Brink is not only an economist and a lawyer (didn't I once see in one of his posts that he has a law degree?) but also a fine writer. He serves up some neat vignettes from his trip. One example:

    I saw Jean-Claude Van Damme and Lance Bass in the lobby of the Regent. Neither, though, was half as impressive as the anonymous gentleman I saw at poolside. He was African, probably around 60 years old, with large diamond stud earrings and a hearty, booming baritone voice. And he was decked out entirely in pink silk: a pink blouse not unlike the poofy shirt from Seinfeld, pink pants that poofed out in the thighs, and pink silk slippers like those a ballerina wears. Who was he? Does he wear stuff like that all the time? Does he do other colors besides pink? I'll never know, I guess, but unanswered questions are nothing new in Bangkok: The surpassingly, unfathomably strange is run of the mill there.

    I won't provide any details about the spaceship temple or the ... well, the very offbeat shrine he describes.

    Oh -- I forgot (until seeing the post again at his blog): Brink talks about Hong Kong, too, which he also visited. "OK, Hong Kong's in a rough patch right now," he writes. "But it's still a jewel to be treasured: It's rich, it's free, it's dynamic, it's vibrant. The economy will bounce back when the global economy recovers. There are fears that, over the longer term, Hong Kong will fade as China -- and specifically Shanghai -- continues to rise, but I think these are overblown."



     
    A very, very bad constitution

    That’s Alabama’s. It’s a grotesquerie, now more than a century old, cynically geared in many ways toward protecting special interests (for example, the timber industry). One result was that local governments were emasculated in order to prevent their encumbering those special interests.

    A state commission is about to overhaul the much-criticized document. (I had a URL for a news story, but the Birmingham News has severed the link, so you'll just have to take my word for it or else do a Google search.) One question is whether the constitution should be shortened. (It currently includes some 742 amendments.)

    A more important change that appears in the offing: finally giving county governments in Alabama the authority over matters such as zoning, fire and police protection and economic development strategies. If my memory is correct, counties even have to go to the state Legislature for permission to raise local tax rates. (Not that Alabama is alone in having a state legislature that encroaches irresponsibly on local governmental prerogatives.)



     
    Digging up the dirt on astroturf

    In regard to astroturfing (faux-grassroots letter campaigns) by the GOP (about which I recently blogged), Gary Farber of Amygdala notes that he provided the details of the Republican Team Leader campaign nearly a year ago, along with relevant URLs.




     
    Counterfactual: Russian invasion of India topples the czar

    The other day I mentioned how several Australians had written novels in the late 19th century imagining an invasion of their colony by China (with Russian help). Such a prospect was based on some openly stated anxieties at the time. One of the novels, “The Yellow Wave,” was just put back in print by Wesleyan University Press.

    Thomas Gower sent me a well-conceived analysis with factors relating to China, Japan and Russia. A Chinese invasion would have stood little chance of success, he writes (in pondering what turned out to a host of counterfactual possibilities):

    The Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) demonstrated, pretty conclusively, the almost total failure of the Chinese military at nearly all aspects of modern military combat, and an invasion of distant Australia was likely beyond their capabilities, particularly if you take into account the British policy of leaving minor warships scattered around the globe (eventually altered by Jacky Fisher, but not for another 10-15 years).

    In my opinion, a much more plausible Australia not being British scenario deals with Japan in the late 1500's. After roughly a century of civil war, there was a large number of well-trained men who could have formed the basis for mass armies of conquest. In 1592, Japan invaded Korea with great success, seeing rates of advance not too dissimilar to that of the U.S. forces in the break-out from Pusan pocket in 1950, until Chinese forces intervened, and the conflict turned into a bloody stalemate. Jockeying for position at home led to eventual Japanese withdrawal in 1598, but the battle of Sekigahara in 1603 led to the creation of the Tokugawa shogunate and a truly unified Japan.

    The opportunity seemed ripe for expansion, but no. Japan turned inward ... Had Japan looked outward, however, the future might have been very different. A second Korean invasion could have happened, but was not likely given the casualties suffered the first time. Russia was, in 1600, a European country, and thus Sakhalin, the Kuriles, even all of Siberia could have become Japanese territory without too much opposition (an 18th century figure whose name I cannot recall suggested much the same, except moving east from Sakhalin to Alaska rather than west to Siberia). Explorers of the lands south of Japan could have found the southwest Pacific island, New Guinea, and a huge, continent-like island sparsely populated by primitive natives, ripe for takeover by (counterfactually) an expansionistic people intent on more land. ...

    I deliberately didn't say anything about the Russian invasion of India in the 1890's [as posited in “The Yellow Wave”], but the British had been worried for many years (late 1830's, even) about possible Russian routes to India (Transcaucasus, Oxiana, Afghanistan, Persia, etc.) and had worked to thwart those possibilities ... Even if the Russians had been completely successful, which they weren't, that just raises the larger question of how you get and, more importantly, supply an army that far from European Russia. There were hardly any roads, let alone railroads, and it would have taken a great deal of time to construct some sort of reliable transportation network and establish and stock supply depots. ...

    The other possibility, and one that would enable a Chinese invasion of Australia (putting aside for the moment the Chinese inability to do so), is some sort of Russian naval victory over the British forces. The question of where that battle might be fought raises some issues, though. If the battle was fought off the coast of India, how does the fleet get there, and how can they remain on station and operating?

    One of the major problems for the 1905 fleet was a dearth of coaling facilities. If I recall correctly, the last place they were able to refuel before defeat at the Battle of Tsushima was Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina (Vietnam), and before that somewhere in Africa.

    A Chinese alliance could have opened up coaling stations in southern China (Hainan I., perhaps?), but that's still a long way from India. A battle off India also raises the question of how the Russian fleet got past the British bases in southeast Asia. Singapore was an important British base for a reason, and given a high level of tensions even in the absence of hostilities, it's not difficult to imagine British naval forces shadowing a Russian fleet, and trying to frustrate its intentions.

    There's also the matter of when the cats are away, the mice will play. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance wasn't signed until 1902, but a Sino-Russian alliance dual attack on India and Australia might have worked to push that date forward. It's intriguing to imagine what the region's most professional military force might have done against light resistance: conquest of Korea, invasion of Manchuria, conquest of Sakhalin, invasion of Vladivostok.

    What effect might a successful Japanese invasion of Siberia have had on the viability of the Czarist regime, particularly if the invasion of India proved disastrous? The Czar might not have fallen, but a more vigorous version of the Stolypin reforms that followed the actual Russo-Japanese War would be a near certainty, even to the point of creating a more limited, perhaps even constitutional, monarchy (Britain in the late 1700's, perhaps?).

    Perhaps not likely, even under the circumstances outlined, but it's surely interesting.



    Friday, January 24
     
    Ataturk makes an appearance in South Carolina

    One of the oddest inauguration controversies I've heard of: Mark Sanford, the new governor of South Carolina, is catching flak for, of all things, praising Ataturk during Sanford’s inauguration speech this week.

    From an account in The State, the newspaper in Columbia, S.C.:

    In his State of the State address Wednesday, Sanford presented Ataturk as the reformer.

    To Dr. Glenn Moradian of Chapin, Ataturk was responsible for genocide.

    Sanford praised Ataturk's transformation of Turkey from a theocratic dynasty to a modernized republic.

    He did not mention that Ataturk is reviled by many who believe he was responsible for the systematic killing or forced relocation of millions of Greeks and Armenians, first as a military general and then as the first Turkish ruler.

    Sanford "needs to do his history," said Moradian, who is of Armenian heritage. "I'm a Republican, I voted for him, but he needs to do his research. It's absolutely offensive."
    Sanford spokesman Will Folks said the governor was "looking for an example of someone who affected a tremendous degree of structural reform to the benefit of his country. ...

    The governor should have chosen a different example, said Father Ari Metrakos, pastor of Columbia's Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

    "I can't imagine that anyone who knew the entire history of the oppression of the Christian people of Asia Minor would hold up Ataturk as someone to be emulated," Metrakos said.

    Ataturk was central to a discussion at Metrakos' church in December. A Greek woman named Sano Halo, who survived Ataturk's brutal policies, was honored by the church and by proclamations from the city, the state Senate, and then-Gov. Jim Hodges.

    Halo's family and community were forced from their homes in the Pontis region of Turkey by Ataturk's forces in the 1920s. Thousands, including most of Halo's family, died as they were marched across the country. ...

    S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian, who is of Armenian descent, said he was offended by Sanford's speech.

    "Ataturk, to the people of Greek and Armenian heritage, was like Hitler was for the Jews," Harpootlian said. "In 'Mein Kampf,' Hitler says the Turks had the right idea with the Armenian Christians, they just weren't efficient with it." ...

    The Turkish government denies there was a genocidal slaughter of Greek and Armenian Christians living in Turkey. It was an era of great unrest in the country, as the Ottoman Empire was falling and young Turkish leaders, like Ataturk, were coming to power.

    "It is not unusual, but it is a little overreaching for Greeks to criticize Ataturk," said Cem Saydam, a Clemson University graduate and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who is of Turkish descent.

    As for Armenians, Saydam said Ataturk was not involved and Turkey denies any claim of genocide. "It was an inter-communal war, which they started," Saydam said of the Armenians.

    Turkey believes Armenians living in Turkey joined with invading armies of czarist Russia to battle the government in Istanbul.

    Do you suppose Sanford's speech writers have been reading Ataturk fan Glenn Reynolds?



     
    Overly anxious about China?

    Ivan Eland argues in a new Cato Institute report that the United States should ratchet down its concern about the Chinese military.

    “If U.S. policymakers would take a more restrained view of America's vital interests in the region,” he writes, “the measured Chinese military buildup would not appear so threatening. Conversely, U.S. policy may appear threatening to China.”

    The United States spends ten times what China does on military needs, and Taiwan’s defenses are strong enough to deter the Chinese, he argues. Restructuring U.S. capabilities toward a focus on East Asia is unnecessary and costly, he says.

    I’m not convinced. Sure, economic engagement with the Chinese is in the U.S. interest, but a robust American military capability, complemented by strong alliances in the region, makes sense in the face of the grossly cynical approaches taken by both Beijing and the regime it refuses to restrain in Pyongyang.



     
    Water woes

    I've posted several items tonight, but I'll have to postpone blogging about drought and irrigation in the American West. Out of time for now.



     
    The age of Caesars and Catos -- and Williams

    Certain names common in ancient Roman times have survived in popularity into the 21st century, Eugene Volokh noted recently. An example is the ancient Marcus, now rendered Mark.

    Eugene added:

    But when was the last time you met, in America, England, France, Spain, Italy, or wherever else, a Publius? Gnaeus? Sextus? These were common names, some of them names of great Romans (Pompey was a Gnaeus). And yet they're virtually unheard of in modern America. I'm not complaining -- I'm just wondering why some Roman names (many of the nomens, a few of the praenomens) have gotten so popular in Western Europe and America, while others have been completely forgotten. Any theories?

    I’ll have to defer to others as to why, in the case of this country, some names were more easily Anglicized than others. Eugene’s post did remind me, though, of a part of Old South history: the frequent naming of slaves after figures from ancient Rome.

    Historian Eugene Genovese has noted, however, that the North’s victory brought major changes in this regard: “Very few Caesars, Catos and Pompeys survived the war; the freedmen divested themselves of these names so quickly that one wonders if they had ever used them among themselves in the quarters.”

    Studying the naming of slaves opens a window into fascinating, and often disturbing, questions involving psychology and power. Historians have uncovered many examples of how the struggles between master and slave played out along the dimension of names. An example:

    When asked to name the cruelest acts committed against him during his time as a slave, William Wells Brown singled out his master’s order that he be stripped of the name, William, given him by his mother.

    “I received several very severe whippings for telling people that my name was William,” he later wrote. He was forced to go by Sandford -- a name, he said, “I always hated.”

    He eventually escaped. Upon reaching freedom, he reasserted control over his identity by calling himself what his mother had intended.

    William Wells Brown would go on to become a doctor, author and abolitionist.

    Another story:

    James Henry Hammond, an idiosyncratic politician and slaveowner in antebellum South Carolina, once bought a 8-year-old slave named Sam Jones. Hammond abruptly changed the boy's name to Wesley.

    Nearly three decades passed. Hammond was nearing death and had waning power over his plantation. Wesley, meanwhile, became a father with the birth of his first son. The name he chose for the baby: Sam Jones.

    The debilitated and distracted Hammond lacked the strength to do anything about it. His slave had gained a victory of a very special sort.



    Thursday, January 23
     
    Dealing with astroturf

    There has been some agitation of late about Republican “astroturfing” -- fomenting a letter-writing campaign to newspapers (in this case for the benefit of George W.) using the same text over and over but under the pretense of a supposed grassroots campaign. The blog Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire talked about the pro-Bush astroturfing here and here.

    Any Republican operatives indulging in astroturfing deserve criticism. It’s a sleazy and opportunistic ploy.

    It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that astroturfing is a practice generally restricted to Republicans or conservatives. On the contrary, astroturfing has become a common problem for newspaper editorial pages (alerts of new astroturf outbreaks are a frequent part of an editorial writers listserv I subscribe to), and the guilty parties run the ideological spectrum. It’s one more example of how activists tend to set aside good judgment out of zealotry for their cause.

    Interest groups are growing more ambitious in facilitating astroturf, and they’re also refining the technologies that make it possible. Such techniques are often of a piece with the various single-issue mobilizations one increasingly sees in which members of Congress are deluged with e-mails and phone calls before key votes. The astroturf problem, in other words, is likely to only get worse.



     
    Trying to control the mobiles

    In his latest column, George Will describes one of the soundest aspects of the conservative sensibility: its practical appreciation for (and acceptance of) limitations and unpredictability:

    Yet the left cannot mount a critique [of Bush's Iraq policy and war preparations] that rises above rock lyrics and name-calling.

    Perhaps that is because a serious critique would arise from conservative sensibilities, including respect for the law of unintended consequences (which are usually larger than, and contrary to, intended consequences). And the fact that a government's ability to control events anywhere is severely limited because a community, a nation and the world are like mobiles -- jiggle something here and lots of things are set in motion over there.

    Such an appreciation doesn't mean a country's leaders should be locked in paralysis, fearful of taking any action at all. It means major actions should be undertaken with an appreciation for unpleasant surprises -- and that leaders should be prepared to summon up the nimbleness needed to cope with them.



     
    Upcoming

    For those who aren't aware: I'm now blogging three times a week, posting new material here for the start of three mornings: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

    Tonight I intend to write about water woes in the West as well as an Iraq tangent.

    Either tonight or sometime soon I'll post, among other things, on the declining use by Americans of names with classical Roman origins (responding to an interesting Eugene Volokh post); China's military; and a red state/blue state topic.



    Wednesday, January 22
     
    Wall Street and slavery

    I linked last month to a City Journal article about how the New York City Council is considering a slavery reparations measure. Jesse Jackson recently pushed the issue hard in a speech in New York, focusing on Wall Street:

    At a Diversity Forum panel discussion, Jackson slammed Wall Street for its historical links to the shipping industry and its role in the transportation of African slaves. "Wall Street is built on the backs of African people. It is an African burial ground down here. Wall Street was built on the shipping industry," Jackson said. ...

    Jackson kept his focus on New York's financial center to make a point about the need for slave reparations and affirmative action.

    "In 1840, there was more Africans enslaved in New York than there was in Charleston South Carolina," he said. "So if we didn't know all our history, then the conclusion [that blacks deserve reparations] might seem unfair."

    Jackson compared opposition to slave reparations to denying the holocaust.

    Rep. John Conyers also spoke at the same event, the 6th annual Rainbow/Push Wall Street Project fund-raiser:

    Conyers, who has been an annual sponsor of a slavery reparations bill in Congress for the past decade, spoke of the necessity for corporate reparations to African-Americans.

    "The shipping companies were involved in the transportation of slaves. Might they not have a legal obligation going back 200 years? That is what I think," Conyers told CNSNews.com [Cybercast News Service].

    Conyers noted that lawsuits against the insurance industry for its alleged profiting from the slave trade were already proliferating. "No one is waiting for [attorney] Johnnie Cochran. ... People are suing the crap out of them right now," Conyers explained.

    Nonetheless, such rhetoric is clearly aimed at softening up opposition in New York and preparing the way for, as City Journal put it, “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.”

    (link to the CNS article via e-mail friend Fred Ray)




     
    Baggage for Daschle

    I haven't had time to check: Has anybody else linked to this LA Weekly piece about Tom Daschle's wife?

    Here's the gist:

    The national press corps didn’t bother to tell you why Tom Daschle, the Democrats’ Senate leader, decided at the 11th hour not to run for president: In the end, he calculated that he couldn’t survive scrutiny of his persistent service to the clients of his wife. Linda Daschle has been one of the airline industry’s top lobbyists for two decades — when she wasn’t busy running the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which explains why, just 11 days after the 9/11 attacks, her husband rushed through the Democratic Senate, which he controlled, the $15 billion bailout for the airline industry, a notorious taxpayer rip-off....

    It’s a sign of how lazy, blinkered and source-coddling the Beltway’s national press corps is when one considers that none of all this made the dissections of the senator’s presidential withdrawal — even though a tough piece by the Washington Monthly’s Stephanie Mencimer in the January 2002 issue laying out much of it was still on newsstands. As she observed, “It doesn’t take Lee Atwater to see how Mrs. Daschle’s professional life might play out in a nasty re-election or presidential campaign: ‘Sen. Daschle’s wife lobbyist for nation’s most dangerous airline,’ or ‘majority leader’s wife lobbied to make airlines less safe.’ ”


    The Washington Monthly isn't a sleaze-peddling enterprise, so I wouldn't think the story could be dismissed as part of the vast right-wing media conspiracy.

    Update: Jim Miller, whose blog generally focuses on political commentary, e-mails to note that he blogged at length on this Daschle tangent last July. Among his observations in the post: "I think it incontrovertible that were First Lady Laura Bush to hold a lobbying job like this, it would be necessary to investigate her actions."



     
    Imagining an invasion

    Discussions in the blog world have focused on counterfactual reworkings of history, such as new outcomes of the American Civil War or, in the case of a post here last year, the prospect of the adoption of Thatcherite economic policies in Britain in the 1940s. This week I came across a counterfactual scenario I had never given thought to: a Chinese invasion of Australia in the 1890s.

    An 1895 novel, “The Yellow Wave,” considers the possibilities. The book has just been reissued by Wesleyan University Press, whose new book catalog describes the novel this way:

    In Kenneth Mackay’s 1895 admonitory tale, Britain’s attention and military forces are diverted by a Russian attack on India, and Australia is left defenseless. The Russians lead the invasion force, but for readers of the Victorian Age, the real horror is the use of Chinese troops.

    Mackay (1859-1935) was an Australian military officer who commanded the 1st Australian Horse Regiment, which he created in 1897.

    In the novel, a central event was the visit of Chinese officials to the Australian colonies -- a parallel to an actual, and controversial, visit there by Chinese representatives in 1887. The Chinese government at the time complained about discriminatory laws and practices in Australia against Chinese residents. Those complaints, in turn, triggered expressions of concern from Australian leaders about China’s possible military intentions as well as further Chinese immigration.

    Several Australians responded by writing and publishing invasion-fantasy tales. In Mackay’s, the Russians and Chinese form an alliance and attack India and Australia simultaneously.

    A curious find for me while perusing the Wesleyan catalog.



     
    Correcting George Will

    It’s not often that I feel compelled to take issue with George Will on matters of history, but this is one of those times.

    In a recent column, Will resumed his criticisms of Southern studies scholar William Ferris, who headed the National Endowment for the Humanities under Bill Clinton.

    Will wrote:

    The 9/11 summons to seriousness ended the nation's 1990s holiday from history, and even the National Endowment for the Humanities has enlisted in the war. Emphasizing that historical illiteracy threatens homeland security -- people cannot defend what they cannot define -- the NEH's chairman, Bruce Cole, is repairing the ravages of the 1990s, when his two immediate predecessors made the NEH frivolous.

    Bunk. I don’t doubt that the new NEH director will do just fine, but Will’s depiction of Ferris as concerned only with ephemeral and trivial parts of social history is misleading and does a gross disservice to a serious and energetic scholar.

    Ferris, among other scholarly achievements, co-edited the groundbreaking Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. That book demonstrated the value of including parts of cultural and economic history along with the traditional big-picture focus on politics. Several of the major Southern-related posts I’ve put together here over the past six months have drawn in part on material from that invaluable book. A particular example that comes to mind was my post last September on old-time Southern liberal journalists, to which Virginia Postrel generously linked.

    In fact, The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was a direct inspiration for the ambitious Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, to be published shortly by the University of Nebraska Press (the second-largest state university press in the nation, behind only the University of California Press, in terms of titles published).

    Ferris, I’m proud to say, is now associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill, my undergrad alma mater.



     
    Downtown symbols

    And another George Will note: A column of his last week talked about the movie “About Schmidt,” set here in Omaha and across Nebraska. (The movie's director is Alexander Payne, Omaha native.)

    The movie, Will said, can take its place along novels by Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson and F. Scott Fitzgerald in pointing to the supposed dullness and bland conformity of life in the Midwest. Will added, however, that the themes of regret and emptiness in “About Schmidt” are actually universal ones. Indeed, as he noted, the novel from which the movie is taken was set not on the prairie but on Long Island, to which Schmidt retired from a Manhattan law firm.

    My interest in mentioning this, however, really concerns two downtown Omaha buildings. One is the Woodmen Tower, the city’s tallest building for three decades and a central visual focus in the movie. Will observes:

    "About Schmidt," the new Jack Nicholson movie, begins with the camera lingering on a flat slab of a spire in Omaha, the Woodmen building, which is replicated in the cake at Schmidt's retirement party that evening. If "party" is applicable to so flat an affair. Flat as champagne that has lost its fizz. Flat as the Midwest landscape through which Schmidt, suddenly widowed, rolls, a depressed Jack Kerouac in a gigantic Winnebago, on the road to Denver to try to forestall yet another disappointment, the marriage of his daughter to a waterbed salesman Schmidt despises.

    Funny thing about the Woodmen Tower, though. The plainness of its design earned criticism from the beginning. Yet, at its dedication in 1969, it was regarded -- rightly -- as a symbol of downtown resurgence, leading the way toward other civic improvements including the flowering of the Old Market retail/restaurant complex and the creation of Central (later, Gene Leahy) Mall, a major greenspace.

    In parallel fashion, the dedication in downtown Omaha last fall of the impressively designed First National Tower signaled another stage of progress as the city begins a major new phase of development including ambitious riverfront projects and a performing arts center. The First National Tower, with its plaza and ambitious set of wildlife sculptures, has also broken new ground by creating a marvelous new public space downtown. I took my kids there several times last fall and had a blast. The office building stands as the city's tallest building, as the Woodmen Tower now takes on little brother status in the downtown skyline.



    Tuesday, January 21
     
    Keep 'em laughing

    She takes standards and spins them into satirical gold. My friend Madeleine Begun Kane, that is. Here is her latest song parody about George W. (to be sung to the tune of "Girl From Ipanema" -- And when he rants, yes, the Dems he bashes go -- well, you'll have to check out her site to find out what the Dems say). And here is her latest comic strip, "Dubya Does College." (Don't read it, Republicans; you will not be amused.)



    Monday, January 20
     
    Opportunism on drought aid

    The magnitude of ag subsidies in last year’s farm bill sparked a backlash from many urbanites. Given that dynamic, one would think members of Congress would tread more carefully on the farm support issue and steer clear of transparent opportunism. But events last week indicated the very opposite.

    The Senate Agriculture Committee, under new chairman Thad Cochran of Mississippi, approved a $3 billion drought assistance package that would provide payments not just to plains farmers hurt by the severe drought last year but also to farmers unaffected by the dry weather. (The bill would be paid for through cuts from other programs.)

    Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas accurately summed it up this way: “This is not a disaster bill that provides targeted assistance to producers who've suffered crop losses. These are across-the-board direct payments for all farmers. It contains millions of dollars for specialty and Southern crops and producers. Assistance to Kansas producers and High Plains states, where drought has been the most severe, has been cut to provide assistance to producers in other parts of the country that did not have crop losses.”

    Livestock producers, who were especially hard hit here in Nebraska, will receive very little help under the measure.

    Sure, the bill can be considered a typical product of the Washington political process. And I know many people argue that the feds should provide neither drought aid nor farm support. (Indeed, the Bush administration has formally proposed a thorough revamping of ag subsidies as part of international trade negotiations.)

    My point, though, is that the shenanigans seen on the drought aid measure are politically stupid. Although the drought bill will likely pass in order to get a measure of aid to farmers actually harmed by the bad weather, farm-state lawmakers such as Cochran and like-minded lawmakers are risking a big comeuppance over the long term.

    By the way: I’ll have more about the West and water later in the week.



     
    Race, victimhood and theatricality

    John McWhorter, the black academician whose contrarian take on racial issues has gained considerable note, was interviewed in Salon last week. Excerpts:

    I'm not pardoning this, but to say that the Republicans hate black people -- it's just op-ed material. What it really means is that Republicans don't think the issue is all that important. ...

    Derrick Bell has this thought experiment where, if I'm not mistaken, all the black people are taken out of America by aliens and nobody knows where they are. The issue of the story is, How much would white people really care? Who would want to investigate? That's seen as evidence that racism exists in America. As soon as I heard that story, I thought, OK, so we're in America and instead of black people, all Filipinos are taken out of the United States. How many black people would care? None. Frankly, it wouldn't really change my day. I don't know any Filipino people. You have a love of your own. We can't say that white people should be exempt from that because of the nature of the past.

    Salon: No, but the past is always hanging over us. It seemed from the way the media reacted to the Lott scandal, digging through his past and showing photos from his fraternity, that this was a history lesson. There was this sense that Americans aren't all that educated about who their leaders are.

    We live in a transitional era. Just a few decades ago, we lived in a segregated society. It would be strange if there were not closet racists in our governing bodies. There are people in our governing bodies who are white and 50 or 60. Why in the world would some of them not be closet racists? It's 2003. It really hasn't been that long. So, it was nice that we were made aware of it. My issue is whether those things affect legislation, and to the extent that they can … Trent Lott as a leader, he has to go.

    But the fact is that despite the racist history, the conventional wisdom is changing, and even if it just means you can't say certain things in public, that is progress. The fact is that even in terms of private feelings, the feelings of most of the people representing our government today are different than they would have been 40 years ago. We're not all the way there, but we're close. ...

    Salon: I struggle with these comparisons between groups. Isn't it much more complicated? The history of blacks and the history of American immigrant groups -- it's so different. And each group is so different.

    No, and I don't mean to cut you off, but I hear that question so much. Latinos are immigrants too. They have the same problems as black people, right down the generations, right into the middle class. What that shows is that it's not about whether you're an immigrant. It's cultural. There are people who for various geopolitical reasons identify doing well in school as inauthentic. In black culture, if you do that you're acting white. In Latino culture, you're acting like the gringos. It's not unfair to compare. Yes, there is such thing as immigrant pluck, but it doesn't even apply to all of the immigrants. With Latinos as well as black people, there's a sense that to be white is to be uptight and to sell out. Not to mention that black people didn't suffer from this until about 35 years ago. There was no such thing as the "acting white" syndrome in 1910. It's a new thing. ...

    There is a split identity in black culture today, and I see this daily. There's what you're expected to do in public, and there's what you're expected to do in private. The black undergraduate who hears a professor use the word "niggardly" or hears something an administrator says that could be construed as "racist" and runs out of the classroom crying, I firmly believe, is not genuinely hurt. They have a sense that as good, thinking African-Americans it's their job to blow the whistle on racism in public.

    It's the same kind of theater that your counterculturally oriented white undergraduates pull. So somebody says "nigger" or somebody draws a picture in some dorm, and a certain 25 black students jump out onto the central plaza and the local media comes and you've always got one or two of them who will cry. They're not cynical; it's not that they're doing it on purpose, but they have a sense that to be intelligent, engaged black people you're supposed to pull this kind of routine. Deep down, most black people know that some of these things will not destroy you, that you can succeed in a world even if it's not perfect. That is the biggest problem today -- the sense that to be authentically black is to cloak the black race in victimhood in public, no matter how well the race is doing. The idea is to keep whites on the hook. In private, this is not the way that black people talk.

    The sadder truth is that for many white people, black people are a minority with a sad history, and they'd rather be rid of us completely. The very sad truth is that white people are much more important to black mythology than the other way around. That's not fair, but like many things that aren't fair, it's also true.

    Salon: Might that be changing considering how much black culture has influenced white culture? What I find hard to believe is that whites aren't conscious in some ways of how they emulate black people.

    Interesting question. Many black people are afraid that we're being co-opted. What they don't understand is how black white people are getting. And it's something that's easy to miss; fish don't know that they're wet. But it's at the point where hybridism is becoming very much the norm. Most people don't think about the fact that the way Britney Spears sings and moves is black.

    It's not only in entertainment. You see it in the way people talk. A lot of "ebonics" is now ordinary speech. I don't know how many white girls I've seen calling each other "dude." "Dude" starts with black people and it percolates into white vernacular among men. Now white women are saying, "Dude, let's go get our nails done." It's a black thing. If you look at a silent film, at white people moving in 1903, they don't walk like white people now, they don't nod like white people. All of us are blacker. So what we're really moving towards is a Mariah Carey, Tiger Woods sort of thing. Nowadays, black people do matter more to white people, but in a good way, because black people are in white people and they don't even know it, which is the way it should be.

    Which is the way it should be?

    Yeah, because we're moving towards getting past race. Al Sharpton wouldn't like that, but we're going to get past it. Getting past it does not mean these communities of wary blacks and wary whites eyeing each other and writing op-eds about each other. ...

    ... I'm 37. This whole hip-hop culture idea is an outgrowth of a general "bobos in paradise" idea -- to be countercultural and to hate the establishment. I don't love the establishment either, but this hip-hop thing is professional alienation, a recreational indignation. The idea that black identity can be centered on that, especially among the young, strikes me as a pose rather than an action. It feels good to be an underdog and that's what that's about.



     
    An incomplete biography

    The New York Times had a review over the weekend of '“Subversive Southerner,” a biography of Anne Braden, described by the reviewer as “one of the movement's major minor figures: an influence on Martin Luther King Jr., a den mother to the young radicals in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and, thanks to her background in journalism, a talented publicist and propagandist for the movement.”

    Especially interesting:

    Though more glamorous accounts of the Red Scare tend to focus on Hollywood and the blacklist, it was the Southern variety of anti-Communism that exposed the systemically toxic dangers of curtailing the First Amendment's freedom of speech and of association. Southern segregationists were able to mobilize the might of the federal government behind their savagely undemocratic way of life simply by framing their crusade as one against Reds rather than blacks, as Americanism rather than racism. The genius of redbaiting was that it tarred any liberal impulse as ''communistic'' and by so doing scared off the moderates. ...

    However, the main failing of ''Subversive Southerner'' -- unfortunately, it is a central one -- is that [author Catherine] Fosl, who teaches women's studies and humanities at the University of Louisville, declines to discuss the substance of the Bradens' relationship with the Communist Party. Anne herself has steadfastly refused to elaborate on the subject.

    During the cold war, that position had a certain nobility and revealed Braden's shrewd understanding of how witch hunts work. But Braden's day has now come. For a biographer not to hold her to her pledge is insupportable.

    Yes. As the reviewer says, enough time has passed so that an honest acknowledgement can be calmly made about the involvement in the civil rights movement by individuals with ties to the Communist Party. That doesn’t mean that segregationist critics were correct in dismissing the movement as a mere tool of the Communist Party. Indeed, the civil rights movement performed a crucial redemptive role for the country, and nothing written in any biography will be able to erase that achievement. There is no reason, however, that the complete truth can’t be told.



    Friday, January 17
     
    Iraq, war and oil

    Columnist Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer has voiced skepticism about the need for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but her examination of the oil issue has led her to conclude that it wouldn’t be practically possible for the United States to take over the Iraqi oil sector.

    She writes:

    There will be no fantastic oil bonanza at hand if Saddam Hussein is ousted. After 20 years of war and sanctions, Iraq's oil infrastructure is in disarray. It will take three or more years and $7 billion to $8 billion just to get back to 1980 production levels of 3.5 million barrels per day, according to experts.

    Boosting production to 6 million bpd would take $30 billion to $40 billion more in investment -- and many more years. (So much for hopes that the Iraqi oil tap will soon make Saudia Arabia's 8 billion bpd irrelevant).

    Moreover, Baghdad doesn't even have the cash to get started. Iraq's annual oil revenues at present are only around $10 billion a year.

    Even if we assume that Saddam doesn't torch the oil fields as a parting gesture, that level of income won't begin to meet the country's immediate needs.

    There will be huge emergency humanitarian bills after a military conflict. There will be an urgent need to rebuild basic infrastructure, like power grids, roads, and hospitals, which will eat up $25 billion to $100 billion more.

    Do the math, and what you get is a huge shortfall. In the next couple of years, international donors will have to pour money into Iraq. ...

    U.S. companies might not be in a hurry to invest in an Iraq whose stability will be shaky in the near term. Even if they are eager, they will confront crucial issues of Iraqi nationalism -- and of law.

    Iraq, like the rest of the Gulf, has a state-owned oil company. No foreign oil company has operated in Iraq since 1960. Multinationals buy Iraqi oil for refining, but they have no equity share in the oil fields, nor do they get any percentage of oil for services performed.

    In a desperate bid for political support, Saddam promised the Russians and the French that he would offer them a chance to develop new oil fields. But if his dictatorship ends, any new oil arrangement will require the passage of new laws by a new, democratically elected parliament. This process will be time-consuming, but -- if the Bush administration really means to support democracy -- it must accept the results. And the results may not be to its liking. ...

    Prime case in point: After the Gulf War, American companies expected to be invited to develop new Kuwaiti oil fields. Kuwait's government was willing, but the elected parliament refused. ...

    Iraq has many oil experts, inside and outside the country, who can manage the industry. Control should be turned over to them once oil proceeds are weaned from U.N. supervision under the "oil-for-food" program.

    An elected Iraqi government may give contracts to U.S. companies or not. But any heavy-handed U.S. pressure is likely to boomerang and confirm the beliefs of those who think the war was only about oil.

    Even though, in reality, Iraq's fields are not up for grabs.

    Sounds convincing.

    By the way: I was surprised to read this week that Baghdad “has a largely Shiite population.” Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of In the National Interest, made that point in an essay (on Cyprus, actually) at NRO. Nick, with whom I’ve exchanged e-mail on occasion, writes:

    When his [Saddam’s] regime falls, however, something must take its place. Simply dividing Iraq into three "cantons" -- a Shiite province in the south, a Sunni center, and a Kurdish statelet in the north -- is a recipe for disaster. Not only does such a "solution" fail to consider that populations are not neatly segmented (Baghdad, after all, has a largely Shiite population) and ignore other ethnic minorities dispersed throughout the country, it would preclude any central "Iraqi" identity from developing. This, in turn, would increase the risk of regional strife that would draw in neighboring states.

    On the same point, Nick refers to this essay.



     
    New roles for the Strategic Command

    President Bush this week approved new powers for the U.S. Strategic Command, located at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha. The change, recommended last year by the Pentagon, significantly enhances the authority of StratCom beyond its traditional role as overseer of strategic nuclear forces.

    StratCom, while retaining its strategic nuclear role, will now be in charge of planning and coordination for missile defense. It will have authority over command and control/surveillance matters and cyber-warfare (both defensive and offensive).

    Perhaps most interesting, it will oversee what is called Global Strike capabilities, meaning the ability to launch an attack anywhere around the world within 24 hours. Among its related duties, StratCom will oversee research into using conventional, and possibly nuclear, devices to attack deep bunkers.

    These changes have been much talked about over the past year among StratCom watchers. It seemed likely that such changes were in the works last year when the Pentagon gave approval for StratCom to take on the duties of the U.S. Space Command, many of whose personnel have relocated to Offutt from Colorado Springs. (In a healthy long-term sign for the Omaha area, aerospace companies have been contacting realtors and school systems here, in apparent preparation for moving personnel here. It’s too early to gauge the economic impact, though.)

    This Jan. 8 article from the Omaha World-Herald, where I work, had this interesting tidbit:

    The U.S. Strategic Command welcomed a high-level visitor this week who will play a key role as the command is reshaped to counter new threats.

    Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, who could be called the military's futurist for joint operations, spent Monday and Tuesday at the command near Bellevue.

    Giambastiani's mission is to synchronize the war-fighting capabilities of all the military branches, to foster experimentation and to incubate new concepts to build the military of the 21st century.



     
    Sharpton

    Jeff Jacoby asks in his latest column why Democrats and the press look away from Al Sharpton’s record as a race-baiter. He recounts the history:

    1987: Sharpton spreads the incendiary Tawana Brawley hoax, insisting heatedly that a 15-year-old black girl was abducted, raped, and smeared with feces by a group of white men. He singles out Steve Pagones, a young prosecutor. Pagones is wholly innocent -- the crime never occurred -- but Sharpton taunts him: "If we're lying, sue us, so we can . . . prove you did it." Pagones does sue, and eventually wins a $345,000 verdict for defamation. To this day, Sharpton refuses to recant his unspeakable slander or to apologize for his role in the odious affair.

    1991: A Hasidic Jewish driver in Brooklyn's Crown Heights section accidentally kills Gavin Cato, a 7-year-old black child, and antisemitic riots erupt. Sharpton races to pour gasoline on the fire. At Gavin's funeral he rails against the "diamond merchants" -- code for Jews -- with "the blood of innocent babies" on their hands. He mobilizes hundreds of demonstrators to march through the Jewish neighborhood, chanting, "No justice, no peace." A rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, is surrounded by a mob shouting "Kill the Jews!" and stabbed to death.

    1995: When the United House of Prayer, a large black landlord in Harlem, raises the rent on Freddy's Fashion Mart, Freddy's white Jewish owner is forced to raise the rent on his subtenant, a black-owned music store. A landlord-tenant dispute ensues; Sharpton uses it to incite racial hatred. "We will not stand by," he warns malignantly, "and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business." Sharpton's National Action Network sets up picket lines; customers going into Freddy's are spat on and cursed as "traitors" and "Uncle Toms." Some protesters shout, "Burn down the Jew store!" and simulate striking a match. "We're going to see that this cracker suffers," says Sharpton's colleague Morris Powell. On Dec. 8, one of the protesters bursts into Freddy's, shoots four employees point-blank, then sets the store on fire. Seven employees die in the inferno.

    In the wake of the Trent Lott debacle, it should hardly come as a surprise that Republicans will make every effort to make sure that Sharpton’s record is put before the public, should he enter the Democratic presidential primaries.

    Tapped posted the other day on Democratic anxiety about Sharpton, quoting from an article soon to appear in The American Prospect:

    "Privately, in his mind, he's perfectly capable of distinguishing between a racial attack and a political attack," notes one liberal political analyst in New York. "His public MO is not only not to make that distinction but to intentionally blur that distinction. That's where his power comes from."

    "He's going to hurt everyone," worries one well-known New York Democratic politician. "He can have a principled reason for trying to hurt conservative candidates, but remember the history -- where he goes after liberal candidates also because he can out-liberal them and out-black them."



     
    A Gephardt angle on the Confederate flag

    This week I mentioned some flag-related tangents relating to the new governors in Georgia and South Carolina. A further development: Richard Gephardt came under fire last weekend from some Democrats and NAACP activists after he tried to sidestep taking a position on the flag while campaigning in South Carolina. So, at the start of this week, Gephardt issued a statement in which he said the flag “has no place flying anywhere in any state in this country.”

    After Gephardt issued his statement, state officials in Missouri quickly moved to take down Confederate flags at two state-maintained historic sites in that state.

    My friend Fred Ray, who e-mailed me the Gephardt links, says this provides support for his argument that critics of the flag want it banished not just from government property but from private property as well. (As I’ve stated here before, I support the former, but not the latter. In any case, trying to stop anyone from displaying a flag on privately owned land is incompatible with First Amendment protections.)

    By the way: The Bush administration has made clear to GOP leaders in the state that it does not want a flag referendum to be on the ballot in Georgia in 2004, when Bush will making his re-election bid.

    And: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently conducted a poll on flag sentiment in Georgia. The paper sums up the results this way:

    The recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found that 41 percent favor keeping the current flag that Gov. Roy Barnes championed in 2000, 23 percent want to return to the old banner with its dominant Confederate battle emblem, and 28 percent prefer another, undefined alternative. And while voters didn't cite the flag question as their top priority, 67 percent of voters said it was "very important" or "somewhat important" that voters decide it.

    Legal barriers could complicate a push for a referendum, however, according to the article.

    Incidentally, Zell Miller, the conservative Democratic U.S. senator from Georgia, tried unsuccessfully in the ’90s to remove the Confederate design from the state flag during his time as governor. He approached the issue from a sound perspective: He spoke of the way the flag sparks divisiveness between the races (because of its association not just with slavery but also with opposition to the civil rights movement in the '50s and '60s) and rightly called for a change. But he framed his arguments in terms of affection for his region, not contempt for it. Exactly right.