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.
I learned much at the conference on Great Plains studies last week. The theme for this year’s three-day symposium was religion on the plains. A few items from my notes:
Greek Orthodox congregations in the United States tend to struggle with whether to use a liturgy that is all-Greek, all-English or a mixture. One presenter illustrated the challenge by singing a liturgy in English, then in Greek. No comparison -- the Greek was gorgeous, perfectly suited to the melody. The English version, merely so-so.
In 1999, the Montana Association of Jewish Communities published a cookbook. One of the recipes was for Crow Cut, a dish made from elk. As the cookbook explains:
This recipe is attributed to the early frontiersmen and is named for the Crow Indian tribe. Why is it being presented in a Montana Jewish cookbook? There were Jewish frontiersmen, there were Jewish traders, ranchers, farmers and merchants. Far away from traditional foods, far from ritual butchers, these hardy souls adapted food from local traditions. The elk is a kosher animal. If, after reading this recipe and the reader does not have elk available, substitute beef or lamb ...
The name of a Jewish cookbook published in 1964 in Dallas, Texas: “5,000 Years in the Kitchen.”
America’s historical experience, since the beginning of European settlement, goes back only a few centuries, a brief span when compared to the full breadth of European history: I’ve heard several people make that point over the years. But on the plains of North Dakota, a community of Benedictine monks there is connected to, and inspired by, a spiritual tradition that goes back more than 1,500 years.
The Benedictines’ rule, or principles for guidance, says that in deciding on an appropriate course of action, one should differentiate between what is essential and non-essential. (For the Benedictines, the essentials are shared prayer, work and community life.) That principle, in practice, has helped the Benedictines embrace adaptability -- a useful approach for those 19th century Benedictines who had left their centuries-old monastery in Europe to start a bare-bones monastery from scratch in the far different world of the Dakota plains.
I’d read about Methodist and Baptist circuit riders in the frontier days of the Carolinas. But the conference informed me about the circuit riders of the 19th century Great Plains. Some circuit riders covered 700 miles.
The original proposal for creating two states dubbed “Dakota” would have divided them east-west rather than north-south.
From an address by Martin Marty: He quoted one academic, who wrote, “Tell me your landscape and I will tell you who you are.” Which relates to a Willa Cather line, “The great fact was the land itself.” Marty quoted from a Kent Haruf novel in which someone complains about the unfairness of a situation: “Of course it’s not fair. There ain’t none of it that’s fair. Life isn’t. And all our thinking it should be don’t seem to make one simple damn.”
The Midwest has had a mania for creating small colleges. A 19th century booster of Ohio once bragged that while England had two universities and France one, Ohio had 37.
The dwindling of many rural communities on the plains is well-known. Less so, perhaps, is that there are many “ghost colleges” in the region. One now-defunct college on the high plains of Texas observed in its promotional literature that once there, students would find that “we have the entire prairie for an athletic field.”
That will have to do for now. I have to complete an article today for online publication, submitting it on Tuesday. So, I will spend my normal blog time tonight or early Tuesday morning finishing the article rather than blogging. I’ll link to the piece when and if it goes online at mid-week.
Not so reassuring reports from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about the Shiites in southern Iraq:
IRAQI SHIA OPPOSITION LEADERS DESCRIBED AS IRANIAN 'APPARATCHIKS.'
Saddam Hussein has little to fear from senior Iraqi opposition figures because Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has
turned many of them into "Iranian government apparatchiks," Alireza Nurizadeh writes in the 24 March issue of Beirut's "The Daily Star." Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, for example, used to be a leading figure in SCIRI, and International Assembly of the Ahl al-Bayt Secretary-General Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi al-Asifi used to lead the pro-Iran faction of the Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call) party. SCIRI head Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim might soon be appointed to a similar post, according to "The Daily Star." "The yellowed Iranian birth certificates (issued by Iranian consulates in Karbala and other cities) of [the named individuals] bear witness to the fact that those Shi'a who dream of ruling Iraq are more Iranian than Iraqi," according to "The Daily Star." SCIRI's Abdul Aziz al-Hakim has been touted as a possible future Iraqi leader, but his close relationship with Tehran precludes the United States allowing such an occurrence, according to a commentary in the "Gilan-i Imruz" daily of Rasht on 10 February.
WARNING OF AN ANTI-U.S. SHIA UPRISING.
"Closely informed Lebanese and Iraqi Shi'a sources" said in the 23 March issue of Manama's "Akhbar al-Khalij" that Iraqi Shi'a refuse to take power by relying on the United States, which is why they have not staged an antigovernment uprising in southern Iraq. Iraqi Shi'a who are inclined toward Lebanese Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah are preparing for armed resistance against a U.S. occupation, according to the Bahraini publication. Other anonymous sources close to the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, according to "Akhbar al-Khalij," say that Sunni Islamists are prepared to join with the Shi'a in their resistance.
Maybe such reports are misleading or alarmist. But I still thought them worth passing along.
The Democratic Leadership Council had some interesting info this week about how many Iranian moderates are hopeful that the war in Iraq will lead to a shakeup in Iran.
Did you see what Scott Ritter is predicting about how the Iraq campaign will turn out? A weird fellow. Give him a few more years, and he'll be able to succeed Ramsey Clark as the West's top lunatic/apologist for anti-Western thug-regimes.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan demonstrated the good that can result when a vigorous intellect is applied to the questions of public policy. Moynihan was a rare and curious figure in that liberals as well as conservatives will have particular cause to lament his passing this week.
For me, Moynihan stands out as a true hero because of his work as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the mid-1970s. He was stalwart and eloquent in standing up to Soviet machinations and reckless U.N. initiatives. It was a magnificent, inspiring achievement.
In his first campaign, in 1976, Moynihan's opponent was the incumbent, James Buckley, who playfully referred to "Professor Moynihan" from Harvard. Moynihan exclaimed with mock indignation, "The mudslinging has begun!"
Peace protesters made a bit of noise in North Carolina the other day outside a fund-raiser for John Edwards. It was part of the ongoing protests in the state's Triangle area (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), and only one of several efforts by opponents of the war to indicate their displeasure at Edwards' stance. Pictures and comments from the protest are here (although the page was very slow to call up this morning).
From an e-mail this week from my friend Craig Brelsford, a Pittsburgh native now living in the Netherlands:
We get a French channel, TV5 (TAY VAY SANK). The reporting on the war is laughably, viciously biased. Day 5 into the war, and already it's a quagmire, a la Vietnam. A house bombed in Baghdad gets deep coverage, without anyone putting the accident into its proper context, that is, that the bombs are overall remarkably accurate. Deep divisions in America, with Michael Moore more or less representing the mood of the public. I was laughing at my TV yesterday, as though it was comedy. Then I realized they were serious, and I got angry.
I don't know what's going to happen. But I've been paying more attention to those stories, one of them about McCaffrey, saying we may not have sent enough guys in. I'm worried.
But seeing the dead soldiers on TV hardened my resolve. I think Iraq miscalculated there. They think we'll pull out the way we did in Somalia. I think we're going to see this thing through, despite Susan Sarandon and Mike Moore and TAY VAY SANK.
By the way: Some recent posts here have talked about the linguistic entanglements of the French and English languages. Craig writes:
Dutch also has hundreds if not thousands of French words in it, but it's funny, you can tell the infusion of French into Dutch came later because many of the French-Dutch words keep a more French sound. But in English, the infusion started earlier, with William, and the French-English words have less of a French sound. (Also, English experienced the Great Vowel Shift right before Shakespeare, and all words, even native English ones, underwent a marked change in pronunciation.)
U.S. leaders are mindful of the need to avoid damaging Iraq's archaeological sites and Shiite holy sites in Iraq. That brings to mind Henry Stimson's directive during World War II that U.S. forces avoid obliterating Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital.
That is the topic of a well-done post by CalPundit.
In another CalPundit post (this one from Monday), Kevin Drum gives voice to this thought:
Watching the Academy Awards I'm reminded of a question I have every year: why are the presenters so lame at reading their lines? I mean, these folks are professional actors, but they read their four or five line intros like fourth graders in a school play. Sometimes they can't even read the names of the nominees without stumbling.
Yes, why is that? Kevin also asks some follow-up thoughts.
I leave at mid-day today for a three-day conference in Lincoln. It's an annual symposium about the Great Plains; the topic to be examined changes each year. This year, the topic is religion on the Plains. Attending the conference, sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Great Plains, has become a spring ritual for me. Here is a link to the symposium agenda. An address by Martin Marty kicks off the event tonight.
So, I will be away from blogging till sometime over the weekend.
A Thomas Friedman column this week made a crucial point:
Yes, we have changed. “What Chirac failed to understand was that between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the twin towers, a new world was created,” said Dominique Moisi, a French foreign policy expert. “In the past, the Americans needed us against the Soviets and would never go so far as to punish France for straying. But that changed after 9/11. You have been at war since then, and we have not, and we have not integrated that reality into our thinking (and what that means) in terms of America's willingness to go it alone. We have fewer common interests now and more divided emotions.”
In his latest column, UPI columnist Jim Bennett touches on a related point which I’ve focused on repeatedly here. He writes that over the past decade or so:
... the United Nations was envisioned as an effective organ of security, and the Security Council as body that would no longer be paralyzed by the vetoes of contending superpower rivals. An increasingly elaborate web of transnational law was promoted through treaties and the new institutions they established, which was moving for the first time to a transnational law of personal jurisdiction. International law was increasingly seen as something that bound individuals as well as states. A series of U.N. conferences on various topics would serve in place of elected legislatures, to establish by the consensus of the self-selected the new orthodoxy of thought, speech and behavior.
Sept. 11,2001, began the process of stripping away this illusion. It demonstrated that there was no such thing as an effective international civil society. Rather, it demonstrated that sufficiently large segments of the world's population held such dissimilar fundamental viewpoints on basic issues of life that peaceful coexistence and tolerance, without more forceful dissuasion of parties of concern than previously thought necessary, would not be possible.
This in no way means, however, that the governments and activists pushing for a Kumbaya international order are letting up in their efforts. On the contrary, they will argue that the current Iraq campaign provides further proof that efforts should be redoubled in trying to constrain U.S. power through new mechanisms of international law.
International support for such a cause is being strengthened by the fervently negative press coverage given the Iraq campaign by non-American media. The Wall Street Journal had an article on Tuesday about the press coverage.
An article by Rob Long in the current National Review argues that just as the French will spend half an hour to prepare an egg properly or refuse (in a real-life incident he describes) to serve the cheese and dessert courses together to save time, so their government will continue to insist that all the rules of the diplomatic process be followed scrupulously, regardless of whether the actions accomplish anything in the face of a major security threat.
“Ossified, rule-bound cultures simply do not take action,” Long writes, “because action leads to change, and change leads to dessert and cheese laying together on the table, all willy-nilly and higgledy-piggledly.”
He adds: “Why didn’t we know this? Don’t we all know someone, in our life or our business, obsessed with process and steps and organization flows? Someone who impedes progress and delays action, not necessarily out of malice, but out of some deeply held belief that it’s better, when confronted with a choice, not to make one?”
The point isn’t that diplomatic processes are necessarily a waste of time. In most instances, diplomacy is precisely the appropriate tool to accomplish important tasks. But as the Iraq situation indicates, in some instances a punctilious insistence on process accomplishes nothing. Worse, it ill serves one’s interests if not one’s security.
At the same time, another reality should be sinking in: The limitations seen on the U.S. military’s rules of engagement in Iraq, in order to minimize civilian casualties, will likely become the way of the future.
Modern sensibilities here and abroad encourage such a development. So do pressures from the Kumbaya activist culture. Intensive, around-the-clock media coverage also contributes to the trend.
A caller to the Canadian radio program "As It Happens" last night said she’s not surprised that Iraqis aren’t rising up to welcome American troops or that many of the Iraqi forces aren’t laying down their arms.
I’ll grant that the Shias in southern Iraq have reason to be wary of the United States, given how Saddam’s regime punished them savagely after their failed uprising, at the urging of George Bush Sr., in 1991.
Still, the woman reminded me much of the Lillian Gish character in the movie version of Graham Greene’s “The Comedians,” in which she played an American innocent who didn’t have a clue as the true savagery of Papa Doc’s Tonton Macoute.
Here is a report from The New York Times, for example, about the terroristic tactics used by Saddam’s Fedayeen: “A woman who waved to British forces on the outskirts of the city was later found hanged, an American officer said.”
That is why many in southern Iraq haven’t come forward to welcome U.S. troops.
“They are thugs, the tools of terror,” said Christopher Hellman, a senior analyst with the Henry L. Stimson Center, an independent public policy institute on international security in Washington, D.C. "They are similar to Hitler's S.A. (the brownshirts), a force meant to ensure loyalty to the leadership by whatever means, or Russian commissars whose job was to shoot their own soldiers if they retreated.” ...
“A lot of what they have been doing prior to the start of this war is spying on other Iraqi forces,” Byman added. “They torture. They rape. They inspire fear. If someone defects, they torture his family members and send the defector a videotape of it. That's routine.”
Congratulations, West Virginians. Your state is especially impressive in terms of the number of young people stepping up to volunteer for the U.S. Army this year. (Phooey. I just checked the link; registration is required. That wasn't the case when I first saw the story on Tuesday.)
A flap has erupted in the Massachusetts House over the wording of a proposed resolution that would express support not just for U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf but also for Bush’s leadership.
In Illinois, lawmakers are considering a proposal that would prohibit condominium and homeowners' associations from preventing people from flying the American flag on their property. The state Senate passed the measure on Monday.
That "High Noon" post certainly generated a lot of interest (although, as I subsequently found out, I was hardly the first to interpret the movie in connection to the Iraq situation). I quote from one final e-mail on the subject; the writer makes a sound point:
High Noon may have been a great movie, but it was certainly not representative of the way things were in the Old West. The idea that four gunmen could frighten a western town into inaction is pretty silly. Many of the town's men would have been veterans of the Civil War, not to mention battles with Indians; no doubt all would have been familiar (if not proficient) with firearms. The women, too. Four bad guys would have been outmanned and outgunned.
The Dalton Gang was wiped out by the good people of Coffeyville, Kansas, when the outlaws tried to rob both of the town's banks in one day. Likewise, the James-Younger Gang was shot to pieces by the folks in Northfield, Minnesota. In real life, Frank Miller would have been better served by staying on the train, but that would have made a lousy movie.
My friend Chris Scott, of the blog The Insecure Egoist, writes in regard to my post immediately below on Peter Arnett:
Not quite a year ago, Dateline: NBC ran a self-congratulatory reflectory 10 year anniversary. The whole episode was basically about how cool and vanguard-ish Dateline was for the stories it ran. Part of it was absolutely heinous. They spoke about the various individuals they had met who had changed their respective lives. Most of these individuals were facing uphill struggles of one sort or another: some were facing death in the face of uncurable diseases. Dateline had no follow up -- they were just talking about how cool they were for reporting them! Call me crazy, but that seems to me a callous disregard for these individuals' actual welfare and humanity. They were turned into trophies.
All media, print as well as broadcast, promote their coverage as part of their marketing. But such promotion shouldn't be done in an exploitive way.
Well, at least he’s supposed to be covering the war.
The overwrought segment last night showed Arnett's crew filming bombing footage from the balcony of a Baghdad hotel, but it didn’t present any actual reporting. It was merely a two-minute puff piece in which viewers were shown Arnett standing in his hotel room as the bombs fell, barking into a satellite phone about how spectacular everything was.
In his voiceover, Arnett talked about how brave his crew was and how smart they had been to chose that particular hotel room, because, he said, it turned out to offer the perfect location for shooting.
He sounded less like a journalist than like Robin Leach at his most insufferable.
Some big-time TV journalists are known for their self-indulgence, but the Arnett piece set a particular standard for egotistical extravagance.
The piece actually ended with Arnett mopping his brow and letting out a deep breath of (supposed) relief.
A strange weekend. I did my usual thing, devoting most of my time to the kids. I was able to follow the war news, but not in a sit-down-and-watch-for-hours way. I got as much news from radio as from TV. (It helps that there’s a CNN news station here on the AM radio dial.)
I’d intended to quote from a rang of blog material I’d seen at night over the weekend, but I’m just about out of time. Here is one item, part of a serviceman’s letter, from Meryl Yourish’s blog:
Last night it was beautiful over Iraq; dark and mostly clear. Just a few thin clouds caught the pale moonlight. The stars were spectacular. The night sky here is so dark, so free (normally) of man-made light, that you can see millions of stars, stars in such profusion that you can hardly pick out constellations because the spaces between the familiar stars are filled with tiny lights you never saw before.
The darkness and the peace were short-lived. As we flew north we saw the comet-tails of jet exhausts and the flash of missiles exploding. At our northernmost orbit, we saw large fires on the horizon. ...
And speaking of radios, the nets were full of the voices of American and British airmen speaking in measured tones, gathering intelligence, giving and receiving guidance to targets, passing battle damage assessments, and requesting tankers. ...
It set a new record for long sorties for my crew, but when the time came to turn back toward our home away from home, we found ourselves hoping our replacement would be delayed. We were the first of our kind to cross the border, and we wanted to be the last to return.
I’ll have to leave it at that for now.
By the way: The bad news is that Michael Moore was actually given an Oscar last night and then used the occasion to indulge in a rant against Bush and the U.S. action in Iraq. The good news (if the online account I read is accurate) is that there was a lot of audible booing.
‘It has put mission accomplishment ahead of force protection’
Perhaps Thomas Ricks, a Washington Post reporter with much experience covering military affairs, was too quick over the weekend with his critical conclusions about the U.S. war plan for Iraq. It’s unavoidable that some U.S. casualties would occur and some Americans would be captured. Still, Ricks isn't some knee-jerk critic of the military, and his points deserve attention:
Indeed, columns of M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles ferrying thousands of troops continued their relentless drive toward the capital yesterday, pulling to within 100 miles of the city.
But that armored force is tethered to Kuwait by a largely unsecured supply line, which set up the conditions for the ambush near Nasiriyah yesterday in which 12 soldiers from an Army support unit were either killed or taken prisoner.
That attack "hopefully will be a wake-up call for everyone to realize that bypassed [Iraqi] units can live to fight another day," one Army officer commented yesterday. He said he continues to worry that the overall U.S. invasion force -- a third the size of that which ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 -- is too small. ...
Another pillar of the U.S. approach is to minimize civilian casualties. In practical terms, that has meant the imposition of unusually restrictive rules of engagement on U.S. and British troops, who say they have been told not to shoot unless shot at. Iraqi units that are holding out in the south appeared to take advantage of those constraints.
U.S. casualties that were suffered in the process are bound to provoke criticism of the gamble that U.S. commanders are taking, predicted Peter Feaver, a Duke University expert in national security. "Certainly, you will have no trouble finding quotes from retired Army officers saying that the war plan has been too risky," he said. But, he added, in his own opinion "the really important thing about the plan is that ‘it has put mission accomplishment ahead of force protection."
A small, new French bakery in my neighborhood was in the news here lately. The owner, a native of France, has been catching flak from some Omahans merely because he is French.
I made it a point over the weekend to go by the bakery and buy a few things.
The owner isn’t political or, by any description, anti-American; he’s just trying to sell baked goods and make a living. The presence of his business strengthens and enlivens my neighborhood. He chose, after all, to live here in Omaha. And I’m quite happy he chose to locate his business in my neighborhood in particular.
His tomato-and-basil bread, incidentally, is a delight.
During the Gulf War in 1991, I wrote a column, at a newspaper in North Carolina, in which I voiced strong support for the U.S. military effort. An American woman I knew slightly at the time, a specialist in Arab studies with a master’s degree in that subject, wrote me a heated, condescending letter in which she disputed my arguments.
It was a long letter, but the only point of hers I remember is that she wrote that she read The New York Times daily. Implying, in other words, that she was far better-informed than I was.
As if readers of the Times should be of a single mind on a subject.
These days, her comment is downright quaint, given that the online readership of the Times now exceeds its print readership. And I doubt that readers of the paper are unanimous in their views on the Iraq question.
More thoughts from my friend Craig Brelsford, a Pennsylvania native now living in the Netherlands:
Reports say Iraqi soldiers are changing into civilian garb and blending into the local population, awaiting their chance to strike. A soldier who shucks his uniform and continues to fight is a war criminal. In battle, they should be given no quarter; once captured, they should be treated not as prisoners of war, but as the terrorists they are.
... I just looked at my U.S. passport and noticed most of the English writing is supplemented by a French translation. This is a vestige of the time when French was the world's diplomatic language. I'm wondering why a French translation needs to be there anymore.
And from another e-mail of his; it mentioned his recent trip to Nice, France:
Nice is warm nearly year round, palm trees grow tall as in Florida or southern California. Nice is one of the main cities of the famous south of France.
How far south is Nice?
How about 2 degrees latitude farther NORTH than Omaha!
After I posted comments from my friend Craig Brelsford about the linguistic connections between English and French, xavier Basora wrote to recommend the book “Honni mal y pense” by Henriette Walter, written in French. Writes xavier: “The book explains the close and intertangled relationship between French and English languages full of example followed by example.”
Though it is difficult enough to write well in one’s native tongue, an extraordinary group of authors has written enduring poetry and prose in a second, third, or even fourth language. Switching Languages is the first anthology in which translingual authors from throughout the world examine their experiences writing in more than one language or in a language other than their primary one. Driven by factors as varied as migration, imperialism, a quest for verisimilitude, and a desire to assert artistic autonomy, translingualism has a long and brilliant history.
By the way: After I posted an item about U.S. trade in cultural goods, xavier wrote me, “It's very true that the American book trade is very dynamic and exports all over the world. I know because I see the original language American book and the French translation side by side.”
Maybe one more movie reference is relevant on the Iraq matter. Given the hall-of-mirrors uncertainty about which Saddam is real and which is a double, the 1980 Akira Kurosawa film “Kagemusha” (The Double) comes to mind:
Shot on one of the largest budgets in Japanese film history, Kagemusha (The Double) saw the return of Kurosawa to the samurai film and in epic style. The film takes place in 16th century Japan where a ferocious power struggle, a battle for the county's spiritual capital -- Kyoto, is raging between warlord Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai) and two rival clans.
When Shingen is shot by a sniper during a lengthy siege, on his death bed he proclaims that his passing should be kept secret for no less than three years -- lest the Takeda clan be destroyed by their enemies. Begrudgingly his powerful generals agree, and Shingen's place is assumed by his kagemusha -- his double or “shadow warrior” -- a former thief (again wonderfully played by Nakadai) bearing an incredibly likeness to the lord.
And so this kagemusha takes on the unenviable task of full-time impersonator, repressing his own personality and assuming the mantle of impotent leader; successfully fooling Singen's family and friends, and playing his part in battle. Even more remarkably, the clan seems to flourish under his rule; morale improves, and the clan's unbeaten military record is maintained.
But slowly the pressure starts to tell as the kagemusha, a common man elevated far above his station and plagued with pity and self-doubt, longs for his old life and his long forgotten sense of self.
My friend Craig Brelsford, a Pennsylvania native now living in the Netherlands, has e-mailed me many observations this week on the Iraq matter. He and his wife just returned from a brief trip to France. (Craig is multilingual; I’m quite jealous.) Among the points he has raised:
Did you see Blair's speech? It confirmed to me something I learned in journalism about politicians. And that's this: It isn't all spin. There's true sincerity, true passion, true spirit, mingled with the lies and avarice and grasping for power. There are moments where it is clear that the politician is passionately using politics to accomplish the right thing; something he knows is true and right and is in a position to achieve.
I also liked Bush's speech. Grave, somber, firm, humane.
Any surprise that after both speeches, public support for the war, both in Britain and in America, began to grow?
One of my favorite thinkers, Irving Babbitt, pointed out that whereas human beings are tragically susceptible to falling for lies and double dealing (one need only look at the triumph of communism for an instance of that), they are also capable of sensing the truth and of responding powerfully to it.
Truth is an ancient word related to tree. Like trees, Bush and Blair have stood firm, their vision unclouded. Their speeches were full of the power of their convictions. ...
Our friend went to America for the first time two weeks ago. She spent eight days in New York. She loved New York. She also made me explain why the buildings were so warm. Here in Europe, you keep your heat around 64, and you wear a sweater in the house. Of course, in America, we don't do that. I refused to defend America's rather wasteful way. She pressed on, though, making it seem the Dutch are just more virtuous than the Americans, that they care more for the environment. That may be true, but I pointed out that national realities also shaped this supposed virtue. In Holland, there's no abundance of anything, except tulips and cows. They HAVE to conserve. (I often say the tight squeeze here is Holland's greatest curse and greatest blessing, because it turned them into the industrious people they are today.) Americans don't HAVE to conserve the way the Dutch do.
She didn't appreciate that. To her, Americans had a moral problem. They were a bunch of wastrels who care little for the earth.
Common sense tells her Americans are just people, people much like West Europeans. But ideology tells her Americans are villains who engage in predatory capitalism and fight people without the moral imprimatur of the UN and who gave up on Kyoto.
Europe remains one of the best places in the world to live. But as my link shows, it faces real problems. It is in a muddle over nationhood, it is getting older, immigrants are beating on the door, and they have given up on Christianity. ...
1. I like the French. Really. I think the French are an important people. They are creative, innovative, and they have given a lot to the world. However, they are not nearly as important, or creative, or innovative as they think they are. And though they have given much to the world, they also gave the world Napoleon and les collabo's of World War II.
2. I see some bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan are running some of the vilest stuff from the anti-Bush, anti-war people. I don't think it's necessary anymore to show how vile those people are. All they can offer now is talk. It is Bush who is offering action. And as Sullivan himself said some weeks ago, only one thing matters now, and that is how things go on the battlefield. ...
I've been thinking a lot about French rudeness. Perhaps these thoughts will help you:
1. For centuries, France was the leading country in Europe. French was the leading language. Educated people throughout Europe learned it. Ever read a Tolstoy novel? They're peppered with French words. Russian nobles often spoke better French than Russian.
French is still an important language, but English has supplanted it as a world language. So there's some resentment over France's lost glory.
2. The French language has a unique relationship with English. English has a double heritage: the ancient Germanic base and the Franco-Latin grafting, the result of William the Conqueror's invasion of England in 1066. William and the Normans spoke French. His conquest set up a funnel into which thousands of French words poured into English. So when a Frenchman looks at English, he sees "French" words being passed off as English words, and he thinks, English wouldn't be anything without us. No other language can look at English and say that.
This St. Petersburg Times article, linked to by Winds of Change, talks about the potential that governments and entities hostile to the United States would use satellites as a tool against the United States. (I've posted about the U.S. military's use of space-based assets.) From the article:
If there is a war with Iraq, at least a dozen nations will watch it unfold from space, including some countries that oppose U.S. policies in the Middle East.
That means a hostile government could share satellite intelligence about U.S. war strategy with Saddam Hussein.
Or Iraq itself, which has no satellites but does possess sophisticated intercept equipment, might just steal the data.
"It has happened before," said Bill Kennedy, a veteran satellite imaging specialist in Washington, D.C. "A Japanese university was caught hijacking data from (an American) Landsat satellite as it flew over Japan. You have to have a high level of technology and sophistication, but it can be done. It has been done." ...
Tim Brown, senior analyst with the nonprofit group GlobalSecurity.org in Alexandria, Va., thinks the opportunities for mischief are limited.
"You have to ask yourself the question, if Saddam Hussein had the best imagery available, what would that accomplish?" Brown said. "If they want to know what's going on at a U.S. air base, do they need satellite imagery to accomplish that, or is it information they can get from the ground? I think the danger of the imagery is overblown." ...
Under a law passed in 1992, the federal government can close off all data developed by American commercial satellites if the secretaries of state and defense decide that's necessary. They can limit access to the data only to protect international obligations, foreign policy and national security concerns.
The limitations are imposed by the secretary of commerce, whose department licenses the satellites.
So far, Brender said, there are no indications that this will happen in the event of war with Iraq.
"I think the administration finds it better to have the images in the public domain," he said. "They show our strength and resolve to the Iraqis and others who might need to see them."
Even if images from U.S. satellites were closed off, "it would be expensive and difficult," Zimmerman says. "There are too many eyes in the sky. We can't control them all."
Donald Sensing, a knowledgeable source on matters military as well as spiritual, is posting impressively about many aspects of the conflict.
Two topics: possible concerns that would arise a "slow war," and how a fumbling TV reporter who nonchalantly tried to put on a gas mask while reporting live from Kuwait would have been dead had it been an actual chemical attack. Don explains the proper procedure for donning a gas mask.
It’s funny how the script for “High Noon” can be interpreted in various ways. Anyone who followed the link I provided to the online review of the movie may have noticed that the script has been described by some as a hostile allusion to the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Hollywood blacklisting controversy. The screenwriter, Carl Foreman, wound up on the blacklist.
The links from Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds sent well over 6,000 visitors this way on Thursday. That pushed the number of visits here since the blog's inception past the 100,000 mark. That’s puny compared to the numbers for the big bloggers, but still a milestone for any blog. Thanks to all who have stopped by over the past nine months.
More: More recent "High Noon" blogging -- well-done blogging -- which predated my post and which I was unaware of till today: from John Rosenberg of Discriminations (John is a fine scholar of Southern history and a thoughtful e-mail correspondent of mine, incidentally), and from Alan Dale of The Kitchen Cabinet.
Still more: From today's inbox:
Another movie I would want others to see to understand the American take on things is "Big Country" with Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons. Won an Oscar in in '58. Supposedly Pres. Eisenhower was so moved he watched it 5 times. Short summary: A Boston Sea Captain goes to Texas to marry and though provoked does not fight just to fight; but does respond to real danger and peril. By example he demonstrates honor and courage. And by the end of the movie others understand and admire him for it. A truly wonderful movie.
I like to think the sea captain angle fits into the blog theory of Maritime powers vs. land powers.
Thomas Friedman invoked a Western-movie motif in his latest column:
President Bush is fond of cowboy imagery, so here's an image that comes to mind about our pending war with Iraq. In most cowboy movies the good guys round up a posse before they ride into town and take on the black hats.
We're doing just the opposite. We're riding into Baghdad pretty much alone and hoping to round up a posse after we get there. I hope we do, because it may be the only way we can get out with ourselves, and the town, in one piece.
But for this situation, isn’t the best (albeit imperfect) movie parallel “High Noon”?
In that 1952 film, the theme was Gary Cooper, unilateralist.
Cooper tried to round up support from the townspeople of Hadleyville, Wyo., to stand up to the gunslingers who were about to arrive and devastate the town. But no one would step forward to join him. He faced the danger alone.
Another theme: Time ran out, leading to an unavoidable showdown between the forces of good and evil.
This taut, tightly scripted, minimalist film tells the tale of a solitary, stoic, honor-bound marshal/hero, past his prime and already retired, who was left desolate and abandoned by the Hadleyville townspeople he had faithfully protected for many years. Due to the townspeople's cowardice, physical inability, self-interest and indecisiveness, he is refused help at every turn against a revenge-seeking killer and his gang.
Fearful but duty-bound, he eventually vanquishes the enemy, thereby sparing the civilized (democratic) town the encroachment of barbaristic frontier justice brought by the deadly four-man group of outlaws.
As I said, the parallel may be incomplete, but the necessary unilateralism of Cooper’s character, Kane the resolute marshal, does have resonances in the current foreign policy atmosphere.
At one point, Kane seeks support from the church. He interrupts the Sunday service and makes an appeal. The local minister wrings his hands. Members of the congregation resort to various rationalizations to weasel out of taking a firm stand.
One church member tries to persuade his brethren to support the marshal: “I tell ya, if we don’t do what’s right, we’re gonna have plenty more trouble. So there ain’t but one thing to do now, and you all know what it is.”
That is why this indulgence has to stop. Because it is dangerous. It is dangerous if such regimes disbelieve us. Dangerous if they think they can use our weakness, our hesitation, even the natural urges of our democracy towards peace, against us. Dangerous because one day they will mistake our innate revulsion against war for permanent incapacity; when in fact, pushed to the limit, we will act. But then when we act, after years of pretence, the action will have to be harder, bigger, more total in its impact.
Another Blair statement is also relevant: “If our plea is for America to work with others, to be good as well as powerful allies, will our retreat make them multilateralist? Or will it not rather be the biggest impulse to unilateralism there could ever be?”
It figures. It's all happened too sudden. People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don't care. They just don't care.
Kane also grows frustrated with the pacifism of his new wife, Amy, a converted Quaker. She tells him that her personal experience with violent death has left her determined to find a way beyond the resort to gunplay. She recounts the murder of two of her family members:
I've heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn't help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That's when I became a Quaker. I don't care who's right or who's wrong. There's got to be some better way for people to live.
During the Iraq controversy, Continentals have often pointed to the traumas of the world wars, saying that that historical experience deepened their moral sensibility and that the world must move beyond senseless carnage.
In the end, Kane faces the four outlaws alone, clearly outgunned. (Yes, an incomplete parallel.) A ferocious gunfight ensues. Amy, pulled by love and loyalty to her husband, appears on the scene and takes up a gun. She kills one of the outlaws. All the evildoers are slain.
In the final scene (which has no dialogue), Kane and Amy depart:
Without support from the people, Kane will no longer be their leader. Silently, without a backward glance or goodbye, he and Amy ride off into the distance from the community of weak, fickle onlookers in the saved, unremarkable town of Hadleyville ... The contemptible crowd that was unwilling to fight to preserve its law and order remains silent as the buckboard goes out of view, accompanied by the title song's famous melancholy ballad.
When evil needs to be dealt with, impractical moral pretensions and facile rationalizations for inaction are often no substitute for a sober resort to force.
Update: Phooey. James Woolsey, it turns out, raised the Europeans/"High Noon" parallel more than a year ago in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. A pretty good piece (titled "Where's the Posse?").
More: Some remarkable e-mail this afternoon from this post. My thanks to everyone who has written. From the inbox:
Message recieved by WashU law students yesterday: "In view of the international events taking place this week, the award winning Japanese film -- A Taxing Woman -- which as to be shown this week in the Harris Institute International Film Series will be postponed. In its place we will show as A Paradigm of American Justice, the classic film -- High Noon -- starring Gary Cooper (who won an Oscar for his role) and Grace Kelly. The film will be shown at 2 pm in the small courtroom."
I told an Algerian friend to view "High Noon" and some Bugs Bunny cartoons for an insight into the American psyche; at least red state types.
Don't forget that Lloyd Bridges in that movie is like France. He got along well with the Marshal and they were allies of old but because of wounded pride because the Marshal didn't think he was up to the job of substituting as Marshal he did all that he could to make sure Cooper had to go it alone, if at all. ... You know, now that I think of it, Bridges also thinks he has the loyalty of the Marshal's old flame (Europe) but she turns on him for not behaving like a man (new Europe).
Moscow is not very pleased at the prospect of acting in the role Washington has cast for it -- the role of a "junior regional policeman," working for a "miserly wage." The Moscow elite feels that Washington is using the Iraq situation to forcibly jam Russia into its geopolitical and economic plans, something that has been going on for the past year. ...
Yet, no senior member of the Bush Administration has been willing to utter in public even the very vague promise to "take into account" Russian interests in Iraq. This has disturbed the Russian establishment.
... in the eyes of the radical "state-patriots" (derzhavniki), Vladimir Putin appears to be continuing down the path of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. They "gave away" Germany, the Baltic States and God knows what else! Now the current president has given way before the West in terms of NATO expansion, and has reconciled himself to the American withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, the deployment of U.S. forces into Central Asia and the Caucasus ...
For the Kremlin it is becoming quite apparent that the close relationship with America (within the framework of the antiterrorist coalition) is no longer quite as profitable as it was a year ago. ...
All of these goals of American policy disturb Russia. Moscow, along with France, Germany and China, doesn't feel that that its own security is threatened by Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, nor does it consider the hypothetical threat that WMD might fall into the hands of terrorists from these sources as likely.
No, a greater threat to the Russian establishment is that if the United States is successful in democratizing the Middle East, this will lead to a democratic restructuring of Central Asia and the whole of the southern periphery of the post-Soviet space. And this challenges Russia's national interests. Such a development would not be in the interests of a large portion either of the Russian elite or of the post-Soviet elite in the other countries of the CIS connected to it. This is why it has sought to hinder democratization and the creation of open economies, since under such conditions it would not be competitive.
Moscow does not like the growing pressure of Washington on North Korea. The Kremlin is concerned that all of this is being done with a hidden agenda -- to strengthen the American military presence on the Korean peninsula and to lay the foundations for a regional ballistic missile defense system for the Asian-Pacific region as a means to counter a rising China and to counter its threats to Taiwan. Obviously, Beijing has sought solidarity with Moscow on a common position to prevent the realization of the American strategic plans.
There is also another factor working against any convergence of Moscow's goals with American policy: the fabric of economic relations binding Russia to Europe and even China is much tighter than that with America. ...
Moreover, in Russia -- as in Europe -- it is well remembered that after the conclusion of "Desert Storm" the most lucrative contacts in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (for arms deliveries, telecommunications and a whole host of other projects) were awarded exclusively to American firms. The winner takes all!
Meanwhile, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the Duma has suspended consideration of the U.S.-Russian treaty to reduce strategic nuclear weapons (a treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate on Monday).
Bush, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have gone all-out to sway public opinion in their respective countries even as they are engaged in monumental diplomatic confrontation. ...
Koizumi, when asked by opposition party leaders what his stand on war would be without a new U.N. Security Council resolution, said his response would depend on "the climate of the moment.'' ... It is an anachronism to fail to inform the people and propose available options while instead offering nothing but the stand that the government has decided that what it does will be "the only thing in the national interest.''
Meanwhile, this article says the Japanese government has
finalized the outline of new legislation designed to allow the Self-Defense Forces to offer rear support for multinational forces stationed in Iraq after the end of an expected war in the country, sources said.
With a U.S.-led attack on Iraq imminent, the government apparently made the decision to play a role in the postwar reconstruction of the country. ...
As for the infrastructure assistance, SDF members would be involved in rebuilding airports, roads and other infrastructure damaged by attacks. Defense personnel would aid victims of the war by transporting food, clothing, medicines and other necessities, and by providing medical services for refugees who have returned to Iraq after the war, the sources said.
And this Japanese news report says “UNICEF would like the Japanese government to provide financial assistance for postwar Iraq if a war takes place and the Japanese people to support the government in doing so.”
I criticized UCLA history prof Perry Anderson in a post Tuesday, saying he appeared to be minimizing the hostility of Democrats toward the Bush policy on Iraq. Erik, who runs the well-done blog Bite the Wax Tadpole (check out his nifty euroblogs section, incidentally), sent a most cogent e-mail pointing out that I'd failed to grasp Anderson's point. He's sorted things out far better than I did:
He isn't suggesting that the differences between Democrats and Depublicans (or between the US and Europe) on Iraq today are slight. He's saying that the fundamental reason for the chasm is that many Democrats and Europeans are responding with automatic opposition to Bush, with the result that the gap is much wider now than it would be if Gore or Clinton were making precisely the same arguments.
I suspect he's right about many Democrats, and I'm dead certain he's right about European opinion. George Bush never had a chance with European public opinion. From the day he appeared on the radar of European opinion he was portrayed as a bloodthirsty idiot cowboy slave of the oil companies, who spent his time personally beheading death-row inmates and
smearing oil on endangered waterfowl. Yes, I exaggerate, but not as much as you might believe.
The fact that he came after Clinton, who most Europeans simply adored, only made the contrast stronger. When Bush was elected, the feeling of genuine loss amongst the politically aware was palpable (at least in Amsterdam).
Speaking of the DLC, its affiliated Progressive Policy Institute has released another interesting “Trade Fact of the Week.” This time, cultural exports. Good stuff:
High culture: America conducts $15 billion worth of annual merchandise trade in books, visual arts and musical instruments.
Value of U.S. book exports, 2002: $4.2 billion
Value of paintings imported from France, 2002: $1.4 billion ...
WHAT THEY MEAN:
Cultural goods -- books, artwork, musical instruments, sound recordings, antiques and so on -- account for about $15 billion in U.S. trade each year. This figure is lower than those for the most heavily traded products (autos, clothes, electronics, energy
and food range from $60 to $150 billion) but comparable to the annual values for steel or jewelry.
Few trade barriers exist for these products -- books, antiques, original artwork and music recordings are all duty-free ...
America's largest cultural merchandise export is books (most of all technical manuals and college texts), which bring in about $4 billion in exports per year. Canada buys nearly half of all America's exported books, with $1.8 billion in purchases last
One of the largest single book export categories, however, is Bibles -- the United Kingdom, Africa, and Brazil all buy more than 5 million copies a year.
CDs, DVDs, and other recording media come in next, with about $3 billion in annual exports. Services exports, however (especially in cinema), are harder to measure but are probably at least as valuable as book and music exports combined.
In musical instruments and visual artwork, the United States is more a buyer than a seller. For imported paintings and statuary, France is the top source; for antiques, the United Kingdom ...
Perry Anderson, a history professor at UCLA, defends the Bush policy on Iraq, among much else, in a provocative essay in the London Review of Books. I don’t agree with several of his conclusions, but it’s a stimulating piece. Some excerpts:
An occupation of Iraq does pose a challenge, which we don't underestimate. But it is a reasonable wager. Arab hostility is overrated. ...
The Sunni centre of the country will certainly be trickier to manage, but the idea that stable regimes created or guided by foreign powers are impossible in the Middle East is absurd. Think of the long-term stability of the monarchy set up by the British in Jordan, or the very satisfactory little state they created in Kuwait. Indeed, think of our loyal friend Mubarak in Egypt, which has a much larger urban population than Iraq.
Everyone said Afghanistan was a graveyard for foreigners -- British, Russian and so on -- but we liberated it quickly enough, and now the UN is doing excellent work bringing it back to life. Why not Iraq?
Interesting, but he still seems to be skirting around the magnitude of the challenge as far as the nation-building task in Iraq.
First, hostility to the Republican regime in the White House. Cultural dislike of the Bush Presidency is widespread in Western Europe, where its rough affirmations of American primacy, and undiplomatic tendency to match word to deed, have become intensely resented by public opinion accustomed to a more decorous veil being drawn over the realities of relative power.
To see how important this ingredient in European anti-war sentiment must be, one need only look at the complaisance with which Clinton's successive aerial bombardments of Iraq were met. If a Gore or Lieberman administration were preparing a second Gulf War, the resistance would be a moiety of what it is now.
“Old Europe” would give a Gore administration a pass on an invasion of Iraq? Admittedly, the disdain for Bush among many Europeans is intense. But it’s hard to see how Europeans would accept a U.S. invasion even if a Democrat were in the White House.
But as substantial policy contrasts tend to dwindle in Western political systems, symbolic differences of style and image can easily acquire, in compensation, a hysterical rigidity.
The Kulturkampf between Democrats and Republicans within the United States is now being reproduced between the US and EU. Typically, in such disputes, the violence of partisan passions is in inverse proportion to the depth of real disagreements. But as in the conflicts between Blue and Green factions of the Byzantine hippodrome, minor affective preferences can have major political consequences. A Europe in mourning for Clinton -- see any editorial in the Guardian, Le Monde, La Repubblica, El Pais -- can unite in commination of Bush.
Is he saying, among other things, that the “depth of real disagreement” between Democrats and Republicans over Iraq is merely slight? If so, that seems way off-base. Many rank-and-file Democrats are expressing absolute exasperation with the administration as far as Iraq.
Terrorism, of the sort practised by al-Qaida, is not a serious threat to the status quo anywhere. The success of the spectacular attack of 11 September depended on surprise -- even by the fourth plane, it was impossible to repeat. Had al-Qaida ever been a strong organisation, it would have aimed its blows at client states of America in the Middle East, where the overthrow of a regime would make a political difference, rather than at America itself, where it could not leave so much as a strategic pinprick.
As Olivier Roy and Gilles Keppel, the two best authorities in the field of contemporary Islamism have argued, al-Qaida is the isolated remnant of a mass movement of Muslim fundamentalism, whose turn to terror is the symptom of a larger weakness and defeat -- an Islamic equivalent of the Red Army Faction or Red Brigades that emerged in Germany and Italy after the great student uprisings of the late 1960s faded away, and were easily quelled by the state.
The complete inability of al-Qaida to stage even a single attentat, while its base was being pounded to shreds and its leadership killed off in Afghanistan, speaks volumes about its weakness. In different ways, it suits both the Administration and the Democratic opposition to conjure up the spectre of a vast and deadly conspiracy, capable of striking at any moment, but this is a figment with little bearing one way or another on Iraq, which is neither connected to al-Qaida today, nor likely to give it much of a boost, if it falls tomorrow.
Again, fascinating points. His argument was bolstered by a Washington Post article, mentioned here on Monday, that talks about heartening gains in the fight against al-Qaida. Such progress is to be applauded. Still, the growing likelihood that weapons of mass destruction will come within the grasp of terrorists raises very serious concerns for this country for the long term.
There is much more of interest in Anderson’s essay. Certainly a piece worth reading and pondering.
The Council of State Governments investigated state suffrage laws, and their results show a poor substitute for the “universal suffrage” guaranteed by the Constitution. Citizens may be disqualified from voting for more than 50 reasons, and every state except Michigan has at least one provision for disqualification. Alabama has 25 and South Carolina 28. On the credit side, Illinois and Pennsylvania have only one each, and Vermont two. The average is about six. Convicted felons are barred in 40 states. Lesser crimes that are punished by disfranchisement range from betting on an election to wife beating. Treason, electoral bribery, bigamy, perjury, adultery, malfeasance in office, receiving stolen goods, and miscegenation are all reasons for losing the right to vote in at least one state. Five states bar Indians, and Rhode Island specifically bars Narragansett Indians. Insane persons, idiots, illiterates, incompetents, soldiers, sailors, and “immoral persons” are generally disfranchised. Disqualification of paupers, the infamous poll tax in eight states, and some amazing registration and residence requirements make the list almost complete. Add to this the terrorism which prevents Negroes and unpopular minorities from voting, and the wonder is that anyone is left to go to the polls.
The quote begins a chapter in which Keyssar provides many fascinating nuances. I highly recommend the book.
This analysis questions whether North Korea's long-range missile program actually poses that much of a threat. But it says North Korea poses another potential threat:
If one is concerned about near-term capabilities for missile delivery of lethal payloads to US territory, a more likely threat is short-range
missiles launched from ships, which uses simpler technology than long-range missiles and appears feasible for a country like North Korea.
Such forward-based threats have a number of advantages compared to using intercontinental missiles, since they use short-range missiles, are likely to have higher accuracy, and do not pin-point the country of origin. They could also not be engaged by the planned Ground-based Midcourse or Aegis-LEAP missile defenses, but would require large-scale deployment of short-range defenses around coastal cities.
I've meant to link to this earlier: This Robert Samuelson column does a fine job explaining the context behind the debate over derivatives. That sounds boring as hell, but as Samuelson explains, it's an important issue:
To the list of financial threats can now be added "derivatives" -- sophisticated securities that are used mostly by big investors (banks, insurance companies, corporations).
Just last week, legendary investor Warren Buffett denounced derivatives as "financial weapons of mass destruction" that could cause economic havoc. By contrast, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says derivatives have improved economic stability. Who's right? This is an important debate, because derivatives have exploded and are implicated in two recent financial scandals -- Enron's bankruptcy and the near-bankruptcy in 1998 of Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM), a private investment fund. ...
Buffett doesn't deny derivatives' theoretical benefits. Indeed, he's not worried by standard futures contracts such as wheat (traded on exchanges, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange). What frightens him is the possibility that newer derivatives (traded "over the counter'' -- between one customer and another) could trigger a panic.
Regular visitors here will know that a recent post here blasted a new book by think-tanker Michael Lind. I wrote: “Lind’s thesis is sloppy and cheap. A fifth-generation Texan, Lind dredges up all the negatives he can think of from Texas history ... and tries mightily to link them all to Bush. Bush comes from a Texas subculture, Lind argues, in which those unsavory old-time values are still revered to one degree or another. Such claims are overwrought and overly clever.”
Now, here is a review of a new book by a friend of mine, Friend 3, who, in an amazing coincidence -- well, just read the review:
While I'm an admirer of R. Friend 3's writings on theological issues, especially papal infallibility, I had a very different reaction to his latest book, "Teddy Toadies to Bay State Barbarities."
Three’s thesis is that Ted Kennedy's character has been shaped by Massachusetts's long, shameful involvement in some of the most disgraceful aspects of American history.
Three’s book is sloppy and cheap. He dredges up all the negatives he can think of from the Bay State's history, especially from the recent time of fierce opposition in Boston to meaningful school integration and earlier -- the trigger-happy resort to violence in the Indian wars, the embrace of slavery as a source of wealth for ship builders, merchants, and sailors who made it possible to bring slaves to America without reliance on Dutch or British slavers, the backward-looking focus on brutal labor practices common in the 19th century cotton and woolen mills, the demagoguery and thievery of old-time Irish political bosses (including Kennedy's grandfather who was Mayor of Boston) -- and tries mightily to link them all to Kennedy.
Three argues that Kennedy comes from a Massachusetts culture in which the results of those unsavory old-time horrors can still convey advantage to those whose families once directed and profited from them to one degree or another. Imagine that!
Three's claims are overwrought and overly clever. Yes indeed, Massachusetts's history overflows with the recurrent resort to mindless violence and exploitation of immigrants as a cheap source of labor for the enrichment of the Back Bay set and Harvard Yardies. And sure, Massachusetts's whaling fleets helped hunt many species of whales to near extinction while its fishing fleet helped bring the cod to the point where commercial cod fishing had to be suspended in the Atlantic; thereby causing a depression in Labrador and Newfoundland that continues to this day. And sure, Massachusetts's capital is the place where Boston's decaying, failing public schools are literally within the shadows of wealthy independent elementary and secondary schools as well as some of the wealthiest universities in the world, including its wealthiest, Harvard.
But why should any of these things matter when Massachusetts is such a great place for upper-middle class and wealthy liberals? Three refuses to even address the question.
Three's bitterness is such that he gives no credit to Kennedy and other Massachusetts liberals who have developed government programs for all the low-wage folks who serve them in their clubs, clean their kids ivied dorm rooms, and keep their Cape cottages sparkling.
Three should stick to theological matters about which he's infallible when speaking ex sofa.
By the way: Friend 3 writes me: “Why are all the people who liked Michael Lind's book now attacking mine? My book is every bit as thoughtful and fair as Lind's.” Sorry about that, 3.
When the new blog Zenpundit appeared on the scene recently, I recommended it, saying that I’d seen some well-informed listserv posts by Mark, the blogger who started Zenpundit.
Here is one of Mark’s most recent listserv posts, in a discussion about the U.S. as “hyperpower”:
"Hyperpower" was a term was coined circa 1996 by the French foreign minister and I think his term "hyperpuissance" was meant primarily in terms of magnitude of power rather than speed of acquistion. For several reasons, the best analogs to America's current power status relative to peer competitors is not Germany or even Great Britain but Ancient Rome or some of China's early dynasties after the warring states period.
First, the Hohenzollern German Empire was an industrial nucleus of a world dominating power but it lacked in several key strategic dimensions -- resources, space and geographic location. Germany, under the Kaiser or Hitler needed to secure a reliable breadbasket and fuel either from Transcaucasia or the Middle-East in order to dominate world affairs. Germany's neighbors, particularly Great Britain, realized that allowing Germany hegemony over the raw materials of the Eurasian landmass was a long term threat and moved to block such aspirations. Surrounded by enemies Germany's powerful military was disadvantaged by long wars and lack of strategic depth.
Secondly, Great Britain while a successful world-spanning empire had two misfortunes. First a small population relative to all the other great powers and secondly to rise in an era when the level of technology meant that vast distances in themselves posed insuperable strategic problems even for the most advanced of nations. It was simply beyond the capacity of Great Britain or other powers to wage war as effectively in remote locales as it was nearer to home. The British therefore became the masters of employing indigenous forces on a large scale backed by a small investment of modern Western firepower . It was an excellent tactic for dealing with the backward military forces of local rulers but fared less well against a determined opponent like the Zulus and poorly against Imperial Japan's modern armies. Great Britain's economic and cultural " soft power " were far greater than Germany's -- see Niall Ferguson's article in the current BBC History magazine -- but prior to the rise of globalized mass media British culture tended to penetrate other civilizations only amongst educated elites.
The United States by contrast demonstrated in Afghanistan that if it is "unbound" by anything it is the historical tyranny of distance. This is an underappreciated advantage but it is compounded by the fact that no other power has this a similar logistical capability with conventional forces. More significantly for the long run -- and this explains why anti-American sentiment is strongest among traditional elites of other nations -- our "soft power" penetrates into the broad mass of humanity culturally, economically and well-nigh unstoppably. Even when the local population also assumes an anti-American position politically, American values and consumer culture broadcast over airwaves, the internet and through commerce whets appetites and sows ideas disruptive to paternalistic social systems. Agitated populations, particularly among younger demographics tend to challenge traditional power arrangements.
This "soft power" effect of American culture in a globalized market is really only comparable to that of Rome's classical influence or Imperial China's Confucian dominion over tributary states and near neighbors like Japan. What is different about the United States is a greater willingness to adapt and Americanize elements of foreign cultures -- food, fashions, concepts -- and return them at a high rate of speed to the global market. Former powers of this stature, tended to stigmatize foreign mores and attempted to preserve their own culture. Even Christianity was a religion of slaves for several centuries prior to Constantine's conversion. I think we are witnessing something relatively new with America's current world position which is why academics are left grasping for ill-fitting terms like "empire."
Asked about winning in the South at the Commonwealth Club of California, Kerry said: "With respect to the South, I am going to campaign in the South. I am campaigning down there now. I have a presence in the South and I believe that somebody, like myself, who is fiscally responsible, who cares about education, who has been a prosecutor, and put people behind bars, some of them for the rest of their life, who has fought for this nation ...
"The last president from New England -- a senator -- President Kennedy won a bipartisan South. It was a different South then and I understand that. ... But let me say to you folks, and this is not an argument I am going to make across the country because I intend to campaign and talk to folks and think that we can win a number of states there, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and a number of others.
"But for better or worse, in the last campaign in 2000, Al Gore proved that you can get elected president of the United States without winning one Southern state -- if he had simply won New Hampshire or West Virginia or Ohio or Colorado or a number of other states. We are the leaders. Democrats have to stop looking at the small solution that the country is compartmentalized in that way. I think that the Gore campaign pulled out of Ohio, three weeks before the election and only lost Ohio by 3 percent.
"I think that people all over this country with common sense want a leadership that makes this country more secure, that addresses the challenges of the future, that puts people back to work, that is fiscally responsible and that doesn't always drive political wedges and look for the lowest common denominator in American politics."
(via a Wyeth Ruthven e-mail; Wyeth's blog is here)
A fine Max Sawicky post on the topic of Jews and neoconservatives (via Gary Farber's lively Amygdala, which addresses the topic here). Kevin Drum, of the consistently interesting CalPundit, sparked conversation on the topic by raising a set of questions here.
It wasn't that long ago that events in El Salvador were the source of enormous debate in this country. Now El Salvador draws little attention. In one sense, that's good, since it's a reflection of the ending of the civil war and the awful atrocities associated with it. Anyway, from an AP story:
The party of El Salvador's former leftist guerrillas claimed victory in more than 100 of 262 mayorships at stake in elections, and its leader said the results showed Salvadorans were hungry for change.
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, also claimed to have increased its number of seats in congress in Sunday's vote, drawing even with their former conservative adversaries in the country's 1980-1992 civil war -- the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, ARENA. Salvadorans voted for 262 mayorships and 84 congressional seats.
FMLN leader Shafick Jorge Handal said the victory showed "the people's will for a change."
Just seeing a reference to the ARENA party reminds me of the old days when George Bush Sr., then vice president, went down to speak to Chamber of Commerce types in San Salvador and deliver the message that the Reagan administration wanted an end to the killings committed by death squads linked to ARENA.
My friend Craig Brelsford, a native of Pennsylvania now living in the Netherlands, sends along these thoughts:
I spent the past few days with my wife in Nice. I had lots of friendly conversations along the shore with Frenchmen. I find that being able to speak French (I speak fluently now, though with mistakes) neutralizes a lot of the anti-Americanism. I am not quite one of "them," but speaking the language lowers so many barriers. So the most I got was people who didn't care much for America -- but were interested in talking to this American who learned their language. Tres rare, un americain qui parle francais, they were saying. ...
So, sorry, I wasn't in the mood to boycott. [Craig’s wife] had a business trip to Nice, and I tagged along.
I paid close attention to the French media, newspapers and television. I find both extremely one-sided. Le Monde editorializes freely on its front page. I guess I respect them more than The New York Times, though, because they don't try to hide their bias behind some pretense of neutrality. They even run editorial cartoons on the front page. One I had to admit was funny. It showed Blair naked except for a fig leaf. An American is armed to the teeth and standing next to him -- you can imagine the exaggeration. The American is saying, "Well, if you can't go to war with us, Tony, we'll understand."
I watched a news show in which the host and a reporter were clearly making no effort to conceal their anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-Blair stance. The subject of the program was, "Is the house of Blair burning down?" They had the British ambassador to Paris on, Holmes I think his name was, and Holmes said something very cutting: As much as Blair is struggling, he said, at least the Brits are having a debate. ...
I hate to have to make this prediction, and I pray it doesn't come to pass, but if it does happen I want to be able to say I told you so: As war begins, or perhaps just before we go in, Saddam will use chemical or bio weapons on Kuwait, Israel, the Kurds, or the American forces. And the hardened anti-war people, including some high officials in some European governments, will blame America, even though such use will prove Saddam had no intention of disarming. But many of the more reasonable anti-war people will have a revolt of conscience and rally to our side.
I support this war but worry about the drain on the national treasury as we rebuild yet another nation. I think some money could be saved by pulling some of our people out of Europe and South Korea. Why do we need 70,000 servicemen in Germany anymore?
The Washington Post had two articles of note Sunday:
An extensive look at U.S. war plans for the Iraq campaign. According to the article, look for audacity: unprecedented use of special forces and an emphasis on speed (with major troop movement coming only a few days after the beginning of the intitial air attack).
This article gives an especially upbeat description of recent gains against al-Qaida:
Civil War vets as chief executive My friend Fred Ray, a well-informed student of the Civil War, writes in regard to my recent post about military officers who ran on national party tickets in the 19th century:
You sort of ignored US Grant, who initiated the CW veteran as politician. In fact we've only had two professional soldiers, Grant and Eisenhower, as presidents.
Both Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley were vets (trivia -- they served in the same regiment); Hayes was a major general (and a good one) who resigned in '64 to go into politics. Our ancestors [Fred is referring to his and my Confederate ancestors -- GS] fought both men in the Shenandoah and elsewhere.
Between 1865 and 1900 it was very difficult to get elected to anything if you were not a CW vet, north or south. ...
BTW, T.R. was the first of the post-CW presidents -- being too young to serve.
Here's a quick blurb on the subject:
... “Major McKinley” is the first complete account of the Civil War service of President William McKinley, the last of the Civil War veterans to reach the White House and the only one who served in the ranks. McKinley enlisted as a private in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry (later commanded by another future president, Rutherford B. Hayes) and was the regiment's commissary sergeant when his bravery at the Battle of Antietam led to a commission and an assignment to Hayes's military staff. He later served with four other generals and ended his military career as adjutant of a division and as a brevet major.
McKinley regarded the end of slavery as the significant outcome of the war and valued the contributions of the black soldiers in the Union army. After the war, as a young lawyer and congressman, he defended the rights of freedmen and continued to do so long after others had tired of the cause. He also reached out to former Confederate soldiers in an effort to help restore unity to a divided country, but this initiative eventually overshadowed and diminished his advocacy of civil rights.
Fred’s right that my account was skimpy about the post-Civil War years. My main interest was in the period of intense competition between the Democrats and Whigs from the 1830s to the early 1850s.
Somebody jumped down my throat late last week at my description of the Bush administration as "hard-right." My words, I was hotly told, sent a misleading implication that the administration's positions are outside the political mainstream. My characterization, I was told, indicated that, for all my pretensions, I was joining the media herd in endorsing the idea that Bush is on the hard-right fringe.
Here's what I wrote in my post: "Lind is fully entitled to challenge the hard-right policies of the Bush administration. But he only undermines his credibility when he tries to do so through misleading and poorly reasoned applications of Texas history."
From my e-mail reply:
You've been reading my posts for a long time now. You've seen many, many things I've written. You don't have to send me a knee-jerk avalanche reaction like that. I'm not Paul Krugman, and I don't deserve to be talked to that way. ...
You apparently interpreted my statement that the administration's policies can be subject to legitimate criticism to mean that I think those policies are far outside the mainstream -- no. If you make that interpretation, you assumed wrong.
I was indicating something far different: If liberals want to criticize Bush, fine. It's a very, very conservative administration. But stooping to petty and false arguments is out of bounds.
I chose the word "hard-right" simply as a statement of fact. I chose the word "hard-right" to mean that the policies of the current Bush administration are staunchly conservative -- no Dick Darmon/James Baker/George Bush Sr. pussyfooting.
And that's exactly how I intended it.
This country has a broad spectrum of accepted political opinion, a mainstream that encompasses the policies of the Bush administration as well as those of congressional Democrats (well, most of them). That's the last time -- I hope -- I'll need to waste energy to indicate that I acknowledge something so obvious.
On Friday, I criticized, in the post immediately below, the new Michael Lind book that tried to link George W. Bush to every loathsome part of Texas heritage that Lind can think of. I mentioned, for example, how Lind was transparent in the breathless way he tried to shock left-leaning readers with observations such as ... the Old West was violent, and ... Jim Crow was repulsive, and ... old-time good-old-boy Texas governors could be spectacular buffoons.
As if any of that were surprising.
In any case, it’s striking how feverishly Lind works to link Bush to all that tawdry history.
Here’s another example, concerning the gun culture. Lind writes, in an article for The Globalist:
The culture of the gun is the culture of Anglo-Scots in Texas. The grandfather of a friend of mine — a South Texas sheriff — used to check his tommy-gun (machine gun) with hat-check girls at restaurants in the 1930s.
My scoutmaster grew up on a ranch near the Mexican border where a loaded rifle resting at every door. The former State Comptroller of Texas threatened an acquaintance of mine with a pistol. My niece shot her first deer — at the tender age of six.
One can envision Lind at his keyboard, eager with anticipation at how his words will lead readers in Manhattan and LA and Seattle to just swoon at the sheer horror of it all.
Sure, jackasses in Texas and elsewhere have long done stupid things with guns to supposedly prove their manhood. But what Lind implies is that just as “the former State Comptroller of Texas threatened an acquaintance” of Lind with a pistol, so George W. Bush callously bullies other nations by flexing U.S. military might. Such a grossly tenuous claim -- reminiscent, in a mirror-image sort of way, of John Birch Society-style argumentation -- doesn’t really explain anything. It just, to borrow a phrase from Rosalyn Carter, makes certain people comfortable with their prejudices.
As for the 6-year-old shooting her first deer, that does strike me as quite young. But if Lind is arguing that Texas is unique in that regard, he seems to be stretching the truth. You don’t think that many hunting enthusiasts in Michigan, Maine and eastern Washington start teaching their children at quite tender ages about the use of guns and the techniques of hunting? And does that mean there is automatically something poisonous in their political subculture? No.
By the way: Thirty years ago, in junior high school, I was an avid hunter (of rabbits and squirrels). But I haven’t fired a shot since the '70s. I have fond memories of hunting, but they relate not to the firing of a shotgun but to my depth of enjoyment in being in the woods on a cool autumn afternoon. These days, I have no interest in firing a shot at any animal, but I have no quarrel with the hunters who do.