Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

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

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

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of note:
Prairie Cats

Monday, May 12
Interviewing 'Skip' Powell

A bit quirky, but not a bad interview -- the Jay Leno interview with Colin Powell this morning on the "Today" show, that is. Leno was subbing for Katie Couric, just for today:

MR. LENO: Before we get started, I want to ask you, do you remember the name you wanted to be called? You were on the Tonight Show once with me a number of years ago, and you said there's a name you really wanted to be called by. Do you remember?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I do, Jay. I think it was Skip.

MR. LENO: Skip, yeah. Somehow, Skip doesn't apply today. So “Mr. Secretary” I will go with, I think. You just don't seem like a Skip. As much as you would like to be called that, it just doesn't seem to work. ...

MR. LENO: Let's talk about the Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas for a minute. Do you think he can bring an end to these suicide bombings, as Yasser Arafat wasn't able or didn't want to do?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think he is committed to that. ...

MR. LENO: All right, let me ask you this. Let's say you solved everything, everything's worked out great. What would you rather be doing?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I'm very pleased to be serving my nation in this capacity, honored to be serving this President, but there will come a day, Jay, when I will go back into retirement; and then you know what both you and I will want to do when we are both in retirement, and that's get together and play with our cars.

MR. LENO: That's right. All right, tell you what. We'll do that. In fact, we'll have a race. Your Volvo against my Lamborghini. That's fair.

SECRETARY POWELL: I'll beat you.

MR. LENO: All right, you're on.

Opposition to open container laws

I knew that people could get exercised over motorcycle helmet laws, but until today I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that open container laws (prohibitions against driving with an open container of alcohol) are still hotly opposed in a handful of states:

Drunk driving may be a crime in every state, but drinking while driving is still legal in three of them -- Indiana, Mississippi and Montana -- as long as the driver is sober.

In America, in fact, the right to tipple a bit while breezing down the road still finds some strong support, especially in places where resentment of federal dictates is deeply ingrained.

In eight states -- Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming -- passengers may drink alcoholic beverages in a moving vehicle. And in Arkansas, Colorado and West Virginia, it’s legal to have open containers of alcohol in vehicles, although no one may drink from them while the vehicle is moving.

Every other state strictly forbids open alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles. But lawmakers in the 14 states listed have given up millions in federal highway construction funding as their penalty for refusing to pass open container laws strict enough to meet federal requirements. ...

“It is a cultural issue, but slowly we’re starting to see the tide turn on our culture,” said Lisa Murphy of the Wyoming Department of Transportation. “There is a shift starting in Wyoming and people are starting to say that it‘s not OK to drink and drive.”

UPDATE: More is available at the always-sensible blog Sneaking Suspicions.

Saving the Sierra Club

A recent post here quoted from two e-mails criticizing the Sierra Club. A third e-mailer offers a different perspective:

The letter writer is part of the problem. Carl Pope is an employee. He should have written the Club President. The SC is a volunteer run organization. The system worked well when the Club was a selective membership organization and small. Today anyone can become a member of an organization that numbers several hundred thousand.

Over the years the type of person becoming active has changed. I wish more folks who feel like our resignee would be a little more active in the Club -- it would change the Club. The Board of Directors (all elected by the members i.e. the 8.7% of them that bother to vote - hummm wonder if our friend bothered to vote last Club election?) voted to join the retro-seventies Win Without War coalition due to pressure from the members who wanted the Club to take a stand. Based on polling data one can assume that the majority of members favored the war, but they were silent.

Your Oregon friend seems to be the flip side of the problem. The fire dangers in our national forests are due to a combination of
factors. Recent droughts in the west combined with demand based logging practices and serious under funding of public land agencies over the past 20 + years have combined with decades of fire suppression to create the problem. The notions that we will solve the problems by ending commercial logging (Sierra Club) OR following the logging practices of the 1980s and early 1990s (your Oregon writer) are unrealistic.

The Sun, on the move

Maybe I'm the last one to know, but The New York Sun has a new URL, here. A good friend used the old URL, here, today and found something unexpected.

Courting opinion, 16th century style

The hubbub over Bush’s doings on the aircraft carrier, with the partisan squabbling over presidential image-crafting, led me to open my copy of Paul Johnson’s marvelous 1974 book “Elizabeth I: A Study in Power and Intellect.” Elizabeth and her court frequently traveled throughout England, in part to build up her popularity through carefully crafted pageants and events.

It took 400 carts and 2,400 pack horses to handle the transportation requirements during these Elizabethan “progresses.” Elizabeth’s courting of locals is reminiscent of contemporary politicking, although it’s difficult to imagine the Bush administration ever being obsessed, as Elizabeth’s advisers were, with courting the leaders of the universities:

Her court was itinerant. It had to be, for a variety of reasons -- economic, hygienic, political. Its vast, voracious and filthy presence emptied the surrounding land of food and filled the streams with sewage. If it stayed too long in any one place, epidemics, it was thought, were bound to break out. Yet if it did not come in solemn cycle, its absence was vociferously deplored by tradesmen and local operators. ...

She often stopped the progress to talk to the crowds, sometimes went into private homes without warning and had a snack or a drink. ... She inspected local manfactures [President Bush visits an Omaha plastics plant today, incidentally]; thus, at Norwich in 1578, she visited children employed on worsted knitting. ... Afterwards she knighted him [the mayor of Norwich], saying “I have laid up in my breast with such good will as I shall never forget Norwich.” And when she left its boundary, she “did shake her riding rod and said, ‘Farewell, Norwich,’ with the water standing in her eyes.” ...

She usually had a local compliment to pay: thus, at Bristol, she called St Mary Redcliffe’s “the finest and goodliest parish church in England” -- which, indeed, it still is ... For such gestures she was well-briefed by Burghley: we find him studying Lambarde’s “Itinerary of Kent” so that he could instruct her on the local marvels there. ...

The government took extraordinary care in arranging her visits to the universities. It was considered vital that the regime should be popular, and the sovereign venerated, in the seats of learning. Burghley, for instance, meticulously planned her visit to Cambridge in 1564, corresponding at length with Vice-Chancellor ... There was a Latin sermon delivered by Dr Andrew Perme, and she told him, half-way through, to put on his hat; afterwards, she said it was the first sermon she had ever heard in Latin, “and she thought, she should never hear a better.” Then she sang a song, “in prick-song,” and in the evening saw a play by Plautus. The next day, a Monday, lectures were specially held for her ... and she heard a formal disputation in Great St Mary’s, where she noticed, and publicly criticized, some of the masters’ gowns. ... She toured the colleges, heard a divinity debate, and made a speech in Latin ... It was all a typical Elizabeth performance, a blend of formality and fun, wit, erudition, humanity and sharp criticism (Elizabeth knew many of the dons by name, and often rebuked or commended them for their writings and sermons), carried through in relaxed style.

Merlin’s prophecy

I wrote recently about the intense interest in superstition among early European settlers in America. Johnson’s book talks about the hold that superstition held on Elizabethan society:

She [Elizabeth] could not, of course, ignore this world, which dominated the thinking of so many of her subjects; superstition was closer to their daily lives than reason, or indeed religion. Most of her contemporaries believed in astrology, and so did she in the sense that she was not prepared to rule it out as a possibility. ... As the epitome of Virgo -- “God’s virgin,” to quote Rossetti -- she used this as a collateral reason not to get married.

Politics and prophecy were closely related. ... Politicians took such things seriously. In 1581 parliament made it a statutory felony to erect figures, cast nativities or calculate by prophecy how long Elizabeth would live, or who would succeed her. Babington plotted against her on the basis of a prophecy attributed to Merlin ...

Hatton gave her a protective ring ... Many hostile dolls were made of her, and assaults committed on her imagery and portraits. This was the atmosphere she lived in, and Elizabeth accepted it with her customary tact, realism and unwillingness to offend contemporary standards.

She consulted Dee about the famous comet of 1577, but she ignored superstition, and the pleas of her courtiers, by insisting on looking at it through a window, saying Iacta est alea, the dice is thrown.

Of courts and tides

Eve Tushnet has been taking an extended look at the interactions between courts, politics and social trends. (You’ll have to scroll down to “The Constitution: High and Low,” which begins a series of posts.)

Among Eve’s observations:

Oh so many problems. a) The Court not only follows the tide. It pulls the tide. The Court's decisions affect social movements--obviously, or social movements wouldn't always be trying to fight their battles in the courts!--and can add prestige and respectability to one side or another. The Court helps create the tide, and shouldn't present itself as a passive bit of flotsam.

b) Those social movements turn to the courts often because they have failed to win enough, or fast enough, victories in the legislature. That in itself seems to show that the tide has not necessarily turned, and that the movement's future is still uncertain.

c) Tides turn back. Cf. welfare reform as vs. the welfare-rights movement (which appeared to be gaining steam throughout the 1970s) ...

Eve quotes from a stimulating legal discussion by law professor/blogger Jack Balkin (although to disagree with his thesis). Balkin writes:

The right of privacy is always responding to changing notions of what is sexually appropriate and inappropriate. Today most people in the United States (and certainly most young people) think that heterosexual sex between unmarried individuals is permissible. It was not always thus. The sexual revolution changed people's views about the morality of pre-marital sex. That, in turn, changed what people thought the state had a right to regulate. Most people now probably think that it is none of the state's business whether heterosexual couples have sex and whether they wish to live together outside of marriage.

The same thing, I would submit, is happening with same-sex relations. When the Supreme Court first considered the issue in 1986 in Bowers v. Hardwick, homosexuality was only beginning to win widespread social acceptance. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court, filled with people of a much older generation, could not muster five votes to protect the rights of gays and lesbians. What was surprising was that there were already four votes to do so. Now, with Will and Grace one of the top-rated comedies on television, it is quite clear that a very large number of people have changed their views. It is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court begins to protect same-sex relations.

Friday, May 9
How the Germans created a new military culture

Forging a new culture for its military is, of course, one of the central tasks facing Iraq. Let’s look at how the Germans approached that task after World War II.

In East Germany, the communist regime argued that its military represented a discontinuity in German history. The GDR, Willi Stoph said in a 1956 speech, had severed the military’s connection to “reactionary” elements, such as “monopoly capitalists” and the Junkers, that had led the armed forces astray for generations. The frictions that had long characterized German civilian-military relations, Stoph said, had finally been surmounted by forging solidarity between workers and the National People’s Army.

In West Germany, an antimilitarist spirit was strong in the early 1950s. Writes historian Gordon Craig: “It was strongest, perhaps, in the Social Democratic Party, the bulk of whose membership held to the doctrinaire pacifism of their Weimar past, but many of the Free Democrats shared it, and it was by no means lacking in the coalition of Konrad Adenauer.”

Adenauer’s decision to enter NATO and raise a military force of 500,000 in 1954 was strongly opposed by trade unions and a large segment of the leadership of the Evangelical Church. Such sentiment was stoked by popular antimilitarist works such as the “08/15” series of novels by Hans Helmut Kirst and the drama “The Devil’s General” by Carl Zuckmayer.

Critics of Adenauer’s remilitarization policy would later note that leading positions in West Germany’s military representation at NATO headquarters included former Nazi officers including General Adolf Heusinger, formerly chief of the Operations Division at Hitler’s headquarters, and General Hans von Speidel, Rommel’s chief of staff.

Theodor Blank, who oversaw the creation of a West German military force, looked to ideals adopted by Prussian military reformers during 1807-13. In that earlier era, Craig notes, Germany military leaders “had also been confronted with the task of rebuilding an armed force from the bottom up after an utterly disastrous war and at a time when the army was the object of popular hatred and suspicion.”

The Prussian reforms had included “the creation of a ‘citizen army’ in which the caste system and the brutal discipline of the past would be abolished, the moral worth and personal rights of the individual soldier would be respected, and the quality of personal initiative would be valued as a highly as blind obedience.”

Similarly, the West German military reformers stressed that young soldiers would not be subjected to a dehumanizing training regimen and that the new army, by Craig’s description, would be “free of Kadavergehorsam and Barras -- of corpselike obedience and the kind of petty garrison-tyranny that was graphically described in Kirst’s ‘08/15.’ ”

Moreover, Craig writes, the revamped military would encourage

political instruction and impartial discussion of historical questions and contemporary events in Germany and other countries. Its guiding principle would be what came to be called Innere Fuhrung or moral leadership. ... It was influenced also by the reflection that ‘unpolitical soldiers’ had served Germany badly, and that the political naivete of the Germany officer corps in the interwar period had helped bring Hitler to power.”

The West German Bundestag insisted, over U.S. opposition, to create a 38-member civilian commission to screen all appointments to colonel and above. The commission lasted from 1955 to 1957 and screened 600 cases; about 100 were rejected.

Craig writes:

When the first seven Germany officers reported for duty at SHAPE headquarters, there was, a reporter for Der Spiegel noted, “no heel-clicking, no piercing looks, no clipped nods, no spirited strides, no harsh voices.” The officers were in civilian clothes and looked like “diplomats who had forgotten their umbrellas.”


I meant to link to this last week, but I was away from blogging for much of the time. Humorist Madeleine Begun Kane has done a song parody on the Dixie Chicks controversy using the tune of an old pop standard we play often in the van with our kids, “Lollipop”:

Call 'em Traitor Dixie Chicks, tell you why,
Insulting Bush besmirches apple pie.
So when they try to sing and play and dance,
Man, they haven't got a chance.

They call 'em Traitor Chicks, Traitor Chicks, oh Traitor, Traitor, Traitor,
Traitor Chicks, Traitor Chicks, oh Traitor, Traitor, Traitor,
Traitor Chicks, Traitor Chicks, oh Traitor, Traitor, Traitor,
Traitor Chicks!

Did a nudie cover pose, tell you why,
They're using humor to combat the lies.
The wingnuts diss 'em till they can't see straight,
Though those Dixie Chicks are great!

She’s also done a take-off on the departure of Mitch Daniels from the Bush administration.

Wednesday, May 7
Louisiana and the ‘empire of liberty’

Donald Sensing recently blogged on the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, pointing out various aspects of its historical significance.

A fascinating tangent was the immediate question of how to incorporate the residents of Louisiana (the area incorporating present-day Louisiana, that is) and their French/Spanish culture into the broader Anglo-American culture and legal system. This was the first occasion in which the new nation had to give serious thought to the complete incorporation of a significant body of residents whose world view lay outside that of the majority American view in fundamental ways.

D.W. Meinig, in his impressive multi-volume look at the intersection of American geography and history, explains the context as Louisiana was eventually made part of what Thomas Jefferson called an “empire of liberty”:

Louisianans, in the eyes of these Americans, were a people speaking a foreign tongue and steeped in foreign ways, exhibiting unusual and even questionable values and behavior (festivals and frolics on Sundays!), used to authoritarian government, unlettered in representative institutions, following strange legal customs and laws. ...

The Louisianans were suddenly annexed to the United States without the slightest gesture of interest on the part of either America or France as to how they might feel about it. If they did not take up arms to resist annexation (as American leaders feared they might), they openly resisted absorption and insisted on official recognition of their cultural identity and differences from the national body.

Especially complicated were the ramifications for Louisiana’s legal system:

The American legal system was based on English Common Law, that of Louisiana on French and Spanish civil law. Americans assumed not only the need for uniformity within the Union but generally the superiority of their system as basic to their unprecedented freedoms and protections. French Louisianans saw no such superiority, regarded the Americans and their system as offensively litigious, and were deeply alarmed by the disruptive potential of any general change.

The differences were fundamental, touching every dimension of life. With regard to domestic affairs, for example, the French system emphasized family interests, in contrast to the American emphasis on individuals and especially males; the French recognized husband and wife as contractual partners, put limitations on disinheritance, and provided for the legitimatization of bastards; whereas the Americans merged the couple under the husband’s authority, allowed complete disregard of family heirs, and had no provision for legitimatizing bastard offspring.

In Louisiana, persons of color had all the rights of citizens, whereas American common law allowed an almost complete denial of human rights to persons defined as having even a fraction of “colored” blood. ...

The one feature of American law Louisianans readily adopted was trial by jury in criminal cases. They welcomed such personal protection after the arbitrary authority they had experienced under Spain.

In 1808, the federal government agreed to allow the Louisianans to retain French civil law. Meinig quotes scholar George Dargo, who observed that Louisiana had become “a civil law island in a sea of common law.”

The following year, Congress debated the accession of Louisiana into statehood. Congressman Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts, who would later become president of Harvard, voiced concern about absorbing what he termed “the mixed, though ... respectable race of Anglo-Hispano-Gallo-Americans who bask on the sands of the mouth of the Mississippi.” As Meinig paraphrased Quincy’s argument, “it would be but the first in a relentless sequence of such additions whose cumulative effect would be such a grotesque distortion of the original compact as to be the ‘death blow to the Constitution’ and force the dissolution of the Union.”

In 1811, Congress approved statehood with majorities of two-to-one in both houses. Not that the cultural collisions between the Anglo and French residents of Louisiana had been entirely resolved, of course.

By the way: The same year in which Josiah Quincy made his arguments against Louisiana statehood, he introduced a motion of impeachment against Thomas Jefferson. The proposal went down to ignominious defeat by a vote of 117-1.

Tuesday, May 6
Roaming across Britain

Animals in Britain are empowered with plenty of rights, but crime victims had better beware. Those are two of the observations made by my good friend Craig Brelsford, a native Pennsylvanian now living in the Netherlands, after a three-week vacation he and his wife just took to Britain. Among the vignettes from Craig's e-mail to me:

  • Finding, in a dusty second-hand bookstore, a pocket Book of Common Prayer issued to a World War I soldier.

  • Worshiping in Bath Abbey on Palm Sunday. The church is inspiring and the choir was good, even singing in Latin. Most of the worshipers were old. The woman who led the prayers prayed for the Iraqi civilians but had no words for the British servicemen risking their lives in Iraq.

  • Scotland, which is about as big as South Carolina and has about as many inhabitants, reminded me more of America than any place I've been to in Europe. It's roomy, they speak English, and they even have supermarkets open 24 hours.

  • The differences in British and American idiom never cease to surprise me. The idioms are mutually intelligible, but there are hundreds of minor differences. The difference between the English of middle and southern England and that of northern England and Scotland is probably as great as that between American and southern British English. [Craig's wife] had trouble understanding some Scots speakers, and even I had to focus, and sometimes run what was just spoken to me through my head before I understood. "Aye, sir, Scotland is a bonnie land."

  • Scots, by the way, is the name of the English dialect spoken in Scotland and northern England; Scottish is the name of the Gaelic language still spoken by a few thousand people in the more distant regions.

  • Quizzed a man who knows Gaelic, "What's my name? It means mountain in Gaelic." "Aye," said he, "your name's Craig."

  • Scottish independence: When the United States decided to render the British Empire asunder, they did so for the gravest constitutional reasons. Was the British Parliament sovereign over the colonies, and if so, why weren't the colonies represented in Parliament? No light and transient cause for breaking up a nation, that. In Scotland, I was attentive to the
    reasons the Nats were giving for wanting to break up the U.K. I certainly didn't hear anything that stirred my heart. The Nats in Scotland remind me a little of the Quebeckers.

  • Britain may be the animal rights capital of the world. You see the labels on food and clothing: No lab animals used, free-range chickens, all that stuff. The headline while we were there was that fish can feel pain. The implication being, angling should be banned. BBC had a man on who said, if fish felt pain the way a human being does, they would not thrash on the line. A theologian, I assume Anglican, excitedly explained the importance of the finding that fish feel pain, no doubt believing this was a new ethical frontier where his church could prove its relevance.

  • Britain's defeatist attitude toward crime reminds me of the gloomy days of New York City before Rudy Giuliani. In Bath, I saw that sad old sticker, "Nothing of value in this car" (so go rob another one, please). Even homes in rural areas are equipped with motion detectors. Some Brit proposed today new measures to protect burglars, who apparently are at risk by victims who fight back. It is always sad to see a people you love running away from common sense.

  • Highlight: Meeting Ivor and Olive, from western Wales, at a campground near Chester. Ivor speaks Welsh better than English. Olive speaks Welsh as well as she does English, but she can't read Welsh well. They told us a story about their trip to Scotland. Their English accents were difficult to understand to the Scots, and Welsh Gaelic is too different from Scottish Gaelic (which more resembles Irish). Had a terrible time, they said. The island of Great Britain is this family's world, and even some parts of it are foreign to them.

  • By the way: Sorry for the lack of new posts here at the start of the day. Couldn't get out of bed; I've been fighting a heavy sleep deficit. I plan to do some historical analysis this week on a tangent involving the Louisiana Purchase and on creating a new culture for an army after a disastrous defeat.

    Baseball and race in Boston

    A fine column by Thomas Oliphant of the Boston Globe offers interesting historical nuggets about the intersection of sports mania and racial attitudes in Boston during the mid-20th century. Oliphant notes the current owners of the Boston Red Sox are among the strongest supporters of an effort to strike a Congressional Gold Medal in honor of Jackie Robinson. Oliphant looks back on the history:

    It was April 1945. World War II was ending in Europe. Many servicemen were coming home (Robinson among them) to a still-segregated society, and the contrast with what America had done in the world and what it did at home was appalling. In white-only baseball, the campaign to break the color line was led by black sportswriters.

    One of them, Wendell Smith, managed to get the Red Sox under Tom Yawkey to at least agree to look at three Negro League stars in their youthful prime -- including Sam Jethroe (the first black and rookie of the year on the old Boston Braves five years later) and Robinson, then with the Kansas City Monarchs. The third player illustrates the depravity of racism. Most Americans have never heard of Marvin Williams; for the record, he was a fabulous infielder then hitting above .330 in Philadelphia, who would never make it in the pros beyond Latin American ball.

    For two days in Boston, the three cooled their heels as general manager Eddie Collins and manager Joe Cronin ignored them. Only after the vocal intercession of two good Bostonians, City Councilor Isadore Muchnick and Jack Egan of the Boston Daily Record, did they get a perfunctory tryout. The Yawkey Sox never got back to them.

    There was one other tryout that month -- at the Dodgers training camp for two other Negro League stars, pitcher Terris McDuffie and infielder Dave ''Showboat'' Thomas. The same thing happened, but the fury of team boss Branch Rickey at being pressured was phony. Rickey was already deep into his own secret plan to break the color line; Robinson's signing was announced barely six months later.

    And, Oliphant writes, while Jackie Robinson was beginning to build up fan loyalty with the Brooklyn Dodgers,

    the Red Sox, meanwhile, wallowed in their whiteness. Forget the curse of Babe Ruth's sale in 1919; imagine how those aching, postwar disappointments would have turned out had Robinson, Jethroe, and Williams been on the team. It even took public pressure to get Yawkey to allow Leonard ''Pumpsie'' Green to be promoted in 1959, making the team the last to desegregate. Worse, for decades, there was a hostile atmosphere at Fenway that kept people of color away.

    Monday, May 5
    Terrorists and the nuclear trigger

    Sorry for the blogging hiatus, but I've been addressing other duties, including a terrific out-of-town trip with the family. (We got back Sunday afternoon just as a tornado warning was announced, but we made it home before the really bad weather arrived in Omaha. A pretty frightening storm system.)

    I intend to post a set of items for Tuesday, either tonight or tomorrow morning before work.

    One new item. From a column by Bruce Blair, a longtime security analyst who now heads the Center for Defense Information:

    If scores of armed Chechen rebels could slip into the heart of Moscow and hold a packed theater hostage for days, could terrorists infiltrate missile fields in rural Russia, seize control over a nuclear-armed mobile rocket roaming the countryside, and launch it at Europe or America? It's an open question that warrants candid bilateral discussion of the prospects of terrorists capturing rockets and circumventing the safeguards designed to foil their illicit firing.

    Another specter concerns terrorists spoofing radar or satellite sensors, or cyber-terrorists hacking into early warning networks. Could sophisticated terrorists generate false indications of an enemy attack that results in a mistaken launch of nuclear rockets in 'retaliation?' False alarms have been frequent enough on both sides under the best of conditions. False warning poses an acute danger as long as Russian and U.S. nuclear commanders are allowed, as they still are today, only several pressure-packed minutes to determine whether an enemy attack is underway and decide whether to retaliate. Russia's deteriorating early warning network coupled to terrorist plotting against it only heightens the risks.

    Russia is not the only crucible of risk. The early warning and control problems plaguing Pakistan, India, and other nuclear proliferators are even more acute. As these nations move toward hair-trigger stances for their nuclear missiles, the terrorist threat to them will grow in parallel.

    In addition, U.S. nuclear control is also far from fool-proof. For example, a Pentagon investigation of nuclear safeguards conducted several years ago made a startling discovery -- terrorist hackers might be able to gain back-door electronic access to the U.S. naval communications network, seize control electronically over radio towers such as the one in Cutler, Maine, and illicitly transmit a launch order to U.S. Trident ballistic missile submarines armed with 200 nuclear warheads apiece. This exposure was deemed so serious that Trident launch crews had to be given elaborate new instructions for confirming the validity of any launch order they receive. They would now reject a firing order that previously would have been immediately carried out.

    Wednesday, April 30
    Building a new house and a new society

    I’m going to punch out three quick posts tonight. First, an excerpt from a Baltimore Sun article about two documentary films about reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan:

    One of the journalists working in Afghanistan during the fighting was National Public Radio reporter Sarah Chayes. When the war came to an end, Chayes decided to stay, to try to do something for the Afghans. She cast her lot with a charity organization run by Baltimore restaurateur Quayam Karzai, whose brother Hamid had just been named Afghanistan's interim president.

    The hour-long documentary tells of many frustrations and few triumphs as Chayes struggles to get the first of 17 houses built in a community near the Kandahar airport that had been bombed by U.S. planes.

    Who gets the first house? A village meeting decides on a respected elder. How big should it be? Chayes' group budgeted for five-meter rooms. But the man wants seven-meter rooms. If you're going to build five-meter rooms, don't even bother, he says. For him, the walls aren't strong enough, their mud coating isn't thick enough.

    “I think Sarah was taken aback that people weren't completely and quickly grateful for what she was bringing them," says Brian Knappenberger who filmed and directed “Life After War.” “Ultimately I see it as a question of identity, they want to have a say in what their place looks like, basically to make some of the decisions that determine their future.”

    Chayes' attempt to buy the stones for the house's foundation was another straightforward transaction that turned into a complicated problem. The local strongman, Gul Agha Shirzai, had essentially confiscated all the stones, planning to use them for cement and to make a lot of money when the United States would finance rebuilding the road to Kabul.

    Only a Byzantine series of negotiations -- amazingly all recorded by Knappenberger's camera -- procured the stones needed for Chayes' house.

    “This imperial project that the United States has embarked upon is very complex,” says Larry Goodson of the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn., speaking about the nation-building projects in both Afghanistan and Iraq. “If it is that hard to build one home, how hard is it to build a new society? A new government?”

    Images, war, truth

    From an e-mail this week from John Matthews, a good friend in North Carolina:

    I have trouble accepting that Americans watched a “sanitized” Iraq war. Certainly my wife and I didn't. We watched CBS, Fox, MSNBC, and ABC. All four showed dead and wounded, and destroyed buildings.

    Some of the dead were by roadsides, some in bunkers; wounded we saw aided on battlefields, med evaced, and treated in hospital. We saw footage of Marines firing at point blank range at a vehicle whose driver did not see, or understand, or ignored a signal to stop at a check point. We saw lots of footage of bombed out buildings and people sleeping in rubble. We saw scenes of Iraqis in hospitals. Some were children with stumps for arms that they held up to the camera. We saw mothers cradling injured and dying babies. And yes, we saw coffins. And remember the looting? We saw a lot of that, too.

    I want to remark on two events in the war we didn't see. One was by choice. That was the videos of American POWs being interrogated by Iraqis and American service personnel dead nearby with gunshot wounds to their heads. Like other Americans we had chances to watch including video streaming on the net. We just didn't care to watch then or since. Maybe we will sometime.

    The other event we didn't see we wished we had. It involved the Marines tearing open the gates of the Iraqi prison where children, some as young as seven, were held. The story was covered extensively in the French media but received scant attention here. We would have loved to have watched scenes of the parents who helped lead the Marines to the prison embrace their children as they were set free.

    Hip-hop, in decline

    I don’t pretend to be a devotee of hip-hop, but I do respect it, broadly speaking, as a legitimate musical form with significant roots in urban culture dating back to the 1970s, long before the genre came to be dominated by the cognac-and-whores crowd.

    The Boston Globe had a well-done piece about how hip-hop has fallen into utter predictability, not to mention appalling coarseness, although some rappers are trying to change things:

    Nearly three decades since spoken wordscapes were married to beats to create a new musical vocabulary, rap music is flirting with creative bankruptcy. A genre once characterized by innovative, restless spirit now seems little more than an assembly-line product. Take a menacing scowl, a few platinum rings and pendants, a video filled with lip-licking, come-hither hotties, and someone who can rhyme about bullet-riddled mayhem, cognac, sneakers, dubs, or the latest Hummer -- and an MTV or BET-ready rap star is born. ...

    ''Familiarity makes people feel secure, and that's why you get the same kind of music over and over,'' says K-OS, a rapper from Toronto, whose stunning new album, ''Exit,'' challenges rap's current bang-bang, bling-bling status quo. ''That's the problem, and you have to delete the whole mentality where people feel they need to project a certain persona to feel secure.” ...

    Also gone are the days when the hip-hop universe was big enough for such diverse acts as N.W.A., a Tribe Called Quest, the Beastie Boys, MC Hammer, Digable Planets, Arrested Development, Wu-Tang Clan -- all of whom enjoyed critical and commercial success around the same time.

    ''No matter what your taste, there was something for you. That was always the beauty of hip-hop,'' says Jane Marchley, 26, of Brooklyn, who frequents such online news and discussion websites as and

    ''The creativity was without limits. That's what kept the music from becoming a fad. Now, the hip-hop most people are exposed to is a joke. I mean, you've got guys rhyming about how many times they've been shot. What kind of [expletive] is that?'' Rumors of rap's demise may be greatly exaggerated, but that hasn't stopped some from offering lamentations. Even a cursory Internet search will yield page after page pondering the purported death of hip-hop. ...

    ''Why can't there be black music out there with the power of Radiohead, the power of the Beatles or Bob Marley?'' K-OS says. ''It seems like companies emphasize the most juvenile parts of the music, and it paints a picture of black people as uneducated and juvenile.''

    Norman Mailer on ‘courage’

    Andrew Sullivan links to an op-ed in which Norman Mailer puts forward a novel explanation for why Bush launched the Iraq campaign: assuaging the bruised white male ego. “If we cannot find our machismo anywhere else,” Mailer writes, “we can certainly settle in on the interface between combat and technology. Let me then advance the offensive suggestion that this may have been one of the cardinal reasons we went looking for war.”

    Mailer’s through-the-looking-glass analysis of security policy is of a piece with his post-9/11 statements later cited in The New Republic’s “Idiocy Watch”:

    And then came the next shock. We had to realize that the people that did this were brilliant. It showed that the ego we could hold up until September 10 was inadequate. ... Americans can't admit that you need courage to do such a thing. For that might be misunderstood. The key thing is that we in America are convinced that it was blind, mad fanatics who didn't know what they were doing. But what if those perpetrators were right and we were not? (Emphasis added.)

    It is ironic for Mailer, of all people, to condescendingly denigrate what he characterizes as Bush's easy resort to violence, given that a central part of Mailer's literary legacy was his 1957 “White Negro” essay in which he winked at horrific violence as long as it was rationalized as the anti-bourgeois action of the “hipster.” Note the parallel between Mailer’s description of the “courage” of the al-Qaida terrorists in 2001 and of the hipster-hoodlums in 1957 :

    It can of course be suggested that it takes little courage for two strong eighteen-year-old hoodlums, let us say, to beat in the brains of a candy-store keeper. ... Still, courage of a sort is necessary, for one murders not only a weak fifty-year-old man but an institution as well, one violates private property, one enters into a new relation with the police and introduces a dangerous element into one's life. The hoodlum is therefore daring the unknown, and so no matter how brutal the act, it is not altogether cowardly.

    Just as notorious and ill-considered, of course, was the grotesquery of Mailer’s insistence on romanticizing the murderous impulses of Jack Abbott:

    Mailer: "This guy isn't a murderer, he's an artist!"

    Even though Abbott described in chilling detail how it felt to kill a man, Mailer the intellectual, got Abbott freed from prison. Just six weeks later Abbott stabbed to death Binibon Cafe night manager Richard Adan, a 22-year-old kid, on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

    Mailer’s self-congratulatory intellectual posing grew tiresome long ago. The inanities he has spouted about 9/11, and now Iraq, merely reveal the full measure of his intellectual and moral shallowness.

    Franco-German sabotage of NATO

    They’re trying to downplay what they’re doing, but France, Germany and Belgium (with support from Luxembourg) moved forward unapologetically this week to form what this article calls “the core of a new European Union army separate from NATO.” The obvious aim is to weaken U.S. influence in NATO and on European security affairs in general.

    Not that everyone in Europe is fooled by Chirac’s claims that the move is purely innocent and high-minded:

    The German daily Die Welt slammed Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for attending the Brussels summit, saying the idea would have not attracted any attention if he had stayed home.

    "The number of soldiers Luxembourg can offer is in the region of a three-digit figure," the newspaper said, "and Belgium's power of deterrence lies mainly in the calorie content of its heavy chocolates."

    By the way: Speaking of Europe, this article talks about how the Czechs feel torn between loyalty toward the U.S. and toward the Europeans critical of Bush.

    UPDATE: No, what's actually going on, says this post at Bite the Wax Tadpole, is that France is maneuvering to get Russia included in NATO. And then the mischief can really begin.

    Nuclear targeting

    I don’t agree with everything that Bruce Blair, a veteran security affairs analyst, says about U.S. strategic nuclear policy. But I did find his remarks from a recent conference on that topic quite fascinating and informative. For example:

    Nuclear planning is an extremely conservative business. The genesis of this extensive planning against more than a dozen countries that potentially threaten the U.S. with chemical or biological as well as nuclear weapons goes back decades. North Korea targeting goes way back to the 1950 and 1960s. Iran got on the hit list in the 1980s. But it was the Clinton team that most consciously fashioned the policy of reserving the right to use nuclear weapons to deal with chemical and biological threats. It was the Clinton White House that signed the directive that lowered the nuclear threshold to deal with chemical and biological threats, and that restored China to the U.S. strategic war plan after a hiatus of nearly 20 years.

    This enduring conservatism in nuclear planning is even evident in our continuing nuclear relationship with Russia. It's been over a decade since the Soviet Union collapsed, and yet the vast bulk of our alert strategic missiles remain aimed at Russia with thousands of them ready to fire within two minutes. We continue to prepare to fight a large-scale nuclear war with Russia at a moment's notice, to destroy about 2,000 targets in Russia. We still fly spy planes around Russia's border looking for holes in air defenses through which U.S. strategic bombers could fly to drop nuclear bombs on Russia. Our attack submarines still trail Russian missile submarines whenever they go on patrol (according to Russian active-duty Naval officers who reported this to me in December 2002). Russia, for its part, maintains a similar hair-trigger posture aimed at the United States.

    Hard times for Portland; ‘the brains of the Confederacy’; anti-Americanism

    This and that:

  • Blogger/urban planner Chris Anderson of Cincinnati looks at the problems facing Portland, Ore., which started promoting “new urbanism” ideas decades ago. Chris quotes an article that states:

    But the urban prospect for Portland, Oregon these days is nothing but bleak. The poster child for progressive urban planning is reeling from the national media debacle of middle- and upper-income Portlanders fleeing across the state border, in this case the Columbia River, to the neighboring city of Vancouver, Washington. And the residents of Vancouver find themselves in the odd position of telling Portland, Oregon residents to "Visit, but please don’t stay."

  • Gay-friendly municipal statutes have won easy passage in two staid Midwestern cities, Mike Silverman notes from Lawrence, Kansas. Mike and I, incidentally, have something in common. I noted recently that I began gardening last year; Mike e-mailed me this well-done post of his saying he did the same thing.

  • Who knew?! I certainly wasn’t aware that there is a Southern Jewish Historical Society. (But I did know about Judah Benjamin, a Sephardic Jew praised as the “brains of the Confederacy.”)

  • You want to hear about a faith-based organization that is making a real difference in society? Here’s one. It’s doing very smart and competent work in helping rural residents in Nebraska get mental health counseling -- using federal vouchers. The group does a fine job routing clients to a wide range of services; that’s impressive, given the bureaucratic problems that often gum up mental health services.

  • I posted the other day about anti-Americanism in Greece and John Brady Kiesling, the U.S. diplomat who quit while posted in Greece, to protest the Bush policy on Iraq. Here are some cogent thoughts by another blogger on the same topic.

  • Monday, April 28
    Christianity and superstition in early America

    Not much time for posting this morning; only three new items here. More is in the pipeline for this week, though.

    Around Easter, a good friend mentioned how a minor Easter holiday tradition he was familiar with in North Carolina perhaps had its origins in non-Christian tradition. (I can’t remember what it was and unfortunately have deleted his e-mail message.)

    I wrote him that his observation reminded me of the book “Awash in a Sea of Faith,” by Jon Butler. In its look at religious beliefs in the American colonial period, it talked at length about the intersection of Christian faith and non-Christian folk traditions and superstitions.

    An interesting illustration is the ubiquitous inclusion of the strange anatomy/zodiac imagery in farmer’s almanacs. The tradition goes back centuries, as Butler explains:

    Almanacs played a central role in popularizing occult religious concepts in the colonies, much as they had done in England. American historians have observed that almanacs were the most popular books published in the colonies and outsold the Bible. ...

    Colonial almanacs closely followed their English counterparts. They provided the astronomical information necessary for astrological calculations in a 12-month calendar called the “ephemerides,” and they also included the “anatomy,” the crude male figure encircled by the 12 zodiac signs that were thought to control various portions of the body. Using the almanac, even semiliterate colonists could plant, breed, marry, or breed on correct days and, by following its guide to the stars, predict the future.

    Colonists demanded that almanacs contain occult material, and almanac makers feared to exclude it. Printers sometimes complained bitterly. In his 1728 almanac, Dedham’s Nathaniel Ames reprinted a poem that protested the demand for the anatomy from a 1633 English almanac and added his complaint that even his most ignorant readers insisted that the anatomy be included.

    Pick up a copy of a farmer’s almanac in contemporary America, and you’ll find that it dutifully reproduces the “anatomy.” Even in the 21st century.

    UPDATE: I e-mailed my friend today, asking him to tell me again about the Easter tradition he had mentioned. His reply:

    Yes, the tradition is this, that you plant your garden on Good Friday to ensure success with the crop. The other thing I remember was that once when I was driving from [one North Carolina community to another] on a Good Friday it was raining like the dickens and I saw this couple planting out in their garden. I didn't stop to ask, but was reminded of the tradition.

    I don't know the origin of it, but wonder if in part it derives from John 12:24: "Amen amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." Jesus is speaking about his coming death and resurrection, which could have led to a literal tie-in among country folk between Good Friday and good crops.

    How the Greeks see us

    I wrote last fall about the anti-Americanism shared by the political left and the nationalist right in Greece. John Brady Kiesling, a 20-year U.S. diplomat who recently resigned over Bush’s Iraq policy, offers a useful analysis of Greek attitudes toward the U.S. in a recent piece for the New York Review of Books.

    Kiesling, who was serving at the U.S. embassy in Athens at the time of his resignation, oversaw the embassy’s analysis of Greek politics. His article, while sharply critical of the military campaign in Iraq, provides useful analysis about Greek atttitudes.

    The Greek government, he says, has muted its opposition to U.S. policy, even to the point of allowing American access to military air facilities on Crete (in obvious contrast to the approach taken in neighboring Turkey, normally a loyal booster of U.S. policy). The Greek government has pursued this approach despite fervent opposition to Bush’s Iraq policy among the majority of Greeks.

    From the article:

    Greek public opinion had been mobilized fiercely against the war. On television, Greeks were seeing unrelenting images of maimed Iraqi children, weeping Iraqi grandmothers, collapsed apartment blocks and makeshift coffins, not the sanitized war Americans were watching. ...

    Greeks have enjoyed bashing the United States for decades. They have never forgiven the United States for accommodating the dictatorship of the colonels between 1967 and 1974. They are convinced that our pro-Turkish bias, not the criminal stupidity of the colonels, insured the partition of Cyprus from 1974 to the present day.

    Nevertheless, our war had caused a remarkable rebirth of Greek public hatred for U.S. leadership and policies. This hatred showed only modest signs of subsiding as the Iraqi regime collapsed. ...

    Despite the popular outcry, Greece proved a loyal U.S. ally in the war against Iraq. The crucial Mediterranean port and air field of Souda Bay in Crete quietly handled thousands of U.S. military flights and hundreds of ships en route to the Gulf. ...

    Greeks like inflammatory rhetoric from their politicians but responsible behavior from their governments. This is a difficult balance to maintain in wartime, and the Bush administration owes a debt of gratitude to Greece's prime minister, Kostas Simitis, and his Atlanticist foreign minister, George Papandreou.

    Simitis and Papandreou publicly criticized the war. But both were careful to say that Greece's position would be governed by Greece's national interests and its obligations under international agreements. There would be no rupture with the United States.

    By the way: Kiesling’s self-congratulatory tone over his resignation can be hard to take. In an interview with Terri Gross on “Fresh Air” last week, he praised his own “moral courage.” And in an online interview (the link is screwed up this morning), he says, “it's wonderful to be a hero to those people who are looking for a hero on this issue, but -- um -- I have to figure out where to go from here.”

    Friday, April 25
    Canadians and petards

    "Funny how Canadians love squishy institutions of global governance until one of them acts the least bit peremptory towards them": The redoubtable Colby Cosh in a fine post on the WHO/SARS/Toronto topic.

    (via a Jim Henley post at Unqualified Offerings)

    The UN-ization of the WTO

    Brink Lindsey isn’t the only one at the Cato Institute who can write cogently about international trade issues. Razeen Sally, of the London School of Economics, has written a fine piece for Cato that goes beyond the mountain of technical jargon inevitably involved in trade matters to examine the big picture concerning the World Trade Organization.

    The picture isn’t very encouraging.

    Sally writes:

    ... the WTO is manifestly more politicized than the old GATT. Externally, it faces the brunt of the anti-globalization backlash, and it is constantly buffeted by a combination of old-style protectionist interests and new-style nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ... The arcana of trade policy, previously handled through low-key diplomacy and negotiation, now seem to be the crucible for global controversies, with their fair share of adversarial sloganeering and point scoring.

    ... The hyperinflation of the GATT/WTO, that is, the accession of so many developing and transitional countries during and especially after the Uruguay Round, has added new sets of interests and preferences to the organization’s ongoing business. Decision-making has become even more unwieldy and snail-like, more often than not distracted by windy rhetoric and political grandstanding in the WTO General Council, on the one hand, and the Geneva trade officials’ obsession with procedural minutiae, on the other. As worrying, it appears that an increasing number of recent appointments to the WTO Secretariat have been made more on the basis of appeasing developing-country pressure for more representation within the Secretariat than on the basis of merit.

    All of the above -- empty windbag speechifying, political point scoring, running around in procedural circles, appointments made according to informal developing-country quotas and not on merit -- are vexing signs of the UN-ization (or UNCTAD-ization, after the UN Conference on Trade and Development) of the WTO. ...

    If present UN-style trends continue, the WTO will simply be unable to function as an effective multilateral forum for trade negotiations. It will become a marginalized talking shop, and attention will shift elsewhere, particularly to bilateral and regional negotiating settings.

    Some additional worries:

  • Influential European members are attempting to the turn the WTO “into a lumbering regulatory agency” in the fashion of the EU’s Brussels-based bureaucratic behemoth. Sally writes: “This implicit standards harmonization agenda, aimed at raising developing-country standards to developed-country levels, is now the most insidious force in the WTO.” The do-gooder NGO community is, of course, pushing the same agenda. But, as Sally observes, “the result could be an extra layer of developed-country regulatory barriers that would shut out cheap developing-country exports.”

  • Given the slow progress by the WTO, regional free trade agreements are becoming far more common, especially among industrialized countries. In fact, Sally writes, “a weak and demoralized WTO is increasingly overshadowed by events on the bilateral/regional track, and it is in serious danger of becoming marginalized by spider webs of discriminatory trading arrangements.”

  • The WTO has regained a degree of stability and confidence after the disastrous WTO conference in Seattle in 1999. But since then, national governments and the business community generally have shown too little energy in pushing the WTO process forward. As a result, the process has become more vulnerable to stagnation and distraction.

    The next set of major WTO negotiations, as part of the current Doha Round, will take place in Cancun this September. The breadth and complexity of the agenda are increasing as multilateral negotiations expand away from traditional tariff and quota concerns to an ever-broader circle of (sometimes questionable) issues. That trend, along with the ones mentioned above, raise considerable hurdles for the negotiations.

    By the way: This piece from the Democratic Leadership Council provides a useful summary of the immediate trade-related issues specifically confronting the United States. In addition to the Doha Round, they are free trade agreements with Chile, Singapore and Loas; a Free Trade Area of the Americas (a very challenging diplomatic project, especially given the major differences that separate the U.S. and Brazil); Russia’s accession to the WTO; and reducing the economic isolation of the Muslim world.

    And: Some Western ranchers are voicing strong opposition to a U.S. free trade agreement being worked out with Australia and New Zealand.

    A bothersome ‘conscience’

    Boosters of the International Criminal Court, including its newly elected prosecutor, sounded tones of moderation during a gathering this week. (See one of the April 23 items on that Web page.) The court will seek to give deference to national sovereignty, stay within the bounds of ICC statutes and be subject to checks and balances, they said.

    During the event, the president of the diplomatic “Assembly of State Parties to the ICC,” Ambassador Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan, used an innocuous-sounding phrase, however, that actually is less than reassuring. Even as he insisted that the court “will station itself in the background,” he said that the ICC will “act as the world's permanent conscience.”

    “The world’s permanent conscience.” The phrase sounds similar in spirit to the Turkish military, which excuses its extraconstitutional excesses by styling itself as a higher agent above the law. It’s similar, too, to the rhetoric of Oliver North in 1987, as he rationalized his shredding of constitutional constraints on executive branch action -- noble intentions as justification over nitpicky legal considerations.

    The point isn’t that the court is likely to step outside its legal constraints in the short run. It probably won’t. The point, rather, is that the court’s supporters -- in diplomatic circles and the NGO community, buoyed by aid from journalistic boosters -- will work over the long term to see that the world’s “permanent conscience” is ultimately empowered with the sovereignty-trumping authority it supposedly deserves in order to carry out its enlightened mission.

    UPDATE: A coalition of human rights activists and lawyers is gathering evidence on alleged U.S. and British war crimes, with the aim of hauling U.S. and British officials before the ICC. The U.S., of course, isn't a signatory.

    Unsettling postcards

    My “Brutal times” post about the incorporation of violence into popular culture mentioned the mass-produced Nebraska postcard from the 1920s showing a blindfolded man apparently about to be executed in the electric chair. I mentioned examples from the 19th century West and the Jim Crow South, but a visitor here pointed out a direct parallel, postcards showing lynching photographs, and that the recent book "Without Sanctuary,” whose authors include Congressman John Lewis and historian Leon Litwack, provides a compilation of lynching photos. A companion Web site also provides photos. The material is, by its nature, quite disturbing; I wouldn’t recommend visiting the site if you’re especially sensitive to harsh images.

    The Leon Litwack book “Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow,” covers the same subject in chilling detail. In preparing my post I had thought about citing some of the incidents he describes, but I didn’t want to overload my post with grotesqueries. Popular culture could be particularly coarse in regard to the lynching topic; it was fairly common for body parts of lynching victims to be publicly displayed, sometimes in store windows.

    Litwack notes that an opponent of lynching once tried to sway South Carolina Gov. Cole Blease, a particularly vile supporter of white supremacy, against lynching by mailing him the finger bone of a lynching victim. Blease, utterly unaffected, contentedly planted the bone in his garden as a sign of his indifference.

    Looking for a home

    Some short takes:

  • Maybe New Hampshire. Or Idaho. Or Montana. Those are some of the lightly populated states that boosters of something called the Free State Project are considering. Their aim: persuade 20,000 staunchly libertarian-minded people to move there and create a utopia of limited government and expanded liberty. It’s the idea of a poli sci student at Yale, the article says. Makes for a great “brite” for newspapers, but it doesn’t seem a workable proposal. Montana, for example, is absolutely gorgeous, a real treasure. But you know how brutal the winters are up there? Not a very welcoming climate for sensitive types.

  • Then again, that sort of strategy appears to have worked in Iowa’s newest incorporated community: Vedic City. There, the Constitution of the Universe has been adopted as the city's constitution, Sanskrit has been approved as “the ideal language for use in the city,” the Raam Mudra is in use as an additional currency, and the city government’s official apparatus includes the Central Bank of Global Country of World Peace. The link is down for the article that had that info, but here is a piece that gives an overview of the community.

  • It’s good to read that Alabama may be straightening out some of the inanities in its state constitution, even if the current proposals provide only half a loaf of improvement. The document, ludicrously long and saddled with an amazing assortment of egregious special-interest perks, racist references and rococo approaches to local governance, has long been in need of a thorough revamping, as many commentators in that state have noted.

  • Eugene Volokh and Jacob Levy offer terrific observations about the difficulties that independent-minded people encounter in weighing their allegiance to the Democratic or Republican parties. Eugene’s post is here; Jacob Levy’s, here.

  • More fine analysis by Austin Bay on matters Iraqi. I need such encouragement to counter my naturally wary, even pessimistic, attitude on foreign policy.

  • This year marks the centennial of the publication of W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk.” A good NYT article, reprinted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    Scary, not scary

    Last night I turned on a light in my and my wife’s bedroom and had a jolt at what I saw. On our beds, pillows and cushions had been piled together to form what looked like a teepee or volcano.

    For a few moments, though, I was a bit spooked. The image didn't make any sense at all. It reminded me of the eerie trinkets left behind in “The Blair Witch Project.” That may sound foolish, but it's the truth.

    Actually, the explanation for the "teepee" was a silly one. Earlier in the evening, my 8-year-old son, unknown to me, had created the structure. In the center of the teepee, he had placed Alice, our super-fussy cat. Son and cat had long since departed, leaving only the supposedly spooky structure.

    Now you know what passes for entertainment in our household.

    I mentioned “The Blair Witch Project.” Thinking about the movie reminds me of how, on occasion, I have gone to the movies with the full expectation of being petrified with fright. But during the movie, it slowly dawns on me that I’ve been conned: This movie isn’t that scary, it’s just dumb!

    That was my reaction to “Blair Witch” in 1999.

    Twenty years earlier, that had been my reaction, too, to the little horror movie “Phantasm.” I had watched an interview with the director on “Tomorrow” with Tom Snyder and became convinced that the movie was probably the scariest thing ever. The next day, I got my college roommate all worked about the movie too. That weekend, we went to the theater prepared for the absolute worst.

    Then the movie began to unfold, and we began to realize that I was very, very mistaken.

    My roommate turned to me in the theater and said, “I’m going to kill you! You had me scared to death!”

    Not an uncommon movie experience, I imagine.

    Wednesday, April 23
    Iranian manipulation in Iraq

    It’s not just the Washington Post that is reporting less than encouraging news about the dynamics in the Iraqi Shiite community. In NRO, Michael Ledeen writes:

    We have a very narrow window in Iraq to win the support of the Shiite community, which constitutes a majority of the Iraqi people. If we do not manage that in the next month or two, the radical Iranian regime will almost certainly succeed in its ambitious and, thus far, brilliantly managed campaign to mobilize the Iraqi Shiites to discredit the Coalition victory, demand an immediate American withdrawal, and insist on “international” — that is, U.N. and European — supervision of the country.

    That would leave Iran with a free hand in Iraq, strengthen the regime in Tehran to our detriment, and give a second wind to the terror network. Our victory, as the old saying goes, would turn to ashes in our mouths. ...

    But the true audacity of Tehran lies in their political moves. The Iranians have infiltrated more than a hundred highly trained Arab mullahs from Qom and other Iranian religious centers into Iraq, especially to Najaf and Karbala, the holy cities of the Shiite faith. They are poisoning the minds of the (largely uneducated) Iraqi mobs with a simple slogan, repeated five times a day in the mosques: “America did it for the Jews and for the oil.” They are also distributing cash to the Iraqis.

    Just as they did against the shah, the Iranian Shiite leaders intend to build a mass following, leading to an insurrection against us. Look carefully at the banners carried by the Shiite demonstrators. They are very clean and well produced, with slogans in both Arabic (for the Iraqis) and English (for Western media). That is the Iranian regime at work, one of the most brilliant and patient intelligence organizations in the region.

    The Iranians will combine this political strategy with terrorist acts and assassinations, as in the case of the very charismatic Ayatollah Khoi in Najaf. He was a real threat to them, because of his personality and his solid pro-Western views. So they killed him, and they are planning to kill others of his ilk, along with as many Coalition soldiers as they can murder. Thousands of Iranian-backed terrorists have been sent to Iraq, from Hezbollah killers to the remnants of al Qaeda, from Islamic Jihadists to top Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighters. ...

    Our best strategy consists of two programs, one defensive and one offensive. The first is to support pro-Western, pro-democracy mullahs in Najaf and Karbala. ... Similarly, it is next to impossible for us to identify the Iranian-backed terrorists, but the Iraqi Shiites can do it, once they are convinced that their real salvation lies with us. ...

    The second program is to support the anti-regime forces inside Iran. That insane regime is now very frightened, both of us and of their own people. The ayatollahs know that the Iranian people long to be free, and the regime has intensified its repression during the run-up to the war.

    There are several pro-democracy groups in Iran (student and teacher organizations, trade unions, workers group, especially in the oil and textile sectors) that can organize an insurrection in Tehran and other major cities. They need money (a fraction of what was squandered in the CIA’s failed program to induce an insurrection in Basra), satellite phones, laptop computers, and the like. At the same time, we should support the pro-American Persian language radio and TV stations in Los Angeles, that are the principal source of information for most educated Iranians.

    Something funny about war

    Several bloggers have linked to this article about the Iraq war and humor writers. Let me mention the war-related material from two humorists, not mentioned in the piece, whose work I enjoy even though my foreign policy take tends to be on another wavelength. (Both writers are in my blogroll.)

    Madeleine Begun Kane, in New York, has written “All I Want Is A New Regime” (sung to “Wouldn't It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady”):

    All I want is a new regime,
    In the White House a brand new team,
    From ear to ear I'd beam,
    Aow, wouldn't it be loverly?

    No more war talk from Bush and Blair,
    Say good-bye to that plund'ring pair,
    Bush out of my gray hair,
    Aow, wouldn't it be loverly?

    The rest is here.

    Syndicated humorist Rick Horowitz, who lives in Milwaukee, recently had a column he titled “Tipping Point”:

    WASHINGTON, Any Day Now -- Still relishing the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, President Bush asked Congress today to provide the Pentagon with emergency funding to help deploy -- and destroy -- statues of other foreign dictators.

    The president's request, for $5.3 billion in supplemental appropriations, will be formally sent to Capitol Hill by the end of next week, administration sources confirmed.

    "We saw what happened when they pulled down Saddam's statue in Baghdad," Mr. Bush said in a Rose Garden appearance this morning. "Why shouldn't we make it easier to pull down other statues, and get rid of other evil leaders?"

    If approved by Congress, the new money would go toward creation of a special multi-service force informally dubbed "the Topplers." Their mission: to help create additional opportunities for decisive overthrows of stone and metal icons. Though details are yet to be worked out, the "Topplers" are expected to be active in all phases of statue design, placement and -- in conjunction with the Army's 3rd Mechanized Winch Corps -- demolition.

    And from a column that Rick titles “Dear Whoever: You’re Next”:

    To Whom It May Concern:

    This is to inform you that the executive branch of the government of the United States of America is (troubled/ highly troubled/ deeply troubled) by the current situation in (insert country). Because of specific activities you have (undertaken/ encouraged/ financed/ permitted), the prospects for peace in (insert region), and indeed throughout the world, have been placed in grave jeopardy. ...

    The activities now going on in (insert country) constitute a clear and (immediate/ growing) danger, one that cannot be allowed to continue. Through the use of (surveillance satellites/ unmanned aircraft/ human intelligence/ Miss Cleo), we have (incontrovertible evidence/ solid information/ a pretty good hunch) that you've been up to no good.

    In particular, we are most concerned that you are (stockpiling weapons of mass destruction/ attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction/ transferring weapons of mass destruction to other countries/ jealous of our weapons of mass destruction). In addition, we have the strongest possible suspicions that your government has been (harboring terrorists/ terrorizing harbors). Finally, serious questions have been raised about (the way you wear your hat/ the way you sip your tea/ other).

    Our long reliance on (diplomatic channels/ The Weather Channel/ Chanel No. 5) has gotten us nowhere in resolving these matters, and has been met only by (further deceit/ vacant stares/ heavy breathing) on your part. We have been obliged, therefore, to consider a variety of additional steps to ensure our safety, and that of your neighboring states, (insert country, insert country), not to mention (insert country).

    As (President Bush/ Vice President Cheney/ Secretary Rumsfeld/ Rush Limbaugh) said very clearly just the other day, "(insert bellicose language)."

    We couldn't agree more.

    We are also well aware of the tragic human costs that your behavior has exacted upon your own nation as well. For more than (insert number) years, your repressive regime has denied your own citizens basic (rights/ freedoms/ cable). They, like people the world over, yearn to be free, and we understand those yearnings. ...

    You and your (cronies/ toadies/ phonies/ ponies) are through. Your (shady associates/ sleazy friends/ skanky relatives) should be under no illusions: We intend to bring them all to justice.

    NASCAR seeks diversity

    Wyeth Ruthven (Democratic activist, law student, blogger) pointed to an intriguing AP story on a listserv he runs. The piece says that NASCAR is looking for the Tiger Woods of racing:

    The only black driver to win at NASCAR's highest level never got a proper celebration in Victory Lane. Wendell Scott beat the field in a 200-mile race in 1963, but as the story goes, NASCAR officials were worried about how the predominantly white crowd in Jacksonville might react to seeing a black man hoist the winner's trophy.

    Buck Baker was declared the winner, and only after two hours of review -- with the crowd long gone -- was a "scoring error" detected and Scott named the official winner.

    "It was a night my dad said was a very good feeling, but a frustrating feeling because he couldn't get the full enjoyment from his victory," says Sybil Scott, the daughter of the late NASCAR pioneer.

    Nearly four decades later, NASCAR still hasn't seen a black driver celebrate in Victory Lane, mostly because blacks remain a rarity in stock-car racing.

    Two years ago, NASCAR signed a $2.8 billion TV contract. In the past decade, it has moved up alongside football, baseball and basketball as one of the nation's most popular sports.

    With that growth, the lack of a black presence is no longer just a regional or cultural anomaly. It has become a costly business problem, as well.

    As a result, leaders of a sport where Confederate flags still often outnumber black fans in the infield are beginning to realize the pressure to bring blacks into the fold isn't all coming from the outside. There's money to be made by attracting black participants and more black fans. ...

    Yearning for a chance to start a team are black men like Herbie Bagwell of Bridgeport, Conn. Bagwell, who says he's a qualified driver, has been working the phones and soliciting on the Internet trying to find sponsors for a team that could eventually make it to Winston Cup.

    He says he's not looking for any handouts from NASCAR, but is surprised at the reluctance he encounters from sponsors. Headline sponsors pay up to $15 million a season to put their logo on cars in Winston Cup, but drivers can get in at the lower levels of racing for about $300,000.

    Bagwell thinks many possible sponsors look at the crowds at the tracks, don't see any blacks there and don't see what gains they would get by spending millions to advertise in the sport.

    Media buyer Tom DeCabia agrees.

    He says if he runs into a corporation looking to focus on young black males, he would steer them toward the NBA and NFL, or maybe even major league baseball. ...

    NASCAR cites a recent ESPN poll that shows trends are changing in the sport. The poll says the black fan base rose 17.8 percent between 1995 and 2001, a remarkable shift considering the number of black drivers and owners hasn't really changed at all. That same poll says NASCAR has added about 2 million black fans since 1999.

    Not everyone in Minnesota is above average

    The governor talks about his state's "two-tiered economy," in which the Twins Cities are progressing but much of rural Minnesota is struggling.

    Legislative priorities

    It’s depressing that at a time when the state’s budget crisis needed attention this week, the Georgia Senate had to take up time debating a proposed new design for the state flag.

    From an article (the link is kaput) in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Republican senators and lawyers for the governor worked throughout the day Monday, looking for a way around a faulty bit of legalese in the bill that would result in a new flag that, proportionately, would be the longest in the nation. A standard flag has dimensions of 3-by-5 feet. The new flag, a variation of the Confederate Stars and Bars, would be 3-by-6 feet.”

    Budget cuts and historic preservation

    I linked the other day to an article talking about the debate over state arts funding in New York state. Dan Hobby writes:

    In Florida we are facing the same issues. For years this state has had one of the most active and well-funded historic preservation programs in the nation. State appropriations has led to a remarkable increase in the identification and preservation of historical resources, from pre-contact archeological sites, to Spanish colonial missions, to the art deco architecture of Miami Beach. Any number of municipalities have established historic preservation boards and have created hundreds of historic districts ...

    However, in the governor's and legislature's zeal to cut taxes much of the state's historic preservation funding has been axed (or at least it appears it will be -- the budget has not been approved and signed).

    And these figures do not include the program and staff cuts in the state's Division of Historical Resources. The governor wants to cut the staffing of this agency from 94 to 43. ...

    On a related note, the governor has recommended closing the state library, giving its collection to a private university almost 500 miles away from Tallahassee. Along with this he wants to end funding of the State Historic Records Advisory Board local historic records grants program.. This small budget program, administered through the state Division of Library and Information Services, provided easily obtainable funding for all sorts of agencies--not just established historical institutions. ...

    Of course historic preservation is not alone in this sorry spectacle. As one Tallahassee lobbyist told me recently, "Dan, they're throwing widows and orphans out on the street." All to reduce taxes in one of the nation's least taxed states.

    President Bush and President Davis

    The Harold Meyerson piece in The American Prospect in which he compares George W. Bush to Jefferson Davis has triggered considerable blog reaction. One contrast between the two: Because of the decentralized nature of the Confederate political system, Davis had far less power to encroach on civil liberties compared not just to Bush but to Abraham Lincoln.

    Historian Forrest McDonald wrote in his recent book, “States’ Rights and The Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876”:

    Given the absence of a supreme court, the limitations on the powers delegated to the Confederacy, and the emphasis on states’ rights, the Confederacy government might have been fatally handicapped in trying to fight the war. Actually, however, except for the bungling and feuding in dealing with his generals and for lacking the common touch in making patriotic speeches, Jefferson Davis was quite as effective in bringing about the necessary centralization as Lincoln did, and he did so with less repression. In no small measure, his accomplishment was possible precisely because the institutional framework in which he operated made it imperative for him to plead with people for their cooperation rather than, as Lincoln did, attempt to ride roughshod over them.

    Not that there weren’t loud complaints in some quarters accusing the Davis government of gross infringements of civil liberties. An especially outspoken critic was William Holden, an independent-minded newspaper editor in Raleigh, N.C., who was later named a Reconstruction-era governor of North Carolina by Andrew Johnson (a Tennesseean born in Raleigh).

    Monday, April 21
    A thumb’s down for caucuses

    Centrist Democrats should not support the shifting from primaries to caucuses, the Democratic Leadership Council cogently argues in a new e-mail:

    ... there is a strange and dangerous counter-trend developing today in the Democratic Party towards the use of caucuses rather than primaries to choose delegates in 2004. This trend threatens to give interest groups and highly ideological activists disproportionate influence over the nominating process; to disenfranchise rank-and-file Democrats while excluding independents altogether; and, quite frankly, to isolate Democrats from the center of American politics at the worst possible time.

    Already, two of the states that will choose delegates very early in the nominating process, Michigan and New Mexico, have traded primaries for caucuses. Another early decision state, South Carolina, is thinking about doing the same, as is Kansas, which will hold its delegate selection later. The usual reasons are financial -- caucuses are less expensive than primaries -- and legal -- it's easier to change the date of a “private party” caucus than a statewide primary election if you are trying to take advantage of the Democratic Party's open invitation to states to move up their delegate selection to February of 2004.

    But the combination of a large presidential candidate field, a “front-loaded” nomination calendar, and a shift towards caucuses, could produce an outcome that will deeply disappoint most Democrats nationally, not to mention the independent voters necessary to a Democratic win in the general election.

    As DLC CEO and Founder Al From recently pointed out in Blueprint magazine, the critical, even dominant, role of independent voters in general elections argues for Democratic primaries that are open and welcoming to independents. Not only shutting them out, but also limiting the franchise to Democratic activists willing to negotiate often-complex caucus procedures, is a move in exactly the wrong direction. ...

    Caucuses are likely to help move the Democratic Party back into the self-isolating and losing ways of the 1980s.

    By the way: The DLC is using some tough language in criticizing the New York City Council’s recent move to soften work requirements for welfare recipients.

    Our man in Baghdad

    My friend from Fred Ray e-mails a question I would never have expected: “Did you know that actor Victor McLaglen was once the Provost Marshall of Baghdad?”

    Well, no, I didn’t.

    Fred links to this site, which says:
    A boy soldier during the Boer War, British actor Victor McLaglen later worked as a prizefighter (once losing to Jack Johnson in six rounds) and a vaudeville and circus performer. He served in World War I as a captain with the Irish Fusiliers and as provost marshal of Baghdad.

    In the early '20s he broke into British films. He soon moved to Hollywood, where he got lead and supporting roles; his basic screen persona was that of a large, brutish, but soft-hearted man of action. He appeared in many John Ford films, often as a military man. McLaglen made the transition to sound successfully, and for his work in Ford's The Informer (1935), he won the Best Actor Oscar. He remained a busy screen actor until the late '50s. Five of his brothers were also film actors: Arthur, Clifford, Cyril, Kenneth, and Leopold. He was the father of director Andrew V. McLaglen.

    So there you have it.

    The end of Partisan Review

    A once-important institution in American intellectual life, and the Jewish experience in America, has expired. There will be no more new issues of the quarterly journal Partisan Review, once the signature vehicle for the group of brilliant writers described by the shorthand phrase “the New York intellectuals.”

    From the late 1930s through the 1950s, Partisan Review provided a remarkable forum in which a set of forceful intellectuals, many of them young Jewish writers, stepped forward to assert themselves. Among the contributors were Lionel Trilling, Alfred Kazin, Irving Howe and Edmund Wilson. The caliber of political argument -- and its intensity -- was formidable.

    From a New York Times article on the journal’s demise:

    “It was one of the four or five greatest magazines in America,” said Morris Dickstein, a professor of English at the City University of New York and a contributing editor to the journal. “It was a very small enterprise to begin with, the work of a very small circle, mainly Jews in the New York area, who were not academically credentialed. And they turned out to be among the most brilliant intellectuals America has ever produced.”

    Partisan Review was founded by non-Stalinist Marxists, several of whom embraced anticommunism in the 1950s. The most notable example was the thoughtful and genial political philosopher Sidney Hook.

    In his lovingly written look at the experience of the Eastern European Jews in New York, “World of Our Fathers,” Irving Howe observed that Partisan Review

    was the first journal in which it was not merely respectable but a matter of pride to print one of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” side by side with Marxist criticism -- and even a few reviews of Sholom Aleichem and Peretz. Not only did the magazine break down the polar rigidities of hard-line and hard-line nativists; it also sanctioned the idea ... that there existed an all but incomparable generation of modern masters who in a terrible age represented the highest possibilities of the imagination.

    Howe also wrote: “To resort to a term of Renato Poggioli, the New York writers constituted not so much an intellectual elite as an intelligentsia in the European sense, that is, ‘an intellectual order from the lower ranks ... created by those who were rejected by other classes; an intellectual order whose function was not so much cultural as political.’ ”

    Among the many streams that have come together to form American intellectual life, Partisan Review was once a mighty tributary. Its quiet passing into historical memory deserves to be noted and mourned.

    Sunday, April 20
    Political change in Mississippi?

    Have Trent Lott's egregious statements about the Dixiecrats and his subsequent shift in tone on racial matters created a political opening for black Democratcs to gain statewide office in Mississippi?

    This interesting piece in the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., considers the topic. Winning statewide office is a feat no black has accomplished in Mississippi since the late 19th century. From the article:

    It is no longer unusual to see blacks emerging with years of legislative or other government expertise. In fact, Mississippi has the most black elected officials of any state in the country.

    But the state with the proportionally largest black population is behind its neighbors in numbers of black statewide elected officials. Now, Blackmon and others, including state fiscal officer Gary Anderson and Jackson businesswoman Cindy Ayers Elliot, could change those statistics. ...

    Black leaders point to a confluence of events that make this year prime time to run, including U.S. Sen. Trent Lott's racially insensitive remarks praising Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential bid on the segregationist Dixiecrat ticket. The outcry that followed prompted Lott to commit to minority causes, and some black leaders see a new environment with more room for change.

    They also point to the opening of three statewide seats without Democratic incumbents, and other incumbents who may feel more vulnerable in the fragile economy. They believe some of the perceptions white voters held about black political leaders have, at least in part, dissolved over the years. ...

    Most of the state's black elected officials have been elected in districts with a large number of black voters. Now, assuming the statewide candidate wins most of the black voting-age population's 33 percent, he or she would still have to garner about 20 percent from white voters to win a majority in Mississippi.

    That kind of coup is becoming increasingly more difficult for black candidates dependent on Democratic votes, as the Reagan-initiated Republican realignment moves across the South, recruiting white Democrats to its ranks, [Emory political scientist Merle] Black said.

    It also is difficult when those candidates must fight a “liberal” label, which white Mississippians may place on them. ...

    But at the same time, Brown, who owns a landscaping company and is making his second bid for lieutenant governor, said running on a conservative platform as he plans to do could backfire. Being a conservative, he says, could work against him because conservatism has become a “bad word” in the black community.