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:
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Friday, February 28
No, not ‘freedom fries’

In the wake of the overly precious “freedom fries” campaign, it’s a bit surprising that no one in the baby boomer generation is urging the adoption of the term “American fries.” That’s what a character played by Jeff Bridges ordered in a restaurant scene in the 1974 film “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.”

“I want American fries!” the Bridges character repeatedly insisted to the waitress. “Do you have American fries?” (I'm just going by memory as far as his lines, but that's pretty close.)

By the way: “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” was the directorial debut of Michael Cimino. Reviewer Hal Crowther claimed, in the late ’70s, that Cimino’s films were all linked by a theme of gayness. I don’t know if that’s valid or not, but I do remember that after reading that review by Crowther, I noticed what seemed to be several gay references in “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” that I hadn’t noticed the first time I'd seen the film.

By the way II: Hal Crowther is a marvelous writer. I checked this morning to see what he has been up to since I used to read him during my college days in Chapel Hill during the Jimmy Carter years. I found that, not surprisingly, he’s written a collection of essays on the South, titled “Cathedral of Kudzu.” And it’s published by one of my favorite institutions -- the Louisiana State University Press. (LSU Press is one of several university presses included in my blogroll here; I don't make those recommendations lightly.)

Atrocities in Venezuela

Columnist Myriam Marquez has a very strong column in which she vividly describes the outrages orchestrated by the Chavez regime:

Would a president who says he believes in democracy send out his secret police to capture and imprison his nation's labor leader and the head of the largest business group for leading protests against him?

Would the president allow -- indeed, encourage -- his supporters to take to the streets, armed with weapons, to shoot at unarmed protesters?

Would a truly democratic president start disarming a force of 9,000 police officers in his nation's capital city because local elected officials want new presidential elections?

Would such a leader remain silent while gunmen loyal to him ambush a local police motorcycle brigade, killing one cop and wounding five others?

Would it be fair to wonder who's behind the death of former military officers who were kidnapped, tortured and killed, found dead under "mysterious circumstances," officers who happened to disagree with the president's "democratic" tactics?

Hugo Chavez's reign of terror in Venezuela knows no bounds. He is bent on keeping power the old-fashioned way, by force.

Democracy be damned. ...

Chavez isn't interested in healing a divided nation. This is, after all, the "year of the revolutionary offensive," as Chavez calls it. He's fired thousands of strikers in the nationalized oil industry, set up currency controls that are strangling businesses and now moved to quash those who dare question his presidency -- even those in his country of the democratic left who see through his machinations.

A newspaper defends itself

A Washington Post editorial quotes from critical letters from readers about the paper’s support for Bush’s Iraq policy, then explains the Post's stance.

... "It is truly depressing to witness the depths Washington Post editors have reached in their jingoistic rush to war," another reader writes. It's a serious charge, and it deserves a serious response. ...

Probably no editorial page sin could be more grievous than whipping up war fever for some political or trivial purpose. And we do not take lightly the risks of war -- to American and Iraqi soldiers and civilians first of all. We believe that the Bush administration has only begun to prepare the public for the sacrifices that the nation and many young Americans might bear during and after a war. And there is a long list of terrible things that could go wrong: anthrax dispersed, moderate regimes imperiled, Islamist recruiting spurred, oil wells set afire.

The right question, though, is not "Is war risky?" but "Is inaction less so?" No one can provide more than a judgment in reply. But the world is already a dangerous place. Anthrax has been wielded in Florida, New York and Washington. Terrorists have struck repeatedly and with increasing strength over the past decade. Are the United States and its allies ultimately safer if they back down again and leave Saddam Hussein secure? Or does safety lie in making clear that his kind of outlaw behavior will not be tolerated and in helping Iraq become a peaceable nation that offers no haven to terrorists? ...

Some argue now that, because Saddam Hussein has not in the intervening half-decade used his arsenal, Mr. Clinton was wrong and the world can rest assured that Iraq is adequately "contained." Given what we know about how containment erodes over time; about Saddam Hussein's single-mindedness compared with the inattention and divisions of other nations; and about the ease with which deadly weapons can move across borders, we do not trust such an assurance. Mr. Clinton understood, as Mr. Bush understands, that no president can bet his nation's safety on the hope that Iraq is "contained." We respect our readers who believe that war is the worst option. But we believe that, in this case, long-term peace will be better served by strength than by concessions.

The siren song of 'Kumbayaism'

I've had difficulty finding time to e-mail people this week, but a good friend and I did exchange messages about our differences on some foreign policy questions. Among observations I offered:

For me, the big picture is that the U.S. faces a very, very grave threat over the long term as terrorists get their hands on terrible weapons and irresponsible governments such as those in Pakistan, North Korea and Iran shamelessly engage in spreading such weapons. I'm talking about the eventual use of chemical, biological and nuclear against major U.S. cities, maybe not in two years or five, but certainly within your and my lifetimes. Certainly within those of our children. The 9/11 attacks should awaken us all to that reality (the reality, at least, as I see it).

How does this relate to the U.N.? The U.N., as well as the French and German foreign policy teams, are part of the international subculture that proceeds as if ongoing problems with terrorism and weapons proliferation are subject to neat, bureaucratic solutions involving resolutions, the deployment of U.N. inspectors and other personnel, massive infusions of foreign aid, and treaties. For lack of a better term, I'd label that approach as "Kumbayaism."

Such tools can serve useful purposes in some regards. But in the fight against terrorism, they can help, at best, at the margins. Even foreign aid. No treaty or foreign aid is going to stop bin Laden and his followers from doing what they intend to do.

The immediate question, of course, involves Iraq and how to deal with it. A legitimate case can be made, as you say, for upholding the legitimacy of the U.N. process and the authority of the Security Council. My point, on a somewhat different tangent, is that over the long term, the bureaucratic chatter at the United Nations building in New York, and the outcomes resulting from that chatter, will normally provide no practical aid in stopping future terrorist attacks.

Cooperation with allies, yes, can definitely help in that regard. This is an area of agreement between us, I'd say. Over the long term, the U.S. will find itself in a difficult situation if it alienates allies and potential friends; I've made that point at my blog before. The problem, in my view, is that governments in France and Germany are self-deluded by subscribing to the ideals of Kumbayaism.

France, incidentally, isn't within sin on such matters. The French government has unilaterally disregarded some European Union policies in pursuing its own interests. That doesn't mean it's automatically correct to disregard the Security Council, but France's full record ought to be noted.

Whither the Mongols

My appreciation to Eve Tushnet for pointing recently out two terrific blogs:
Ideofact and Kesher Talk.

Ideofact, which ably examines historical topics, features a post with this observation: “an American reporter said something to the effect that his countrymen were shallow and ignorant, and that if they wanted to understand bin Laden and the Taliban, they should be reading the Qur'an. I'm sure he thought he was being the epitome of multicultural sensitivity, but the comment made me grit me teeth. It was rather like saying that if you wanted to understand Timothy McVeigh, you had to read Thomas Jefferson.”

Much fine stuff, too, at Ideofact about the Mongol invasion (a topic, by the way, that Den Beste memorably examined last year).

At Kesher Talk, I especially liked the post that talked about the independent-mindedness of the leftist journal Dissent.

Both those sites illustrate what the blogosphere, at its best, should be: independent, thoughtful explorations of serious (and humorous) issues that go beyond the tiresome blah-blah of warblogger dittoheadism.


My apologies to folks who've e-mailed me this week. I haven't had time to respond at length or in some cases respond to all, due to demands on my time. I've had to focus, above all, on Nebraska's hot 'n' heavy debate over whether to legalize casinos.

Mentors and soda pop

I’ve been privileged to have two great mentors in journalism. One is Frank Partsch, who retired last year as editorial page editor at the Omaha World-Herald. The other, from my days in my native Tarheel Land, is a North Carolina editor (and former consultant to the State Department on Russian journalistic affairs) named Steve Bouser.

Both have a highly nuanced understanding of language and were marvelous teachers. They inspired me with their common belief that opinion writers should strive to stuff as much intellectual liveliness into an essay as possible. I try to put in practice what they taught me whenever I make time to compose a genuine essay for this blog (as opposed to the hurriedly written snippet-posts that make up most of the items here).

Coincidentally, both my mentors worked at the Miami Herald at almost the same time many years ago -- Steve, I believe, as a copy editor; Frank, as an intern.

A good friend has passed along a recent column of Steve’s on a topic -- U.S. regional differences in referring to soda pop -- that fits right in with this blog:

Ted Kietzman grew up in Illinois — where, he says, “we referred to Coke as ‘Coke’ and Pepsi as ‘Pepsi’ and everything else was ‘pop.’ ”

So imagine his surprise when he and his wife moved to Boston in the 1960s.

“She went into the grocery store early on and asked, ‘Where’s your pop?’ ” he recalls. “And they said, ‘We don’t sell liquor here.’ In Boston they called mixed drinks like martinis ‘pops.’ Like, ‘Let’s go to the club and have a couple of pops.’ ”

Ted, who now lives in Pinewild, was one of a number of readers who responded to last week’s column, headlined “Pop, Soda, Coke — What Do You Call It?”

They mostly conformed well with the semi-scholarly conclusions about regional soft-drink terminology quoted in the earlier piece: Midwestern natives like Ted (and yours truly, who grew up in Missouri) are “pop” people. Northeasterners say “soda,” and Southerners favor the generic term “coke.”

But it develops that there’s a strong runner-up to “soda” in New England. Several readers from there said they grew up referring to carbonated soft drinks as “tonics.”

To me, “tonic” is either quinine water that you mix with gin or something you rub on your hair. Ted says that’s what he thought, too, till he went to Boston.

“Coke, soda, 7-Up — they called all of it tonic,” he says. “Root beer tonic, grape tonic, orange tonic. Boston had some very interesting nomenclature. If you wanted a milkshake, you ordered a ‘frappe’ (pronounced ‘frap’).”

Steve, in passing, also mentions something else that’s fun: In Moore County, N.C., there is a community named Spies.

Wednesday, February 26
Rummy vs. Al Jazeera

From his interview with the Arab TV network this week:

Al Jazeera: If I understand, some people say you are targeting Iraq because it is the weakest side of the axis of evil, and that you want to cover your failures in Afghanistan, you still have unfinished job.

Rumsfeld: The failures of Afghanistan. Did you see the people when the coalition forces and the Northern Alliance and the forces on the ground liberated Kabul? They were singing, they were flying kites, they were happy. Two million refugees have come back into that country. Is that a failure? People are voting with their feet. Individual people. Neither you or I will ever meet them, but they're making a conscious decision to go back to Afghanistan because they know of certain knowledge that it's better there today than it was before. That is not a failure. That is an enormous success.

There are no longer al Qaeda training camps in that country. They are no longer flying airplanes into U.S. buildings from that country, with people trained from that country. The people have picked a transitional government. It's their government. There are men and women going to school. There are people out driving cars. There's humanitarian assistance being provided. They're training an Afghan National Army. This is no failure. This is a success.

Al Jazeera: Do you think that Iraqi opposition are going to be a reliable partner in after, let us say, the Saddam Hussein regime?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I think there are --

Al Jazeera: They are fractious; it is very well known that they are not united.

Rumsfeld: That's the way it is with democracies. That's the way it is with people who are free to say what they think. They have different views.

What will happen, I would predict that in the event that Saddam Hussein is not there and a new regime evolved, what will happen is there will be people from the Iraqi opposition to be sure, there will be people, Iraqi expatriates, to be sure. There will be more people from inside Iraq who want to participate in that government and it will be a mixture. You will find a uniquely Iraqi solution to whatever that government ought to be and there isn't anybody in the world, in the United States or any other country, that is smart enough to craft a model or a template and say that's what it will be because we don't know what it will be. It will be something that's uniquely Iraqi, just as it was in Afghanistan.

Simmons' Law

It's simply stated:

Whenever the probability that a child will spill something approaches 50 percent, then that child absolutely will make that spill.

A good friend tells me I'm optimistic. He offers his own law: If it can be spilled, it will be spilled.

A charmer

I’ve mentioned before about how powerful the personal charm of Sen. John Edwards can be. A Boston Globe article (via ABC News’ The Note) described how Edwards won over Carole Newton, a worker at a belt-making and leather-working plant in Concord, New Hampshire.

"'This is the first young man I've seen that has really gotten me all excited since John F. Kennedy,' said the 64-year-old independent who has voted for candidates from both parties. "The man looks at you. He doesn't look past you. ... You feel like he understands your problems," said Newton, who has been laid off three times since 1999. "You have to be a worker like us to know how hard it is out there right now."

In another article, Newton was quoted as telling Edwards, "I can see in your eyes you're an honest man.”

Said The Note, in regard to Edwards' shopfloor campaigning::

For those in the room (per one of us, who also was there), it was a real moment.

To a surprising degree, Edwards is emphasizing his "son of a mill worker versus son of a president" theme, and his "I'm fighting for you" theme at every stop. The reason why this moment was so interesting was because the audience really reacted to it exactly the way the Edwards campaign would have scripted, had they been able to. The group listened to him make his case, and en masse, they told him in an emotional way that they believed him.

But Edwards also caught some flak. At a New Hampshire Democratic get-together, one attendee grumped about his relatively hard stance toward Iraq. Another talked about rising medical rates and the role that plaintiffs’ attorney play in that regard.

Even Carole Newton, the leather worker wowed by Edwards, offered a measure of disappointment. Even as she praised him, she was heard to ask, “What’s his name?”

Among the Kurds

Trudy Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, writes from Kurdish-held territory in northern Iraq:

So even though the regular phones barely work, and you can't get mail delivered, and the Sulaimani Palace has no fax machine, nearly every corner has a store selling the latest model of cell phones. The Kurds are a mountain people who excel in smuggling, and all manner of electronic goods make their way into Kurdistan from Arab Gulf states.

Just about every corner in Sulaymaniyah also has an Internet cafe full of young Kurds chatting with one another or their relatives in the United States, or logging onto foreign news sites. Most people here are better informed about the world than the typical American; you can see satellite dishes mounted on the rudest homes made of stone or concrete, with moss roofs held down by large rocks. Though mountain roads in Kurdistan are cracked and rutted, and the region is far from just about anywhere, Iraqi Kurds know what the world is saying about the coming war. ...

In the center of Sulaymaniyah sits a gutted prison, four floors of yellow brick, pockmarked with bullet holes, with empty windows gaping, where Saddam's secret police once tortured Kurds and raped their women.

The buildings seem haunted, especially at twilight, with black clouds hovering, when one can walk through cells being turned into a museum. In several rooms, hooks are still jutting from the ceiling, hooks from which Kurds were hung with hands tied behind their backs. In a hallway, a plaster statue of a man, one hand manacled to the wall, back facing outward, stands as a reminder of the guards' practice of beating the prisoner on the back each time they walked by.

Graffiti still line the cells, including one by a 15-year-old condemned to death in 1991, after the failed Kurdish uprising after the Gulf War, who scribbled in pencil, "Mother, father, I will never see you again.''

Kurds are used to going to funerals. Saddam slaughtered more than 100,000 out of 4,000,000 Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s and demolished 4,500 villages.

Limits to Southern empire

A recent post here talked about counterfactual speculations about a Southern victory in the Civil War as portrayed in the new independent movie “C.S.A.” The movie, by filmmakers in Lawrence, Kan., describes a Southern occupation of the North as well as the conquest of Latin America by Southern slaveholding imperialists.

My friend Fred Ray, a student of the Civil War, offers some thoughts on the practical limitations involved:

No way the Confederacy could have subdued and occupied the North. Lee managed to scrape together about 75,000 men for the Gettysburg campaign in '63, and that probably represented the limit of what the Confederacy could put in the field for an expeditionary force. Even given the best possible outcome of the campaign -- that Lee not only defeated the Federals but annihilated them, he might have been able to take Washington and Baltimore and occupy Maryland, but not much more. Even with NO Federal army to contend with it's hard to see how that number of men could have even occupied the North. ...

One other thing on the Confederacy. You'll hear that they would have created a vast slave empire in Central America and the Caribbean. No doubt some of the slave holders would have liked to (remember William Walker and the Filibusters?), but how would they have gotten there? The South had no navy to speak of, only a few commerce raiders, and the French controlled Mexico. I think if the South had gained its independence you would have seen a series of Kansas like brush-fire wars in the West, and a Cold War between the US and the CSA.

An unguarded night

Was Stalin assassinated by KGB chief Beria, with the Politburo's consent? This piece speculates on the matter.

(from e-mail friend Fred Ray)

Monitoring Mr. Limbaugh

I read at Tapped that a campaign is under way to recruit volunteers transcribe Rush Limbaugh's daily radio chatterings. Each individual would transcribe a five-minute segment of Limbaugh's pronouncements. Then, the Fisking would supposedly begin.

Limbaugh can't gripe if people try to hold him to what he says on the air. I did a double-take last week when, during a road trip, I heard him claim that during the Clinton years, Republican senators had gone along meekly in approving the administration's judicial nominees. Come on -- he conveniently sidestepped an obvious history of partisan wrangling. Sure, a lot of nominees were voted on, but much partisan energy was expended in trying to block individual nominations. (No, I don't say that to imply that the Democratic filibuster over the Estrada nomination is justified -- quite the contrary. I'm more of a Sandra Day O'Connor/Anthony Kennedy kind of guy rather than a Scaliaphile, but my manta on this topic has always been: Hold the hearings, then take the vote. And let the correlation of political forces in the Senate determine the outcome. The point is: Vote. The courts need to have these positions filled.)

Back to the transcript campaign: Will anyone monitor the transcriptions to make sure they are accurate? Past experience provides abundant proof that some activists are more than willing to stoop to disreputable tactics to advance their cause. On the other hand, forgeries wouldn't be that hard to check, since the programs are on tape.

Cheering for France

Much good stuff at Zonitics. Among posts by the mysterious Mr. Boyd:

  • He has some pungent thoughts in regard to Molly Ivins' yahooing that France ranked ahead of the United States in press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders.

  • Some fine, succinct observations in regard to federalism.

  • He points to blogger David Dodenhoff, who, as he says, serves up lively and well-written posts. Good stuff, for example, about "The Bachelorette." And Boyd also directs people's attention to the ever-interesting creations of Martin Devon at Patio Pundit.


    A new Cato Institute report claims that senior military commanders have shown too little attention to preparedness against chemical and biological attacks:

    Although nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare specialists are reasonably well trained and cognizant of the needs for training individuals and units, senior commanders present a major block to implementing realistic and technically meaningful NBC training for the troops. NBC field training is unrealistic because it does not involve the simulation of a worst-case surprise attack and is sometimes optional.

    More British looniness

    Michael Moore's book "Stupid White Men" has been named Book of the Year at the British Book Awards.

    The awards, according to the AP, "are nominated and judged by a panel of 400 publishers, wholesalers and booksellers, together with a telephone vote from the public." The awards "usually reflect popular public taste rather than the views of the critics."

    Moore's selection, the article says, "was boosted by a strong telephone vote, particularly a 'very strong anti-war vote both from insiders in the book business and the public.' "

    Is my memory correct: Didn't bloggers expose a wide assortment of misstatements and gross errors of fact in that book when it came out last year?

    Tuesday, February 25
    Going too far in twisting history

    I mentioned recently that blogger Mike Silverman had talked about the faux documentary "C.S.A.," which presents a reworking of history stemming from a Confederate victory in the Civil War. Mike has followed up by posting a review of the film. Among his observations:

    Well, the film "C.S.A." made you think, but in the end it had too many things which stretched credulity. ...

    The main thing which got my goat was that the alternative history was so ridiculous that it strained believability. ...

    The South occupying and absorbing the North after the war. This likely would not have happened because the South was fighting for its independence; it didn't have any interest in territorial conquest, and furthermore, even if the war ended up going very well for the South, they didn't have the manpower or industrial capacity to actually occupy any large area of the North. At best they'd have occupied Washington, and enforced a strict peace, perhaps even including disarmament for the defeated North.

    There's much, much more in Mike's review -- about the continuation of slavery, about a Southern conquest of Latin America. But you'll have to go to his blog to read the rest of it.

    More looniness from the British educational establishment

    I referred the other day to the "coarsening of popular culture." A friend e-mails to point out that it's not only American culture in jeopardy; from The Times of London:

    A government-backed course is encouraging pupils under 16 to experiment with oral sex, as part of a drive to cut rates of teenage pregnancy.

    Family campaigners believe that the course, called A Pause, is having the reverse effect by exciting the sexual interest of children.

    The scheme, which has been pioneered by Exeter University and is backed by the Departments of Health and Education, trains teachers to discuss various pre-sex “stopping points” with under-age teenagers.

    It aims to reduce promiscuity by encouraging pupils to discover “levels of intimacy”, including oral sex, instead of full sexual intercourse.

    More than 100,000 children are now taking the course at one in every thirty secondary schools. It forms part of efforts to tackle Britain’s teenage pregnancy rate, which is the highest in Western Europe.

    Monday, February 24
    The West and the South vs. the East

    In early January, Robert Samuelson wrote a column in which he looked at conditions in the United States in 1900. He wrote: “A century ago the West and South were virtually vassals to the Northeast and Midwest, which had most of the people and power. In 1900, the West -- a region starting with Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico -- had only 5 percent of the population; now it has 23 percent.”

    In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some politicians and academics promoted a thesis that involved a conflict of interests pitting the West and South against the East, in which the central fact of regional development involved the supposed exploitation of Western and Southern agricultural producers by Eastern financial interests.

    A laundry list of injustices was cited, including discriminatory freight rates, patents, corporate greed and high tariffs (a very old issue, the central one of the Nullification crisis of the 1820s during Andrew Jackson’s presidency in which South Carolina challenged federal authority).

    This thesis, of U.S.-history-as-colonialism, was promoted by some serious academic figures. In the 1930s, for example, Bernard De Voto and Walter Prescott Webb, two influential historians of the American West, described the West as under the thumb of an oppressive East (or “North”). Westerners, De Voto wrote, were “the fall guys of the United States ... victimized by everybody.”

    Webb lamented what he called an “American feudalism” that held the West and South in thrall financially to the East. “Wherever I turn in the South and the West,” he wrote, “I find people busily engaged in paying tribute to someone in the North.”

    He expressed those thoughts in a 1937 book titled “Divided We Stand: The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy.” He explicitly compared in intensity the clash of U.S. sectional interests of the 20th century to that which spurred the Civil War. The title he had originally proposed: “Should the South and West Secede?”

    Historian A.G. Mezerik, exploring the same theme, wrote a 1946 book titled “The Revolt of the South and West.” “In the making, across and down the United States,” he argued, “is a new and strange industrial civil war.”

    Webb expressed disappointment that “the South and the West have not been able to united on a common program, and, therefore, have not exercised a political influence in proportion to their strength. The difficulty has come from the West, which has not always been able to formulate a definite program, even of opposition, or to see that its cause is the same as that of the South.”

    The same theme had been propounded earlier during the Populist era. William Jennings Bryan had sought to amass a winning coalition for his 1896 presidential campaign by appealing to what he considered to be the injustices imposed on Western and Southern agrarian interests by Eastern corporations.

    At the 1896 Democratic convention, Bryan (who was with the Omaha World-Herald at the time of his nomination) had described the grievances of Westerners this way, as part of what would come to be called his “cross of gold” speech:

    We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamities come. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

    During the convention and on the campaign trail, Bryan tried to distinguish between the people of the East and the financial barons of that region; his complaint was with the latter and not the former, he argued.

    Bryan had many critics within the Democratic Party in 1896, and one of them, political orator Bourke Cockran, rejected that claim by the Democratic nominee. Cockran couched his argument against Bryan’s agenda explicitly in sectional terms, warning against “a conspiracy between professional farmers who want to pay low wages and unreconciled slaveholders who would like to pay no wages.” (Cockran, known for his oratorical flamboyance, was appropriately considered the “Bryan of the East.”)

    Bryan’s effort to advance his agenda without seeming to offer offense to Easterners had been undercut by an incendiary speech at the 1896 Democratic national convention by hotheaded U.S. Sen. Ben Tillman of South Carolina. Tillman, known for his unapologetic finger-in-the-eye speaking style, had sparked controversy when he pointedly sought to exploit sectional frictions.

    The silver issue, Tillman told the convention, was a sectional one in which “the hewers of wood and drawers of water” in the South and West were attempting to end their “bondage to the East.” Tillman underlined his point, and heightened the controversy, by beginning his remarks with the observation that he hailed from “a state which is the home of secession.”

    Of course, no major rebellion by the South and West ever materialized in the 20th century (aside from Western bridling at federal control over land use), and the depiction of the South and West as colonies of the East no longer enjoys support within the community of Western historians. Western farmers complain about being ignored by Washington policy makers (with woefully inadequate drought aid being the latest source of complaint). “Blue staters” respond by pointing to the size of last year’s farm bill and to the fact that Western states receive far more in federal largesse than they pay in federal taxes.

    By the way: I mentioned Walter Prescott Webb’s book, “Divided We Stand: The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy.” In it, he claimed that the ending of the Western frontier would harm the United States by cutting off the central force promoting American individualism. Speaking of American frontiers, Indiana University Press has a terrific series of books exploring the frontier experience of individual states, including Tennessee, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Florida, with more to come. (The Florida study is by Paul Hoffman, a professor at Louisiana State University who once helped me greatly with a newspaper project I did on a 16th century Spanish expedition in the American Southeast.)

    Cowboys and overtures; 'Turn of the Screw' as opera

    I grumped last week about the narrowness of the repertoire for many U.S. symphonies. But I have to admit that last night I listened, on the radio, to part of a recent pops concert by the Omaha Symphony and was wowed by the Coplandesque overture that John Williams wrote for the John Wayne movie "The Cowboys." I was reminded of how taken I'd been with the score when I'd first heard in the '70s.

    On a related matter, Opera Omaha will perform Benjamin Britten's next month (the opera company provides a good look at the work here), and it's been fascinating over the past month to listen to a series of radio programs by Opera Omaha about how Brittain conceived the various atmospherics of the opera.

    Happenings in Oklahoma, San Francisco

    I have long been remiss by not pointing to the worthwhile blog Dustbury, which covers a wide variety of topics, both local (it’s Oklahoma-based) and non-local.

    Two recent items:

  • An effort by a state legislator in Oklahoma to rename that’s state North Canadian River; he wants to call it the Oklahoma River. The same lawmaker also sought to tie pay for teachers to that for state legislators.

  • Changes affecting the San Francisco Examiner.

    ‘Passion in the center’

    The Chicago Tribune provides a good analysis of developments within Conservative Judaism:

    Conservative Judaism, a movement members say embraces the best of tradition in a modern world -- has long been the least understood middle child of the three main branches of Judaism.

    Now its leaders are concerned that the number of Conservative Jews is dwindling even as the Reform and Orthodox branches grow.

    "The Conservative movement is at an important crossroad," said Rabbi Michael Siegel of Chicago's Anshe Emet Synagogue. "If we're not imparting tradition to Jews in a way they can relate to and immediately appreciate, everything else we do is going to pale." ...

    Conservative Judaism has faced pressure from both the left and the right to change its ways. Many Orthodox Jews say Conservative Jews ignore Jewish law, and some Reform Jews say Conservative Jews are too tied to tradition.

    Conservative rabbis even feel some congregants pulling at their prayer shawls.

    "For some members I'm too observant. For some I'm too liberal," said Rabbi Alex Felch of Congregation B'nai Tikvah in Deerfield.

    The movement "believes there can be passion in the center," said Israel Stein, interim rabbi at Moriah Congregation in Deerfield.

    Friday, February 21
    'Restoration' derailed; 'if the South had won ... '

    Kansas-based blogger Mike Silverman, who runs the lively Red Letter Day, writes me that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which I criticized, has failed to gain the required super-majority needed for passage in the Kansas House.

    Mike, an Omaha native, posts about a new faux documentary called "C.S.A." depicting what would have (supposedly) happened had the South won the Civil War. From an article that Mike links to:

    "C.S.A." happens to be a hilarious, biting satire full of jaw-dropping moments involving recreated historical scenes, fabricated TV commercials and staged media events. ...

    "C.S.A." deals with these issues through its shrewd manipulation of the truth. In real-life history, Confederate president Jefferson Davis purportedly tried to avoid capture by fleeing south dressed as a woman. In Willmott's vision, Union leader Abraham Lincoln is captured en route to Canada disguised in blackface.

    Other memorable moments include a look at a Home Shopping Network-type program that specializes in marketing slaves. It's hosted by two chipper white women trying to peddle a black couple and their cute "litter of pickaninnies." And there's a painfully funny commercial for The Shackle -- a device similar to the vehicular LoJack but used for tracking slaves. ("Made of a lightweight aluminum alloy so it won't weigh your Tom down. Perfect for children!")

    The independent film was made by director Kevin Willmott and cinematographer Matt Jacobson, both based in Lawrence, Kan. Wilmott is black.

    Hannah Arendt; just war; secrets of radio success; drought

    From around the blogosphere:

  • Hannah Arendt's editor was a former Nazi who tried to soften her language whenever it grew critical of the Hitler regime. Gary Farber of Amygdala has great stuff on the topic.

  • Donald Sensing ably argues the case for an invasion of Iraq. But at his blog, One Hand Clapping, he also provides pieces by other Methodist clergymen who take a different view.

  • What are the specific, practical elements that account for Rush Limbaugh's popularity? Chris Anderson of Queen City Soapbox has a sharp post on the topic. He also links to a post that analyzes Glenn Reynolds in regard to those factors.

  • Frequent visitors here know that I've been writing a lot about the water woes facing the American West and Great Plains, a huge story. Blogger Rick Henderson (a fellow Tar Heel native, former Reason managing editor, now working as an editorialist in Las Vegas) has fresh material on the topic at his blog, The Deregulator. I was saddened to read at his site that Rick and his wife were recently involved in a bad car accident.

    'New Europe' stands up to Chirac

    Chirac’s snide treatment of Eastern European governments over the Iraq issue has triggered a spirited reaction from newspapers in “New Europe.” The BBC has compiled many of the editorial responses. Among them:

    All Central European nations are used to the interpretations that some countries have more rights than others. They are also used to furious tirades, followed by tanks. If Chirac wants to revive the spirit of Leonid Brezhnev and renew the doctrine of limited sovereignty, which means fewer rights for some countries, it is his own affair.

    -- Mlada Fronta Dnes (Czech Republic)

    Chirac allowed himself to say things which should not have been said. ... Poland can make its own sovereign decisions about its views. EU membership must not deprive us of this right. Loyalty towards Paris should not mean subordination. Loyalty brings obligations on both sides.

    -- Rzeczpospolita (Poland)

    Jacques Chirac's degrading message to the candidate countries can actually be taken as a compliment. The French President admitted defeat in his rage. Suddenly the 15 [EU members] succeeded in resolving within a couple of hours a matter on which they were not able to agree for months. It was the "new Europe" which forced "the old" to overcome itself.
    -- Sme (Slovakia)

    Neither Slovakia, nor any other candidate country will enter the EU to keep silent but in order to make their voice be heard more... After enlargement, the EU will be different. Less French or German, less Chirac's. However, not worse for that.
    -- Pravda (Slovakia)

    Just as 9/11 has proven to be a clarifying event for Americans (awakening most of us to a better appreciation of national security matters), so the show of Gallic arrogance toward the Eastern Europeans has been a clarifying moment for Europe. The differences in vision for “Old Europe” and “New Europe” have been thrown into high relief.

    One example: In light of France’s arrogance, the less-populous states of Eastern Europe will be sure to press for a continued weighting of votes within EU bodies, as a safeguard against future Gallic strong-arming.

    (link to the BBC via an e-mail from my friend Fred Ray)

    Abraham Lincoln and dissent

    Robert L. Smith has passed along fascinating material about how Abraham Lincoln and other Whigs navigated their way through the Mexican-American War, a military operation about which they generally had great reservations but which they felt constrained in criticizing outright.

    (This topic came up when I mentioned, in a post about the New York Sun’s equating of antiwar sentiment with treason, that my recollection was that Lincoln had voiced criticisms of James Polk’s war policies while serving in the U.S. House in the 1840s.)

    This relates, of course, to the Democrats and the Bush policy on Iraq.

    From material provided by Robert L. Smith:

    Lincoln spoke on May 30, 1846 at a mass meeting that called for united support of the recently declared war against Mexico. Lincoln was elected to Congress on August 3, 1846. The last major battle was fought in September 1847. Lincoln took his seat in the House on December 6, 1847. On December 22, 1847 he presented resolutions requesting President Polk to inform the house whether the "spot" where hostilities began was or was not on Mexican soil. Lincoln spoke against Polk's war policy in the House on January 22, 1848.

    Writing to Usher F. Linder on March 22, 1848, Lincoln said:

    Their [Democrats’] very first act in congress was to present a preamble declaring that war existed by the act of Mexico, and the whigs were obliged to vote on it -- and this policy is followed up by them; so that they are compelled to speak and their only options is whether they will, when they do speak, tell the truth, or tell a foul, villainous, and bloody falsehood. But, while on this point, I protest against your calling the condemnation of Polk "opposing the war." In thus assuming that all must be opposed to the war, even though they vote supplies, who do not endorse Polk, with due deference I say I think you fall into one of the artfully set traps of Locofocoism [referring to Democrats].

    In the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, August 21, 1858, Douglas said, "Whilst in Congress, [Lincoln] distinguished himself by his opposition to the Mexican war, taking the side of the common enemy against his own county."

    In 1860 Lincoln wrote a short campaign autobiography which said:

    All the battles of the Mexican war had been fought before Mr. L. took his seat in congress, but the American army was still in Mexico ... A careful examination of the Journals and Congressional Globe shows, that he voted for all the supply measures which came up, and for all the measures in any way favorable to the officers, soldiers, and their families, who conducted the war through. ... The Journals and Globe also show him voting that the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States. ... Mr. L. thought the act of sending an armed force among the Mexicans, was unnecessary, inasmuch as Mexico was in no way molesting, or menacing the U.S. or the people thereof; and that it was unconstitutional, because the power of levying war is vested in Congress, and not in the President. He thought the principal motive for the act, was to divert public attention from the surrender of “Fifty-four, forty, or fight” to Great Britain, on the Oregon boundary question.

    Here's another Lincoln quote. The background is the presidential campaign of 1848. Polk had worn himself out in the presidency and declined to run for a second term. The Whigs nominated Zachary Taylor, a hero of the recent Mexican War and political neophyte. The Democrats nominated Lewis Cass, a political veteran from Michigan who had served in the War of 1812 as an aide to General Harrison. The Democrats tried to puff up Cass's military record for campaign purposes. Lincoln, a Taylor man, responded in the House on July 27, 1848:

    Yes sir, all his [Cass] biographers (and they are legion) have him in hand, tying him to a military tail, like so many mischievous boys tying a dog to a bladder of beans. True, the material they have is very limited; but they drive at it, might and main. He invaded Canada without resistance, and he outvaded it without pursuit. As he did both under orders, I suppose there was, to him, neither credit or discredit in them; but they constitute a large part of the tail. He was not at Hull's surrender, but he was close by; he was volunteer aid to Gen. Harrison [a Whig -- RLS] on the day of the battle of the Thames; and, as you said in 1840, Harrison was picking huckleberries two miles off while the battle was fought, I suppose it is a just conclusion with you, to say Cass was aiding Harrison to pick huckleberries.

    This is about all, except the mooted question of the broken sword. Some authors say he broke it, some say he threw it away, and some others, who ought to know, say nothing about it. Perhaps it would be a fair historical compromise to say, if he did not break it, he didn't do any thing else with it.

    By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military hero? Yes sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled, and came away. Speaking of Gen: Cass' career, reminds me of my own. I was not at Stillman's defeat, but I was about as near it, as Cass was to Hulls surrender; and, like him, I saw the place very soon afterwards. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I had none to break; but I bent a musket pretty badly on one occasion.

    Thursday, February 20
    More unwarranted legislative activism

    A familiar criticism hurled at the Rehnquist court is that it winks at efforts to erode governmental neutrality toward religion. But I was reminded today that that criticism ignores the important and sensible 1997 ruling by which the court struck down the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute with a strong odor of zealotry.

    Kansas lawmakers, I read today, are attempting to pass a statute that contains the essentials of the federal measure. This article says that “12 states have adopted such statutes since the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the federal law in 1997, ruling that it unconstitutionally usurped the power of federal courts and the states.”

    Opponents of the Kansas measure say that if passed, it would likely be declared unconstitutional on the same grounds as the federal law: that the legislative branch had attempted to usurp powers that properly resident with the judiciary. That seems like a sound prediction.

    William O. Douglas and ambition

    That was a riveting Richard Posner essay that Glenn Reynolds linked to today -- a New Republic review of a new biography of William O. Douglas. I just have to excerpt this:

    It took Douglas only a few weeks to discover that being a judge was not to his taste. He missed the excitement of jousting with the Wall Streeters, and he viewed his new job primarily as a stepping stone to the presidency. He came close to being nominated for vice president on the Democratic ticket in 1944; had he been the nominee, he rather than Truman would have become president when Roosevelt died the following year. Bitterly disappointed, he continued to nurse presidential ambitions. He almost accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president in 1948 -- Truman was desperately eager to have him on the ticket -- and probably would have done so had he thought Truman would lose the election, in which event he could expect to inherit Truman's mantle as leader of the Democratic Party. But he shrewdly recognized that Dewey would lose. ...

    He liked to say that "I don't follow precedents, I make 'em." Yes, that is what Supreme Court justices do much of the time; but they are supposed to explain why, and in precisely what sense and to what degree, they are departing from precedent. Douglas's disdain for judicial norms is easily illustrated. On a number of occasions he issued stays--which were quickly and unanimously overturned by his colleagues -- intended to halt American participation in the Vietnam War on the ground that Congress had not declared war. One can argue from the language of the Constitution that the United States cannot lawfully wage war without a congressional declaration, but the argument depends on a literal interpretation of the Constitution -- an interpretation that would also forbid military aviation on the ground that the Constitution expressly authorizes the creation only of land and naval forces -- which Douglas contemptuously rejected in every other area of constitutional law. It was Douglas, after all, who had the audacity to rule in Griswold v. Connecticut, the first case to establish a right of sexual autonomy and hence a precursor of Roe v. Wade, that the Court could fashion new constitutional rights based not on the text of the Constitution but on the values underlying it; and so the Third Amendment, which forbids the quartering of troops in private homes in peacetime, became a source of the constitutional right declared in Griswold of married couples to use contraceptives.

    French criticism of the Boer War

    On a listserv I belong to, Pascal Venier, a professor at the University of Salford, Manchester, noted a statement in a French business journal in 1903 that is relevant in light of U.S. bristling over French criticism of Bush's foreign policy:

    When we have so consistently, criticized this Transvaal War, before, during and after; some people, especially in England, have imagined that such criticism was inspired by some kind of jealousy or ill feeling towards Great Britain. Not at all! We have always supported the Entente Cordiale between France and England, providing it would be honourable for both countries. It was within our right to nevertheless judge this war, in the same way as in England itself the most eminent men, ministers from yesterday and of tomorrow, Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, Sir William Harcourt, M. Bryce, M. Morley. Being critical in such a way, we were no
    more hostile towards Britain, than were these English statesmen.

    You could argue that the Frenchman was protesting too much.

    Still, plus ca change ...

    A sense of place

    For anyone interested: Here is a column I wrote that's in today's World-Herald. I talk about a new anthology of writings about life in rural Nebraska.

    Old times, not forgotten

    Georgia's new governor, Sonny Perdue, is proposing a nonbinding vote next year on whether to revive the Confederate battle flag enblem on the state flag, fulfilling a campaign promise. Business leaders in Atlanta ("the city too busy to hate," as it was called during the Jim Crow era) are understandably shaking their heads in dismay. Some black leaders in the state have said they will call for a boycott by black Georgians of the referendum. The vote, under Perdue's time table, would take place on the same day as the state's presidential primary.

    Meanwhile, in South Carolina, the new Republican governor, Mark Sanford, has apologized for the fatal 1968 shooting of three civil rights protesters in what is called the Orangeburg Massacre. I'll defer to my South Carolina friends on that, but it does appear to be part of an outreach by Sanford toward black South Carolinians.

    Japan's navy flexes some muscle

    That's the topic of this essay for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The piece, though drearily written, provides some specifics about how the Japanese navy is aiding in the effort against terrorism.

    A slump in NYC, disillusionment in California

    An interesting juxtaposition of pieces in the New York Times this week. An article talked about the rise in unemployment in New York City to 8.4 percent in December and the overall slump in the city's economy, while an op-ed piece talked about the economic troubles and leftward political drift in California.

    On the right coast:

    New York City has gone through boom and bust before, most recently during what Christine M. Cumming, director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, described as "the long economic winter" from 1989 through 1992. The entire region suffered then; Connecticut, New Jersey and New York State lost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

    But what has surprised economists this time is that the economic carnage has been concentrated in New York City — and only New York City.

    Connecticut and New Jersey, relatively small and urban states, have suffered in the economic slowdown, but the unemployment rates, 4.6 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, remain below the national average of 6 percent. Upstate New York, often described as economically beleaguered and suffering from steep declines in population, has an unemployment rate of just 4.9 percent. ...

    Even areas long considered suburbs of New York City, with economies that had been tightly linked, are faring far better than the city. On Long Island, employment has declined by fewer than 4,000 jobs in the last two years; Westchester County, home of many of the city's bedroom communities, has had a dip of fewer than 3,000. ...

    This means Wall Street workers have just taken a $4.7 billion pay cut. That bonus money has paid for a lot of things in New York City: high-priced apartments, private school tuition and lavish dinners at Alain Ducasse. But it has also provided paychecks for a lot of people, like nannies and housekeepers, livery car drivers, restaurant deliverymen and the like. ...

    For employment in New York City to improve, Mr. Fernandez said, investment banking must rebound, and that does not appear to be on the horizon.

    On the left coast:

    In the aftermath of the dot-com bubble, this is clearly a period of disillusionment with California — its economy stalled, its public finances a disaster, its leadership, political and corporate, incapable of providing any initiative for a national turnaround.

    ... regardless of whether it's up or down, California does appear to be straying further away from the American mainstream. It's getting harder to argue, as Wallace Stegner once did, that the state is just like the rest of the country, only more so. Indeed, if left to its own devices as a separate nation, California might well join France in resisting war with Iraq. It would surely sign on to global environmental initiatives that Washington has opposed.

    Meanwhile the state's politics have become more progressive, even as the nation's have moved rightward. This is essentially a matter of demographics. Once, transplanted Midwesterners made this an indispensable state for Republican presidential candidates. But in recent years California's growth has been driven by foreign immigrants and native-born residents. ...

    "The result is, you will see California's electorate continue to differentiate itself, championing a different set of priorities from the rest of the country," says Mark Baldassare, the director of the Public Policy Institute of California. The surge in Latino voters, he adds, will undermine the state's traditional fiscal conservatism, since Latinos tend to favor a bigger role for government in society

    The Celtic tiger faces hard times, too

    This NYT piece claims that Ireland has lost its admirable economic momentum, which stemmed from sensible free-market moves in the ’90s; it also has important points about the increasing attractiveness of Eastern Europe as well as the folly of a single EU interest rate:

    The boom that doubled the size of Ireland's economy in the 1990's and changed the nation's self-image from waif to whiz kid has slowed markedly, the victim of a worldwide technology bust and membership in a European club that, like most, pays more attention to its heavyweights than its upstarts. ...

    The expansion transformed Ireland, drawing in hundreds of foreign technology companies, reversing decades of Irish migration abroad in search of jobs and drawing thousands of young Europeans to a country that had become a regional hot spot. ...

    Yet, locked into the euro single currency, and to low interest rates set by the European Central Bank, the authorities have been unable to tailor their own economy to head off inflation, now running at more than twice the European average, and pushing up wages and other costs.

    That has made Ireland far less of a draw to outside investors, even as foreign companies looking for low-cost locations begin to look hard at East European countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which are poised to join the European Union next year. ...

    "No matter what, the economy was going to slow down," said Philip Lane, an economist at Trinity College Dublin. "But the scale of the slowdown is beyond expectations." Not only that, he said, Ireland has become a high-cost country for investors. ...

    Even though inflation is at 5.6 percent and climbing, more than twice the euro zone average, Ireland still hopes to lure investors with grants and tax breaks, he said. The blue-chip American companies, he said, have not abandoned their investments ...

    Ireland, moreover, is seeking to create more skilled work for a highly paid work force, moving away from blue-collar assembly-line jobs. And unemployment, at 4.6 percent, is still only half the European average, Mr. Donlon said, just as overall growth — forecast this year at up to 3 percent — is better than most Europeans can manage.

    In some ways, though, Ireland's inflation confirms the worst fears of euro-skeptics in Britain (which is still outside the euro zone) — that a universal interest rate among disparate economies will always punish some to the advantage of others.

    Right now, for instance, Germany's faltering economy needs low interest rates to spur growth in a nation of some 80 million people. But low interest rates in Ireland encourage consumer spending and inflation.

    The Irish government deserves cheers for the way it has stood up to efforts by the French to force Ireland to raise its tax rates as part of “tax harmonization” for the EU.

    Monday, February 17
    More on Estrada and identity politics

    I know I said I would be restricting myself to posting only three days a week, but I've decided to post three new items on an "off night" anyway.

    First, I took a swing over the weekend at the identity-politics police who are trying to deny Miguel Estrada the ability to define himself as Hispanic. Columnist Myriam Marquez addressed the same point in her latest column:

    What we have here is an attempt by Hispanic groups aligned with the Democratic Party -- the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund -- to flunk Estrada simply because he refuses to take their political litmus test. ...

    It's outrageous for some to suggest that Estrada, who learned English when he got to this country at age 17, is Hispanic only because of his surname, as Democratic Rep. Robert Menendez suggested last week. The Honduran-born Estrada has strong support from the League of United Latin American Citizens, which is the nation's oldest and largest Latino group, as well as the bipartisan Latino Coalition.

    She adds:

    During the Clinton years, Estrada earned highly favorable performance reviews from his boss, Paul Bender. Yet Bender told The Los Angeles Times recently that Estrada is so "ideologically driven that he couldn't be trusted to state the law in a fair, neutral way."

    Really now?

    So why did Bender give Estrada glowing reviews?

    And if Estrada is so ideologically driven that he can't be fair, why would he have earned the American Bar Association's "most qualified" rating?

    Mbeki's tunnel vision

    South African President Thabo Mbeki is coming under new attacks within his own country for his soft-headed approach toward Robert Mugabe’s thuggish regime in Zimbabwe, as illustrated by this article and this editorial, both from South African newspapers. Mbeki’s State of the Nation address last week made only the slightest reference to the turmoil in neighboring Zimbabwe. As the editorial stated,

    Famine is stalking Zimbabwe, with about six million people facing starvation -- a result of government policies exacerbating the effects of a harsh drought. ...

    On the political front the Mugabe government is stubbornly proceeding with its campaign of political repression ...

    The message emanating from South Africa is that Zanu-PF is a "progressive" organisation that should be embraced by progressive-minded people. That Zimbabwe is a "sovereign nation" whose government should be left alone to violate human rights and starve its people. And that those who speak out against Robert Mugabe's tyranny are agents of Western imperialism. Ministers and other officials have even suggested that calls for the return of the sports boycott tactic, which was successfully used to coax the Nats towards abandoning apartheid, is inappropriate as politics and cricket do not mix.

    What more can be said? Mbeki demonstrates an outrageous moral blindness on the Zimbabwe matter. And the irony of the sports boycott issue is particularly striking.

    Berlioz meets Baywatch

    That pretty much sums up the theme of an LA Times article about the growing sensualization of performers in the classical music subculture. But some people aren't ready for bassoonists as babes:

    ... in Britain, the new 24-hour television station Classic FM has launched a kind of classical MTV with three-minute videos devoted to Vanessa-Mae, Charlotte Church and Nigel Kennedy's hair. It's not just the golden-locked Leila Josefowicz, who made a splash in the 1990s, anymore.

    Soloists are increasingly young Asian women (Chee-Yun) in clingy evening gowns, or Scandinavian maidens (Playboy cover girl Linda Brava) with flowing blond hair; the young men lean toward Tom Cruise-style All-Americans (the blue-jean-wearing Joshua Bell) or Byronic heartthrobs (hair-tossing Andre Rieu). Even demure players such as Hilary Hahn are being photographed like movie stars. Many players are being sold as "babes" of one kind or the other.

    "For God's sake, let's put some uncompromising physical ugliness back into classical music," critic Victor Lewis-Smith writes in a recent London Evening Standard, "so we all start listening again instead of looking, before it's too late." ...

    "Pop musicians do these things all the time," Petry says. "But this is one of those issues that seems only to trouble people in classical music: When someone glamorous appears, people question it. I find that to be unfair. You have to play by the rules of pop culture, to go with the visual orientation of the culture right now." ...

    "The issue is a phenomenon itself," says William Weber, a historian at California State University, Long Beach, who says the anxiety comes from "musical idealism." In the 19th century, classical music was supposed to come directly from the soul, to be unsullied by commerce, and to be more pure than "light," or popular, music. Weber points out that idealists such as Robert Schumann looked down their nose at flamboyant players -- and dressers -- such as Franz Liszt, the rock star of his day.

    The article also points to a site, Beauty in Music, as part of the trend.

    Focusing on the beauty of instrumentalists, or opera divas, shouldn't induce panic. We're talking about classical music, after all; the music does have an undeniable substance, and the trend can be taken only so far.

    If people want to complain about the trivializing of classical music, the focus should be on the remarkable narrowness of the modern repertoire, by which so many major symphonies (not to mention regional ones) venture too seldom beyond the woefully familiar classical warhorses in both their performances and their recordings. Maybe it all boils down to economics (as well as the astringency of modern composing), but it's lamentable, given the enormous opportunities for artistic exploration that an orchestra makes possible.

    Water and history

    History shows that people in the arid West take the issue of water very seriously.

    A good example is the experience in far-western Nebraska (a region that by topography, economics and culture lies in the West, not the Midwest) during the severe drought of the mid-1930s.

    In 1935, the governor of Nebraska declared martial law in Scotts Bluff County (one of the state’s far-western counties) when local farmers refused to bow to the state’s decisions regarding irrigation use. Farmers tried to sabotage the construction of a small dam in the county, and the governor sent 180 state guardsmen to protect the facility. No unauthorized person was allowed within a mile of the dam. The governor also set up a military tribunal.

    A year earlier, the Nebraska attorney general used heated words to criticize Wyoming, which was holding back as much as it could on the North Platte River to deal with severe drought, leaving little for downstream users in Nebraska. “If we were in Europe,” Nebraska Attorney General Paul F. Good publicly said, “or almost any other part of the world right now, we would be engaged in a war with Wyoming, probably. I can imagine our troops having first occupied Torrington, advancing up the river to Casper and then having captured the Pathfinder Dam and assuming control.”

    Nebraska sued Wyoming over the matter. After 11 years of legal wrangling, the case eventually resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring Wyoming to allow a sufficient flow on the North Platte.

    It is no surprise that Nebraska would take such a strong interest in water issues. The state’s very name refers to water. In the language of the Omaha Indians, Nebraska means "flat water," referring to the broad, flat Platte River that flows eastward across the breadth of the state.

    Much of Nebraska lies an area of aridity. Yet, nearly all of the state lies above the
    Ogallala Aquifer, a vast body of underground water that covers much of the Plains region and is used widely for agricultural irrigation. Nebraska, in fact, has more acreage under irrigation than any other state except for California, as shown by this striking map of Nebraska irrigation wells. Such irrigation has reduced the water level in the aquifer, and in some parts of the Great Plains such as the Texas Panhandle, the aquifer has dried up, putting an end to groundwater irrigation altogether.

    In the 19th century, promoters of settlement on the plains usually sought to sidestep the drought question. As historian Elliot West explains, some of these efforts were at best misleading and at worst mendacious:

    Boosters were undeterred. “An erroneous impression has gone forth, that Kansas is subject to drought,” the state Bureau of Immigration noted a few years later [in the 1860s]. The unpleasantness had been exaggerated (“nobody suffered for want of food”) and in any case were an aberration: “The oldest inhabitants universally agree that the drought of 1860 was the only one of any consequence that ever visited Kansas.”

    In 1879, a proposal surfaced in Congress to prohibit westward migration beyond the 100th meridian, in light of the aridity. A professor at the University of Nebraska was among those who argued against the ban. The expansion of human settlement beyond the meridian, the professor claimed, would affect the climate and produce more rain. The notion was summed up in a popular phrase of the time: “Rain follows the plow.”

    Similar claims were also made the extension of telegraph lines across the West. The electricity from the lines, it was said, would encourage more rain.

    When the Nebraska Legislature had failed by 1893 to adopt any irrigation laws, farmers in five of the state’s far-western counties threatened to secede and join Wyoming because that state had acceptable irrigation laws already on the books.

    In the 1890s, a national movement arose to promote Western irrigation. A leader in that effort was Nebraska journalist William W. Smythe. In 1893, he was elected president of the National Irrigation Association. In 1900, he wrote a book, “The Conquering of Arid America.”

    The first federally funded irrigation projects in the West began in 1903. One of the projects begun that year was in western Nebraska. The irrigation project allowed the remarkable development of the area’s sugar beet industry in what locals dubbed "Sugar Valley" and the "Valley of the Nile."

    Water-related lawsuits between states are quite common. In 2001, Nebraska and Wyoming settled a court fight that stretched over 15 years and cost $40 million.

    In recent months, Nebraskans have become concerned over plans by a Colorado company to pump water in a western Nebraska county and transport it to Colorado.

    Historian Elliot West, looking back over the millennia of human settlement on the Great Plains, says no culture has had a monopoly on dreaming big about the potential of the region:

    Whites, however, were hardly the first to imagine their way into trouble. In countless variations of trial, success, and failure, dozens of cultures had dreamed their way into this landscape of desire, where the country’s greatest power has always been the fertility of hope.

    A Nebraska friend says the last chapter of the James Michener novel “Centennial” is relevant to these considerations. He writes me:

    The scene I have in mind (which is also part of the 12th and final episode of the NBC 26-hour "Centennial" miniseries) has the modern-day protagonist, Paul Garrett, being shown an analog model of the Platte River system (from the Rockies to Plattsmouth) by a university professor in the 1970s. The model starts by showing the traditional approach that feeds the irrigation ditches and returns water to the Platte. The water flow, simulated by an electrical current and light bulbs, is shown by an oscilloscope.

    Then the prof factors in water demands from increased Front Range population [in Colorado] and increased Front Range industry. The lights are blinking and the oscilloscope's waves are much more shallow. Finally, the prof factors in a lengthy drought, "such as we've just had" (in the 1960s and '70s, mind you), and the lights go out and the oscilloscope flat-lines. The Platte no longer flowed.

    The prof in Michener's scene does the demonstration to urge Garrett, who had just been named a deputy Colorado environmental czar, that Colorado should take steps to limit migration into the state to prevent the scenario from occurring. Of course, that hasn't happened, and now we see all three factors foreseen by Michener -- more Front Range population, more industry and drought. Kind of frightening -- and perhaps worth some reflection on how other states' water activities affect Nebraska and vice versa.

    When the prairie moved west

    The threat of aridity has not always been a problem in the West. Again, Elliot West provides the context, telling the story of the “gardeners”:

    Around A.D. 700-800 the plains entered into one of the wettest periods of its history. For the next several centuries moist tropical air pressed much farther northward than in the past, and with that the plains became a very different place. ... The prairie moved westward with the rainfall, pushing the shortgrass plains 100 or 200 miles back toward the mountains.

    ... farming had never possible this far west. Yet in these newly rain-soaked times, farming community of 50 or 75 people each sprang up along the main rivers and their feeder streams.

    ... The result was a long-term land rush. ... By A.D. 1200 there were more Native Americans living in west central Kansas and Nebraska than had ever been there before -- or have even been there since. ...

    The gardeners were the first high plainsmen ever to stay put. In the preceding millennia, hundreds of generations had kept on the move, living in temporary or seasonal camps. ... The farmers who took up long-term residence in streamside communities accumulated more and left behind the most valuable resource for future archaeologists -- garbage. Consequently more is know about these plains people than about any others before the arrival of Europeans.

    ... These plains farmers maintained a productive, largely self-supportive way of life for twice as long as the history of the American Republic.

    But ultimately it was not enough. During the 13th century the climate swung back into another of dramatic changes. Tree-ring analysis from western Nebraska shows that of the 97 years following A.D. 1220, 63 were years of drought. One dry spell lasted 38 years. ... the shortgrasses pushed the prairie back toward the east. The gardeners of western Kansas and Nebraska retreated with it.

    By the way: I've gone to a lot of history-related academic conferences over the years, and of all the speakers I've heard at such events, three stand out: Elliott West, a professor of Western history at the University of Arkansas; James C. Cobb, a specialist in Southern history at the University of Georgia; and a historian, whose name escapes me, with the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo. (which, some may be surprised to know, holds worthwhile academic seminars on a range of topics on Western history).
    The presentations by those three are all marked by common characteristics: They offer something of substance. They pull together a wide variety of interesting observations. And they present them in a lively manner, not just in how the text is written but in how it is read aloud. In short, they display an intellectual playfulness.

    Cobb is among at the speakers at a symposium in Charleston, S.C., this month looking at the history of the civil rights movement in South Carolina. I wish I had a chance to attend the event and hear his presentation.

    Soiling the Disney time slot

    My kids, ages 6 and 8, watched "The Music Man" on ABC last night. It was on the Disney program, and the parts I saw were well-done and enjoyable. But at least twice during the program, ABC ran a commercial for its new, dark version of "Dragnet." Shots in the commercial included the back sides of topless dancers gyrating; there was also a quick shot of the head of an autopsy subject. Plus ominous music and scenes of violence. In fact, the commercial ran just before 6 p.m. Central Time, when the movie began.

    I suppose ABC will say it "had" to run the commercial because last night, I believe, was the premiere of the new incarnation of the show. (I didn't see it; my wife and I did our nighttime routine with the kids.) I watch "The Sopranos" (on rental tapes), and I'm sure that nothing on "Dragnet" will exceed what's found in that program. But running those promos during the Disney time slot was just one more shove toward the further coarsening of the popular culture.

    Sunday, February 16
    The promoters of ethnic group-think

    A curious argument is being made against Bush judicial appointee Miguel Estrada: He’s not authentically Hispanic, claim the boosters of Hispanic identity politics.

    Intoned New Jersey Rep. Bob Menendez: "Being Hispanic for us means much more than having a surname."

    Said Angelo Falcon, of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund: "It's not good enough to simply say that because of someone's genetics or surname that they should be considered Hispanic."

    Such claims have several major implications, all of which are ill-considered:

  • An individual has no right to self-definition. One first has to receive permission: Judgments on a person’s ethnic “genuineness” can be made only by activists and politicians -- the self-appointed guardians of identity politics.

  • All people in a social subgroup should think alike.

  • Members of a subgroup can be effectively represented only by a member of their subgroup. (The Supreme Court has repeatedly singled out this claim for refutation in cases involving race and redistricting.)

    The age of rant

    This and that:

  • Fun piece in the Washington Post about political ranting (link via e-mail friend Fred Ray). The piece focuses on the fact that MSNBC has just hired the cartoonish Michael Savage, a purveyor of Gong Show conservatism, to host a “yap show.” Also in the article:

    The momentum has been building for years and now it has reached a critical mass: On radio, on TV, on the Internet, on the stage, on CDs and in countless best-selling books, Americans are ranting like spit-spewing street-corner lunatics. ...

    "The President eats dirt and excrement for his daily meals, likes it and tries to force it on The States!"

    Sounds like Hunter Thompson railing about Bush or Limbaugh railing about Clinton, but actually it's America's bard, Walt Whitman, the good gray poet, railing about Franklin Pierce. ...

    Obviously, the screed is a hallowed tradition in America. In the 1800s, the press was viciously partisan and journalists were encouraged to let off steam with a full-throated harangue instead of wasting time digging up facts. This tradition was carried into the 20th century by H.L. Mencken, who wrote delightfully comic screeds about fundamentalists, the South and the "booboisie."

    But by the mid-20th century, the diatribe had almost disappeared from the mainstream press, replaced by the cult of objectivity and by columnists like Walter Lippmann, ponderous rationalists who wrote in a genteel voice that Tom Wolfe once called a "pale beige tone."

  • Leonard Pitts, a syndicated columnist at the Miami Herald, writes with an admirable sense of humanity. This column, about a young man who OD’d while egged on by anonymous viewers linked by a webcam, is a good example. A quite disturbing topic.

  • The New Republic comments on how black Congressman Jim Clyburn of South may affect Al Sharpton’s presidential bid:

    Given that Sharpton has built most of his campaign strategy around South Carolina, and given that Clyburn almost certainly won't endorse Sharpton, it seems to us very likely that South Carolina will be where Al Sharpton's campaign gets dealt a mortal blow.


    We got eight inches of snow here Friday night and Saturday morning as part of the winter storm that's swept across much of the country. The shoveling and cleanup Saturday wasn't too bad for me.

    Although it wasn't brutally cold (temperatures in the 20s), I was reminded of a recent e-mail I'd shared with a North Carolina friend about an episode I had had with super-cold temperaures here recently:

    When I went to my car this morning, the temperature was right at zero. I drink a soft drink on the way to work, and this morning I spilled a bit of it as I got into the car. The Pepsi sloshed onto some of the plastic part of the cup holder area.

    I looked at the spill to gauge its size and what I would have to do to clean it up, and I was amazed that in only about 10 seconds the liquid turned to brown cola-ice -- frozen.

    Sort of like something you'd see in a science-fiction movie.

    Made the cleanup pretty easy, though.

    Friday, February 14
    Lincoln and the Mexican-American War

    In my post criticizing the New York Sun's equating of dissent with treason, I asked in passing about whether Abraham Lincoln had opposed the Mexican-American War while serving in the U.S. House. (Incidentally, James Polk, the president who oversaw the war effort, is the only U.S. chief executive to have graduated from my undergrad alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill.) In regard to Lincoln, my morning e-mail today included this historical note, for which I'm grateful:

    Although elected in 1846, Lincoln didn't actually take office until December 1847 (that was normal for Congressional sessions in those days). By that time the serious fighting in Mexico was over. The last big battle was Chapultepec in September 1847. Lincoln was critical of the war in speeches, but voted for the necessary appropriations. Later in his career, Lincoln's political opponents accused him of voting against our brave boys in uniform, etc. even though he wasn't in office for the key war votes.

    By the way: Another fun bit of e-mail came from Roger Sweeny, who offered these observations in regard to why the White House hasn't offered a "just war" rationale for its Iraq policies: "Perhaps they fear it would open them even more to charges of mixing politics and religion. Less than half an hour after the White House had made such an argument, I'm sure someone would refer to a potential war in Iraq as a 'faith-based initiative.' "

    The Valentine's Day feud

    Here is the text of an ad by the Independent Women's Forum; sounds like a worthy cause:

    Free Cupid! Feminist groups are turning Valentine’s Day into ‘V-Day’– a time to promote female victimology and tedious performances of "The Vagina Monologues.” says TAKE BACK THE DATE! Wouldn’t you prefer to restore mutual respect and a dash of romance to your school on Valentine’s Day?”

    Free Cupid. Send a Valentine or buy someone flowers. And, log on to for tips on how you can Take Back the Date.

    Thursday, February 13
    Could Japan go nuclear in months?

    Sorry for the meager blog output here of late, but two out-of-town trips this week have greatly complicated things for me.

    I have time to mention two tidbits:

  • This academic report looks at Japan's potential nuclear weapons capabilities. It may seem highly unlikely that Japan would ever go nuclear, given its experience at the end of World War II, but the topic is being soberly discussed in the wake of the North Korean situation.

  • The New York's editorial stance equating antiwar protests with treason is egregious. (Didn't Abraham Lincoln oppose the Mexican-American War while serving in the U.S. House?) The paper cited that claim in arguing against allowing an antiwar demonstration in NYC. But the proper response is encourage debate and rebut faulty arguments, not to short-circuit people's right to speak. For two decades, publications such as The New Republic and National Review have performed an important service by cataloguing the various ways in which some on the political left have turned a blind eye toward suppressing free speech. That trampling of the First Amendment was accomplished by adopting college "speech codes" to prohibit politically incorrect speech and organizing protests to prevent conservative speakers from speaking. (I can recall that happening in the '80s in regard to Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and of course there was the riot last fall at Concordia University in Montreal to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking.) Conservative college newspapers have also been stolen as a way to silence them. The Sun's dissent-is-treason argument can now rightly be cited as evidence that some on the political right are also eager to silence those with whom they disagree. Foolish.

    I have a moment to add one item: UPI is reporting today that "The first group of Western volunteer 'human shields' prepared Thursday to deploy at vital installations in Baghdad in an attempt to deter the United States from going ahead with plans for war on Iraq." Said an Italian pediatrician among the group: "If they kill one European, the cost is higher. If they kill an Arab, the cost is very low." The Westerners intend to place themselves at facilities such as schools, hospitals and power plants. On a related note, I saw a letter to the editor in which the writer argued that war against Iraq would be wrong because there would be no guarantee that civilians would remain unharmed. Concern over civilian casualties is a legitimate issue, of course. What many activists and diplomats have long been trying to do, though, is to construct a de facto international legal prohibition on war, using the civilian-casualty issue as the linchpin. The practical (though unstated) goal would be to remove military action as an option for U.S. "cowboys." A war on Iraq would likely spur supporters of that campaign to redouble their efforts.

  • Wednesday, February 12
    Will Ted Turner get into Heaven?

    It's a scrambled week for me, with out-of-town travel and other complications; little time for blogging. I'll mention a few items:

  • Ted Turner may have been quite disparaging of Christianity in the past, but he’s apparently quite interested these days in getting into Heaven, this NRO piece says. Turner provided the bucks for the new Civil War movie “Gods and Generals.” NRO writer Rod Dreher notes:

    The actor Stephen Lang, who plays Stonewall Jackson in Gods & Generals, said that Jackson would greet any news from the battlefield with a terse "very good," because to a man of Jackson's deep Calvinist piety, even bad news was evidence that God's divine plan was being worked out.

  • Useful analysis on Europe by William Drozdiak in a Washington Post op-ed:

    France and Germany remain, along with Britain and Italy, among the world's biggest economies, exporters and destinations for investment, but there are signs of trouble ahead. In some ways, "Old Europe" is starting to look like an industrial museum populated largely by elderly pensioners. ...

    In France, the other rickety pillar of the "Old Europe," the educational system is even more of a mess. The pecking order established by a handful of state-run elite schools, in which one's career success is determined by class ranking rather than the quality of work done later in life, dismisses the prospects of those who might bloom late or who do not get accepted into the top establishments. As a result, France is suffering a brain drain of talented young people who are more entrepreneurial than the chosen ones who become high-ranking civil servants. Tens of thousands of French youths have flocked to London or San Francisco, where they find employment -- and fortune -- as investment bankers or software engineers much more easily than they could in the closed society back home.

    I’ve seen blog comments calling for a boycott of French and German products. That’s foolish, at least as far as the Germans. German corporations have made enormous investments in the U.S. as they flee the high taxes and rigid labor laws in their home country; that investment has created jobs important to U.S. communities, large and small. A boycott against German products would harm those corporations and thus those U.S. communities. It’s globalization, people.

  • I was delighted to read that the University of Nebraska Press is beginning a new book series on the history of the Holocaust, drawing on the latest historiography. The series, UNP says, “will consist of at least 15 books to be published over the next decade in English, Hebrew and several other languages.” The series “will present authoritative studies of how the Holocaust unfolded throughout Europe.”

  • Tuesday, February 11
    Iraqi disinformation

    I have time this morning (before work) to post two brief items, one on Iraq and the other on zoning.

    The White House has released materials describing the disinformation methods used by the regime in Iraq. Reminded me of reading in the '80s about Soviet "active measures."

    Responsibilities in zoning cases

    I linked Monday to a post at Sneaking Suspicions in which Fritz Schranck argued that “zoning appeals and the delays they can create are a normal cost of doing business.” Blogger Chris Anderson, a city planner in Cincinnati, noticed my post and offered some observations of his own at his site, Queen City Soapbox. Among his comments:

    Like most things, zoning works best when everyone approaches the process honestly. That requires a City to have a well-written zoning code and a transparent process, and the developer to have a realistic idea of what they can do and how to get it accomplished without resorting to tricks.

    That takes care of it 95% of the time, and issues are settled at the local level. It's when one party isn't doing their part that everyone ends up in court. And then all bets are off.

    Chris’s post frames things quite well.