October 31, 2006

Unwelcome Guests

The new pariahs are -- Republicans!
They always start political conversations. None of us do. We have learned that no one wants to argue issues on their merits, that the room gets very quiet and unfriendly, that people start screaming at you, or rant the most loopy beliefs and conspiracy theories. We just assume that is not a topic anyone can treat in a dispassionate manner.

But they always provoke political conversations. Well, not conversations, which would be enjoyable and enlightening. They make pronouncements. And look around the room to see if anyone not only doesn't agree, but doesn't agree enthusiastically. As a friend deep in the closet in the theater world put it, you can't just sit quietly and wait for the topic to change. No, you are suspect if you do not vocally endorse the official opinion of the group. You thought you were in a project meeting or a coffee klatch or a dinner party, and all of a sudden it has turned into the Communist Youth League Self-Criticism Session.

And then, after they have assumed, because no one in the room has fangs or horns, that a political support group is what everyone wants (and they do, except for you) - if you express your difference of opinion, they are offended that you spoiled the intimate feeling in the room by being other than they assumed, based on their superficial reading of you. In other words, they brought up politics, but they are the only ones who get to play.
I've noticed this for years, and it seems to have gotten worse. You'd think that none of these liberal activists knew that about half the country voted for Bush, and the other half for Kerry.
Liberals, of course, call us the haters. When's the last time a Republican has posted pictures of political opponents in blackface?

I survive among my relatives by virtue of (a) distance; and (b) a tacit agreement not to discuss politics. Fortunately, we go way back, 'cause I'm old, and they like me, they really really like me! So my conservatism they see as an affectation, kind of like my old professor who wore only hypoallergenic jumpsuits.


The ever-banal John Kerry stuck it to our soliders yesterday:
“You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
Back to the Vietnam era--only suckers go into the service. We Ivy Leaguers are smart, and we don't.

If it were true, it would be a disgrace.

John Kerry is a disgrace. He could win the Upper Class Twit Olympics, though.

HT: Michelle Malkin.

October 30, 2006

As a Rock?

This post links to an amazing political ad for New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson. It shows a complete brain freeze on the part of Patricia Madrid, the challenger, in answer to a simple question that any challenger should have anticipated.

We've all been tongue-tied or nervous at some time. This one's bad though. Color me schadenfreudlich.

October 29, 2006

What Could Be Worse?

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Anthony Shadid is an Arabic-speaking American reporter who writes for the Washington Post. Shadid's reporting is down-to-earth, transmitting the voices of ordinary people. Shadid may or may not have an agenda, but he doesn't seem to be blinded by commitment to a predetermined point of view.

According to him, life in Baghdad has deteriorated greatly in the last year or two. The vibrancy of a great city has been silenced by fear.

It's not that some single insurgency is on the verge of triumph, but rather that no one is in control but constant and unpredictable violence.

Although it is no doubt true Anbar and Sulaimaniya provinces and Baghdad are the centers of the violence, and other parts of the country, especially Kurdistan, are more peaceful and orderly, what's happening is terrible. He describes a visit with Karima, a widow:
Her first grandchild, 2-month-old Fahd, sat next to her. His expression was rare in Baghdad: eyes expectant, fearless.

"Is it not a pity to bring a baby in a world like this?" she asked. "It's a shame."

Her eldest daughter, Fatima, looked on.

"One-third of us are dying, one-third of us are fleeing and one-third of us will be widows," she said.

"This is Iraq," Karima added.
And in Amman, Jordan, he visits an old man, who had once debated with his wife whether his son was right to flee the country.
The last time I had visited Faruq Saad Eddin, he and his wife, Muna, had argued over whether their eldest son should have left the country. We sat in Jihad, a neighborhood so dangerous now that a stranger risks death by entering it. A generator droned in the background; occasional bomb blasts thundered in the distance, probably homemade mines targeting U.S. patrols. An urbane former diplomat, Faruq had been upset. He worried about what would become of his ancient land if its capable fled.

"You can't just cut out and run away," he told me. "This is our country and sooner or later our children will come back. The resilience of the people, that's what 11,000 years means," he said. "Someone who has 11,000 years, 100 years to lose here or there is not that much."

On April 17, Faruq and Muna left Iraq at the insistence of their son, who had paid a year's rent for an apartment in Jordan. A month later, a car bomb detonated outside their Baghdad home, shattering the windows in the room where we once had shared bitter coffee.

On a cool morning in the Amman neighborhood of Umm al-Summaq, Faruq shook his head at the arbitrariness of fate.

"We would have been killed, no doubt about it," he said.

"We are all stranded, here and there, Iraqis," he added.
Yet another interview is with a political science professer, Wamidh:
Well into 2005, Wamidh has bristled at the notion of a sectarian divide, even as the very geography of Baghdad began to transform into Shiite and Sunni halves divided by the Tigris River. Like many Iraqis, he blamed the Americans for naively viewing the country solely through that sectarian prism before the war, then forging policies that helped make it that way afterward. He ran through other "awful mistakes": the carnage unleashed by Sunni insurgents affiliated with al-Qaeda, the assassination of a Shiite ayatollah in 2003 who may have bridged differences, the devolution of Sadr's movement today into armed, revenge-minded mobs.

As Wamidh finished, he flashed his customary modesty. "Perhaps you could correct me?" he offered.

I asked him whether it would become worse if the American military withdrew.

He looked at me for a moment without saying anything, as though he were a little confused.

"What could be worse?" he asked, knitting his brow.

I saw Wamidh again a week later, and the question had lingered with him. "I sometimes wonder what I would do if I were the Americans," he said over a traditional Ramadan dinner. His answer seemed to hurt him. "I have no idea, really."

"It's like a volcano that has erupted. How do you stop that?"
I was one of those who in spite of doubts supported the war in the first instance, mostly because of the horrors of Saddam's rule, but also in the hope that something new and better might arise in the Middle East, beset as it has been with tyranny and corrupton.

What is clear is that there was no plan for the aftermath of what was bound to be a militarily successful invasion. In the absence of such a plan, the wisdom and justice of an invasion without a goal come into question.

The Iraqis, surely, are beset by their narrow loyalties to family, tribe and sect, abetted by the practice of cousin marriage. But we have surely also been corrupted by an ignorant faith in the universal applicability of our own institutions, the power of technology, and the notion that all are good at heart and fundamentally like us. In short, we are guilty of a kind of idolatry toward our own institutions, culture and power.

And yet, it could get worse. We smiled as we mounted this tiger, and we don't know what will happen when we return from the ride.

October 27, 2006

Remember Marion Delgado

Marion Delgado was a young boy who supposedly derailed a train in the Forties. In the days of the violent Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society they published this picture of young Marion, supposedly about to derail a passenger train. This act was, to the Weatherfolk, praiseworthy.

A war against society in general is a recurrent concept in certain radical circles. Shades of Nechaev, who inspired Dostoyevsky's Demons", also translated as The Possessed.

Then there is bombing of civilians done as a provocation, say by the right, so the Left can be blamed, as here. See also the Lavon Affair, a failed attempt at provocation by Israel in Egypt.

This sort of thing can be a sympton of oikophobia, which I discuss here, based on a talk by Roger Scruton, a conservative British philosopher.

Meanwile, "someone (North African Marions, I guess) is burning the buses of Paris." I fear the Jews and the churches are next. If France is not completely enervated, the reaction will be fierce when the ordinary Frenchman rejects the abjectness of the multiculturalist left.

Shades of Georges Sorel and "the propaganda of the deed." You can read this by Sorel, to explore the subject.

October 26, 2006

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Your daughter can get an abortion without your knowledge or consent, the media wallow in teen-age sex, but your kids can't play tag during recess.

Wars: Good, Bad, Indifferent

Larison posts on his view of wars past and present. He's agin' most of 'em. It's food for thought.

In the usual "just war" analysis the winnability and cost of the war are part of the calculus used, along with the causes and goals, to determine whether the war is just or not. Thus below I allude to the circumstances, goals, and costs of our wars.

Here's my very unsystematic and off-the-cuff take:

Revolutionary WarProbably inevitable given the hardening on both sides. Justified by the need to separate and the pigheadeness of England.
War of 1812Could have been avoided--ended in a stalemate.
Mexican WarA war of aggression that helped create the conditions for the Civil War, but integral to the continental destiny of the country.
Civil WarUnjustified by its stated goal of preserving the Union, worthy in that it achieved abolition, horrible in its carnage as the first industrialized war. If the North had let the South go, would slavery have been abolished about the time it was in Brazil? Read Mencken's views.
Spanish American WarA pure imperialist war rationalized in pre-Wilsonian terms.
World War IOur intervention was the worst mistake of our national existence. It strengtened federal power, involved us in European quarrels, and laid the groundwork for totalitarianism and World War II.
World War IIRoosevelt wanted in and maneuvered so as to force Japan into its stupid attack upon us, but once attacked we had to defend ourselves. Germany saved us the trouble of deciding whether to intervene in Europe by declaring war on us.
KoreaWe were defending a nation against a communist attack, after foolishly signalling the we wouldn't do so. Justified, perhaps, in global terms.
VietnamA war against an evil foe, Southeast Asian communism, that we were unable to sustain as a democracy, to the great damage of Southeast Asia and our country.
Cold War InterventionsMany of these smaller wars could have been avoided, but the overarching strategy of containment proved wise and effective.
Gulf War ISaddam taking over Kuwait would not have been good, but probably not the disaster some imagined at the time. Given our forward posture at the time, this war had a certain logic; had we started to abandon or forward strategy, a we should have done in the post-Soviet era, this war would not have been necessary.
AfghanistanGiven the attack and the Taliban's harboring of its authors, we had little choice but to respond. Whether "nation-building" can succeed in the face of Pushtunwali is another question.
Gulf War IIDethroning Saddam was a worthy goal, but the administration refused to develop a post-invasion plan. It could not have determined that the war was just, because it could not evaluate the cost.

October 24, 2006

Sliding into Dementia

The Gray Lady has a fascinating article, complete with slide show, about artist William Utermohlen's documentation of his slide into dementia.

Sobering for all of us over-60 types.

October 23, 2006

On a Darkling Plain

If there is any time that calls for the clear sight of moral discernment, it is this moment. People are anxious, and they should be, because they are sensing the ubiquitous symptoms of a culture in decay. For centuries, the society of the Renaissance and the so-called "Reformation" has stood as an over-arching culture over Europe and the New World. But now, the energy of this culture is leeching [sic] into decadence, and the pillars of Church and the classic world are disappearing from view. Loyalties to society in general are giving way to liberation movements and interest groups. Violence and crime occur on the neighborhood level in too many neighborhoods, and too many of the victims are children. Governments are full of good intentions, but have less and less power to achieve them. Our economy is built on mass production, and we are required to consume in mass quantities. Self-discipline and respect are evaporating values, as our celebrities appear in ever-increasing levels of unkemptness, undress and disordered lives. In the arts, the hero has largely disappeared: literature is filled instead with characters possessed by self-loathing and a hatred of life. The visual arts have turned away from the sublime, and are now typified by Andy Warhol's minimalist definition: "Art is what you can get away with." Relationships are characterized now by demands and financial contracts, instead of commitment and joy. Too many children can now be described as "semi-orphan"--they are members of families with no stability, no rituals and customs, and not even a consistent set of parents.

* * * *

Is it not up to us, who are living at end of this civilization, to listen to Heaven enough, to witness its Vision, so that we can "know what is right" on this Earth?

--Fr. John Tobias

"Foaming With Much Blood"

The indispensable Cap'n Ed observes the authorities' increasing loss of control over the French suburbs, inhabited by mostly North African immigrants and their children, and more and more "no go" zones for the police.

This cannot end well. Either Islam will dominate and dhimmify France, or an autoritarian government will impose assimilation on some, and emigration on others. A soft-landing is unlikely.

Enoch Powell was blunt but perhaps prophetic.

Sophisters, Economists, Calculators and Plural Marriage

Gary Becker and Richard Posner, a Chicago economist and a judge/law professor respectively, share a blog that mostly applies economic theory to social issues. It can be an interesting exercise, if sometimes limited. Bright as Posner is, he's not about to make the Supreme Court.

In Becker's latest post, he analyzes polygamy (really, mostly polygyny, plural wives) from an economic point of view, and comes to the conclusion that there'd be no great harm in allowing it.

Remember when Sen. Santorum and Justice Scalia were excoriated for suggesting that if judges turned homosexuality into a civil rights issue, polygamy couldn't be far off? They were of course, prescient.

Schismatic Mormons, Muslims, and secular polyamorists can't possibly be far behind the gay rights movement. And Becker's right there with the economic analysis.

I've never been a fan of the last refuge of bureaucrats--"It hasn't been done in the past." When it comes to social policy, however, that Burkean notion sounds a lot better than the nattering of even the brightest "sophisters, economists, and calculators." Cultural and social innovations are like gene mutations--many are lethal, others mildly deleterious or lethal, and precious few beneficial.

Daddies, Don't Let Your Babies Dress Up Like Hookers

A cultural conservative is a liberal with a daughter, someone said.

I went looking for Hallowe'en costumes for a 13-year-old. If she doesn't dress like a whore, she's pretty much limited to being a nun or Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Many 13-year-olds are sexually mature, but they aren't emotionally mature, and in this society they sure aren't ready to get their hearts broken, get pregnant, let alone marry. In any case, there's no reason for them to dress like whores.

Yet our society pushes its girls hard in this direction, as Ben Stein points out:
This is a nation that is absolutely drenched in juvenile sex. I am not sure exactly when it happened, but it sure was going on when I was a teenager and that was a long time ago in the days of James Dean. The problem is vastly more prevalent now.

Movies in large part are about teenage sex. Whole TV networks -- I am not going to mention any names -- are largely about teenagers and sex. Music, if you can call it music, is very, very largely about teenagers and sex, and teenagers listen to it incessantly. (I am the father of a teenager, and I promise you, it's true.)

Look at fashions for young girls. They are getting dressed like Parisian streetwalkers from the 1950s. Little girls are getting dressed by the fashion industry as if they were little hookers.

Billboards on Sunset Boulevard, very near my home, show young boys in extremely revealing outfits. Much of the whole young people's fashion and magazine industry is about selling kids on the idea that their sexuality is all that matters about them,

Then there's the Internet. Multi-billion dollar companies are bidding for websites that are very largely about teens advertising their sexual availability and allure. This is an immense business, and rapidly getting bigger. Can anyone say MySpace?

Obviously, this is not to excuse Mark Foley, who clearly breached his trust, or to excuse the House GOP leadership, which clearly messed up badly on Capitol Hill.

But this is a nation endlessly selling teenagers -- sometimes younger than teenagers -- as sex objects. This is how teenagers are merchandised -- and watch the cheerleaders at any high school football game for more proof. It should not surprise us if, with all of that selling, there are buyers, both gay and straight for all of this selling.
Meanwhile, "freaking" as a style of dancing is popular among the high-school set. This is a public display of what used to be called dry-humping. A local principal suspended high school dances because of this fashion, and you'd think he was Savonarola.

Maybe Skeeter Davis was right after all.

We sure need somethin'.

What Do We Do Now?

There was a fundamental failure under Bush 41 and Carter to rethink America's position in the world after the collapse of communism.

Lend-Lease began a 50-year period of exception in American foreign policy, brought about because totalitarian industrial states, first Germany allied with Japan, and then the Soviet Union, threatened to assume control of Europe and possibly all Eurasia. These were arguably existential threats that required responses such as this country made.

Those threats are no more. The jihadi threat is real and potentially deadly, but it's of a different order than Nazism or communism.

We are not a competent imperial power. Consider the Philippines.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no reason to preserve NATO, let alone expand it, and little reason to maintain troops in Germany or Korea or even Japan. We tried, like the March of Dimes after the invention of the Salk and Sabin vaccines, to maintain a structure whose purpose was gone.

Rather than trying to revive the desiccated corpse of Woodrow Wilson, we can return to the Washingtonian precept of avoiding foreign entanglements. Consider the following:
  • Bring most of our troops back from the Eastern Hemisphere

  • Build a strong Navy and keep our powder dry.

  • Encourage energy independence by building nuclear electric plants and encouraging conservation.

  • Radically limit immigration, especially from Muslim countries and of unskilled workers.

  • Balance globalism with a degree of autarky, preserving domestic productive capacity for strategic purposes.

  • Avoid foreign intervention unless necessary to preserve the homeland.
The fate of Europe may well be either Islamization or a drift to authoritarianism and exclusivism in the name of self-preservation. Failed states will continue to fester in Africa and elsewhere, but we've proven were not very good at fixing them.

Some claim there is a threat from China, or Iran. Neither, however, threatens our homeland, or even domination of Eurasia. The expansion of both is self-limited, Iran by the sea of Sunnis around it, China by its own problems, the presence of India and Japan, and the ocean between us, although if I were Putin I'd worry about losing Eastern Siberia to China, and soon.

Likewise, Russia remains authoritarian, but with a collapsing population, weak institutions, and no ideology to attract the dissidents among its neighbors and us, it may be a threat to Georgia or Lithuania, but it isn't to us.

Of greater concern, perhaps, are the perennial Chavezes and Moraleses of Latin America, but these, too, are manageable, and of greater concern to Brazil than to us.

In short, why not return to the historic pattern of enjoying advantages our transoceanic location provides, and avoiding the quarrels of the Old World? Call it "isolatonism" if you will, but there's no decent argument against it under present world conditions. If we remember the Hippocratic inunction to first, do no harm, such a policy is likely to be humane compared to its interventonist alternatives.

ADDENDUM: I'd also reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal while encouraging others to do the same.

Berube . . . Recherche?

Penn State cultural theorist Michael Bérubé poses strange comparisons for those who would make value judgments:
Which is better?

Passenger-side airbags . . . or the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony?

Charles Mingus’s “Moanin’” (off Blues and Roots) . . . or the episode in the Simpsons’ “Tree House of Horror” in which Homer goes through a mysterious portal into the third dimension?

Wallace Stevens’ “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” . . . or game seven of the Twins-Braves World Series in 1991?

Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion . . . or the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”?

The French Revolution . . . or DVDs?

Remember to show your work! . . . and have an arbitrary weekend, everyone.
The commenters go him one better, with such gems as these:
This is addictive! I’ll try to restrain myself after these last ones:

Bill Clinton ... or George Clinton?

George Bush ... or Reggie Bush?

Hee hee! ... or Bwaaaa ha ha! ?

Posted by John Protevi on 10/20 at 10:15 AM

My way… or the highway?

Posted by Chris Clarke on 10/20 at 10:16 AM

Show your work… or have an arbitrary weekend?

Posted by liz on 10/20 at 10:20 AM

Frailty, thy name is Protevi. Here’s the last one, I promise!

The Tigers ... or the Cardinals?

Posted by John Protevi on 10/20 at 10:21 AM

All of these dichotomies are irrelevant. Lutheran surrealism is the bestest of all!

Soup...or salad?

Posted by Orange on 10/20 at 10:29 AM
Here are some more:
State College, Pa or ... Jerusalem?

Posted by Kirby Olson on 10/22 at 10:20 AM

Ritz Crackers? Or Che Guevara?
Euler’s Formula? Or Chicken Tikka Masala?
Bourbon? Or The House of Bourbon?
Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction? Or Sugar Maples?
As a civilization, it is clear we are faced with a choice.

Posted by John Fromm Uconn on 10/22 at 01:37 PM

The French Revolution… or, The French Connection!

Posted by Sabres Fan on 10/22 at 02:51 PM
  • Predicate nominatives . . . or parabolas?

  • Dostoyevsky . . . or Cole Porter?

  • Sour cream herring . . . or baboons?

  • Influenza . . . or mimes?

  • Chlamydia . . . or bedbugs?

  • Krazy Kat . . . or Botticelli?

  • Anne Coulter . . . or waterboarding?
You get the idea. The possibilities are endless. It's kind of like "underrated/overrated," which I played with my sister years ago. Beethoven is great, but underrated. Coolidge was underrated; Kennedy overrated. Shirely MacLaine--underrated. Neck rubs and Paris Hilton--underrated. Peanuts, J. D. Salinger, and Donald Trump--overrated.

Yadda yadda (underrated).

October 22, 2006

The Lizards of the Apocalypse

I have been listening to a series of podcasts/radio programs presenting Orthodox Christian views on the End Times as preached by various Protestant figures. One of the striking things the hosts, Steve Robinson and Bill Gould, present is the recurrence of specific predictions of the End of the World throughout church history. Also striking are the huge sales of the “Left Behind” series of novels based upon one interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

Indeed, these eschatologies are not confined to Christianity. Messianic speculation has been rife among the Jews, leading to false Messiahs such as Sabbatai Zevi or Shabtai Tzvi, Jacob Frank, and more recently the deceased Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, whom some in that group consider to be the Messiah. Twelver Shi’ites pine for the return of the Twelfth . Norman Cohn has written a well-known study of mediaeval and Reformation millenial movements.

Although this subject has its humor, and certainly provides fodder for the sneers of knowing ones, it is not confined to religious circles. Eric Pianka is a biology professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who advertises himself as “The Lizard Man.” He has indeed published extensively on the varieties, habits and ecology of lizards in Australia and elsewhere.

It is not Professor Pianka’s herpetology that causes us to mention him here, but his secular eschatology, which has earned him denunciation on the Internet as “Doctor Doom.”

Pianka gave a speech at the Texas Academy of Sciences, which presented him with an award shortly thereafter. The speech kicked up an uproar, at least in the blogosphere, notably fueled by the denunciations of one Forrest Mims, and William Dembski, who are apparently associated with the “intelligent design” movement. Supposedly threats of various kinds ensued, as did explanatory statements by the Texas Academy of Science and Pianka himself. Wikipedia posted a summary article on these aspects of the controversy, sufficiently detailed that I need not delve into those details here. What interests me is the eschatology and the moral stances in the speech, of which what claims to be a partial transcript is posted here. In essence, Pianka combines the neo-Malthusian concept that human population is growing out of control with the “deep ecology” concept that human activity is destroying habitats and species of intrinsic value. Pianka’s view is that human population growth is a kind of environmental cancer, that if our population were about 10 per cent of its present size the earth would be better off, and he expects pandemic disease (of which he uses the Ebola virus as an example) to carry out the necessary pruning.

Here’s a sample:
But anyway, he [Meadows, in The Limits to Growth] estimated that we crossed the maximum number of humans the earth could support back about 1978.  But up until then we could have eased into a sustainable world, but now we're 20% above.  
I think it’s actually much worse than that. We could not have reached six and a half billion if it weren’t for fossil fuels, to do agriculture and feed the hordes of humans around the earth. And the fossil fuels are running out.  So I think we might have to cut back to, say, two billion, which would be about one-third as many people.

This is an old figure from the Meadows 1992 Beyond the Limits book and you are here in 1999 – we’re actually out here now.  We’re starting to experience the world oil crash, and you know that every time you fill up your car.

Here’s the most optimistic projection: Is we don’t have a collapse.

But here’s what’s gonna happen. And after the human population collapses, there’s going to be a lot fewer of us. Food’s going to be diminished. Pollution’s going to go down, which will be good. But there’s not going to be much to recover from. Our descendants are going to curse us for the party we took, the party we had, and I really recommend Richard Heinberg’s book the [sic]Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies. This man has thought about these things deeply.
In essence, Pianka’s message is similar to Al Gore’s in An Inconvenient Truth: human activity, especially the activity of industrial socities, above all our own, threatens the survival of the planet. In Pianka’s case, he also urges a kind of “salvage ecology”--that scientists should go out and study habitats that are disappearing, because once gone, they will be gone forever.

There is, of course, considerable evidence that our stewardship of the planet has been less than wise. Among these are mass extinctions, deforestation and desertification, destruction of aquifers and bodies of water such as the Aral Sea, worldwide oceanic pollution and the collapse of fish populations. It is also certainly possible that our respite, since 1919’s influenza pandemic, from worldwide pandemics, is temporary, especially as failed states multiply.

Events of this type are nothing new. When the American Indians reached the New World, a mass extinction of large mammals occurred, and over time ecosystems developed in many areas that were “pyrophytic,” that is, depended upon being regularly burnt over. The rise of irrigation in Mesopotamia was accompanied by the accumulation of salt in irrigated areas, leading to sterility and collapse, evidenced by the increasing proportion of salt-resistant crops in dated pollen samples. And yet such changes are not always negative. For example, the area of second-growth forest in New England is greater now than it was 150 years ago, when small farms were much more common than they are now, in an age of cheap transportation.

Nor is it clear what the future of demography will be. Some societies’ “demographic transition” has involved not only a decline of fertility to replacement value, but a plunge below that (Japan, Russia, Spain, etc.).

Although these issues and their details are too complex for extended treatment on this post, they do suggest that Pianka’s picture of unrelieved gloom reproduces in secular terms the millenialism of the religious faithful. There is a strange attraction to eschatology even among those who speak in purely secular terms. What is lacking in their world view is not so much a sense of human fallenness and a premonition of human doom, but any sense that human redemption is possible, or any sense that the mass deaths of human beings are more to be regretted than the loss of lizard habitat.

October 20, 2006

My Sister's New Cat, Nora

Am I Cute Or What?
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
This is Nora. She's absolutely cute

Who ever imagined Sissy would become a cat person?

Good At Heart? I Think Not

This article gives the lie to the cliché line from The Diary of Anne Frank to the effect that "In spite of everything, I believe people are essentially good at heart."

They aren't. Photographs of babies in bondage? Videotapes of child rape?

I'm skeptical of the proposal on the California ballot to subject all sex offenders to GPS monitoring forever, and to forbid them to live within 2,000 feet of a school or park. However, when I read stuff like this, I want to throw away the key.

October 18, 2006

Educrats and Lawyers Gone Wild

This story reports that tag is now banned in at least one Massachusetts school. Liability fears, no less.

As a lawyer, I am ashamed.

As a parent, I am appalled.

Let children be children.

Long live ringalevio and Johnny On the Pony.

October 16, 2006

Tony Judt, Radioactive?

Tony Judt is a liberal (NY Review of Books variety) who teaches at New York University. He's published articles questioning various Israeli policies and suggesting a unitary Palestinian state encompassing both Jews and Arabs. He's anything but an anti-Semite.

Nevertheless, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League was instrumental at getting a program involving Judt cancelled at a Polish diplomatic venue in New York City, and loudmouth rabbi Avi Weiss pressured Manahattan College to promise that a Judt talk at a Holocaust event would not inolve discussion of Israel, leading Judt in turn to cancel.

This turn of events is very disturbing. It reflects the continuing misuse of accusations of anti-Semitism by the ADL and professional Jews like Avi Weiss, to chill debate on Israeli policy and US policy toward Israel. The attack on Judt resembles a private bill of attainder. It also reflects cowardice on the part of people and institutions whose fear of accusations of anti-Semitism leads them to cave in to the Foxmans and Weisses. Manhattan College should have said, "Picket away; we're having our speaker." Instead, they chickened out.

When blacks did this sort of thing years ago, Tom Wolfe coined the phrase "mau-mauing" to label it. It's discreditable, and playing the Holocaust card as Sharpton and Jackson play the race card is just as shameful.

Just because some genuine anti-Semites pose as anti-Zionists doesn't mean that criticism--even strong criticism--of Israel should be beyond the pale. All forms of political correctness are worthy of contempt.

HT: Daniel Larison.

October 13, 2006

Larison Lays It On Thick

Daniel Larison sees the Foley thing as a coffin nail for GOP control of Congress, and he's positively giddy:
You cannot switch on a people’s sense of outrage at moral disorder and corruption and then expect them to conveniently switch it off when you are implicated, however indirectly, in these same things. You cannot make rallying against a radical homosexual agenda a prominent part of your appeal while winking and nodding at the misconduct of one of your party’s own homosexuals, especially when he is engaged in behaviour that would be inappropriate for any Congressman. With respect to Iraq, you cannot claim to be the party of responsibility and competence and preside over four years of irresponsibility and incompetence. Eventually, your credibility runs out. You cannot blunder along with no real strategy in the war and then accuse your opponent of having no viable alternative to fix the mess you’ve made. You cannot betray every conservative principle in the book and then say, “You have to look at the big picture. The other guys are really bad!”

This is like nothing so much as a robber who, having just beaten you over the head and taken your wallet, tells you not to go to the police because they are corrupt and might hit you up for a bribe. “How can you pay the bribe, after I have just taken all your money? Think about it. They’re the real enemy here. In fact, I’m really on your side, because I also don’t like the corrupt police. If you could just go get some more money and bring it back to me, I’m sure we could help each other a lot.” If conservatives have any self-respect this year, they will not collaborate in their own fleecing and poor treatment any longer. Like a battered wife who has finally had enough, they must stop making excuses for the party that has abused them for years. They need to stop saying things like, “The world is so dangerous–what will I do without my GOP?” For decades, like some greasy con man who has seduced the gullible mark, the party kept telling the conservatives, “I love you, and one day, baby, we’re going to make it big, and then I’ll get you all the things you ever wanted. I can’t do it without you. Now I just need to borrow some money….” Now that the con man has been found out, he wants her to forget the lies and betrayal and, if at all possible, just give him a little more money.
And he has more:
Tony Blankley and other Republicans who called on Hastert to resign are looking pretty smart right now; Hugh Hewitt (he of the “donate now to the RNC to fight the vast left-wing conspiracy” approach to this scandal’s politics)…well, Hugh Hewitt remains Hugh Hewitt. After the Year of Corruption it would be hard to credit that the latest scandal does not represent a deeper disorder in Congress. In any case, the Goppers made no real effort to stop the political bleeding; they wasted so much of their energy and attention freaking out about George Soros’ evil designs that they put almost no effort into damage control and making amends. So confident were they that their voters would blame Foley and only Foley for the mess that they missed something important about their voters: these people aren’t stupid and they don’t follow blindly, whatever GOP elites may think about them, and they actually hold people in positions of authority responsible for their failures.

Hastert’s speech in front of a cemetary [sic] was a fitting statement on the whole mess. He might as well have been saying, ”I come not to praise the mighty GOP, but to bury it.” Indeed, the inept handling of the scandal has very likely buried them.
I'm still inclined to vote for John Campbell, our local GOP Congressman, not because he has the obligatory dog in the obligatory campaign photo, because I like him and generally agree with his views, but I find it almost impossible to care about these people.

As Steve Sailer has pointed out, the GOP has been stronger among married folk with children, and thus in places where real estate prices are low enough not to discourage breeding.

It is precisely peoople with children who are horrified not so much by Rep. Chickenhawk hmself as by what is at best the tone-deafness of the leadership on something that would be obvious to any parent. “Famiy values,” my a**. And besides, their record otherwise has been worse than undistinguished.

I politically depise Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel, John Conyers and the bunch that would run the House if the GOP is turned out, but Speaker Hastert acting like a small-time Bernard Law was too much for me. My own reaction was “Screw these people. If they can’t or won’t protect their own young employees, they deserve no confidence on anything else.”

And Henry Waxman will no doubt conduct some interesting investigations.

Hugh Hewitt is still whistling past the graveyard. His argument is "national security, national security," plus "Look how bad these other guys are." And he has a point--the Dems are a feckless bunch.

There does come a time, though, when, as my wise father said, you have to "throw the rascals out" and elect new rascals. This may be such a year.

Another Martyr

Jihadis are destroying these ancient Christian communities, in this case the Assyrian oriental Orthodox.

Father Paulos Iskandar was kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq:
On Monday, October 9, a prominent Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) priest, Fr. Paulos Iskander (Paul Alexander), was kidnapped by an unknown Islamic group. His ransom was posted at either $250,000 or $350,000. This group had demanded that signs be posted once again on his church apologizing for the Pope's remarks as a condition for negotiations to begin.

Father Alexander was beheaded on Wednesday.
It's an old story, and the indifference is deafening.

HT: Michelle.

Unrest in Polynesia

Unions in Polynesia are blockading Tahiti's capital, Papeete, and threatening a general strike.

I have a feeling that ex-President Gaston Flosse is involved, but it's just a feeling.

Story here.

October 10, 2006

Homo Homini Lupus, Redux

Kaitlyn Avila, age 3, was killed, not by a "stray" bullet, but deliberately shot in the chest in Southwest Los Angeles.

"The human race may be doing the best it can, but that's an explanation, not an excuse."

October 9, 2006

Workers' Paradise

THE North Korean refugee had one request for her captors before the young Chinese soldiers led her back across the steel-girdered bridge on the Yalu River that divides two “socialist allies”.

“She asked for a comb and some water because she said that if she was going to die she could not face going to heaven looking as dirty and dishevelled as this,” recounted a relative of one soldier who was there.

What happened next is testimony to the rising disgust in Chinese military ranks as Beijing posts more troops to the border amid a crisis with North Korea over its regime’s plan to stage a nuclear test.

The soldiers, who later told family members of the incident, marched the woman, who was about 30, to the mid-point of the bridge. North Korean guards were waiting. They signed papers for receipt of the woman, who kept her dignity until that moment. Then, in front of the Chinese troops, one seized her and another speared her hand — the soft part between thumb and forefinger — with the point of a sharpened steel cable, which he twisted into a leash.

“She screamed just like a pig when we kill it at home in the village,” the soldier later told his relative. “Then they dragged her away.”

Such stories are circulating widely among Chinese on the border, where wild rumours of an American attack on nuclear test sites have spread fears of a Chernobyl-type cloud of radiation and sparked indignation at the North Koreans. “I’ve heard it a hundred times over that when we send back a group they stab each one with steel cable, loop it under the collarbone and out again, and yoke them together like animals,” said an army veteran with relatives in service.
--Austin Bay, quoting the London Times.

And there are people who proudly call themselves "unrepentant Marxists."

Lord, have mercy.

HT: TigerHawk.

Photoshop of the Week

Blackfive is a genius. He's a cross between Henry Kissinger and a flying monkey!

October 8, 2006

Kim Jong Il's Bomb

It appears that Kim Jong Il has his bomb, whether or not it's deliverable.

Kim in the nuclear club is like Slingblade at Back-to-School Night.

And everybody's both clueless, while we natter on about Congressman Short-eyes.

Meanwhile, the Japanese bomb is sure to come. Can Taiwan be far off?

UPDATE: Captain Ed seems to think that at 550 megatons, the explosion was really a dud. That would be consistent with the recent missile fizzles. It's expensive to feed scientists and engineers into the wood chipper.

Forgiveness Again

I've already posted on the extraordinary demonstration of forgiveness by the Amish whose girls were gunned down by a deranged "English," as the Amish call their non-Amish neighbors.

Rod Dreher has a column more extended than his blog post on the subject:
It is not that the Amish are Anabaptist hobbits, living a pure pastoral life uncorrupted by the evils of modernity. So much of the coverage of the massacre has dwelled on the "innocence lost" aspect, but I doubt that the Amish would agree. They have their own sins and tragedies. Nobody who lives in a small town can live under the illusion that it is a haven from evil. To paraphrase gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the line between good and evil does not run along the boundaries of Lancaster County, but through every human heart.

What sets hearts apart is how they deal with sins and tragedies. In his suicide note, Mr. Roberts said one reason he did what he did was out of anger at God for the death of his infant daughter in 1997. Wouldn't any parent wonder why God allowed that to happen? Mr. Roberts held onto his hatred, purifying it under pressure until it exploded in an act of infamy. That's one way to deal with anger.

Another is the Amish way. If Mr. Roberts' rage at God over the death of his baby girl was in some sense understandable, how much more comprehensible would be the rage of those Amish mothers and fathers whose children perished by his hand? Had my child suffered and died that way, I cannot imagine what would have become of me, for all my pretenses of piety. And yet, the Amish do not rage. They do not return evil for evil. In fact, they embody peace and love beyond all human understanding.

In our time, religion makes the front pages usually in the ghastliest ways. In the name of God, the faithful fly planes into buildings, blow themselves up to murder the innocent, burn down rival houses of worship, insult and condemn and cry out to heaven for vengeance. The wicked Rev. Fred Phelps and his crazy brood of fundamentalist vipers even planned to protest at the Amish children's funeral, until Dallas-based radio talker Mike Gallagher, bless him, gave them an hour of his program if they would only let those poor people bury their dead in peace.

But sometimes, faith helps ordinary men and women do the humanly impossible: to forgive, to love, to heal and to redeem. It makes no sense. It is the most sensible thing in the world. The Amish have turned this occasion of spectacular evil into a bright witness to hope. Despite everything, a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik describes a somewhat different attitude to forgiveness:
In his classic Holocaust text, The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal recounts the following experience. As a concentration camp prisoner, the monotony of his work detail is suddenly broken when he is brought to the bedside of a dying Nazi. The German delineates the gruesome details of his career, describing how he participated in the murder and torture of hundreds of Jews. Exhibiting, or perhaps feigning, regret and remorse, he explains that he sought a Jew—any Jew—to whom to confess, and from whom to beseech forgiveness. Wiesenthal silently contemplates the wretched creature lying before him, and then, unable to comply but unable to condemn, walks out of the room.
Soloveichik goes on to argue that when it comes to certain truly heinous acts, Judaism and Christianity look at forgiveness differently--Christianity advocates it, but in certain cases, the Jew says of the truly wicked, "Yemach shemo" ("May his name be erased.")

Letting go of bitterness is necessary to one's personal mental and moral health. Dwelling on the past in bitterness can poison our own soul and prevent us from living in the present and constructing a future. It can lead to distortion and to acts like that of the man who murdered the little girls. On the other hand, when we forgive too easily and without discernment, can we not end up abandoning any concept of justice or condemnation of evil?

In blogging one is tempted to have a settled opinion about everything. On this issue, I must confess I am uncertain.

UPDATE: Here is an Orthodox Christian discussion of forgiveness. It's especially interesting because it contains an explicit discussion of psychological ideas of the Fathers of the Church.

Mistakes and Crimes

Anthony Shadid, one of the best Middle East reporters, relates that Hezbollah chief Nasrallah was confident his kidnapping raid would have no adverse consequences, and was shocked when Israel reacted as strongly (if not very competently) as it did.

Thousands of homeless and mourning Lebanese may regard this mistake as worse than a crime.

Meanwhile, allegations are out that Israel's bombing of south Lebanon has left countless unexploded anti-personnel cluster bombs, made in USA handing in trees, in fields and so on. Israel's handling of the situation was a series of stupid mistakes. If true, leaving these death traps in civilian areas may or may not be a mistake, but is a crime.

Yes, war is intended to break things and kill enemy soldiers, but leaving anti-personnel devices to main and kill children in the aftermath, whether or not it is a mistake, is a crime.


There was an ethnic joke at the time of the 1984 Olympics. A black, a Mexican, and a Pole are moping outside the stadium because they don't have tickets. The black guy strips to his shorts, steals a hubcap, and runs in saying "Kenya, discus!" The Mexican grabs an auto radio antenna, and runs in saying, "Mexico, javelin!" Our stereotyped Pole grabs some barbed wire and runs in saying, "Poland, fencing!"

If Mickey Kaus's fears are right, Pres. Bush's first veto (a pocket veto) might be of the legislation providing for 700 miles of border fence. Given that bureaucratic maneuvers already threaten to reduce that law to an unrealized expression of sentiment, such a veto would be the ultimate betrayal of the base. The fence law is the product of authentic grass-roots sentiment. If Bush, who has never picked up a veto pen, chooses this modest security measure, dear to the hearts of many ordinary people, many will wonder what the point is of maintaining GOP control of the House.

A party that ignores pederasty and an insecure border inspires little confidence. I think Nancy Pelosi and her minions will be worse, but how much worse can they be, if Bush realizes he can use the veto pen.

October 7, 2006

An Officer Mourns For His Dead Horse

Lamento do oficial por seu cavalo morto

Nós merecemos a morte,
porque somos humanos
e a guerra é feita pelas nossas mãos,
pelo nossa cabeça embrulhada em séculos de sombra,
por nosso sangue estranho e instável, pelas ordens
que trazemos por dentro, e ficam sem explicação.

Criamos o fogo, a velocidade, a nova alquimia,
os cálculos do gesto,
embora sabendo que somos irmãos.
Temos até os átomos por cúmplices, e que pecados
de ciência, pelo mar, pelas nuvens, nos astros!
Que delírio sem Deus, nossa imaginação!

E aqui morreste! Oh, tua morte é a minha, que, enganada,
recebes. Não te queixas. Não pensas. Não sabes. Indigno,
ver parar, pelo meu, teu inofensivo coração.
Animal encantado - melhor que nós todos!
- que tinhas tu com este mundo
dos homens?

Aprendias a vida, plácida e pura, e entrelaçada
em carne e sonho, que os teus olhos decifravam...

Rei das planícies verdes, com rios trêmulos de relinchos...

Como vieste morrer por um que mata seus irmãos!

(in Mar Absoluto e outros poemas: Retrato Natural. Rio de Janeiro, Nova Fronteira, 1983.)

An Officer Mourns For His Dead Horse

We deserve death
because we are human
and make wars with our hands
with our heads wrapped in centuries of shadows
with our strange and unstable blood, with the orders
we carry inside us, which remain without explanation.

We create fire, speed, the new alchemy,
the calculated gestures,
even though we know we are brothers.
Even atoms are our accomplices, and what sins
of science, at sea, in the clouds, even among the stars.
What madness without God, our imagination!

And here you died! Your death is mine, which, by mistake,
came to you. You don't complain. You don't think. You don't know. I'm outraged
to see your harmless heart stop for mine.
Enchanted animal--better than all of us!
What did you have to do with this world
of men?

You learned to live, quiet and pure, intermingled
flesh and dreams that your eyes deciphered . . .

King of the green plains, trembling rivers of whinnies . . .

How did you come to die for one who kills your brothers!

--Cecília Meireles (Absolute Sea and other poems, Rio de Janeiro, 1983

A Butterfly Passes Before Me

Passa uma borboleta por diante de mim
E pela primeira vez no Universo eu reparo
Que as borboletas não têm cor nem movimento,
Assim como as flores não têm perfume nem cor.
A cor é que tem cor nas asas da borboleta,
No movimento da borboleta o movimento é que se move,
O perfume é que tem perfume no perfume da flor.
A borboleta é apenas borboleta
E a flor é apenas flor.

--Alberto Caeiro
A butterfly passes before me
And for the first time in the Universe I notice
That butterflies have neither color nor movement,
Just as flowers have neither aroma nor color.
It's color that has color in the butterfly's wings,
In the movement of the butterfly it's movement that moves,
It's aroma that gives off an aroma in the aroma of a flower.
A butterly is just a butterfly
And a flower's just a flower.

Discuss amongst yourselves, whilst I pour myself a dram. It's alcohol that's alcohol in a spot of Scotch. Whiskey's just whiskey.

Secret Recall?

It appears that Albert's cornmeal has been recalled from all the local supermarkets, but we can't figure out why, and there's nothing about it on Google news.

Does anyone have any idea what's up?

Russia and Georgia

Russia's Putin régime, miffed by the reckless uppitiness of the Georgians (Georgia-Tbilisi, not Georgia-Atlanta), is cracking down on the Georgians who live in Moscow and other places in Russia. This includes deporting some in summary fashion and asking schools for lists of pupils with Georgian surnames so their immigration status may be investigated.

Aside from its injustice, and the lack of respect for another Orthodox people, this policy seems risky to me. The Russian Federation is no longer a federation, and is far from wholly Russian, as this ethnic map of the Caucasus and nearby Russia shows (much larger original here). A too-hostile attitude toward ethnic minorities could create more Chechnya-like problems among the various minorities.

The Georgians, too, are playing with fire by arresting Russian officers as spies. Russia could crush them if it chose, at some cost to its international reputation, and if it did so, it would be with the usual mixture of brutality and incompetence, as displayed in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Optimism is not warranted. Homo homini lupus.

See Larison's more erudite and impassioned take on these events.

UPDATE: More from the prolific Larison in this post. He's the only guy I know who would back up a statement about the affinity of Armenia and Georgia with a reference to an Armenian bard who was once court poet in Tbilisi. It could have been a thousand years ago, but to L. it's as if it were yesterday.

October 4, 2006


With all the foofaraw about Rep. Chickenhawk, we should remember a far more serious and far more somber event, the murder of Amish schoolgirls in Pennsylvania. These are different people:
PARADISE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- A grieving grandfather told young relatives not to hate the gunman who killed five girls in an Amish schoolhouse massacre, a pastor said on Wednesday.

"As we were standing next to the body of this 13-year-old girl, the grandfather was tutoring the young boys, he was making a point, just saying to the family, 'We must not think evil of this man,' " the Rev. Robert Schenck told CNN.

"It was one of the most touching things I have seen in 25 years of Christian ministry."

The girl was one of 10 shot by Charles Carl Roberts IV after he invaded their one-room schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania on Monday.
I couldn't say that. Perhaps I should, but I couldn't.

HT: Rod Dreher, who writes:
Could you do that? Could you stand over the body of a dead child and tell the young not to hate her killer? I could not. Please God, make me into the sort of man who could.
I'm not even certain I'd want to be that way. As I say, perhaps I should.

UPDATE: Here's a fascinating piece by a rabbi outlining the difference between the Jewish and Christian atttitudes toward forgiveness vs. hatred of evil.

If True, This is Disgusting

Stop the ACLU alleges that the Westboro Baptist Church, which has been picketing the funerals of American servicepeople, claiming that their deaths are punishments for the toleration of homosexuality, plans to picket the funerals of the little Amish girls so tragically murdered in Pennsylvania.

That's bad enough, but according to the website's report the ACLU is opposing legislation to create buffer zones around funerals.

Suspicious minds would say that these militant secularists would want to protect the most disgusting possible example of religious expression.

Maybe I'm naïve, but somehow I think we can have the First Amendment and a decent respect for the bereaved and the deceased.

Nor would I weep if someone tarred and feathered these creeps and ran them out of town on the proverbial rail.

Iraq Revisited

I've been reading and commenting on a remarkable blog maintained by one Daniel Larison, of all things a graduate student in Byzantine studies at Chicago. He's astoundingly prolific, a good writer, quite erudite, and his opinions emerge from no cookie-cutter I'm familiar with.

Larison's some a kind of paleo-conservative, but an unusal kind. Among other things, he is strongly opposed--on principle--to the Iraq war and to interventionism generally.

He posted here on Daniel Linker's vanishing blog, and then turns to Victor Davis Hanson, whom I defended in a comment. Larison also went into a long riff on what he regards as inconsistent latecoming opposition to the Iraq war based upon things like Administration incompetence, rather than a fundamental disagreement about the underlying rationale for the war. It's a long post, so I'll follow fair use and just supply an excerpt:
When people say that so-and-so was on the wrong side of history, this invariably means that he was on the losing side of a war or a revolution, and when they say “wrong” side they usually mean it very much in terms of moral judgement. This is what it means 95% of the time it is used. Likewise, when your ideas are allegedly consigned to the “dustbin of history,” it is almost always because you lost a war. Wars, in this view of history, prove the supremacy and value of some ideas over others. This is simply untrue, but it does help explain why people who believe this–or at least talk as if they believe this–are perfectly happy to endorse wars for ideological causes, because they are already convinced that winning wars will vindicate and “prove” their ideas right. Incidentally, that is why there are so many on the left and nominal right emphasising incompetence as the central flaw of the administration. While real, dissident conservatives have stressed the evils of the administration’s ideological tunnel vision, incompetence has been the buzzword for all of the former war supporters who have since seen the light. The script goes something like this: intervening militarily to democratise rogue states and enforce nonproliferation regimes is more or less a good solution, but this crowd has simply screwed it up too badly. There are also those who are zealous war supporters but who focus on administration incompetence as a way of exculpating the ideas tied to the war–democratisation, interventionism, preemption, etc.–from the judgement that they think defeat in war imposes on whether ideas are sound or not. Four out of five times these days when you find a born-again war opponent, he will cite his support for the principle of doing what we did in Iraq but will also lament the poor execution. This is rather like the wisdom of the man who says, “If only I had been allowed to drive the car off the cliff, we wouldn’t have crashed.”
It seems to me, first of all, that incompetence is a legitimate reason to reverse ground on the war. In determining whether a war is just, one consideration is the likelihood of success. It is morally more questionable to kill and be killed on fool's errand than where success to a just purpose is likely.

So if one such as I who supported the war (warily) at first had known that there was either no planning or bungled planning for the aftermath, and how ignorant the US government was about Iraq, the conclusion would be that achieving the desired result was unlikely, and accordingly that the war would be neither just nor wise. This strikes me as a legitimate set of second thoughts.

Larison, however, would go deeper. He is opposed to the use of force to effect changes like democratization, which I take it he believes both wrong and ineffective. I suspect he is one who opposes foreign entanglements generally. Perhaps, like me, he thinks our entry into World War I was a tragic error.

I sympathize with this view. I have always thought Woodrow Wilson a liar (he campaigned in 1916 as one who had avoided war, even while planning to enter it), and with the slogan of "making the world safe for democracy" unleashed genies that have still not reentered the bottle. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, I saw no reason for keeping NATO, let alone expanding it, and would have brought our troops home from Europe, and considering how unwelcome they now seem to be, from places like Korea.

This orientation, which I share with Larison to some extent, does not exhaust the issue. After the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, it became clear that there was a jihadi movement sheltered in Afghanistan. When the Taliban government of that country refused to expel or turn over Al Qa'ida, there was a legitimate casus belli. The jihadi movement, however, had echoes throughout the Muslim world and had been proven to constitute a danger.

Given that American soil had been attacked, we had reason to assess where else danger of attack lurked in the Muslim world. Iraq fit into a suspect category. Not only was Saddam an unusually bloody tyrant, he had attacked a neighbor, used chemical weapons on his own people, engaged in a protracted war with a another neighbor (Iran) and in the past was known to have developed chemical weapons and attempted to develop nuclear weapons. Although Iraq was an artificial creation, it had an educated middle class. The idea that Saddam could be deposed and a régime might emerge that would be a catalyst for change in the Middle East, although fraught with risks, had some strategic appeal, and if Saddam really had WMD, a successful assault had additional justification. Although an alliance between Saddam and Al Qa'ida seemed improbable, Saddam had harbored terrorists such as Abu Nidal, and had every reason to be hostile to the United States.

All of this made me guardedly favorable to the war, in spite of my genrally skeptical view of armed utopianism and foreign entanglements not motivated by a global threat such as communism.

What few knew was that although régime change was on the lips of the war advocates, it was not thought out in the war plans. In fact, if Thomas Ricks's Fiasco is credited, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld actively discouraged such planning.

That, combined with the hyping of an Iraqi WMD program that turned out to have been abandoned, and the tenuous nature of the evidence of cooperation between Saddam and Al Qa'ida, left the only remaining justification for the invasion--the incredible brutality of Saddam's régime--weakened by the war planners' failure to answer question "What do we do now (that we've taken Baghdad)?"

Moving forward to October 2006, what is the answer to the question, "Now that we are in Iraq, what do we do next?" I haven't heard very good answers to that question from anyone.

October 2, 2006

We Are No Longer Led By Men

Kleinhelder on pederasty in Congress and beyond:
And don't think Foley is alone in the Republican ranks either. Not just politicians but professional conservatives. Spokesman and leaders who get on TV talk tough, spout conservative positions, and then get in their cars and cruise for young boy prostitutes. It happens. More frequently than you think.

The question is: why?

Many reasons, I suspect, but I believe it is very much the same as the reasons why sexual misconduct is so prevalent in the clergy.

Social conservatives come in two flavors. The first are the authentic religious converts and those who were reared with conservative values who did not rebel.

Then there is a second category. Those who are trying to fix themselves through their faith and/or ideology. Nominal conservatives, who have a sickness and are trying to self medicate. They know what they do is wrong, they know they have a problem.

They think, maybe, if they stand with those who are "right" and "moral", if they mouth the words enough, they will be cured. They hope that they will no longer do those dirty little deeds that their impulse control will not combat.

Seldom works though.

This is the dilemma for social conservatives. We live in a disconnected and non-judgmental society. People, more or less, mind their own business and stay out of other people's crap. This is part of the reason that the cover-up went on for so long.

Everybody knew, up on the hill, that Foley was not what he projected himself to be. Everybody knew he was gay and everybody knew that he hit on young boys.

But nobody wanted to pull the trigger on him. No body wanted to up in anyone's grill. Absent a specific complaint being pushed by someone, the movers and shakers on the Hill were content to let this thing take its course.

Hastert and the Republicans that knew about this should be taken to the woodshed but don't for one minute think that this is a Republican or Democrat thing. Republicans had specific knowledge sure but everyone in that body either knew or heard about how Foley was to one extent or another. They did nothing because we, in Modern America, are no longer our brothers' keepers.

Not that we should be in everybody's business, but this is Congress. A body of leaders.

Yet with all the rumors and the actual reports of pederasty by Foley no one stepped up and put a stop to it. This is not only a failing of the Republican Party leadership and of social conservatism generally, it is a society-wide failing.

We are not as close-knit a community anymore and we are no longer led by men. Everyone is free to do their dirty little deeds and everyone is more than happy to look the other way and no one has the fortitude to call anyone on their actions."
In other words, for some it's a "Stop me before I kill again" scenario.

HT: Daniel Larison.

"Campaign Finance Reform"=Censorship

George Will has a column today detailing the increasing use of "campagin finance reform" statutes and rules as a means of supressing and punishing speech on political subjects. It's chilling. In addition to the prosecution under CFR laws in Seattle of two talk-radio hosts who promoted a ballot measure against a gas tax increase, Will reports the following:
A few people opposed to a ballot initiative that would annex their neighborhood to Parker, Colo., talked to neighbors and purchased lawn signs expressing opposition. So a proponent of annexation got them served with a complaint charging violations of Colorado's campaign-finance law. It demands that when two or more people collaborate to spend more than $200 to influence a ballot initiative, they must disclose the names, addresses and employers of anyone contributing money, open a separate bank account and file regular reports with the government. Then came a subpoena demanding information about any communications that opponents of the initiative had with neighbors concerning the initiative, and the names and addresses of any persons to whom they gave lawn signs. They hired a lawyer. That has become a cost of political speech.

In Florida, a businesswoman ceased publication of her small-town newspaper rather than bear compliance costs imposed by that state's speech police. Even though the Wakulla Independent Reporter contained community news and book reviews as well as political news and editorials, state campaign regulators declared it an "electioneering communication" in league with certain candidates, and ordered her to register with, and file regular reports to, the government.

This is the America produced by "reformers" led by John McCain. The U.S. Supreme Court, in affirming the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold speech restrictions, advocated deference toward elected officials when they write laws regulating speech about elected officials and their deeds. This turned the First Amendment from the foundation of robust politics into a constitutional trifle to be "balanced" against competing considerations—combating the "appearance of corruption," or elevating political discourse or something. As a result, attempts to use campaign regulations to silence opponents are becoming a routine part of vicious political combat.

When the court made that mistake, most of the media applauded, assuming, mistakenly, that they would be forever exempt from regulation.
I've never considered myself a free speech absolutist, but campaign finance regulation is already so onerous that lawyers have made it a cottage industry and it's a deterrent to people who would run for office.

Looks like it will get worse before it gets better. It's my biggest beef with John McCain.

October 1, 2006

Annan's Guilt

Captain Ed reproduces part of a London Times story on the retiring Kofi Annan.

It's pretty devastating:
Annan’s term has also been marked by scandal: from the sexual abuse of women and children in the Congo by UN peacekeepers to the greatest financial scam in history, the UN-administered oil-for-food programme. Arguably, a trial of the UN would be more apt than a leaving party.

The charge sheet would include guarding its own interests over those it supposedly protects; endemic opacity and lack of accountability; obstructing investigations, promoting the inept and marginalising the dedicated. Such accusations can be made against many organisations . . .

* * * *

A more specific charge would be that, under the doctrine of command responsibility, the UN is guilty of war crimes. Broadly speaking, it has three principles: that a commander ordered atrocities to be carried out, that he failed to stop them, despite being able to, or failed to punish those responsible. The case rests on the second, that in Rwanda in 1994, in Srebrenica in 1995 and in Darfur since 2003, the UN knew war crimes were occurring or about to occur, but failed to stop them, despite having the means to do so.
One is tempted to ask why we bother.

The Age of Ugliness

Frederica Mathewes-Green writes about religion, films, and life. She recently took a granddaughter to an animated film, Open Season, and observes:
After I took Hannah home, I just felt sad. This is a movie about talking animals, so it can’t be aimed at kids much older than she is. But there wasn’t any element I could honestly say was enjoyable — nothing that sparked wonder. There was lots of skittering and slamming and noise, and the screen often filled up with images that were just plain ugly.

For example, early on the deer wants the bear to promise to be his friend. So he hocks up something slimy and spits it into his hand, then holds it out, dripping, for a shake.

Not much later the deer and bear are lost in the forest, and the bear needs a toilet. He asks the deer, “Well, what do you do?” The deer says, “I don’t know,” and releases a stream of turds.
It's not that Frederica wants spineless goody-twoshoes stuff for children. It's that the world that's mass-produced for them is so ugly:
I inherited a picture book that had belonged to a great-great-great aunt, and inside the covers she’d drawn pictures of beautiful women. I guess girls have always done that, but in her case it was 1870, and the women are wearing ballgowns adorned with tiers of lace, with petticoats and pantaloons underneath. In the 1960’s, I drew women wearing a sheath dress and a mink stole, with hair in a Grace Kelly chignon. Do little girls now draw smirking women with exposed navels and heavy eye makeup? Has “edgy” become the new “beautiful”?

The usual retort is, “So just don’t watch these movies” or “Just don’t buy those dolls.” But you don’t have to buy this stuff; it leaks under the door. American entertainment culture has reached into every corner of the world, and if it’s not in your home, it’s in the home of the kid who sits next to yours in school. If you still don’t think snot is particularly funny, and don’t think it’s a good idea to luxuriate in revenge fantasies, you’re in the minority. This ugly, mean-spirited stuff is mingled with the very air we breathe.

So when I’m leaving the mall with Hannah I’m behind two middle-aged women who are laughing and loudly using the F-word. We pass a guy coming in wearing a t-shirt with an obscene message. Outside, there are obese teenage girls with too much pasty flesh spilling out of too-small clothes, trying to look haughty.

Hannah is a quiet, modest, self-possessed little girl, and unlikely to ever find such things appealing. But I can’t help feeling sorrow that she’s growing up in such an ugly age.
Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin writes about Charlotte Church, who as a teenager was a sweet, talented singer, and coming of age has gone Britney:
The 20-year-old entertainer has rebelled against the wholesome image that brought her fame, fortune and worldwide respect as a rare role model for young girls. She has traded in "Pie Jesu" for "Crazy Chick" — a lousy pop anthem even Ashlee Simpson wouldn't be caught performing. Charlotte's gone from pure-hearted to pure crap. These days, she drinks, she smokes, she curses, she fights, she parties, and she tries very, very hard to shock and offend — like a trashier Lindsay Lohan, only with better pipes.

Charlotte has a new talk show in England, where she plays a profanity-spewing hostess who is part Rosie O'Donnell, part Keith Olbermann (she has bashed President Bush as "clueless" and a "twat") and completely unhinged. The pilot episode featured Charlotte calling Pope Benedict XVI a Nazi, dressing as a nun and pretending to hallucinate while eating communion wafers imprinted with smiley faces (symbolizing the drug Ecstasy). The Catholic News Service reported last month that the pilot also showed Church smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary to reveal a can of fortified wine. To top off her anti-Catholic snit, she stuck chewing gum on a statue of the child Jesus.

The sketch was scrapped from the show's debut, but in the most recent episode aired last week, Church strapped herself to a cross, Madonna-wannabe-style. As one viewer complained in a message quoted by the Daily Mail: "This woman may have had the voice of an angel in the past but now she has the foul mouth of a sewer rat."
It's sad. Decent people have to live in opposition to the culture, which is befouled.

Someone once responded to a comment of mine on another blog words to the effect that conservatives who are determined to defend America are deeply hostile to much of its present-day culture. A paradox, perhaps. But defense means not only resisting attackers, but rot from within.