Day By Day

Monday, January 31, 2005

Development Debate

In an earlier post I referenced John Gravois' article in Slate disputing the development theories of Peruvian economist, Hernando DeSoto, author of The Mystery of Capital and The Other Path. There is a lively and only occasionally insulting discussion of that article going on now at Reason: Hit and Run. It's worth a look. So, too, is the response by Shannon Love and the discussion it engendered over at Chicago Boyz. Check them both out. This is an important issue that affects the lives of millions of people around the globe.


Another voice enters the fray. Check out Ivan Osorio's defense of DeSoto over at TCS.

The Boys from Massachusetts and the Virtues of Apathy

There is a swell of speculation on the net regarding the bizarre behavior of Senators Kerry and Kennedy in recent days. Their public statements have been so at odds with the political realities of the current situation as to lead some to question their mental stability. Roger Simon, for instance, thinks they are simply depressed. Glenn Reynolds thinks it's just petty jealousy. Other observers have declared them to have been unhinged by the outcome of the fall elections. The Diplomad asks, regarding Kerry, "Is this an insane man or does he just play one on TV?"

There are other explanations offered, based less in psychology than in the mechanisms of contemporary politics. Mickey Kaus thinks they are trolling for internet money from the lunatic left. Jim Geraghty thinks they are positioning Kerry for primary contests in 2008 where fringe groups have a disproportionate voice.

If the statements of leading Democrats are simply a matter of political calculation rather than temporary mental dissociation, we are facing a real emerging problem at the core of our current political system. The internet and campaign finance reform have empowered fringe elements of both parties and these groups increasingly drive the public dialogue. With regard to the danger of this I would point to my previous post on Robert Conquest who wrote:

Democracy cannot work without a fair level of political and social stability. This implies a certain amount of political apathy. Anything resembling fanaticism, a domination of the normal internal debate by "activists" is plainly to be deplored.


All the major troubles we have had in the last half century have been caused by people who have let politics become a mania.

Fun is fun, guys, but we really do need to sit back and look at what we are doing. When we allow internet silliness to drive the political debates and shape the positions of serious candidates we are threatening to disrupt the underlying consensus upon which our democracy depends. And clearly the fabric is fraying: witness the "win at any price" endless contesting of election results, the emergence of single issue candidates like Dean who refuse to fade away after the election, the entry into the fray of eccentric mega-billionaires on all sides, the Clintonian permanent campaign, the "war room" mentality of the campaigns themselves, the abandonment of even a pretense of objectivity by major media organizations, the rise of extremist rhetoric on talk radio, the list could go on and on. I sincerely hope that Mickey and Jim are wrong, because if they are right, then they are charting an important stage in the destabilization of American democracy.

Gay Lincoln, again and again and again

This is one of those themes that will never go away because people have an interest in keeping them going. Cathy Young of Reason Magazine, writing in the Boston Globe, has a nice piece on Tripp's book, its limitations, the public and professional responses to it, and the agendas that inform journalistic commentary on it. She is particularly hard on Andrew Sullivan, and justifiably so. This is one of those times when the academic professionals really shine. Their isolation from the mainstream of American life and their training provides them with the perspectives and habits of thought necessary to provide a useful corrective to the excesses of popular journalism. Read the piece here.

Conquest on Democracy

Robert Conquest, writing in The National Interest has an interesting cautionary piece on the strengths and limitations of democracy.

In it he makes several salient points, to wit:

That democracy is not the only, or inevitable, criterion of social progress is obvious. If free elections give power to a repression of consensuality, they are worse than useless.

"Democracy" is often given as the essential definition of Western political culture. At the same time, it is applied to other areas of the world in a formal and misleading way. So we are told to regard more or less uncritically the legitimacy of any regime in which a majority has thus won an election. But "democracy" did not develop or become viable in the West until quite a time after a law-and-liberty polity had emerged.

Regarding the different forms of democratic governments, he writes:

It seems that the main thing they share is not so much the institutions as the habits of mind, which are far more crucial, and, above all, the acceptance of the traditional rules of the political game."

Here's something that many bloggers should read and take to heart:

Democracy cannot work without a fair level of political and social stability. This implies a certain amount of political apathy. Anything resembling fanaticism, a domination of the normal internal debate by "activists" is plainly to be deplored. And democracy must accept anomalies.

And this too:

All the major troubles we have had in the last half century have been caused by people who have let politics become a mania.

And this:

Democracy is almost invariably criticized by revolutionaries for the blemishes found in any real example, as compared with the grand abstraction of the mere word. Real politics is full of what it would be charitable to call imperfections. And there are those who, often without knowing it, become apologists and finally accomplices of the closing of society

For those who champion international agreements embodying abstract principles:

[W]e...need to be careful about the signing of international treaties and the acceptance of international tribunals that appeal to a certain internationalist idealism, but one that needs to be carefully deployed. It is surely right to note that the acceptance of international obligations, and nowadays especially those affecting the policies, interests and traditional rights and powers of the states of established law and liberty, must be preceded by, at the least, negotiation that is careful, skeptical and unaffected by superficial generalities, however attractive at first sight. Permitting international bodies to intrude into the law-and-liberty countries also involves the institutionalization, on purely abstract grounds, of an as yet primitive apparat.

There's a great deal of wisdom here. Robert Conquest has spent most of his adult life studying the varieties of oppression and terror that have afflicted our modern age. Clearly he has learned some important and cogent lessons. Read the whole thing here.

For links to other writings by this important thinker go here.

One of the things that gives me hope about Bush's initiative is that he has consistently emphasized "freedom" as opposed to "democracy" and insisted that majority rule must be leavened with tolerance and pluralism.

keep on rollin'...

Now this is good to hear. Right now Bush is on a roll, establishing a democratic base upon which Muslims can build a safer and more prosperous world for themselves. If even a small agreement can emerge from these meetings, the cause will be advanced significantly. Go Condi!

The report is from VOA News.

Officials say Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plan to meet in two weeks for their first face to face talks since Mr. Abbas' election earlier this month.The meeting will coincide with a planned visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

News of the talks came Saturday, as Israeli and Palestinians security officials met to discuss the security situation. The Israelis and Palestinians have recently taken steps to try to revive the peace process. Israel stopped offensive operations in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinians deployed thousands of police in the territory to stop militants from firing rockets on Israelis. Mr. Abbas is also trying to get Israel and Palestinian militants to agree to a ceasefire.

Lileks revisited

Once again James Lileks hits it outta da park. Before the melancholy cynicism of the experts and the pundits and the political spinners descends once again on us, let us bask for a brief while in the glory of the moment. He writes:

I’m just glad I’m stupid enough to be hopeful. I’m glad I’m naive enough to suspect Iraqis actually wanted to vote. I’m very glad I’m not so aslosh with solipsistic hatred that any success in Iraq makes me trot out a cynical riposte so the rest of my buddies on Olympus will nod in wry assent. I’m glad that a picture of a mother holding her daughter to cast the ballot reminds me that this is number two in a series. All other things aside – which is a difficult thing to posit, I know – I’m glad to be on the side of holding elections. In the end I’m glad to be glad. And now I will go skip through the daisies and sing happy songs about bunnies, because I am obviously a fool. What was the cover story of the Village Voice I saw in the library today? “Bush’s plan to destroy the world.” Destroy it some more, George.

Read the whole thing here.

EU Stories: Life on the Dole

Now this is scary!

The Telegraph reports:

'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits'
By Clare Chapman(Filed: 30/01/2005)

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Many years ago (1977) the acclaimed German director Werner Hertzog made a film titled Stroszek in which prostitution stood as the mark of ultimate degradation. The story follows a prostitute and her boyfriend as they attempt to escape the misery of their lives on the streets of Berlin, where they were preyed upon by the criminal underworld, and to make a new one in America. They come to Wisconsin with high hopes that are gradually dashed as a ruthless and predatory capitalism reduces them inexorably to their former desperate state. The mark of their downfall is when the woman, desperate to make enough money to make ends meet, begins to service truckers at a truckstop.

Hertzog, a man of the left, was trying to make the point that capitalism is itself a form of criminality. Both the gangs and the businessmen were rapacious, predatory, and destructive of human dignity. As a lefty, his alternative was a benevolent, bureaucratic state. I wonder if today he would like to make a movie about the fate of this woman.


A celebrated Berlin prostitute has come out publicly in favor of government agencies channeling unemployed people into the sex trade.

"Why shouldn't they send the unemployed to work in the sex industry? Before it was a grey zone, but now employees are insured and receive benefits," [she] told Reuters. "People would no longer be unemployed and could earn themselves a living."

Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Exit strategery

Juan Williams on the Cavuto show just blamed the President for "not delivering" on an "exit strategy." As I have said before, I hope Bush does not have an exit strategy or that if he does he never admits to having one.

At the Turning of the Tide

Professor Reynolds over at Instapundit links to a lot of negative comments and bizarre conspiracy rants issuing from the bloggy left. These guys are irrelevant. History has long since passed them by. There's no point in even engaging them.

More problematic, though, is what seems to be shaping up as a Democrat theme in coming months -- defeatism. Kerry downplayed the importance of the vote, denied that it conferred any legitimacy on the interim government, predicted that Bush will screw up whatever small opportunities were presented, etc., etc., etc. Elsewhere some Democrat spokespersons are sounding a call for withdrawal. They are also moving the goalposts again -- this means nothing, they argue, unless there are real payoffs, in terms of Sunni full participation, in terms of more security, in terms of economic reconstruction, etc.

Nobody denies that there are problems down the road, and that there is a lot of hard and dangerous work to be done. But the problems cannot be overcome, the danger met, nor the tasks accomplished unless the American government remains committed to seeing this thing through to a successful conclusion. We need to recognize just how very much has been accomplished even as we note just how much remains to be done. The greatest danger we and the Iraqi people face is the Democrats' drumbeat of defeatism.

We know that Bush is in this for the long haul. So far, the Republican members of Congress, some of whom [especially Senators] were getting downright shaky, seem to be firming up in the wake of the elections. The theme from them and from responsible Democrats is that we have to knuckle down and get this thing done, and done right. Bush continues to have a working majority. The tide has turned in Iraq, and for the moment it is flowing in Bush's direction here at home. But we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from this great undertaking, nor allow the defeatists to undermine our resolve.

In November of 1863 the American nation faced just such a turning of the tide. A great victory had been won, Americans had died in great numbers, the opposition party was calling for an end to the violence, and a beleaguered president called upon the nation to stiffen its resolve. He asked his countrymen,

" be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

I'm not saying that Bush is Lincoln, nor that the dangers we face compare to those of the Civil War, but the message we must proclaim is the same. We cannot just withdraw, as we did in Vietnam and in the first Gulf War. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury, which we have indulged far too many times, of intervening abroad and then abandoning the cause leaving what Henry Kissinger called "bloody messes in our wake." We owe the Iraqi people more than that. We owe the world that. Most importantly we owe it to ourselves.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

On the FOX channel Democrat spinners are now starting to call for a troop withdrawal now that the elections are over [yes, I know this negates my earlier post]. Let's hope that they don't get much traction with this. We abandoned the Iraqi people once; let's not do it again. This is our chance to redeem the mistakes of the first Bush administration. Let's not lose it.

Meanwhile John Kerry on Meet the Press declared that the election did not confer legitimacy on the process because lots of Sunnis did not vote. That is just sad!

Historians, historians

In an earlier post I opined that over the past few decades academic historians have become more and more divorced from reality. Professor Juan Cole proves my point. His obsessive focus on violence causes him to miss the real meaning of what happened in Iraq. I would hope that other commentary from within the profession would take a more balanced view of the world, but probably not. Check him out here.

And let's not forget

Brian Wilson has just talked about the larger context -- the appearance of real progress in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict taking place in conjunction with the Iraqi elections. This, we must remember, was the larger goal of the Iraqi intervention -- to create a new dynamic throughout the Middle East. Here's hoping that what was set in motion today in Iraq will have a profound effect elsewhere.


If you haven't done so already, go to Iraq the Model and read his account of voting. He's doing the happy dance. "The People have Won!"


The general shape of what has happened in Iraq is now clear. A substantial majority of Iraqis turned out and voted -- somewhat less in the Sunni areas that have been worst hit by terrorism. This in itself is a considerable triumph. The sheer joy expressed by the Iraqi people is wonderful to see. This was a truly remarkable day. What is particularly important is that everyone on all sides recognizes that there is a long, hard, dangerous road ahead. And this, I argue, is crucial for the success of democracy.

One Iraqi interviewed on CNN put it perfectly. He said "the road to democracy cannot be strewn with roses, it must be covered with blood." The very real and tangible sacrifices of the Iraqis who voted, their courage and determination, their palpable joy, and the failure of the terrorists to abort the election process have ratified the democratic process far more than any international resolutions could ever have done. The Iraqi nation has spoken, and they have chosen democracy.

The Iraqis have done their job, the "fingers of freedom" have been raised -- now it is up to the American Congress and the international "community." The only things that can stop Iraqi democratization now are a failure of will on the part of the United States, or cynical deal cutting with ethnic groups by members [we all know which ones] of the international "community."

I am happy to see the spin shifting before our eyes. Democrats, who in the runup to the election were declaring the Iraq intervention an unmitigated disaster and calling for an early troop pullout, have changed their tune. All through the early hours of voting they and their media representatives kept emphasizing the extent of the violence and sounding a pessimistic tone, but as the elections proceeded the spin began to shift. Now Democrat spokespeople are playing down the importance of the elections and emphasizing the hard road that faces us. They have set a trap for themselves. In their reluctance to admit any success for the Bush team, they have publicly committed themselves for remaining in Iraq for the long haul.

Condi is glowing, as well she should. This is a great start for her tenure at State. Bush speaks this afternoon. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say. Unfortunately, many on the right are being triumphalist. That is understandable, but we must not lose sight of the problems ahead. Determination, not exuberance, is what is called for here on our part. This is a victory for the Iraqi people. Let them do the happy dances. They've earned it.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Election coverage

Fox News [MSNBC, too] keeps showing pictures of an empty polling site in Baghdad. Tony Snow admits that voting is "a little slow right now." From the pictures, it is nonexistent. Opinion is divided so far. One side argues that this is just a tiny beginning to a long, drawn-out, difficult and dangerous process and we should not make too much of it. The other side holds that just the fact that an election is being held means that the victory has already been won, that the images projected throughout the Middle East from Iraq will transform the region. My sense is that both views contain some elements of truth. Today something profound is taking place that will have ramifications throughout the Arab world, but that progress will be slow, dangerous, and difficult. The greatest fear I have right now is that after the election public support for our efforts will decline and we will reprise our abandonment of Vietnam.

UPDATE: It is now midnight. A small number of people have filtered into the main polling station. Some of them appear to be voters, but some also seem to be election officials and members of the media. Most of the people who appear on screen are well-dressed and wearing western clothing. Tony Snow observes that right now Iraq is still cold and dark.

12:05 MSNBC is now showing some voter activity at the Baghdad polling center. The first woman I have seen yet just came in to vote. They report that voting is taking place around the country.

They show a polling station in Ramadi. In the first hour only eleven people voted, all members of the security forces. The same story seems to be taking place at stations throughout the Sunni regions. Only one civilian voter has shown up in Ramadi so far.

12:20 Reuters is reporting an explosion and casualties at a polling place in West Baghdad.

12:33 -- update: Reuters reports that the explosion was a suicide car bomber. MSNBC mentions other explosions about eight in less than an hour. They don't have any specific information, but clearly combat is taking place in the western part of Baghdad.

12:45 -- the firefight seems to have ended, for now. It's at times like this when you begin to appreciate the discrepency between Fox News and the major networks. NBC has the resources to blanket the story -- Fox doesn't. MSNBC keeps cutting to correspondents in several locations and is giving us an overview of what is going on. Fox is interviewing Jesse Jackson [Jesse Jackson?!].

12:50 -- CNN shows long lines in Sadr City, a Shia area of Baghdad. The vote is heavy there. They say that turnout has been light in the Sunni areas, though. CNN has Fox's problem: not enough boots on the ground. They've been going with a lot of canned stories. Right now it's women in Iraq.

12:55 MSNBC reports explosions in Basra. Scarborough is doing a good job as anchor. Right now he has Flavia, the Democratic mouthpiece from Pennsylvania, on. She's moving the goalposts again. She says, even if there is a strong turnout it doesn't matter. To have "success" you have to have heavy turnout by even disaffected groups. I get so sick and tired of the endless spinning.

1:00 -- Geraldo is waxing enthusiastic. He's reporting heavy turnout where he is [in a mixed Shia/Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad near Fallujah with lots of joy and excitement. He says it feels like the early days of the civil rights movement. Geraldo is about to burst. He's overcome with emotion. Now he's interviewing Chalabi [Chalabi?!]. Geraldo is talking about spontaneous anti-terror demonstrations emerging at various places. He notes that there are explosions, but "that's not the news". CNN is much more downbeat. They are still talking about the west Baghdad bombing. They describe an "increased trickle" of people arriving at the voting sites.

1:10 -- Shep Smith at Fox says that there were two major explosions, both suicide bombers. One at a school in the Mansur districts leveled a checkpoint. A second one in the south destroyed the polling station. Neither resulted in civilian deaths. A dud rocket landed in Salil Square. Another went into the Tigris. He also says that American troops are away from the polling places which are guarded by Iraqi security forces.

1:15 -- CNN shows peaceful heavy polling in the Kurdish regions. Mostly women are voting early while men stand guard. The two major Kurdish parties have formed a joint candidate list. Screen shows long lines of women waiting to vote with snipers on the roof of the polling station. MSNBC is riding the bomb story hard. They report an explosion in Basra that killed a policeman. Their answer suggests that the violence seems to be escalating, but their man on site disputes this. CNN headline is wasting time talking about Clinton in Davos.

1:22 -- MSNBC military expert tells us that the security arrangements have kept the terrorists from massing or bringing heavy weapons to bear. They are using small arms, mortars, and RPG's. These create a lot of noise but do little damage. He also says that the efforts will be concentrated in Mosul and Baghdad, because that's where the TV coverage is heaviest. CNN is reporting from a polling station in Syria. They report low turnout; say that refugees are reluctant to register because they don't want to give up personal information to the government. FOX [Geraldo] is talking about how participation by women represents a breaking free from the past. They are voting for themselves, not how their government or their husbands tell them. The elections are "competitive, contested, and free."

1:30 CNN is reporting from north of Baghdad [Baquba]. The anchor says that things were chaotic, but now there are celebrating Iraqis waiting to vote. The reporter says that the majority Sunnis are coming out to vote. There is a lot of noise from the voters. Their exuberant singing drowns out the reporter. The anchor [a Brit] keeps coming back to the subject of violence, but doesn't get a satisfactory response. Now they go to Baghdad. The anchors start off by saying that the happiness on display in Baquba is not there in Baghdad and that violence is rife. Their reporter is running down the list of violent incidents in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul.

1:45 Allawi is voting in Baghdad. MSNBC points out that it was at a very secure location inside the Green Zone. CNN is talking about how the Kurds are mass voting to boost their presence in the national government.

1:53 Back from the bathroom, heated up a cup of Chai, ready for some heavy bloggery. Gotta admire Geraldo. He's a mess and gets into a lot of trouble, and you can't always trust his reporting, but he's the only reporter today who seems to be catching the enthusiasm abroad in Iraq. CNN is definitely trying to put the worst possible spin on things, even when the pictures on the screen show otherwise. They harp on and on about violence while the screen shows happy Iraqis singing and dancing. Geraldo's the other side. He admits the violence but again and again returns to the upbeat mood of the people he covers. MSNBC seems to be trying to split the middle. FOX's budget problems are showing. They keep interviewing their stable of talking heads and have few reports from the field. Having Geraldo anchor from the field is an attempt to make up for their lack of funds and personnel. It's a nice try, but the thinness of coverage shows.

2:00 -- MSNBC reports steady and increasing lines of voters in many areas, despite the continuing violence. These are a cross section of the population. CNN keeps on the violence theme. FOX is following the MSNBC line. There is continuing violence but it is not affecting the vote significantly. They are projecting a level of participation similar to that achieved in the US elections last year. Geraldo is on a high with a smile as wide as the Euphrates. Damnit I'm starting to like the guy. "A nation a'borning"-- nice phrase. Describes people turning out in droves to vote and how happy they were. He calls them heroes.

2:06 -- CNN is back among the Kurds. Huge turnouts. The screen shows people lined up and being checked before going in to vote. The reporter keeps talking about their determination to
"prevent the past" [to have enough power in the new government to be able to protect themselves.] Lots of anti-Arab sentiment. Missed the MSNBC feed.

2:11 -- FOX reports a steady flow of voters in Mosul. This is one of the places MSNBC has highlighted as a potential hotspot. There are some mortars falling from time to time, but the level of voting is rising. Fox reports a possible suicide bombing in Baghdad. MSNBC military analysts say that the violence has been ineffective. Rising turnout is a good indicator. If the "insurgents" don't do something soon, they will have lost. MSNBC is getting optimistic, FOX is exuberant, CNN is still wary, though.

2:15 -- FOX is reporting two suicide bombers in Baghdad, but the information is still sketchy. CNN is back in Baquba. The anchors describe the situation as "mixed." The reporter on the scene is more positive, though. The situation is chaotic and people seem to be making up the rules as they go. But she says, despite all the problems, "things are coming together." The picture shows women, old men, families pressing in to vote, smiles on their faces. It is very loud, and very chaotic, but also very happy.

2:25 -- FOX is proclaiming a "success" and "heavy turnout." MSNBC is moving on, now predicting that even a successful election in Iraq will have little regional effect. This, more than anything else, makes me think that FOX's assessment is right. MSNBC's eagerness to bury the story and to talk about future perils shows that they, too, see a success taking place. MSNBC's position seems to be that instability throughout the region threatens to produce ultimate victory for the Islamists. CNN goes to a press conference with the chairman of the election commission. No news here. The questions from the Arab press are all about the reluctance of people to vote and "security incidents."

2:35 -- FOX is reviewing the situation and is almost triumphal. There are scattered incidents of violence, but the insurgent attacks are not having much effect. They are not inspiring terror, they are not suppressing voting, the public mood in Iraq is optimistic. They are saying Zarqawi "needs to get a new job." He's losing. Of course, the day isn't over yet. What is being revealed here is the weakness, not the strength, of the "insurgency."

Just a thought: we are seeing the rising of the "Arab Street" and they are voting, not attacking.

Just checked the comments. A BIG THANKS TO THE GUYS AT TVNEWSER.COM FOR THE LINK! For ongoing reports on the media visit them here.

2:45 CNN is still on the violence kick. They roundup the press conference saying that officials are optimistic, "despite the continuing violence." They are interviewing the Mayor of Baghdad. They are harping on how risky it is to vote. He doesn't take the bait. He says that a vote is a vote for a secure country, for freedom, for dignity. The anchor immediately goes back on track saying that there are many reports of violence and won't that discouraage people from voting? He says no! The anchors are clearly unhappy with him. They cut off and go to a field report on violence. They are becoming Johnny One Note. CNN seems to be working overtime to try to report bad news. Their Headline News is back to talking about Clinton at Davos.

2:54 FOX reports a third suicide bomber. This might be the person with Downs Syndrome that was reported a few minutes ago on CNN who detonated himself outside a checkpoint.

MSNBC has Will Femia on talking about the bloggers' contribution. His point is that bloggers can give us a view into people's real live that the networks can't get. He is now a regular "contributor" and will be on again later today. Kudos to MSNBC for taking bloggers seriously.

3:00 MSNBC starts with with a litany of violence. Says voting is "mixed" depending on where you are. CNN has Christiane Amanpour on. She says voters are telling her they're not afraid. The anchor probes: but what does their "body language" tells you, anything different? She say's no, these people are determined. Now she's gone and they are back to a bomb by bomb account of the violence. Over at FOX Shep is reporting heavy turnout. The "big news" picture is that things "are going extremely well." "The headline is that things are going really well." Some of the polling places have had such heavy turnout that they have had to order more ballots. CNN is back in Baquba, the joyous chaos continues there. Lots of Shia women are showing up to vote. Lots of smiles and happiness. The anchor wants to know if any Sunnis are showing up. They are. They went to Baghdad to get special dispensation from the clerics to be allowed to vote. The trouble is that there are few Sunnis on the ballot. Despite the upbeat report, the anchors say that they'll be back to Baquba later to talk more about "the problems going on there."

The lineup is very clear. CNN refuses to admit anything but problems; FOX refuses to see any problems; MSNBC is trying to discuss both. All three are now talking with voters outside Iraq. Time for another bathroom break.

3:15 MSNBC is reporting from Kirkuk, where the Kurds are partying hearty. The local reporter is almost as overcome as Geraldo was to see the happyness. The anchor signs off saying that the report of happiness was unusual. The other anchor says to come back for more on the violence. FOX reports a couple more bombings, but then says this is nothing that the Iraqis had not anticipated and that it isn't having much effect. Their talking head expert is giving the Iraqis most of the credit for how smoothly things are going. This is an important point -- to emphasize that this is not a gift of the US forces, but something that Iraqis are fighting and dying for. CNN, "Iraqis are making a real statement today." MSNBC is still moving on, relentless negativity from Juliet Kayyem about the future; questioning whether the elections will confer legitimacy on the government. They are projecting about 50% turnout and say that this is "abysmal" compared to other recently liberated countries. The Sunnis will be causing problems for a long time. CNN the election is going on against "a background of fear and hope."

Here's the question: how is the public to judge what is going on in the world when the sources of information are so widely divergent?

Interesting point about MSNBC: Their civilian experts are downbeat, their military experts are optimistic.

Well guys, I'm beat! Gonna pack it in for a while. But I'll be back later today.

Damn, just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in. 3:55 am, MSNBC has Will Femia on again trying to teach the anchor how to access blogs. It looks as though he'll be coming back regularly all through the day.

What's wrong with this story?

For you Dave Barry fans out there:

In Ottawa, Canada, a man successfully appealed a conviction for indecency that resulted when he masturbated, fully illuminated in his living room, in front of a window. The act was clearly visible to his neighbors and their two young daughters. The complaining neighbors watched his performance from their darkened bedroom for ten or fifteen minutes, using binoculars and a telescope, before complaining to police. The appeals judge ruled that the man's conviction should be overturned because his home was not a public place and it could not be shown that he intended to give offense.

Forgot to post a link. Sorry, here it is.

Ready, set, go!

Voting has begun in Iraq. A new world is dawning for the Iraqi people, pregnant with peril and possibilities [easy on the alliteration --ed. OK, OK]. I'm going to be watching and blogging for the next several hours.

Happy day for the sociobiologists

Robert Roy Britt, writing in Live Science, reports on a series of experiments establishing that monkeys will pay [forfeit rewards] to see monkey porn and pictures of high status monkeys with which they were previously unaquainted. At the same time they had to be paid [granted extra rewards] to view pictures of low-status monkeys. The money quote from the researchers running the experiments is:

At the moment, it's only a tantalizing possibility, but we believe that similar processes are at work in these monkeys and in people," Platt said. "After all, the same kinds of social conditions have been important in primate evolution for both nonhuman primates and humans.

A full account is forthcoming in the March issue of Current Biology.

More Iraqi Bloggery 2

Jeff Jarvis over at Buzzmachine posts links to several Iraqi bloggers. The ebullience and excitement that most of them feel is amazing and infectious. Check them out! Catch the fever!


From Mohammed at Iraq the Model:

"On Sunday, the sun will rise on the land of Mesopotamia. I can't wait, the dream is becoming true and I will stand in front of the box to put my heart in it."

Here's hoping!

Kurdish Bloggery

For a Kurdish perspective on the upcoming elections see Kurdo's World. This site contains lots of photos and links to other Kurdish sites. Verrrrrrry interesting! Check it out.

Friday, January 28, 2005

And another thing...

Just to show that spectacularly idiotic statements are not solely the precinct of the left I give you Katherine Mangu-Ward over at the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard who writes "thank goodness" that tens of thousands of people perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The reason? "[T]he story of the buried city of Pompeii has long fueled the imaginations and writings of those who know of it." I am reminded of Lionel Trilling's horrifying observation that, when viewed from a sufficient distance, "the corpses and hacked limbs are not so very terrible, and eventually they even begin to compose themselves into a 'meaningful pattern.'"

Gotta go,

Penn is playing Yale at the Palestra, buh bye for a while.


It wasn't close: Penn won 65-41. Next up, Brown.

The Academic Left

Professor Reynolds over at Instapundit is all over the story of Ward Churchill's rant. He calls it "hate-filled stupidity;" he's right. It is amazing that somebody as unbalanced as this could hold a responsible administrative position at an accredited institition. Follow the links.

A few days ago one of my readers wrote, in response to my discussions of Eric Hobsbawm and the French film community, urging me to go easy on the academic and artistic left. I'm trying, but guys like this make it hard.


Dennis the Peasant nails this Che wannabe perfectly. Check him out here.


Professor Churchill has resigned his position as Chair of the Ethnic Studies program at CU, but retains his tenured professorship. Read about it here.

Development Revisited

John Gravois, over at Slate, has a fascinating article on attempts to apply the development theories of Peruvian economist, Hernando DeSoto. He characterizes the results as ranging from "ineffective" to "downright harmful." Gravois is right to be suspicious of any program upon which the left and the right can so enthusiastically agree as they have DeSoto's ideas, but I am equally suspicious of revisionist journalism based on a few anecdotes such as this. It would be nice to have a broadly based systematic assessment of the success or failure of DeSoto's theories and those of other land-management economists when applied to the real world. Do any of my readers know of such a survey? If so, drop me an e-mail at

It's a Weird World After All

Now that Dave Barry's retiring, somebody's gotta pick up the slack:

This just in from CNN:

Massive cow manure mound burns for third month

Read about it here.

And from Ananova:

Man peed way out of avalanche

Check it out here [I said some of these stories are inspiring].

More Iraq Bloggery

From the Iraqi perspective, check out the commentary at

For a view from the front lines: The Mudville Gazette is a good source and also lists links to other military bloggers in Iraq. Scroll down and check them out. What you will find are fascinating, and often inspiring, accounts of what is going on out there.

Just a taste. Here's a post from BC of I Should Have Stayed at Home. He titles it "Lunchtime with Heroes."

Just got back from lunch with the family mentioned in one of TJ's posts below. One of their sons was shot by a sniper while guarding a checkpoint last week. He's well on the road to recovery now, having been shot in the clavicle and released from the hospital within 24 hours. What I never mentioned after that happened, and what amazes me still today, is what I saw later that night. I dropped by their shop again after visiting the son in the hospital. The tears were not yet dry in the mother's eyes. The father was stoic, greeting me as if nothing had happened. Another young son was playing a computer game, shooting bad guys from a water tower with, get this, a sniper rifle.And amidst all this, yet another 20-something son was putting on his body armor, tactical gear, and Kevlar helmet. As he slipped a magazine into his rifle, I asked him where he was off to."Work!" He smiled and headed for the door. When I asked him where, he named the checkpoint to which he was assigned for duty that night. I looked around the room to make sure it wasn't a joke. It wasn't.Only hours after his brother was shot at a checkpoint by an unseen terrorist, this young Iraqi soldier marched proudly out the door to man the exact same checkpoint for the rest of the night.

This is not just rah rah stuff. Some of the things they describe remind me of the mickey mouse crap we had to put up with when I served back in the Sixties. The military may have changed a lot since then, but at the most basic level, it's still the military.

Academic Follies

Ethnic Warfare at San Francisco State: [hat tip to David Cohen and the Brothers Judd]

SFWeekly details the trials and tribulations of the dean of SF State's "College of Ethnic Studies," another 60's era experiment that has not worked out well. The article concludes: "Perhaps it's time to do something else."That depends, of course, on what the "something else" is. Despite the widespread and persistent abuse of the concept, I still feel that there is a place in academia for serious ethnic studies. Read the whole thing here.

David Cohen posts at, one of the most interesting group blogs going. It is well worth a visit. Much of the writing is from a conservative Christian perspective, but intelligently so. Liberals, secularists and religious non-Christians will find much to interest them here. Check it out.

Voting fever takes hold of a people finally free to choose

The Times of London reports:

Notwithstanding insurgent terror aimed at wrecking the polls, there is finally a palpable sense in Baghdad, and other Iraqi cities, that the country is entering a new era.

Read the whole thing here.

Iraq Election Reports

For on-site [as opposed to sitting inside the Green Zone as the MSM does] reports on the runup to the Iraq elections go here, and here, and here. Jeff Jarvis posts links to a number of Middle East blogs [just scroll down the page]. MEMRITV is monitoring Iraqi TV spots. Some of them are amusing, others horrifying.

Yet another small step...

Tim Blair, at his new site, reports that absentee balloting for the Iraq elections has begun in Australia.

Light blogging today

She [who shall not be named] and I went to the movies with a friend today. I finally got to see House of Flying Daggers. It was about what I expected. Zhang Yimou has always had a strong visual sense and it is very much, perhaps too much, on display here.

Now that he has found his metier in Wu Xia films, Mr Zhang has produced some of the most visually stunning work in moviedom. There are sequences in his 2002 film, Hero, that are as good as anything you will see anywhere. The same can be said for parts of House of Flying Daggers. The "Echo Game" sequence is a masterpiece of kinetic artistry and shows off the athletic skills and exquisite beauty of Zhang Xiyi quite well. There are some wonderful forest scenes, too, especially some that were filmed in the birch woods of Ukraine. Unfortunately these are a few high points in a generally unsatisfactory movie.

Often the problem is that Mr. Zhang goes too far with his techniques. In particular, he tends to oversaturate the colors in some of his outdoor scenes. She [who shall not be named] said that the color schemes gave her a headache. I can understand why. At times the colors on screen reminded me of those in Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come, which did give me a headache. Zhang also tends to over-use several special effects that were startling when first presented several years ago, but which have now become cliches. I should also mention the camerawork, which is magnificent throughout, and the choreography of the obligatory fight scenes, which is quite good, especially in the climactic battle.

The plot is a mess -- more twists and turns than a season of "24" and you can see them coming a mile away. The acting is merely adequate. And, ultimately, I have the same problem with this film as I have had with much of Mr. Zhang's earlier work. He is part of an authoritarian system that glorifies hierarchy, the power of the state, and submission to authority. These values, for which I have no great sympathy, are reflected in his work.

SPOILERS! In Hero the individual, no matter how heroic or righteous or admirable [yes, even if he is Jet Li!!!], must be sacrificed to the interests of the state, no matter how unjust its demands. Here in House of Flying Daggers each of the three main characters is forced to choose between love and duty. Each of them in turn betrays their master's orders for the sake of love (or desire) and each of them must therefore die. Just as in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the message is that following your own heart and asserting your individuality brings chaos and destruction.

Yet there might be a subtle counter-message here. In Zhang's Raise the Red Lantern the lesson is that uppity women are to be disciplined and their spirit broken. But this overt message could also be seen as a critique of the pre-communist "feudal" society within which the story is set. There is a similar interpretive duality in Daggers and in Hero. In both films the dramatic tension and emotionally involving portions of the story are scenes in which the characters throw off the constraints of authority and follow their hearts. The overt message of submission is thus subverted by the emotional rhythms of the film. Is Zhang subtly undermining the official line he has to take in order to gain the cooperation of the Chinese government? I would like to think so, but can't be sure.

Finally, the film is a potpourri of influences. One can see echoes of the work of Akira Kurosawa, Ang Lee, Andrei Tarkovsky, Kevin Reynolds, the Wachowski Brothers, David Lean and others. It's cheap fun, but picking out influences is one of the minor frissons of being a film scholar [of sorts]. I just can't help myself.

Another small step for mankind

Daniel Drezner links to an encouraging report out of Brazil. Another leftist icon, Lula da Silva, comes to terms with the real world and his supporters aren't very happy about it. The context is the World Social Forum, sort of an anti-Davos meeting, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. For more on Lula and the WSF read Samuel Lowenberg's account in Slate.


Yet another liberal icon proves a bit disappointing to "progressives." Barak Obama voted to confirm Condi and the left is unhappy. Read about it here.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Future of Bloggery

As a useful corrective to the optimism of bloggy zealots [that's right, I'm talkin' to you -- you know who you are] read Jack Shafer's Blog Overkill article in the current edition of Slate. He, like I, has seen too many "waves of the future" swell and recede to take the more extravagent pretensions of the bloggerati seriously. He also includes lots of links to other commentary that will give you a good idea of the dimensions of the discourse. Read it here.

Good News from the UN

Now this is excellent!

The United Nations has issued an upbeat assessment of the world economy, noting that growth in developing countries is at its fastest pace in more than two decades.

Read about it here.

The Shakeup Continues

Doug Feith, Rummy's top policy advisor, has just resigned his position. I wonder what that portends?

As I noted before, I'm starting to feel like one of those old Cold War Kremlinologists.

History as Tragedy

In today's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan musters a defense of her earlier critical column on Bush's second inaugural address. In essence she argues that Bush is over-reaching in a time of peril; that he should be content to see through the agenda he has already undertaken. To undertake more would imperil his already considerable accomplishments. Underlying this is a tragic view of history.

She writes:

Here is an unhappy fact: Certain authoritarians and tyrants whose leadership is illegitimate and unjust have functioned in history as --ugly imagery coming--garbage-can lids on their societies. They keep freedom from entering, it is true. But when they are removed, the garbage--the freelance terrorists, the grievance merchants, the ethnic nationalists--pops out all over. Yes, freedom is good and to be strived for. But cleaning up the garbage is not pretty. And it sometimes leaves the neighborhood in an even bigger mess than it had been.

Am I saying we shouldn't support freedom then?

Hardly. But we should remember as we do it that history, while full of opportunity, is also a long tale of woe. And human vanity--not only that of others, but our own--only complicates our endeavors.

Such warnings have long been a staple of Cold War foreign policy "realists" and of the left-wing "declinists" who emerged in the wake of Vietnam, but Peggy Noonan is neither of these. She is a prominent figure on the right, the "religious right" at that, and mort importantly she was a spokesperson for the "Reagan Revolution" that, if nothing else, was notable for its optimism. Why then the pessimism?

Noonan's pessimism is rooted in a sense that the world is spinning out of control. The freedom that George Bush exalts terrifies her. Bush argues an almost Hegelian, [perhaps "Fukuyaman" would be a better term] optimism that freedom will bring progress and ultimate peace. Many commentators on the left have disputed that position, arguing that development must come first and must be managed before political freedom can be considered. But Noonan's concern is not that. She manifests a very Catholic sense of the limits of human endeavor unaided by supernatural agency. And, she like many other religious people, is not at all comfortable with the excesses of western materialism. In a telling example she cites approvingly the Pope's disappointment with the outcome of the Polish revolution. She writes:

Pope John Paul II helped free his beloved Poland from the Soviet yoke. But when he looked at Poland some years after its freedom was won, he wondered if many of his kinsman had not chosen a kind of existential enslavement to Western materialism. He wondered if his people were not in some ways less free. It wasn't a stupid question. It was at the heart of life.

Peggy Noonan's apprehensions, and those of the Pope, are much the same as those animating the Islamic jihadists: a sense that the spread of western freedom, western capitalism, and westernized bourgeois culture, threatens religious values that lay "at the heart of life." Her words serve to remind us that opinions on the Iraq war are not just a matter of Republican versus Democrat, or left versus right, or even Christian vs Muslim. The issues involved transcend those tired old disputes. We are in a time of transformation comparable to those of the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. the future is unsettled and obscure and into it people are reading the hopes and fears that lay closest to their hearts. The real dispute is between those who embrace the unknown future and those who fear it.

Blogging through History

Kevin Maney, writing in USA Today, makes an interesting historical point regarding blogging. Blogs allow people outside the establishment media to have a voice and to reach an audience, however small. That in itself has a major impact, reshaping the bounds of discourse within the society, forcing established institutions to react to new ideas, etc.

This is not the first time such things have happened. Maney points to the early stages of the Protestant Reformation, when reformers such as Martin Luther were able to take advantage of a new technology, the printing press, to disseminate their ideas widely. He notes that new low-cost methods of producing and distributing pamphlets in the eighteenth century led to another proliferation of ideas, and some revolutionary attacks on established institutions, as in the case of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. In the twentieth century pamphleteers like George Orwell had a major impact. So has Brian Lamb, who took advantage of the emergence of cable TV to create c-span. Maney calls Lamb the "first video blogger." Today, internet bloggers have brought about important changes in the way news is collected, processed and distributed.

Maney sees a long historical process in all of this. He writes:

That's all very much part of the sweep of history. The cost of producing, distributing and managing information has steadily fallen — and will keep falling. Traditional barriers to entry disappear. Newcomers stick their noses in. Existing media have to adjust by playing the new game (traditional media outlets starting Web sites) and/or creating high-end products that offer something the "amateurs" can't touch.

This of course is simply another example of a principle familiar to economists and business historians: "monopoly invites competition." It is altogether healthy and normal and takes place in many areas other than information services. It is part of the way the world works.

Blogging may not be unprecedented, but it is important. And it might well be revolutionary, a point that Maney acknowledges when he asks "Who among bloggers is another Thomas Paine?"

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Environmental Impact of Humans

From Australia, more evidence suggesting that early man had a profound effect on the environment -- long before the impact of the industrial revolution, consumerism, capitalism or any of the other usual bugaboos. Of course, this, like so much in enviromental studies, is merely inference from meagre evidence.

Read about it here.

And One More Thing.....,

There has been much discussion regarding the “snubbing” of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ in the nominations for this year’s Oscars. Because of my background as a “film scholar” (of sorts) I have received several queries on the matter. Here’s my answer for all of you: “I just don’t care!” The endless round of awards ceremonies and tributes are essentially marketing tools to gin up interest in the industry’s products. The hype and controversy over “who is in and who is out” is just another aspect of the marketing enterprise. Gibson’s exclusion has generated more publicity than he could ever have gotten by being nominated. There’s really not much more to be said, unless you want to get into the "culture wars" discussion, which in itself is just a form of political marketing.


MSNBC [well they have to fill the time somehow] devoted an entire hour tonight to discussing Gibson and Moores' snubs. I missed nearly all of it but tuned in late in the show to hear Jeff Jarvis tell Pat Buchanan that Birth of a Nation was just "a bad movie," because of its racism. Jarvis knows better. In a former life he wrote a review column for TV Guide. Now he is a big name blogger and occasional commentator for cable TV [as opposed to yours truly who is a miniscule blogger commenting on a cable commentator -- yes, I do have a certain degree of self-awareness]. Griffith's epic was a landmark event in the development of the American movie industry. It was technically innovative and significantly advanced the state of the art; it opened new markets for the industry's products; it shaped the form of American movies for a generation; it had political impact at the time just as striking as those of Mel and Moore's efforts today; it stirred a national discussion on race relations; it was the first American film shown at the White House [Quo Vadis, an Italian production, had been the first film shown there -- Woodrow Wilson had a taste for epic productions -- witness his crusade to "make the world safe for democracy"]. I could go on and on, but the point is clear. Birth of a Nation was far more than a "bad movie."

By the way, a piece of movie trivia: one of the extras playing a Ku Klux Klansman in the film was young John Feeney. He changed his name and grew up to become John Ford, a director whose impact was comparable to that of D. W. Griffith.


Spent most of the day traveling to a meeting and then back to the harbor with a short stopover at the hill. No time or opportunity for blogging or much of anything else until now. There are many things to say. I had some fascinating conversations that I have to think about, but I'm just too tired to do so now.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Human Sacrifice, Cannibalism, Read All About It!!!

Once left-wing and ethnic activists promoted an image of Native American peoples as peaceful folk, living in harmony with each other and the environment in an unspoiled paradise until both the people and their lands were despoiled by white imperialist invaders. This view, which was eagerly embraced by popular culture in the sixties and seventies, runs counter to an enormous body of evidence, and the romantic idealists who promoted it have been forced into grudging retreat.

One particularly sensitive area of dispute has concerned numerous reports of human sacrifice and cannibalism in pre-Columbian meso-America and elsewhere. At first this was denied as an imperialist invention to justify the oppression of native peoples. But as evidence mounted not only of the existence, but also the widespread practice, of mass human sacrifice and cannibalism, activists have had to retreat farther and farther from their earlier assertions.

The current fall-back position seems to be that, although human sacrifices and some ritual cannibalism undisputedly took place, they were far less prevalent than was reported by Spanish imperialists. Even native accounts are said to have been produced at the direction of European conquerors to justify the enslavement of native peoples. The current debate, one scholar says, has bevome "a question of quantity." There is also an attempt to meliorate the horror of the ritual practices by arguing that those who were killed, many of whom were children supposedly chosen because of their "purity," were not victims but honorees who gladly went to their deaths.
And so it goes..., sigh!

Read a popular summary of recent findings here.

Hail to the Chief

Over at Slate Andy Bowers has a nice little piece on how "Hail to the Chief" became the "official presidential theme song." What I find interesting is the role played by Presidential wives in shaping the ceremonial aspects of the office. Read the whole thing here.

Historians and "The Speech": part three

Not content with analyzing the text of Bush's Second Inaugural address and the positions he advanced in it, Ira Chernus over at History News Network is now reading "between the lines" and expounding on things that may or may not have been implied in the speech. He discerns "code words" and "subtle signals" that convey secret messages to Bush's real audience -- not the nations of the world or the citizens of the republic, but the "religious right" -- and proclaim a "divinely inspired national mission" despite the President's specific assertion that God's plan is unknowable and therefore cannot dictate policy.

There is a wonderful interpretive freedom to be found in such an exercise, but I fear that Professor Chernus has crossed over into the realm of fantasy fiction.

Such is the state of the profession that assertions such as Professor Chernus' are common.


Goodbye Bill, We're Gonna Miss You

William Safire, always the voice of reason and wisdom at the increasingly eccentric New York Times, departs gracefully today. The level of public discourse will suffer for his absence.

Read his farewell column here.

Read Safire's "Rules for Writers" here.

Read Safire's advice on "How to Read a Column" here.

Somehow I Can't get Excited About This

Muslims returning from a conference in Toronto are fingerprinted and photographed at the border. They wax indignant and fear that other Muslims returning from the hajj might be targeted by the government for [gasp!] further fingerprinting or photography. The horror, the horror!

Read about it here.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


The latest New Yorker contains a nice extended review by Jim Holt of Martin Brookes' biography of Francis Galton, one of the most influential, and to my mind repulsive, intellectual figures of the nineteenth century. The moral implications of this man's life and work are staggering.

View from the Frozen Harbor

If you look closely you can see clumps of ring-billed gulls huddled together on top of the ice in front of the Aquarium. Posted by Hello

Exit Strategy

Mark Steyn nails it again. I have long felt that this blathering about an "exit strategy" in Iraq was dangerous nonsense. I would certainly hope that President Bush does not have an exit strategy or if he does that he would never admit to having one. Read the article here.

The Mexico reference is a bit unfortunate, though. Black Jack never did catch Pancho Villa.

The misappropriation of terminology

Chris Stringer over in London postulates, on the basis of almost no hard evidence, that Britain 400,000 years ago was "multi-cultural" and the scene of a prehistoric "arms race" between "two different species" [Heidelberg Man and Neanderthal Man] of early humans distinguishable in the material record by their differing technology. One "species" used hand axes, the other did not. He speculates that these two human species "slugged it out for conquest" of Britain with the victory going to the Neanderthals. The fate of the losers..., extinction. Something's wrong here. The terminology is completely inappropriate. Either Stringer has lost it or the reporter is entirely incompetent. I suspect the latter. Read the article here.

Historians and "The Speech": part two

The dyspeptic and frankly delusional Eric Hobsbawm does not like what he thinks he heard President Bush say. He writes, in the Guardian, that Bush and his supporters are engaged in the “dangerous” and “quixotic” attempt to [get this!] “spread democracy.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Many of Hobsbawm’s favorite “primitive rebels” were, after all, democratic levelers. What seems to irk this ancient apologist for Stalinism is that it is Americans, and in particular George Bush, who are engaged in doing so.

You see, Bush’s democracy is particular kind of democracy – a bourgeois concoction that seems to distress Hobsbawm. He had no objection to the "people's democracies" established by communist dictators in years past, but this is something else -- liberal democracy. He calls it “standardized (Western) democracy” and holds that spreading it is not only unfeasible but will increase global disorder.

Hobsbawm argues that Bush, in his naive simplisme, has been seduced by the vision of a universal liberal global order and doesn’t comprehend the objective “complexity” of the real world. Those democracies he intends to create will be unstable [hasn’t the fool read the history of Weimar?] and will most likely resist and undermine American hegemony by charting their own course and thus “sow disorder.” Furthermore, Bush is trying to impose democracy through force of arms, a dangerous and self-defeating practice. Military intervention by strong and stable states might be desirable from time to time, especially since so much of the world is dissolving into “bloodshed and anarchy,” but such actions must be supported, as in Bosnia, by the “freely expressed consent of the ‘world community.’” Otherwise they are likely to reflect not the common good, but the imperial ambitions of a hegemonic power. Tell that to the Tutsis!

Forget for a moment that stable and successful democratic regimes have spread widely through Asia and Latin America in recent decades, in some cases nurtured and supported by American force of arms. Forget that armed intervention implanted stable democracies in Germany and Japan six decades ago and that emergent democracies in both Europe and East Asia have flourished ever since under the aegis of American military power. Forget that Clinton's Kosovo intervention, applauded by the left, never had the sanction of the United Nations, which presumably would reflect the consent of the “world community,” [whatever that is]. Forget that President Bush specifically stated that:

America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom and make their own way.

And he made it quite clear that:

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen and defended by citizens and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities.

Forget all this, and much more, and Professor Hobsbawm might have just the beginnings of a plausible argument here. But I cannot forget the past, though Professor Hobsbawm, renowned historian though he may be, apparently has.

Hobsbawm’s objection is not just to President Bush, but to America itself. It is, in his imagination, a dangerous land suffused with “megalomania and messianism,” eager to remake the world in its own image. America’s aims, he maintains, are not idealistic, but simply to advance its own interests, and those imperial designs will inevitably promote the “barbarization” of much of the world.

You see, in Hobsbawm’s world democracy is a rare and unstable thing, one of "The World's Most Dangerous Ideas," achievable only in those few states where the government enjoys “legitimacy, consent, and the ability to mediate conflicts between domestic groups.” Without such freely given consent democracy will fail, the state will dissolve, or it will be plagued by endless civil war. Attempts to instill democracy will therefore destabilize existing regimes and promote ethnic conflict. It is better, in Hobsbwam’s view, to maintain stable tyrannies than to risk the chaos sure to attend democratization.

In fact, Hobsbawm views democracy as a troublesome inconvenience – an impediment to effective governance. The European Union is a case in point. It is effective, he argues, precisely because all important decisions are made between representatives of governments and are not subject to ratification by any electorate. It is this “democratic deficit” that makes the European Union a reality. Problems emerge only when member governments subject initiatives to popular vote.

Here the Professor has a problem. Clearly the American government has acted effectively despite being burdened by democratic procedures. To resolve the difficulty Hobsbawm lapses into leftist, Kennedyesque fantasy. He supposes that the American action in Iraq was hatched and implemented by a tiny cabal who acted in private, out of the sight of the people, much as would be done in a tyranny. Here the famed historian ignores the inconvenient fact that public opinion polls clearly showed a majority of the American public in support of the decision to go to war and that the decision was supported by a large majority of the people’s elected representatives. He ignores the months of debate, both at home and abroad, that preceded military incursion, and he ignores the fact that George Bush and his supporters were recently re-elected to office. The American people were not shut out of the decision making process.

Thus is revealed the underlying intolerance, despotic tendencies, and fanatical delusion that have long sustained this senescent hero of the left. He advances the proposition that the people, whom he claims to champion, cannot be entrusted with their own destiny. To him freedom is a chimera that must be held in check in the name of effective government. Legitimacy, in Hobsbawm’s world, is conferred by the agreement of governments, not by the consent those who are governed. And, he argues, the hopes and aspirations of individuals and peoples must be forever suppressed in the name of endless stability and order. Finally, this ageing communist true believer and defender of tyrants has the temerity to accuse President Bush of being a dangerous “ideologue.” I, for one, know which man is the true ideologue and whose positions represent a real danger. It is not President Bush.


Although they proceed from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Professor Hobsbawm and Abu Masab Al-Zarqawi find common ground in their detestation of democracy.

In a 35-minute tape posted on two Islamic Web sites, a voice claiming to be al-Zarqawi said that anyone who participates in the Jan. 30 elections - voters or candidates - would be considered an enemy of God.

"We have declared a bitter war against democracy and all those who seek to enact it," al-Zarqawi said.

Read about it here.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Historians and "The Speech"

Several prominent historians comment on Bush's Second Inaugural over at the History News Network. Alan Lichtman sees Bush asking for a free hand in foreign affairs, Tom Cronin sees him proclaiming "almost a crusade." John Lewis Gaddis sees it as one of the "great" speeches. Gill Troy agrees that it may someday be seen as one, but that will depend on the course of future events. Barbara Kellerman admires the clear moral purpose that informs the first half of the speech. Henry Graff dismisses it on stylistic points. Ellen Fitzpatrick notes that Bush justifies his position in historical, rather than philosophical or religous terms, but feels that he misrepresents the past fifty years. Richard Norton Smith sees it as almost Wilsonian, rooted in the American civil religion of exceptionalism, and urges us not to overlook the ambitious domestic elements of Bush's agenda. Julian Zelizer agrees with Smith, but worries that the agenda is too ambitious and is concerned about the prominence of Christian evangelism in the Bush coalition.

Check out their comments in full here and here.

Spend some time looking through the offerings of the History News Network. There's a lot of good stuff buried in there. I visit the place at least once every week.

Also from the Andes

Researchers are claiming that warfare in pre-Columbian Andean cultures was far more prevalent and destructive than previously thought. Read the press release here.

Another Academic Plagarism Scandal

This time it's archaeologists, sigh!

LIMA, Peru (AP) - A Peruvian archaeologist is hurling allegations of plagiarism and intellectual plunder at American colleagues over a barren desert landscape where a mysterious culture built pyramids nearly 5,000 years ago.

Peru's government and some U.S. researchers have lined up firmly behind Ruth Shady, who has long researched the ruins of Caral, the oldest known city in the Americas. She contends that Americans Jonathan Haas and Winifred Creamer lifted conclusions from her work to advance their own broader study, published last month in the prestigious science journal Nature.

Read the rest here:

First snowstorm of 05

Snowy View from the Harbor

After all the media hype we expected more than this. It appears that heading south was the right move. The major snowfalls passed north of us.
Posted by Hello

Friday, January 21, 2005

Now this sounds hopeful:

Scientists identify a single 'master' gene that seems to turn on cancer-causing action of other errant genes

An international team of scientists believes it has found cancer's master switch with the discovery of a gene they dubbed "Pokemon."

Like the electronic game figures - tiny monsters with bad tempers - the cancer-triggering gene apparently instigates the misbehavior of other cancer-causing genes, leading to tumor formation.

In today's issue of the journal Nature, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, in collaboration with teams in Japan and Britain, announce that the gene plays a key role in starting a malignancy. As a result, scientists now believe they have stumbled upon an important new target for an anti-cancer drug
Read the whole thing here

Vanity, thy name is...

View from the Harbor:

"She who shall not be named" has informed me that the text in the quotation blocks is too small and hard to read, which of course is another way of saying that she has reached that stage in life when she requires reading glasses but is unwilling to admit it.

Major storm on the way. We decided that it would be better to ride it out in a major city rather than on a hillside four miles from the nearest settlement. So, back to the harbor -- a long drive, but worth it.

Liberal Bias? Nah!

Every two weeks Chrenkoff provides a summary of the "Good News from Iraq." Today he does the opposite, counting the incidence of negative stories about Iraq that have appeared in the western media.

Here's his list:

Friday, 21 January (Australian time) is an average day as far as Iraq is concerned. Google news indexes the following negative stories concerning Iraq:

2,642 stories about Condi Rice's confirmation hearings, in the context of grilling she has received over the Administration's Iraq policy

1,992 stories about suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks

887 stories about prisoner abuse by British soldiers

2,345 stories about President Bush's inauguration, in the context of the President failing to mention the word "Iraq" in his speech, or indeed discuss the war

216 stories about hostages currently being held in Iraq

761 stories reporting on activities and public statements of insurgents

357 stories about the anti-war movement and the dropping public support for involvement in Iraq

182 stories about American servicemen killed and wounded in operations

217 stories about concerns for fairness and validity of Iraqi election (low security, low turnout, etc.)

107 stories about civilian deaths in Iraq

123 stories noting Vice President Cheney's admission that he had underestimated the task of reconstruction

219 stories about possible military action against Iran

24 stories about tense relations with Syria

118 stories about complicated and strained relations between the US and Europe

121 stories discussing the possibility of American pullout

27 stories about sabotage of Iraqi oil infrastructure

660 stories about prosecutions in the Oil for Food scandal

Then we have 123 stories - ostensibly neutral - about details of current troop deployments and movements. I write "ostensibly" because among that number there are numerous stories about deserters or soldiers refusing orders.

Positive stories were comparatively few:

311 stories about voter registration for Iraqis overseas. Even here we have to be cautious as significant number of these stories comment on "disappointingly" low numbers registering.

16 stories about security successes in the fight against insurgents

7 stories about positive developments relating to elections

73 stories about the return to Iraq of stolen antiques.

He concludes: "If the media coverage was war, the good guys would be getting slaughtered."

But perhaps there is a golden lining to the unrelenting drumbeat of negativity [don't mix your metaphors -ed]. At the end of the month elections will come off in Iraq and a good turnout, if it occurs, will come as a pleasant surprise to the American, and perhaps the European public. The discrepancy between the picture presented in the press and the reality of the elections will be unmistakable. Of course the doomsayers will immediately segue into predictions of a civil war in Iraq, but their credibility will be greatly diminished. At least we can hope.


Karl Vick in the WaPo reports:

BAGHDAD, Jan. 20 -- An overwhelming majority of Iraqis continue to say they intend to vote on Jan. 30 even as insurgents press attacks aimed at rendering the elections a failure, according to a new public opinion survey.

The poll, conducted in late December and early January for the International Republican Institute, found 80 percent of respondents saying they were likely to vote, a rate that has held roughly steady for months.

Read it all here.



SAO PAULO, Brazil - A woman in northeastern Brazil has given birth to what one doctor called a "giant baby," a boy weighing 16.7 pounds.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Genocide among the sea mammals

The BBC reports that bottlenose dolphins [think Flipper] are systematically hunting down and killing harbour porpoises [their smaller kin]. The explanation for the terror, they say, is scarcity of resources due to human exploitation [but then that's their explanation for nearly everything].


I wonder if this story was timed to coincide with this:

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will host international talks in May on what needs to be done to protect the world's dwindling fish stocks from rampant overfishing, officials said on Thursday.

Around 70 countries have been invited to the May 1-5 conference in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland to discuss what has become a major political and environmental problem.

An influential group of British scientists said last month that one-third of the world's oceans should be declared protected areas to stop the slaughter of fish species

On the inaugural address

Wise words from Victor Hansen Davis over at NR's "Corner":

This is the first time that an American president has committed the United States to side with democratic reformers worldwide. The end of the cold war has allowed us such parameters, but the American people also should be aware of the hard and necessary decisions entailed in such idealism that go way beyond the easy rhetoric of calling for change in Cuba, Syria, or Iran-distancing ourselves from the Saudi Royal Family, pressuring the Mubarak dynasty to hold real elections, hoping that a Pakistan can liberalize without becoming a theocracy, and navigating with Putin in matters of the former Soviet republics, all the while pressuring nuclear China, swaggering with cash and confidence, to allow its citizens real liberty. I wholeheartedly endorse the president's historic stance, but also accept that we live in an Orwellian world, where, for example, the liberal-talking Europeans are reactionary-doing realists who trade with anyone who pays and appease anyone who has arms-confident in their culture's ability always to package that abject realpolitik in the highest utopian rhetoric. But nonetheless the president has formally declared that we at least will be on the right side of history and thus we have to let his critics sort of their own moral calculus.
As you can see I finally figured out what that "quotes" button does.

As Dr. Hansen points out -- following the moral imperative of global democratization is going to run into real world opposition and have important costs both at home and abroad. We have to consider these before committing to a broad course of action. Of course, the democratic process and the two party system will ensure that the caveats will be given a full hearing. The opposition party will oppose mightily Bush's agenda, craven politicians will run for cover, and in the end some watered down version of Bush's initiative will go into effect. That is right and good. Bush is, as Hansen states, on the right side of history, but you don't change the world overnight, and no president, no matter how morally sure of the rightness of his cause, can commit his successors perpetually to follow a course of action that they and the American public might judge unwise. And all efforts at leadership must run up against the principle of popular sovereignty. The people must give their consent. Let the debate begin!

One of the TV commentators [I forget which one] noted the irony that Bush's statement of principle puts us in league with Usama bin Laden. We both want to topple Middle-East tyrannies. That's fine as far as it goes: but the crucial difference is in what follows the fall. Usama and his pals want to install Islamist tyrannies, we want to install pluralistic democracies. There is no moral equivalency here.

Expanding my vocabulary: Tonks and Dunnies

You never know what those Kiwis will do next, or what will turn them on:


Archaeologists excited over old toilets
Posted Thu, 20 Jan 2005

Excited archaeologists are sifting through the contents of 150-year-old New Zealand toilets to get a better understanding of the everyday lives of early settlers.

Although there is plenty of oral and written history, there are gaps which can only be answered by lifting the lid on the sanitary habits of pioneering families, they say.


The old toilets, locally referred to as long-drops or dunnies, "are a really good source of material", senior archaeologist, Rick McGovern-Wilson, said at the site where the Tonks family lived in the mid-1800s.

"You would be surprised what people used to throw down their dunnies."

An American Hero

Mudville Gazette has published a tribute to a true American hero, Rick Rescorla. Go here and read about a truly remarkable man.

Lileks again

WaPo reviews Lilek's new book: here.

Blogging the inaugural

Wow -- Trent Lott is back, in spades. I know that people I talked to in the permanent government had been shocked a few years back at Bush's failure to support him in his crisis. They have never looked at Bush the same way since then. His failure to stand up for an ally was a HUGE mistake. It cost him a lot of trust among people he needs to work with. It's nice to see Trent taking charge again.

Rhenquist is back, too. He doesn't look nearly as bad as press accounts would have us believe. Maybe the court confrontation isn't as imminent as we thought.

AAARRRRGGH! Tried to post, but lost everything instead. Must remember: save, save, save. Probably isn't too bad. It was mostly incoherent impressions.

When Bush was taking the oath, FOX's camera's had Santorum's face hovering over his right shoulder. Hmmmm.

Nice speech: short and to the point. Hugely ambitious. We will root out tyranny even in the darkest corners of the world. Everywhere people stand for freedom, the United States stands with them. Our power is not unlimited, but it is considerable. We won't do everything everywhere, but if people stand up for freedom we will respond.

Ties advance of freedom to his "ownership society" domestic policy -- nice.

Freedom requires character and self-governance. This depends on moral values which are based ultimately in religion. He's laying down a marker here. Bush and the Republicans have benefited greatly from the backlash spawned by the secularist onslaught against religious values in America. Now he's riding it for all it's worth.

Invokes the words of Lincoln, Jefferson, Wilson, and the Liberty Bell. He's tapping the messianic theme in American political culture.

Lots of religion speak. Twice the invocation referred to "one nation under God." A poke in the eye of the secularists.

Bush isn't pulling back one inch. This is a call to arms. Will the nation, or even his party, respond? Stay tuned.

Inside the capitol when the leadership posed for pictures, Lott, not Frist stood closest to the President. I know that this is like the old Kremlinologists analyzing May Day lineups, but it is interesting.

Lott presides over the luncheon. He's getting more TV time than the President. Hmmm.

Lots of things to think about.