Day By Day

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Another Reason to Admire Dubya

Gregg Easterbrook has another terrific article over at Slate. This time he analyzes Bush's record on the environment and how it has been systematically mis-represented in the press.

He writes:

Last week Bush proposed something environmentalists, energy analysts, greenhouse-effect researchers, and national-security experts have spent 20 years pleading for: a major strengthening of federal mileage standards for cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks.
....
This should have been Page One headline material—PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DRAMATIC MPG REGULATIONS. Instead, most news organizations pretended Bush's mpg proposal did not exist, or buried the story inside the paper, or made only cryptic references to it.
....
What's going on? First, mainstream news organizations and pundits are bought and sold on a narrative of Bush as an environmental villain and simply refuse to acknowledge any evidence that contradicts the thesis. During his term the president has significantly strengthened the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution caused by diesel fuel and diesel engines, to reduce emissions from Midwestern power plants, to reduce pollution from construction equipment and railroad locomotives, and to reduce emissions of methane, which is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. You'd never know these reforms even happened from the front page of the New York Times, which for reasons of ideology either significantly downplays or fails to report them.
....
Less than a week after botching its coverage of the mpg improvements Bush proposed, the New York Times banner-headlined a story saying Saudi Arabia now wants to keep petroleum prices relatively low at $50 a barrel. Have the oil sheiks decided they are making too much money? The sheiks don't want the United States taking real action to reduce our dependence on Persian Gulf oil, so they hope to lull Capitol Hill into thinking oil will stay cheap and mpg improvements won't be needed. The media may not have understood Bush's mileage proposal. The Saudi princes surely did.

Read the whole thing here.

We're not dealing with a rational and informative press, folks. Bush Derangement Syndrome is now so deeply entrenched and so widespread in the MSM that rational discussion is next to impossible. A negative image of our President has been constructed and disseminated that has little to do with reality, and that is a tragedy, not just for the administration, but for the country and indeed the world.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- George W. Bush is a far, far better man than his critics, and one of the best Presidents this nation has ever had.

Myths About Suburban Sprawl

One of the keywords to look for in domestic policy debates over the next couple of years is "suburban sprawl." Social engineers blame it for all manner of ills, Al Gore has placed it high on his agenda, and with Democrats running Congress and many State Houses plans for containing or reversing suburban sprawl will be moving from the back to the front burners.

I have long argued that the major complaints regarding the suburbs are based more in aesthetic sensibilities than in hard facts. It is true that there is a sort of suburban crisis in some specific areas (L.A. and the D.C. area come to mind) but that for most people in most places suburbanization has been an important benefit.

Sunday the WaPo ran a nice piece titled "5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture" that represents one of the opening volleys in this upcoming battle. The article notes that, contrary to conventional wisdom,

1) Americans are not addicted to driving -- automobiles are basically tools that vastly increase the productivity and happiness of American workers. Even the best transit systems cannot begin to compare to the efficiency of automobiles and for all their massive investment in transit technology, Europeans still drive almost as much as do Americans.

2) Investment in transit technology will not reduce traffic congestion -- this is one of the hard truths each generation of urban planners has to learn again. Suburbanization is, more than anything else, a function of prosperity and prosperous Americans choose auto transport. Transit improvements can be effective only on the margins, facilitating the movement of the poor and handicapped. They have little effect on traffic.

3) Decreasing traffic will not do much to improve air quality. The major gains in pollution reduction have already been made despite increased automobile usage. Air quality has been improving for several decades while traffic has been increasing due to improved automotive technology.

4) We are not replacing paradise with parking lots; we are not becoming an "asphalt nation." Only about 5% of the nation's land has been developed.

5) Cutting down on driving will not have any major impact on global warming. Even the most stringent measures being offered will have only a marginal impact on the warming phenomenon.
Read the whole thing here.

Each of these assertions is subject to debate, although I agree with their major thrust. Be assured that they will not go unopposed. A major fight is brewing. Strap yourselves in and start your engines -- it's going to be fun.

I just hope that at the end of the process wise and cool judgment, such as is emanating from the White House will prevail, but the loonies in Congress and the activist organizations will be getting most of the ink.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Winter in Waziristan

Tom Ricks reprints portions of a letter purportedly sent by an al Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan. Apparently these are not happy times for the jihadis.

The writer starts by denouncing those Muslims who are not actively supporting the jihad.

"I write to you with the tears of those who lost their children and from the blood of the weak, as I am one of them. It is bad enough that you all are sitting around, avoiding the jihad [struggle], enjoying your food, while your brothers here have nothing to eat". He added: "I am not writing about the killing of the old and young, displacement of people, or rape, but rather about the poor conditions the mujahidin are facing during this harsh winter".

He then details the "poor conditions
"We are in a very cold area where electricity is on for 3-4 hours a day, 2-3 days a week, and the houses we are in are big and open on all sides. We use wood for burning and heating but wood prices increased by 100 percent when the winter arrived. We usually eat bread and drink tea in the mornings, have rice later with or without meat or garlic. When we get cold at night, two blankets per person are needed to stay warm but we all have one each."

Poor baby. Our hearts go out to you.... You really got us with that information about the locals price gouging you on wood. Anyone who owns a SUV knows just what you are talking about.

He goes on to predict ultimate victory and says that the US is about to fold. Maybe so, if the Dems have their way, but somehow I doubt it.

Read it here.

Strategy Page: Myths of Iraq

Hat Tip, Instapundit:

Strategy Page lists "Ten Myths Of the Iraq War", most of them are standard issue complaints about how the war is mis-represented by the administration's adversaries in the press and Congress, but there are a few points worth noting.

The article notes that at the time of the invasion there was good reason to suppose that Saddam had retained WMDs, and that he had the means of reconstituting them; that the war was not illegal, either in terms of domestic or international law; and that the sanctions regime put in place at the end of the first Gulf War was by no means working. These are well known points that have been endlessly treated in the press and political forums, and in each of them the administration has been shown conclusively to be in the right. Contrary positions deserve to be called "myths."

More problematic is the argument that Iran benefited from the overthrow of Saddam. Strategy Page makes the contrary argument:

Iran's clerical dictatorship did not want a democracy next door. The ancient struggle between the Iranians and Arabs was brought to the surface, and the UN became more active in dealing with problems caused by pro-terrorist government of Iran. As a result of this, the Iranian police state has faced more internal dissent. From inside Iran, Iraq does not look like an Iranian victory.
This is something that can be reasonably debated. There is no doubt that Iran's leadership has become more aggressive since the Iraq invasion. Is this due, as critics of the war claim, because the collapse of Saddam's regime has presented the Mullahs with a golden opportunity to expand their influence; or is it, as Strategy Page argues, because the Mullahs feel threatened by the emerging Iraqi democracy and are desperately trying to ward off the threats they see emerging from the American success there? Only time, I fear, will tell. It is too early to make a firm judgment on this issue.

Strategy Page also disputes the judgment that the invasion was a "failure." The major goal, the overthrow of a brutal dictator, was accomplished quickly, cleanly, and efficiently. The mission, as originally defined, was accomplished. The aftermath, the article argues, was quite another matter and is the result, not so much of administration missteps, but of the incredible, almost incomprehensible, stupidity of the Baathist remnants.

Here again there is plenty of room for debate. I still don't understand the thinking that would hold the Bush administration responsible for the fact that Iraqis are killing other Iraqis -- it's not as if they weren't enthusiastically doing so before the invasion -- but the question of which policies may or may not have contributed to what outcomes is ongoing, and will continue to be so far into the next century and beyond. Here there is no prospect of a rational resolution to the debate and all we are left with is people taking positions based on their biases. Repeat, this debate cannot be resolved rationally. Some progress may be made, but not in the forseeable future.

As for the argument that the invasion helped al Qaeda. The evidence is clear, it did not. As Strategy Page writes we must judge that as:

Compared to what? Al Qaeda was a growing movement before 2003, and before 2001. But after the Iraq invasion, and especially the Sunni Arab terrorism, al Qaeda fell in popularity throughout the Moslem world. Arab countries cracked down on al Qaeda operations more than ever before. Without the Iraq invasion, al Qaeda would still have safe havens all over the Arab world.
One might at this point insert the question: had there been no invasion, what alternative course could have been taken. There is no clear answer to this and all is supposition. There is no convincing argument to be made that al Qaeda would have suffered greatly in the absence of an Iraq invasion.

The article also rightly notes that the whole question of whether or not Iraq is in a state of Civil War is meaningless, simply a matter of partisan rhetoric. It also disputes the silly notion that Iraqis were better off under Saddam. The great majority of Iraqis demonstrably are today much better off than they were before the invasion, although the Sunni Arab minority has much to complain of. The article also successfully disputes the argument that the invasion is responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism in Europe. That movement long antedated the Iraq war and can be attributed more plausibly to conditions within Europe itself than to any exogenous happening.

Finally, with regard to the assertion, frequently made, that the war is "lost" the article asks:

By what measure? Saddam and his Baath party are out of power. There is a democratically elected government. Part of the Sunni Arab minority continues to support terror attacks, in an attempt to restore the Sunni Arab dictatorship. In response, extremist Shia Arabs formed vigilante death squads to expel all Sunni Arabs. Given the history of democracy in the Middle East, Iraq is working through its problems. Otherwise, one is to believe that the Arabs are incapable of democracy and only a tyrant like Saddam can make Iraqi "work." If democracy were easy, the Arab states would all have it. There are problems, and solutions have to be found and implemented. That takes time, but Americans have, since the 18th century, grown weary of wars after three years. If the war goes on longer, the politicians have to scramble to survive the bad press and opinion polls. Opposition politicians take advantage of the situation, but this has nothing to do with Iraq, and everything to do with local politics in the United States.
To which I can only say, "amen"! If the war is to be lost, it will be in the halls of Congress and in the American media, not in Iraq.

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More Bloggery

Commentary Magazine has launched a blog, called Contentions.

Check it out here.

And you might as well look at the magazine itself here. Lots of good stuff.

I can never look at Commentary without remembering Woody Allen's old joke:

"Have you heard? Commentary is merging with Dissent. That's right. They're going to call the new magazine, Dysentery." [rimshot]

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bordwell on "Indie Guignol"

David Bordwell, the most important film theorist [or more properly anti-theorist] operating today, is also a blogger. He recently commented on a disturbing trend in film that he calls "indie guignol".

He starts by noting Richard Corliss' observation that independent films these days tend to be pallid and predictable -- so much so that they have come to constitute a genre in themselves. But then he adds:

True, indie films are often pallid comedies and melodramas. But just as often, and sometimes at the same time, they’re desperately sensationalistic. In these the formal conservativism to which Corliss objects is wedded to hot-button content. We call a bland Indie film quirky, but there are others we call dark. They’re Indie Guignol.

The very distinction is suspiciously simple, I admit. I don’t deny that there are independent films that manage to be riveting without being either cutesy or stomach-churning. Recent examples are Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart, Phil Morrison’s Junebug, and Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night. Some of these even won praise at Sundance. But most such films don’t get the sort of enthusiastic applause that darker efforts do, nor are their makers heralded as iconoclasts.

Where did Indie Guignol come from? As with most things Indie, sex, lies, and videotape was surely an important model, though I suspect that another template was furnished by David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, that Hardy Boys mystery turned fetid. In any case, for a couple of decades the indie scene has taken on ever more provocative themes and subjects, from Suture and Boxing Helena through Happiness and Boogie Nights to Hard Candy and Little Children.

Reports from Sundance indicate that the trend isn’t flagging. There’s a docudrama about men having sex with horses. Hounddog, which Todd McCarthy portrays as a God’s Little Acre for the new century, is already better known as the Dakota Fanning Rape Movie. Reviewing An American Crime, a film about torturing a child, Screen International’s Mike Goodridge tells us that it centers on “unspeakable and repeated violence and abuse.” Needless to say, he’s full of admiration. “Although often excruciating to watch, it is so well-crafted and well-acted that its portrait of casual savagery in the ‘burbs resonates long after the end credits roll.” In this climate, no wonder that the MPAA is politicking to rehabilitate the NC-17 rating, which would presumably help indie films from studio boutiques get onto more screens.

The central conceit of Indie Guignol is that to be creative in cinema you have to be dangerous. James Mottram’s book The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood is an informative overview of Indiewood, but too often it equates being a “maverick” and having a “vision” with an adolescent naughtiness. He approvingly reports Fincher’s reaction to the ending of Se7en. “While it reinforced the notion that justice will prevail, Fincher takes a private goulish pleasure in imagining Mills being ‘carted off to be gang-raped by prison inmates.’” Mottram notes, perhaps unnecessarily, that Fincher has a “sour vision of humanity” (155). Likewise, Sharon Waxman’s Rebels on the Backlot celebrates the fact that her “rebel auteurs” made movies that “combined their brutality with humor” (xi), as if violence and comedy didn’t ricochet off one another in virtually every student horror film ever made.

And, as he notes, this sort of sick crap has bled over into the mainsteam cinema. We are now treated to broad-release exercises in sadistic excess like Saw, Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, etc.

What is perhaps most disappointing is that the new "dangerous" films basically accept the twisted values and thematic conventions of the mainstream cinema.

[T]he daring indie film often trades on the same clich├ęs that haunt program pictures and prestige items. Sunny small towns harbor nasty secrets, manicured suburbs conceal rot, sex is degrading and only an excuse for power plays, rural folk are racist peckerwoods, corporations grind your soul, siblings vie for parental approval, serving in the military makes you a hairtrigger bully, high school is hell, and so is grade school. Dark visions these films may have, but the landscapes and populations they reveal are pretty familiar.
And that, coming from America's finest film critic, is a stunning statement. Not only does Bordwell put the indies in their place for expressing trite conventionality, but his description of the filmic convention is itself an indictment of the entire industry. Film-makers, both mainstream and indie, inhabit a conceptual universe that has almost nothing to do with American life as actually experienced.

I remember many years ago attending a screening of David Lynch's Eraserhead at The Living Arts theatre on South Street in Philadelphia. I was accompanied by two friends, both of whom at the time were "in the business." Lynch described his effort as "A Philadelphia Of the Mind" and this touched off a heated discussion as to whether Lynch's surreal vision of Philadelphia bore any relation at all to the city in which we lived and worked. One of my friends, then and now a Maoist radical, felt it captured perfectly the emotional response he had to the city in the Rizzo years. His disdain for American urban culture knew no limits. My other friend, a conservative Catholic, was absolutely repulsed and saw nothing there but psychological and cultural pathology. I struck a middle ground, arguing that the film was best understood as an attempt to create an alternative reality at a critical distance from the world of experience, similar to what SF and Fantasy writers did [at the time I was heavy into SF].

Lynch was in the vanguard of the new American cinema and in the sick, sadistic, infantile themes that now pervade the medium we can see his influence. Looking back over the decades and seeing what Lynch has wrought I can now stand at a critical distance from that experience and declare it to be unmitigated crap. Back then Lynch was making, and still makes, as do his "outlaw" imitators, what Truffaut called, and Bordwell repeats the term, "shitty films."

Read Bordwell's essay here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Keep Killing the Killers?

Nibras Kazimi has a very interesting piece in the New York Sun in which he discusses changes taking place in the Iraq war. The key graf:

The wider Sunni insurgency — the groups beyond Al Qaeda — is being slowly, and surely, defeated. The average insurgent today feels demoralized, disillusioned, and hunted. Those who have not been captured yet are opting for a quieter life outside of Iraq. Al Qaeda continues to grow for the time being as it cannibalizes the other insurgent groups and absorbs their most radical and hardcore fringes into its fold. The Baathists, who had been critical in spurring the initial insurgency, are becoming less and less relevant, and are drifting without a clear purpose following the hanging of their idol, Saddam Hussein. Rounding out this changing landscape is that Al Qaeda itself is getting a serious beating as the Americans improve in intelligence gathering and partner with more reliable Iraqi forces.

In other words, battling the insurgency now essentially means battling Al Qaeda. This is a major accomplishment.

This is an important point. The Sunni hardliners, who initiated the insurgency, are now defeated and are now beginning to look to their former antagonists for protection against Shiite militias. The current surge is geared toward providing that protection.

And here's where Kazimi's analysis gets really interesting.

In many ways, the timing of this turnaround was inadvertent, coming at the height of political and bureaucratic mismanagement in Washington and Baghdad. A number of factors contributed to this turnaround, but most important was sustained, stay-the-course counterinsurgency pressure. At the end of the day, more insurgents were ending up dead or behind bars, which generated among them a sense of despair and a feeling that the insurgency was a dead end.
In other words, all the bureaucratic and technical adjustments being contemplated and implemented in Washington are not particularly important -- what matters is to keep killing the killers until they realize their fate.

He has little faith in General Petraeus. He's a thinker, not a killer, and killing is what is needed.

General David Petraeus, whom President Bush has tasked to quell the insurgency, spent the last year and a half updating the U.S. Army and Marine Corps's field manual for counterinsurgency. There's plenty of fancy theory there, as well as case studies from Iraq. I don't know how much of the new manual is informed by General Petraeus' two notable failures in Iraq: building a brittle edifice of government in Mosul that collapsed at the first challenging puff, and the inadequate training and equipping of the Iraqi army due to corruption and mismanagement.

General Petraeus walked away from those failures unscathed and hence unaccountable. He re-enters the picture with major expectations. Most commentators, especially those who begrudge attributing any success to Mr. Bush, will lionize the general as he takes credit for this turnaround and speeds it up. Let's hope that he has enough sense to allow what works to keep working and to improve on it, rather than trying to put his own stamp on things and test out the theories he's developed.

This is a seductively simplistic point of view and, in the long term, to be sure, killing the killers will be effective -- it worked for Jenghis Kahn and for Stalin..., Hitler not so much. But the political and bureaucratic will to pursue such a course of action over a long term simply isn't there. However effective such tactics may have been in the past, they are no longer an option, at least not for any Western power.

He may be right. Perhaps General Petraeus is too sophisticated and too educated a man for the job, but dammit, he's all we have. If he fails the best hope for reform in the Middle East will have gone with him.

Read the article here.

Babeling

I don't intend to see Babel, but Toby has. Here's the Bilious Young Fogey's take:

What to make of Babel? Cinematographically, it is virtuoso film making, with every shot rich and over-developed and (curiously) foreshortened like some of the slightly stranger Renaissance frescoes. This film would have cost a lot of money to make, and, sign of the times, with a nonverbal soundtrack and/or cut up into more digestible chunks or loops, would easily pass in an art gallery as cutting edge video art.

Did it work as a film? Emphatically not. Turgid, loud, fussy, indulgent, and manipulative are some words that spring to mind. Derivative of the whole Rashomon/Pulp Fiction splitting of narrative (this time prospectively) are others.
....
A great piece of art, but a crap film.
Read it here.

Pan's Labyrinth


Andy Horbal asks an interesting question: Is “Pan’s Labyrinth” really that much better than “Mirrormask” or “Tideland”? [here] Guillermo Del Toro's film, currently in theatres, is one of the best reviewed films of the past year (96% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes). Terry Gilliam’s “Tidelands” was one of the worst-reviewed (at 25%) while Dave McKean’s “Mirrormask” (story by Neal Gaiman; visual effects by Jim Henson’s old company) came in at a so-so 51%.

All three films are basically the same story – a retelling of “Alice in Wonderland” -- in which a young girl escapes from “reality” into a bizarre fantasy world. All involve major, well recognized, talents. All have the same strengths – visually stunning fantasy environments and competent actors. All have the same weakness – disjointed and incoherent narratives. All present the “real world” in relentlessly negative terms. Yet Del Toro’s effort has been elevated far above the other two. Why?

Part of the answer, I suspect, is current fashion. Del Toro is considered to be “hot, hot, hot!” He’s a talented, young Mexican director, plugged into the comic book culture, and promoted by Quentin Tarentino. Comics have been the major source of inspiration in Hollywood for more than a decade, the industry is trying to reach out to the swelling Hispanic audience, and Del Toro is well-connected with Hollywood big shots. Del Toro also cannily quotes film history. The opening sequences of “Labyrinth,” for instance, could have come straight out of Bertolucci’s masterpiece, “The Conformist.” Critics like…, no they love, that sort of thing.

And there, I think, we have found the key. Like “The Conformist,” Del Toro’s fantasy is a strident indictment of fascism in particular and bourgeois society in general. In “Labyrinth” every canard of Frankfort School cultural analysis is trotted out and embellished with horrific imagery. The story is set in Spain during the aftermath of the Civil War. The Marxist partisans are tough, altruistic, loving, communal victims of insane, sadistic, authoritarian Fascist brutes who themselves are the tools of the Church and the bourgeoisie. Everyone is oppressed, but particularly women and children. It is a mad, brutal, intolerant, and vicious social order that destroys all that is good and beautiful in the world. By comparison the intolerable “realities” presented in Gilliam and McKean’s films, are relatively prosaic [druggie parents and the tedium of show biz, and lets face it, what mainstream critic doesn’t like drugs and show biz?].

Critics have misjudged Del Toro’s work. They almost unanimously characterize his dual-track story as a skilful interweaving of fantastic and realistic narratives. But in fact both narratives are fantasies, one born of children’s fairy stories, the other of Marxist legend. It’s just that the critical community, as currently composed, finds Del Toro’s fantasies congenial and politically useful. And, for that matter, the stories are not very well inter-woven. They do not resonate with one another on any level, not even as dialectical opposites. They are nothing more than simplistic, logically inconsistent fantasies told in fragmentary style. Nothing more.

Guillermo Del Toro is a talented director. He has a wonderful visual style, but if he is ever to fulfill his promise, he will have to grow up and come to terms with the real world rather than the tedious comic-book fantasies he currently inhabits.

Parenthetically, I might note that the critical community took the release of Mel Gibson’s adventure fantasy “Apocalpto” as an opportunity to engage in pop psychological speculations on the director’s presumed pathologies. One might do much the same for Del Toro. On the evidence of his films he was a pathetic loser as a child, living in fear of school bullies, retreating into the fantasies of films and comic books, indulging in bloody adolescent supernatural power fantasies filled with vampires, vengeful ghosts, hell critters, cannibalistic demons, and the like. He probably hated his father and may have had homosexual tendencies; at the least he was not at all popular with the ladies. Their approval of his work suggests that many mainstream critics share much the same set of obsessions and psychological problems.

Of course all of this is BS – I know nothing of the character or nature of Guillermo Del Toro, other than what I have seen in interviews he has given. My analysis has no more, and no less, value [that is to say none] than the speculations made by mainstream critics into the character of Mel Gibson, whose “Apocalypto” was a far superior effort to any of the three recent films referenced here. Don’t waste your money on “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Rent “Apocalypto” instead.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The New Middle East

Some thoughts on Iraq:

What is striking in the current debate over Iraq is the assumption on all sides that a nation of 300 million people, with the most effective military in the history of the world, cannot sustain the loss of three thousand troops in four years of combat. Now lets put that within a broader context. When you think about it we haven’t been able to prosecute a major military action to a satisfactory conclusion since WWII. Korea was a frustrating stalemate, Vietnam an out and out defeat, the first Gulf War was bellus interruptus, and now this. Through the long Cold War we never engaged our major adversary, the Soviet Union, directly on the battlefield. Yet consider this — during the more than half a century in which we have been subjected to repeated military frustration, avoidance, and even defeat, American power, wealth, and influence has grown dramatically to the point where we have become, in Chirac’s term, the global hegemon. This raises the question of whether military “success” as traditionally defined, is all that important any more. People complain that we aren’t fighting to win. Well, maybe “winning” in military terms isn’t the most desirable outcome.

Already I am seeing analyses that say that the new middle-east lineup of Sunni states against Iran is vastly preferable to what existed before the Iraq invasion. Suddenly the Sunni regimes are scared and need us to protect them from Iran. Our influence with them has never been greater. The New Republic thinks Bush just blundered into this favorable outcome, but others think that our diplomacy in the region has been aimed all along at dividing the region along sectarian and ethnic lines. Such a division undercuts pan-Islamist movements like al-Qaeda and the Iranian mullahs’ offensive, takes pressure off Israel, creates a broad Arab alliance supporting Lebanese independence, insures that OPEC won’t be agreeing on much of anything in the near future, counters Iran’s attempts to build an anti-American network of oil-producers, and gives the US [as opposed to the EU or China, neither of which can project a credible military force into the region] unprecedented leverage to influence regional development for decades to come. And don’t forget, Iraq will not be much of a threat to anyone anytime soon.

If we think of Iran, not al Qaeda, as the biggest regional threat in the future, and remember that ever since 1978 the “Islamic Republic” has been trying to forge an Islamist, anti-western, regional bloc that can use oil as an economic weapon, then the Iraq adventure makes one hell of a lot of sense. It is time to stop thinking about Iraq as a “war” to be “won” or “lost” and instead recognize that it is an essential part of a broader effort to remake the political, military, and economic map of the Middle East. It is this broader initiative, not the immediate military situation in Iraq, that really matters.

This is by no means a new idea, or one that is original with me. It was very much a part of the rationale for going into Iraq during the runup to the invasion. Leading neo-con thinkers like Paul Wolfowitz talked about it extensively, and so did President Bush. Vice President Cheney talked frequently about the need “drain the swamp.” Iran was always part of the “Axis of Evil” that we were confronting.

Major elements of the military and intelligence communities, however, were never able to grasp this larger contextual argument. To them Iraq was just another traditional war. This blinkered thinking persists today. Journalists, too, have been slow to catch on. Some people at the State Department have understood what is going on, but many of these have felt that military activity was an impediment to, rather than a necessary element in the transformation. All of these have raised strong and persistent objections to administration policies and have been avidly listened to by a journalistic establishment that sees itself as an adversarial arm of government and by political partisans who have to tear down Bush in order to succeed.
Some journalists are finally beginning to recognize what has been right in front of their faces for years.

Laura Rozen has a “smarter than your average journalist” piece in Thursday’s National Journal where she marvels that Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are now united in an alliance to oppose Iran. She writes:

The emerging Washington-Saudi-Sunni-Israeli alliance to counter Iran “makes perfect sense,” says Kenneth Katzman, a veteran Iran and Iraq analyst at the Congressional Research Service. “It is something that is evolving based on commonality of interests of the Saudis and Israel and other Gulf states to counter Iranian triumphalism. The Saudis are facing Iran in Iraq and in the Gulf states. Israel is facing Iranian-backed Hezbollah on its northern border with Lebanon. The Saudis are interested in their long-standing client in Lebanon, the Hariri family.”

She also notes that much of the intelligence community is still actively trying to obstruct these positive developments and suggests that the anti-Iran regional initiative is a recent thing. I agree that the intelligence community has been obstructive, but disagree that this is all new stuff. This broad diplomatic/military initiative has been in the works for years and is just now beginning to come to fruition. Things are finally falling into place in the Middle East. Too bad, though, that they are starting to fall apart here at home.

You can read her whole piece here.

Just something to think about.

Straighteners -- Killer Tune

Over at Slate Paul Collins, who teaches "nonfiction" at Portland State, has got his knickers in a twist because you can't download an "insanely great" song, "Killer Tune" by the Japanese band "Straightener" from i-tunes US. It is, because of international copyright agreements available only to Japanese downloaders. Because of i-tune's policy Americans, he argues, are being denied the ability to hear some of the really great bands. Read him here.

Well, they aren't.

If you want to hear this "insanely great" song, here it is in a mock studio version [see if you can catch the jokes]. It's available in a concert version too.

Welcome to Hell -- Beirut is Burning

The New Republic Online has a nice impressionistic piece by Ziva Krieger on the current situation in Beirut where Hiz'bullah radicals are trying to reverse the recent "Cedar Revolution."

The smoke rising from Beirut--and the entire country--is from the flaming barricades erected by the opposition in an effort to shut down the country. Bussed in from Hezbollah strongholds in the south, commandos have fanned out across Lebanon to man blockades at crucial intersections. Working since the crack of dawn, they seem to have done a good job. By the time I get out of my apartment at 9 a.m., the only person I see on the street is a bedraggled-looking opposition supporter in designer jeans and a dirty undershirt who leers at me and says, "Welcome to hell."
....
Many of them have never been to Beirut before--a city they consider the playground of the rich and corrupt. So, to many of them, trashing the city seems to be an end unto itself.

"When Siniora doesn't hear the voice of his people, the people have to attack him," Abdul Karim Sulh, a Hezbollah activist, tells me as he takes a break from stacking tires. "He is corrupt, and we will destroy everything in our path to destroy his government."

"We're also trying to stop American hegemony of Lebanon," pipes in fellow Hezbollah member Mohammad. "We are so happy when American soldiers are killed in Iraq because they are the ones responsible for our deaths here," he says, referring to the tacit American endorsement of Israel's attacks this summer. Mohammad fears that "America is trying to get the Sunnis out of Iraq and the Shia out of Lebanon" in order to create a balance of power in the region--a fear that receives nods of approval from the Hezbollah mob that has gathered around us.

...

But the closing of major traffic arteries hasn't stopped Beirutis from their well-pampered lifestyles--a resiliency developed during decades of civil war and, more recently, bombardment by Israel. A middle-aged women in a track suit and headband jogs past me, wearing a facemask to ensure that the burnt-tire fumes don't get in the way of her morning run. When Hezbollah shut down the airport road, travelers discarded their vehicles at the barricades and just rolled their suitcases down the highway. And Starbucks, of course, is overflowing with customers.

Ah, Lebanon..., Lebanon.

Read the whole thing here.

This represents the third sustained attempt on the part of Hiz'bullah to overthrow the elected regime. It may succeed, but it's hard to take seriously revolutionaries who interrupt their demonstration to tell a reporter, "You are from L.A.? I hate America, but I love Kobe Bryant."


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This Could Be A Problem For the Democrats

In the Huffington Post Wesley Clark makes a revealing statement:

When we asked [Clark] what made him so sure the Bush administration was headed [toward a military confrontation with Iran] he replied: "You just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers."

At one point Melinda reminded him that she was taking down everything he said (a fact that would have been hard to miss, since she was taking notes on a not-inconspicuous legal pad). His response: 'Yes, I know." For Clark, this is the biggest foreign policy issue facing the U.S. "I'm worried about the surge," he said. "But I'm worried about this even more."

Read it here.

Even a stalwart liberal like Jonathan Chait recognizes Clark's comments as being anti-semitic [here], but among anti-war bloggers they are being treated as self-evident truths. This has been a weakness of the anti-war movement -- a tendency to embrace all sorts of conspiracy theories, (Bush is a tool of the Saudis, of the oil companies, of the Israelis, etc.). Comments such as these by Gen. Clark move these somewhat nutty ideas from the left fringe into the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Expect even moderate Democratic candidates for 2008 to face hard questioning on these matters.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Tony Phyrillas has a proposal I can get behind -- disband the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Read him here. And while you are at it, congratulate him. He's won some award or something.

An Evening At the Theatre

Last weekend “She Who Must Not Be Named” and I went to the theatre. She goes frequently; I go rarely, for reasons that will become apparent in the course of this review. It was the Everyman Theatre in Baltimore and the show was “Going to St. Ives” by Lee Blessing. I was acquainted with only one other work by him, “A Walk In the Woods” which came out back near the end of the Reagan administration and was a left-wing attack on America’s arms buildup. Blessing had won a Pulitzer Prize for that one [no surprise there] but had done nothing of significance since. “St. Ives” was billed as a response to “Walk in the Woods” and I was interested in seeing what change a couple of decades had wrought.

Well, the Cold War is over and Blessing has moved on to other lefty concerns. He’s now worried about Western insensitivity to the plight of post-colonial Africa. Like “Walk”, “St. Ives” is a two person play, consisting of a dialogue between two oppositional characters who discover in the course of their discussions a common humanity lurking beneath professional and cultural differences. The big new thing, according to the play’s publicity, is that this time the antagonists are women, not men. Wow!

I can’t imagine a better venue in which to see a small, intimate play like this than Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre. It is small place, maximum seating 170, and we were seated no more than ten feet from the stage. The actors, Lynn Chavis and Kimberly Schraf, were quite competent although to my mind, Ms. Schraf, who admittedly had more to do than Ms. Chavis, [who, playing the part of the “noble negro” had only to alternate between projecting dignified sorrow and justified anger] had a tendency to over-emote in some of her more difficult scenes. As a result her character, supposedly a world-famous surgeon, seemed to be more than a little unbalanced. On the other hand, it may have been my close proximity to the stage that created that impression. The view from farther back in the audience might have been quite different.

The dialogue was only occasionally witty and it seemed that the audience laughed from time to time more from politeness than genuine amusement. For the most part the dialogue consisted of an interminable rehearsal of racial and gender stereotypes. Ms. Chavis’ played the part of the mother of an African despot, modeled on Idi Amin. Ms. Schraf plays the part of a British surgeon whose son had been killed by a black American street thug. They meet in the surgeon’s home in St. Ives, a comfortable suburban setting, well insulated from the brutal reality of both Africa and urban America, where the inhabitants live happily with little concern for the suffering of others. The purpose of their meeting is ostensibly to discuss an upcoming operation that the surgeon will be performing on the empress.

Early in the first act the play asserts as self-evident fact that the troubles of contemporary Africa were created by the sins of European colonialism and sustained by American policy in the region. The surgeon character accepts this libel without question and is anxious to atone for the sins of whitey. A secondary theme, which both characters strongly endorse, is that evil is perpetrated by men and must be corrected by women. Thus we are presented with a perfect confluence of radical feminism and anti-colonialist ideology. Wonderful! I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of this racist, sexist crapulence.

In the course of their conversation we discover that both women have ulterior motives. The surgeon wants the empress to intercede to secure the freedom of four doctors who are scheduled to be executed by her son. The empress wants to secure a reliable poison with which she can assassinate her son so as to save innumerable lives. The white surgeon agonizes about her breach of professional ethics but eventually, in the second act, accedes to the empress’ demands.

The final act takes place in Africa. We discover that both women have succeeded in their goals. The doctors have been freed, the tyrant assassinated, and the results have been less than satisfactory. The men who took over after the tyrants’ death are nearly as bad as he had been and the empress has been arrested and is under a sentence of death. The surgeon has divorced her husband, has abandoned her practice, and has become an annoying international “rights” activist. She has arrived in Africa to take the empress to safety in the West. After more interminable dialogue the empress has refused to leave, preferring to die in Africa rather than to live in a soulless West, and the surgeon has decided to also remain in Africa, ministering to the needs of the wonderful soulful African people rather than to the rich hypocrites of the West.

At the end of the play I was heartened to see that only a few of the younger audience members did that silly “standing ovation” thing. There was little discussion on the way out. I did, however, meet a delightful woman who tried to convince me to buy a season’s subscription to the theatre. I declined the offer.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Global Financial Warriors.

I have often asserted that the Bush administration has performed superbly in the fields of economic and financial management. John B. Taylor, former Treasury Department undersecretary for international affairs agrees.
Taylor's litany of the Treasury Department's activities during his tenure includes the freezing of terrorists' assets and the halting of their money transfers around the globe; an economic reconstruction program for post-Taliban Afghanistan; the establishment of a stable dinar in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, together with debt forgiveness for the new government in Baghdad; reforms in the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; and pressure on Chinese officials to allow their currency to be less controlled by Beijing and more responsive to free-market forces.
Not bad -- combine that with his economic management and you have one of the best records of any administration in American history. So good is Bush's record that critics are forced to fall back on the old "it would have happened anyway" line, or to say that heroic periods in the distant past were just as good. Perhaps the weakest, though most frequently voiced, criticism is the absurd assertion, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Bush has not been able to forge international cooperation on economic and financial matters.

For a review of Taylor's account and a critique of it see Jeff Garten's review of Global Financial Warriors in the WaPo here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Picture Of The Day -- A Fungus Among Us


Last week I went walking in the woods near our mountain home and found this. I don't remember ever seeing it before, and I spend a lot of time in that part of the woods, so it was quite a surprise. Either I'm becoming befuddled by age or these things grow awfully fast.

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority -- The Meteorologists Revolt

Global warming alarmists within the meteorological community are trying to decertify, or failing that to marginalize, those who disagree with the party line. [here] and [here] This prompted an interesting response from a broadcast meteorologist.

Well, well. Some “climate expert” on “The Weather Channel” wants to take away AMS certification from those of us who believe the recent “global warming” is a natural process. So much for “tolerance”, huh?
I have been in operational meteorology since 1978, and I know dozens and dozens of broadcast meteorologists all over the country. Our big job: look at a large volume of raw data and come up with a public weather forecast for the next seven days. I do not know of a single TV meteorologist who buys into the man-made global warming hype. I know there must be a few out there, but I can’t find them. Here are the basic facts you need to know:
*Billions of dollars of grant money is flowing into the pockets of those on the man-made global warming bandwagon. No man-made global warming, the money dries up. This is big money, make no mistake about it. Always follow the money trail and it tells a story. Even the lady at “The Weather Channel” probably gets paid good money for a prime time show on climate change. No man-made global warming, no show, and no salary. Nothing wrong with making money at all, but when money becomes the motivation for a scientific conclusion, then we have a problem. For many, global warming is a big cash grab.
*The climate of this planet has been changing since God put the planet here. It will always change, and the warming in the last 10 years is not much difference than the warming we saw in the 1930s and other decades. And, lets not forget we are at the end of the ice age in which ice covered most of North America and Northern Europe.
If you don’t like to listen to me, find another meteorologist with no tie to grant money for research on the subject. I would not listen to anyone that is a politician, a journalist, or someone in science who is generating revenue from this issue.
Read it here. [emphases mine]

There are two very interesting aspects to this debate.

First of all, it reveals a deep class division within the scientific community, between the research scientists who boast advanced degrees, and the working practitioners, broadcasters and forecasters, who often do not.

Secondly, the research scientists have reacted to criticism by trying to de-legitimize their critics. They are posing as disinterested dispensers of objective information whose testimony should be trusted because of the credentials they boast. Behind this claim is the old, long-discredited, progressive notion of a self-policing community of competence.

In fact, the mainstream research scientists are far from disinterested. The blog post cited above points to financial motives that call their testimony into question. I would add ideological bias. I would also point to complaints by some research scientists who question the "consensus" view to the effect that their views are systematically misrepresented and that they are being subjected to intense professional pressure to toe the party line.

"Science" is a human enterprise and as such is subject to the full range of human foibles. In the current politically charged climate, where financial, careerist, and ideological interests are at play, it is well to view the pronouncements of credentialed "experts" with a large dose of skepticism.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Getting Down to Basics: The Reality of Evil

Anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and "evolutionary psychologists [sociobiologists]" may disagree as to the precise mechanisms involved, but they mostly agree on one thing -- objective, scientific categories and methods of analysis, not the subjective terms of moralistic discourse, are the key to understanding human actions. The great conceit of social science is that such "value laden" terms as "good" and "evil" cannot provide, indeed they obscure, insight into human affairs. Rather ultimate responsibility for human action lies, not with the individual who acts, but with larger systemic dynamics discernible only through scientific analysis.

Well..., not all social scientists would agree. One who would not is the psychiatrist Anthony Daniels who writes under the pseudonym, Theodore Dalrymple. Dr. Daniels, you see, has experienced evil close up. For years he has practiced in the hell-holes of post-colonial Africa, Latin America, and in the prisons of Britain, and he has seen terrible things..., terrible things indeed. [For an account of his career and his experience of evil see here.]

Another social scientist who has seen evil close up is the famed sociologist Paul Hollander. In the latest New English Review Dr. Dalrymple reviews Professor Hollander's latest work, an anthology of accounts by those who have experience left-wing horror. [Paul Hollander, introduction and editor, From the Gulag to the Killing Fields: Personal Accounts of Political Violence And Repression in Communist Studies, Intercollegiate Studies Institute (April 17, 2006), hardcover, 760 pages].

Hollander knows of what he speaks. As a child he fled first from the Nazis, then from the Communists. He has assembled testimony from others who have experienced the pervasive state terrors of the twentieth century. Some examples:
[W]hen Evgenia Ginzburg, author of the brilliant and terrible memoir, Into the Whirlwind, leaves her apartment to go to the local headquarters of the NKVD, having been called there for a supposedly friendly chat about someone she knows, her husband says to her, ‘Well, Genia, we’ll expect you back for lunch,’ and she replies, ‘Goodbye, Paul dear. We’ve had a good life together.’ She knows, as he does, that she is never going to see him again this side of the afterlife: which is to say never.
Or this, from a Cambodian physician who lived through Pol Pot's three year reign:

… a new interrogator, one I had not seen before, walked down

the row of trees holding a long, sharp knife. I could not make

out their words, but he spoke to the pregnant woman and she

answered. What happened next makes me nauseous to think

about. I can only describe it in the briefest of terms: He cut the

clothes off her body, slit her stomach, and took the baby out. I

turned away but there was no escaping the sound of her agony,

the screams that slowly subsided into whimpers and after far

too long lapsed into the merciful silence of death. The killer

walked calmly past me holding the fetus by its neck. When he

got to the prison, just within the range of my vision, he tied a

string round the fetus and hung it from the eaves with the

others, which were dried and black and shrunken.

That, my friends, is an image of evil that will haunt me for a long time. It should bother you too.


Following Solzhentitzyn, Hollander notes that the scale of evil expanded greatly in the twentieth century and attributes this to the rise of ideologies -- amoral, science-based explanations of the human condition. And, responding to those who would argue that the Nazi evil was greater than that of other ideologized states such as the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China, he notes:


There was no standing aside in the ideologised state: either you were for the government, the leader and the ideology, or you were against them. Indeed, once dialectics became the master science, being personally in favour of them was not enough; you had to be objectively in favour of them, that is to say to have no blemish on your record, such as a bourgeois birth, knowledge of anyone with such a birth, or intellectual interests.

In other words, the terror emanating from the Left was just as total and inescapable as that perpetrated by Hitler and his minions, and it killed far more because unlike the German terror, it was able to run its full course.


And as for those on the Left who would excuse terror as necessary to achieve a higher purpose, Dalrymple notes the pathological assumption being made:

The greatness of a crime [for Left wing apologists] is a guarantee of the greatness of its motive: for who would order the deportation of whole nations, for example, cause famines, work millions to death, shoot untold numbers, unless he had some worthy higher purpose? And the more ruthlessly he did all these things, the higher his purpose must be to justify them. To participate in the worst of crimes is then to be the best of men. It was under communism (as well as Nazism) that Norman Mailer’s ethical injunction, to cultivate your inner psychopath, became government policy, as well as prudent.


There are still those, especially among academics, who would excuse as necessary the horrific crimes of the Left. Perhaps, Dr. Dalrymple suggests, this is


because elements at least of communism still exert an attraction for so many intellectuals, and no one wants to acknowledge that his ideals justified and in part motivated mass murder on an unprecedented scale. Who would not rather deny the meaning of scores of millions of deaths, than abandon his illusions?

And it is because this delusional left-wing bias still poisons our political discourse that stories such as those collected by Professor Hollander should be read and studied.

Photo Of the Day -- Night Over Tokyo

Check it out -- this is a high dynamic range [HDR] photo of the Tokyo skyline at night. It's been going around the internet for a few days and is available from several sources. For more go here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Maryland Matters -- A Victory for Walmart

The NYT reports:

A federal appeals court ruled today that Maryland violated federal law when it required Wal-Mart Stores to increase spending on employee health insurance, in a decision that appears likely to end a bitter yearlong legal battle that pitted state legislators, organized labor and health care advocates against the nation’s largest retailer.

The 2-to-1 ruling by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is a major setback — if not a fatal blow — for a nascent campaign, called “fair share,” that sought to move millions of America’s working poor off of state-sponsored insurance programs, like Medicaid, and on to employer-based plans.

Facing ballooning Medicaid costs, the Maryland state legislature last year passed a law forcing major employers to spend the equivalent of 8 percent of their payrolls on health care. But it structured the legislation so that it was aimed at only one company — Wal-Mart, which has many workers rely on Medicaid in states from Maryland to Georgia.

Encouraged by the Maryland law, the first of its kind in the nation, lawmakers in dozens of other states said they would introduce similar bills to confront spiraling Medicaid costs.

But the appeals court, upholding a lower court ruling, found that the Maryland rule violated a federal labor law intended to allow companies to create a uniform system of health benefits across the country, rather than navigate a patchwork of state-by-state requirements.

Read it here.

What the NYT doesn't tell you is that the whole issue had been ginned up by unions that had been frustrated in attempts to organize Walmart workers. Walmart has been in the cross-hairs of left-wing activists ever since.

Every once in a while the good guys win one.

World Inequality Declining

From the WSJ:

Here's bad news for those who oppose global free trade: Not only did the world-wide trend toward greater economic liberty hold steady over the past year, but the incomes of poor individuals across the globe are rising as result. The world isn't only growing richer. The gap between the per-capita income of have-not populations and that of the developed world is narrowing.

...

In a piece titled "Global Inequality Fades as the Global Economy Grows," Columbia University professor of economics Xavier Sala-i-Martin destroys the myth that the income gap is widening. While it is true that some countries are being left behind, when population weights are factored into the equation, the evidence shows that "individual income inequality declined substantially during the past two decades. The main reason is that incomes of some of the world's poorest and most populated countries (most notably China and India, but also many other countries in Asia) converged rapidly with the incomes of OECD citizens."

Read it here.

I blame Bush.


Martin Luther King, Republican?

My, my, my! Someone has touched a nerve!

Black conservatives, led by Frances Rice, have been stirring up a major controversy with their recent claims that Martin Luther King was a Republican. Democrats have their knickers in a twist over the issue, and even some Republicans have denounced the claim. [Read about it here.]

In an article for Human Events Ms. Rice lays out the major elements of her argument:

She starts with the claim that:

From its founding in 1854 as the anti-slavery party until today, the Republican Party has championed freedom and civil rights for blacks....

It was the Republicans who fought to free blacks from slavery and amended the Constitution to grant blacks freedom (13th Amendment), citizenship (14th Amendment) and the right to vote (15th Amendment). Republicans passed the civil rights laws of the 1860s, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Reconstruction Act of 1867 that was designed to establish a new government system in the Democrat-controlled South, one that was fair to blacks. Republicans also started the NAACP and affirmative action with Republican President Richard Nixon's 1969 Philadelphia Plan (crafted by black Republican Art Fletcher) that set the nation's fi[r]st goals and timetables.

....

Few black Americans know that it was Republicans who founded the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Unknown also is the fact that Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen from Illinois was key to the passage of civil rights legislation in 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1965. Not mentioned in recent media stories about extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is the fact that Dirksen wrote the language for the bill. Dirksen also crafted the language for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which prohibited discrimination in housing. President Lyndon Johnson could not have achieved passage of civil rights legislation without the support of Republicans.

True as far as it goes, although the Republican Party's position on slavery evolved over time as did its position regarding Black civil rights. It is more accurate to say that the Republican Party has historically been far more consistent in its support for Black civil rights than has the Democratic Party and that many, perhaps most, of the civil rights movement's greatest gains have been facilitated by the actions of Republicans, both Black and White.

As Ms. Rice rightly points out, the Democratic Party has had, for the most part, a miserable record on civil rights.

It was the Democrats who fought to keep blacks in slavery and passed the discriminatory Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. The Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan to lynch and terrorize blacks. The Democrats fought to prevent the passage of every civil rights law beginning with the civil rights laws of the 1860s, and continuing with the civil rights laws of the 1950s and 1960s.

During the civil rights era of the 1960s, Dr. King was fighting the Democrats who stood in the school house doors, turned skin-burning fire hoses on blacks and let loose vicious dogs.

And, she is also right to note the important role played by Republicans during the Eisenhower administration in advancing the cause of Black civil rights

It was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who pushed to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and sent troops to Arkansas to desegregate schools. President Eisenhower also appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court, which resulted in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ending school segregation. Much is made of Democrat President Harry Truman's issuing an Executive Order in 1948 to desegregate the military. Not mentioned is the fact that it was Eisenhower who actually took action to effectively end segregation in the military.
And she is quite right to note that John F. Kennedy was no friend to the civil rights movement.

Democrat President John F. Kennedy is lauded as a proponent of civil rights. However, Kennedy voted against the 1957 Civil Rights Act while he was a senator, as did Democrat Sen. Al Gore Sr. And after he became President, Kennedy was opposed to the 1963 March on Washington by Dr. King that was organized by A. Phillip Randolph, who was a black Republican. President Kennedy, through his brother Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy, had Dr. King wiretapped and investigated by the FBI on suspicion of being a Communist in order to undermine Dr. King.
So far, so good. I also agree with Ms. Rice's assertion that Democratic leaders cynically manipulate and lie to Black voters, and that the highly-praised anti-poverty programs of the past several decades have been largely ineffective. But, to claim that Dr. King was a Republican is stretching things a bit.

Dr. King's father, it is true, was a Republican, but supported the Kennedy administration after JFK intervened to have his son released from jail. Martin Luther King, Jr. was generally non-partisan. He supported the Eisenhower administration's efforts to promote civil rights, but he also supported Kennedy and Johnson and denounced Barry Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights reforms of the 1960's.

Ms. Rice also argues that Richard Nixon's "southern strategy" that sought to convince southern Democrats to vote Republican was not racist. That is questionable. There was a significant element of cynical racism in Nixon's strategy.

Ms. Rice's article stands as a useful corrective to the highly-partisan account of the civil rights movement that prevails in our political culture. Democrats deserve far less credit than they have received while Republican contributions have been largely unappreciated. But she goes to far in attempting to claim Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Republican Party. It would be unfair to say that he was either Republican or Democrat, or as some critics have claimed, a Communist. He was, first and foremost, a powerful advocate for Black civil rights and supported any political movement, including the Communist Party, that would advance that cause.

Suffice it to say that Republicans have a record on civil rights to which they can proudly point, and there are many valid grounds on which to criticize Democrats. It is time to move beyond the cynical racial demagoguery that has characterized our political culture for the past several decades. Ms. Rice, if she qualifies her claims and tones down her rhetoric can make a significant contribution toward achieving that goal. I wish her the best in that regard.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Losers

Saturday was tough. The Ravens lost and are out of the playoffs, but this was not an ordinary loss. What rankles is that they lost to the Colts. For a certain generation of Baltimoreans, the Colts logo will inevitably invoke the name "Irsay" and the image of Mayflower vans rolling through the night. This was the scene on South Charles Street after the game. Not a lot of joy there, and purple lights were going out all over the city.


Picture of the Day -- Clouds Over the Harbor

Sunday, January 14, 2007

JACKULA!!

Dave Barry liveblogs the first episode of this season's "24" here.

So does Lileks here.

The Myth of MSM Objectivity

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, rips the mask off the MSM's pretense of objectivity. The prevailing attitude seems to be:
Better that the story should be missed, and the country screwed, than that a reporter might look unacceptably friendly to Bush!
Don Surber adds:
Whatever happened to journalists seeking the truth regardless of the consequences? Is looking independent more important than actually being independent?
Alas, Don, I'm afraid it is.

Read it here.

The Bush Economy Continues to Surge

The American economy continues to perform much better than the experts predicted.

AFP reports:
Economists are hastily upgrading their forecasts for the US economy after a series of surprisingly strong reports suggesting the so-called "soft landing" may be over and growth is accelerating.

Over the past week, surprises have come in stronger-than-expected reports on US job creation, the trade balance and retail sales -- all key contributors to economic activity.

Lehman Brothers chief US economist Ethan Harris on Friday boosted his forecast for fourth quarter 2006 growth to an annualized rate of 3.3 percent, a leap from the firm's prior call for just 2.0 percent growth.

"After slowing in November, the economy seems to have regained its stride," Harris said.

"With the last of the major data in, we are now revising fourth quarter GDP to an above-trend 3.3 percent. A wide range of indicators have been stronger than expected. Most important have been the strong consumption data and the surprising improvement in the trade balance."

The latest data defy predictions that the slump in real estate would filter into other areas of the economy, notably consumer spending.

The latest data showed US employers added a healthy 167,000 new jobs in December, with unemployment holding at a low 4.5 percent. Average wages were up 4.2 percent annually.

A separate report Friday showed US retail sales increased 0.9 percent in December.

Read it here.

As I have said time and again, the Bush administration's record on economic management is possibly the best in this nation's history. But, will Dubya get any credit for it? Don't hold your breath.



Friday, January 12, 2007

Whither the Patriots?

A former "Spook" over at "In From the Cold" noticed something interesting in Dubya's speech on Iraq.
Toward the end of last night's speech on Iraq, President Bush outlined preliminary steps for dealing with Iran and Syria, to interrupt their support for terrorists. He promised to interdict the flow of support from both countries, and destroy the terrorist networks they sponsor inside Iraq.

Mr. Bush also proposed new security initiatives to protect U.S. interests in the Middle East, including the recently-announced deployment of a second carrier battle group to the region. Then, he dropped this minor bombshell, which has been all-but-ignored by the pundits and the MSM:

"We will expand intelligence sharing, and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region."

True, Patriot batteries can provide an important symbol of our willingness to protect our friends. But they're most useful in defending key facilities and population centers from air and ballistic missile attacks. It doesn't take a military analyst to understand that there's something larger at work here. The U.S. seems concerned that our military build-up--or a preemptive Israeli strike--could trigger a backlash from Iran, prompting missile attacks against our allies in the region (air strikes are a much lesser threat, given the limited capabilities of the Iranian Air Force). Deploying Patriot batterys now would illustrate U.S. resolve, while providing a missile defense capability in areas that are currently unprotected.
Read it here.

The spook also notes:
It's also worth noting that countries which may "host" a Patriot deployment also have military facilities that could be used in a military campaign against Iran. Bahrain is already home for the U.S. 5th Fleet; Oman and the UAE have airfields that would be extremely useful in defending the region against Tehran's military forces, or if necessary, launching attacks on Iran.
One of his commentators also notes that the reference to the Turkish and Iraqi border situation is also suggestive. Both countries share a problematic border with..., guess who.

I would add that the Bush diplomatic team has been busy lining up Sunni states in the region to form a united front against possible Shiite expansionism. It is not impossible to imagine that such an anti-Shiite alliance could also be useful in an effort to bring about regime change in Iran.

How Does The Surge Play in Iraq?

Amir Taheri notes that many Iraqis responded to President Bush's "surge" speech with "sighs of relief." He writes:

"Maybe the Americans aren't running away after all," said the resident, a Sunni Arab, over the phone moments after President Bush unveiled his new plan. "The message seems to be that the United States will remain committed as long as Bush is in the White House."

Some 70 percent of Baghdad's violence is concentrated in five neighborhoods, where both Shiites and Sunnis have been the targets of rival death squads for months. Other Baghdadis say the population of those areas will greet the American troops with sweets and flowers.

The fear that the United States, bedeviled by internecine feuds, might cut and run has been at the root of the violence since Iraq's liberation in 2003.

Jihadists have fought not because they hope to win on the battlefield, but to strengthen the antiwar lobbies in the United States and Britain. Some in the new political elite have become fence sitters because they regard the United States as a fickle power that could suddenly change course. Others have created or expanded militias, in case the United States abandons Iraq before it can defend itself against internal foes and predatory neighbors.

The new Bush plan has raised Iraqi morale to levels not known for a year.

Read it here.

This has been a problem we have faced in every conflict since Vietnam -- the expectation that eventually we will cut and run, abandoning our allies to a gruesome fate. We are paying the price today for past inconstancy of purpose and are simply not trusted, even by our strongest allies. Our enemies know that all they have to do is to hang on for a few years and we will give up and go home. Dubya has, to his credit, tried to reverse this perception, but has been undercut at every turn by the Democrat opposition. Once again he has demonstrated that he is a far, far better man than his critics.

I'm talkin' to you, Hagel!

Boxer Bashes Condi

Barbara Boxer, one of the most obnoxious members of Congress, struck a new low during her questioning of Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, when she implied that Secretary Rice could not understand the price being inflicted on American families by the Iraq war because she [Rice] had no children. As the NY Post remarks:
The junior senator from California apparently believes that an accomplished, seasoned diplomat, a renowned scholar and an adviser to two presidents like Condoleezza Rice is not fully qualified to make policy at the highest levels of the American government because she is a single, childless woman.
Read it here.

This is the kind of classless and clueless thing we've come to expect from Ms. Boxer, but her constituents in California seem to eat it up.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Happy Birthday Alex

On this day in 1755 Alexander Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. His parents were not married. From that obscure and somethat disreputable beginning he rose, through sheer force of intellect and ambition, to become the most important figure in the early American republic. To a great extent the nation we inhabit today was the product of his genius.

Let us all celebrate the life and accomplishments of one of America's greatest.

Dead Birds!

Something to worry about?
London, Jan.11 (ANI): Two towns, in two separate continents, have reported the mysterious dropping of thousands of dead birds out of the sky.

Baffled wildlife officials were quoted by the Daily Mail as saying that three weeks ago thousands of crows, pigeons, wattles and honeyeaters fell out of the sky in Esperance, Western Australia. Last week, dozens of grackles, sparrows and pigeons dropped dead on two streets in Austin, Texas.

Veterinarians in both countries have been unable to establish a cause of death - despite carrying out a large number of autopsies on the birds.

The officials, however, have ruled out the possibility of the deaths having been caused by a severe storm, which recently struck the area.

"We estimate several thousand birds are dead, although we don't have a clear number because of the large areas of bush land. It's very substantial," the tabloid quoted District Nature Conservation Coordinator Mike Fitzgerald, as saying. Birds Australia, the country's largest bird conservation group, said it had not heard of a similar occurrence, and described it as a most unusual event.
Read the whole thing here.

So far officials investigating these massive die-offs have not been willing to attribute them to deliberate toxic poisoning, but they have their suspicions. In both countries they are working on the theory that this was deliberate, but in neither case is there strong evidence to suggest a major threat to humans.

I'm no expert, but it sure raises the possibility of an attempt by terrorists to release chemical agents on human populations. The biggest problem with neurotoxins is that they quickly disperse over a wide area and are diluted to a level where they do not threaten humans. But birds, like canaries in a coalmine, could through their deaths signal the presence of low levels of chemical agents in the atmosphere.

Add to this the recent stink in Manhattan.

Hmmm....

Just something to think about.

UPDATE:

There have been massive die-offs of birds at two sanctuaries in Sri Lanka, too. Once again officials are mystified as to the cause. Read about it here.

UPDATE:

The Australian reports:

200 more birds die mysteriously

AUTHORITIES in Western Australia are again baffled by the unexplained deaths of more than 200 birds in a small farming community.

It follows the mysterious deaths of an estimated 4000 native birds at Esperance on the state's south coast in a phenomenon that has sparked worldwide scientific attention.

The Department of Environment and Conservation yesterday confirmed that another mysterious bird kill had occurred at Narembeen, 300km southeast of Perth, earlier this month.

Unlike the first incident, the dead birds at the tiny Wheatbelt town - more than 400km west of Esperance - have been identified as treemartins, similar to swallows, which are migratory insect-eaters known to enjoy moderate climates. They can be vulnerable to cold temperatures and wet conditions.

But because the deaths happened two weeks ago and were only reported to environment and agriculture authorities last week, scientists have been unable to carry out any detailed tests on a small number of decomposing remains to establish whether they died of exposure or something more mysterious.

Read it here.