Archive for the 'History' Category

The Rise of Decline

You know you’re in an American recession when British observers start reflecting on the inevitability of American decline, and volunteering their allegedly privileged perspective gained from the fall of the British Empire (Mark Steyn, as always, excepted). So it is that Matthew Parris joins an old tradition and writes this of the incoming Obama administration:

Though he may not yet know it, the role for which the US President-elect has been chosen is the management of national decline.
(The Times)

It should still be within our memory of course, that it was widely believed that Richard Nixon held this dubious distinction in 1968. Indeed, Nixon himself believed it, and his assessment that the United States had passed into decline informed almost all of his foreign policies. Mr. Parris’ countryman, the historian and strategist Paul Kennedy, had thought even more seriously on this issue and concluded in 1987 that the apex of American power had been reached in the 1970s, after which the United States had passed into another ultimately nonexistent long-term decline.

Retrospectively, this is all rather embarrassing. The United States is naturally vastly more powerful today than it was in the 1960s or 1970s, and the structure which enabled those gains commercially, socially and politically, remains unassailed. Given past experience, it’s entirely likely in coming years that we will feel similarly embarrassed by the current declinism.

But Mr. Parris is obliquely correct on one matter though:

Mr Obama will have to find a way of being honest with Americans about their country’s fall from predominance. Reading, as I often do, the furiously chauvinistic online reaction from US citizens to any suggestion that their country can be beaten at anything, I quail for him.
(The Times)

The experience of Nixon –pursuing policies to cushion the fall of an America which was just beginning to scale new heights– might suggest that it doesn’t really matter what Obama thinks. But if Americans themselves genuinely started to believe in their impending decline, and shelved their ambitions in favor of the crowded retirement home of great powers, they could actualize the prediction.

As with American greatness in light of her continental scale, vast and growing labor force, enormous capital resources and limitless dreams, a prophecy of American decline is largely contingent on whether or not Americans can be persuaded to self-fulfill it. If they cannot, that faint light on the horizon is another dawn, not an inevitable sunset. After all, the retirement home for the false futurists of American decline is an even more crowded house.

Sphere: Related Content

Deep Political Time

When James Hutton, the father of modern geology, took his friend John Playfair to look at some stratified sedimentary rock, and Playfair realized that he was gazing into a chemical abyss recording the passage of hundreds of millions of years, he said the human mind went “giddy” at the apprehension. Genuine recognition of the titanic scale of geological time required to produce even in a lowly hill on the Earth’s crust, has always been a temptation to flirt with madness.

It happens that democracies can produce a political equivalent of this sort of experience of scale, due to their tendency to compile and preserve vast quantities of generational voting data over time, like strata for a human historical edifice. Thus consider the awful and incredible parity of nineteen presidential elections, producing one and one half billion votes, with a mere one hundred thousand to separate the two parties:

Total Democratic Presidential Votes Since 1932: 745,407,082
Total Republican Presidential Votes Since 1932: 745,297,123
(Crossing Wall Street via Pundit Review)

As with geology, there is a buried volume and timescale to this enterprise which can be easily missed whilst standing in a November voting line.

Sphere: Related Content

Athens into Persepolis

Rasmussen has polled the public on whether they agreed with President Bush’s characterization of capitalism as the “highway to the American Dream.” Only 44% voiced support for capitalism, 33% were undecided and 22% expressed opposition. A grim finding. Only Republicans marshaled an absolute majority of support for the system, commendably voting 4:1, independents had a plurality of support, and Democrats were evenly split.

It should be observed that it is not without historical precendent that a victorious power would quickly wish to transform itself into the image of the enemy it proved its system utterly superior to, rejecting the values and virtues which had enabled her to triumph, in favor of those which had condemned her adversary to defeat. Indeed, it’s a bizarre but relatively common historical temptation if considered.

Sphere: Related Content

The Voice of Murder

The subject of the bloody 1965 Indonesian mass murder of suspected communists is not often openly discussed history even in today’s Indonesia. Given the pervasive silence, estimates vary on the actual number of people killed, but it’s generally accepted as being somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000. Yet so infected with fear is the subject of the massacre (and so influential do many of the men who took part in it remain), that outspoken eyewitnesses are extremely rare, despite the enormous numbers of people involved and widespread knowledge of where each town’s unmarked mass graves can be found.

Some of the worst killings were carried out on a volunteer basis by village men who were members of Islamic and nationalist youth groups, often on extremely flimsy evidence of communist sympathies. Yet due testimony from actual members of these groups who performed the round-ups and committed the killings in the countryside, is virtually nonexistent in the historical record. So it is remarkable and important that some of those men have finally spoken out in old age to the Associated Press. All the men interviewed by the AP however are unrepentant and convinced that they saved their country from an impending communist takeover.


Sphere: Related Content

A Republican Atavism

John Podhoretz thinks the Palin speech might be among the most dazzling debuts in American political history. I don’t know about that, but I do know it was the most powerful, important, and effective speech by a vice presidential candidate since Nixon’s “Checkers.” John later notes that McCain looked relieved by it all. Again, I thought of Checkers and and a smiling Eisenhower addressing the convention: “tonight I saw courage…”

The parallels are pretty striking actually. The week of acrimonious scandal, the uncertainty of the party leadership, the lack of truth to the charges, and ultimately the triumphant personal redemption through a national televised address, which transformed a very young party favorite into a powerful national voice. Interestingly, the most notable departure from this historical recreation is the conduct of McCain throughout. He cut a superior and more loyal figure than Ike did and that’s impressive.


Sphere: Related Content

Life Under Stalinism

of victims of the Terror recounting their experiences at the hands of the secret police. The levity that many exhibit in revisiting the systematic decimation of human dignity they experienced, is the ageless strength of Russia as a nation. The inhuman brutality they describe, is the curse of that great and unfortunate nation’s state.

Sphere: Related Content

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn R.I.P.

The impact of this man on the world is not part of the memory of many today. I’ll be breaking out a few of his books this week in his memory. A true Giant has passed away.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose stubborn, lonely and combative literary struggles gained the force of prophecy as he revealed the heavy afflictions of Soviet Communism in some of the most powerful works of fiction and history written in the 20th century, died late Sunday in Russia, his son Yermolai said early Monday in Moscow. He said the cause was a heart condition. He was 89.

He outlived by nearly 17 years the state and system he had battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn had been an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school science teacher in a provincial Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage in 1962 with “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” The book, a mold-breaking novel about a prison camp inmate, was a sensation. Suddenly, he was being compared to giants of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Dostoyevski and Chekov.

Over the next four decades, Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s fame spread throughout the world as he drew upon his experiences of totalitarian duress to write evocative novels like “The First Circle” and “The Cancer Ward” and historical works like “The Gulag Archipelago.”

“Gulag” was a monumental account and analysis of the Soviet labor camp system, a chain of prisons that by Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s calculation some 60 million people had entered during the 20th century. The book led to his expulsion from his native land. George F. Kennan, the American diplomat, described it as “the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.”

Sphere: Related Content

A Paranoid on Paranoia-Last updated 1:06 CST

After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential.

You could?

The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters — with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11 — that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax — sent directly into the heart of the country’s elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets — that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.

So that is what made everybody concerned? The twisted reasoning that could assert that after 9/11 we in any way could think something like that couldn’t happen again, sans those letters, is pretty breathtaking.  Once those letters were delivered however, it suddenly occurred to the American people that it might happen again? What kind of parallel universe is he living in? Oh, and if you couldn’t tell, this is the Sock Puppet talking. (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

Defending the Second World War

Here’s a five part Uncommon Knowledge segment featuring a superb pairing of Christopher Hitchens and Victor Davis Hanson, to discuss the new World War II revisionism led by Pat Buchanan. While it’s an entertaining exercise for a Saturday, I’ll warn you that there’s a certain weakness to the discussion, given that both Hanson and Hitchens are in agreement. It’s left to poor Peter Robinson as host to present the revisionist case.

But, Robinson probably does as well a job as Pat Buchanan could. As Hitchens and Hanson both deftly demonstrate by different courses, Buchanan is advancing arguments which are largely indefensible and occasionally even crazy.

Part One of Five:


Sphere: Related Content

George Lakoff: Neo-Syndicalist

Syndicalism Over the weekend I read with fascination William Saletan’s review of the new offering from George Lakoff, “The Political Mind,” and was struck by the remarkable similarities between it and the revolutionary syndicalism espoused during the prior fin de siècle.

In particular, Saletan summarizes Lakoff’s principal idea as the need for progressives to recapture the and reformulate the social myth that drives the political decisions of the masses:

Lakoff blames “neoliberals” and their “Old Enlightenment” mentality for the Democratic Party’s weakness. They think they can win elections by citing facts and offering programs that serve voters’ interests. When they lose, they conclude that they need to move farther to the right, where the voters are.

This is all wrong, Lakoff explains. Neuroscience shows that pure facts are a myth and that self-interest is a conservative idea. In a “New Enlightenment,” progressives will exploit these discoveries. They’ll present frames instead of raw facts. They’ll train the public to think less about self-interest and more about serving others. It’s not the platform that needs to be changed. It’s the voters.

Lakoff’s concept is not new, although his explanation as to why myth-making is important may be. (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

Ellas Otha Bates, R.I.P.

Bo Diddley Rock & Roll lost one of it’s brightest and most penetrating stars yesterday, even if one of the least well known. The founder of the jungle beat heard in too many songs to count over the last 50 years succumbed to heart failure at his home in Archer, FL, at the age of 79.

Bo Diddley was a musical innovator who helped forge the sound and contributed to the style of rock ‘n’ roll. He sported a trademark fedora, played an iconic square-shaped guitar and from it he extracted a deep, rusty reverb and a peculiar playing style that influenced generations of players.


“He was by far the most underrated of any ’50s star,” says producer Phil Spector. “You listen to those (reissued box sets) and the rhythmic invention, the consistent high quality of imagination and performance, the excellence of the writing, the power of the vocals – nobody else ever did it better or had a deeper, more penetrating influence.”

Perhaps no guitarist was more influenced by Diddley’s sound and style than ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, who carries on Diddley’s tradition of strange-looking instruments and full-bodied guitar riffs with prickly solos.

Gibbons called Diddley “the ‘artiste.’

“He was the man who constructed the sound we all grew to revolve around,” he said. “And a vision of simplicity delivered through effortless expression and sense of humor. Many times, Bo made a point to say, ‘I’ll always be around,’ and we know he will.”

In other words, when it comes to rock music, if you don’t know Bo you don’t know Diddley. Eric Burden and the Animals offered the best testament to Bo’s prophetic words:

R.I.P. Ellas Otha “Bo Diddley” Bates.

Sphere: Related Content

Why the Taliban Cease Fire Won’t Matter

Published first at, this is the culmination of some research I’ve been doing into the nature and history of Pashtun tribal militancy. It draws from a mixture of out-of-print ethnocgraphic and geographic surveys, as well as contemporary news accounts, and tries to make the case that much of the turbulence there is really not unique in an historical sense. As always, comments and discussion is welcome.


There is a great deal of western unease about the potential cease-fire between some Taliban and tribal militant groups in the NWFP and FATA of Pakistan and the new civilian government. Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehrik-i Taliban and primary suspect in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and sworn enemy of this month’s U.S. friend-of-convenience Maulvi Nazir, has registered interest in a cease-fire in Waziristan.

This is a major step, and indicative of the approach valued by the new civilian government: reconciliation, not confrontation. The usual suspects, namely the U.S., are all a-jitter about the prospect of a peace deal with the militants there. But there really is no reason to feel such deep concern. These sorts of cease fire agreements have a long history in the FATA area, and there really is nothing fundamentally new about the situation. In other words, such deep concern is overblown, and stems more from historical naiveté than anything else.


Sphere: Related Content

The Victims of Communism Day

Let us remember what May Day has really represented RJ Rummell gives us the toll of The Red Plague:

As you can see, the total mid-estimate is about 110,286,000, an incredible total. It is around 65 percent of all democide over the same period, and is about three times greater than all the international and domestic war deaths, including the two world wars, Vietnam, Korea, and the Iran-Iraq War, to mention the bloodiest. This is the Red Plague driven by ideological fervor. The Black Plague, carried by fleas from rats and not by ideology, killed a quarter of the number the communists murdered.

There is much to dwell on in the table, if your stomach is up to it, and I will only note the most incredible estimates. The Soviet Union appears the greatest megamurderer of all time, apparently killing near 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these (I know you’ve read the toll as 20,000,000, but it was only for the 1930s and has been mistaken applied to Stalin’s full and bloody reign 1928-1953). Most of the Soviet deaths, perhaps around 39,000,000 are due to lethal forced labor in gulag and transit thereto.

Communist China up to 1987, but mainly from 1949 through the Cultural Revolution, which alone may have seen over 1,000,000 murdered, is the second worst megamurderer (I excluded the great famine of 1959 to about 1961 as nondemocidal – it alone cost about 27,000,000 lives). Then there are the lesser megamurderers, such as North Korea and Tito’s Yugoslavia.

Obviously, the population that is available to kill will make a big difference in the total democide, and thus the annual percentage rate of democide is revealing. By far, the most deadly of all communist countries and, indeed, in this century by far, has been Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his henchmen likely killed some 2,000,000 Cambodians from April 1975 through December 1978 out of a population of around 7,000,000. This is an annual rate of over 8 percent of the population murdered, or odds of an average Cambodian surviving Pol Pot’s rule of slightly over 2 to 1.

Read the Whole Thing.

See also: Ilya Somin

Sphere: Related Content

Patriots Day!

Dale Franks honors the story of how the fight for our Independence began on April 19th, 1775. McQ ponders how we got to where we are today, drawing from the great T Harry Williams, and Jules Crittenden has a roundup of first hand accounts of what took place.

Sphere: Related Content

William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008)

I remember him most for his debates on the Firing Line in the 70’s. His style, full of respect and grace are what I’ll remember him by.

I’m devastated to report that our dear friend, mentor, leader, and founder William F. Buckley Jr., died overnight in his study in Stamford, Connecticut.

After year of illness, he died while at work; if he had been given a choice on how to depart this world, I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas.

Sphere: Related Content

Do Not Stay Silent

Please read this, and then pass it on and post it yourself.

We cannot stay silent.


Sphere: Related Content

To Understand Them, You Must Know Them

As Ron Paul’s more disturbing and radical views are emerging, especially how closely he has associated himself with the Mises Institute, it might behoove those of us who consider ourselves on the libertarian side of things to more closely examine who these radicals are.

Certainly we have to understand we have many areas of agreement, but I think it telling that in selecting works of the late Murray Rothbard’s to feature, they would choose some of his most extreme and disturbing works of history at this point in time. Read Murray show not only a great degree of tendentious distortion, but the depth of his loathing, and that of those who would choose this particular piece, in his evisceration of George Washington. Every anti federalist conspiracy theory is presaged here. It is not that he wishes we had been more anarcho capitalist that strikes one, but the seething disgust at any deviation from the faith, even when fighting a war, and the way evidence is presented to paint Washington as an 18th century version of a totalitarian.

Of course, men who can fawn over Milosovic and Putin can twist reality to show whatever they wish.

Sphere: Related Content

Perhaps we’re turning into Victorians

Or: What I Learned About the World from Reading Historical Romances.

I learned that sometimes people get *more* uptight over time rather than less.

Victorians, according to custom and any number of novels, were concerned with propriety above all. Certain things were not spoken of and certainly the rougher aspects of life were hidden from young ladies. They were prudes.

Read enough novels and eventually a consumer of these delightful escapes will come across one that isn’t Victorian at all, but set in the Georgian era or earlier, or at the very least has a foul mouthed old grandmother who insists on wearing her wig and powder and scandalizing her adult children with accounts of her wild youth.

What brought this to mind (in a rather random fashion, which is typical for my brain) was this post of mine and what Joshua said about History. (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

Visit the People’s Paradise

Communist documents promoting North Korea, which were seized from Cuban personnel during the invasion of Grenada in 1983. Not your ordinary tourist brochures. Click to enlarge:

Grenada communist documents
photo: Department of Defense

Sphere: Related Content

Just Imagine

Churchill(Cross posted at Whatif?)

George Santayana told us:  “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

What on earth do you do, though, with those who never learned any history in the first place?

A fifth of British teenagers believe Sir Winston Churchill was a fictional character, while many think Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur and Eleanor Rigby were real, a survey shows.

The canvass of 3,000 under-twenties uncovered an extraordinary paucity of basic historical knowledge that older generations take for granted.

Despite his celebrated military reputation, 47 per cent of respondents dismissed the 12th-century crusading English king Richard the Lionheart as fictional.

More than a quarter (27 per cent) thought Florence Nightingale, the pioneering nurse who coaxed injured soldiers back to health in the Crimean War, was a mythical figure.

In contrast, a series of fictitious characters that have featured in British films and literature over the past few centuries were awarded real-life status.

King Arthur is the mythical figure most commonly mistaken for fact – almost two thirds of teens (65 per cent) believe that he existed and led a round table of knights at Camelot.

Sherlock Holmes, the detective, was so convincingly brought to life in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, their film versions and television series, that 58 per cent of respondents believe that the sleuth really lived at 221B Baker Street.

Fifty-one per cent of respondents believed that Robin Hood lived in Sherwood Forest, robbing the rich to give to the poor, while 47 per cent believed Eleanor Rigby was a real person rather than a creation of The Beatles.

If such a high percentage of today’s youth imagine a fictional history instead of what is reality – what would poor Santayana have to say about that!?

Sphere: Related Content

Noneconomic Man in Modern Europe

photo: Tal Bright

Thomas Barnett bemoans the grotesque state of economics education in Europe, which often ranges from the anti-capitalist to the simply fatuous. But consider this item he cites:

Great French HS textbook: “Globalization implies subjugation of the world to the market, which constitutes a true cultural danger.”
(Thomas P.M. Barnett)

Somewhat bemused by this, Barnett asks “why is Europe so antagonistic on capitalism?” Perhaps the better question is why is Europe so antagonistic toward economics, because the item above isn’t really criticism of an economic philosophy. By elevating the primacy of culture over the market, we’re looking at the rejection of the economic premise, which is a concern for the material welfare of mankind. This is what Peter Drucker used to call the dream of “noneconomic man” and in his early work The End of Economic Man, he supplied some explanations for this impulse which might be of enduring relevance to Barnett’s question. (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

The Terrible Human Toll

In the annals of excruciating misery during wartime, few events can compare with what befell Napoleon’s troops during his campaign in Russia. From Strange Maps we see the suffering and tragedy in graphic statistical form. (click image to enlarge)

Napoleon in Russia

“The best statistical graphic ever drawn“, is how statistician Edward Tufte described this chart in his authoritative work ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’.

The chart, or statistical graphic, is also a map. And a strange one at that. It depicts the advance into (1812) and retreat from (1813) Russia by Napoleon’s Grande Armée, which was decimated by a combination of the Russian winter, the Russian army and its scorched-earth tactics. To my knowledge, this is the origin of the term ’scorched earth’ – the retreating Russians burnt anything that might feed or shelter the French, thereby severely weakening Napoleon’s army.

As a statistical chart, the map unites six different sets of data.
• Geography: rivers, cities and battles are named and placed according to their occurrence on a regular map.
• The army’s course: the path’s flow follows the way in and out that Napoleon followed.
• The army’s direction: indicated by the colour of the path, gold leading into Russia, black leading out of it.
• The number of soldiers remaining: the path gets successively narrower, a plain reminder of the campaigns human toll, as each millimetre represents 10.000 men.
• Temperature: the freezing cold of the Russian winter on the return trip is indicated at the bottom, in the republican measurement of degrees of réaumur (water freezes at 0° réaumur, boils at 80° réaumur).
• Time: in relation to the temperature indicated at the bottom, from right to left, starting 24 October (pluie, i.e. ‘rain’) to 7 December (-27°).

Pause a moment to ponder the horrific human cost represented by this map: Napoleon entered Russia with 442.000 men, took Moscow with only 100.000 men left, wandered around its abandoned ruins for some time and escaped the East’s wintry clutches with barely 10.000 shivering soldiers. Those include 6.000 rejoining the ‘bulk’ of the army from up north. Napoleon never recovered from this blow, and would be decisively beaten at Waterloo under two years later.

Read the whole thing.

Sphere: Related Content

Capitalism Primer

Courtesy of Bookwork Room comes this 1948 classic “Fun and Facts about American Business.” It’s a cartoon short that portrays the birth of an entrepreneur, and how bringing his idea to fruition through hard work pays off not just for him, but also for his local community, and anywhere else his business expands to, bringing jobs, wealth and higher standard of living.

Enjoy (below the jump).

UPDATE: Related item at The Corner suggesting that Gov. Huckabee needs to have a gander at this video. It might explain to him just where he’s going wrong:

Governor, I didn’t have silver spoons or boarding schools or a verb summer, but I know enough to thank God for the job creators, the natural economic stimulators, capitalism.


Sphere: Related Content

Globalization: By Don Boudreaux

(Cross posted at Risk and Return)

Cafe Hayek fans take note, it is finally out. Short review from Tyler Cowen:

This is the best popular book explaining the benefits of international trade. Imagine Bastiat for 2008, or a Cajun updating of Henry George’s Protection or Free Trade. Sadly it is expensive but I’d sooner give a student this book than say Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

High praise. Here is Amazon’s description:

The contemporary era of globalization demonstrates that the local and global aspects of business and government are increasingly intertwined. Over the past fifty years, international business has evolved from the realm of the largest multinational corporations to the base scenario; every business and every citizen who participates in economic activity–by creating, buying, and selling products and services–is now a member of the global economy. But moving our thinking and actions beyond the local sphere is both challenging and problematic; the international domain is more complex, and introduces a new dimension of risks and uncertainties. Yet it it also ripe for business opportunity and wealth creation for those who learn how to navigate in it. Globalization defines and makes sense of the workings of the global economy–and how it influences businesses and individuals on a local scale. Each chapter identifies common questions and issues that have gained exposure in the popular media–such as outsourcing, the high cost of international travel, and the impact of a fast-growing China–to illustrate underlying drivers and mechanisms at work. Covering international trade, national wealth disparities (the haves vs. the have-nots), foreign investment, and geographical and cultural issues, and supported with illustrations, maps, charts, a glossary and timeline of key events, this volume illuminates the dynamics of the global economy and informs readers of its profound impact on our daily lives.

Sphere: Related Content

Soviet Disney World Reborn

Soviet Disney

With the red stars back on the MiGs, criticism of the government illegal and dissident arrests again in fashion, Soviet reversion is all the rage in Russia. Jim Hill revealed a couple of days ago that apparently Disney is in for the show, having dusted off old plans for a Soviet pavilion at Epcot Center from the early 1990s. That project was of course shelved when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but the cycles of Russian history have once again aligned for another ill-advised go at it. This time around of course, the pavilion will advertise the new and “democratic” Russian Federation with the Putin government’s enthusiastic endorsement (and financing?).

Although for me it’s not clear anything would need be changed from the original plan. With its distinctly pre-socialist-modernist architecture, the conceptual designs for the planned 1990s USSR edition looked decidedly more 18th century Tsarist than 20th century Marxist-Leninist anyway. To capture the true spirit of the times, a better and more accurate Soviet pavilion plan would have been a gigantic, grimy, ferro-concrete apartment block with unlighted halls, a pervasive scent of urine and rotting cabbage reeking from the floors, and machine gunners awaiting your attempt at an exit.

But it occurs to me that Disney could save itself the risk of another potential cancellation by making two Russian pavilions (and you would only need two). Call them the Freeze pavilion and the Thaw pavilion. You could begin with the Freeze edition today and when Putin’s authoritarianism inevitably passes out of fashion, it could be temporarily closed and the Thaw exhibit opened. As the well-known and long-running cycles of Russian history attest, these two pavilions would cover the entirety of any future developments in Russia for all time. Just a thought.

Sphere: Related Content

Rain for the Ruins

Swaziland Sunrise
(photo: Michael Deeble)

With heavy rains flooding Southern Africa and displacing thousands, surely saving graces must be found in parched and dying Swaziland, a country long thirsting for a drop of rain. But somewhat typically, that oppressed country’s autocrat King Mswati III, has taken the event of the rain for more than it is, and in so doing has begun another trek away from the path of reform.

The other day Mswati delivered a speech in the rain to army cadets, saying that salvation had finally come. The king believes that now is the time for his citizens to give up living off donor food from the international community and return to agricultural self-sufficiency:

“The time has come for us to come out of the dependency syndrome and start eating our own food that we have cultivated in our fields instead of depending on the donor community,”

Were it only so simple.


Sphere: Related Content

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning

Echoing a wonderful discussion we had in the fall of 2006 on the nature of Fascism (see here, here and here) Jonah Goldberg writes a book which bristles at the use of the term by the contemporary left. I would really be interested in picking that discussion back up. So anybody interested, please read the previous discussions and tell me what you think. In the meantime, here is the description from Amazon:

Book Description
“Fascists,” “Brownshirts,” “jackbooted stormtroopers”—such are the insults typically hurled at conservatives by their liberal opponents. Calling someone a fascist is the fastest way to shut them up, defining their views as beyond the political pale. But who are the real fascists in our midst?

Liberal Fascism offers a startling new perspective on the theories and practices that define fascist politics. Replacing conveniently manufactured myths with surprising and enlightening research, Jonah Goldberg reminds us that the original fascists were really on the left, and that liberals from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler’s National Socialism and Mussolini’s Fascism.

Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term “National socialism”). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities—where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.

Do these striking parallels mean that today’s liberals are genocidal maniacs, intent on conquering the world and imposing a new racial order? Not at all. Yet it is hard to deny that modern progressivism and classical fascism shared the same intellectual roots. We often forget, for example, that Mussolini and Hitler had many admirers in the United States. W.E.B. Du Bois was inspired by Hitler’s Germany, and Irving Berlin praised Mussolini in song. Many fascist tenets were espoused by American progressives like John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson, and FDR incorporated fascist policies in the New Deal.

Fascism was an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries, depending on the vagaries of national culture and temperament. In Germany, fascism appeared as genocidal racist nationalism. In America, it took a “friendlier,” more liberal form. The modern heirs of this “friendly fascist” tradition include the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood. The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.

These assertions may sound strange to modern ears, but that is because we have forgotten what fascism is. In this angry, funny, smart, contentious book, Jonah Goldberg turns our preconceptions inside out and shows us the true meaning of Liberal Fascism.


Sphere: Related Content

“XMas” Origins

Jon Henke posts an interesting history lesson concerning the origins of the well-known abbreviation for Christmas:

Growing up, I sometimes heard – in church and from various religious scolds – that XMas was a secular attempt to “take Christ out of Christmas”, rather than, say, an attempt to save valuable space on signs.

Jon then links to an entry from

Claim: ‘Xmas’ is a modern, disrespectful abbreviation of the word ‘Christmas.’

Status: False.

Origins: The abbreviation of ‘Xmas’ for ‘Christmas’ is neither modern nor disrespectful. The notion that it is a new and vulgar representation of the word ‘Christmas’ seems to stem from the erroneous belief that the letter ‘X’ is used to stand for the word ‘Christ’ because of its resemblance to a cross, or that the abbreviation was deliberately concocted “to take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas.” Actually, this usage is nearly as old as Christianity itself, and its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for ‘Christ’ is ‘chi,’ and the Greek letter ‘chi’ is represented by a symbol similar to the letter ‘X’ in the modern Roman alphabet. Hence ‘Xmas’ is indeed perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word ‘Christmas’ (just as ‘Xian’ is also sometimes used as an abbreviation of the word ‘Christian’).

None of this means that Christians (and others) aren’t justified in feeling slighted when people write ‘Xmas’ rather than ‘Christmas,’ but the point is that the abbreviation was not created specifically for the purpose of demeaning Christ, Christians, Christianity, or Christmas – it’s a very old artifact of a very different language.

In point of fact, “XMas” is actually an abbreviation of an abbreviation. The Greek letters “Chi” (X) and “Rho” (R) were often used to represent Christ in ancient texts (since the original New Testament was written primarily in Greek), the most widely known example of which can be found in the Book of Kells.

Chi Rho

That’s an ‘X’ not a ‘P’ on the top, and the “Rho” is found directly underneath. A clearer depiction of this page can be found here. Together, ‘XR’ means “Christ”, and therefore the abbreviation ‘XRMas’ would be the true and correct abbreviation for Christmas.

Of course, that would look really silly and would appear to be prompting people to pronounce the word “Chr-mas”, or worse “Exermas”, neither or which is desirable or correct. Instead, we drop the “Rho” to get “XMas” which seems more phonetically pleasing somehow, and has the added bonus of being even easier to display in great big signs for holiday shopping.

All of which leads to Jon’s wise admonishment:

Let’s add to this one more valuable lesson: Don’t take offense where none is intended. You’ll end up with a martyr mentality, objecting to XMas and imagining a “War on Christmas.”

Sphere: Related Content

Blast From The Fashion Past

The linked post is a couple of months old, but the thoughts are yours to treasure for a lifetime.

Remembering the ’70’s:

Last weekend I put an exhaust fan in the ceiling for my wife’s grandfather. After a bunch of hours spent in The Hottest Attic In The Universe, he had a ceiling fan that ducted to the side of his house.

While my brother-in-law and I were fitting the fan in between the joists, we found something under the insulation. What we found was this:


Ahh, the ’70’s. When saying “I love you” was as easy as donning matching outfits:

And nothing showcases your everlasting love more than the commitment of matching bathing suits. That, and an appreciative blonde with a look on her face that says “I love the way your junk fights against that fabric.”

matching bathing suits

Enjoy the trip. [HT: Triticale, who recently passed away. RIP]

Sphere: Related Content

Happy Repeal Day!

For information on Repeal Day you can visit

The turn of the twentieth century was a dark time in America. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which had been promoting Prohibition for many years, believed alcohol was the cause of many, if not all, social ills. Mistruths like this were spread. Lines were drawn. Bars and taverns were vandalized. People were killed. On January 16th, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act, outlawing alcohol and ostensibly putting an end to drunkenness, crime, mental illness, and poverty.


Repeal Day is not widely celebrated in this country, yet it commemorates the anniversary of the day the United States repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and gave Americans the constitutional ability to consume alcohol.

Here are a few reasons why we think Repeal Day should be a celebrated day in the United States:

It’s the perfect time of year.

Conveniently located halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas — at a time when most Americans are probably not spending time with family — Repeal Day presents a wonderful occasion to get together with friends and pay tribute to our constitutional rights.

We have the constitutional ability to do so.

The American FlagUnlike St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo, Repeal Day is a day that all Americans have a part in observing, because it’s written in our Constitution. No other holiday celebrates the laws that guarantee our rights, and Repeal Day has everything to do with our personal pleasures.

It’s easy!

There are no outfits to buy, costumes to rent, rivers to dye green. Simply celebrate the day by stopping by your local bar, tavern, saloon, winery, distillery, or brewhouse and having a drink. Pick up a six-pack on your way home from work. Split a bottle of wine with a loved one. Buy a shot for a stranger. Just do it because you can.

Thanks for reading about what we hope will become a celebrated day in this country. Please help spread the word about Repeal Day, and tell a friend.


In celebration of the repeal of Prohibition I give you this from Reason TV:

For more Repeal Day errata, I highly recommend Dewars terrific website filled with historical video, proper Repeal Day conduct and drinking songs.

Sphere: Related Content

Ron Paul on Racism

I don’t think Ron Paul is a racist, or rather I don’t claim to have any evidence he is, and that is enough to hold from suggesting he is. However, his view of racism and its history is rather bizarre and, dare I say it, wholly focused on “right wing” critiques of racial thinking in his recent statement. Of course some segments of the libertarian community have always focused on the federal governments role in racial thinking, and ignored or minimized the states and other entities role in our past and right up to the present. This is mixed in with a thick stew of southern delusion and fantasy about the Confederacy. Lincoln was the real devil in that old sorry tragedy.

Ron has never expressed his discomfort with that wing of libertarianism that I am aware of, and his recent statement on this gives one the impression he wishes to appear to condemn racism while expressing it purely as a problem of government action on behalf of the discriminated against. Certainly the issue of anti discrimination laws needs to be revisited as well as affirmative action, the racial identity politics of much of the left and more. However, focusing ones condemnation of racism almost solely on such policies, especially at the federal level; and acting as if that is the real issue not only now, but in the past; rather than centuries of discrimination, enslavement, brutal and dehumanizing violence and a host of other sins is disturbing to say the least.

Nor is condemning racial policies, whatever their intent, the same as condemning racism. If I were a racist I certainly wouldn’t find anything objectionable in his statement, and much to find comfort in. The problem isn’t me, it is the fault of those nasty collectivists who have subverted the rugged individualism of white people in favor of policies to protect minorities. If I were a racist that is just the kind of myth making and blaming I might find really attractive.

For a more detailed examination of the contradictions and blinkered thinking in this statement I suggest David Bernstein (who has several posts on Paul) and Dale Franks at QandO.

Sphere: Related Content

The Key To US-French Relations

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy just completed a diplomacy visit with President Bush to much critical acclaim. As part of his playing host, Bush escorted Sarkozy to Mt. Vernon, the estate of Pres. George Washington, which is located about 20 minutes south of D.C., right at the end of the GW Parkway. By all accounts it was a lovely visit.

Writing at This Ain’t Hell, John Lilyea noticed something profound about Sarkozy visiting Mt. Vernon that was left unmentioned elsewhere:

The BBC also reported that Mr. Sarkozy was at Mount Vernon yesterday discussing events with President Bush (press conference video here). That’s particularly significant to me because of what resides there (besides George and Martha Washington). On the wall in the entranceway to Mount Vernon hangs an ancient key.Bastille Key

It’s the key to the west portal of the Bastille prison, where many of the French monarchy’s political prisoners were held. The storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789, to the French, equates to our own Boston tea party or the skirmish at Boston Commons. It was the opening salvo in their own fight for liberty.

In 1790, General Lafayette sent the key to the Bastille to George Washington – to me, that key represents France’s indebtedness to the United States for influencing their own struggle for freedom….

Lilyea’s observation is quite apt considering a persistent theme of Sarkozy’s visit:

At Congress earlier, the current resident of the Elysee Palace was cheered for more than three minutes before he even began his 45-minute address….

Mr Sarkozy devoted much of his speech to expressing gratitude for US heroism on French battlefields in World War II, and to praising American values, spirit and culture.

“America liberated us. This is an eternal debt,” he said, adding: “I want to tell you that whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American army did for France.”

The Marquis de Lafayette, whose 250th birthday was celebrated during Sarkozy’s visit, was also kept front and center through much of the pagentry:

Indeed, Sarkozy seemed to fancy himself a modern-day Lafayette, retracing the steps of the French noble who became Washington’s aide-de-camp. This cast Bush in the supporting role of Washington, a performance Bush was delighted to give. The result was an extended historical reenactment by the two world leaders.

“In 1777, another George W. welcomed to America another Frenchman; his name was Lafayette,” Bush said Tuesday night in a toast to Sarkozy. Sarkozy answered with an anecdote about John Quincy Adams, “who was welcoming Lafayette in these selfsame walls, in this selfsame house.”

Both countries were forged in struggles for liberty, each taking an interest in the plight of the other. It therefore seems fitting that the entourage should visit the place where the Bastille Key is kept. However different the paths of America and France after their respective Revolutions, that key symbolizes, as well as anything, the common ideal of freedom from tyranny that was held dear to both nations at the close of the 18th century. Since then, each has explored methods of government that are in almost perfect diametrical opposition. Perhaps a new found affinity for one another, focused on the most immediate enemies of freedom and dangers to the world, will rekindle that ideal — both in France and here at home.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

Powerful Imagery

Michael Yon captures a moment on film that in a world with a meritocratic media would surely garner a Pulitzer:

Raising the cross

A Muslim man had invited the American soldiers from “Chosen” Company 2-12 Infantry to the church, where I videotaped as Muslims and Christians worked and rejoiced at the reopening of St John’s, an occasion all viewed as a sign of hope.

The Iraqis asked me to convey a message of thanks to the American people. ” Thank you, thank you,” the people were saying. One man said, “Thank you for peace.” Another man, a Muslim, said “All the people, all the people in Iraq, Muslim and Christian, is brother.” The men and women were holding bells, and for the first time in memory freedom rang over the ravaged land between two rivers. (Videotape to follow.)

Kevin, at The Smallest Minority, has the same thought as me regarding the first comparable image that came to mind:

Both, I think, mark a crucial turning point in their respective wars. The Iwo Jima photo was responsible for a resurgence of support for the war in the Pacific after more than three years of war, rationing, shortages at home, and an endless stream of Western Union telegrams. The battle for Iwo Jima lasted from February 19 to the end of March, 1945. In less than two months U.S. forces lost 6,825 killed and over 20,000 wounded on that tiny island alone.

We’ve been at war in Iraq for not yet five years. Current U.S. casualties are 3,857 dead and some 28,000 wounded.

Will this photo inspire America to continue its support for the war? Maybe, if it receives circulation. But that doesn’t fit the template of today’s media, so most probably it won’t.

The phrase “turning a corner” has become hackneyed in application to Iraq, but can we at least agree that the turn signal is on, the light is green, and the traffic seems to be co-operating?

HT: Instapundit, who has lots more links and comments.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

Shift Happens

Sometimes information like this makes me sit back and think “whoa” (sounding to much like neo in the matrix.) Not only is this a small world (which we often forget,) but it is becoming an exponentially complex and interconnected one.

glumbert – Shift Happens

The Singularity is Near.

Heck, I read sci-fi, and try to keep up with advances in computers and software, and I am often left open mouthed at some of “magic” happening now. One of my favorite course in college had us OO programming in a language I’ve lone forgotten (SMALLTALK I think.) My project was making a virtual robot move around a virtual world, responding to simple typed commands. Now, you can get a LEGO kit to attempt the same.

H/T to my favorite strategic thinker for pointing this out…

Sphere: Related Content


Che Tyrant
It is a sad commentary upon the state of the world that anniversary of a bloodthirsty tyrant’s death is celebrated around the world, and here in the United States, not with glee that his anti-freedom rampage was cut short, but with mourn for the loss.

“I halt in my daily combat to bow my head, with respect and gratitude, to the exceptional combatant who fell on the 8th of October 40 years ago….I give him thanks for what he tried to do, and for what he could not do in his country of birth because he was like a flower yanked prematurely from its stem.”

The New York Times celebrates by profiling Che’s daughter, Aleida Guevara March, who laments how her father’s message has been distorted (HT: Citizen Feathers):

But amid all the ceremony, what really gets to Ms. Guevara is the use of the man she calls Papi in ways that she says are completely removed from his revolutionary ideals, like when a designer recently put Che on a bikini….

Ms. Guevara and her family, too, have tried to stop the marketing of Che’s image in ways that they find abhorrent. She says they have reached out to lawyers in New York, whom she would not identify, to pursue companies the family thinks are misusing the image, not to sue them for damages, but to ask them to stop.

“We’re not after money,” she said. “We just don’t want him misused. He can be a universal person, but respect the image.”

Yeah. It truly is a travesty that Che gets no respect.

Ms. Guevara travels the world speaking at conferences dealing with Che. At one in Italy, she learned after signing T-shirts for some young people that they were fascists. “They knew nothing about him,” she said with a sigh.

Seriously, why would fascists be interested in Che?

And, according to the NYT, the problem of Che-chic is not just found on American and European college campuses:

Even in Cuba, one of the world’s last Communist bastions, Che is used both to make a buck and to make a point. “He sells,” acknowledged a Cuban shop clerk, who had Che after Che staring down from a wall full of T-shirts.

But at least here he is also used to inspire the next generation of Cubans. Schoolchildren invoke his name every morning, declaring with a salute, “We want to be like Che.” His quotations are recited almost as often as those of Fidel Castro.

Well, that’s good. Heaven forfend that the children go without their daily dose of indoctrination. The really sick thing is that they probably have no idea that being “like Che” means being like this:

In January 1957, as his diary from the Sierra Maestra indicates, Guevara shot Eutimio Guerra because he suspected him of passing on information: “I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain…. His belongings were now mine.” Later he shot Aristidio, a peasant who expressed the desire to leave whenever the rebels moved on. While he wondered whether this particular victim “was really guilty enough to deserve death,” he had no qualms about ordering the death of Echevarría, a brother of one of his comrades, because of unspecified crimes: “He had to pay the price.” At other times he would simulate executions without carrying them out, as a method of psychological torture.

Luis Guardia and Pedro Corzo, two researchers in Florida who are working on a documentary about Guevara, have obtained the testimony of Jaime Costa Vázquez, a former commander in the revolutionary army known as “El Catalán,” who maintains that many of the executions attributed to Ramiro Valdés, a future interior minister of Cuba, were Guevara’s direct responsibility, because Valdés was under his orders in the mountains. “If in doubt, kill him” were Che’s instructions. On the eve of victory, according to Costa, Che ordered the execution of a couple dozen people in Santa Clara, in central Cuba, where his column had gone as part of a final assault on the island. Some of them were shot in a hotel, as Marcelo Fernándes-Zayas, another former revolutionary who later became a journalist, has written—adding that among those executed, known as casquitos, were peasants who had joined the army simply to escape unemployment.

As I stated at the outset, it really is sad that this murdering tyrant is not shunned around the world. Every time I see some fool wearing a Che t-shirt I want to scream “Do you even know who that is? Are you sure that you want to parade around with a mass killer’s face imprinted on your chest?”

Of course, a good deal of that ignorance is because of ridiculous fluff pieces like this NYT article. Throughout the entire expose, the only mention of Che’s misdeeds is couched in weasel-words (my emphasis):

“There’s no doubt that when Fidel dies someday, his image will be just like Che’s,” said Enrique Oltuski, the vice minister of fishing and a contemporary of both men. But Che’s mythic status as a homegrown revolutionary does not extend everywhere, even if his image does. When Target stores in the United States put his image on a CD carrying case last year, critics who consider him a murderer and symbol of totalitarianism pressed the retailer to pull the item.

“What next? Hitler backpacks? Pol Pot cookware? Pinochet pantyhose?” Investor’s Business Daily said in an editorial, calling the use of the image an example of “tyrant-chic.”

“Consider him a murderer”? There’s not even a question of doubt on this score, as Che unapologetically admitted to many of his nefarious deeds in his diaries. But don’t let that stop you from appearing to be above the fray. Just go on with your fawning report about how poor Che’s image is being disrespected, and how passionate and wonderful his daughter is for wandering the world to promote violent revolution. Wonderful.

The San Francisco Gate’s take on the memorial to Che including this interesting paragraph entitled “History lesson”:

Medical-student Che was 23 years old when he set out on his first journey, with a friend, around Latin America. On the road, he “discovered a new world far removed from the reality he had known in [his hometown of] Rosario and in Buenos Aires, with his life focused on his studies and on playing…rugby.” During a second trip around the continent, Che spent time in Mexico City, where he met Fidel Castro, a young Cuban lawyer who was talking up his dream of returning to his homeland to lead a socialist revolution against Bautista. Che fell in with Castro and took part in a 1956 rebel invasion of Cuba that sparked a three-year, guerrilla struggle that led to the ousting of the dictator. Che became the first minister of industry in Castro’s new government. In 1966, he set out for Bolivia to export the socialist-revolutionary message. The following year, in the southeastern Bolivian town of La Higuera, Che was killed by representatives of Bolivia’s military and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Notice anything missing? If not, would you mind checking your closet for me? There are few items there I’d like to burn.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

News Brief, À Cause Des Garçons Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Dear God. The USAF thinks it will win counterinsurgencies by copying the Viet Cong? These guys are almost as bad as the PMFs. In a must-read analysis, Abu Muqawama concludes, “This, America, is your uniformed military leadership. Be proud.” Oh I am.
  • “The reliable replacement warhead is a symptom.” Of what, you’ll have to read.
  • Interesting take on the leaky spook that led to Al Qaeda going dark.
  • The Instapundit unintentionally demonstrates that chaos is not a given as troops pull out of Iraq.

Around the World

  • For its first few post-Turkmenbashi months, Nathan and I were speculating about what kinds of reform Stomatologbashi might bring to Turkmenistan. There were opportunities for better internet access, more open borders, a better education system, maybe even loosened speech codes. Joshua Kucera went there, and heard some fascinatingly conflicting things about what that might shape up to be.
  • I’ve begun sponsoring small businesses through Kiva. You should too. I also wonder what exactly might be happening in Waziristan—a for real real battle, or another dog and pony show for the reporters? It’s way too early to say, and it’s damned frustrating it’s so dangerous for reporters.
  • Support Craig Murray in his battle against censorship at the hands of a wealthy thug.
  • Kazakhstan’s bid for the Chair of the OSCE, covered in some depth here and here, gets a slightly more insider treatment from Arseny sees something odd: for the first time, the request to postpone the chairmanship has come from Kazakhstan itself, instead of sanctimonious EU insiders. What could that mean? There are also some interesting questions about their national security strategy that are worth reading.
  • Ms. Boyd is back from Costa Rica, giving us the insider scoop on CAFTA. Welcome back!
  • Hahaha! German economists are complaining that chimpanzees behave according to economic models, but people don’t! Of course! That means people are wrong, not those models!
  • All those people who think China is to blame for Burma (including me) are wrong: it is really Thailand.
  • I’m sure this is the first time someone has slacked off at work to edit a Wiki fan page. EVER.
  • Péter Marton gazes into the information black hole of Pakistan’s FATA.

Back at Home

  • Is it possible to be principled and patriotic and still think we should lose a war? McQ doesn’t see how, but I suppose he’s never read Chesterton’s thoughts on patriotism. If your country is behaving immorally, it can be principled to wish for her defeat. Then again, I doubt the people wanting us to “lose” (and the way it’s defined there is awfully sloppy, and falls for the false victory/defeat choice people persist in thinking we face in Iraq) think as deeply about it.
  • The RIAA hates your CD burner and radio station. Seriously. Their successful, “treat the customer as a criminal” business model must be resulting in good profits, right? Right.
  • Everything about this story is shameful. State secrets be damned—this man was abducted off the street, tortured for months, then dumped on a hillside in Albania. By the CIA, or maybe one of its contractors. And SCOTUS refuses to hear his plea, we suspect because the Bush Administration proclaims it would reveal “state secrets.” Like our policy of kidnapping and torturing innocent people? Seriously, when did Bush become Brezhnev>?
Sphere: Related Content

News Brief, Tales of Taboo Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Finally, after years of occupying their country, we’ve liberated Iraq from the burden of living in fear for collaborating with us.
  • P.W. Singer (again) on the devil’s bargain of PMCs. I like how he wonders how a force can be cost effective when it’s more expensive and so detrimental to the overall mission. Worth thinking about, but too many of the administration are in the industry’s pocket—in a very real sense of the term. More thoughts here. And look who’s throwing around the “M” word.
  • Abu Muqawama asks: “how badly do you have to screw up before you don’t get offered a fellowship at Georgetown or Stanford or Harvard? …these people need to do penance emptying bed pans at Walter Reed for a few years before they’re allowed to take poetry classes and ‘recapture’ their lives.” He’s referring to Meghan O’Sullivan, one of the primary architects of the Iraq War in the White House, and how she’s retiring to pursue more relaxing pursuits and teach undergrads about security issues at an elite university. It’s like when Georgetown hired Doug Feith—can these people take “failing upward” to a more ludicrous degree? And I really hope these universities are only hiring these people for their connections, rather than their capabilities, knowledge, or experience.
  • Does the missile shield actually work? Color me skeptical—IRL, you don’t have advance warning of the launch location and timing of a missile attack. Similarly, the countermeasures defeating system hasn’t been meaningfully tested (and probably never will be, as ensuring China and Russia could still punch through was a big part of Bush’s promise not to “counter” them when he withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002). That article also notes that, despite five successful test launches since 1999, there have been 3 failures—the true usefulness of a hyper-expensive defense system with a 40% failure rate seems to have escaped them. Shoddy reporting on DailyTech’s part.
  • I had written a blurb here about historical revisionism among the war supporters, but it was long so I turned it into its own post.

Around the World

  • I express skepticism about the conservative crowing over the sham re-election of Pervez Musharraf, the backward logic of our campaign in Afghanistan, and a statement of support for Craig Murray in his battle not to be silenced by a wealthy Uzbek industrialist—in London. All this and more, over at
  • Afghanistanica throws some water on the idea of Hazara riots over The Kite Runner. Good on him—he’s a good counterweight to the just ignorant posting on Afghanistan you’ll find at the Instapundit (whose logic would imply we are at war with the Hazara, instead of just in serious need of the ability to be empathetic to a culture with different pressure points as we occupy their country).
  • Who needs electricity to navigate a series of tubes?
  • The Burma junta knows how to persuade. Word is they’re now seizing UN computers with information on Burmese dissidents.
  • Turkey is playing hardball with the unfortunate reality of the Armenian genocide. As with 2003, they have us by the balls over Iraq, though I don’t think they’re quite ready to invade Kurdistan, not just yet. Reports like , even apart from the excellent reporting on the region by Michael Totten, would make for a PR disaster for Turkey.
  • Villagers in Laos still face the prospect of unexploded U.S. ordinance from the Vietnam War. Hell, farmers in Alsace still face the prospect of unexploded ordinance from World War I. Modern wars have long lasting consequences, which is why they should be fought as an absolute last resort resort.

Back at Home

  • Google is a tricky monkey. Good luck getting cell phone users to buy adware.
  • Eww, drafting Peter Pace for the Senate? Really? Do people just hate this country?
  • Assuming it’s ever legal for me to adopt children in this hateful, expensive state (or jointly own a house, or anything else the Legislature outlawed in the name of Jesus), I’m so going to teach my children that credit cards are like infinite money. You know, to support the GWOT.
Sphere: Related Content

Good News, Bad News and The Big Idea

This is good news (via Insty):

The U.S. military is eliminating Al Qaida’s chain of command in Iraq.

Officials said several leading aides to Al Qaida network chief Abu Ayoub Al Masri have been killed by the U.S.-led coalition. They said two out of the four foreign aides of Al Masri remain alive.

On Sept. 25, the U.S. military killed an Al Qaida chief deemed responsible for transporting foreign operatives to Iraq. The Al Qaida commander, identified as Abu Osama Al Tunisi, was killed in a U.S. air strike as he met his colleagues in Musayib, about 60 kilometers south of Baghdad.

Shortly before he died, Al Tunisi wrote a letter that warned of a threat to Al Qaida operations in Karkh. The lettter, found by the U.S. military, sought guidance from Al Qaida leaders amid coalition operations that hampered Al Tunisi’s network.

“We are so desperate for your help,” the letter read.

That al Qaeda is basically being decimated in Iraq is a testament to the efficacy of the surge. However, Jon Henke disagrees, pointing to the bad news (my emphasis):

The purpose of the surge was to provide the security space for political reconciliation – not promises, not continued negotiations, but genuine political settlement that reins in the militias, pacifies the Sunnis and puts the Iraqi security forces in a position of trust and responsibility.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if supporters are pointing to death/casualty statistics instead of concrete political progress that replaces the need for US troops, then the surge is not working.

I disagree with Jon that the surge is not working. In the comment thread to his post, Captain Sarcastic nails the reason why:

The surge IS working, to the extent that it is creating a better environment for political reconcliliation, but actual success requires that the political reconciliation actually happen, and the military, no matter how successul it is, cannot make the political reconciliation succeed. That is up to the Iraqi’s, and whether they will succeed is far from answered.

We’ve done (and are doing) our job.

Now it’s time for the Iraqis to do theirs.

Even though the surge is doing exactly what it’s supposed to, the fact remains that political progress remains elusive. So far tribal and sectarian alliances have been more important than creating consensus. Until the Iraqi government steps up to the plate, we really are just waiting for a civil war to erupt. In order to avoid that, some true Iraqi statesmen will need to come forward and take the lead. And that’s the Big Idea.Big Idea

In the context of arms sales to Saudi Arabia I made the following point (emphasis added):

So is arming Saudi Arabia a good policy decision or not? The pros of fostering a “balance of power” type of détente in the Middle East are centered on keeping the Arab states and Iran at bay long enough to stand up Iraq, which (so the theory goes) would then serve as a positive political force in the region that encourages reforms in the theo/autocratic regimes that currently dominate. A democracy seed, if you will. The cons regard Iraq as the slow-burning fuse set to ignite a region-wide war between Sunni and Shi’a, and thus creating an arms race between the Saudis and Iran (and Syria) is just adding a few powder kegs to the explosion.

The biggest failing of the Bush Administration with respect to the war was abandonning the rhetoric of Iraq being the catalyst to democratic reform of the Middle East. That is truly the prize that we seek; the goal that will make whole world much safer. By failing to focus the U.S. electorate’s attention on that prize, and constantly holding up its pursuit as the reason for being in Iraq in the first place, the Bush Administration allowed those anti-thetical to the President’s agenda to define and cast usunder the grand vision. That does not mean that had Bush effectively employed the bully pulpit in reminding America of why it sacrifices blood and treasure so far from home the Iraqis would have magically found the intestinal fortitude to forge a reconciliation. But it would have made putting pressure on their parliament much easier if the U.S. citizens were more united in demanding a positive end to our presence there, and may have even fostered greater international co-operation in the endeavor.

Since the days of the Ottoman Empire, which was left to rot for over 100 years before being dismantled after WWI, the Middle East has been the political headache that nobody wanted to deal with. Prior to oil becoming such a valuable resource, no one actually cared what happened there, so long as the Suez Canal remained open, and whatever tribal conflicts broke out were contained to the deserts and mountains. But with oil prosperity came the ability of Middle Eastern leaders to exact a penalty for so many decades of being treated as a nuisance. Sitting on an ocean of oil suddenly empowered those who felt dismissed by the Western world, and enabled a new power dynamic to emerge, gradually moving from tribal politics to dynastic and authoritarian regimes who buy the loyalty of their subjects with oil revenues. Now that the effects of that new dynamic have spilled over, violently, to the shores of the West in general, and deposited its vitriol on our doorstep specifically, the status quo will no longer suffice. The Middle East has rotted for too long.

Iraq is the first step in correcting that historical mistake. Unfortunately, colonization is no longer an option, so the much tougher task of creating democratic institutions from scratch is the next best option — [Did he say "unfortunately"? Your damn right I did. The problem with colonization was never in the process itself, but in who was doing the colonizing. Don't believe me? Take a look at the former British Empire and tell me how most of its former colonies are doing today overall. OK, now look at those of France. See what I mean?] That task requires an enormous amount of political capital, most importantly in the ability to bring world pressure to bear not just on the country being democratized, but also on its neighbors who may not be so keen about a democracy springing up in their back yard. Obviously, the Bush Administration does not possess this capital. If it had pushed the Big Idea vigorously over the past four years, then it might just have enough in the bank to finish the job now. Unfortunately, unless someone else picks up the slack, that Big Idea will become the worst casualty of this war.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

News Brief, Lover’s Spit Edition

Three kinds of busy over at The Conjecturer.

Good News
I was ambushed by the Anonymous Lobbyist of Wonkette fame, and asked a lot of questions about Central Asia for Jezebel, a sister publication in the Gawker blog family. The result? A creatively-edited and mildly schizophrenic interview about the issues surrounding the region. Neat!

Defense & The War

  • Yes, the complaints about Blackwater’s history of murdering civilians in Iraq without consequence is just a game of politics. Real patriotic pro-war Americans know that Blackwater can and does do no harm.
  • Speaking of which, Blackwater Vice-Chairman Cofer Black, who also runs Total Intelligence Solutions (a spy-for-hire business with shady ties in Iraq), has been named Mitt Romney’s counterterrorism advisor. Because nothing says “hearts and minds” like hiring one of the men in charge of one of the most hated groups in the Muslim world.
  • How useful are show of force missions? I would estimate “not very,” considering insurgents in the Iraq already know what we can do and what we cannot do, and an A10 buzzing by overhead doesn’t really scare them much. But then again, what do I know?
  • Baghdad has been so surged and fixed that the U.S. embassy has banned ground travel outside the Green Zone.
  • Meanwhile, flag officers like Major General Stone offer some hope that, maybe, we’re not as screwed up the butt as I fear when it comes to handling the Muslim world. I suspect a change of civilian leadership will improve things dramatically.
  • David Axe is quickly turning into a favorite read: this time he asks questions about tactics and strategy in Iraq, and not only gets non-answers from the guys in charge but is practically accused of defeatism by some DR commenters. Go Axe, I say. At least one of the military reporters out there is asking questions.
  • Like this guy. If Waxman has something, and knowing Waxman he might not (or if he does, he just might not be able to say so in less than 5k words), then one of the State Department’s own top-level political appointees had a primary role to play in the billions of dollars of fraud that has been committed against this war. Knowing how brazenly companies like KBR ripped off the government for hundreds of millions of dollars—with nary an indictment—it is difficult to adhere to that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. In other words, this shit just makes my blood boil.

Around the World

  • The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia—which is neither, and run by the anti-Semitic half-Jew Vladimir Zhirinovsky—wants Andrei Lugovoi to run for the Duma. This, we know. What is amazing is what Zhirinovsky thinks of the world: “There is our main enemy, the Anglo-Saxons,” he said, pointing to Britain on a map of the world. “The UK is trying to rule the world.” “Andrei is now the point-man in a historic confrontation between our country and Britain.” So I guess it’s the 1850s again?
  • At long last, one of the highest ranking members of the Khmer Rouge just might face justice for the unbelievable amount of misery and horror he inflicted upon Cambodia.
  • Michael Totten’s excellent essay on the armed rebels of western Iran is finally online.
  • I talk Turkey, then I cruise Kyrgyzstan and their new Constitution, over at
  • Roger Williams points me to this collection of Chinese propaganda posters. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason they feel more sinister than the ones from the Soviets. Maybe it’s all the criticism sessions. I don’t know. But I added some deeper reflections on those Soviet posters, as well as what they might tell us of post-Soviet psychology, over at
  • Has a new singularity opened? The World Bank now has its own and Flickr Stream.

Back at Home

  • American diplomacy has been brought low by the Bush administration: earlier this year Secretary of State Rice could not get an op-ed published (we have something in common!), and now even the Pope has snubbed her like a Muslim. This is not good if you’re looking at the long term health of the country as something other than a military force. Somebody tell John “we need more clandestine regime change” Bolton.
  • As expected, no one bought the Petraeus Report. More accurately, no one’s mind changed.
  • Yay! We’re second only to cesspool LA for traffic congestion!
  • indeed.
  • Speaking of which, dear God, please don’t ever let me have a bikini wax.
Sphere: Related Content

Towards A New Peace

Glenn Reynolds points to some interesting remarks regarding a plan for US withdrawal from Iraq:

In a report to be released Sunday, a panel of experts assembled by the U.S. Institute of Peace calls for a 50 percent reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq within three years and a total withdrawal and handover of security to the Iraqi military in five years. . . .

With some recent security improvements, the biggest problem facing the Bush administration and Iraq is the failure of politicians in Baghdad to reconcile Sunni and Shiite factions and pass critical laws to secure the fledgling new democracy. “The situation remains fluid, but a window has opened, fleetingly, for Iraq to proceed with political reconciliation. Iraq’s national politicians have been unable to take full advantage of this opportunity,” says the report, authored by USIP vice president Daniel Serwer.

This isn’t the first time, of course, that the inability and/or unwillingness of the Iraqi government to make the compromises necessary to securing a peaceful future for the country has been singled out for opprobrium. All the talk about civil war, irrespective of the semantics of the term, are indicative on that very problem. If the Maliki government cannot come to reasonable terms with the Sunni factions, then a full scale Iraqi civil war appears inevitable, accompanied by the unsavory possibility of a wider scale war throughout the Middle East.

If the worst case scenario is indeed the one that we face, and the number one factor in avoiding that scenario is an Iraqi government making the choices that need to be done, I have two questions:

(1) Why was one of the most successful programs for bringing about just such a political reconcialiation, which was being run through the State Department, defunded without any explanation, and the participants sent home?

(2) Is it now necessary to take the same approach to the Iraqi government’s intractability that we took with respect to Japan at the end of WWII, when we essentially wrote the Japanese Constitution?

The answer to Question #1 is still a mystery, and I invite any and all readers to offer some insight. If, as all seem to agree, the political process is the paramount consideration to ending US military maneuvers in Iraq, then it would seem that so to would be the funding of such programs designed to foster that process. So why was the funding cut off?

Abandoning our assistance the political process is what makes Question #2 necessary, IMHO. If we aren’t going to help the Iraqis with that process, that seems to leave two possibilities. Either we leave the Iraqis to their own devices (which does not seem to be going well) or we take the drastic step of writing their Constitution for them as we did for Japan. While that process was contentious when we did it after WWII, and it would be even more so now, I have difficulty seeing any other way. So, is it time that we simply took the reins and set to drafting those amendments that are necessary to reconciliation?

Historically, it worked out well with Japan, but that was a much different place at a much different time. For starters, there were no outside guerillas/terrorists working to disrupt the process in Japan as there are in Iraq. Perhaps the vested interests that the Saudis and the Iranians believe they have are too great to allow such a drastic move on our part. However, if we aren’t going to employ the assistance of NGO’s and other non-profits in the process, and if the Maliki government is incapable of doing taking the necessary steps on its own, what choice do we really have?

With Japan, we threatened to remain as an occupying force until the Constitution was adopted. Maybe the tact that thinkning Democrats need to take is to threaten a withdrawal unless the appropriate compromises are made, or such Constitutional changes as drafted by the US are adopted in toto. This approach is already being taken to a degree in the form of the benchmarks set out for the Iraqi government, but those measures are aimed more at President Bush than at Maliki. At some point, using a strongarm methods with Iraq may be necessary (maybe now?), but the Democratic Congress would be wise to do so with the President instead of in spite of him.

In any case, although the surge does appear to be working in that is providing the necessary time and space for the Iraqi government to do its thing, it will all be for naught if Maliki can’t push through the changes and compromises necessary for a political reconciliation. If Congress does not want to fund assistance in that drafting process, and if it has no confidence in the Maliki government to do the job on its own, then it would seem that last remaining option is to draft the changes ourselves and foist them upon Iraq. It’s not a pleasant choice, but it may be the only available option at this point.

If we truuly want a positive outcome in Iraq, that is.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

Living History

Does the blogosphere make history more relevant? Is it possible that Santayana’s famous admonishment is made less likely by bloggers routinely wielding history as a foil to those arguments favoring actions proven desultory in the past? And that’s not to mention how blogs go about correcting historical inaccuracies trotted out by our betters. I can’t help but wonder about these questions, and the role of the blogosphere on the future, when so many lessons that I thought had been learned are tested once again.

In addition to that supremely failed experiment called communism, we also see attempted repeats of the Vietnam exodus and denials of the likely aftermath. Despite what history teaches us about all these events, some vow that this time will be different, or worse pretend that the past did not occur the way it actually did. Today bears witness to proposals which apprently ignore the wonderfully failed government intervention that brought us the S&L crisis from the 70’s and 80’s.

President Bush today plans to outline a number of proposals to stem the tide of mortgage defaults and help people hold on to their homes, a senior administration official said Thursday.

The program is the first detailed administration response to the housing-sector woes that have roiled financial markets worldwide since June, amid surging home loan delinquencies.

Included in the plan, according to the official, will be a proposal to expand the Federal Housing Administration’s ability to insure loans for people who have fallen behind on their payments and could be helped by refinancing.

The president also wants to raise the limit on the insurance premiums that the FHA can charge home buyers. That could allow the agency to insure a greater number of loans to high-risk borrowers.

In addition, Bush will propose temporarily suspending an Internal Revenue Service rule that makes a homeowner liable for taxes on any amount of mortgage debt that is forgiven by the lender, said the official, who requested anonymity because the president’s program hadn’t been formally unveiled.

The markets reacted predictably:

U.S. stocks rallied, led by bank shares, on President George W. Bush’s plan to curb mortgage defaults and stem losses in credit markets.

Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation’s largest mortgage lender, and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the biggest underwriter of bonds backed by home loans, advanced after Bush said the government will help people with delinquent mortgages keep their homes. Dell Inc., the second-largest maker of personal computers, rose after posting profit and sales that beat analysts’ estimates.

Of course, that was just until Ben Bernanke said his own piece on the matter:

Stocks retreated from their highs after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said it is “not the responsibility” of policy makers to protect lenders and investors from the consequences of their financial decisions.

It’s like a globalized version of “good cop, bad cop.” Nevertheless, I find it curious that the moral hazard implicit in the S&L crisis is yet again being offered as a solution here. Indeed, there are great many similarities between the behaviors that led to the current subprime woes and the underlying conditions that brought about the S&L crisis (the primary difference being that high interest rates were an incentive then, while low interest rates were an incentive in the recent meltdown). In short, when the bad consequences of taking risks are minimized to the risk-taker, or insured for free by someone else, then we should expect to see more of the riskiy behavior. An even shorter version is, if you want more of something, the pay for it.

Will blogs bring once again wield history in a way that sheds light on why this is a bad idea. It is true that the blogosphere does not have a wonderful track record of success when it comes to changing behavior, but is it possible that by the constant and instantaneous reminders from the past will help avoid similarly bad decisions in the future? Hopefully, these questions and others will find some answers in the near term. Our current leaders could use a healthy dose of history.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

Constitutional Matters at the New York Times

So, when you spend a great deal of time touting your authority based on the unique advantages of editors, the question must be asked, who reviews the views and claims of the editors? From the editorial board of the New York Times we get this rather startling new information on our Constitution:

It is an eminently good thing that the anti-suicide measure would require medical specialists to keep track of veterans found to be high risks for suicide. But that’s to care for them as human beings, under that other constitutional rightto life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Respect for the grave sacrifices by veterans requires the Senate to strike down the Coburn ploy and hurry this vital measure to President Bush.

I think these kinds of beliefs explain a lot about how The Times views our Constitution. I suggest that they disabuse themselves of such ignorance by having everyone on their editorial board (and make it a requirement of future editors as well) study the work of a notable New Yorker by the name of Alexander Hamilton, as well as his co-authors John Jay and James Madison. Perhaps they have heard of the work, “The Federalist Papers.” Preferably they could do so under the tutelage of Randy Barnett (I think one should have it lead by someone likely to challenge any desire to search for what they want to in the text. Broadening perspective and all that.) This work, which they may have had assigned long ago, under rigorous examination may not change their views about anything, but at least we wouldn’t have to listen to them claim quite as often things about our constitution and how it is supposed to be interpreted which are manifestly untrue. Of course, while it would be a good thing for our nation if such an influential organ did this kind of thing, it would deprive many of us of a certain smug satisfaction.

So be it, we all have to make sacrifices.

(H/T: Instapundit)

Sphere: Related Content

Just how close to economic fascism did we come?

We may have been closer than we think in 1935, though Nate Oman believes the threat would have receded in the light of political reality. Whatever the case, the discussion of the case of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States is well worth reading in understanding legislatively what we came close to passing, an economic regime quite close to Fascist Italy, the most influential economic and political program to come out of the first half of the last century:

The brain-trusters may have been enamored of centralized planning, but I don’t think that FDR was. Rather, I think that he was entranced by a rather diffuse commitment to the poor, activity, and — most of all — electoral success. The Soviets and the Fascists survived precisely because their economic idiocy was insulated from the positive and negative feedback of democratic politics. I suspect that without Schechter, the NRA would have moderated itself dramatically. By 1935 its political popularity was already in retreat, and FDR seems to have been perfectly willing to scrap grandiose experiments when elections were on the line.

The discussion in the comments is quite good on the legacy of the New Deal from all parties to boot. I especially like this at the end of his post:

Still, as a myth rather than a historical or legal theory, Schechter has much to commend it. A small, religious, family business built by immigrants searching for the American dream of advancement and self-improvement gets shut down by arrogant government bureaucrats hell-bent on imposing economic idiocy on the nation. They push back, and David-like force the government Goliath to its knees. The chicken triumphs over the eagle.

Sphere: Related Content

Capitalist Genes (Updated)

Is it possible that a proclivity for capitalism is genetic, and therefore hereditary? At first blush the idea seems preposterous. How can an idea be hereditary? And how can capitalism, which rewards innovation, risk-taking, and creativity, no matter who you are or where you come from be an inherited trait? Well Gregory Clark, author of a “Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World“, makes an interesting case (HT: Ace):

The Industrial Revolution is the great event of world history. Before this, from the Stone Age to 1800, there was no gain in average living conditions. Now incomes rise steadily.

It is attributed to political stability and free markets in 18th-century England. But this is the convenient fantasy of modern economists. Medieval England was much more pro-market than even Thatcherite England – the average government tax rate then was less than 1 per cent – yet achieved no growth.

Instead, the Industrial Revolution is more plausibly linked to a Darwinian process of “survival of the richest” that operated from at least 1250. Capitalist attitudes and economic growth triumphed in England because those with such attitudes came to predominate in the population by biological means. The modern English are the descendants of the upper classes of the preindustrial world, those who prospered economically. The poor disappeared. This process was most likely cultural, but we cannot exclude the possibility that the English may even be genetically capitalist.

Because the poor led such short miserable lives, and the comparatively richer were able to better provide for their progeny, those most inclined towards capitalist endeavors eventually out-bred the lesser beings. Or at least that’s how this story of Social Darwinism goes. Of course, this would require that one believe capitalism to be based upon some sort of skill as opposed to simply controlling the means of production and oppressing the working classes. Otherwise, how could the capitalists breed out the workers? Who would they exploit?

Moving on:

The English were rich in 1788 compared with most countries. The Japanese, for example, had an even more limited diet. They could afford only rice, little meat or alcohol and were consequently shorter: 5ft 3in on average for males. What trapped preindustrial societies at a subsistence wage was was that the slow technological advance that created better living conditions simply resulted in population growth, declining land space per person and a return to subsistence.

The comparative wealth of England in the years before 1800 was not the result of superiorities in legal, political or economic systems. The English were just lucky to be a filthy people who squatted happily above their own faeces, stored in basement cesspits, in cities such as London. Samuel Pepys noted in the ten years of his diaries the one bath that his wife took. He himself never indulged in such frivolity. But the Japanese had a highly developed sense of cleanliness. They bathed daily, and disposed of human waste carefully. Consequently Japan’s population grew until there was a miserable level of material comforts.

So more filth equals less people to share in the scarce “material comforts” thus England was “richer” in comparison to others. Color me skeptical on that one.

Even less convincing is the bolded sentence above. How does Clark know that is not the case; that is, England was not more prosperous because of its legal, political and/or economic systems? First of all, isn’t Clark making the case that capitalism, being hereditary, made England better off over time? That would seem to undercut his offhand contention that England’s economic system played no part. And how does Clark’s theory square with Hernando De Soto’s conclusions in “The Mystery of Capitalism”? Isn’t it at least conceivable that the system of property rights, first enshrined in the reforms under Henry II “Curtmantle” and soon thereafter in the Magna Carta, had something to do with the steady improvement in the welfare of all Britons? I think Clark was bit too flippant here.

After explaining how “the superabundant children of the rich had to, on average, move down the social hierarchy to find work,” Clark ponders a theory of which Jared Diamond would approve.

But why did this process advance faster in England than elsewhere? One advantage of England was how dull most English history is – there are plenty of villages where nothing of significance happened between 1200 and 1800. The reproductive success of the rich was not disrupted by invasions, social upheavals and catastrophes. The second advantage just seems to be an accident of English demographics. In both preindustrial Japan and China the rich had more children than the poor, but in a more modest way. Thus there was not the same cascade of children from the educated classes down the social scale. The samurai in Japan in the Tokugawa era (1603-1868), for example, were former warriors given ample hereditary revenues through positions in the state bureaucracy. Despite their wealth they produced on average little more than one son per father. Their children were thus mainly accommodated within the bureaucracy.

Frankly, this is an anti-septic reading of British history. Between 1200 and 1800, England saw much war on the continent with France, the Crusades in the Middle East, and several internecine conflicts such as the War of the Roses and the English Civil War. It is true that, other than internal conflicts, the island did not experience much in the way of an invasion (the Spanish Armada was repelled in 1588). But all of those conflicts took a great toll on everyone’s reproductive success, even the landed gentry. Indeed, it wasn’t just Joe Serf’s issue who went off to fight the Crusades, or who achieved victory at Agincourt. Knights and soldiers came from all walks of life.

More importantly, how does Clark’s thesis account for the vast success of the former British colonies? America is by far the most successful, and I suppose Clark could argue that it was the capitalist genes of the her founders that makes its so. But what about Australia, which started as an island of misfits? Or India and Hong Kong, whose successes certainly owe more to the legal, political and economic systems implemented by the British colonizers than to any sort of capitalist breeding?

To be fair, I haven’t read Clark’s book, in which he may answer all of these questions I’ve posed, and more. However, judging from his article, I have serious doubts that capitalism is anymore hereditary than liking ice cream or sunny days.

MORE: Tyle Cowen is conducting a comprehensive review of Clark’s book, starting with pages 1-112. Arnold Kling chimes in as well. [Nod to Lance for both]

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

Niall Ferguson asks if the Marshall Plan Mattered

To sum it up he gives us this:

In all likelihood, then, Western Europe could have pulled through without the Marshall Plan. But it certainly could not have pulled through without the United States. At the time that Marshall made his speech in Harvard Yard, no one could be sure that all would turn out for the best in postwar Western Europe. No one could even be sure that the United States would deliver on Marshall’s pledge. All people could remember was the sad sequence of events that had followed the previous World War, when Western Europe was swept by general strikes and galloping inflation, while the United States Senate reneged on Woodrow Wilson’s “plan” for a new order based on collective security. The Marshall Plan was not the only difference between the two postwar eras, but, to West Europeans struggling to make ends meet, it was the most visible manifestation of American good will—and a mirror image of the Soviet policy of mulcting Eastern Europe. This, more than its macroeconomic impact, explains its endurance in the popular imagination. At a time when, according to the Pew Research Center, only thirty-nine per cent of Frenchmen and thirty per cent of Germans have a positive view of the United States, that is something worth remembering, and pondering.

Sphere: Related Content

How High to set the Bar

Instapundit today revisits a theme I have touched on a few times over the last year. I have maintained a pretty standard reply to claims about the awfulness of this administration. When I hear about how incompetent, dangerous, uninterested in civil liberties, uncaring about how we treat our enemies or any number of what I consider over the top criticisms, I consistently look back at history, including the administrations immediate predecessors, and point out that on many of these things the administration has been no worse than average, and in quite a few far less of an issue than previous ones. I generally express it with this phrase, “history may have set a low bar, but this administration has jumped over it.”

I say hold on. Our history is littered with transgressions on these types of things when faced with a dire enemy. I have never voted for Bush and I have had the opportunity to do so in every election for public office the man has ever sought, so I have no great fondness for the man or his politics, but if this President is attempting to subvert our Republic, what am I to make of Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson and Clinton? All but the last engaged in far more of a grab for power during war time, and Clinton attempted to enact all kinds of policies designed to track down money launderers, terrorists and drug lords of a similar scope to Bush during what was considered peacetime. Our Republic survived and many of these men are heroes to Bush’s critics. No administration engaged in large scale military operations has ever been so tender towards our civil liberties as this one. A phrase I have used before, and undoubtedly will again, still fits- History may have set a low bar, but this administration has jumped over it.

On how humanely we have fought this war, this administration has not only jumped over it, but by a large margin. In evaluating this I look at the entire picture, not just cherry pick some things (say torture, and I think even that isolated metric is not as unattractive a score as many people seem to think) and in that regard I feel quite comfortable saying that whatever we might think about how humane we should have been, our troops, security forces, tactics and strategy and general polices on human rights have allowed us to wage the most humane series of large scale military campaigns in history. Not just our history, the worlds. In fact, I would suggest that if we compare apples to apples it isn’t even close. Examining the history of most of the worlds conflicts sets a bar so low that it is truly irrelevant, but compare our behavior even to Europe’s.

To me the conflicts associated with WWII are not ancient history, and quite relevant. Obviously the Axis powers behaved worse, but how about the Allies? Let us ignore the horrid behavior of the Soviet Union and pretend the Allies were just us and Britain. Verdict? Britain and the US treated prisoners far worse than we do today, our leaders would be held up as war criminals in todays world. That ignores large massacres, summary executions, rapes, murders and more talked about aspects of our tactics such as large scale carpet, fire bombing and yes, the nuclear attack on civilian populations. I am not criticizing us for these things, just noting that they have to be faced if we are going to judge. While we can excuse our actions in the Pacific on any number of grounds, including the behavior of our enemies in booby trapping bodies, faking surrenders to attack us (including suicide bombings) and how they treated our prisoners, one has to acknowledge the brutality we showed our enemy in the field in that theater as something we hope never to repeat.

The French after the fall of Vichy and the retreat of the Germans engaged in a mass bloodletting that estimates believe claimed 40,000 or more victims. Similar retaliatory waves of murder and torture occurred throughout liberated Europe.

How about the UN troops since WWII? Okay, stop laughing. It is relevant to note that to this day they cannot maintain even a peacekeeping role without torture, rape, child prostitution and extortion of the local communities being a staple.

The behavior of French troops has been disgraceful by the standards our military has set, and that is just for the numerous small scale interventions they have undertaken. Algeria shows what the French do when faced with a real tough, vital (at least in their eyes) situation.

I could go on, but the record, at least relative to what we have compiled over the past few years, is disgraceful. So condemn this administration all you want, and some of it is justified, but hysterics are not justified by the historical record. Low bar, but we got over it.

The other area that really gets me is civil liberties, which of course is not unrelated to the first charge. It is here that Glenn Reynolds and Geoffrey Stone say basically what I am saying:

WHILE THERE’S ALARMISM ABOUT CIVIL LIBERTIES, I have to say that things have actually gone better than I feared nearly six years ago. So it’s interesting to read this from Geoffrey Stone:

The legislation amending FISA is unwarranted, reckless and possibly unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the overall state of civil liberties in the US, viewed in historical perspective, is surprisingly strong. There are no internment camps for American Muslims, no suspensions of habeas corpus for American citizens, no laws prohibiting criticism of the war in Iraq. This might not seem like much, but in light of past episodes, the intrusions on civil liberties since 9/11 have been relatively modest.

Stone has certainly warned about dangers to civil liberties — but warning about potential dangers is different from proclaiming that the Constitution has already been abandoned and that we’re living in a police state now. And I think the over-the-top rhetoric that we often see on this topic does more harm than good. In that, I think I do disagree with Stone, who thinks that alarmism has actually helped. Perhaps, but there’s a major “crying wolf” problem, too. (Via Jonathan Adler). Meanwhile, a point I made a while back: “I’ll add this comment, which is only somewhat on-topic: Not so much nuanced discussants like Posner and Stone, but press coverage and political rhetoric generally, tend to suggest that there’s a ‘trade-off’ between national security and freedom. But that’s misleading. You don’t buy national security by getting rid of freedom; you may, in fact, wind up less secure. (This is a point I was making back on September 13, 2001). Nor is it necessarily the case that improvements in national security burden freedom. They may, in fact, have no impact at all, or even result in more freedom in some ways. It just depends. Programs have to be judged on their merits.” Trade-offs sometimes exist, but the notion that they necessarily exist and that less freedom necessarily produces more security or vice versa, is a lazy journalistic cliche, not a fact.

Of course Stone’s post is a rather cursory review, and ignores many peacetime assaults that have occurred quite recently. Wilson and Roosevelt especially have a far larger list of sins (assuming the argument that the kinds of things people who are critical of the Bush administration complain about are sins) to answer for than he lists. Still, he has it right. The bar may be pretty low in our history, which is pretty darned impressive compared to most of the rest of the world (and even in peacetime most of Europe has more draconian laws and police powers than Bush would probably even consider) but this administration has managed to jump over it once again.

Of course, whenever I post something along these lines I hear the complaints, typically in a dismissive splutter about being a wingnut, or Bushbot. Oddly this comes often from people who voted at least once for George Bush, something, as I pointed out above, I have had the opportunity to do in both of his races for Governor of Texas in addition to President. People have lost so much perspective that not hating Bush (or earlier, Clinton) makes one a “right winger” (or earlier, “liberal”) whose mind is closed to the unique evil we face. That has it backwards, the hatred people have of Bush has caused any reasonable analysis of what this administration has accomplished or failed at to be a waste of time. This is really unfortunate, for as Reynold’s notes, the distortion has had tremendous costs. Opportunities are lost and problems poorly addressed when honest communication is destroyed by a need to demonize.

Sphere: Related Content

Stunningly morally and intellectually obtuse

Senator and former presidential flop John Kerry astounds us with his ability for self deception. From Don Surber I find this:

Breitbart TV has video of Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts telling a whopper on C-Span.

Sen. John Kerry said during a C-Span appearance that fears of a bloodbath after the US withdrawal from Vietnam never materialized. He says he’s met survivors of the “reeducation camps” who are thriving in modern Vietnam. An award-winning investigation by the Orange County Register concludes that at least 165,000 people perished in the camps.

And 2 million in Cambodia.

You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in the Senate.

I am just speechless.

Sphere: Related Content

Trust Us, We’re From the Govt – II

Yep, there were valid reasons for investigating the CIA in the 70’s. I think the direction the agency went after those investigations and the resulting oversight and laws put on them, was overly reliant on technology, and less on getting eyes, ears and brains on the ground where they could learn about what was going on. But, then when their main foes were large states, such as Russia and China, one can argue that what we needed to know most from them were where their troops, tanks, planes and missles were.

Well, BIG news today as the CIA has published “The Family Jewels.”

CIA Announces Declassification of 1970s “Skeletons” File, Archive Posts Justice Department Summary from 1975, With White House Memcons on Damage Control

The Central Intelligence Agency violated its charter for 25 years until revelations of illegal wiretapping, domestic surveillance, assassination plots, and human experimentation led to official investigations and reforms in the 1970s, according to declassified documents posted today on the Web by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden announced today that the Agency is declassifying the full 693-page file amassed on CIA’s illegal activities by order of then-CIA director James Schlesinger in 1973–the so-called “family jewels.” Only a few dozen heavily-censored pages of this file have previously been declassified, although multiple Freedom of Information Act requests have been filed over the years for the documents. Gen. Hayden called today’s release “a glimpse of a very different time and a very different Agency.”

“This is the first voluntary CIA declassification of controversial material since George Tenet in 1998 reneged on the 1990s promises of greater openness at the Agency,” commented Thomas Blanton, the Archive’s director.

I can only imagine the rush of boomers searching these documents for their names…

Sphere: Related Content

Once More Into The Abyss

Each Day

Probably the most confounding thing about the majority of modern journalists is their unsupportable claim to objectivity. They hold themselves out as above the fray, elusively detached from the world around them except as impartial observers designated to convey the “facts.” Writers’ determination to be uninvolved with the subjects of their stories and to restrain themselves from behaving in a manner that would alter the course of the events the reporters are covering is chalked up to an inviolable “journalistic duty.” Of such paramount importance is this duty that two former giants in the field declared they would not warn our soldiers of an impending attack should the intrepid newsmen be lucky enough to be covering the story in the company of our enemy (subscription link here; excerpt from Armed Liberal):

Then Ogletree turned to the two most famous members of the evening’s panel, better known than William Westmoreland himself. These were two star TV journalists: Peter Jennings of World News Tonight and ABC, and Mike Wallace of 6o Minutes and CBS. Ogletree brought them into the same hypothetical war. He asked Jennings to imagine that he worked for a network that had been in contact with the enemy North Kosanese government. After much pleading, the North Kosanese had agreed to let Jennings and his news crew into their country, to film behind the lines and even travel with military units. Would Jennings be willing to go? Of course, Jennings replied. Any reporter would-and in real wars reporters from his network often had. But while Jennings and his crew are traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by American and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly cross the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst, the northern soldiers set up a perfect ambush, which will let them gun down the Americans and Southerners, every one. What does Jennings do? Ogletree asks. Would he tell his cameramen to “Roll tape!” as the North Kosanese opened fire? What would go through his mind as he watched the North Kosanese prepare to ambush the Americans? Jennings sat silent for about fifteen seconds after Ogletree asked this question. “Well, I guess I wouldn’t,” he finally said. “I am going to tell you now what I am feeling, rather than the hypothesis I drew for myself. If I were with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans.” Even if it means losing the story? Ogletree asked.

Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. “But I do not think that I could bring myself to participate in that act. That’s purely personal, and other reporters might have a different reaction.” Immediately Mike Wallace spoke up. “I think some other reporters would have a different reaction,” he said, obviously referring to himself. “They would regard it simply as a story they were there to cover.” “I am astonished, really,” at Jennings’s answer, Wallace said moment later. He turned toward Jennings and began to lecture him: “You’re a reporter. Granted you’re an American”-at least for purposes of the fictional example; Jennings has actually retained Canadian citizenship. “I’m a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you’re an American, you would not have covered that story.” Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn’t Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something other than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? “No,” Wallace said flatly and immediately. “You don’t have a higher duty. No. No. You’re a reporter!” Jennings backtracked fast. Wallace was right, he said. “I chickened out.” Jennings said that he had gotten so wrapped up in the hypothetical questions that he had lost sight of his journalistic duty to remain detached. As Jennings said he agreed with Wallace, everyone else in the room seemed to regard the two of them with horror.

That was from a roundtable discussion in 1987, but things have not changed much in the world of the mainstream media, although some independents are trying.

I noted the L.A. Times article on Michael Yon, and the author’s (and, to be honest, most of the audience’s) distaste for Yon’s not-well-considered actions in picking up a rifle and attempting to get involved in a firefight. What journalist would do anything like that?
What journalist would have, as the writer put it,

…ignored the barriers that traditionally separated the press from its subjects. He openly rooted for soldiers and helped them collect the wreckage after roadside bombings.

Well, I suppose you have to admire the devotion to impartiality exhibited here, eh? A willingness to divorce oneself from the vagaries of the world to such a degree as to leave one without a national allegiance of any sort must be a difficult way to go through life. We should all be awed by the sacrifice of such brave men and women.

Or not.

Did a liberal television network correspondent cause the 2000 Florida recount debacle?

When all eyes were on Florida and it wasn’t looking good for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, his campaign was warned by a senior network correspondent that conceding on Election Night would be a bad idea. That intervention stopped Gore from conceding the election according to a top Democratic strategist.

Interviewing Shrum about his new book, titled No Excuses, CNN host Howard Kurtz brought up Shrum’s revelation that he was warned by a “senior network correspondent” to stop Al Gore from giving his planned concession speech on the night of the 2000 election.

“A senior network correspondent, you said, called you and warned, ‘The Florida numbers are wrong. Don’t let him concede.’”

Shrum confirmed: “Someone I knew … I think this happened not only with me, someone else called Carter Eskew and, who was in a different place than I was at that point.”

So warning a Presidential candidate that conceding the election at at the time might be hasty: A-OK in the book of journalism.

Warning American soldiers they’re about to be ambushed by the enemy: serious dereliction of “journalistic duty!”

And if you didn’t have enough contempt for journalists already, Shrum waves off any objection to the journalistic intervention perpetrated during the 2000 presidential election with this howler:

I don’t, I don’t, I actually think that if the situations had been reversed, there would have been correspondents who would have called the Bush campaign and said, “The numbers are wrong, don’t let him concede, you shouldn’t concede,” something like that. I don’t think it was in the nature of giving advice, actually.

Yeah, I’m sure that’s how it would have worked out. [/sarcasm]

MORE: Gateway Pundit highlights how European Media bias serves to foster anti-Americanism there.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

The Trouble With Harry

Is it really any mystery? The Senate Majority Leader is nothing more than a partisan hack who is solely interested in keeping power firmly in the hands of the Democrats. (Supposedly for the wonderful perks.) He is the spearhead for no real legislative issues or causes to speak of, and does not seem to be the least bit concerned about his country or the matters that most affect the people (you know, the ones whose business is supposedly being conducted by Congress). Instead, Reid rather slavishly promotes the agenda of those whom he has deemed will help the Democrats stay on top, no matter what the consequences for our nation as a whole, much less the troops in theater.

On that last point, Harry Reid again took aim at Gen. Petraeus, this time out in the open for all to hear, essentially calling the leader of our forces in Iraq a liar (my emphasis):

The Senate majority leader took aim yesterday at the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who until now has received little criticism from Capitol Hill over his statements or performance.

Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) charged that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took command in Iraq four months ago, “isn’t in touch with what’s going on in Baghdad.” He also indicated that he thinks Petraeus has not been sufficiently open in his testimony to Congress. Noting that Petraeus, who is now on his third tour of duty in Iraq, oversaw the training of Iraqi troops during his second stint there, Reid said: “He told us it was going great; as we’ve looked back, it didn’t go so well.”

As Bill Ardolino notes, Reid claiming that Petraeus is out of touch with what’s going in Baghdad is beyond ridiculous:

Harry Reid considers himself more “in touch with what’s going on in Baghdad” than Petraeus? Beyond the mindblowing, bizarro hubris of such an assertion, this comment is made sinister or incompetent by the fact that Reid misrepresents the meaning of Petraeus’s comments …

Ardolino goes on to point out that Reid is calling Petraeus a liar by conflating what the General has to say about the state of Baghdad with what’s going on the whole of Iraq:

A. Petraeus was talking about Baghdad proper, which has indeed earned a bit of a breather as much insurgent activity has shifted to areas immediately surrounding the capital.

B. Petraeus was “astonish[ed at] signs of normalcy” because of the conditionally noted violence surrounding (in both time and now close geography) said normalcy.

C. Petraeus hasn’t sugarcoated (much) his carefully equivocal reports, making it a point to set realistic expectations and place the focus on the Iraqi political process.

Compounding Senator Reid’s latest attack is the fact that he’s declared the Surge a failure … days before the deployment of troops to support the strategy (much less the strategy itself) was completed.

Whether his aggressive stance winds up validated by unwritten events or not, his timing is objectively incorrect. On intellectual, political and nakedly cynical grounds, Senator Reid is a disgrace.

I’d go a bit further and call Reid a national embarrassment on every ground. As I said before, his only apparent concern is retaining power. Accordingly, he sees no downside to denigrating our commander in the field since he does not want to win in Iraq, is blithely uninterested in Iraq achieving any sense of political stability, and firmly ensconced in a fantasy world where “if we ignore the terrorists, they will go away” is not just a mantra, its a motto.

His fellow travelers are equally unconcerned about the consequences of undermining Petraeus. For example, in the view of Hollywood progressive Miles Mogulescu, Petraeus needs to be taken down a notch or two because he is just too revered by the rightwing dead-enders, and he really can’t be trusted to give an honest assessment of the “surge” anyway:

Republicans have been portraying Gen. David Petraeus as an almost God-like figure, the man who will carry finally lead an American victory in Iraq and, come September, will report back on the progress brought by the “surge” he advocated and is in charge of. Congressional Republicans constantly repeat that Gen. Petraeus’s report in September will be the key to their decision on whether to continue to support unlimited funding of the Iraq War or to join Democrats in calling for a phased withdrawal.


White House spokesman Tony Snow attacked Reid saying “at a time of war, for a leader of a party that says it supports the military, it seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward…the man who’s responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq.” But by making Petraeus the man whose word in September will be the deciding factor in their decision on whether to support further unlimited funding of the Iraq war or to join Democrats in supporting a phased withdrawal, Republicans have turned Petraeus’s credibility into fair game. If his depictions of progress this week are contradicted by the Pentagon and his own generals, why should his word in September be the primary factor in evaluating the success of the “surge”?

Does anyone really think that the General who devised the strategy for the “surge” and led its implementation is going to come back in September and say “I made a mistake. The surge is a failure. 1,000 more American soldiers and untold numbers of Iraqi’s have died for my mistake.” Come September, he is almost certain to report a mixture of good and bad news and say he needs more time.

Notice how this is just a political game to Mogulescu. If the Republicans hadn’t been so gung-ho about Petraeus leading the “surge”, and announced their intention to rely upon his assessment of the situation in Iraq in deciding on funding of the war, then presumably Reid’s comments would be out of bounds. Nevermind the fact that it was Harry Reid himself who declared “listen to the generals”, which is just what the Republicans are saying that they’ll do. Just disregard the fact that of anyone in Iraq, Petraeus will be the best position to comprehend what effect, if any, the surge is having. And please ignore the facts that the Iraqis and the U.N. Security Council have agreed to extend the stay of our troops, declaring it to be in the best interests of the nation. No, what matters more than any of that is Harry Reid’s assessment of Petraeus’ credibility, which he apparently deemed non-existent some time ago (although after confirming the General’s appointment). In Mogulescu’s world, if the Republicans are behind him, then he deserves to be torn down.

Gen. Petraues may be a distinguished soldier. But so was Gen. Douglas McArthur who was relieved of his command of the Korean War by Pres. Harry Truman for insubordination. So was Gen. William Westmoreland, the American commander in Vietnam, under whose command, the American military “won every battle until it lost the war” and who was relieved of his command by Lyndon Johnson after the Tet Offensive turned the American people against the Vietnam War. If Gen. Petreaus is to join Pres. Bush as the “decider” for Congressional Republicans on their future support of the Iraq War, then his credibility is very much an issue.

Funny how Mogulescu doesn’t mention any other cases where a Congressional leader openly called the leader of our troops in theater a liar. Could you imagine if FDR or Truman had challenged the credibility of Eisenhower during WWII? Would anyone in the country or amongst our allies in Europe have stood for that? I think not.

I also love the comment about “the Tet Offensive turn[ing] the American people against the Vietnam War.” How did that happen again? Using a well-known case of propaganda demoralizing our military efforts, so much so that we eventually quit the fight altogether, is supremely ironic. Do Reid and Mogulescu want the same thing here? Apparently so.

I don’t know what the precedence is for replacing the Senate Majority Leader in the middle of a term, and just months after taking control of the legislative body, but perhaps its time for the Democrats to explore setting one.

(HT: for everything to Confederate Yankee).

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Sphere: Related Content

Get rewarded at leading casinos.

online casino real money usa