Monday, January 31, 2005

Brian Lamb talks to the President

Well looky thar, are Prez ain't near as stoopid as people thawt...just look at this here interview!
LAMB: What role have books played in your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, there's a -- I ended my convention speech in 2000, and one of the debates, with a phrase by a great Texan named Tom Lea, who wrote the definitive book on the King Ranch, but is a painter -- was a painter, and one of the paintings now hangs in the Oval Office. He said, "Sarah and I live on the east side of the mountain; the sunrise side, not the sunset side; the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that has gone." That's a very optimistic view. See, I see a better day coming.

It turns out that the President better have seen the day that has gone in order to be able to help lead to the day that is coming. In other words, history really matters for the President. And so I read a lot of history books. I'm reading the Washington book by Ellis right now. I read the Hamilton book by [Chernow], which I thought was a fascinating book. I can't remember all the books I read, but I do read a lot of books. And from that, I'm able to gain a better appreciation of where we're going.

For example, the Hamilton book I thought was a very interesting history of how hard it was to get democracy started, in some ways. And yet here we are in Iraq, trying to help them get democracy started, and yet it's expected to be done nearly overnight. And so it helps me keep a perspective of what's real and what's possible, and some of the struggles we went through.

Admittedly, we're dealing with different technologies than, obviously, in the old days. But, nevertheless, it's hard for democracy to take hold. And I think that history gives me a kind of -- it helps me better explain and understand exactly what we're seeing. And that's important for a policymaker to be able to grasp the realities of the situation based upon some historical lessons.

You know, I spent a lot of time talking about the Japanese after World War II, about how they were the sworn enemy, my dad fought them; I'm sure you've had relatives that know people that fought the Japanese. And yet today, because we insisted that Japan become a democracy, they're now our best friend, or one of our best friends. And that's an interesting history lesson, that 60 years after being a sworn enemy, we're now tight allies in leading the cause of freedom and peace, working together to deal with North Korea. Japan is helping a lot in Iraq.It just shows the power of freedom to change an enemy to a friend. That's something you learn from history books.

Democracy in Iraq

I won't go into deep detail about the heartening sight of Iraqi's voting and celebrating and thrusting their blue fingers in the air because others have been doing it better and longer. Instead, I will simply say that, since September 11, 2001, under the leadership of President Bush, the United States has helped the people of Afghanistan and Iraq by overthrowing despotic governments and setting them on the path of self-rule. Yes, it was messy, everything didn't go as planned, mistakes were made...and in the end, people in two Islamic countries have voted. Wasn't this impossible? Aren't Muslims unsuited for democracy because it isn't part of their "cultural heritage"? It seems that the cynics on the Left and Right need to go back and reshape and hone their rhetoric. It seems the insurgents and terrorists will need to either give up or continue their dead-end cause. It seems that the warnings seen and heard for the last few months in the mainstream press and by the international elite that the Iraqi people will not vote were unfounded. The people of Iraq (60% of them or so, at least) have voted for the first time, under the threat of violence and despite all of the doubts. They have a right to be proud, and so does the United States.

Another benefit of the election is that the Iraqi people have moved from political victimhood to political self-determination. Democracy is a loaded word. It is an ongoing experiment and has resulted in ill (Hitler was voted into power) and good (the "American Experiment"). However, regardless of specific examples, one virtue of democracy is its flexibility. Democracy in America (a Republic) is not the same as in Great Britain (Parliamentary system), but both ultimately allow the people of their nations to decide the course to be taken. As a result, the population is ultimately held responsible for their choices. Thus, it is not some outside force, some hegemony, that has oppressed a given nation. Instead, it is up to the polity of a nation to decide, take responsibility, and if necessary change the course of a nation. It is what mature nations do. Iraq has taken its first steps and has a way to go before it is up and running, but it has something that the U.S. didn't have, it has another nation, the U.S., interested in helping Iraq succeed. Yes, if asked the United States will physically depart Iraq. Yet, the example we have set and the advice we can give, if asked, can only help. After all, we must not forget that the U.S. had to figure out a lot about democracy on its own. Luckily for Iraq, they have examples, the U.S., Great Britain, France, etc., from which they can pick and choose and design a system that they believe will give them the best chance for success. Democratic Iraq is not a motherless child, instead it has been born into a family of nations willing to help. It has but to ask.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Max Boot: "Digging Into Seymour Hersh"

Max Boot reviews Seymour Hersh's track record of predictions and finds a less than stellar performance. Karnak he ain't. But what struck me as an eye-opening couple of paragraphs is how Boot contrasts Hersh with another conservative whipping boy Bob Woodward.
It has become a cliche to call Bob Woodward and Seymour Hersh the greatest investigative reporters of their generation — Woodward the consummate insider, Hersh the ultimate outsider. In truth the differences outweigh the similarities.

Though he achieved fame by bringing down a Republican administration, Woodward is no ideologue. His only bias, as far as I can tell, is in favor of his sources. Within those parameters he produces invaluable, if incomplete, accounts of government deliberations.

Hersh, on the other hand, is the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the "military- industrial complex." Now it's the "neoconservatives." "They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!" Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn't make any bones about his bias. "Bush scares the hell out of me," he said. He told a group in Washington, "I'm a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House," who are "nuts" and "ideologues." In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft "demented." Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a "secret unit" of the U.S. government "has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did." And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.
Of course, what Boot specifically tackles in this piece is Hersh's latest report of an ongoing para-military effort in Iran and a secret ramp-up for a more extensive attack in the future. (I don't have the link handy, but if you just do a search for "Hersh" and "Iran", I'm sure you'll find it).

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Decline of the American "Empire" (Again)

Victor Hanson has rebutted yet another "hackneyed" attempt by someone to proclaim the end of "American Empire." After encapsulating the history of past proclamations of the failing of America, Hanson turns to the current offender, Matthew Parris.
. . . Matthew Parris now warns us that our military is overstretched and our economy weak–despite the fact that our gross domestic product is larger than ever and the percentage of it devoted to military spending at historic lows, far below what was committed during WWII, Korea, or Vietnam. . . While Parris decries our slow decline, the United States alone will soon have the world’s only anti-ballistic missile system and the forward basing presence to preempt would-be nuclear rogue states before they imperil Americans. Europeans may brag of soft power, but in the scary world to come let us hope that they can bribe, beg, lecture, or appease Iranians, North Koreans, Chinese, and others to appreciate the realities of their postmodern world that has supposedly transcended violence and war.

It is true that Americans are worried about high budget deficits, trade imbalances, a weak dollar, and national debt; but we are already at work to rectify these problems, convinced that the correctives are not depression and chaos, but rather a little sobriety and sacrifice in what has been a breakneck rise in the standard of living the last 20 years, prosperity unmarked in the history of civilization. Better indicators of our health are low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates, along with high worker productivity and innovation. . .

Parris cites the rise of other economies; but they, not us, have the real problems ahead. The EU does not assimilate very well its immigrants–in contrast, more come to the US every year than from all other countries combined. Enormous apartheid communities of Muslims, full of simmering resentment, reside outside Parris and in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Germany, not in Detroit and New York. European socialism is facing a demographic nightmare; and soon budget shortfalls to pay for its utopian agenda will be made worse once the United States begins to withdraw its 50-year subsidy of the continent’s defense. History suggests that atheism and secularism are not indicators of strength but of apathy and aimlessness. The United States–not Europe, Russia, or China— is a religious community, and, pace Michael Moore, without the fundamentalist extremism of the Middle East and reactionary Islam.

China and India are the new tigers, but their rapid industrialization and urbanization have created enormous social and civic problems long ago dealt with by the United States. Each must soon confront environmentalism, unionism, minority rights, free expression, community activism, and social entitlements that are the wages of any citizenry that begins to taste leisure and affluence. . . The infrastructure of generations–bridges, roads, airports, universities, power grids–are well established and being constantly improved in the United States, and so there is a reason why a European would prefer to drink the water, get his appendix out, or drive in San Francisco rather than in Bombay, Beijing, Istanbul–or Paris or Rome.

Nowhere in the world is the rule of law as stable in the United States, which is the most transparent society on the globe and thus the most trusted for investors and entrepreneurs–no surprise given its hallowed Constitution and Bill of Rights. Parris notes the presence abroad of thousands of American troops, but does not ask whether any other country has, or will have, the air or sea lift capacity to project such power, force that allowed American ships and helicopters to save thousands after the tsunami when Europe’s lone Charles de Gaulle was nowhere to be seen. China and India, for all their robust economies, have neither the ability to help victims of mass disasters nor citizenries wealthy or generous enough to give hundreds of millions to strangers abroad.

All civilizations erode, but few citizenries are as sensitive to the signs of decay as Americans, who constantly innovate, experiment, and self-critique in a fashion unknown anywhere else. When we develop a class system based on British aristocratic breeding, accent, and social paralysis, or sink into a multicultural cauldron like the endemic violence of an India or Africa, or cease believing in either God or children like an Amsterdam or Brussels, or require the state coercion of a China to maintain harmony, or become a racialist state such as Japan, then it is time to worry.

But we are not there yet by a long shot.

Churches as Social Organizers: How?

In a review of Katherine A. Lynch's Individuals, Families,and Communities in Europe, 1200–1800: The Urban Foundations of Western Society, Mary Noll Venables points out that Lynch has offered an interesting interpretation of how European social life acquired its "distinctive character," but still leaves open a crucial question.
Lynch suggests that the distinctive character of European social life is to be located not only in the Protestant work ethic or capitalism or democracy but also—and perhaps even primarily—in the interaction between family and society. She argues that small, nuclear, urban families whose members entered into family-like relationships outside their homes formed the backbone of European communal life and the basis of civil society. . .

Having introduced the demographic context of families, Lynch turns to the meat of her study: how families joined civic life—that is, how they created family-like structures outside the home. In particular, she shows how the bonds forged by religious groups and local charities linked family history to the "history of the public world."

As the dominant social force in the premodern era, the church (Catholic and later Protestant as well) dominated European public life. From the 13th through the 15th centuries, most urban Christians belonged to confraternities (societies devoted to religious causes) that functioned as extended families, celebrating holidays and saints' days communally, as well as offering practical assistance and vocational solidarity. Monastic orders and lay societies like the Beguines created Christian communities that were based on volition, not biology. The naming of godparents formed ties of spiritual kinship that often equaled biological bonds . . . The church's encouragement of charity created further public ties, in this case between rich and poor. After the Reformation and the accompanying decline of universal charity, selective charity for those of the same confession reinforced confessional identity and solidarity.

Lynch quite convincingly demonstrates the church's ability to draw people into sustained relationships with each other. She leaves no doubt that Europeans were tied to each other through their confraternities, convents, lay orders, and charities. What is less clear is why the church (Catholic or Protestant) wanted to shape family-like relationships or why people looked for family-like relationships outside the home in the first place. Lynch suggests that churches and governments wanted to reduce the possibility of kinship violence, but that seems a weak account for such widely practiced labor-intensive operations.

The problem with not explaining the church's attention to social ties or, conversely, individuals' interest in the church is that it makes the church appear as only one more actor in the civic arena, one more club to which people could belong. Despite some similarities, belonging to a church is surely different from belonging to the Chamber of Commerce. When the church serves only to build social capital, the transformative nature of the church, its ability to point people to something greater than themselves, gets lost. Lynch depicts communities fostered by the church but casts little light on the love of God that was, one presumes, to have been evidenced in supporting confraternities, joining monastic communities, or giving alms.

Yale Applies a Double-Standard in Diversity

James Kirchick has written a piece for the Yale Daily News that calls the Yale Administration to the carpet for hypocritical diversity standards.
The diversity movement reached its height last academic year when Yale declined to renew the contract of Dr. Connie Allen, then a lecturer in Yale's chemistry department, due to budgetary constraints. Most important to this story is that Allen happens to be a black woman. Criticizing Yale's racist patriarchy, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, GESO and Allen ignited a small controversy (featuring, of course, an unannounced visit to the provost's office) that lasted a few weeks into the summer until Allen left for a job at Mount Holyoke.

Contrast these efforts with the reaction following the denial of tenure to Mary Habeck, a popular professor of American and European military history, in April 2004, just about the same time Allen made her case public. Not a peep of protest was heard from Locals 34 and 35, GESO, the UOC, Mayor DeStefano or anyone else claiming to be concerned about diversity, and this lack of outcry underscores the intellectual hollowness of these groups' entire agenda. Why no outrage? Well, for one, Habeck's skin pigmentation is not the proper hue. Equally considerable is the fact that she teaches the 'wrong' sort of history, that is, the type dominated by dead white men and peppered with tropes of 'elitism.' Had Habeck decided to instead specialize in the communal agricultural practices of transgendered Native Americans in pre-colonial America, there is little doubt that those currently barging into various administrators' offices would have done the same for her last April. At the very least, Habeck would have secured a visiting professorship with the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies. (via Powerline)
I wonder what G.K. Chesterton would think?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ideals can Become Reality

Oxblog's David Adesnik, using Reagan's Second Inaugural Address as evidence, shows that idealism can become reality where there is political will.
For the past four years, I have studied the relationship between idealistic rhetoric and the less-than-idealistic nature of American foreign policy. The most important lesson buried in the historical record is that idealistic rhetoric tends to generate a momentum of its own that gradually brings American behavior into line with American ideals.

The best illustration of this trend is the rapid evolution of America’s relationship with anti-Communist dictatorships during Ronald Reagan’s second term in office. In the State of the Union address that followed shortly after his second inaugural, Reagan declared that “We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives – on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua – to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.”

With amazing precision, responses to the “Reagan Doctrine” prefigured the exact criticism that has confroned George W. Bush’s second inaugural. In 1985, journalists found themselves compelled to point out that the United States had drawn closer to the Filipino, South Korean and Chilean dictatorships as a result of the Cold War. The President’s critics dismissed his inaugural address as a pleasant fiction designed to mask the hard core of an American foreign policy exemplified by the massacres in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Sadly, their analysis ended there.
Thankfully, Adesnik's doesn't. (Via Instapundit, who notes that the NY Times turned down this piece as being too dated...heh.)

A Reminder

Just a reminder, if you're really interested in what I have to say, do check Anchor Rising for some of my posts.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The State of History

The historian Eric Hobsbawm has surveyed the field of history and doesn't like what he sees. After detailing what has occurred in the field, he arrives at where it stands now.
Methodologically, the major negative development has been the construction of a set of barriers between what happened in history and our capacity to observe and understand it. It is denied that there is any reality that is objectively there and not constructed by the observer for different and changing purposes. It is claimed that we can never penetrate beyond the limitations of language.

Meanwhile, less theoretically minded historians argue that the course of the past is too contingent for causal explanation, because the options in history are endless. Pretty well anything could happen or might have happened. Implicitly, these are arguments against any science. I won't bother about the more trivial attempts to return to the past: the attempt to hand back its course to high political or military decision-makers, or to the omnipotence of ideas or "values", or to reduce historical scholarship to the search for empathy with the past.

The major immediate political danger to historiography today is "anti-universalism" or "my truth is as valid as yours, whatever the evidence". This appeals to various forms of identity group history, for which the central issue of history is not what happened, but how it concerns the members of a particular group. What is important to this kind of history is not rational explanation but "meaning", not what happened but what members of a collective group defining itself against outsiders - religious, ethnic, national, by gender, or lifestyle - feel about it.
Hobsbawm, himself a member of the Marxist school of historical thought (btw, that doesn't necesarily mean "communist" in the field of history), believes a new method relying on Marxist methodology and a reliance on science, specifically new findings involving DNA. There are some who have challenged Howbsbawn, claiming he is attacking "Straw Men."

On a more practical note, Frank Furedi tackles on teaching history properly (at least in Britain).
Talk to any group of seven to 11-year-olds. Many have spent a term working on a history project. Some know a wealth of detail about the Great Fire of London. Others have studied the Tudors and can confidently tell you the names of Henry VIII's wives. Some can recount fascinating snippets of information regarding the Vikings while others show off their knowledge of Roman Britain. But ask which of these events came first and they are in trouble.

Why? Because history is taught as a series of unconnected experiences – as discrete self-contained stories with no timeline. Thus are schoolchildren deprived of a clear framework on which events can be hung, gain in meaning and become part of a wider pattern. Such slipshod standards only worsen a climate in which history is regarded, at best, as an irrelevant indulgence.
Well, I've encountered this to a slight degree on the Graduate level, but then again, by this point most students should have dates, or at least broader periods, properly placed on their own internal timelines. I have to admit, recalling my engineering education, the real concentration was not in memorizing formulas but in knowing how to look them up and then how to use them.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Morality trumps Sovereignty

Sidney Goldberg writes:
A chief complaint against the Bush inaugural speech is that he seems to ignore the constraints of sovereignty, which prevent the United States from encroaching on the legitimacy of even the most evil of regimes and proclaims their borders sacrosanct.

But sovereignty often has nothing to do with ethics and one can respect sovereignty and commit ethical crimes in doing so. Was it ethical to abide by the sovereignty of Sudan while it was committing genocide? Is it ethical for us to sit on our hands while millions of Africans are maimed or slaughtered?

. . . where the United States finds a people who are suffering under the yoke of a tyrant, and it is a tyrant that we can eliminate and thereby ease the suffering, we should go ahead and do it. This would violate the laws of sovereignty in favor of the obligations of ethics. This action should be taken unless it causes even more deaths and suffering than the existing tyranny. In that case we have to put it on a back burner until a better opportunity for change occurs.

What we have to do, and I'm sure the President has thought this through, is go after the horrible but easy cases first, just as a good salesman makes the easy sales first and works his way up to the most difficult for last. . . Therefore, China and Russia shouldn't be at the top of our list for "regime change." As the easier tyrannies open up to greater freedom, China and Russia will become more vulnerable and therefore subject to our pressure and influence.

President Bush understands that "sovereignty" can be the greatest cover for evil and that respect for sovereignty is a minor if sometimes necessary virtue compared to ignoring it in the interest of doing what is right and easing human suffering. We do this in our personal life and we should do it as a nation.
Taking a cue from Lee Harris, I've written of the perils of believing in the paradigm of sovereignty before, though more from the political angle. Goldberg's argument based on moral factors is just as convincing and possibly more effective.

Newsflash - I Disagree with Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan thinks the President's Inaugural Address did not have the right tone.
The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.
She seemed particularly disturbed by the "higher calling" tones woven throughout the speech, and takes a "glass half-full" view of the President's theory of history.
He meant that the administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and changeable. On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government.

This world is not heaven.

The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. . .

It seemed a document produced by a White House on a mission. . .

. . . Ending tyranny in the world? Well that's an ambition, and if you're going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it's earth.
Here, I think Noonan, a practicing Catholic, is being too sensitive to the religious rhetoric, interwoven in a political speech, used by the President to explain his ideology. I also believe she is also allowing her conservative, realist side to take over, as evidenced by her "some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government" comment. However, I think she is particularly troubled by her interpretation that the President is proposing that we attempt to make Earth like Heaven. While she has the (correct) notion that Earth is not and cannot be Heaven, I think she is misreading the intentions of the President when he outlined his higher goal of extending freedom and liberty. I don't think he wants liberty to spread so that we can make Heaven on Earth. Instead, and I don't generally get too deep into theological musings, perhaps the President's larger goal is to extend liberty and freedom to all men so that they can worry less about their worldly problems and begin thinking more about what comes After. When men don't have to worry about getting food, getting shelter, or getting oppressed or killed, they can turn their minds from the physical to the metaphysical.

Ms. Noonan also commented that, "The speech did not deal with specifics--9/11, terrorism, particular alliances, Iraq. It was, instead, assertively abstract." The world doesn't watch State of the Union speeches. (Heck, few Americans watch State of the Union Addresses!), so the President chose to express his ideals in a forum in which he knew the world would be watching. Thus, I'd have to say he's saving more specific proposals for the State of the Union Address. That's a safe assumption, isn't it?

Finally, Ms. Noonan thinks that the speech, especiall the ending ("Renewed in our strength--tested, but not weary--we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."), was "over the top." She chalks this up to a White House suffering from "mission inebriation." Further, she "wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded" and offers that, in her opinion, "[t]he most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not." Again, I disagree with Ms. Noonan's premise that the President is trying to make Heaven on Earth. I also think she is a bit out of touch with the sensibilities of the average folk on this matter. Perhaps she has seen too many speeches, especially in the last year, and perhaps she has been too long in the New York/Washington corridor and needs to extricate herself for a bit. One of the special qualities of men is that we so often aspire to complete tasks that so many others believe are not possible. Many do so from self-motivation. Many more need inspiration. That is what the President offered yesterday and that is what many of us felt. We felt inspired to help shoulder the load and keep on keepin' on. It may be a cliche, but life is lived in the journey, not the destination. Men need a reason to go on that journey. I can't think of better motivation then helping other men, half a world away, experience freedom and, once they are secure in their liberty, enabling them to turn their minds to higher matters.

NOTE: For an updated version of this post, go here.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Why Liberals aren't liberal and conservatives are...

This Institute of Public Affairs article by John Roskam ends with a concise explanation of the re-labeling and political misnomers that are being applied in today's world.
Neo-conservatism and liberalism

In the last few years, 'neo-conservatism' is the label that has been given to the idea that liberal nations can, and should attempt to, spread political and economic liberalism to nations that are not liberal. Interestingly, 20 years ago, neo-conservatives were usually defined as 'realists', but now the two are regarded as polar opposites. Those who believe in 'neo-conservatism', the 'neo-cons', are thought to be epitomised in George W. Bush. 'Neo-conservative' is a complete misdescription, because such a doctrine is anything but conservative, for it is a repudiation of the methods employed by liberal states in the West for the last 100 years.

Neo-conservatism is often presented as something new and radical, but its underlying assumption, which is that liberalism is a non-negotiable value, is hardly original. This premise motivated the great statesmen of the Second World War-Churchill, Roosevelt, and Truman. The Left persists in using the term 'neo-conservative' because it refuses to acknowledge that the philosophical basis of neo-conservatism lies in liberalism. If anything, 'neo-liberalism' would be a more appropriate term, if it were not for the complication that neo-liberalism itself has already come to take up such a broad range of connotations as to be almost meaningless.

Neo-conservatism has been attacked by both the Left and the realists. The Left's criticism of neo-conservatism can be easily understood because the Left is opposed to the liberalism upon which neo-conservatism is grounded. The objection of realists to neo-conservatism arises from a different perspective. Realists argue that the ideal of twenty-first-century neo-conservatism, which is the establishment of political and economic liberalism throughout the world, is as unattainable as was the twentieth century ideal of the Left. However, such a position only considers what happened, and it ignores why it happened. Further, consistent with their tradition, which discounts the role of ideology, realists forget the essential differences between the doctrines of the Left and of liberals.

The vision of the Left failed because socialism and communism denied the essential human desire for self-determination. Liberalism offers many things, but, at its core, it recognises that all individuals, regardless of their race, sex or religion should decide for themselves how they are to live. In so far as this is its core principle, neo-conservatism provides a far greater chance of overcoming ignorance, abolishing poverty, and instituting peace, than ever did its alternatives.

President Sworn-In to Second Term

President Bush gave his second Innaugural Address today. In it he spoke of the ideals associated with our nation. Implicit in this association is the fact that the United States is the largest engine of historical progress: Freedom and Liberty.
"We have seen our vulnerability - and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny - prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder - violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom."
Here, in this address, perhaps more than any other, he explicitly spoke of his belief that the primary force of history is the spread of liberty and freedom. It is something I have gradually, belatedly, been coming to realize myself. I've written in the past of the "Big Idea" that seems to be out there on the periphery, hard to grasp. Perhaps the simplicity escaped me because I have been an intellectual babe in the woods (and still am) and concentrated too much on finding something else then what seemed obvious. It is something to which too many have fallen prey. Thus, while I have been dancing around it for a while now, the President's speech has solidified in my mind that, if "historical schools" are even viable these days, then mark be down as belonging to the "Freedom/Liberty" School. Apart from America's role in the process, there are other agents. Here are some more excerpts from the speech
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty - though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."

In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character - on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people. Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before - ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the weak. Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love. Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now" - they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.

America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength - tested, but not weary - we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.
It is important to note that the President explicitly stated that freedom isn't inevitable without human action. Rather, it seems he is saying freedom and liberty exists because they were created, a natural right, given to man by the "Author of Liberty." It is up to man seize liberty for himself, utilizing his free will. The higher ideal is to seize it for others. This is what the President is speaking of. It is something on which I will be thinking for quite some time.

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

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

President Pragmatic on FMA

My Anchor Rising colleague Justin Katz has written a well-timed and -reasoned piece at National Review Online on why conservatives shouldn't "freak-out" over the perception recently put forth that President Bush is "lukewarm" on the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Example of the "subtelty" of liberal bias in the media

Over at The Corner, contributor Tim Graham provides a short and to-the-point example of the subtelty of liberal bias:
One of the first things you notice about liberal media bias is how conservatives are defined by their "antis." Since to liberals, conservatives are "foes" and "opponents," they rarely surface in the liberal news outlets as "pro"-anything. (I'm sure it pleases liberals to always place their enemies into a pose of crochety negativism.)

For one small example, the front page of today's Washington Post carries a perfectly fine story profiling an anti-Bush lefty and a pro-Bush righty coming to Washington for different reasons. But notice who gets their anti- upped in the front page captions.

"Protesting: Jon Bjornstad, 55, is a vegetarian pacifist and a software engineer. He had lived in a commune."

"Celebrating: Anna Bryson, 60, is a businesswoman, an antiabortion Catholic, and a foe of same-sex marriage."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Right Kind of Historical Perspective

Michael Gove points out that too many (with the exception of some like Victor Hanson, I'd add...) can't get past Vietnam when attempting to analyze Iraq with an historical perspective. Meanwhile, Johan Goldberg offers his own, mostly forward looking, historical analysis. (via Instapundit)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Should Conservatives Re-Think Iraq....No.

William F. Buckley Jr. tackles a challenge to conservative "tergiversation" and decides that
What concerns a proud nation is not only moral obligations, but the consequences of a failure to stand by them. In another perspective, to bargain with the criminal is not only to temporize with dishonor, but also to embolden the criminal in his powers to threaten and to intimidate and to extort.

Such considerations argue in the abstract for seeing it through in Iraq. But they do not advise us when the moment should come to say that honor has to give way to a recognition that success is not in sight and not at any point in the future predictable.

Only Bush, not his critics, can coalesce these considerations. This isn't merely because he has up-to-date information. It is that the force of the leader is required in order to escape the conundrum with confidence. . . The force of any argument for disconnection requires the prestige and dominance of the leader. There is no point in arguing for withdrawal, unless Mr. Bush beckons us to do so.

Blinking Wisdom

David Brooks has a good review of a new book, "Blink" by Michael Gladwell, about how humans can often make quick judgements that prove more accurate than those derived from longer investigation. Best of all, while the theory put forth in the book is attractive, Brooks notes that all of the scientific inquiry into this so-called "thin-slicing" is really just old-fashioned wisdom.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Good (Under-reported) Economic News

Noel Sheppard at Tech Central Station has provided a roundup of good economic news. He concludes that right now, in the United States, we have growth in jobs, wages, consumer net worth, stock valuations, home ownership and prices, and GDP. Additionally, it seems that "[t]he U.S. government ran a $1 billion budget surplus in December" according to a Reuters report (nod to Instapundit). Huh. So this isn't really the worst economy in 50 years?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Change in blogging "style"

Due to a pinched nerve and herniated disc, I've decided that I will simply have to reduce the amount of long, original posts here at OSB. Instead, I will be doing more "pointing and quoting" for a while. Any longer posts will be reserved for Anchor Rising, to which I will link. It's not that I can't type with my left hand, it's just that too much results in an increase in the ever-present shooting pain that is radiating from my neck to my left index finger and at various points in between. With two blogs, an MA to revise and two classes coming up, something has to give. For now, it will have to be the more "personal" of my interests. Thankfully, at Anchor Rising I am but 1 of 4, so the quality of the blog won't be compromised. Besides, a diminishing of my sometimes lenghthy posting at AR may actually be welcome.

Laffey's 3-Point Property Tax Reform Plan

Stephen Laffey, Mayor of Cranston, has put together an editorial piece in today's ProJo in which he offers a 3-point plan for providing property tax relief
1. Mandates: State lawmakers (and federal officials) must fund, relax or eliminate unfunded mandates. These mandates run the gamut from busing to special education to property revaluations. They bring enormous cost to communities. . .

2. Educational accountability: Our elected state officials have, by law, established a system that provides little accountability for how taxpayers' dollars are spent on public education. An ever-increasing percentage of our property taxes is going to education.
In Rhode Island, approximately 60 percent of education funding comes from the regressive property tax; and because the state and federal governments have failed to step up their share of funding, about 70 percent of each new dollar of education funding comes from the property tax. Few would argue against investing in public education, but it is how that money is invested that many find bewildering or even maddening. . . . In most of Rhode Island, school committees hide in the shadow of city or town councils and mayors or town managers. They enjoy the luxury of determining how the money is to be spent (indeed, mayors and councils are prohibited from this) without having the sunlight shined on their decisions. . . . in exchange for the autonomy that school committees ask for, we should let them send out their own tax bills, as do many of the country's school districts. Responsibility and power go together.

3. Labor costs: To bring down property taxes, we have to mitigate the cost of labor and benefits in the public sector. In Cranston, at least 85 cents of every tax dollar is spent on the salaries and benefits of government employees, almost all of whom are protected by public-sector unions. Unfortunately, state laws (e.g., all-encompassing mandatory arbitration for many public-sector unions) make it extraordinarily difficult for city and town officials to limit the seemingly insatiable appetite of public-sector unions. . . . Regarding pensions, a state law is needed that protects taxpayers from powerful special interests: an age requirement far north of age 40 to collect a pension; reduced cost-of-living adjustments; and a defined contribution plan (e.g., 401[k]) for new public-sector employees. These changes alone would save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

In addition, state law should allow cities and towns to reduce pension benefits for municipal and school employees. At a minimum, state law should exempt all pension issues from collective bargaining at the municipal level, as is done today at the state level. It is outrageous that cities and towns are denied a cost-saving measure that the state makes available to itself.

As for health care, legislation should require that all public-sector employees pay a share of their health coverage and/or encourage participation in consumer-driven health-care plans that provide incentives for employees to make smart health-care choices. A 20-percent "co-pay" of health-care premiums in Cranston would represent a nearly 5-percent reduction in property taxes!

Most of the problems arising with public-sector unions stem from inattention to management rights -- i.e., the rights of the taxpayers. The private sector no longer provides the benefits enjoyed by public-sector employees; accordingly, those who work in the private sector should not have to pay for those in the public sector who enjoy such benefits.
Let's hope other politicians are listening. If not, we'll have to elect those who will.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Democrats: Verba non Acta

This LA Times piece about linguist George Lakoff's efforts to help the Democrat Party re-frame their message confirms my past delineation between rhetoric and ideology (not that I had made any groundbreaking discovery or anything).
"People think in frames," Lakoff writes in the opening chapter of his new book, which credits a national network of conservative think tanks and sympathetic media outlets with abetting the GOP's neural conquest. "To be accepted, the truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off."
Here, Lakoff is talking about ideology and is essentially "re-framing" the points made by Bernard Bailyn 40 years ago.
To his detractors, Lakoff's work amounts to political junk science, the equivalent of a diet plan that promises you can eat all you want and still lose 5 pounds a day. (Just talk differently and you too can win the White House!)

Samuel Popkin, [a] former Clinton campaign advisor, suggests Lakoff's work on language and political persuasion is not just simplistic but derivative. "He acts as if people haven't known this every day for the longest time," says Popkin, a UC San Diego political scientist who has extensively researched the way voters make up their minds. "George did not invent the wheel … framing is something a million people write about." (Indeed, George Orwell had some notable things to say about the political use of language half a century ago.)
It also seems Lakoff may not differentiate between rhetoric and ideology enough.
"Language matters a lot," says Al From, head of the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization that has worked to tug the party rightward, feuding with Dean and others who accuse the group of selling out the party's core principles. "But so does substance. . . . It wouldn't have made any difference if we'd just gone on the same way and changed the rhetoric," says From. "If you're really trying to show people you're different, you can't just do it with a slogan."
Again, this is the difference between rhetoric and ideology, whereby the former can be used to help explain the latter, but the latter is only powerful when its tenets are put into place. Yet, Lakoff, like many Democrats, seems more enamored with reframing their rhetoric as they are convinced that they lost based on presentation (It's Kerry's Fault!) and not on their ideas.
"The danger of his approach is convincing Democrats all they have to do is make rhetorical changes when what's at stake, perhaps, is a need for more substantive changes," says Bruce Cain.
Until the Democrats get past the same tired belief that the Republican's win either because they are great salesmen (like Reagan), or because they pull the wool over the eyes of the American people (like "W"), they will continue to lose. So long as they embrace their current ideology, that is a good thing.

Reformulating "Strategery"

Ralph Peters:
The tsunami's devastation on the Indian Ocean's shores offers a strategic lesson of incomparable importance. . . . The Indian Ocean and its adjoining seas and gulfs form one crucial, integrated strategic theater. The region has been critical to Western dominance for five centuries. . .

Half a millennium ago, the Indian Ocean proved to be the soft underbelly of the Ottoman Empire. Obscure naval battles off the coast of India secured the spice routes for Europe and triggered the long Ottoman decline. Today, the Indian Ocean is the weak link in Western security, a distant theater whose sea lanes carry not only oil, but vital trade, from the Suez Canal to the Straits of Malacca. No other region is so critical and so vulnerable. If we look beyond the terrible toll of the tsunami, there is much to be hopeful about. Far too little attention has been paid to the Thai government's position that, while it welcomed foreign recovery expertise, it did not need post-tsunami financial aid. Only a generation ago, Thailand was dirt-poor; today, it's proud of its ability to self-recover.

India has become a prized source of top-flight human capital. Afghanistan's proving that democracy can work in the absence of superhighways and investment bankers. South Africa is pioneering a dynamic multiracial society on a continent old-school thinkers blithely write off. And Indonesia, for all its problems, relishes its new democracy and its tolerant forms of Islam.

The future is waving its arms and shouting. . .
In this, Peters seems to be echoing Thomas Barnett's "Core/Gap" theory.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

On a Lighter Note

Here are some excerpts of a recent Ann Coulter interview. Love her or hate her, she can be funny. A sample:
On what it was like to spend Christmas in New York - "Oh, it was so much fun this year, because saying ‘Merry Christmas’ is like saying ‘F... you!’ I’ve said it to everyone. You know, cab drivers, passing people on the street, whatever. And they come up with the ‘Happy holidays.’ ‘Merry Christmas,’ I mean, it really is an aggressive act in New York."
I did the same thing, but it wasn't regarded as anything "shocking" here in Catholic Rhode Island. In fact, this may be one small example of how Rhode Island is "Democrat" but not necessarily "Liberal."

UN and Tsunami Relief

There's all sorts of information coming to light that provides examples of how the UN continues to value process over results, even when faced with one of the world's largest and worste natural disasters. If it wasn't so pathetic it would be comical. The Diplomad and The Belmont Club have been on the story, and now the National Business Review (via Instapundit) has written a devastating piece on the UN's near-uselessness using much of The Diplomad's reporting as a source.

As and example, on January 3 (Day 9 of the tsunami crisis), the Diplomad posted this
WFP (World Food Program) has "arrived" in the capital with an "assessment and coordination team." The following is no joke; no Diplomad attempt to be funny or clever: The team has spent the day and will likely spend a few more setting up their "coordination and opcenter" at a local five-star hotel. And their number one concern, even before phones, fax and copy machines? Arranging for the hotel to provide 24hr catering service. USAID folks already are cracking jokes about "The UN Sheraton." Meanwhile, our military and civilians, working with the super Aussies, continue to keep the C-130 air bridge of supplies flowing and the choppers flying, and keep on saving lives -- and without 24hr catering services from any five-star hotel . . . . The contrast grows more stark every minute.
Also, it seems the UN may be aware of the fact that they are in danger of taking a serious PR hit in the region and around the world. Again, as detailed by the Diplomad
A colleague came back from a meeting held by the local UN representative yesterday and reported that the UN rep had said that while it was a good thing that the Australians and Americans were running the air ops into tsunami-wrecked Aceh, for cultural and political reasons, those Australians and Americans really "should go blue." In other words, they should switch into UN uniforms and give up their national ones.

Now you all know that The Diplomad is not a cynical or suspicious being, but there is something funny going on here . . . what could it be? Could it be a genuine concern for local "cultural and political sensitivities" that would be offended by the presence of Aussies and Yanks in their own military uniforms saving thousands of lives? Maybe . . . or, might it not be an odd coincidence that just after the infamous Mr. Anan (see prior posts) says the UN will be setting up air traffic control in Aceh, the UN wants to show that it has an ATC system operating? What better way than to continue in the UN tradition of taking credit for others' work?
Finally, it was the Diplomad that was the source a much-talked about Dutch Report, specifically this excerpt
The US military has arrived and is clearly establishing its presence everywhere in Banda Aceh. They completely have taken over the military hospital, which was a mess until yesterday but is now completely up and running. They brought big stocks of medicines, materials for the operation room, teams of doctors, water and food. Most of the patients who were lying in the hospital untreated for a week have undergone medical treatment by the US teams by this afternoon. US military have unloaded lots of heavy vehicles and organize the logistics with Indonesian military near the airport. A big camp is being set up at a major square in the town. Huge generators are ready to provide electricity. US helicopters fly to places which haven't been reached for the whole week and drop food. The impression it makes on the people is also highly positive; finally something happens in the city of Banda Aceh and finally it seems some people are in control and are doing something. No talking but action. European countries are until now invisible on the ground. IOM staff (note: this is a USAID-funded organization) is very busy briefing the incoming Americans and Australians about the situation.

The US, Australia, Singapore and the Indonesian military have started a 'Coalition Co-ordination Centre' in Medan to organize all the incoming and outgoing military flights with aid. A sub-centre is established in Banda Aceh."
I think the point has been made on who reacted quickly and effectively. The Belmont Club has also compiled an interesting comparison of the actions of the UN compared to other International Aid Organizations, such as the Red Cross.
Forgetting for a moment any ideological views toward the United Nations the reader may have, what is striking is how slow off the mark the UN was, even in comparison to smaller nongovernment organizations. Consider the difference in the OODA loop of the UN and the US military, which is widely parodied in movies as being hidebound and inflexible. The Abraham Lincoln arrived in Hong Kong on December 22, 2004 for replenishment. The tsunami devastated the Bay of Bengal region on the morning of December 26; on December 28 the Lincoln received orders to leave Hong Kong for the disaster area. It prepared to sail, with all that implies for a major formation yet by January 1st, the Lincoln was off the coast of Sumatra. Leaving aside the resource differences that allowed the Navy to move major assets vast distances in 72 hours, it had taken less than 48 hours for the US to come up with an implementable plan, obtain approval from national command authority and execute, in essence, no slower than the Red Cross, only bigger. In contrast, the UN is much bigger than the Red Cross, but its OODA cycle seemed much slower.
Enough said.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Sorry, Anchor Rising has Dominated my Blogging Time

It seems that, much like a new baby requires more attention than a 2 year old (well, maybe), a new blog often enjoys more attention than its older cousin. Such has been the case with me and Anchor Rising. I've been doing a lot of posting over there, so if your really care about what I think, head on over. Combine blogging at AR, revising the ol' MA Thesis (again) and a herniated disc/pinched nerve combo and something has to suffer. Unfortunately, it's been OSB. I'll try to get better, if only I had more time in the day...I guess I could sleep less?

Monday, January 03, 2005

Link Changes

After a couple months, and especially after the election, I've found that I've been patronizing INDCJournal, The Mesopotamian and the Mudville Gazette less and less. Nothing against these bloggers, and they receive enough traffic without having to worry about my linking to them, but I simply don't frequent them enough to make them "blogworthy" for me. I've added the particular link for the National Association of Scholars Forum (under Academia) for a test drive, and a new and interesting blog, The Diplomad, to the Morning Roundup. We'll see how they work out.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Blaming US

Writing about the tsunami, Brit Gerard Baker, who notes that humans have always sought to assign blame to something when natural disasters strike. It used to be that humans ascribed the "wrath of God" to such things, he rites, but in a secular world, this tsunami has been given as evidence that there is no God (we'll ignore the epistimelogical inconsistencies of that assertion for now...). Thus, according to Baker, "In the absence of a deity to decry or appease when the earth moves in such devastating fashion, humankind reaches for the next best thing - orldly authority." And who would that authority be? Yes, local governments will get some blame. But...
"In the past three days I [Baker] have been impressed by the originality of the latest critiques of the evil Americans. The earthquake and tsunami apparently had something to do with global warming, environmentalists say, caused of course by greedy American motorists. Then there was the rumour that the US military base at Diego Garcia was forewarned of the impending disaster and presumably because of some CIA-approved plot to undermine Islamic movements in Indonesia and Thailand did nothing about it.

To be fair, even the most animated America-hater, though, baulks at the idea of blaming George W. Bush for the destruction and death in southern Asia. But the US is blamed for not responding generously enough to help the victims of the catastrophe. A UN official this week derided Washington's contribution as stingy."
While Baker comes to the defense of American, its citizens and President Bush (at least obliquely), some Americans haven't been so optimistic. As John Podoheretz reminds us, now is not the time for playing the blame game. It seems too many who oppose the President politically have let their ideology usurp their reason. It seems 2005 will see no decrease in the "blame America" or "blame Bush" rhetoric. In sports this phenomenom has a specific term that can be applied: sore losers.