July 29, 2009
I think it would be a good idea for me to step away from the keyboard for a while, guys.
I love all of you but lately all the joy seems to have been sucked out of me (yeah, I know. No jokes, please). I don't have anything to offer and feel like I'm letting you all down every day when I just go through the motions.
Please give me some time to think. I may just be tired. Perhaps things will look different in a few days :)
My First and Last Rule 5 Post
Before I finally turn the page on this whole stupid Erin Andrews thing, there are a few things I'd like to say.
It’s a waste of time to attempt to refute someone who continually puts words in your mouth, or imputes to you positions which reflect neither your values nor your arguments. If you want a debate, read what I’ve written and tell me why I’m wrong. I always enjoy a good argument on the merits.
But calling me silly names (and the idea that I’m a radical feminist is just that - silly) isn’t a rational argument. Neither is ignoring what I've written in favor of what you would like your readers to think I said. People who use such tactics aren’t making an argument. They’re engaging in a pissing contest. The thing about pissing contests is that the participants tend to get wet.
Over the past few weeks I’ve written two posts about the Erin Andrews story. In neither of them did I contend that Donald Douglas is a bad person. I did not ask anyone to chastise him or cast him out of the conservative fold. I didn't try to gin up a flame war.
I did try to confine my discussion to the ethics of exploiting nude videos of a woman who never consented to let thousands of total strangers gawp at her in the altogether. The consent thing: it matters. And once I'd said what I meant to say, I tried to let it go, aside from attempting to lighten the atmosphere when several people emailed to inform me that I'm a radical feminist with disturbed Victorian insecurities. :p
I wrote a long post last night about this whole thing, but I'm not going to post it. It won't resolve anything and will only justify more of this idiocy. I do want to mention two posts I missed while I was busy with work. Cynthia Yockey, a blogger I hadn't had the pleasure of reading before last night but who writes very well, has a few thoughts on the importance of traffic:
...about the time that I launched my Bea Arthur Rule 5 experiment, I noticed that large volumes of traffic do not necessarily translate into profitability for political opinion blogs. This was a watershed moment in blogging for me. I stopped writing expressly to get traffic. And I stopped trying to link lots of other blogs in order to get traffic. I decided that if blogging would not directly bring me money that I should write for the joy of expressing my opinion and interacting with the people who find me and enjoy my blog.
As I watched my nude Bea Arthur traffic in my Sitemeter, I noticed it primarily came from foreign countries. I doubt it brought me repeat visitors.
Then I had a couple of Instalanches to posts in my campaign to fire David Letterman. These occurred right after I installed the plug-in that appears after each post, which suggests to readers that if they liked the post, they could “Buy me a coffee.” Well, several of the Instalanche visitors DID buy me a coffee, which I really appreciated and which taught me an important lesson: the traffic MOST worth attracting is targeted to your product and/or service. Prof. Reynolds’ readers are mostly conservative or libertarian, so traffic from Instapundit is targeted to enjoy what I have to offer.
And while I was sitting in Beltway traffic yesterday morning, I learned that an old friend had chimed in with a few observations of his own:
I'd call your attention to July 23rd when I recorded just over 47,000 uniques - far from a site record, by the way. But it had nothing to do with Erin Andrews videos, or girlie pics, it was a substantive essay on Obama's burning down of his post-racial theme due to his rhetoric on Crowley-Gates.
As, I hope, it was a high-quality blog opinion post, it was linked far and wide (which puts you further out ahead link-rating-wise in any next Google Bomb race against some of the increasingly more insufferable, circle-jerking drones out here btw) and it all but amounted to Donald's week in just a single day. But they know all about building site traffic. Oh, yes, I see.
Despite a sneaking suspicion that a radical feminist should be outraged that a mere man presumed to come to my defense, I can't help but be grateful for the moral support. I do not expect my friends to agree with me. Often, my closest friends are the ones I disagree with most. I've disagreed with Dan on several occasions and he never takes it amiss. Opinions I disagree with are often the ones that make me think the hardest. It is in that spirit that I offer the following observations.
It takes a combination of talent, hard work, and savvy promotion to ascend to the top tier of the blogosphere. The things that will get you ahead are no great mystery - I read up on the subject back in 2004 and decided that traffic, in and of itself, wasn't why I do this. I could have done some or all of those things. But I didn't wish to. That's one reason I'm generally skeptical of arguments about the dearth of women at the upper echelons of the blatherosphere being prima facie evidence of sexism. Women, I have observed, often behave differently from men. Different choices, different results.
What disturbs me most is the argument that traffic is so important that it justifies pretty much any act. Over the past few months I've sat back and watched this argument percolate across the blogosphere in various forms: society is oversexed but sex sells; I'm not really sure this is such a great thing to do, but it boosts my traffic without much effort; blah blah blah.
And I've slowly watched sites I enjoy buy into this argument. I can only speak for myself here, but when I visit a site for politics I don't expect to see nude or nearly nude women. There are blogs that do little else, and that's why people go there. Certainly I understand that guys like looking at women, and many seem to be able to do so without doing and saying things they would never condone in the real world.
Or perhaps they wish they could talk in mixed company about how much they like to masturbate to photos of nude women, but feel restrained by those awful harpy rad-feministas who secretly orchestrate the actions of men via tornado remote control?
Oddly, when I was growing up there was nary a feminist in sight. And yet men did not act this way around women. I imagine they still liked looking at pretty ladies but they did not talk about women's bodies or post centerfolds in mixed company. The leading men in movies were generally polite and respectful towards women. And to think this was the Dark Ages. Who knew the vast majority of men of that era were secretly gay?
I am not offended by the sight of the female form. After all, that's what I look in the mirror every morning and see reflected back at me. And despite what I hear argued all the time, it's quite possible not to wish to have boobs shoved in one's face 24/7 and yet not feel particularly threatened by same. I don't wish to be confronted by a shirtless Adrian Paul either, titillating as that would no doubt be. I don't like loud hip hop music, but I'm not threatened by it. I just find the injection of hard to ignore sexual imagery into every facet of modern life irritating and distracting.
There's a reason I don't broadcast my morning shower out to the world via webcam (well, besides the cataclysmic grinding of tectonic plates that would no doubt ensue). I am just old fashioned enough to believe some of life's joys are more appropriately enjoyed in private. If I did wander into an area where such images were displayed in real life, I'd assume it was a "guys only" area - that women were not welcome there - and make my way quietly to the exit. And make no mistake: the Internet is a public place. You never know who is reading your site. For this reason, it would never occur to me to post photos of guys here at VC. Though some of my male readers might not mind, I suspect that would make other male readers distinctly uncomfortable.
I think every site owner has the absolute right to decide what content to post on their own site. Since they're posting it on a public medium created to encourage discussion, other bloggers ought to feel free to comment on that content if they wish to, or simply stay away if it makes them uncomfortable.
After a lot of thinking, I decided to stay away a few weeks ago. My decision - I don't expect it to influence anyone else. Still, it disturbs me that people are oddly hesitant to discuss things of this nature. In private they have all sorts of opinions, but no one wants to have their manhood questioned or be called a prude. There's a lot of ostensible "non-judgmentalism" that more closely resembles selective judgmentalism going around.
But how realistic is it to refuse to judge? Human beings make moral and aesthetic judgments all the time. We have to. The problem is when we decide someone is the enemy simply because they don't agree with us. We confuse judging the act with judging the person.
I think there's a fine line. If we can't listen to people who disagree with us, we rarely question our own assumptions. If we respond as though we've been scalded or betrayed when someone disagrees with us, we miss out on a lot in life. If we call each other names and insult each other rather than addressing the issues, only those who enjoy shouting will come forward. And they're not always the ones with something valuable to contribute. They're just louder.
Finally, it seems to me that if we truly believe we're in the right, it shouldn't bother us so much when others question our reasoning. So long as they don't substitute insults for arguments, our values ought to be able to stand up to close inspection.
But what do I know? After all, this is only one of a millions of opinions out there.
July 28, 2009
Sorry guys. Work has been insane this week. Will get something up tonight.
July 26, 2009
Quote of the Day
“Integrity can be neither lost nor concealed nor faked nor quenched nor artificially come by nor outlived, nor, I believe, in the long run, denied”
- Eudora Welty
This is why I love men. I am humbled.
First Rule of Holes
When you're in one, stop digging.
Shorter Donald Douglas:
1. I did something disgusting and wrong, and I know it was disgusting and wrong, but I refuse to apologize:
I saw a news opportunity that might bring in some traffic. My hunch exceeded expectations. And, it is what it is - exploitation of privacy invasion for profit. It's ugly, but that's what I did, no apologies.
2. I am passing NO VALUE JUDGMENTS on anyone who looked at that disgusting and wrong video, or on anyone else....
...except Miss Attila, who is a disgusting hypocrite because she has written about sex, which as we all know is tantamount to exploiting a crime for personal gain...
...and that radical feminist Cassandra, who is not only a hypocrite for displaying a fully clothed pinup on her masthead (remind me to tell you that story sometime, Donald) but a "hardline feminist ayatollah".
Sometimes, the comedy just writes itself :p
Sauce for the Goose...
Rosenberg apparently has a reputation as an “aggressive” reporter, and CDR Gordon has had the no doubt thankless task of running the GTMO beat for the last four years. Some friction is probably inevitable as the PA force attempts to put the detention center in the best possible light, while journalists keep prying for the keys to the top secret abbatoir, wherein detainees are slowly roasted in the depths of a giant Slor. That just has to be around there. Somewhere.
This has to be the first application of largely idiotic sexual harassment laws that we actually find amusing. Be careful what you wish for: equal rights implies equal responsibility - a fact too many folks forget these days regardless of gender.
July 25, 2009
When Victory is a Dirty Word
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure...than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
- Theodore Roosevelt
“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”
- Winston Churchill
Victory and defeat are each of the same price.
- Thomas Jefferson
There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.
- FDR after Pearl Harbor
"I'm always worried about using the word 'victory,' because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur,"
- Barack Obama
Anyone who has read VC for any time at all knows that for many years the subject I wrote about most often was the war. No other topic even came close. If you're still suffering through my overlong posts, you have almost certainly noticed I don't write about war much anymore. I have not been happy about this, but I've had my reasons.
It was the need to defeat al Qaeda and shore up public support for our men and women in uniform that got me into blogging way back in January of 2004. Since last November I've struggled to balance my disquiet over the direction of the war effort and growing conviction that Barack Obama has neither the resolve nor the intention of winning with my firm belief that criticizing senior leadership in time of war only provides aid and comfort to those we are fighting. But when the President of the United States openly announces that victory is "not necessarily our goal", I get off the bus. Nothing I can say will be news to our enemies. After all, our own Commander in Chief has proclaimed it for all the world to hear.
Some time ago, General Petraeus characterized the stability achieved by the Surge (a change in strategy Obama initially opposed, then refused to term a success when events proved him wrong) as 'fragile and reversible'. For all that he mumbles the words about the need for a secure and free Iraq and Afghanistan, I don't see Obama backing the folks who put their lives on the line daily to "win" the peace. I don't see him giving them what they need to defeat our enemies.
Because that's what you do in war. You fight to win - not to achieve ignominious defeat or a Mexican standoff. People are giving their lives to prosecute our foreign policy aims, but when we ask them to do this, there must be some overarching policy goal - one vitally important enough to justify the loss of American lives.
When George Bush was in office, his detractors may have complained about the efficacy of his strategies at times. But no one, including our enemies, doubted for an instant what the desired end state was: victory. And Bush did what it took to stabilize Iraq, despite a Congress determined to announce our defeat before we could get our boots on the ground. Though the war was not going well back then, George Bush never lost faith in our armed forces. He fought for them and provided them with the tools they needed to do turn things around. The knowledge that senior leadership is squarely behind them is vitally important to the morale and safety of every American who steps forward to risk their life for this country.
We have no right - NO RIGHT - to ask soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen to put themselves in harm's way without the full support of their Commander in Chief and yet that seems to be exactly what our new President is determined to do. His latest statement is appalling:
"I'm always worried about using the word 'victory,' because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur," Obama told ABC News.
What is it Barack Obama finds so deeply troubling about putting an end to Japan's cruel depredations and militaristic ambitions?
Survivors of the Nanking Massacre have recounted how Japanese soldiers forcibly took girls as young as 10 years old to rape them and after having satisfied their lust, killed and buried them in a mass graves.
Elderly men, women and children were not spared and when the carnage was finally over, 200,000 civilians lay dead after an orgy of killing that has no equal in the history of human conflict.
Selected young women was sent to army camps as sex slaves to satisfy Japanese soldiers while healthy young men were shipped of to Japan to be slaves. All this took place after the Japanese invasion of China and the testimonials of survivors of this holocaust have been properly documented and recorded.
There was ample reason for the term The Rape of Nanking and it doesn't include the hare brained notion that the actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and the Philippines pale by comparison to media-manufactured shibboleths like Abu Ghuraib and Guantanamo Bay.
This is a man who thinks he can lead the U.S. economy out of recession by constraining profit and taxing those citizens who are most adept at creating wealth. But there's nothing in the Constitution about punishing free men for the sin of succeeding. I don't know about you, but if doing a thing is made less rewarding most people do LESS of that thing, not more. You don't incent success by handicapping the talented and industrious, and it's damned hard to protect the weak by handicapping those who are strong and brave enough to defend them.
Inexplicably, our Expert in Chief seems to think we can win a war by protecting innocent civilians, as opposed to killing the scum who prey upon them. But how can we protect the innocent if we're not allowed to go after their persecutors? And since when did women's issues in Afghanistan become a burning national security priority? Don't get me wrong - I'm all for helping these women as much as we can, but Afghanistan has its own culture and laws and if we're dictating to them then they're not truly free. It's difficult to see how sending American men and women into harm's way with one hand tied behind their backs and an ill defined and unmeasurable set of benchmarks makes us any more secure here at home.
Obama has stated many times that the goal in Afghanistan is to prevent future attacks on the United States. And yet his metric for measuring progress is not how many bad guys we kill, but how many Afghans we "protect". How can we possibly measure that in a country where non-uniformed combatants purposely hide among the citizenry? The guilty don't wear labels on their foreheads. As a metric, it is no more measurable than Obama's promise to "save or create" millions of jobs. How do you measure a saved job when it's not certain whether it would have gone away, absent massive income transferes and injections of federal cash into completely unrelated entitlement programs and earmarks?
How do we measure "saved lives" when we can never know how many would have been killed, had we not intervened?
But then perhaps that's the point. Because despite his mind blowing rhetoric, Obama likes the world to see him - if not the country he represents - as a winner. We know this because he hasn't stopped reminding half of America: "I Won".
And when that happened, we all lost.
I guess some victories are more equal than others. The difference here is that he's not spending foreign campaign donations but American lives in a reckless race to surrender everything these magnificent men and women hold dear: American security, prestige, and honor. VP Biden, speaking in London, recently stated that the war in Afghanistan is "worth the effort". Well I have news for him.
In war, you don't get graded on effort. You get graded on results.
July 24, 2009
Feel Good Vid of the Day
If you have a sense of humor, nothing in life can keep you down for long.
Thanks to Chris McH. for making me grin like a complete fool :)
Identity, Bias, and the Reasonable Man Standard
When I first heard Henry Louis Gates Jr. proclaim that he was arrested for being a black man in America, I had to laugh. His story reminded me of a similar encounter my husband (a white, male Marine Colonel) had with a police officer during his two week leave from a year long deployment to Iraq. I was there when it happened, and I saw the whole thing.
We were driving along a back country road near our home in Western Maryland. We threaded our way through woods and corn fields and suddenly came upon something we did not expect: a construction site with bulldozers and enormous trucks. One half of the road was closed off, forcing us to detour into the oncoming lane of traffic. Normally when this happens, there are flagmen out to direct traffic. But since this road was deserted (we hadn't seen another car in over 5 minutes) it seemed reasonable to assume drivers would look ahead onto the stick straight roadway for oncoming cars before venturing into the other lane to bypass the cones on our side of the road. It seemed unreasonable to detour 10 miles out of our way and there was no indication the road was closed, so we pulled into the oncoming lane to pass the cones and continued on our way.
Our passage through the construction site was uneventful.
But a very short time after we passed it, we were puzzled to come upon a line of cones stretching all the way across the road. This time, both lanes were completely blocked. Again there was not a soul in sight, nor was there a sign to let us know why the cones were there. Looking to the right and left of the cones, the grass was tamped down where other vehicles had obviously driven around them and so, because there was no "road closed" signs at the first set of cones or at this one, it seemed reasonable that the cones were there to block traffic from the other direction rather than to prevent us from going on. I do not know what my husband (the driver) was thinking, but I know I thought to myself, "Well this is irritating. What the hell are we supposed to do now? Turn around and drive a good 10 miles out of our way to get to 270?"
I also thought, "It really frosts me when construction crews forget to take cones down after they're done". This happens all the time in the DC area; you'll be zipping along the highway at 60 mph and suddenly everything comes to a crashing halt. Signs indicate a lane closure ahead. Everyone slams on their brakes, traffic backs up for miles, and to really put the icing on the cake when we finally get to the blocked off lane there is not a construction crew in sight.
My husband swore softly under his breath, a thing he rarely does. I said, "It seems that people are pulling around the cones, hon." He nodded his head and carefully drove around them. About a third of a mile later we approached an intersection. Well off to the right side there was a utility truck with two men who appeared to be working on something. They both looked at us as we stopped at the stop sign, but neither appeared concerned or said a word. Looking across the intersection, the road ahead was blocked off with another set of cones. Again, no sign and no one attending what now appeared to be a deliberate road closure. To the left and right of the intersecting road were two more sets of cones, blocking traffic. At each of these sets of cones was a police cruiser turning oncoming traffic back in the direction it had come from. The cones to our right weren't more than 50 feet away. The cop standing outside his cruiser looked at us but didn't gesture or seem concerned.
After a brief discussion (what to do? what to do?) we slowly turned left and approached the police cruiser parked there. As we approached, we slowed down to speak with the officer and let him know what we were doing. We never got the chance.
He was a young man, obviously hot and irritable, and the first words out of his mouth were, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" uttered in a tone of voice that, had I used it with my husband, would have elicited an accusation that I was yelling at him. In reality, the officer was not yelling at all. But his voice was raised quite audibly and he came across to me as angry and slightly hostile. He demanded my husband's license, cutting him off in mid sentence as he tried to ask if it was OK to detour around the cones. Ignoring any attempt to elicit information, the officer stalked off to his car and returned to deliver a $90 ticket and a lecture about obeying the law. Briefly, again, my husband tried to explain but the officer was having none of it. Only then were we told why the cones were there. Apparently a power line was down, the utility folks were repairing it, and the roads in all four directions had been closed to keep us safe. As he spoke, I glanced in the side rear view mirror and saw another car at the stop sign we had just gone through. It slowly pulled into the intersection and continued around the cones on the other side of the road without incident. The officer continued to lecture my husband about how dangerous live power lines are. I wondered why, if they were so dangerous, no one had bothered to inform us at the stop sign?
I could tell he was extremely angry at being talked to in such a patronizing tone of voice, but wisely he remained silent. As we pulled around the cones and continued on our way, I told him I would contest the ticket in court since he would surely have returned to Iraq by then.
How is any of this relevant to the Gates matter? It's relevant because of his reflexive assumption that he was being treated unfairly or disrepectfully on account of his race. Repeatedly, Gates has asserted that a white professor would not have been treated the same way. But how does he know that? Has he ever been a white professor? And more importantly, would a white professor have become indignant and abusive at a police officer who (as it turned out) was investigating a report of a break in in progress - of his own home - by two white men?
Or would he have been grateful and cooperative?
There is no doubt that my husband didn't feel he was fairly or respectfully treated by that young cop. I didn't think he was either, but at the same time I understand that we all have our limits. Yes, the cop could have handled the situation better. But also, as I watched their interaction that day, I saw two males (one a mature and self possessed - if angry - Marine and one an inexperienced and angry cop) butting heads in a scenario that has played out over and over again since human societies began to make rules and then try to enforce them. There was no mistaking the implied challenge in the officer's demeanor, nor my husband's unspoken resentment at being forced to submit to treatment he considered arbitrary and unfair.
And none of this had diddly squat to do with race or class.
On the court date I retold the story, this time adding two pieces of information that never came up during our mostly one sided conversation with the officer at the scene.
My husband was an active duty Marine officer serving in Iraq. If there is one thing Marine officers understand, it is the need to obey the law and submit to legitimate authority. Had we thought for an instant that we were doing anything wrong, I told the judge, we would have turned around and driven 10 miles out of our way. In retrospect, we may have made the wrong decision, but our behavior was not unreasonable based on the information we had at the time.
The other piece of information is that our oldest son is a cop. I'd like to think one reason he became a police officer is that his father and I taught him that society doesn't work very well when people think they are above the law or that ordinary rules of civilized conduct or self restraint don't apply to them.
As I left the court, the young police officer ran up behind me and said, "Why didn't you TELL me your husband is a Marine and your son is a cop? I replied that it would never have occurred to us to do so. Our identity was irrelevant to how we should be treated under the laws of the state of Maryland.
How often we react angrily or with indignation to a tone in someone's voice, to words that seem designed to provoke or hurt us. How often we assume what it is unreasonable to think we can ever fully understand: what is in another's mind or heart.
Professor Gates has repeatedly asserted that he "knows" Officer Crowley's actions were influenced by a racial narrative; that they were arbitrary and driven by spite:
Now it’s clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone’s house, probably a white person’s house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me.
But it seems clear that Gates' actions were driven by his own racial narrative: he assumed from the get go that the white cop who showed up on his doorstep was "a danger" to him. One wonders, would he have responded this way had the cop been black?
All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, ‘This is strange.’ So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’
I have little doubt that there was suspicion in Crowley's voice when he asked Gates to step outside. However, that suspicion was not unjustified given the report that two black men had just been seen breaking into the house. Gates did not know about the 911 call, of course. But he did know that his driver had just jimmied the front door open. How many people, having locked themselves out of a structure, break the door lock rather than calling a locksmith? And as it turns out, he had no idea what Crowley was thinking. Like our post racial president, he made an assumption based on his own racial biases:
Crowley, 42, said that, when he first saw Gates, in "my mind, I'm thinking, 'He does not look like someone who would break into the house.' " At the same time, however, "from the time that he opened the door, it seemed that he was very upset, very unhappy that I was there."
This is what is wrong with the notion that we are all driven by our racial or sexual identities: it assumes that biology will always trump education and intellect; that we are helpless to overcome the amount of melanin in our skin or which hormones flow from our endocrine glands.
There is no doubt in my mind that unconscious racial stereotypes played an enormous role in the confrontation between Gates and Crowley. What many people are missing is that a good many of these racial stereotypes came from a celebrated black professor who (had he truly believed Officer Crowley posed a threat to him) would never have dared to scream "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO A BLACK MAN IN AMERICA".
That the incident escalated into an arrest for disorderly conduct was unfortunate. In a perfect world, Officer Crowley would have ignored Gates' repeated insults (and let's keep in mind here that Crowley's backup, a Latino officer, corroborates Gates' arrogant, abusive, and uncooperative behavior).
Of course, in a world free of racial bias, the President of the United States would have remained neutral until all the facts were in rather than stoking the fires of post-racial prejudice and resentment. In the end, regardless of race or sex, we are all human beings. We get mad, we make unfounded assumptions, we speak in haste and repent at leisure.
It seems to me that if blacks expect whites to step outside their own skin and see life that way a black person sees it, it is not unreasonable to ask them to step outside their own racial identity for a moment and realize that the world - and race relations - may look profoundly different to someone of a different color. And it seems to me that a Harvard professor who has spent his life studying race relations ought to be smart enough to realize the injustice of demanding others extend to him the benefit of the doubt with no expectation of reciprocal consideration.
Thanks to MaryAnn for the video.
July 23, 2009
Racial Bias in America
All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, ‘This is strange.’ So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’
Because, you know, white cops (having already called for back up so there will be multiple witnesses, standing on a city street in full view of passers by and with a neighbor only a few feet away) are notorious for beating down innocent black men for the crime of being at home while black. All I can say is, it's a good thing he wasn't driving. There's no telling what would have happened:
Last week, about 2 p.m., while driving a nice car, I got stopped by a police officer about a block from my home in Los Angeles. The officer asked for license and registration. "Yes, sir," I said, handing him my license. Before I could retrieve the registration, he said, "Mr. Elder, do you still live at this address?" I said I did. He said: "OK. I stopped you because you rolled through a stop sign. Two pedestrians saw you, and they gestured to me, as if saying, 'Are you going to do something about that?' So I felt I had to stop you. I'm not looking for area residents. I'm looking for people who don't live here who might be committing crimes. You're fine."
I did roll through the stop sign. He could have ticketed me. Rather, he responded to my politeness with politeness. Besides, don't we want a proactive police department that, within the law, doesn't just react to crime but also tries to prevent it?
Cops routinely deal with conflict, angry citizens and quite often the worst of the worst — while going to work every day willing to take a bullet for someone they don't even know.
Even Henry You-Don't-Know-Who-You're-Messing-With Gates should understand that.
As the President remarked so astutely last night, we still have a long way to go before we stop making unfounded assumptions on the basis of skin color.
Must Have Been One Of Those Irrestible Urges
What's the big deal? Poor guy was only looking at naughty pictures:
In 1999, Bruns dropped out of the University of Michigan after the police discovered a student was using the school's server to download and share child pornography. Detectives seized Bruns' computer from his dorm room and found thousands of pornographic images stored on it, according to the school newspaper. Bruns was arrested and pleaded guilty to charges of distributing child pornography, but he served only three years of probation because of his age, according to court documents.
This time, Bruns' laptop contained hundreds of images and at least five movie files depicting children under the age of 10 being sexually abused by men and women, according to police documents. Images show the children, some as young as 3, being tied up and raped, court filings said.
That judge sounds really uptight - it's not like he took the photos himself. One can only wonder what kind of disturbed Victorian insecurities were at work here.
July 22, 2009
Here and There
(well, not really) Happy Birthday William!
For a start SHIT I got hit!! Now Iv got that out the way I can say the things Iv hopefully made clear, or if I havent this should clear it all up for me. My hole life you'v all been there for me through thick and thin bit like a wedding through good and bad. Without you I believe I wouldn't have made it as far as I have. I died doing what I was born to do I was happy and felt great about myself although the army was sadly the ending of me it was also the making of me so please don't feel any hate toward it. One thing I no I never made clear to you all was I make jokes about my life starting in the Army. That's wrong VERY wrong my life began a LONG time before that (Obviously) but you get what I mean. All the times Iv tried to neglect the family get angry when you try teach me right from wrong wot I mean to say is I only realised that you were trying to help when I joined the army and without YOUR help I would have never had the BALLS, the GRIT and the damn right determination to crack on and do it. If I could have a wish in life it would to be able to say Iv gone and done things many would never try to do. And going to Afghan has fulfilled my dream ie my goal. Yes I am young wich as a parent must brake you heart but you must all somehow find the strength that I found to do something no matter how big the challenge. As Im writing this letter I can see you all crying and mornin my death but if I could have one wish in an "after life" it would be to stop your crying and continueing your dreams (as I did) because if I were watching only that would brake my heart. So dry your tears and put on a brave face for the rest of your friends and family who need you.
Nineteen years old.
"I Am Erin Andrews"
A while back, John Hawkins made a video called "I Am Sarah Palin":
I've thought about his video several times over the past few days while taking in the controversy over the creepy and criminal filming of sportscaster Erin Andrews. It wasn't that long ago that Sarah Palin was subjected to the same treatment. Funny, I can't recall the last time I heard a male politician referred to by his own side as a Vice President I'd Like to Fuck. When some Lefty pundits wrote about having sexual fantasies about Barack Obama, most bloggers on the right wondered if they'd gone off their meds? It was completely understandable - a compliment, in fact! - to yammer on about how you masturbate to photos of Sarah Palin, though. After all, you'd hit it, wouldn't you?
Before this story landed in my Inbox, I had no idea who Andrews was, and until last night I was trying very hard to be non-confrontational about this. But after thinking it over I believe some of the things being said deserve a response. I think they deserve a response not because they're substantive, original, or even terribly compelling arguments. What they do seem to be is both widely held and ferociously defended.
I've been heartened to see a few men react to both the maker of the video and those who gleefully and unapolagetically flog it with disgust. Most have said nothing. Not being a big fan of the forced denunciation school of blogging, I'm not much inclined to infer anything from their silence. On the other hand when I read comments like this one (sadly echoed over the last few days on pretty much every single post I've seen) I can't help wondering if men and women really are from different planets after all?
Erin Andrews is babelicious, to be sure, but she’d be so much hotter if she embraced her hotness, developed a sense of humor and posed for Playboy already. She’d get a big check, ESPN would get a boost in ratings and no sleazebag could profit off some grainy video anymore.
Let me get this straight. This woman's privacy was invaded, some jerk took photos of her naked and splashed them all over the internet, causing other jerks to damn near kill themselves compounding the offense. And the remedy is that Andrews ought to have a better sense of humor since everyone knows men are (if la meme du jour is to be believed) utterly incapable of controlling themselves?
For some odd reason, I'm reminded of a famous cartoon and caption contest in the New Yorker.
Surely I can't be the only one who, reading such dreck, suddenly finds herself transported to the Boulevard St. Germaine; doomed to wander about in an existentialist fugue, desperately pulling on a half spent Gauloise as she ponders the essential meaninglessness of life in a world bereft of an omiscient Deity, antiquated notions of good and evil or the approval of our new Socialist overlords. It's hard to think of another example which better sums up my distain for the "Get over it, ladies - men are pigs" school of moral philosophy. It seems odd to hear so many men cheerfully reduce themselves to no more than a set of biological urges that totally clobber their critical thinking functions.
What message are women to take from this? That men can't control themselves?
Thanks. I feel safer already. Personally I've never been a huge fan of the "all men are perverts/closet rapists/selfish and stupid louts" school of thought, but once you've heard the erstwhile targets of such reductive and unthoughtful sentiments embrace them a few hundred times you begin to wonder if better living through chemistry isn't preferable to an unmedicated existence? There seem to be endless variations on the trope but they all have one thing in common: they open up a dark, frightening abyss that theatens to swallow my generally rose colored view of men whole.
Don't get me wrong. I understand the impulse to look. We all have impulses - often powerful ones - that conflict with our values. What I don't understand is the cynical decision to repeatedly exploit someone else's misfortune:
It’s American Power, a supposedly conservative blog, gleefully trumpeting an illegal nude video made out of Erin Andrews through a hole drilled in her hotel room–a criminal act. But who cares if it’s criminal, if it might increase one’s traffic?
For days I went out of my way not to make this personal. I've had many conservations with Donald in the past. As he repeatedly points out, he's hardly the only one who seems unable to understand that daring to work as a sportscaster or being "newsworthy" does not constitute voluntary surrender of the right to privacy in situations where any of us ought to have a reasonable expectation of privacy:
I wouldn't photograph my neighbor in a bikini by the pool, getting out of the shower topless, or shaving her legs in the bathroom. I am linking to the post though, for the purposes of argument. The difference between the Erin Andrew link and those links right here is that the latter have absolutely zero news values.
Good thing his neighbor isn't a Gold Star mother whose son was just killed in Iraq or Afghanistan! That would be newsworthy, and according to the media public curiosity about sensationalistic stories trumps all over considerations. It would seem many folks agree. The rationalizations go on and on:
Who is Erin Andrews and why should I care/be surprised that she has a video of her naked? Doesn’t every female celeb under 30?
Gee, I don't know. Perhaps because a crime was committed here? Or could it be that being a 'female celeb' doesn't constitute consent to be violated by total strangers. But wait a minute! Other people did it too and that makes it hunky-dory!
If you looked at the video, linked above, you're now a consumer of the perversion. Shame on you!
Oddly, I don't recall being impressed the first time my 5 year old son exclaimed, "But Mom! Other people do it all the time!". But then I suppose if you find criminal acts "hot" it's not surprising that you might not be too down with that whole "consent" thing:
I have no problems reporting on a hot news story of a hot ESPN news reporter who's the victim of a crime, with direct links. Nope, doesn't bother me at all.
The important thing to remember here is that this isn't about right, wrong, or the importance of treating other human beings with dignity and respect. It's not about how easy it is to see only what we wish to see:
Bill didn’t move very quickly and, in fact, you could say he even shuffled a bit, as if he suffered from some sort of injury. His gray hair and wrinkled face made him appear ancient to a group of young cadets. And his crooked smile, well, it looked a little funny. Face it, Bill was an old man working in a young person’s world. What did he have to offer us on a personal level?
Finally, maybe it was Mr. Crawford’s personality that rendered him almost invisible to the young people around him. Bill was shy, almost painfully so. He seldom spoke to a cadet unless they addressed him first, and that didn’t happen very often. Our janitor always buried himself in his work, moving about with stooped shoulders, a quiet gait, and an averted gaze. If he noticed the hustle and bustle of cadet life around him, it was hard to tell.
So, for whatever reason, Bill blended into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the squadron. The Academy, one of our nation’s premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford...well, he was just a janitor.
The thing is, just as Bill wasn't just a janitor, Erin Andrews isn't yet another "hot" celebrity with a sleazy nude video. She is a young woman who did absolutely nothing to invite such stunningly callous and disrespectful treatment. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to imagine how you'd feel if you, your wife, or daughter were violated and humiliated in this manner.
It does require the willingness to look beyond your own urges for a moment and realize that just because you like leering at naked women doesn't mean they enjoy being leered at. You might even begin to wonder what other women think when we're confronted with such statements? If you're really up for a novel thought, you might even begin to realize that when you contend that you wouldn't treat your own kin that way (but it's OK to treat someone else's kin like that) or that you are helpless to control your sexual urges, you're telling us that it doesn't really matter how we conduct ourselves: we're fair game. What are we to think when we see competent, intelligent, hard working professionals like Palin and Andrews reduced to someone's pornographic fantasy (though neither did anything to invite that kind of contemptuous commentary)? After all, men enjoy looking at naked women. If we women had any sense at all, we'd shut up, strip down and give them what they want.
Let's face it. Anyone who thinks differently is exhibiting "disturbed Victorian insecurities":
... a second thing I learned from reporting this story is that there are a lot of uptight conservatives. I'm not linking to them here. But, I'll be clear: As I noted today, in an e-mail exchange as the Andrews post went viral, "right-bloggers will turn on themselves faster than a hyena to a carcass if another blogger expresses a view outside of the accepted cocoon." I can only wonder what kind of disturbed Victorian insecurities are unleashed when right-bloggers see "one of their own" report on a news story like this, including relevant links.
I see his point. The many men who have taken exception to the exploitation of this unfortunate incident really need to work on their self esteem (and don't even get me started on their obvious sexual issues).
Sheesh. Men :p
Is Sex Necessary?
The Editorial Staff sprang from betwixt the marital sheets this morning possessed of a steely eyed resolve to slake BillT's insatiable appetite for sex and relationships posts. It's a dirty, dirty job but then your hostess is a dirty, dirty girl. Besides we have a vested interest in preventing the thong slinging contingent from becoming restive, lest they commence to finger painting each other's fiddly bits with salsa or - heaven forfend! - homemade guac.
Fortunately, 'Lil Miss Attila poses today's question for the ages. Is Sex Necessary? The Scourge of the Blogosphere concludeth: "Yea, verily":
Men, it turns out, are very simple creatures, and if you please them they will do anything for you. Flanigan, despite her very real insights, is heart-breakingly unwilling to see that there might be two sides to any story, and in her insistence that women can solve the problem of sexless marriages if they just shut up, and put their minds to it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Well, sometimes. And one gets, one really does, that Flanigan’s husband is dynamite in the sack, so whenever there’s been a lull in the action all she’s had to do it turn the faucet back on. I’m sure that is all that’s required, north of 50% of the time, when married folk encounter a dry spell. But I don’t think human sexuality is universally uncomplicated. And I don’t think men are quite the simple creatures that some of ‘em claim to be. I mean—they aren’t.
I think Attila's dead on here. Most of my battle of the sexes essays grapple with commonly occurring facets of male/female interaction. That said, I'm cognizant of the pitfalls of oversimplification. Few generalized observations can possibly hope to explain every individual along a broad spectrum of men and women exhibiting endless combinations of masculine and feminine characteristics. It's perhaps more helpful to think of the exercise as an attempt to understand behaviors we think of as typically masculine or feminine because, though individuals of both sexes may possess them in varying degrees, in the aggregate they're more common in (and are exhibited to a greater degree by) men or women, respectively.
But I digress...
The Flanigan essay linked by Attila is a must read. So many "Bam!" moments. But this, especially, made our little grey cells go positively tingly:
The dominant feature of Kate's attitude toward her husband—that is, before they resume making the sound of Us—is blistering contempt. Contempt for his work: he is a quietly successful architect, given to building whimsical little structures like Peace Pagodas, a pursuit that leaves him time to make pesto and watch Disney videos with the kids while she strides off to her high-paying, high-pressure job. Contempt for his inability to notice if the family has run out of toilet paper or whether the children are properly dressed for a birthday party. Contempt for his very existence in the household: when he wonders whether it would be such a bad thing if their uncooperative nanny quit, Kate tells him, "Frankly, it would be easier if you left." That the man entertains even a single amorous notion about this ball-breaker—much given to kittenish, come-hither comments along the lines of "Richard, I thought I asked you to tidy up?" and "Why the hell can't you do something that needs doing?"—is testament either to a libido of iron or to an erotic sensibility that leans toward the deeply masochistic. If best-selling novels succeed because they "tap into" something in the culture, surely this woman's helpless anger at the man who she thought was going to share her domestic burden accounts in part for the book's immense popularity.
Pearson told an interviewer, "Until they program men to notice you're out of toilet paper, a happy domestic life will always be up to women"—a sentiment almost unanimously held by the working mothers I know. What we've learned during this thirty-year grand experiment is that men can be cajoled into doing all sorts of household tasks, but they will not do them the way a woman would. They will bathe the children, but they will not straighten the bath mat and wring out the washcloths; they will drop a toddler off at nursery school, but they won't spend ten minutes chatting with the teacher and collecting the art projects. They will, in other words, do what men have always done: reduce a job to its simplest essentials and utterly ignore the fillips and niceties that women tend to regard as equally essential. And a lot of women feel cheated and angry and even—bless their hearts—surprised about this. In the old days, of course, men's inability to perform women's work competently was a source of satisfaction and pride to countless housewives. A reliable sitcom premise involved Father's staying home for a day while Mother handled things at his office; chastened and newly admiring of the other's abilities, each ran gratefully back to familiar terrain. Nowadays, when a working mother arrives home after a late deposition, only to find the living room strewn with Legos and a pizza box crammed into the kitchen trash, she tends to get madder than a wet hen. Women are left with two options: endlessly haranguing their husbands to be more womanly, or silently fuming and (however wittingly) launching a sex strike of an intensity and a duration that would have impressed Aristophanes. The men who cave to the pressure to become more feminine—putting little notes in the lunch boxes, sweeping up after snack time, the whole bit—may delight their wives but they probably don't improve their sex lives much, owing to the thorny old problem of la difference. I might be quietly thrilled if my husband decided to forgo his weekly tennis game so that he could alphabetize the spices and scrub the lazy Susan, but I would hardly consider it an erotic gesture.
It turns out that the "traditional" marriage, which we've all been so happy to annihilate, had some pretty good provisions for many of today's most stubborn marital problems, such as how to combine work and parenthood, and how to keep the springs of the marriage bed in good working order. What's interesting about the sex advice given to married women of earlier generations is that it proceeds from the assumption that in a marriage a happy sex life depends upon orderly and successful housekeeping. Marabel Morgan's notorious 1973 book, The Total Woman, has lingered in people's minds because of the seduction techniques it recommends to unhappy housewives. They ought to consider meeting their husbands at the front door in sexy costumes (heels and lingerie, that kind of thing), calling them at work and talking dirty to them, seducing them beneath the dining-room table. (Morgan does not, however, recommend that women nurture a burning intelligence. In a list of unconventional locations in which to make love, she includes the hammock, counseling her readers, "He may say 'We don't have a hammock.' You can reply 'Oh, darling, I forgot!'"). But long before she describes any of these memorable techniques, Morgan gives a quite thorough accounting of how a housewife ought to go about "redeeming the time" and the energy so that she is physically and emotionally able to make love on a regular basis. A housewife should run her household the way an executive runs his business: with goals, schedules, and plans. She should make dinner—or at least do all the shopping and planning for it—right after breakfast, so that she isn't running around like a madwoman in the late afternoon with no idea what to cook. She should take time to rest and relax during the day so that she is not exhausted and depleted come whoopee hour. With the right kind of planning, "you can have all your home duties finished before noon." In a household run by an incompetent wife, however, "by the time her husband enters the scene, she's had it," Morgan writes. "She's too tired to be available to him." This seems a fairly accurate depiction of many contemporary two-career marriages, in which dinner is a nightly crisis (what to eat?) and an endless negotiation (who to cook it?) entered into by two people who have been managing crises and negotiating agreements all day long and who still have the children's homework and baths and bedtimes to contend with.
The key insight here is not so much that a successful sex life is inextricably linked to a spanking clean kitchen floor but the realization that if we don't make sex a priority (with all the distasteful "work" that requires), our sex lives tend to suffer. It shouldn't be the woman's job alone to keep things spicy in the boudoir, but at the same time there's little doubt that when women entered the work force their careers added one more competing element to the often daunting list of responsibilities they juggle on a daily basis. It's little wonder sex can seem like just another chore: after a tough day at work the probability that the lady of the house will greet her significant other at the door in a wig, stiletto heels and a pink satin thong asymptotically approaches zero. But if a thing is important enough, some of us will jump on that grenade anyway. The problem here is that as our lives become busier, so does our list of "important things". Something has to give, and all too often it's our sex lives. Is this the fault of those dreadful feminists, or just one more unpalatable tradeoff to be juggled along with everything else?
Blaming feminism may be comforting to some, but it's possible to recognize the practical tradeoffs involved with actually allowing women to make their own choices. As much as I've decried the flight of women from hearth and home, I'm not sure I want to go back to the world I lived in as a child: a place where women were sometimes - mostly when it was convenient - put on a pedestal, but also dismissed as fluffy headed children suited only for "women's work" (MCP shorthand for any occupation which neither requires women to think too hard nor exposes Western Civilization to the horror of PMS, a debilitating condition that can only cause the fairer sex to do terribly silly things like fumbling the nuclear football and bringing life on planet Earth to a nasty and brutish conclusion).
Serendipity is a funny thing. Googling just now for a link to augment the PMS/nuclear football reference, I stumbled upon a comment that adroitly conveys my utter frustration with the 'We are no more than the sum of our endocrine glands' argument:
"In our society, a man knows that even if he is not getting a blow job, a lot of other men are. He can see all those men getting blow jobs on porn videos, and he hears about blow jobs from his friends. And he knows that in that way, those men are "luckier" (if not more virile and attractive) than he. So much so that a man who does not get serviced by his wife might be hesitant to even admit such a thing to his friends. What a shame, that a man has so little power in his marriage that he cannot even get a blow job from his wife. What kind of man is he? Maybe not much of a man at all. Such a lack could, um, eat at a man. Such a lack, along with a compulsion to remedy it, could even undermine a marriage."
I'm just wondering. If this is true, and really more or less common wisdom for all men, then how on earth did WOMEN ever get the reputation for being hormonally driven to the point of being too unstable for higher office? Remember all those jokes about how a woman can't be president because, why, her PMS would represent a threat of global proportions for an imminent nuclear holocaust! Seems to me that men's focus is so permanently on the little head, how on earth did the trope ever develop that they had the capacity more so than women to lead businesses, religions and nations? My god, apparently all they are EVER thinking about, even as their wives are dying inch by inch, is where the next blow job is coming from! It's a miracle they get anything done!
Leaving aside the wisdom of using what women are constantly assured is 'only a fantasy which has no effect on how I feel about you' as a benchmark for unspoken performance reviews, we proceed to Attila's question: is sex necessary for a good marriage, or even for a good life?
I don't think so. Sex is tremendously important, fun, life affirming. But necessary? Not by a long shot.
I love sex. When I've had to go without it, my quality of life suffers. During those rare interludes when one or the other of us has been too tired or too busy to make the effort at the end of a long work day, I miss it. I don't feel as close to my husband because there is something deeply primal about touch. It connects people in a way words often fail to do. But is sex the only way to establish and maintain that connection?
Of course not. It can be done in a thousand different ways. Sex just happens to be a particularly enjoyable and efficient means to an end and in this age when both men and women (as Flanagan so aptly noted) are juggling job stress and familial demands, it is probably more important than ever. But we human beings are an adaptable race and I know many good marriages which also happen to be sexless ones.
Air Force wife posed an interesting question via email yesterday that seems on point:
What is your take on this?... I know you were married young as AFHusband and I were. I just don't think that "too young" is a real thing for the most part. In fact, in my experience and what I've seen, people who get married older often have more problems adjusting to life in marriage simply because they've already matured into patterns that marriage disrupts.
Not always, of course, but quite often.
I've been thinking that perhaps it's not "too young" that is the problem, it's the fact that marriage is treated as disposable that is the real problem, and that is not connected to age.
The view of marriage as a disposable arrangement honored only so long as both parties feel "happy" (rather than as a binding promise whose success includes the willingness to put our personal happiness on the back burner at times) is definitely a factor. But I think the failure to truly commit is also a huge driver in both cheating and divorce. If you're truly committed to your marriage, it comes first in your life.
You may prize your career, your hobbies, or time with your friends, and as demands on your time wax and wane, outside considerations may temporarily take priority over your marriage. But it strikes me as profoundly ludicrous to expect a 60 or 70 year relationship to last unless one is willing to put in the day-in, day-out effort needed to keep love alive. What we tend to forget is that even good sex requires work. Being a good lover (and for many women even learning to let go and fully enjoy sex requires a conscious effort) is a skill much like any other. The more you do it, the better it becomes. And you can get out of practice.
If you care about your marriage, you do what it takes. Sex makes getting along easier - far easier. But as the plethora of Viagra commercials aptly demonstrate, sex isn't something we can count on.
It makes a far better better servant than it ever did a master.
Lord Have Mercy
While Vanderbilt didn't exactly cite the "old people in Florida crash on a roundabout because it gets wet from a fountain and they have bald tires and rear-wheel drive" urban legend, Vanderbilt does acknowledge that roundabouts might prove too much for many of the Greatest Generation. His solution? Euthanasia. Or at least something close to it: taking their licenses away.
Vanderbilt says, "a larger question here is whether people who cannot manage to merge at low speed into a counter-clockwise circle and, yes, perhaps even change lanes in that circle, before finding the correct exit should actually be holding licenses that enable them to operate heavy machinery in the first place."
This is American damn it. Old people gave their lives in WWII defending the right of other old people to drive well past a safe age. This country was built on the principle that all men are created equal, even one's that can't drive.
Of course, some Americans are more equal than others.
D.C. drivers are more likely to be in auto accidents than drivers in any other city in the country, and Alexandria and Arlington drivers follow closely behind, according to a new study.
D.C. drivers average one accident every 5.4 years, making them almost three times more collision-prone that drivers in Sioux Falls, S.D., which ranked as the safest driving city in the 2008 Allstate America’s Best Drivers report.
The number means D.C. drivers are 84 percent more likely to be in an accident than the average driver nationally and places the city as the most dangerous for drivers among the 193 studied.
Yeah baby. I love my home town.
Crime Doesn't Pay...
...and apparently, neither does "Art":
Via a certain Colorado Cat
July 21, 2009
Am still thinking about something Joy wrote, but I have things I have to finish before I can even think about writing. Anyway, go over there and just keep scrolling.
A lot of good stuff there.
OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!!!
As I said to KJ when he sent this, I did not know a man's voice could go that high.
I am über impressed. Via Neil Boortz.
"But Healing The Oceans Looked So *Easy* From The Campaign Trail!"
Governing is *hard*. Soooooo hard:
... officials say that, as much as the concept of indefinite detention is distasteful to the president and his legal advisers, there is simply no alternative for dealing with potentially dozens of detainees whom the administration doesn't want to release because they are thought to be too dangerous, but can't bring to trial for lack of evidence.
But one of the officials insisted the Obama task force will not ultimately endorse the sweeping claims of executive authority made by the Bush administration. The legal basis for detention will rely largely on the narrower 2001 congressional authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of 9/11.
Almost as hard as that whole diplomacy/soft power thingie:
FP's Laura Rozen had a must-read over the weekend that takes another look at Obama's meeting with the Saudi King. According to Rozen, a very plugged-in lefty, says "the meeting did not go well," and she quotes one source saying that "It was the first time that President Obama as a senator, candidate, or president was not able to get almost anything or any movement using his personal power of persuasion." Obama asked the Saudis to make concessions to match the concessions he had demanded from the Israelis. But the Saudi King balked -- and "launched a tirade" that his underlings later apologized for. The New York Times has also reported that Obama was "frustrated" by his trip to Saudi Arabia and that he "failed to extract any meaningful gestures toward Israel to revive the peace process."
Personally, we suggest cooking spray.
Tapestry of Light
A bit of quiet beauty to accompany your morning coffee:
- Missa Nigra sum - 1/5 - Kyrie, Pierluigi da Palestrina
- Cantigas de Santa Maria 119
And a little something to wake you up:
- Variations on Morrison's Jig, Maggie Sansone
July 20, 2009
Am I losing my mind? I am beginning to think so, because I don't understand an awful lot of things.
How do we determine our standards in life - where that line between right and wrong should be drawn? I am not an enforcer of lines.
And yet, I do think it's important to understand that there is a line. And once we understand that to know where that line is. In some ways, this may be the most important thing we know, if indeed knuckleheads like us can know anything in this uncertain world.
So many of us have abandoned God. We bow to nothing greater than our own egos, stumbling across that line in the dark and never even realizing we've blundered into a place we never meant to be. Oh, we say the words now and then. But I would be the first to admit: I don't live my life in accordance with what I was taught in Sunday School or in church. I was raised to attend church every Sunday. I remember - vividly - the last time I attended Mass:
We do not presume to come to this thy table, O Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table. But Thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.
Our parish priest was a real hoot. Former Unitarian - a tall drink of water who liked to stroll up and down the nave strumming a vaguely disreputable guitar. This was an act calculated to send our 80 year old very British, very proper, very Anglican deacon (Phillip) into fits of wrinkled apoplexy. We were just a mission parish existing on sufferance from the diocese, and one day our decidedly mission pastor preached a mighty sermon. Called those words "an abomination".
I don't know why, but that really bothered me because I've always considered those phrases among the most beautiful in the English language. Such inexpressible peace. Yes, you're an unmitigated fuck up but somehow God will make it all come right in the end.
He sees what you wanted to be. What was in your heart.
But I have to say that though I haven't gone sour on God, I'm deeply agnostic regarding the trappings of religion. Months ago over at Maggie's Farm I read a Lenten essay that haunts me. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it - about one line at the end:
"I do not want to be an animal".
Reading it, I unexpectedly found tears running down my face like a summer storm. They are doing so again. I wanted to write the author. To say 'thanks'. To say ... I don't know what I wanted to say.
But I don't do things like that. It's rare for me to write someone I don't know, out of the blue.
Awkward. And at any rate, there is no reason for me to assume what I read into that line meant the same thing to him.
More Things We Can No Longer Talk About
Excuuuuuuuse me while I whip this out:
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s health care legislation will give the Health and Human Services secretary the authority to develop “standards of measuring gender” -- as opposed to using the traditional "male" and "female" categories -- in a database of all who apply or participate in government-run or government-supported health care plans. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is required by the proposed law -- The Affordable Health Choices Act,which was voted out of committee on July 15 -- to create a database within one year of the law’s enactment that will include detailed information about those who sign up for government-run or supported health care programs, including their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language and disabilities. The proposed law states that the database can use the Office of Management and Budget “standards for race and ethnicity measures.” But for the collection of “gender” data, instead of using the categories “male” and “female," the legislation calls for “developing standards for the measurement of gender.”
There's a joke in there, somewhere.
Planning for Failure
To the extent that people are preoccupied with equality for its own sake, their readiness to be satisfied with any particular level of income or wealth is guided not by their own interests and needs but just by the magnitude of the economic benefits at the disposal of others. In this way egalitarianism distracts people from measuring the requirements to which their individual natures and their personal circumstances give rise. It encourages them instead to insist upon a level of economic support that is determined by a calculation in which the particular features of their own lives are irrelevant.
How sizable the economic assets of others are has nothing much to do, after all, with what kind of person someone is. A concern for economic equality, construed as desirable in itself, tends to divert a person’s attention away from endeavoring to discover—within his experience of himself and his life—what he himself really cares about and what will actually satisfy him, although this is the most basic and the most decisive task upon which an intelligent selection of economic goals depends. Exaggerating the moral importance of economic equality is harmful, in other words, because it is alienating.
- Harry Frankfurt, "Equality as a Moral Ideal"
If you haven't already done so, you should the paper that quoted Frankfurt. It's a bit long, but well worth the effort.
The gist of it is that measuring economic inequality by measuring the disparity in income alone can be highly misleading since we don't work for income itself, but so we can buy things we want or need. By this measure (consumption equality), the gap between the undeserving and evil rich and deserving poor looks quite different. While income inequality itself has risen, consumption equality (what we buy with our unequal incomes) has remained relatively unchanged.
And then there are more subjective measures of well being and equality such as happiness. How equal are we in terms of satisfaction? It turns out that as income inequality has risen, inequality of happiness has actually fallen as the poor and minorities have actually increased their subjective sense of well being. All of this doesn't stop economists like Paul Krugman from claiming the poor are worse off than ever before. It matters not that their purchasing power is greater than it has ever been.
Someone else has more, and government must confiscate this excess wealth in the name of "fairness". This creates a series of perverse incentives designed to punish industry and success and reward failure and inefficiency:
Money can't buy love? For proof, look no further than Goldman Sachs. Last week, the firm reported a spectacular quarterly profit -- close to $3.5 billion for the bank and about $385,000 in compensation for each employee for the first half of the year -- and right on cue, the braying began for the heads of the Goldmanites. Earlier this month, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, in a comprehensive exercise in conspiracy mongering, primed the pump of outrage with his article "The Great American Bubble Machine." Now a chorus of supporters has chimed in, shocked that in a recession the evil Goldman could turn such profit.
The rhetoric of outrage has come full circle: Before, the villains were the banks that were stupid and greedy enough to fail; now the villains are those -- a small club, basically just Goldman and J.P. Morgan Chase -- that have been smart and greedy enough to succeed.
What began as an effort to keep the financial industry from repeating its mistakes has turned into, as at other points in history, an attack on the idea of trading profit. It is no longer enough that the banks should be reformed; the opportunity to make this kind of profit should be eliminated.
The same perverse incentives are on display in our foreign policy. In Afghanistan, our soldiers and Marines are told they will have to do a far more complex job - and do it faster - with fewer boots on the ground:
Often Taliban fighters flee when helicopters arrive, Sun said, but this time they stayed, and attempted to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at one of the aircraft. The Huey made two strafing runs with its Gatling guns over the tree lines, while the Cobra fired missiles, finally ending the firefight. The helicopter crew spotted at least two dead Taliban fighters.
Although the Marines asked to pursue the Taliban fighters south, more senior commanders denied the request. Sun said he thinks the problem was a lack of helicopters to provide air power and to evacuate any possible casualties, as well as roads that had not been cleared of bombs.
"Due to the limited numbers of helicopters available, it would not have been in our best interest to get decisively engaged," Sun said. In addition, moving south would leave the bazaar open to attack, he said.
But some Marines voiced disappointment at not being able to track the Taliban, saying that decision may have allowed the insurgents to stage fresh attacks on the bazaar later in the afternoon. Faddis, Kowalski and their machine-gunning team were on guard duty in a mud-brick structure in the market that had a window facing fields to the south when shots broke out from a nearby compound. Faddis spotted a target and fired back. "They're moving out of the compound!" one Marine yelled, unleashing another volley of machine-gun fire.
The gun battle was complicated by the presence of women, children and shepherds in adjacent fields. Having staked out a claim in Lakari Bazaar, Sun said, the question remains whether his company should continue to hold this relatively strung-out position or pull back, knowing such a move would allow the Taliban to return, at least temporarily.
A local villager states the obvious:
"If you leave, everything will be the same," a middle-aged man who called himself Sayed Gul told McCollough. "If you guys stay for a long time, everything will be fine."
The upside, of course, is that when your metric for success is not how many of the enemy you kill or disarm but how many civilians you "protect", success becomes - as with Obama's promise to "save or create" millions of jobs - just another exercise in political ass covering.
They have a year.
Quote of the Day
These are girls who fear what they perceive as dishonor more than they fear death; and welcome death to end what they have been taught to see as dishonor. That is the finest human spirit, and it calls out to us.
I would bear my part in the cause of their liberation, as I did in Iraq. My beloved, I know, is glad to have me home after so long abroad: but surely she would excuse me one last time, though with pain, in the defense of women of such spirit and such sorrow.
July 19, 2009
I'm sorry about the lack of blogging lately folks.
Lately I've been having a tough time reconciling my values with blogging. I began writing because an old friend kept telling me she thought I had something valuable to say. After all these years, I'm still not entirely sure what she saw in me.
For as long as I've been writing, I've tried to stand up for what I believe in - whenever possible, without attacking other bloggers directly. I've always thought the important thing was the ideas, not the personalities. We ought to be able to disagree civilly even when there are strong beliefs at issue.
One of those beliefs is that in most cases, the Golden Rule makes a pretty good starting place for dealing with others. If you wouldn't appreciate something being done to you or to someone you care about, don't do it to someone else.
Sometimes, it really is that simple. Try thinking about how your wife or teenaged daughter or sister would feel in the same position. This may be really hard for some people to understand, but not all women want men they don't even know looking at them in the nude.
I shouldn't have to say this, but apparently it does need saying.
I guess I wish more people on my side of the political fence would treat women as human beings who have the same feelings as they do. This doesn't make me a feminist. In my book, it just makes me someone who believes in decency and it's a measure of how far we've strayed from our professed values that it needs to be said at all, or that such a stance requires a defense or an explanation.
July 17, 2009
Extreme Pathos Alert
Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
- A Midsummer Night's Dream
Conclusive proof that women are nothing but trouble. Born homewreckers, every last one of them:
Silo and Roy, two male chinstrap penguins (search) native to the South Atlantic, made local headlines six years ago when they came out with their same-sex relationship.
Since then, the pair have successfully hatched and raised an adopted chick — after trying to incubate a rock — and become role models for six other same-sex couples among penguins at the zoo.
Of course you realize this was too good to last:
That all ended when Scrappy, a single female newly arrived from SeaWorld in San Diego, caught Silo's eye.
"Silo and Roy stopped spending as much time together or building a nest," said John Rowden, curator of animals at the zoo.
Silo promptly moved in with Scrappy, building a new nest with her. Zookeepers were at a loss to explain Silo's sudden conversion.
"Why does anyone bond? Why do people want to get married and divorced?" said Dr. Dee Boersma (search), penguin expert at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Presumably, they've got their reasons."
Silo and his hot-feathered home-wrecker have yet to produce an egg, but they've been busy trying.
On Thursday, Roy, all alone, sat disconsolately at the edge of the penguin area, staring at the wall.
Can you blame him? Reading the news these days, we often find ourselves feeling exactly the same way.
July 16, 2009
This should surprise no one who has ever carried a life inside of her:
The first real study of "habituation" occurred in 1925 when researchers discovered that fetuses moved less when exposed to a beeping car horn. Since then, door buzzers and even electric toothbrushes have been used to help researchers understand the fetal environment - and the response of the unborn to such influences.
Beeps and buzzes were not always the tools of choice.
In 2003, psychologists and obstetricians at Queen's University in Canada found a profound mother-baby link. In a study of 60 pregnant women, they found that the unborn babies preferred the voices of their own mothers - both before and after birth.
The heart rates of fetuses sped up when they heard their mother reading a poem, and slowed down when they heard a stranger's voice - evidence of "sustained attention, memory and learning by the fetus," said Barbara Kisilevsky, a professor of nursing who led the research.
The Queen's group has also investigated fetal response to the father's voice, concluding that if men try a little pre-natal vocalizing to their offspring, the newborn will later recognize the father's voice.
I read stories to both my tiny sons long before they were born. They liked music, too. Especially singing.
I will never forget the way loud noises set off waves of frantic kicking that only stopped when I laid a warm hand over my belly or talked to them in a soothing tone of voice.
More and more these days, I think we hide from our own knowledge of what is right because somehow we've decided that morality is too difficult.
It's not that we can't do the right thing. It's that we no longer care enough to and complicating things that were obvious to our parents somehow keeps our consciences at arms' length.
But right and wrong haven't changed. It is we who changed.
July 15, 2009
Things That Just Chap This Marine Wife's Ass
Greyhawk sets the record straight on that Bozo who refused to deploy:
Returning now to the news of Cook's "victory", here's the reported explanation for the Army's decision:Earlier today, Quon said Cook submitted a formal written request to Human Resources Command-St. Louis on May 8, 2009 volunteering to serve one year in Afghanistan with Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Central Command, beginning July 15, 2009. The soldier's orders were issued on June 9, Quon said.
"A reserve soldier who volunteers for an active duty tour may ask for a revocation of orders up until the day he is scheduled to report for active duty," Quon said.
In short - Cook never had to go in the first place. Unlike most soldiers who deploy as part of a unit, Cook - a reservist - had volunteered to go as an individual augmentee. The Army generally seeks volunteers to fill such assignments first - if no one does so then a non-volunteer is tapped.
I'll bet that "non-volunteer"'s family will just be overjoyed to get rush orders to fill a gapped position vacated by this oxygen thief. Somewhere, a village is desperately searching for its idiot.
July 13, 2009
Over the weekend I read an interesting article in the local fishwrap.
It was about a retired couple who took 6 months to hike the entire Appalachian trail (cue Mark Sanford jokes). It got me thinking, because when I was just a young Editorial Staff, I read several books about hiking the trail and I don't think I've ever actually walked even a mile of it.
What were some of the things you dreamed of doing when you grew up?
Have you done any of them? Would you still want to do them if you had the chance?
July 10, 2009
Regarding your new post on PTSD I'm glad that you posted the great link and, on a purely confidential basis, I believe the fairly common idea (certainly on the shrink side) that "PTSD...cannot be cured, only managed", may turn out to be a pile of horse manure in the long run.
How society defines its illnesses has a huge impact on their treatment.
Society is telling PTSD patients that they are marked for life and can never hope to cure themselves. That leaves no room for hope. And on what basis? We've barely got a handle on PTSD - have barely scratched the surface in terms of its effects on brain structure and avenues for treatment - and we're already calling quits on a cure? Why?
Recovery is possible. But as long as soldiers and Marines - often young, insufficiently skeptical, utterly reliant on authority - are told by everyone around them that the mind is like a bottle, and that once it breaks, you can piece it together again, but it'll never be as strong - as long as that's the social message, there's little hope for full recovery. But the mind isn't a bottle. It's a bone. Once it heals, it grows stronger, more resilient. We need to change the message to reflect the possibility of being strengthened by PTSD in the long run.
The timing of your blog post is very fortuitous. Last night, I received a call from one of the Marines who handled my medical discharge - for PTSD - and who's kept in touch with me since I left the Marines in '07.
He asked me to call another Marine who's been dealing with PTSD for years and is trying to move forward, because he wanted me to relate how I've not just come to terms with PTSD, but haven't had any symptoms since roughly three months after my discharge. I'm calmer, smarter, happier than I've ever been in my life -- and I've tested myself under very stressful circumstances. Next month I'm heading to [deleted] because I can still contribute as a civilian. And by next year I hope to be waived back into the military, as an officer; and I wouldn't do so unless I was 100% confident that I will not jeopardize the men under my future command by re-enlisting with persistent symptoms or delusions that I'm fully healthy.
I cannot be the only one, because there's nothing special about me. And I'm not going to dedicate my life to this issue because I just want to move on. But more prominent veterans can make a difference. Iris Adler made a documentary featuring your own Nate Fick talking about how he overcame PTSD, in so many words. I was about to email Nate to ask him whether he thinks he's overcome it. Please ask him. If he's symptom-free, it should mean he's cured, not that it's always just around the corner; because "you never know about tomorrow" isn't a scientific benchmark. It's a recipe for anxiety and fear.
Veterans and serving Marines need to finally hear success stories. They need hope, not life sentences. We just need to find and publicize these stories.
So, maybe one question worth looking into -- and I've never heard of a journalist doing so -- is whether veterans with PTSD ever re-enlist.
Surely, out of the tens of thousands with PTSD, there must be some who came back -- in every sense of the words -- to continue doing what they love, and inspire those around them to stare their demons in the face and walk away much stronger for it.
The answer to this question is: yes. In the 1980's I knew serving Marines who still battled PTSD, and those who were hardly ever troubled by symptoms. All were functioning, and functioning well.
This is not to minimize what those who have to deal with post traumatic stress go through, but somehow it's hard to see how treating them as permanently damaged goods helps, either?
This is, in large part, how we came up with the name for our tiny non-profit: Honor Their Service. Because that's what it's all about: recognizing that it's their service and not their wounds (visible or invisible) which define them. They're not victims.
They're survivors. Warriors.
Disturbing Thought For the Day
In all honestly, I can't say I didn't have my suspicions but you must admit it's disheartening to have it stated so baldly.
Update: speaking of baldly...
The Editorial staff do not even begin to know what to say about this.
Palin has deeply disappointed her enemies. People who hate her guts feel she’s really let them down by resigning.
She’s like the ex-girlfriend they’re SO over, never want to see again, have already forgotten about — really, it’s O-ver — but they just can’t stop talking about her.
Liberal: Ha, ha … Sarah who? She’s over, she’s toast, a future Trivial Pursuit answer, nothing more.
Normal person: Whatever. How about the North Korean missiles?
Liberal: Can you believe she just resigned the governorship like that? What a quitter!
Normal person: Speaking of quitting, how’s work?
Liberal: Did you hear she might get a TV show? There’s no way Sarah Palin’s getting a TV show! No way! I can’t believe stupid Sarah Palin could get her own stupid TV show now. Well, I’m sure not gonna watch it — that’s for sure!
Normal person: Have you seen all the Michael Jackson coverage on TV?
Liberal: How does she think she can run for president in 2012 if she can’t finish her term as governor of a Podunk state? She’s finished.
Normal person: OK, then! You won’t have to vote for her.
Liberal: I was never going to vote for her! But now I’m not going to vote for her twice. And I will never watch her TV show. I am so over her.
All I know is that somewhere in the vicinity of the North Pole transgendered Arctic timber wolves are high fiving each other.
Somehow, We Just *Knew* We Were Special...
July 08, 2009
The Best and the Brightest: Obama, Palin, and the American Dream
Hamlet: What have you, my good friends, deserv'd at the hands of Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?
Guildenstern: Prison, my lord?
Hamlet: Denmark's a prison.
Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
Hamlet: A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and
dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.
Rosencrantz: We think not so, my lord.
Hamlet: Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
- Hamlet Act 2, scene 2
Ever since Sarah Palin announced her resignation I've been reflecting on the visceral reactions she draws from across the political spectrum. What strikes me is how invested people seem to be in their positions. It's as though (having registered a gut reaction) we proceed to hunker down in the trenches and erect elaborate defenses against any fact or observation which threatens our position. I see this on both sides, and it troubles me because politics ought to be about more than personalities.
Such strong reactions tell me that Palin poses a challenge to our most fundamental assumptions about the way the world ought to work. Her certitude and confidence strike us differently depending on where we reside on the political spectrum. To conservatives, her upbeat assurance confirms the rightness of our world view. But to progressives that same breezy confidence seems dismissive and brash; an implied rebuke. I'm not sure why we take everything she says so personally but to this uncommitted observer, both the deranged attacks and the doggedly passionate defenses she elicits suggest more about us than they ever will about her.
I can't bring myself to fully back either side in this debate. I can't make myself see her as the last best hope of the GOP, as a self-absorbed, incoherent ditz who winked her way into the Governor's office, as the epitome of everything right or wrong with America. If that makes me a heretic, so be it. I don't particularly identify with Palin. Neither am I particularly offended by her. Not taking sides makes it a bit easier to see what animates both sides of the Palin wars.
There seem to be a couple of interesting things going on. Recent economic events and the election of Barack Obama have led many to think hard about what is required to foster success in America. Conservative and progressive explanations of - and remedies for - inequalities of income and achievement in America are nearly perfect mirror images of each other. This debate goes to the heart of what defines our national identity: the American dream. What is it that government ought to strive for in creating a more perfect union? For several days I've been following an interesting and profoundly disturbing conversation about the meritocratic vs. the democratic ideal:
In the last ten months, we've seen the son of a single mother, son of an immigrant, roots in Kansas, roots in the quintessentially American South Side of Chicago, standing for the "traditional values" of family, and the lesson we take from this is is that American meritocracy is broken.
Conservative condescension toward working class America, works in tandem with racial blindness. I have tried, through a few re-readings, to avoid seeing that in Ross's column. But it's very difficult to process the notion that Sarah Palin is a better model of the all-American meritocratic ideal than Barack Obama, without believing that that judgment hinges on race.
My black readers are laughing at me. Again.
I hate to break it to the gentleman, but it isn't just his black readers who are laughing at him. The oddly one-sided narrative he posits - Obama as the oppressed minority who miraculously overcomes deeply entrenched white racism and - through hard work and sheer brilliance alone - catapults himself to the highest office in the land, is some kind of minor miracle of willful subjectivity over that disturbing thing known as objective fact. Coates extends the idea in a bizarrely titled subsequent post:
... one of the most depressing things about being black and "making it" is the incredible randomness of it all. I have said this many times--I was a terrible student. To the extent that intelligence is measurable, I sat in classrooms with people who were smarter than me, worked harder than me, and studied longer than me. I was not without my own gifts--I possessed an obsessive and singular curiosity. I had a vivid imagination. I was creative. But I was also immature and lazy, and if not for the steady prodding/pushing/spanking/cajoling of my parents, I don't think you'd be reading this blog.
When you're black, and likely when you're Latino, and likely when you're a kind of white, you see brilliant people all the time--and they get taken out in the most horrific ways. They have kids too soon. They get shot on the way home from school. They get hooked on crack. They go to jail. And then there is that one kid who makes it, who despite the wages of race in this country, goes on and does something big. To many black people, that person is Barack Obama.
Here, in a nutshell, is the source of that yawning gap between the perceptions of whites and blacks; conservatives and progressives. In Coates' world people (black or white) don't make dumb decisions with predictable consequences: having kids too soon, using drugs, committing crimes. They aren't responsible for their own choices. Rather, some invisible and malign force "takes them out". Coates' world view depends heavily on seeing everything through the prism - and prison - of race. His earlier summation of Obama's rise is telling:
In the last ten months, we've seen the son of a single mother, son of an immigrant, roots in Kansas, roots in the quintessentially American South Side of Chicago...
It takes real determination to skew history this blatantly. Where are Barack Obama's real "roots"? Where did he spend his growing up years? Don't look to Ta-Nehisi Coates for honest answers. Facts that don't lead to the desired conclusion are conveniently discarded.
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. When his mother remarried, he moved to Indonesia where he spent the next four years in a mixture of public and private (St. Francis of Assisi) schools. From 5th grade on, he attended a private college prepatory school in Hawaii while living with his white grandparents. It would seem this "child of a single mother" was, in fact, raised by his married white grandparents. That was his upbringing; his "roots". There is nary a mention of either place Obama lived in: Indonesia or Hawaii. Instead, his "roots" are set in Kansas and the South side of Chicago. And perhaps most bizarrely, his eventual admission to Columbia and Harvard are framed as being surprising, given his background. He 'beat the odds'.
But how can this be, given that Barack Obama attended an exclusive private school whose entire purpose was to prepare students for admission to just such schools as these? His mother had a PhD and his father a Masters' degree from Harvard. Thus, Obama was hardly breaking the mold.
But the blindness continues. Coates is so entrenched in his race-conscious narrative that he never even tries to consider how conservatives view Obama's progress through life. The issue of experience was largely ignored during the election, but an objective look at the historical qualifications of Presidential candidates (as well as those who went on to be elected) shows just how odd it is that Obama was elected at all:
Since the Civil War, 49 men have won a major-party presidential nomination. Only three of these nominees were less qualified, by traditional measures of leadership and experience, than Obama.
That puts Barack Obama at or around the 6th percentile of presidential candidates chosen by a major party in the last century and a half, experience-wise. But we are not allowed to notice this, because it would be racist to elevate experience over skin color.
Interestingly:None of those men was able to win the White House.
But we are not allowed to notice this, because it would be racist to elevate statistical evidence of voter preferences over skin color.Americans have only elected 6 U.S. Presidents who had no previous executive experience. Notably, since the Civil War, we have only elected one: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
But we are not allowed to notice this. You see, that would be racist.
Of course it didn't hurt that the media never bothered to subject a black candidate for the Presidency to the same scrutiny they reserved a female Vice President. In fact, despite telling us repeatedly that Obama's utter lack of executive experience was more than compensated for by his hard work and brilliance, the media felt it entirely unnecessary to examine either of those claims... that is, until after he was elected. His legal career was singularly unimpressive, especially considering his oft-cited leadership of the Harvard Review. Obama worked fewer hours in four years than most beginning lawyers work in two:
3,723: The number of billable hours Obama accrued while working at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Gallard
Hmmm... let's see. Just as a rough tally, 3723/4 years equals about 930 billable hours a year.
That seems a bit light, doesn't it? Of course there were two autobiographies to write.
As this article points out, billable hours are a key metric used to measure attorney productivity:
The reason for a firm's reliance on billable hours as a measure of an attorney's productivity is largely a matter of convenience for the firm. This is particularly true at large firms. Under such a system, an attorney shows their value by bringing in funds from clients, and by satisfying the clients' expectations. It is assumed that a skilled attorney works efficiently to complete projects, so that her accrued billable hours can all be billed to the client without resulting in an exorbitant bill. Conversely, if an attorney is inefficient at completing a task, it may be necessary to reduce the amount of the client's bill to keep the client happy.
It is also important to understand that a stated minimum may be different than the firm's actual expectations; that's where it pays to understand a particular firm's culture regarding the billable hours. While a minimum may be stated, failing to exceed the minimum may impair an attorney's promotions in the firm (i.e., an associate failing to show adequate ambition may not make progress toward partnership). The actual meaning of a stated minimum can range from "our minimum is 2001 hours (wink, wink), but if you don't bill 2300 you're going nowhere," to "we don't have a minimum, honest."
But what about his legislative career? Here, too, the uncomfortable truth contradicts the comforting narrative:
Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city's most popular black call-in radio program... [Jones said] 'Cliff, I'm gonna make me a U.S. Senator.'"
...Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.
"I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen," State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. "Barack didn't have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.
...During his seventh and final year in the state Senate, Obama's stats soared. He sponsored a whopping 26 bills passed into law — including many he now cites in his presidential campaign when attacked as inexperienced.
So here we have a multi-racial candidate - the product of an elite private school and two Ivy League universities, of a mother who earned a PhD and a father who had a Masters' degree from Harvard Universtity - being marketed as a triumph of hard work and brilliance over adversity. What would we normally expect from a child with such a background? On close inspection, his actual achievements don't seem to measure up to all that impressive potential. Contrast Obama's actual achievements with those of Sarah Palin:
City Council member (1992-1996)
Mayor of Wasilla, AK (1996-2002)
President of Alaska Conference
Chair, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (2003-2004)
Governor of Alaska (2006 - 2009)
First female governor of Alaska
Youngest person elected governor of that state
First African American president of the Harvard Law Review.
Community organizer Developing Communities Project (DCP) (1985-1988)
Civil rights attorney in Chicago (1993-1996)
Lecturer, U Chicago Law School (1992 to 2004).
Illinois Senator (1997 - 2004)
U.S. Senator (2005-2008)
And yet Palin is, as Coates so trenchantly puts it, "fucking inept"? Charming. Barack Obama, product of a private college prep school, goes on to be elected to state and federal offices where he never had to assume responsibility for the policies he championed, never had to work out the practical details of day to day administration of government. But he's not an elitist - somehow his skin color trumps everything else about his life.
Sarah Palin, a product of rural public schools, community colleges and a rural state university somehow manages to get elected to a city council, a city mayorship, and the governor's office. But she didn't have to overcome any obstacles (such as, say, sexism). Nor is the ascent of a middle class wife and mother to the governorship of Alaska and Vice Presidential candidate emblematic of the democratic ideal because she is not black. Also, did we mention that she is stupid? The self-evident self-evidentness of this conclusion requires no evidence.
It's self-evident, you see.
It requires a special blindness to ignore any and all facts that contradict your comfy world view. Coates' assertion that black competence has always been trumped by white racism is amusingly afactual. Two brilliant black economists - Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell - have repeatedly demonstrated that it is behavior and not race which best explains success and the distribution of wealth in America. Williams and Sowell offer compelling evidence that when blacks refuse to excuse destructive and irresponsible behavior, black achievement soars, sometimes outstripping even that of whites with more advantages. Of course, to a conservative this is no surprise:
My colleague Dr. Thomas Sowell has written volumes on black education and an article worth reading is one he wrote some years ago in The Public Interest (Spring 1976) and reprinted in his book "Education: Assumptions Versus History."
Washington's Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School is one black school that Sowell writes about. From 1870 to 1955, most of Dunbar's graduates went off to college, earning degrees from Harvard, Princeton, Williams, Wesleyan and others. As early as 1899, Dunbar students had higher scores on citywide tests than students at any of the District's white schools. Dunbar's attendance records were generally better than those of white schools and its rate of tardiness was lower. Latin was taught throughout the period from 1870 to 1955 and in the early decades, Greek was taught as well. Large classes were the norm, 40 students per teacher. It was more than 40 years before Dunbar had a lunchroom, which was then so small that many children had to eat lunch on the street. Blackboards were old and cracked. It was 1950 before the school had a public address system. Most of the parents of Dunbar students worked in unskilled and semiskilled occupations. White-collar and professional parents totaled 17 percent.
Sowell also writes about Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School, whose education tragedy was featured last June in the HBO documentary "Hard Times at Douglass High" and my column "Black Education" (July 23, 2008). Frederick Douglass was founded in 1883 as the Colored High and Training School before it was renamed in 1892. It survived for decades with inadequate support, located in a succession of hand-me-down buildings that whites had discarded, old textbooks used years before by white students, refinished desks from white schools, secondhand sports equipment and so on. Teaching styles at Douglass approximated those of rigorous colleges: discussion rather than lectures, reading lists rather than day-to-day assignments and papers rather than reliance on "objective" tests. The interest of teachers in the students was reciprocated by the parents. According to alumni, "The school could do no wrong" in the eyes of parents.
Douglass produced distinguished alumni, such as Thurgood Marshall and Cab Calloway, as well as several judges, congressmen and civil rights leaders. Douglass High was second in the nation in black Ph.D.'s among its alumni. Dunbar High's distinguished alumni included U.S. Sen. Ed Brooke and physician Charles Drew. During WWII, Dunbar alumni in the Army included "nearly a score of Majors, nine Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels and a Brigadier General."
These successful black schools and others contradict what the "experts" say is needed to improve black education. Today's Dunbar and Douglass High schools' teachers and students have resources that would have been the envy of their predecessors. Class sizes today are a fourth of what they were yesteryear. What about the argument that segregated schools, as in Brown v. Board of Education, are inherently unequal? Or, as argued in Serrano v. Priest, that equalization of expenditures per student is essential for equal education. These observations are not arguments for segregation or unequal school financing; they merely challenge assumptions that have become gospel.
Former teachers and alumni, whom Sowell interviewed, said that the most basic characteristic of their school was law and order. Respect was the term most used to describe the attitudes of students and parents toward the schools. "The teacher was always right" was a frequently used phrase. Without a civilized learning environment, academic excellence is impossible no matter how much money is spent.
Succeeding despite such daunting odds reveals a black America rich with talent and initiative - and one that refused to accept the shackles of low expectations. An open minded look at black history reveals the same lesson: even during an era when racism was stubbornly entrenched in American law, blacks who held themselves to the same standards as whites could not be kept down no matter what the legal or social climate:
By 1912, the states of Mississippi and Virginia vied for possessing the most black-owned banks, with 11 each. Of Tennessee's four banks, two were in Memphis, the Fraternal Savings Bank & Trust Company and the Solvent Savings Bank & Trust. The Savannah Tribune of July 12, 1912, after recounting several successful purchases of "stores and buildings" by the black-owned Wage Earners' Loan and Investment Company and Mechanics Investment Company, proudly proclaimed that these purchases attest to the fact that "in matters financial, as well as in other fields, the Negro is able to hold his own." The editorial went on to claim that such success was due to "the loyalty and support that came to these institutions from the Negroes themselves."
In 1912, when officers of 61 black banks met in Chicago, there was reason for optimism. This meeting of a loosely formed bankers association was a promising one, since most of its members (representing banks in 16 states) could report increases in yearly volume of business. Of the 61 banks, 52 were in the South. One of the most prominent of them was Durham's Mechanics and Farmers Bank, which was chartered in 1907 by a group of men from diverse professional backgrounds-barber, doctor, educator, attorney, tinsmith. Eventually opening a branch office in Raleigh, Mechanics and Farmers went on to play an indispensable role in the economic life of Durham's black population for a half century. It is one of the few banks from this pioneering period that survives today.
In a March 1914 commentary in the Washington Bee, Ralph Tyler praises the efforts of blacks to master the intricacies of the insurance and banking businesses. First citing the fact that these were two areas of business where blacks had little chance to "learn the ropes," since whites did not open their doors to them, Tyler describes how black men took the initiative to learn these fields from scratch. "That he has learned the banking and insurance business, has developed them, and is now conducting these branches of business with signal success constitutes one of the best possible answers to the statements by anti-race men, and proves the wisdom of the National Negro Business League."
But it isn't just hard work that ensures success. Concluding that race explains disparities in income and educational achievement requires one to ignore some very unsettling evidence. Oddly enough, it appears that blacks and whites who follow the same rules experience startlingly similar outcomes:
There's one segment of the black population that suffers only a 9.9 percent poverty rate, and only 13.7 percent of their under-5-year-olds are poor. There's another segment of the black population that suffers a 39.5 percent poverty rate, and 58.1 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.
Among whites, one population segment suffers a 6 percent poverty rate, and only 9.9 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Another segment of the white population suffers a 26.4 percent poverty rate, and 52 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.
What do you think distinguishes the high and low poverty populations? The only statistical distinction between both the black and white populations is marriage. There is far less poverty in married-couple families, where presumably at least one of the spouses is employed. Fully 85 percent of black children living in poverty reside in a female-headed household.
In my post on the distribution of wealth in America, I underscored some rather startling statistics:
America's most prosperous households do one other thing differently from their poorer neighbors: they are, to an overwhelming degree, married:One frequently overlooked dimension of the gap between the "rich" and the "poor" is how much it is affected by marital status. As Chart 10 shows, only about 30 percent of all persons in Census's bottom quintile live in married couple families; the rest either live in single-parent families or reside alone as single individuals. In the top quintile, the situation is reversed: Some 90 percent of persons live in married couple families.
Walter Williams points out a slew of stunning statistics:
In 1940, 86 percent of black children were born inside marriage, and the illegitimacy rate among blacks was about 15 percent. Today, 31 percent of black children are born inside marriage, and the illegitimacy rate hovers around 70 percent.
It is not blaming the victim to ask why, in a climate where there are more benefits and legal protections for blacks than at any other time in American history, blacks are worse off rather than better? Is it possible that the persistent refusal to abandon the comforting prism of race is the answer?
Is it possible that pundits like Coates will ever choose to entertain the possibility that many conservatives believe what they believe, not because they hate blacks and want them to fail, but because they believe all people - regardless of race - respond predictably to economic and social incentives? Is it possible for these people to step outside the prison of their own skins for a moment and look at the overwhelming evidence of black competence in the face of adversity? Is it even possible for them to admit that eliminating disadvantage - whether it stems from skin color, socio-economic status, or even a handicap, may be exactly the wrong way to ensure success in life?
It’s one thing to argue that being an outsider can be strategically useful. But Andrew Carnegie went farther. He believed that poverty provided a better preparation for success than wealth did; that, at root, compensating for disadvantage was more useful, developmentally, than capitalizing on advantage.
This idea is both familiar and perplexing. Consider the curious fact that many successful entrepreneurs suffer from serious learning disabilities. Paul Orfalea, the founder of the Kinko’s chain, was a D student who failed two grades, was expelled from four schools, and graduated at the bottom of his high-school class. “In third grade, the only word I could read was ‘the,’ ” he says. “I used to keep track of where the group was reading by following from one ‘the’ to the next.” Richard Branson, the British billionaire who started the Virgin empire, dropped out of school at fifteen after struggling with reading and writing. “I was always bottom of the class,” he has said. John Chambers, who built the Silicon Valley firm Cisco into a hundred-billion-dollar corporation, has trouble reading e-mail. One of the pioneers of the cellular-phone industry, Craig McCaw, is dyslexic, as is Charles Schwab, the founder of the discount brokerage house that bears his name. When the business-school professor Julie Logan surveyed a group of American small-business owners recently, she found that thirty-five per cent of them self-identified as dyslexic.
That is a remarkable statistic. Dyslexia affects the very skills that lie at the center of an individual’s ability to manage the modern world. Yet Schwab and Orfalea and Chambers and Branson seem to have made up for their disabilities, in the same way that the poor, in Carnegie’s view, can make up for their poverty. Because of their difficulties with reading and writing, they were forced to develop superior oral-communication and problem-solving skills. Because they had to rely on others to help them navigate the written word, they became adept at delegating authority. In one study, conducted in Britain, eighty per cent of dyslexic entrepreneurs were found to have held the position of captain in a high-school sport, versus twenty-seven per cent of non-dyslexic entrepreneurs. They compensated for their academic shortcomings by developing superior social skills, and, when they reached the workplace, those compensatory skills gave them an enormous head start. “I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence as a kid,” Orfalea said once, in an interview. “And that is for the good. If you have a healthy dose of rejection in your life, you are going to have to figure out how to do it your way.”
Setting aside your biases for a moment and considering ideas you find upsetting requires courage. The reflexive hostility to Sarah Palin on the Left makes no more sense than the reflexive and sometimes unconditional defenses of her from the right. There is much to admire in Ms. Palin's rise from obscure origins, and also much that ought to give progressives pause. Of course, this would require them to actually display the open-mindedness and tolerence they claim to believe in: to walk the walk rather than just talking the talk.
The debate over whether America is better ruled by aristocratic thinkers or scrappy doers is an interesting one. It's also one that requires us to examine our assumptions about the "merit" part of meritocracy. As David Brooks notes, life is full of tradeoffs:
I’d prefer to live under our meritocracy than under the aristocratic systems of the Wise Men or the Founders. And yet I don’t know about you, but something has been lost, some character formula, some aristocratic grandeur.
It is just these tradeoffs - and the intrinsic connection between behavior and success - that the Obama administration seems determined to wipe out. The phrase, "blaming the victim" is often and unthinkingly applied to anyone who attempts to demonstrate that the choices we make in life do matter. Palin's appeal was that she was not afraid to champion this idea - an idea that was once considered synonymous with the American dream. This ideal is on its way to being replaced with a depressing alternative: the idea that we are powerless victims who can only succeed by taking what others produce.
And make no mistake: that is precisely the message that put Barack Obama in the Oval Office - the idea that inequality of outcome is prima facie evidence of institutional injustice rather than the result of principles that create wealth and foster excellence regardless of race or gender. What a shame that, rather than engaging their opponents with evidence, pundits like Coates resort to the comforting belief that anyone who disagrees with them is stupid or racist.
Ode to a Summer's Morn
The dreamy butterflies bestir,
Lethargic pools resume the whir
Of last year's sundered tune.
From some old fortress on the sun
Baronial bees march, one by one,
In murmuring platoon!
The robins stand as thick to-day
As flakes of snow stood yesterday,
On fence and roof and twig.
The orchis binds her feather on
For her old lover, Don the Sun,
Revisiting the bog!
Without commander, countless, still,
The regiment of wood and hill
In bright detachment stand.
Behold! Whose multitudes are these?
The children of whose turbaned seas,
Or what Circassian land?
- Emily Dickenson
What joy after a long winter to lightly trip amongst the Cosmos, gently harvesting the spent blossoms as the plaintive cry of a lone Western Maryland DorkHound (Loungeaboutis Davenportensia) wafts heavenward; a myriad invisible ooooooooooo's rising to greet Hyperion as he beginneth his appointed rounds.
The deeply spiritual satisfactions of a carbon neutral life can hardly be overstated.
July 07, 2009
Gallery of Regrettable Products, Part I
We are sorry, but this is just wrong.
But not as wrong as this.
'Double Header' Caption Contest
Second image blatantly ripped off from V the K (as usual). What can I say? I'm kind of busy this week.
July 06, 2009
Git Some, Marines
Staff Sgt. Colleen Wilcox, radio chief, Communications Detachment, Combat Logistics Battalion 13, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Waterford, Mich. native, leads an aerobics class on the flight deck of USS Comstock, June 24. Wilcox desires to become a certified instructor through Aerobics Fitness Association of America so she can officially teach both Marines and Sailors.
Many moons ago when the Blog Princess was still a complete workout fiend, one of the toughest workouts she ever had was in an advanced step aerobics class at MCRD, Parris Island.
There is something deeply weird about being in a step class full of male Marines hooting and hollering. Motivating as hell, though.
Before Iran's recent election and subsequent crackdown on protesters, European leaders often displayed a kind, gentle attitude toward the country - especially when compared to the more bellicose United States.
But after suspicions of electoral fraud, repression of postelection protests and accusations thrown at the British Embassy, it's Europe that's spitting out the toughest talk.
Now many are wondering whether the Europeans will follow their words with concrete actions to distance themselves from Iran.
"All the major European powers have taken a much firmer stand than the United States," said Patrick Keller, coordinator of foreign and security policy at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin.
The European Union's foreign-policy directors planned to discuss the removal of the bloc's 27 ambassadors from Iran at a two-day meeting that started Thursday in Stockholm, a significant step that's part of a mounting diplomatic squabble.
At the same time, the Obama administration has been expressing hopes for a new dialogue with Iran and even after the disputed election remains open to the idea of talking with Iran about its nuclear ambitions.
"It does sometimes seem as if a role reversal has taken place between the Europeans and the U.S., with the Europeans preaching Wilsonian principles and the U.S. stressing diplomacy and piecemeal reform in relations with undemocratic states," said Jytte Klausen, professor of politics at Brandeis University in Boston.
"There has been a gradual shift in Europe toward a new consensus involving both the left and the right in Europe that moral issues - free elections and civil liberty - should in some measure inform the conduct of relations with countries known to violate basic standards in those regards," she said.
Mr. Keller said it's more obvious now than ever before that Iran is not a democracy or even a theocracy, but a common dictatorship.
Obvious to everyone but the current occupant of the Oval Office, that is. Maybe he'll have better luck winning over the Taliban:
It seems to me that the best strategy for the enemy to take advantage of this new weakness is to move back into urban areas and surround themselves with civilian shields. Now, I’m no expert, but then neither are the Taliban. It also seems to me that it will cause more civilian deaths because the Taliban can use photos of civilians they themselves killed and blame it on Americans.
Not to worry though. Now that we finally have a "smart" President in the White House, surely he won't stubbornly refuse to listen to the experts.
I Love This Product
Children's Benadryl anti-itch gel (camphor external analgesic).
I have never used anything that stopped itching that fast and kept it at bay for hours on end. Usually my go-to remedy is aloe vera gel but this stuff is truly amazing. Both The Unit and your hostess have used it for different things over the past two weeks and it really works.
Debate Question of the Day
Over the weekend when we were studiously either sleeping or not being online, reader GS invited the Editorial Staff to comment upon this intriguing bit o' blog fodder:
H. J. Res. 5 Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.
Sponsor: Rep. José Serrano [D-NY16]
Given our present state of unicorn-induced bliss, it is tempting to see such a distressing proposition as the death knell of the Republic. A few moments of Googling, however, inclines us to a more sanguine view. First of all, Congress can propose all the resolutions it likes but when push comes to shove, the only way the 22nd Amendment would be repealed would be if an overwhelming majority of state legislatures voted to get rid of it. And that's assuming the resolution ever made it out of Congress:
Joint resolutions are also used to propose amendments to the Constitution. Used this way, they must be passed by both the House and Senate and be ratified by three-quarters of the states, but do not require the signature of the President, to become a part of the Constitution.
That's a pretty high bar, and one we don't think likely to be surmounted. The second reason for complacency is that folks in both parties have repeatedly proposed just such resolutions and they've gone exactly nowhere:
Other members of Congress who have offered similar proposals in the last twenty years include the following:Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts (Democrat): 1995, 1997, and 1999 (all during the presidency of Bill Clinton). Rep. David Dreier of California (Republican): 1997 (during the presidency of Bill Clinton). Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York (Democrat): 1995 (during the presidency of Bill Clinton). Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (Republican): 1995 (during the presidency of Bill Clinton). Rep. Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan (Republican): 1991 (during the presidency ofAccording to our survey, not a single one of these proposals was ever so much as brought to a vote before Congress (they were all referred to committee and languished there), much less passed and sent to the states for ratification.
George H.W.Bush). Rep. Martin Sabo of Minnesota (Democratic-Farmer-Labor): 1991 (during the presidency of George H.W.Bush).
Interestingly, no less a conservative icon than Ronald Wilson Reagan favored repealing the Presidential term limit. In this 1988 article, William F. Buckley argues the opposing position.
The question is, what do you all think? Good idea or opening Pandora's box? As food for thought, you may care to review a post from early this Spring on the historical record regarding power sharing in the Oval Office. The pre- and post- 22nd Amendment patterns are interesting:
Prior to 1950, extended one-party rule was more the norm than the exception.
Since 1950, extended one-party rule has been the exception rather than the norm. In fact, it has happened only once.
And so we ask you: is this a good thing? Debate amongst yourselves.
July 04, 2009
Brave New World
... what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."
- James Madison, Federalist 51
Paradoxically enough, the release of initiative and enterprise made possible by popular self-government ultimately generates disintegrating forces from within. Again and again after freedom has brought opportunity and some degree of plenty, the competent become selfish, luxury-loving and complacent, the incompetent and the unfortunate grow envious and covetous, and all three groups turn aside from the hard road of freedom to worship the Golden Calf of economic security. The historical cycle seems to be: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more.
At the stage between apathy and dependency, men always turn in fear to economic and political panaceas. New conditions, it is claimed, require new remedies. Under such circumstances, the competent citizen is certainly not a fool if he insists upon using the compass of history when forced to sail uncharted seas. Usually so-called new remedies are not new at all. Compulsory planned economy, for example, was tried by the Chinese some three milleniums ago, and by the Romans in the early centuries of the Christian era. It was applied in Germany, Italy and Russia long before the present war broke out. Yet it is being seriously advocated today as a solution of our economic problems in the United States. Its proponents confidently assert that government can successfully plan and control all major business activity in the nation, and still not interfere with our political freedom and our hard-won civil and religious liberties. The lessons of history all point in exactly the reverse direction.
- Henning W. Prentis
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.
On Independence Day approximately 300 million Americans will gather in back yards, on beaches, on Main Streets and fairgrounds and scores of other venues as diverse as the fifty states that make up our union. They gather in memory of a singular act in world history: a bold declaration that redefined the respective rights and duties of free citizens and the governments we form to secure our collective and individual rights.
Everything that makes America uniquely American can be summed up in our Declaration of Independence. For perhaps the first time in history, the notion was advanced that government, rather than being an end unto itself, serves at the pleasure of its citizens. Our declaration rejected the Divine Right of Kings, wherein government derived its authority from a superhuman and therefore unimpeachable source, for an infinitely more accountable authority which flows from the consent of the governed.
And therein lay the seeds of a contradiction that would return to devil us again and again over the next two centuries. For in rejecting an authority that transcends human knowledge, we also rejected the idea of moral absolutes. However imperfectly executed absolute monarchies may have been, they were (at least in theory) accountable to God. But to whom is a government of, by, and for the People accountable?
A few years ago, I might have said, "To the Constitution"; for I was raised to believe that America is not so much a pure democracy as a democratic Republic. Our Constitution was designed to fill that void left by divine authority; to be the ultimate law of the land, a final authority to which both laws passed by Congress and regulations promulgated by federal agencies must defer.
The Constitution and its subset, the Bill of Rights, would form the bulwarks against encroachments on our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Note that I said, the pursuit, and not the guarantee of happiness. For wisely, the Founding Fathers understood the great danger of democratic government: that, over time, the same people who willingly surrender some part of their individual liberties to secure their rights against trespass by their fellow citizens will discover that, by banding together, they possess great power over their fellow citizens. In this manner, government becomes - not the protector of individual liberty - but the chief enemy of liberty. The unalienable right to pursue happiness is subtly transformed into an unstated entitlement to the achievement of happiness:
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.
Does this sound familiar? Though these words were penned 65 years ago, they echo through every pronouncement of our current President, who, perversely, cites to spirit of independence to make the case for its polar opposite: the dependence of every American on an overbearing and overpowerful federal government.
Today, we are called to remember not only the day our country was born - we are also called to remember the indomitable spirit of the first American citizens who made that day possible.
We are called to remember how unlikely it was that our American experiment would succeed at all; that a small band of patriots would declare independence from a powerful empire; and that they would form, in the new world, what the old world had never known - a government of, by, and for the people.
That unyielding spirit is what defines us as Americans. It is what led generations of pioneers to blaze a westward trail.
It is what led my grandparents' generation to persevere in the face of a Depression and triumph in the face of tyranny.
It is what led generations of American workers to build an industrial economy unrivalled around the world.
It is what has always led us, as a people, not to wilt or cower at a difficult moment, but to face down any trial and rise to any challenge, understanding that each of us has a hand in writing America's destiny.
"Indomitable and unyielding spirit". I wonder whether Barack Obama truly understands what those words mean? An indomitable and unyielding spirit fights back against adversity. It does not allow government to command the sacrifice individual liberties in the service of some guarantee of collective economic prosperity which exists nowhere in our founding documents. The Founding Fathers did not envision a government so powerful that it could wipe away the thousand natural inequalities of intelligence, industry, fortune, or ambition that have characterized both free men and servants from time immemorial. Instead, it proposed that government treat all citizens impartially; that it dispense even handed justice to all regardless of station or identity. No government ever formed by man can erase natural inequality without impermissibly infringing on individual liberty.
And yet, we are told by our current government that we no longer have the right to make our own decisions; the mere presence of unequal results is itself an injustice. And ironically, the supposed pretext for this profoundly illiberal encroachment is the one word the Obama administration appears to have banned from our foreign policy: democracy:
Democracy and majority rule give an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny. Think about it. How many decisions in our day-to-day lives would we like to be made through majority rule or the democratic process? How about the decision whether you should watch a football game on television or "Law and Order''? What about whether you drive a Chevrolet or a Ford, or whether your Easter dinner is turkey or ham? Were such decisions made in the political arena, most of us would deem it tyranny. Why isn't it also tyranny for the democratic process to mandate what type of light bulbs we use, how many gallons of water to flush toilets or whether money should be taken out of our paycheck for retirement?
The founders of our nation held a deep abhorrence for democracy and majority rule. In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wrote, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.'' John Adams predicted, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.'' Our founders intended for us to have a republican form of limited government where the protection of individual God-given rights was the primary job of government.
It is not easy to bring free men to such a pass.
The enemies of liberty do so by ridiculing the notion that we have the seeds of greatness within us; by labeling daring and initiative as hubris. In the perverse moral calculus of the second rater, pride in the ideas that made our way of life possible and the celebration of human ingenuity somehow become acts of aggressive oppression:
... the professional fireworks display is an exercise in pomposity, aggression, triumphalism, and hubris. The pyrotechnician—and, more importantly, his patron—intends to ornament the night sky beyond the powers of God himself. He means to inspire awe for little purpose other than to demonstrate his power.
Those who risk their lives to defend our freedoms are equated with those who would suppress freedom:
My childhood friend of 31 years visited my home on base, in Quantico, a few months after I gave birth to my first baby. As we took a leisurely stroll one evening through the lingering humidity of early September, I explained to her how different military life is from the world in which we grew up in San Francisco. We passed rows of colorful houses on the tree-lined, manicured blocks and gazed at the playgrounds around the neighborhood, ready to welcome the children of the officers who live there. American flags hung from virtually every front door. The occasional "My daddy fights for your freedom" bumper sticker adorned some vehicles. As we looped around the bend toward my house, my friend turned to me and asked, "How do you accept what your husband does for a living?"
I glanced at her, startled. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"I guess I just don't know how to accept it. I don't believe in war," she responded, matter-of-factly.
Those who "don't believe in war" might take a moment on July 4th to consider that it was war that made America possible. Without men willing to defend those hallowed sentiments in the Declaration of Independence, they would not be worth the paper they are written on. Our rights are not simply given to us - either by a loving God or a benevolent and all knowing government. They are created and defined each time we stand up for them.
Only once have I exercised my personal privilege in the Senate chambers to relate as incident from my confinement as a POW in North Vietnam at the Hoa Lo prison camp. The treatment has been frequently brutal at the "Hanoi Hilton" as it became known. but after six years the beatings and torture that were once routine became less and less frequent.
During the last year, we were allowed outside most days for a couple of minutes to bathe. We showered by drawing water from a concrete tank with a homemade rubber bucket. One day as we all stood stripped of our clothes by the tank, Mike, a younger naval aviator, found the remnants of an old handkerchief in a gutter that ran under the prison wall.
Mike managed to sneak the grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag. Over times we all leant him a little soap and he spent days cleaning it. Although it was just a grey and tattered piece of cloth, we all stole bits and pieces of anything red and blue. At night, under his mosquito net, Mike worked on the flag.
With thread from his one blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed on stars. He made red and blue from ground up roof tiles, medicine; anything we could scrounge or steal. With watery rice glue, he painted them onto the cloth.
Early in the morning a few days later --- when the guards were not alert --- he whispered loudly from the back of his cell. "Hey gang, look here." He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth waving it as if in a breeze. If you used a lot of imagination, you could kind of tell it was supposed to be an American Flag. When he held up that grimy rag, we automatically saluted as our chests puffed out and more than a few eyes had tears.
About once a week the guards would strip our clothes, run us outside and go through our clothing. During one of these shakedowns they found Mike's flag. We all knew what would happen. That night they came for Mike. Night interrogations were always the worst. they opened the cell door, and pulled him out. We could hear the beginning of the torture before they even had him into the torture cell.
They "bent" him most of the night. About daylight they pushed what was left of him back through the cell door. He was badly broken, even his voice was gone.
Within two weeks, Mike had scrounged another piece of cloth and began making another flag --- you see, Mike was that kind of American. I related this story on the floor of the Senate to illustrate the power of a symbol, the power of the U.S. Flag.
The Fourth of July allows us to remember that words alone cannot make men free - they must be backed by the will to defend those freedoms. And it is a reminder of something else - that though all men may be created equal in the eyes of justice, all forms of government are most decidedly not equal when it comes to protecting individual liberty. Our task as Americans is to take those two ideas to heart.
They have guided our way for over two hundred years, making America a beacon of freedom and opportunity for all the world. Now is no time to abandon them.
July 03, 2009
Lame Blogging Alert
Sorry for the nonexistent blogging, guys.
I spent the last 36 hours unconscious, which (as one might imagine) makes it hard to type. Still recovering, but will have a 4th of July post up tomorrow.
Here are two good reads, though:
... at her core, America is the mother who starts an organization in her kitchen to support some of her son’s brothers and sisters in arms, serving overseas. America is individuals seeing a need, and asking “how can I fix this? What can I do to help?”
America the beautiful that I see does not wait for a President to call them to one day of service. The America I love is the army officer whose career is dedicated to serving, and preserving his country, no matter who his CinC is. This same officer prays with his young son and wife as he heads off to Iraq. The America I know is full of special individuals who don't need to ask what they can do for their country. They are already busy doing it.
As the resident of the White House says she “has never been more proud of America,” the mother who welcomes her Marine son home from a warzone, as she bursts with jubilation, pride in her son and her country is the America I hold dear. She, and her son, ARE America.
As I look at America, I see the retired grandfather, who works longer hours now than he ever did, helping to make his community a better place, for the families in it.
Oh yes, Presidents come and go, but the real Americans I am blessed to call friends remain; it is they who ARE the America that most of the world never gets to see, as the msm perpetuates the mythology of the icon which is the President of the US – any president.
Read it all. Beautiful.
July 01, 2009
The half vast Editorial Staff are sorry, but some things are just wrong.
So Much For "Listening to the Generals"
Piling on to his astonishing track record predicting the success of the Surge months after even the most skeptical observers had admitted they were wrong, the Ob-Amateur Hour continues its patented comedy stylings:
National security adviser James L. Jones told U.S. military commanders here last week that the Obama administration wants to hold troop levels here flat for now, and focus instead on carrying out the previously approved strategy of increased economic development, improved governance and participation by the Afghan military and civilians in the conflict.
The message seems designed to cap expectations that more troops might be coming, though the administration has not ruled out additional deployments in the future. Jones was carrying out directions from President Obama, who said recently, "My strong view is that we are not going to succeed simply by piling on more and more troops."
Well, at least he's consistent. Consistently clueless, that is:
Barack Obama said it was “fair” to notice that he did not anticipate that the surge of U.S. troops into Iraq would be coincident with the so-called Sunni Awakening and the decisions of Shia militias to reduce their footprints, the combination of which led to measurable declines in violence.
In an interview with ABC’s Terry Moran, Obama said that he “did not anticipate, and I think that this is a fair characterization, the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni awakening in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided that they had had enough with Al Qaeda, in the Shii’a community the militias standing down to some degrees. So what you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, I think that my assessment would have been correct.”
After admitting the surge worked Obama tells Terry Moran with ABC News that despite the progress in Iraq he still would not have supported the surge.
Moran: “‘[T]he surge of U.S. troops, combined with ordinary Iraqis’ rejection of both al Qaeda and Shiite extremists have transformed the country.
Attacks are down more than 80% nationwide. U.S. combat casualties have plummeted, five this month so far, compared with 78 last July, and Baghdad has a pulse again.’
If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you — would you support the surge?”
Obama: “No, because — keep in mind that -”
Moran: “You wouldn’t?”
Obama: “Well, no, keep — these kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult . Hindsight is 20/20. I think what I am absolutely convinced of is that at that time, we had to change the political debate, because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with.”
You can't make this stuff up. Fortunately, with The Won in command we don't have to.
Freedom Is Not Just An "American" Value
Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing
Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning
Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay
It's Independence Day.
It was with deeply mixed feelings yesterday that I listened to General Ray Odierno announce the withdrawal of American forces from the cities of Iraq.
What I remember most, now and then, is the sense of unreality; of disbelief. Sitting in rush hour traffic on I-495, golden sunlight streamed into my car just the way it did on that brilliant September morning in 2001. As I absorbed the matter of fact statements and the absence of combativeness in the voices of the press pool it seemed almost possible to believe none of the events of those intervening years had ever really happened. An invisible hand gently turned the page on grief, on anger, on the disbelieving horror of the past eight years.
But that was just an illusion; a trick of sunshine and the comforting banality of Beltway traffic. The fabric of history has changed forever in ways we are still struggling to understand. There is now no going back to the astonishing innocence of that Indian summer morning; no way to close the book on a story still unfolding before our disbelieving eyes.
There were no tears then. It was still too early for tears. In the empty space where shock and outrage ought to dwell, an unreal sense of numbness thickened the air as I responded to emails and answered phone calls on the 9th floor of my Tyson's Corner office building. I waited in the expectant void of a silently caught breath for news of my husband, the love of my life. As I mechanically checked items off my to-do list the familiar, slightly terse cadence I'd heard on the telephone just moments before a plane full of terrified passengers hit his office building played over and over again in the back of my mind: "Thank you. I just heard the news babe. We're watching it on CNN. Gotta go now."
"I love you, too." Click.
On the distant horizon a plume of grey smoke snaked slowly towards heaven as if calling down the furies upon a world suddenly gone mad. The tears would not come until later; much later:
In the hours following Brian's death, my emotions have run the spectrum. This evening, we went to the morgue on the local American base to retrieve Brian's body for the "angel flight" home. Servicemen in combat don't have the luxury of attending funerals of fallen comrades. The next best thing is to honor them as pallbearers from the morgue or ambulance to the helicopter in which their journey back to the states will begin.
In the morgue, I was able to spend a few minutes alone with Brian. I fought the tears but they too won their battle this night. As I held his head in my hands, I felt rage toward God and hatred toward Iraqis that I was unable to dispel. Standing up, I walked into the next room where Marines and soldiers were waiting quietly to carry Brian's body to the helicopter. I walked to the back of the room, the anger still seething. I stopped. There on the wall hung two flags, one American, one Iraqi. I paused. In addition to the American casualties, an Iraqi soldier was killed and several others were wounded during the day's battle. I glanced to my right. There, standing next to me was one of our Iraqi translators, mourning for Brian with tears streaming down his face. My hatred and rage melted away.
I reflected. This wasn't about Americans and Iraqis. This was about a noble man dying for a cause he believed in. I don't care about the reasons this war began, I cannot change the mistakes that have been made in its prosecution, and I have little stomach for the negative banter about the war that goes on back home in the U.S. In my simple way of thinking, we are allowing the Iraqi people the opportunity to experience freedoms they would otherwise never know. On an individual human level, life does not get much more meaningful than that. I put my arm around my interpreter's shoulder and pointed at the two flags. I looked into his eyes as tears welled yet again in mine. "We are brothers," I stated softly. His gaze met mine. He nodded and replied, "yes, brothers."
Hours later as we walked solemnly and silently to the helicopter landing zone in the early morning darkness, the Muslim call to prayer soulfully sounded throughout Ramadi. To my ears, it was a song of tranquility. This day, as all days, the sun will rise with the hope of peace. No matter the bitterness in how the day may end, it is that hope of peace in the dawn that gives life its precious meaning.
In real life - the one beyond the virtual world to which I was a complete stranger before 9/11, I've met Brian's Mom and Dad. I've met Marines years younger than my two sons are now; men I'd be tempted to call boys if it weren't for the unchildlike knowledge in their eyes and the unflappable assurance with which they stride forth on mechanical legs to engage with a future that must be very different from what they envisioned when they first stood on those yellow footprints. I've met dear friends whose corporeal presence, for years, was limited to typed characters in a tiny comment window.
How much has changed since the day I first stumbled onto this post on an unfamiliar site with the awkward mantle of "blog".
Sitting in that traffic jam yesterday afternoon, I found myself thinking of faces and names; people who perished on that day and during the long years thereafter, those who served in the armed forces, as contractors, in the State Department and FBI. And oddly, of journalists:
I'd wanted to introduce Layla to the Gary Cooper side of America, and I felt I'd succeeded. Instead of the evasive, over-subtle, windy Iraqi, fond of theory and abstraction, here was a to-the-point Yank, rolling up his sleeves with a can-do spirit of fair play and doing good. "I want to have a positive effect on this country's future," the Captain averred. "For example, whenever I learn of a contracting firm run by women, I put it at the top of my list for businesses I want to consider for future projects." I felt proud of my countryman; you couldn't ask for a more sincere guy.
Layla, however, flashed a tight, cynical smile. "How do you know," she began, "that the religious parties haven't put a woman's name on a company letterhead to win a bid? Maybe you are just funneling money to extremists posing as contractors." Pause. The Captain looked confused. "Religious parties? Extremists?"
Oh boy. Maa salaama Gary Cooper, as Layla and I gave our man a quick tutorial about the militant Shiites who have transformed once free-wheeling Basra into something resembling Savonarola's Florence. The Captain seemed taken aback, having, as most Westerners--especially the troops stationed here--little idea of what goes on in the city. "I'll have to take this into consideration..." scratching his head, "I certainly hope none of these contracts are going to the wrong people." Not for the first time, I felt I was living in a Graham Greene novel, this about about a U.S. soldier--call it The Naive American--who finds what works so well in Power Point presentations has unpredictable results when applied to realities of Iraq. Or is that the story of our whole attempt to liberate this nation?
Collecting himself, "But should we really get involved in choosing one political group over another?" the Captain countered. "I mean, I've always believed that we shouldn't project American values onto other cultures--that we should let them be. Who is to say we are right and they are wrong?"
And there it was, the familiar Cultural-Values-Are-Relative argument, surprising though it was to hear it from a military man. But that, too, I realized, was part of American Naiveté: the belief, evidently filtering down from ivy-league academia to Main Street, U.S.A., that our values are no better (and usually worse) than those of foreign nations; that we have no right to judge "the Other;" and that imposing our way of life on the world is the sure path to the bleak morality of Empire (cue the Darth Vader theme).
But Layla would have none of it. "No, believe me!" she exclaimed, sitting forward on her stool. "These religious parties are wrong! Look at them, their corruption, their incompetence, their stupidity! Look at the way they treat women! How can you say you cannot judge them? Why shouldn't your apply your own cultural values?"
It was a moment I wish every muddle-headed college kid and Western-civilization-hating leftist could have witnessed: an Air Force Captain quoting chapter and verse from the new American Gospel of Multiculturalism, only to have a flesh and blood representative of "the Other" declare that he was incorrect, that discriminations and judgment between cultures are possible--necessary--especially when it comes to the absolutely unacceptable way Middle Eastern Arabs treat women. And though Layla would not have pushed the point this far, I couldn't resist. "You know, Captain," I said, "sometimes American values are just--better."
I still remember the day we learned that Steven was dead. I am re-reading In The Red Zone, mostly with tears running down my face. It's astonishing how much we forget over the years. Perhaps it's easier that way. But reading Steven's graceful prose has brought a flood of memories rushing back: Kevin Sites (without whom, oddly enough, VC would not exist).
As [Master Sgt. Scott] Ford and Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding returned fire, Walding was hit below his right knee. Ford turned and saw that the bullet "basically amputated his right leg right there on the battlefield."
Walding, of Groesbeck, Tex., recalled: "I literally grabbed my boot and put it in my crotch, then got the boot laces and tied it to my thigh, so it would not flop around. There was about two inches of meat holding my leg on." He put on a tourniquet, watching the blood flow out the stump to see when it was tight enough.
That bears repeating: "I literally grabbed my boot and put it in my crotch, then got the boot laces and tied it to my thigh, so it would not flop around". They do not teach that in CLS*.
If there's anything to smile about in the story it's that the guy's name is John Wayne.
It is difficult, now, to recall just how much blood and treasure has been spilled out to give Iraq a chance. Difficult to recall the laughter we'll never hear again and the faces missing from the table. But even looking backwards is easier sometimes than looking ahead to the difficult work that still lies before us:
I'm sorry, but I've just never bought into the idea that Afghanistan is the "good war." My husband has actually had someone say to him that at least his upcoming deployment is to Afghanistan, which serves a purpose and has meaning, unlike Iraq. I wholeheartedly reject that idea. I also disagree vehemently with Pres Obama when he said, "Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice..." As Neal Boortz said recently, all wars are a choice. None of the 9/11 hijackers came from Afghanistan, so please explain to me how Afghanistan wasn't a choice that was made.
I've been thinking about Afghanistan a lot lately, and I have a hard time feeling good about my husband going there. Frankly, I am not convinced that country deserves his effort.
Sarah's words are troubling, but I understand them. A few short months ago, with the possibility of my overly retirement-ready husband finally following through on the plans we laid in the summer of 2001 - plans that were disrupted by two wars and a seemingly endless stream of sad emails dropping into my inbox at all hours - I found myself thinking the very same thing.
I'm tired. Enough, already. Haven't we given enough?
Though the glib words had passed my lips several times already: "If that is what you feel you need to do, go with my blessing", I too found myself rebelling against an effort I thought was doomed to failure; rebelling against one more postponement of the dreams I'd resolutely put out of my mind for decades. Why?
People of my generation who were born in democracies may take the freedom they enjoy for granted. This is certainly not the case for me or my people. I was born a decade after the murderous Ba'ath Party grabbed power in Baghdad in the sinister coup of July 1968. To us, the war brought an end to that 35-year-long nightmare and the beginning of an era of freedom, thanks to our friends in the coalition.
For me and many Iraqis, it was certainly worth it. Life is better today than it was before 2003. That is even though we were on the receiving end of this war in all its phases, from initial invasion through the bloody sectarian violence and terror that paralysed the country for years. Despite the high price in blood, today is brighter than yesterday. Above all, we have hope - something we did not have under Saddam's dictatorship - that tomorrow will be even brighter.
I would like to share two snapshots from Iraq that I hope will help you see why I believe Iraq is making solid progress towards liberty, prosperity and the rule of law. Recently, two stories dominated the media in Iraq. The first started when the ministry of trade was bombarded with allegations of rampant corruption. Corruption is a serious problem, but worse than corruption itself is if there is a lack of checks and balances that can stop it. In Iraq this used to happen all the time, but now a wind of change is blowing.
Pressure from the press, the public and partners in the Government forced the minister of trade to submit his resignation. Resignation alone was not deemed enough. The minister was arrested on Saturday as he was attempting to flee the country. He will join other corrupt officials in custody awaiting trial. The fascinating thing about this case is that the indicted minister is a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party.
Then there is the case of Kitabat, the prominent Iraqi online journal.
Kitabat, founded in 2002 by an Iraqi expatriate, has somewhat served the role of a shadow parliament in which people from across the Iraqi spectrum voice their opinions without censorship. Five months ago, Kitabat published an article in which the author accused the office of Maliki of nepotism and abuse of authority.
How did the Prime Minister respond to these, indeed unfounded, accusations? In Saddam's days the case would have been closed with a bullet to the dissident's head. It was common practice to send embassy officials on assassination missions armed with silent pistols or even axes, as was the case in the attempt on former PM Iyad Allawi's life in London in 1978. Instead, Maliki opted to go to a court of law and sue the author and the owner of Kitabat. Maliki's decision came under severe criticism from free press advocates who saw his action as an attempt to restrict freedom of speech.
Maliki ultimately yielded and dropped the case.
Oddly, in all the faces paraded before us yesterday in news and in memory, one face was inexplicably absent - that of the man without whom yesterday would have seemed an absurd and overwrought fantasy:
Barack Obama, who supported genocide in Iraq, did not have the decency to thank George W. Bush today. Nancy Pelosi could only mutter something about the war coming to an end.
The state-run media did not publish the remarks by Iraqi President Jalal Talibani to the American troops today. After all, Talibani has a record of thanking the US for liberating his country from the evil psychopath, Saddam Hussein.
The state-run media never seemed to appreciate his courage and gratitude much for some reason.
Three years ago on the eve of another Independence Day, I wrote these words:
About one week from now, we will celebrate the Fourth of July. All over America, these words will be read:We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
What are those words worth, today? Not much, apparently. Do we still believe them? Are they still engraved on our hearts? Do we still believe that ALL men are created equal? I keep hearing that the Arabs are "not ready for democracy". I consider that an appallingly condescending statement.
I submit that in 1776, those words were not worth the parchment they were scribbled on. Utter and absolute rubbish.
They did not become real until nine long years of bloody, miserable warfare breathed life into them. They were purchased, truly, at the cost of incalculable human suffering.
Bloodshed. Starvation. Sickness. Injustice. Abuse. Ugliness. Imperfection of every sort imaginable. And as Ignatieff mentions at the beginning of his piece, they did not apply equally to every American for a long, long time. Not to the Irish, nor to women, nor to Jews, nor Catholics, nor blacks, nor non-landowners. But this experiment we call America truly did 'light a fire in the minds of men'. And that fire was seen from a great distance.
It became a beacon to others, even with all its imperfections, because it was better than what had come before. This glorious dream: this democracy. It remains an imperfectly-realized ideal, because humans are still flawed and we bring all our sins and weaknesses with us on this journey. But we are vastly improved for having reached beyond our baser selves, for having dared to dream. We are still improving. And so will the rest of the world, if we can find the courage and the resolve to help them. We are on a road to the stars, but we progress one faltering step at a time.
Who are we to think that Freedom is ours to spread, Ignatieff asks?
We were the First. We are the guardians of the flame. Not perfect beings, but in all the world the only ones, it seems, still naive enough, still brave enough, still daring enough to put our money where our mouths are. We are the only ones who are still willing to defend the dream with our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.
Not all the time. Not in every single instance, because that is impossible. And honest liberals will admit that: in a universe with limited resources, choices must be made. But where we can, where it aligns with our interests and with the interests of the rest of the world: yes.
Our own Revolution was not without blemish. Innocent men were tarred and feathered. Families torn asunder. People bled, and suffered and starved. There was even [shudder] terrorism. But it lit a flame that has burned brightly for over 200 years. There are signs that this is happening in the MiddleEast: Arabs are looking at election day in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding democratic reforms in Egypt and Lebanon and Kuwait. The fire in men's (and women's) hearts is spreading.
We would like certainty. We would like painless progress. We would like closure. We will not get any of those things.
On July 4th we must ask ourselves, what do we believe? Our military - brand new immigrants who enlist before the ink is dry on their visas - believe in those words so strongly that they will lay down their lives to spread the fire of democracy. They also believe (as I do) that their purpose is to serve American foreign policy aims, no matter how abstract and long-term they may seem. No matter how difficult to explain to the American people. No matter how frustrating in the short term.
Though it is over long, that post is unquestionably my favorite of the many thousands of posts I've written over the past 5 years. It encapsulates my hopes, my dreams, but most importantly my enduring belief that although the course may not be smooth, we are doing the right thing by history. The greatness of George Bush was that he understood something critical: freedom and democracy are not uniquely American values. They are a uniquely human set of values nurtured in the hearts of people to whom freedom is still a fragile, flickering flame. Bush was fond of a phrase that describes our aspirations well: we have lit a fire in the hearts of men.
That fire is the love of freedom, and if it is not carefully tended it will soon be extinguished by those who seek to root out the last vestiges of hope and replace it with cowed subservience. We stand today a nation in retreat from everything that makes us unique in the eyes of history. Today, the notion of American exceptionalism is scorned by our leaders: instead of championing our ideals we cravenly apologize for our all too human failings.
But no nation upon this earth is composed of perfect beings: we are the sum of our virtues and our flaws. We are not wrong to dream of a better world. Our imperfect hands are not yet too feeble to hold aloft the torch of freedom as our fathers and grandfathers did before us.
On the eve of Independence Day it is good to remember that liberty cannot survive without the will to defend our way of life. In a borderless world we can no longer huddle behind the comforting walls of outdated isolationism and chastened "pragmatism". This nation was not built by the practical but by the bold, and it will not long endure if we fear to champion the great ideas and bold ventures that took America from a few huddled colonies to a slumbering giant whose cities stretch from sea to shining sea. The past fades all too quickly before our weary eyes and unwilling memories. The future, as they say, is prologue:
What kind of world will we bequeath to our grandchildren? It may be decades before we know. But our actions today will have an incalculable effect on that far-off tomorrow. And if our policy is not firmly grounded in the spread of those long-ago words:We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...
...then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?
Even with all their attendent uncertainty, days like yesterday give me hope that America is still, despite her faults, a great nation. A nation of doers.
A nation of believers. Faith is not foolish - it is our birthright: something we drink in with our mother's milk and pour out to an increasingly cynical world in the form of American blood and American treasure. This is nothing to be ashamed of. We owe it to those who have gone before us - to those who fought and bled so that we could enjoy the blessings of liberty.
We owe it to our children.