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Saturday, January 25, 2003

worth reading ...

I bookmarked this piece last December, and never blogged it. David Frum writes about the appointment of Elliott Abrams to the position of Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council.
...One of the great ironies of Abrams’ career is that this man so reviled by the left is probably the single figure most responsible for what honest leftists ought to recognize as one of the most important achievements of the 1980s: the abolition of the old double-standard in favor of anticommunist dictatorships.

From the 1930s until the 1980s, the United States tolerated (more or less unhappily) Latin American authoritarianism, on the old principle, "he may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." The motives for this tolerance were understandable, even pardonable: Latin America did not spontaneously generate democratic alternatives, and the United States was too busy saving Europe and Asia to divert attention and resources to help invent such alternatives. In the context of global struggles first against Nazism and then against Communism, the United States allowed itself to be associated with some fairly disgusting regimes.

However, by the late 1970s, the Cold War had stalemated itself in Europe and Asia, and Latin America was emerging as the conflict’s hottest front. Abrams was one of those who perceived that the United States had to invest more effort and prestige in the region. He recognized that just as the authoritarianism of Portugal, Spain, and Greece had weakened the anticommunist cause in Europe, so now dictatorship south of the Rio Grande was weakening the anticommunist cause in Latin America. Abrams became a forceful advocate of democratization in Mexico, in Chile, in Argentina, and in Brazil. When the Republicans entered the executive branch in 1981, the only Latin countries whose governments had been competitively elected were Costa Rica, Colombia, and Venezuela. By the time they left in 1992, the only Latin country without a competitively elected government was Cuba...
Honest leftists? They don't seem to be too thick on the ground...
...So it’s good to know that his gallant service to his country and the cause of freedom has been remembered and honored by this President. But Abrams’ new appointment is no mere thank-you present. It is an opportunity for Abrams to put the beliefs that saved Latin America in the 1980s into action again in the Middle East...
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...droll and glib outlook on life...

Glenn Reynolds quoted from the first half of this excellent essay by David Warren. But I found the ending section much more interesting:
...From this distance, and because of the endless war, we fail to see what Israel has in common with Europe, Canada, even much of the U.S. It is a society which has advanced technically, and outwardly, in wealth and efficiency, but at the price of being poisoned -- in my view, poisoned in the soul. It has fallen into a post-modern, intensely secular, droll and glib outlook on life; one that forgets its own heritage and puts a premium instead on tolerance and what "feels good"; which discounts, indeed mocks, all myth and tradition, especially its own. It appears that Shinui has captured the shallowest end of this constituency.

It thus now embodies an outlook which, in the time of testing, cannot give anyone a reason to live, a reason to fight, a reason for hope, a reason to build. It represents something that began, long ago, as the politics of convenience, and ends, in crisis, as the politics of despair.

The message of the politician Natan Sharansky -- a graduate of solitary in Moscow's Lefortovo prison, who spent a decade in the Soviet Gulag in Siberia, thinking things through -- is the profound contrary. He argues that, if we don't ourselves believe that our religious inheritance and our way of life are intrinsically superior to what threatens us, we are in deep trouble indeed. He himself survived the Gulag, kept his mind free within it, and ultimately triumphed over it, because he never forgot he was a Jew. ...

...This is why the background rivalry between Mr. Sharansky and Mr. Lapid -- which the latter seems to be winning -- is so intensely interesting. Here, in microcosm, is the real battle, the one reflected in macrocosm in the contest between Mr. Bush and the United Nations. It could be summed in one sentence:

"Do we think that what we ARE is worth defending?"

Chirac, Schroeder, and Lapid answer, No. ... Bush, Blair, and Sharansky answer, Yes. ... And next week everyone votes.
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These are weighty and serious times, folks ...

... but if you need to take a break and laugh, try this.

(via H.D. Miller )
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Friday, January 24, 2003

Shocking changes follow in the wake of the US war machine...

From Kabul (link)
Her Volkswagen is as old as she is, but 34-year-old Fouzia thinks she is the luckiest woman on earth.

Now that she's completed Afghanistan's new women's driving course, Fouzia can drive herself to work and take her children to school. And her husband doesn't object to this independence - although he won't ride with her.

"Even though my car is out of fashion, it's of great value to me because I can solve my problems myself," she said. "When I am driving my car I feel like I am a pilot of a jet - it's a dream come true."...
You'd think our "feminist" organizations would be clamoring for more of this, wouldn't you?
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* Update to Wednesday's post...

Chris Bertram writes: You'll see that I've posted an update on the anti-war arguments in response to some criticisms. Just on the final points in your post, though, I fear that you've misunderstood me slightly (probably my own fault). I wasn't intending to slide from addressing the human rights case to the democratization case and back again in an uncontrolled way. I took myself to be taking on a family of arguments of which the democratization and human rights arguments are variants. So I agree with you that Jordan is vastly better than Iraq, though not democratic and it never entered my head to think that the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia aimed at or secured democracy (rather, that it brought about a vast improvement from a human rights point of view).

(My response) Chris, Thanks for the courteous reply.
You know, I can think of lots of legal/moral/political arguments, but what I'm really thinking is: if I were in the position of the Iraqi people, with hunger, hopelessness, and the constant possibility of my loved ones being dragged off to torture or death--I'd be PRAYING for an American invasion. I would accept that risk without a moment's hesitation.

And from all the reports I've heard, that's just exactly how the common Iraqi people feel. (And I reject with utmost contempt the notion, or perhaps, the vague odor of a notion, that floats up from (mostly) the Left, (not you, I'm sure) that dark-skinned foreigners are content with their dictators, and would never choose to fight and die for liberty, or to risk death so their children could have a better life.)
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Sign me up for a test drive! (Test flight? Test dive? )

I was just reading about a successful 'test-flight,' in San Francisco Bay, of the Deep Flight Aviator, a submersible that 'flies' underwater like an airplane (rather than using negative buoyancy to sink).
Deep Sea Aviator

Thursday, January 23, 2003


Rain, do not hurt my flowers, but quickly spread
Your honey drops: presse not to smell them here:
When they are ripe, their odour will ascend
And at your lodging with their thanks appear.

-- George Herbert

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Wednesday, January 22, 2003

P. Krugman
#74: More of Same

It's simply amazing! Yet another column by Paul Krugman, A Touch of Class (01/21/23), on tax cuts for the "rich." The first thing we did was look to see if he had anything new to say. Anything, that is, he hadn't covered in the previous 10 or 12 columns on this subject. There wasn't much. He told a Bill Gates joke we hadn't heard before. He also protested claims that he is motivated by envy of the rich. Of course, how could he be? He's well into the top 1 percent on income earners himself.

Beyond that, "A touch of Class" is a total rehash and we see no reason to write a rehash of a rehash. Instead we refer readers to Squad reports #36 and #72. We also note that Krugman and the Dems steadfastly refuses to say at what level of income, for tax purposes, "richness" begins. As we've pointed out, it's much lower than people think (around $80,000 to $90,000 per year) and to define it would give away their tax and spend game. So as long as Krugman can keep the focus on the "top 1 percent" his demagoguery has a chance to succeed. He's just that cynical.

Also of interest is a recent column by Robert Samuelson on the tax situation in the U.S. It's well reasoned and makes a nice contrast to Krugman's ranting on this subject. [article is here] Here's a snippet:

...If redistribution is the government's main purpose, then none of this is a problem. The rich should pay more; the poor should receive more; tax breaks -- if affordable -- should go to the middle of the middle class. But there is a problem if (as this writer worries) too much redistribution becomes politically corrupting and economically destructive. Under the guise of "meeting national needs," politics becomes an exercise in buying votes because burdens (mainly taxes) fall narrowly and benefits are spread widely. The economic danger is suffocation under an excess of taxes, government subsidies and welfare programs. It's insidious because it creeps up slowly over time. Think Europe.

The case for spreading the tax burden more evenly is not to reward or punish. It is to restore political discipline. Politicians and citizens ought to weigh the promised gains of government against the costs. They won't if the direct costs are borne only by a tiny minority. No one then needs to make hard choices. It becomes easy to forget that taxes are the price of government. If people want more (less) of one, they ought to want more (less) of the other. This is an exacting standard that politicians of both parties would gladly evade.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. You can find Paul Krugman's writings, including the latest columns, here]
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Our friend Dave Trowbridge has a wit so sharp that it reminds me of those tall tales, where the Kukri or Katana flashes, and the enemy keeps talking for a while before his head topples off and rolls in the dust. BUT, sometimes a certain sort of anti-war argument makes him go all squoosh-brained and Blixy. Then I have to pull out my poor rusty cutlass and see what I can do.

Dave recently wrote: "Chris Bertram puts the case against war with Iraq into five succinct paragraphs that I find impossible to argue with..."
So I will try...
The case for war against Iraq is very weak. It has two components, neither of which stand up to serious examination...
More than two components have been proposed. I've mentioned several others myself. Mr Bertram glosses-over lots of things...
The first is that the US is entitled to make war as an act of pre-emptive self-defence. . This clearly fails both because no-one has established that Iraq represents a credible threat to the US...
Many people have argued that the threat is established. Bertram presents no counter-arguments, just a wave of the hand. Try this: Saddam HAS given weapons, aid and shelter to terrorists who HAVE attacked us; there's NO DOUBT he means us harm. And HAS spent vast effort and treasure on WMD. If he had a nuke, he COULD smuggle it into a port in a shipping container. I'd call that credible. Given his history, I'd say the burden of proof should be on the "Saddam will surely not hurt us" crowd.
...and because the putatively justifying doctrine, if generalized, would permit states to engage in actions which no right-thinking person would wish to sanction.
This is a valid argument, but notice that there is no requirement of proof, no need to "establish a credible threat." Just a possibility off in the future. But if I argued that "leaving evil dictators (who use mustard gas on their own cities) in power, if generalized, would permit states to engage in actions which no right-thinking person would wish to sanction," do you think Mr Bertram would accept that argument?
And actually, "pre-emptive self-defence" is already what any nation will do in the right circumstances. If Monaco were an Anti-French power developing nuclear weapons, would Paris hesitate to take action?
...A variant of the pre-emptive self-defence doctrine would emphasize not the direct threat posed by Iraq, but an indirect one: Iraq might give "weapons of mass destruction" to terrorists. But despite 18 months of trying, no real evidence of Iraqi-Al Qaeda co-operation has been produced...
There's probably some cool Latin name for this sort of bogus argument, where terms are changed from one sentence to the next. "Terrorists" somehow slithers into being only Al Qaeda, and the "might give" somehow turns into 'must show "real evidence" that it's already happened.'
The second main strand is the Saddam-is-evil/democratization argument. Saddam is evil, no question about that. This is a much better set of arguments in principle, but fails because, given the dramatis personae , there is no good reason to believe that the war will actually pursue democracy...
Another slippy-slidey argument. It starts with a "fight against evil," and then "pursuit of democracy" is substituted. These are two different things. For instance, if Iraq ends up with an ordinary Arab government, like Jordan or Egypt or Kuwait, that's not democracy but it would be a HUGE human-rights victory.
...I'm not a supporter of the view that it is never justifiable to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Sometimes such intervention can certainly be justified. A case in point was the ousting of Pol Pot by the Vietnamese...
Wait just a minute here! Is he saying the the Vietnamese dramatis personae were pursuing democracy? Really? (One does meet leftys who think just that. You know, people's democracy, much better that the American kind where people get to do whatever they want.) Or is this part of the oft-seen line, that the only really evil countries are the US and Israel? Or just sloppy thinking? Or different rules for Communists? Or that if the death-toll is in the millions, it's OK to overthrow dictators, but mere hundreds-of-thousands don't qualify?

I personally think we do plan to foster democracy in Iraq. But right now it's just my opinion against his. (And if I'm wrong, I'll admit it. I wonder if other people will do the same?)

But consider this. Thousands of leftists are now demonstrating to keep Iraqis enslaved within a hideous tyranny. Where are the leftists demonstrating FOR democracy in Iraq? (Or Vietnam. Or Cuba.) Where is the leftist pressure on the administration in favor of democracy? Where are the leftists who are eager to get involved in rebuilding Iraq? Where are the leftists who are building democracy anywhere?

The last paragraph is another phony argument. One British writer, who believes the war is not justified, but should be pursued in the national interest, is held up as typical of all British war supporters. No chance that any of the others are acting on principle.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

plain speaking

This seems delightfully blunt. Maybe it signals the end of mealy-mouthed diplomatic talk...
White House:French Statement Means Iraq Still Has Weapons
(Dow Jones)--The Bush administration said Tuesday that recent comments by France represent an important acknowledgement by Paris that Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction.

On Monday, during a speech at the U.N., French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that the new round of weapons inspections has been successful and that Iraq's weapons programs are either blocked or frozen.

However, the White House argued that de Villepin's comments show that France believes that Saddam Hussein still has programs in place to build weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441...
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...In a backhanded slap at France, Fleischer also said the president wasn't terribly surprised that some countries are advocating going easy on Iraq. Fleischer said the president has often viewed his own role as one of "putting spine" into the U.N. and the international community...
Via Rand Simberg, who expressed the situation with delicate exactitude: "Boy, for all of supposedly being the people who invented diplomacy, the Frogs are sure off their game. And being outsmarted by a retarded cowboy, too. That's gotta hurt."
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When blood is nipp'd, and ways be foul...

Much of the nation is suffering from extreme cold weather, the headlines are filled with storms and catastrophes, and where are Charlene and our son Rob going this weekend? Why, Grand Forks, North Dakota, of course!

They are visiting the University of North Dakota. Rob wants a career in aviation, and UND's Aviation Program is tops. Of course, for a boy from the mild and sweet climate of San Francisco, North Dakota in January will be quite a shock ... a test of his resolve, perhaps.
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great parody

I just encountered this parody of Lileks by Combustible Boy :
TED BARLOW'S OVERFLOWING WITH lightbulb jokes, giving over about thirty-two million blog posts to assessing the fractional bulb-changing prowess of notable names from the headlines, the bylines, and the blog punditocracy. Or rather, he's using the bulb theme to do as good an impersonation of each as he can. I was inspired to try it out myself...

Q. How many Lilekses does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. Gnat sat bored and anxious, eyes glazed over like the frosting on a 200-watt bulb as she confronted the Target aisle full of row after row of little bulb boxes, a panoply of choice that would, if we had any sense, make us get on our knees and weep at the bounty we take for granted while halfway around the world somebody squats in a shelter made of bombed-out rubble and hopes that ...
There's lots more, and it made me smile...

Monday, January 20, 2003


Down the blue night the unending columns press
In noiseless tumult, break and wave and flow,
Now tread the far South, or lift rounds of snow
Up to the white moon's hidden loveliness.

Some pause in their grave wandering comradeless,
And turn with profound gesture vague and slow,
As who would pray good for the world, but know
Their benediction empty as they bless.

They say that the Dead die not, but remain
Near to the rich heirs of their grief and mirth.
I think they ride the calm mid-heaven, as these,
In wise majestic melancholy train,
And watch the moon, and the still-raging seas,
And men, coming and going on the earth.

-- Rupert Brook

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seen in a comment at Mark Steyn ...

Think Globally, Act Unilaterally -- Deb Platt
Also this, in response to a comment that the only conservatives with a sense of humor were either Jewish, or former Liberals:
MARK REPLIES: First, I can testify from personal experience that Mrs Thatcher is extremely funny, albeit in a somewhat unnerving way. Second, on our few brief encounters, George W Bush has also been a barrel of laughs, at least when compared with the competition last time round and most of the crowd next time (John Kerry, John Edwards). Third, the problem with Ike, Nixon, Ford, the first of the Presidents Bush, Heath and Mulroney is not that they’re not funny but that they’re not conservative
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Cat Out of Bag Moment...

Patrick Sullivan writes:
"Krugman's friend Brad DeLong betrayed the Stealth Axis of Spending recently, with this admission on his blog:
...the existence of the baby-boom generation, rising medical costs, and the belief that everyone ought to be able to see a doctor together more-or-less force federal government spending up from its current twenty percent or so of GDP to somewhere between twenty-five and thirty percent over the next generation. [Steve] Cecchetti's belief that taxes should be restricted to 19 percent of GDP and debt to 50 percent is a decision to award victory to one side of American politics in a debate that has yet to be started.
Increasing the size of the federal govt. by up to 50% would decrease private investment (and thus economic growth) by a factor that would dwarf any such effect from current projected budget deficits.  Pretty clearly Krugman, DeLong, and Fellow Travellers, are crying crocodile tears over the deficits' effects on long term interest rates."

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Fisking where due...

The weblogger to follow on the subject of Korea is Wes Dabney. We met him at a blog-bash, he's an army officer currently studying Korean at the Defense Language Institute.

He's Fisking Josh Marshall, and I think it's well deserved. Marshall used to seem like a pretty reasonable guy, but less and less. I think he and some other "reasonable leftists" have reached the limits of how reasonable they are going to be. Korea was probably the last straw. People like Marshall are not going to own up to the fact that the last two Democrat Presidents have have been guilty of extreme, almost treasonous, folly and ineptitude. Now it's time to lie and cheat, and try to push forward the ludicrous theory that all was well, until that coarse fellow Bush said harsh and wounding things to the sensitive North Koreans, and caused them to build nuclear weapons.

Another Korea morsel from Wes:
Looks like some American and foreign businesses are starting to pull out of South Korea. Look for the anti-America demonstrators to start getting smacked down by the riot police and probably a "Be nice to foreigners" national campaign just like the last time their economy got in trouble. The key there is "fear gone, God forgotten". As soon as their economy improved, I saw a rising nationalism taking off in Korea again and nationalism soared during the World Cup. Now, here we are again and I bet that as soon as their economy takes a dive they'll be all nice and polite like a alcoholic uncle that wants some money.

Funny think about leftists, how they keep changing their names. Back in the 30's they rejected the charge that they were socialists, by labeling themselves liberals. (Thus polluting a grand old term that meant something very different.) And nowadays they are centrists. Or Progressives. Phooey.

One good thing about hanging around with conservatives is that they won't start hiding behind some new name, like progressive traditionalist... (Also, as Mark Steyn mentioned, if you mingle with conservatives or Republicans, you won't have to mix with celebrities. That's a huge plus!)
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