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Saturday, February 08, 2003

a rambling blog post ...

Jonah Goldberg posted this e-mail at The Corner:
Your pointing out the view from Kosovo reminds me of why my East-bloc-born wife insisted our son be named Ronald when he was born last year. When she was a girl, she remembers her grandfather listening to VOA secretly and she wasn't allowed to tell anyone at about it. She remembers her fathers secret recordings of American jazz, and his greatest prize was a bootleg copy of jimmy hendrix' "star-spangled banner'. She remembers the embers of hope that sparked when Mr. Reagan denounced the Evil Empire, hope that America was aware of their misery and that through this their liberation would come. I have met many people from E. Eur and this story is common, if seldom reported. And none of the people I have met ever said they dreamed liberation would come from France or Germany.
Seldom reported. That's for sure. We live in an age of wonders. In our lifetimes captive people have been freed from brutal totalitarian regimes by the hundreds of millions... but are we pleased? Is this stuff celebrated?

Just think about that poor guy, behind the Iron Curtain, secretly listening to The Star Spangled Banner, hoping for help from America. Unbelievable. I get goose-bumps whenever I hear our national anthem. And goose-bumps when I think about Francis Scott Key, who wrote it. Think about what he went through, an American, stuck on a British ship, part of a fleet bombarding American positions all night long. Have you ever stood next to a firing cannon? It's LOUD! It shakes you to the marrow. It would have gone on all night long, BANG! BANG! BANG!, deafening noise, great flashes of fire stabbing into a pea-soup of eye-stinging black-powder smoke. Francis Key had to stand helplessly imagining the sure destruction of his countrymen. And then the first glimmer of dawn. And then the flag, still flying... incomparable moment.

I still hear leftists saying that they can't trust or support the US because we support so many bad regimes. I wonder just who they mean? Perhaps they mean all those colonels and generals in Latin America. Except that, ooops, they're all gone. The only dictator left is the very one supported and adored by the left... Perhaps they mean East Asia. There's Vietnam...nope, communist. North Korea...ditto.

Perhaps they mean the Middle East? We are tangled up with some ugly characters there. Of course, we are now trying to change things in the region, get rid of the worst of the bad guys, let people vote for their future... and who is opposed? The Left.

Well my friends, of course they are opposed. Imagine their agony. Not only are there little Czech kids named Ronald, but there will probably be Iraqis named George! Or how about Condaleeza! Hee hee hee...

Despite my visceral dislike of Woodrow Wilson, I suspect I am (you will be appalled), in Walter Russell Mead's classification, a Wilsonian. " Wilsonians believe that the United States has both a moral obligation and an important national interest in spreading American democratic and social values throughout the world, creating a peaceful international community that accepts the rule of law." (Of course Mead's four types have existed as long as the country; Wilson was just a convenient name to use.)

We were talking with Dave Trowbridge the other night, and he advanced a Jacksonian argument; that perhaps we should not invade Iraq because it would not make us more secure. Perhaps less. As usual I didn't think of what I wanted to say until days later. Which is: What difference does that make? We have an opportunity to strike the shackles from the limbs of slaves! Succor the oppressed! About 20 million of them! How can you hesitate? Break down the prison doors! Let Freedom Ring!!

Members of the Realist school of foreign policy are probably even now arranging to have me taken away for psychiatric examination, and perhaps protective custody or shock therapy. No matter. Too late. George W and I see eye-to-eye on this. In fact he winked at me the other day, and I knew it was a happening thing. A done deal. Fait accompli, mes amis...

What would Captain Aubrey say? "A glass of wine with you, sir." ... And now friends, brothers, let us stand, swirl the claret in the glass, and intone the ancient toast: Confusion to the French!

Friday, February 07, 2003

A Peck of Gold

Dust always blowing about the town,
Except when sea-fog laid it down,
And I was one of the children told
Some of the blowing dust was gold.

All the dust the wind blew high
Appeared like gold in the sunset sky,
But I was one of the children told
Some of the dust was really gold.

Such was life in the Golden Gate:
Gold dusted all we drank and ate,
And I was one of the children told,
'We all must eat our peck of gold'.
-- Robert Frost

Though we associate him with New England, Robert Frost was actually born in San Francisco, in 1874.

It is typically hazy or foggy here. But in winter, when the wind blows from the East, we sometimes, as today, have weather of astonishing clarity. When the sun goes down, the golden light changes everything, and then I always think of Frost's poem. ...Such was life in the Golden Gate: Gold dusted all we drank and ate... (It also makes me think that it is worth enduring all the socialist screwballs that infest this burg, in exchange for daily doses of heartstopping beauty.)

Robert Frost once said his life's ambition was to write "a few poems it will be hard to get rid of."
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P. Krugman
#78: Yet another re-hash...

We invite Squad readers to make a comparison of today's Paul Krugman column Is the Maestro a Hack? (02/07/03) with A Credibility Problem (01/28/03). The comparison will demonstrate clearly the point we have been making about his growing tendency to write the same column over and over by merely changing the lead-ins and the concluding paragraphs. "A Credibility Problem" was a Bush-bash contrived to correspond with the State of the Union address. "Is the Maestro a Hack?" is a Bush-bash contrived to coincide with Chairman Greenspan's testimony before the Senate Banking Committee next week. But the "bash" parts are essentially the same in both columns. To us the mystery continues to be why the Times editors put up with this kind of laziness. Or maybe they think Krugman's "message" is just not getting out and it needs to be repeated, and repeated, and repeated……

There are two howlers. In both columns he quotes CBS Market Watch to buttress his points. One point is that Secretary Snow is a lobbyist, schmoozer and master salesman. The other is that Mr. Bush has "lost his marbles." At least we know now where Krugman gets his business news.

Another howler is his claim regarding Greenspan that, "...many people, whatever they say in public, now regard him as a partisan hack." Well, we can tell you that many academic economists, whatever they say in public, have long thought Krugman to be a partisan hack.

[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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Boots on the ground...

Our friend Andrew, the Punning Pundit, has argued with me that the Bush Administration shouldn't be trusted to go to war, because they have shown a "disdain for nation building." We haven't defined our terms, so I'm not sure just what he means by nation building. If it is similar to a leftish "help the poor with welfare and government programs" thing, then it deserves disdain. If he is closer to what I would approve of, which is "helping nations to build themselves," then I suspect he will find the President's heart to be more in the right place than he realizes. He might find this article, on US Army Civil Affairs Units interesting:
THEY WAGE THEIR BATTLES wearing camouflage uniforms or the native shawal kameez and pakul hat, M-4 assault rifles slung over their shoulders, 9mm pistols strapped to their thighs. Some are qualified to jump out of aircraft and infiltrate villages deep in enemy territory. Others are trained to call in air strikes if attacked, or fight pitched battles with native forces until help can arrive. And they've become the go-to force in America's war on terrorism in the rugged hills and fractious villages of Afghanistan.

Who are these troops? Army Green Berets? Navy SEALS? Delta Force operators? Not exactly. Though some units have much of the same training as America's most elite covert forces, the soldiers of the Army's Civil Affairs units are waging the war on terror in a unique way and could forecast a strategic shift in how America will wage the war on terror as it moves to new countries...

Thursday, February 06, 2003

SEWARD'S ICEBOX; or Space is Not a Program...

I really hate hearing that the answer to our space woes is an Expedition to Mars. While I'd love to see men go to Mars, the usual version of the concept is just stuffed with assumptions that I think are wrong, and need to be questioned; and which seem to be cemented into many people's brains. This quote is from an article by Gregory Benford, Beyond the Shuttle. (It's a good article, I'm not fisking it. And yes, Rand Simberg has already said all this far better than I can.)
...The obvious target that has huge scientific possibility is Mars. Did life arise there, and does it persist beneath the bleak surface? No robot remotely within our capability can descend down a thermal vent or drill and find an answer. Only humans are qualified to do the science necessary, on the spot.

A Mars expedition would be the grandest exploit open to the 21st century. It would take about 2.5 years, every day closely monitored by a huge Earthside audience and fraught with peril.

This is what we should be doing. Such an adventure would resonate with a world beset by wars and woes. It has a grandeur appropriate to the advanced nations, who should do it together ...
The first assumption is that we were on the right track when the Apollo Program was heading for the moon. (And will get back on it with an Apollo to Mars) I strongly suspect we were on the right track before Apollo, when we were inching into space with programs like X-15. Planes that could be flown, by pilots, over and over; tinkered-with, modified (even lost, without the whole world going into shock) ...and all this done cheaply, without a lot of red-tape. I think Apollo was the wrong path, and that we are so mesmerized by it we can't even consider other paths.

Assumed: That all humanity, except for a few brave government employees, are supposed to be spectators to space exploration.
Assumed: That we will all be fascinated by a few people flying through space for years. Think unbearable tedium. And Mars itself will not be much more interesting for spectators than the Moon was.
Assumed: Robots can't do it. Wishful thinking; robots have already done some Martian exploring, and the technology is advancing rapidly.
Assumed: The world's "woes and wars" are intractable, so we need Space exploration as a distraction. Phooey. Some people, such as Ronald Reagan and GW Bush, have a different idea. Tackle problems and solve them. And if you think that doesn't 'resonate,' ask around in Eastern Europe. (Here's another example) I wonder if Benford is one of those chaps who feels a bit queasy thinking of cowboy Americans bringing democracy and free enterprise to charming unspoiled Third-World countries like Iraq. Space should be dealt with on its own merits, not as a distraction.
Assumed: The purpose of space is science. Rand has been waxing apoplectic on this one for years. Science is such a holy totem for us, that anything labeled 'science' is not subject to scrutiny.
Assumed: That space is and should be a program. Singular; just one. And done by just one government department. And that department must be NASA, because NASA is the 'space program.'
Assumed: That we know what 'space' is and what it is good for. But we don't. It reminds me of the reaction when Andrew Johnson's Administration proposed to buy Alaska from Russia, for about 2 cents per acre. It was derided as Seward's Icebox. (Seward was Secretary of State.) A worthless desert. We didn't know what Alaska really was. We didn't know until lots of people went there. We are still discovering new things. And if only an occasional team of explorers had been allowed to go to Alaska, we would probably still be calling it Seward's Icebox.
Assumed: That what space is now, is what it will remain. Not so; people are going to live there someday. Perhaps they will build Space Habitats. They will evolve new cultures and ways of living. We can't even guess what, but I suggest they will be far more interesting than bacteria found on Mars...

[I could go on and on ... but perhaps I'll stop here...]

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Orrin Judd writes

...It's always been a bone in our craw the way folks blithely revile Neville Chamberlain, claim to have learned a lesson from the 1930s, and solemnly vow: "Never again". Now, I'm certainly not suggesting that Saddam is Hitler, but it's instructive to watch the world divide and our own population divide over the issue of whether to deal with dangerous regimes in the Islamic world or not...

...Next time you read about the appeasement policy Britain pursued with Nazi Germany (a Germany that few knew even until the end of the war was exterminating Jews) and find yourself thinking, now we'd know better and we'd not tolerate such a thing, pause and think on Hollywood, the NY Times, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, France, Germany, Canada, the UN, the "Upper" House in Australia...and tell me how sure you are that, in the absence of exceptionally determined leadership in America and Britain, we'd do any better than our grandparents generation did.
Alas, too true. Now it's appeasement-city as far as the eye can see. Clothed in phony hypocritical moralism that goes all Ghandi-in-Birkenstocks as soon as a Republican President wants to act, but never said a word or shed a tear or gave a damn for the poor Iraqis when Iraq and Iran fought years of bloody trench warfare. Never blinked an eye when Bill Clinton got us into Bosnia.

More generally, it always bothers me when people sneer down from the lofty present at the scruffy past. As if they would have done better if they had been there. Especially historians who sit in their comfy academic nests and feel superior to various white men of centuries past, because they were involved in the slave trade, or colonized heathen lands, or drove their workers hard. But if Mr Smug Historian had been born in say, Charleston, South Carolina, in 1750, he would have found slavery perfectly natural. Everyone did back then. Even the slaves, though they didn't like it.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

P. Krugman
#77: Stop the Presses! We agree with Krugman!

Stop the Presses! We agree with Krugman. In A Failed Mission (02/04/03) he blasts NASA for all the right reasons. If we have a quibble it's that he does not go far enough in connecting the dots to the more general problem of government agencies doing what could be best left to the private sector.

Basically, NASA is a classic case of "mission creep" by a government bureaucracy aimed at preserving budgets, jobs and careers. Once its initial task was completed (beating the Russians to the moon) it had to scramble to justify its continued existence. So it went into the aerospace trucking business with the space shuttles. Trouble was there was nothing to truck. Next NASA dreamed up construction of a space station so the shuttles would have construction material to haul into space. There are many other examples of mission creep–the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for example. But the space station may be the biggest boondoggle in history.

Even if it is completed, the space station will probably sit mostly empty for years. To our knowledge few, if any, commercial users have signed up. More generally, the science using the shuttle program has been disappointing so far. Few articles have been worthy of publication in refereed science journals and NASA has had to self-publish most ot its findings.

Most damning of all is that in the 40 years of so of NASA's existence, transportation costs have fallen throughout the private sector from rail to air. NASA stands alone experiencing rising costs. Moreover, it has actively sought to squelch privately funded businesses trying to get into the launch business. One such potential competitor, Sea Launch, seems to be getting a foothold.

We hope this failure will trigger a review of the entire NASA situation. It should be shut down and any useful parts of it transferred to other agencies.

[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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The people's party ... and what bandits fear...

Following the lead of Ronald Reagan and maybe, just maybe, George W. Bush, the Republicans are on their way to becoming the people's party, grotesque as that idea may be to reflexive Democrats. And it is the Democrats, once the party of Harry Truman and Scoop Jackson, who have become so enamored of their pet hates and loves, somehow simultaneously coarsening and softening their ideas, that they've set up their own dark little shop, and the old man in back fingering his resentments looks an awful lot like James Carville. -- Paul Greenberg

It is a fashionable assertion in these troubled times that nations must focus on economic, not military strength. Over the long run, it is true, no nation can remain militarily strong while economically exhausted. But I would remind you that defeats on the battlefield occur in the short run.... Power still matters. More precisely, economic power is not a replacement for military power. Lest we forget, Kuwait's economic wealth did not protect it from the predatory Saddam Hussein; quite the opposite. Nor was the Iraqi dictator finally driven from Kuwait because his GNP was smaller than that of the U.S., Britain or Japan. It is not the industrial productivity of democracies that is feared by ... armed bandits ... but the kill rates of their gunships. --Ronald Reagan
(Quotes borrowed from The Federalist Newsletter)

Monday, February 03, 2003

wisdom from O. Judd

...There's really only one intriguing aspect of being a Leftist, one thing that might make it worthwhile: for a man of the Left every day is filled with surprises. After all, since Adam and Eve fell, we've well understood the quality of human nature. Man is, despite his best efforts to the contrary, susceptible to selfishness and sin. This is the fundamental wisdom at the core of Judeo-Christianity and, thereby, of conservatism.

The Left, on the other hand, denies human nature and thinks that Man is infinitely malleable. So, for instance, they apparently expected the Europeans and Arabs to stand tall in the face of Anglo-American determination to depose Saddam Hussein. Instead, of course, as war approaches they're fleeing Saddam's side like rats deserting a sinking ship. And the usual suspects are flabbergasted. This time they thought things would be different...
(found here.)
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This is a little thing, but it made me laugh....

(From an article by Peter W. Schramm) Prime Minister Blair and President Bush were in Prague, in the heart of Europe, for a NATO meeting. They were seated, with a small coffee table between them, and they were answering questions. The camera at first took in both leaders as they were seated, feet squarely planted on the ground. My usually lazy eye thought it noticed that Dubya was wearing cowboy boots. But the camera moved to a headshot so fast I wasn't sure that I had seen it clearly.

Later that night I watched the news again, and I saw the same shot again. He was. The President of the United States was wearing cowboy boots. Dubya was wearing cowboy boots in Europe! ...

Sunday, February 02, 2003

P. Krugman
#76: He's in for a rough next six years

Paul Krugman was on a much-needed vacation last week. However, we noticed a recent article on him by Howard Kurtz (here) and even though it's a puff piece some sections might be of interest to Squad readers. The part that caught our attention concerned Krugman's anger:

"I certainly am angry," he says in a quiet monotone that doesn't quite match his rhetoric. "I just resent being lied to. We've been lied to a lot, and I'm scared. I think we're talking about levels of irresponsibility here that have real consequences."

And why have few other commentators, even those as liberal as Krugman, been so ferocious in denouncing George W. Bush?

"It's a very uncomfortable thing to question the honesty and motives of your leaders." the Princeton academic says. "I'm saying that the men who are controlling our destiny are lying. Not many journalists or many people want to confront them....I probably have a bloody mindedness that a long-time journalist wouldn't.
Now what's wrong with this picture? Are we supposed to be shocked.. shocked.. that politicians sometimes lie? No, apparently that's not it. Krugman thinks it's actually much worse in the case of the Bush administration. Mr. Bush, according to Krugman, "is as slippery and evasive as any politician in memory.

Let's see now. Our collective memory goes back at least as far as Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin affair. This involved U.S. retaliation for a "second" attack in the Gulf of Tonkin on American destroyers by North Vietnam in August 1964. This followed a first attack for which the evidence and motives are somewhat murky. But the "second" attack, allegedly with torpedoes, clearly never happened and Johnson knew it full well. Our retaliation led to the first major escalation of the Vietnam War and to the famous quagmire that followed. How's that for a bald faced lie by a president?

Then there was Watergate! Books will be written for years on this presidential escapade. But it was Richard Nixon who spoke that famous quote caught on tape, "perjury is a tough rap to prove." Maybe so, but many of his closest associates ended up in jail for obstruction of justice.

No reprise of presidential malfeasance would be complete without mentioning the Clinton administration. Clinton himself got off with a quasi plea bargain. As we recall the special prosecutor declined to prosecute him for perjury if he would admit to evasiveness in the Jones proceedings and pay a price. We don't recall the monetary fine but there was definitely a suspension of his law license.

Moreover, the Clinton administration brought the phrase "wiggle-room" to presidential prominence. This endearing term described a policy statement or position that was specific enough to get an immediately desired political effect, but left enough wiggle-room to renege later if events made that convenient. Is that slippery enough?

Against this background, what is Krugman talking about with regard to Bush? "Straight shooting" is probably Bush's highest rated attribute in opinion polls. We think Krugman is like most fanatics and "true believers" who mistake disagreement (with them) for mendacity. Somehow he has gotten it through his head that the U.S. is returning to plutocracy and every policy that involves incentives to the private sector is grounded in the Bush administration's deviousness.

He's in for a rough next six years.

[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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