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Friday, April 25, 2003

Hell on Earth ...

From the Screwtape Letters, written by an experienced demon to a younger one, whom he instructs in the art of temptation, and the destruction of souls. Screwtape has referred to a description of heaven as 'the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence'.
My dear Wormwood . . .

Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could guess—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.

—C. S. Lewis
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America: Before panicking read Steyn on Canadian Health Care...

...Only in Canada does the virus owe its grip on the population to the active co-operation of the medical profession. In Toronto, the system that's supposed to protect us from infection instead infected us. They breached the most basic medical principle: first do no harm. Even after they knew it was SARS, Scarborough Grace kept making things worse.

Dr. Mapa's pathetic attempts at covering his profession's ass are understandable. But most people who've had experience of Canadian health care will recognize the SARS chain as an extreme version of what usually happens. The other day, a guy I know went to a Quebec emergency room, waited for six hours, was told he had a migraine, and sent home. It turned out to be a life-threatening parasite in the brain. I'm sure you've got friends and family with similar stories. A chronically harassed, understaffed, underequipped system reaches reflexively for routine diagnoses, prescriptions. Did Kwan Sui-Chu's doctor, an Asian Canadian herself with many Asian patients, get the Toronto Public Health alert? Is it normal for coroners to mark "heart attack" as cause of death for elderly patients even when they've been prescribed antibiotics for a new condition in the last week? Why, after Scarborough admitted Mr. Pollack, whom they knew to have been infected during his previous stay with them, did they allow Mrs. Pollack to circulate among other patients? Why did Scarborough compound its own carelessness by infecting York Central?

Most of what went wrong could have been discovered by a few social pleasantries: How's the family? Been travelling recently? The so-called "bedside manner" isn't just to cheer you up, it's meant to provide the doctor with information that will assist his diagnosis. In Canadian health care, coiled tight as a spring, there's no room for chit-chat: give her the antibiotics, put it down as a heart attack, stick him on a gurney in the corridor for a couple of days. Maybe you could get service as bad as this in, oh, a Congolese hospital. But in most other Western health care systems the things Ontario failed to do would be taken for granted. There might be a lapse at some point in the chain but not a 100% systemic failure all the way down the line...

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Action and reaction ...

I relished the new VDH column. It made me feel better about a number of things that have seemed worrisome. For instance, there's a lot of concern now about Iranian agents trying to foment a theocracy like Iran's. But Iran is a catastrophic failure, and it's right next door to Iraq. As long as we make sure elections are free, and armed groups don't take over by force, there's no way the Iraqis are going to vote for something like that. (Maybe we should provide paid vacations in Iraq for members of our large Iranian exile community.)

I have a friend who said about the Battle of Iraq, that he didn't see what the urgency was. Why now? Why the hurry? I didn't know quite what to say, because it all seemed so obvious to me that I had never formulated any reasons. Well, look at it this way: We are acting, and the whole world is reacting. Bush & Co have gotten inside the decision-curve of this whole Planet! We're no longer waiting until things are done to us, and then trying to come up with a response. In business terms, we are bringing out lots of cool new products, and the competition is scrambling to cobble-up something—anything—to match them.

It's clear now how much Bush has given up to help Tony Blair. The next product should be unveiled just when the competition is starting to get back on its feet after the last one. Just when they think they are getting some traction, just when they think they can blacken and defile everything we've done—That's when we should have unveiled our hopes for peace in Palestine... Unfortunately to help Blair we brought the issue up before Iraq, and deprived it of impact.

No matter. They've still got to react to our move. You've noticed, I'm sure, those Democrats and Frenchmen and UN ticks sweating under the hot lights trying to mumble their way around the fact that they are not glad the Iraqis are free of Saddam? We can look forward to watching them try to song-and-dance away the same sort of unhappiness with the prospect of a free and democratic Palestine! I don't envy them.

And suppose some terrorist group pulls off another 9/11. It will be perceived as a desperate reaction to all that we have done. There's no way they can look strong and victorious...

I've been totally disgusted by the way lefties have pounced on any mistake or hesitation by our forces, without even a pretense of making "constructive criticism," or a pretense of feeling joy and pride for the liberation of Iraq. But really the situation is like that optical illusion where you squint and the goblet turns into two faces. I should be feeling sorry for those poor pathetic goops. Their poverty is so patent. They are like hungry dogs under a banquet table, snapping at any crumbs that fall. They have no plans, no visions, no dreams, and not the least inclination to do anything positive or creative. All they can do is watch the magician perform, and hope that he drops the ball, or fails to find a rabbit in his hat.

I've got way too many metaphors going here, but I think the business one is the best. I read a great blog-post recently, about how the job of a business manager (ie. Bush) is often to not make decisions, but to keep options open until it's is obvious what the right decision is. (I lost track of that post. If you see it, tell me) That's part of what drives people crazy about Bush. They think a leader should be a Napoleon, choosing the one right option and discarding all others. But has several product-lines, pushed by different groups. Each team gets encouragement, and is urged to do better. The Diplomacy and International Community teams are not doing too well in the marketplace right now. But don't expect them to be laid-off. I think the CEO is telling them he appreciates their efforts and to go back to the drawing-board, and come up with new products...
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P. Krugman
"92: Another formula piece!

Roads Not Taken (04/25/03) is another formula piece by Paul Krugman as he writes yet another column on the cheap. The lead-in this time is Richard Gephardt's medical insurance plan. But after a quick bait-and-switch, we get another rehash blasting tax cuts for the rich with next to nothing being said about the health care plan itself. This must make 20 or 30 columns over the last year an a half that except for the lead-in are essentially identical. Nice work if you can get it! We've often wondered why the Times' editorial people are so tolerant of such laziness. But apparently they like being the "choir" to Krugman's "sermons."

At one point Krugman comes close to discussing an interesting health care issue. He notes that,

"When a family without health insurance suffers illness, the results are often catastrophic–either serious conditions go untreated or the family faces financial ruin."
But he should have noted that this is not just a problem for the uninsured. It's a problem for many of the insured as well, especially under Medicare. For some reason government health insurance programs are structured differently than the way we normally think about insurance. For example, in he case of house insurance, we expect to clean rain gutters, repair leaky roofs and faucets, and make service upgrades out of our own pocket. But if the house burns down, we want it covered by insurance. With government health insurance programs, in many cases, things work just the opposite. All the front end items are covered from runny noses to Celebrex, but when a catastrophic need arises the insurance is capped.

Many experts believe universal government insurance for catastrophic illnesses would be financially viable if recipients would accept a moderate deductible. In other words, if families took care of the runny noses and Celebrex on their own, that would introduce some badly needed price competition back into the health care industry and limit the use of government funds to a catastrophic safety net.

We are not experts ourselves, but this seems like a reasonable alternative to yet another wasteful government program that encourages over-consumption. It would be nice if Krugman weighed-in at least on such an important issue.

[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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Thursday, April 24, 2003

Good Steyn Stuff...

...The wish not to have to update one’s Rolodex burns fiercely in the political breast. Brent Scowcroft, George Bush Sr’s national security adviser, wanted to stick with the Soviet Union even after the Politburo had given up on it. The European Union was committed to the preservation of Yugoslavia even when there had ceased to be a Yugoslavia to preserve. Indeed, as Tim Congdon pointed out last week, Britain’s own membership of the EU now defies any rational justification other than force of habit — which is a mighty potent force. As Polly Toynbee wrote to Peter Cuthbertson’s Conservative Commentary website a couple of months back, ‘War without the UN is unthinkable.’ But it happened anyway. Imagine that.

Clinging to the status quo even as it’s melting and dripping on to your shoes is one reason why the Middle East is now a problem...

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Can't tell the players without a program ...

The New York Observer has a guide to the "neo-conservatives," complete with an annotated map of Manhattan. Here's something funny I didn't know:
...The core of the neoconservative movement couldn’t be more precise. Take the beginning of Mr. Murdoch’s Weekly Standard, for example. It was founded, as so many New York ideas were, in a coffee shop on West 72nd Street—the very place where so many ideas were hatched by the progenitors of the neoconservatives, back when they were lefties in the 1930’s and 1940’s. And in an exquisite irony that would have been appreciated by that generation of ideologues—most of whom experienced their own conversion to the right, which then brought them to power and allowed them to make possible the current neoconservative moment—it had just the right name. Saul Bellow could hardly have done better: The Weekly Standard was spawned in the Utopia Coffee Shop...
(via Betsy Newmark)
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Swiss Cantons ...

Jonah Goldberg has a great column on how the Swiss government model would fit Iraq:
After a brief, almost bloodless war we have an ethnically and religiously divided nation. Mischievous neighbors on all sides can claim common cause with one or more of the major ethnic and religious groups vying for power. The largest ethnic faction has strong cultural ties to a powerful and expansionist neighbor, and is feared by other great powers nearby. Certain groups within the country are taking orders from religious authorities outside their borders in an attempt to impose a state reflecting their theology. Other nationalist radicals and many minorities are determined not to allow the creation of anything other than a secular state, because that's the only way to guarantee their own security.

Iraq 2003? Nope. Switzerland 1847.
He makes one error, saying "But the main and obvious reason why I bring up Switzerland is that I am flummoxed by the fact nobody else has done so in all the talk about rebuilding Iraq." I mentioned it here. I didn't expand on the idea because I assumed it would be obvious to everyone...wrong.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Hose 'em down ... Blow their doors off ...

This great essay, Pseudoscience vs. Snobbery, by John Darbeyshire, has been in my mind recently...
The British poet Philip Larkin, asked why he voted Conservative, replied that he believed the Left to stand for “dishonesty, idleness, and treason.” It seems to me that Larkin omitted one key component of the lefty mind-set: snobbery.

The essence of the modern Left, from Lenin to the Clintons, is a contempt for ordinary people— for their blindness to their own interests, for their inability to see that society needs radically reorganizing, for their reluctance to let themselves be shoveled around like truckloads of concrete in order to accomplish that reorganization, for their degraded tastes in everything from food to mode of transportation, for their selfish determination to hold on to the rewards of their own labor rather than hand over those rewards to people who believe themselves wiser, for their absurd attachment to outmoded prehistoric concepts like "family," "nation," and "liberty"...
And then I've been reading about cries that looters should have been shot to protect the museum.

So it occurs to me that I was wrong. I thought that the instant scream of outrage over the Iraqi National Museum was just a opportunistic grabbing of any club to hit Bush. I believed certain people were being insincere, when they were probably expressing their deepest feelings. For, if you belong to the urban elite, you must be tasteful, hip, and drenched in culture. [And I'm embedded here, gang. I'm reporting live.] To you a museum is not just a building, it's more like a church. Better than a church—cleaner and more exclusive. There is absolutely no better way to validate one's membership in a superior strata then to have the subtle odor of museums permeating your life like incense.

Just going to museums sets you above 90% of the population. And then you can position yourself above another 5% by telling funny stories about the poor goops taking guided tours. (There's a great one in Thomas Hoving's splendid book King of the Confessors about getting trapped in a museum tour and climbing out a window to escape!) No one makes it into the Social Register without being on museum boards. And I would guess that the dwellings of 99% of the "anti-war Left" will be adorned with exhibit catalogs and museum merchandise.

There are a lot of people for whom using violence to free people from oppression and torture and starvation and rape and genocide is distasteful, probably unjustified, and almost certainly against "International Law." But using violence to protect a museum is so obvious a necessity that they don't even notice the contradiction...

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

One reads Natalie Solent ...

for sentences like this:
I daren't, I simply daren't, fully trust anything so utterly confirmatory of all my prejudices.
If I dared I would use daren't, but I durst not.
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One step at a time ...

I recommend this NYT article, about a doctor who is running an Iraqi city:
...In much of Iraq, government right now, where it exists at all, is as improvisational as jazz. And here in Diwaniya, a city of more than 400,000 people 120 miles south of Baghdad, the bandleader for the moment is Dr. Shammary, a genial former medical professor.

The deputy dean of Diwaniya's college of medicine before the war, Dr. Shammary, 55, has been installed by American military officials, with the blessing of local religious and tribal leaders, as the city manager.

It is a job he did not seek, but he has embraced it with saintly patience and good-natured vigor. Each day, working from the Special Forces compound in his former college, Dr. Shammary is a swirl of activity, trying to resolve a flood of crises while directing the slow process of reconstruction...
I feel enormously proud to be, if only vicariously, a part of all this. Ordinary, decent people, both American and Iraqi, are wading in and trying to solve problems and build a better world. And it is unbelievable to me that millions of Americans are opposed to this; that if they read this article, they would not feel thrilled and proud, but would be searching hungrily for any American mistake, which they could then use to slash and tear at our President.
...He has shown a willingness to wade into dangerous situations alongside the Green Berets. During a near riot outside a downtown bank last week, he stood before a shouting mob and urged them to go home. In the crowd were members of other prominent Diwaniya families who had declined to step forward to help run the city.

"They are afraid," Dr. Shammary said. "They don't believe the Americans will finish the job. They say to me: `Muhammad, why do you do this? Why do you risk your life by working with the Americans?' "...
Be of good cheer, Muhammad, the Americans will finish the job. Or rather, help your people to finish the job. The poisonous curs will bark, but this caravan will not stop. Ordinary Americans support the President because they know that the work we are doing now in Iraq and Afghanistan is as much a weapon in the war against the terrorists as any laser-guided bomb. Me, I just sent a little check to the Republican National Committee.
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Not the same $600 million ... it's easy to get confused...

According to this news story, U.S. Finds $600 Million Cash in Baghdad , we are using forklifts to move to latest stash of cash. What strange times we live in...
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P. Krugman
#91: The Fog of Krug

We've heard a lot lately about the fog of war. But the fog of Paul Krugman is much thicker. Just four days ago he wrote a column critical of the Bush administration for not imposing stronger greenhouse emissions controls on U.S. industry–a move that would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Today, in Jobs, Jobs, Jobs (04/22/03) he is critical of the the Bush administration for not producing enough jobs. Krugman's solution is to bail out the state governments that now face budget crises after a late nineties spending spree.

In a nutshell this is the Democrats' dilemma. Important constituencies have major policy differences. Krugman usually picks his way through these mine fields more artfully. It's a bit much to appeal to environmental extremists one week and public employees unions the next with policies that clearly collide. Apparently he hopes the contradictions will be lost in the fog.

[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]

Monday, April 21, 2003

recommendation ...

I just read a splendid book, American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center , by William Langewiesche. it's a fascinating and thoughtful look at the immense project of cleaning up Ground Zero.
...The urgency of the job swept away ordinary responsibilities and the everyday dullness of family life, and it made nonsense of office paperwork and tedious professional routines. Traditional hierarchies broke down too. The problems that had to be solved were largely unprecedented. Action and invention were required on every level, often with no need or possibility of asking permission. As a result, within the vital new culture that grew up at the Trade Center site even the lowliest laborers and firemen were given power. Many of them rose to it, and some of them sank. Among those who gained the greatest inliuence were people without previous rank who discovered balance and ability within themselves, and who in turn were discovered by others.

The unexpected ones were front-line firemen and construction workers, young engineers, and obscure city employees. Their success in the midst of chaos was an odd twist in the story of these monolithic buildings that in the final stretch of the twentieth century had stood so visibly for the totalitarian ideals of planning and control. But the buildings were not buildings anymore, and the place where they fell had become a blank slate for the United States. Among the ruins now, an unscripted experiment in American life had gotten underway...

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Just an idle thought ...

I recently read an article (I'll post the link when I find it again) where one of top guys at Iraq's National Museum said that they had prepared for the threat of bombing, but hadn't even thought about the possibility of looting. SO, are all those people who instantly leaped to criticize the administration for not preparing for looters now going to criticize the museum staff with equal passion? Hmm?

Also: I just read that in 1992 the National and University Library and the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo were burned to the ground by Serb rockets. I'm sure the very same people must have also leaped at the chance to write very similar incandescent denunciations of this very similar destruction of irreplaceable treasures. Do please, kindly readers, send me some links to these, I somehow seem to have missed them ...

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This looks like the real thing ...

Frank Vannerson sent this NYT Story:
WITH THE 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION, south of Baghdad, Iraq, April 20 — A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade has told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began, members of the team said.

They said the scientist led Americans to a supply of material that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons, which he claimed to have buried as evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs.

The scientist also told American weapons experts that Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990's, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda, the military officials said.

The Americans said the scientist told them that President Saddam Hussein's government had destroyed some stockpiles of deadly agents as early as the mid-1990's, transferred others to Syria, and had recently focused its efforts instead on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq's giant weapons plants.

An American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha, which found the scientist, declined to identify him, saying they feared he might be subject to reprisals. But they said that they considered him credible and that the material unearthed over the last three days at sites to which he led them had proved to be precursors for a toxic agent that is banned by chemical weapons treaties...

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Who else finds $650 million in spot-cash money, and yells out "I think you lost something..."

Brian Tieman writes on how "the War Punditry Left demands instant gratification in the Middle East..."
...Well, guess what: it's going to take longer than that. Hearts and minds take time to win. A country doesn't go from mud huts to Intel fab plants overnight. There's a long-term plan, and it's fully in motion now; Afghanistan was really just a mopping-up operation, a knockdown of one big hornet's nest, and Iraq is the first real battlefield of the WoT; it's the first actual toehold we've achieved. There will be more. The whole process will take years . Bush has said that all along, and if anybody didn't believe him, they've only got themselves to blame.

We're committed to the revolution now; the worst thing we could possibly do right now is withdraw, leaving the job half-done, showing the world just how short our attention span is and how we don't follow through on any of our promises. That would be disastrous. But just as much so would be tackling every rogue state all at once, wrenching the Middle East (willing or not) into the modern age in the space of a year or two. We're removing obstacles , remember. We're keeping off the bacteria so the wound can heal. And healing takes time...

...We won't be riding off into any sunsets for a while yet. But that's okay, because we didn't plan to be .
This has got to be the biggest, wildest, riskiest enterprise since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher fixed their glittering eyes on the Soviet Empire and said, "We don't agree that the situation is hopeless..."

Well, yeah, it's a big hairy dangerous project... But that's what America is here for! These things are our duty and privilege. Us and the cousins. If we are supposed to avoid anything risky and messy and possibly impossible we might as well change our name to Nouveau Belgium and see if we can achieve perfection in waffle-making.
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O God that art the sole hope of the world,
The only refuge for unhappy men,
Abiding in the faithfulness of Heaven,
Give me a strong succour in this testing-place,
O King, protect Thy man from utter ruin,
Lest the weak flesh surrender to the tyrant,
Facing innumerable blows alone.
Remember I am dust and wind and shadow,
And life as fleeting as the flower of the grass.
But may the eternal mercy which hath shone from time of old
Rescue Thy servant from the jaws of the lie.
Thou who didst come from on high in the cloak of the flesh,
Strike down the dragon with the two-edged sword
Whereby our mortal flesh can war with the winds
And break down strongholds, with our Captain, God. Amen
--The Venerable Bede

From Scrappleface ...

U.S. Finds Iraq Contractor with No Political Ties

(2003-04-19) -- The U.S. government has awarded a $7.9 Billion contract for the redevelopment of Iraq's oil industry to the only company it could find that had no political connections.

The White House, under pressure from Democrats to avoid awarding bids to major campaign donors, located the contractor in rural Howard, Pennsylvania.

Bob Yoder, of Howard, who runs a small engine repair shop, salvage yard and "groundhog mitigation service", said he would do his best to get Iraq's oil industry "up and humming again." ...
(Via Betsy Newmark)