The Long View 2003-12-26: Boxing Day

The 10,000 Year Explosion

The 10,000 Year Explosion

Contra John here, I think the neo-Darwinian synthesis can predict. It is just that many of its practitioners are too vested in ignoring its implications. Or perhaps just don't know they are talking about. Unfortunately, the latter is depressingly common.

It is also really depressing to reflect that Gaddafi submitted to us back in 2003, and was then foolishly deposed on the advice of Hillary Clinton. I think President Obama deserves some credit for being initially unwilling to pursue that war, if only he had resisted a little harder.

The Nones

The Nones

John was an early noticer of The Nones.  He even guessed the correct magnitude of the movement. In 2003, no one else was really paying attention to the unchurching of America, or how strongly that movement was tied in with the Democratic party, but John did.


Boxing Day

 

Readers in need of a little bile this holiday season may enjoy this list of 50 Reasons Why the Lord of the Rings Sucks. Some of these reasons have merit, sadly: the editing in the theatrical versions of all the films is a little sloppy. Some of the reasons are a little beside the point, such as the observation that the biology of the inhabitants of Middle Earth is contrary to Darwinian theory. (That's not really true, you know: one of the objections to Darwinism is that it does not predict; it merely explains.) There are a few, however, that are easily disposed of by reading the text. For instance:

17 Invisible Implausibility.

Every time Frodo or Bilbo went invisible with the ring they should have also gone BLIND. Your eyes cannot function unless light is reflected off the cornea. If light passes through it (as must be the case with invisibility) sight is no longer possible. Also, rings do not turn you invisible.

Actually, ringbearers do go blind, to some degree. The physical world becomes shadowy to them. Also, the ringbearers do not become completely transparent. They cast shadows in daylight. It is true that it is hard to see how a ring could make you invisible. However, certain experimental camouflage coverings very nearly can. So, we see once again, Science and Scripture are in perfect accord. Almost.

* * *

Speaking of the word from on high, one of the most interesting aspects of the recent agreement by Libya to dismantle it's WMD program was the immediate campaign by the prestige media to diminish the significance of the development. Within, I think, four hours of the announcements in London and Washington on December 19, the "working reporters" on PBS's Washington Week in Review were explaining that the White House was "already trying to spin" the agreement as an outcome of the Iraq War, with the implication that the two events were merely coincidental. Indeed, there was one poor soul from one of the foreign policy foundations (I will not embarrass him by recalling his name) who was explaining the next morning that the Iraq War had actually made the troublesome states of the region "more comfortable," because now they knew the US was tied up in Iraq.

This casuistry was obvious nonsense. Still, nonsense from the mouths of certified experts can still give one pause, even though the Middle Eastern policy establishment has not been right about anything for 15 years. It was therefore a relief to find that one of the few scholars worth trusting about these things, David Pryce-Jones, is willing to state the obvious. Pryce-Jones is the author of The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, which is almost all you need to know about the dysfunction of modern Arab politics. Here is what he has to say (somewhat edited) about the state of the Terror War in general:

Uncle Sam Has Dictators Reeling (December 24)

The knock-on effects of the US response to September 11 have been quickening. Turkey has an Islamist government, but it nonetheless condemned the attack and has subsequently been the target of al-Qa'ida bombs. Pakistan also condemned it. Most astonishingly, here comes Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan President, offering to voluntarily surrender his weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear bomb still in development. Gaddafi seized power in a coup in 1969, and has treated Libya as his fiefdom ever since. His heir apparent is his son Seif, a chip off the old block. Gaddafi has sponsored terrorism internationally, as a result of which sanctions were imposed on Libya. Internally, he has made sure that any opponents, including a popular Shia cleric, disappear without trace.

When the campaign in Iraq opened in March, Gaddafi tellingly admitted he felt afraid. No doubt he would like sanctions to be lifted, but he also wants to make quite sure his weapons of mass destruction will not lead him to end up in a hole in the ground, like his fellow dictator Hussein.

Hemmed in by US forces across their frontiers with Iraq and Afghanistan, the ayatollahs of Iran similarly seem to be deciding to permit international supervision of their nuclear program, generally suspected to have military purposes that threaten not just the Middle East but also Russia and Europe. Syria, Iran's ally, is also under pressure on account of its chemical and biological weapons. A classic Arab dictatorship, Syria has a President, Bashar Assad, who inherited absolute power without the least legitimacy from his father. He, too, sponsors terrorism on a wide scale and eliminates all critics.

George W. Bush's recent move to legislate against Syria is causing panic there. Baghdad and Damascus are historic rivals, and the freedom of the former is already humiliatingly exposing the backwardness of the latter.

It's the same in Cairo, where popular opinion is turning against President Husni Mubarak, who has ruled by emergency decree for more than two decades and hopes to put his son in as his successor. In Saudi Arabia, the huge royal family exercises the most complicated and complete of dictatorships, and even there civil rights groups are springing up and the first tentative protests have hit the streets. Municipal elections are to be held in that country for the first time

 

I quote this upbeat assessment with a lively sense that Uncle Sam himself may be sent reeling in a few days, if some of those security threats we have been hearing about for the last week materialize. Nonetheless, the effect would not be to deflect the Bush Administration from the current strategy. Quite the opposite, I think.

* * *

Howard Dean, whatever else he may represent, certainly represents the new anti-religious minority that has found a home in the Democratic Party. These militant secularists are not a trivial group: I suspect they make up between 15% to 20% of the electorate. Membership in this group is not inconsistent with membership in the old Mainline Protestant denominations. It is also not inconsistent with membership in the Catholic Church, whatever the episcopacy may say.

Altogether, these people are the antithesis of the evangelical conservatives in the Republican camp. After a late start, they are growing faster than their Republican counterparts. However, though both groups are necessary parts of the base for their respective parties, neither is enough to win a national election. That seems to be why Dean has begun to morph into Elmer Gantry for audiences that might be interested. The Boston Globe reports the gruesome details:

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Presidential contender Howard B. Dean, who has said little about religion while campaigning except to emphasize the separation of church and state, described himself in an interview with the Globe as a committed believer in Jesus Christ and said he expects to increasingly include references to Jesus and God in his speeches as he stumps in the South....

''Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised, people who were left behind,'' Dean said. ''He fought against self-righteousness of people who had everything . . . He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it.''

[An appearance at an African-American church in Columbia, S.C., is an example of what voters might hear in the future]:

There, before nearly 100 parishioners, Dean said in a rhythmic tone notably different from his usual stampede through policy points, ''In this house of the Lord, we know that the power rests in God's hands and in Jesus's hands for helping us. But the power also is on this, God's earth -- Remember Jesus said, 'Render unto God those things that are God's but unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's,' '' a reference to Jesus's admonition that the secular and religious remain separate.

Speaking in a "rhythmic tone notably different from his usual"? Remember when Al Gore started to honk, like Jesse Jackson with a cold? This bodes ill.

* * *

On the topic of rendering unto Caesar, some people have been wondering when the Vatican was going to get the memo explaining that the US is far more hospitable to the orthodox Catholic view of things than is the nascent EU. Certainly Fr. Richard John Neuhaus expressed thoughts along these lines in the January 2004 issue of First Things:

European anti-Americanism has come in for a great deal of deserved attention this past year. It must be admitted that also some of the statements issuing from the Vatican in the period leading to regime change in Iraq, and since, smack of vulgar anti-Americanism.

Nonetheless, he assures us, we should not believe everything we read:

That does not include the statements of the Pope. I say that not only because I do not wish to criticize the Pope, which is also true, but because his purpose is so manifestly clear: to avoid war, to be sure, but also to avoid any suggestion that the papacy is the leader of those whom Osama bin Laden calls "the Crusaders"...In fact, not since Columbus set sail has a pope had such a hopeful view of America as does John Paul II...

Fr. Neuhaus fleshes out this hopeful view with sentiments he attributes to Fr. Luigi Giussani of Communion and Liberation, the youth movement that is the apple of the Vatican's eye: "America [is] 'providentially chosen for a time such as this. World predominance and Christian vitality combine to make America the heir to Europe as Europe was once heir to Jerusalem and Athens. The vision is not unlike that proposed in historian Christopher Dawson's schema of 'ages of the Church,' And it is not unlike the view of many evangelical Protestants that America is the base for the relaunching of world evangelization.."

Well, that is a future for which I am on record as expressing sympathy. Still, if it were up to me, I would be very reluctant to push the button that would turn it on. The Islamists may yet do that for us. There's Providence for you.  

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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LinkFest 2016-02-05

Caesar was Blonde

Caesar was Blonde

This session of LinkFest is a week delayed, so I have included a double dose of love.

Why Hilary's EmailGate Matters

John Schindler continues to do yeoman's work on the true cost of Hillary Clinton's negligent handling of classified material on email.

EMA will Assess ANSM review of botched clinical trial in France

There have been a number of scandals related to healthcare in France. This should probably give pause to anyone who holds up France an exemplar of how to do modern healthcare. Understandably, the French government agency charged with pharmaceutical and medical device safety, ANSM, has tightened up its requirements of late.

Columbia

My re-post of John Reilly's reflections on the Columbia disaster in 2003 has been a pretty popular piece. Greg Cochran recently published a scathing accusation against NASA that I cannot fault: they just gave up instead of trying to do something. As John pointed out in his followup piece, any sort of rescue would have been difficult, and there was a lot of ignorant pontification at the time, but Greg knows enough about orbital mechanics and the state of American space technology to know what was actually possible. This is no longer the NASA of Apollo 13.

Staying Classy

Class is real in America, even if we don't want to talk about it. Scott Alexander at SlateStarCodex decided to talk about it after reading an essay about Class in America, and then he noticed that people who have decided to think about class in America tend to have pretty similar insights about it even when coming from different perspectives. I read Paul Fussell's Class, so this isn't surprising to me. It probably helps that my wife really, really likes English period drams, which are all about class.

More than 3 million US women at risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancy

The CDC pushed on an open door regarding alcohol use during pregnancy, since popular opinion in America has long since turned against drinking during while pregnant. Since I assess medical risks for a living, I feel like I am entitled to an opinion on this. Frankly, I think the CDC is nuts, and so are most Americans. The absolute risk of FAS, or FAS spectrum, or whatever the hell you want to call it, is really low. The relative risks are higher [a lot higher] if your ancestors didn't drink much. Also if you drink a lot, but you would be surprised how shitty the relationship is between drinking a lot and giving your baby fetal alcohol syndrome. There are sound evolutionary reasons to think this isn't surprising. Unfortunately, this scientific fact makes heads explode, so we have to make blanket recommendations that probably won't work, in my opinion.

Trump, Sanders, and the Revolt against Decadence

Ross Douthat revives Jacques Barzun's definition of decadence: when a society wills ends for which it cannot will the means. Almost everyone forgets that Caesar was one of the populares, a man of the people. We should expect populism to increase as democracy wanes, and Trump and Sanders are symptoms, not causes of this. On a side note, history records that Julius Caesar was blonde-haired. Remember that before you complain about the actors used to portray either ancient Romans or Greeks, who differed somewhat in phenotype from their descendants.

Walgreens cracks down on Theranos

I find it hard to avoid morose delectation on this subject. I am unusually immune to the reality distortion field that sells in Silicon Valley, so maybe that isn't fair, but I never bought Holmes' line.

The Arab Spring, Five Years On

This was entirely predictable.

 

The Long View 2003-10-20: Real Reasons

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II

This reminder of Pope John Paul II in his declining years makes for an interesting counterpoint to his successor, Benedict XVI. Each faced increasing age and debility; each selected a different way of responding to it. I think each way has its merits. 

The argument John makes here that the Papacy is best thought of as the still center around which the Church turns has something going for it.  I think is true in a long term sense, and perhaps less true in the short term sense. The reason for this is something John himself said in 1998

[...] the papacy has never existed in a vacuum. The mutations it has undergone in the past 2000 years are only partly the result of the logic of its own development. The short explanation for these changes is that the papacy was simply mirroring the political evolution of the societies in which it lived. The pope was once a Roman citizen, then a Byzantine official, then a barbarian chieftain, then a feudal lord, then a Renaissance prince, then a Baroque monarch. Since 1870, he has been the chief executive officer of a remarkably efficient international bureaucracy (well, efficient compared to the UN). What you think the papacy will become next therefore depends on your ideas about the future development of the nature of government and of political theory.

The reigning Pope currently is an executive, even if he lacks a nuclear football. This seems to be the reason why Benedict chose resignation: to allow a more vigorous man to try to fix the many messes in the Vatican. Whether Pope Francis is successful at reigning in the power and influence of the curia is a matter yet to be settled.

As for the Iraq War, John mentions the five-year seven-country plan that widely circulated at the time. General Wesley Clark mentioned that plan too, in an interview in 2007.

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”

By now, we have managed to make a mess of Syria and Libya. We negotiated a deal with Iran, although Clark was right about the kind of influence Iran was and is wielding in Iraq. Sudan and Somalia are still hellholes. Lebanon has quieted down some. I suppose I should be grateful our reach exceeded our grasp here?


Real Reasons

John Paul II was clearly not well at yesterday's beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He confined himself to reading the brief Latin formula declaring her blessed; he delivered none of his own homily. He slumped in his seat in such a way that he seemed to disappear into his ceremonial robes. Seeing his obvious debility, many people are asking why the pope continues to appear regularly in public. For that matter, they ask, why does he not just abdicate? John Paul II knows his own reasons, but I would suggest two points.

The first is that, by showing himself in public, he demonstrates to a increasingly rumor-prone world that he is still alive. Moreover, he has enough good days to prove that he has his wits about him. Still, it is reasonably clear that his staff must be managing almost everything by now. Why does he stay in office? I suspect he does it to demonstrate that the papacy is not just an executive. The pope is not followed around by a Swiss Guard with a nuclear football; he does not have to be alert and fully briefed at every moment. Popes reign. They rule only incidentally.

Speaking of Mother Teresa, I recently heard a homily by a priest who knew her slightly. In his presence, he said, another priest patted her on her head and said, "Mother, you are getting shorter every year!" To that she is said to have replied, "I become smaller, Father, so that I can better fit into the heart of Jesus."

Given a straight-line like that, someone else might have said, "I'm not getting smaller, Father. I just look smaller to you because every time I see you you are more full of it." She said no such thing, however. That's why she is up for sainthood.

* * *

An opinion piece appeared in yesterday's New York Times by the president of Iraq's Governing Council, Ilad Alawi. (The first name is "Ilad" online, but "Iyad" in the print edition.) The article, entitled America Must Let Iraq Rebuild Itself, makes a reasonable argument that Iraq's regular army and pre-war police should be recalled to duty. The officer corps of both must be vetted for Baathist sympathies and human rights violations, of course, but the rank-and-file can be counted on to devote their attention to keeping the peace. Such a move would relieve Coalition troops of most ground-level security duties, and would greatly enhance the legitimacy of the coming Iraqi government in the Arab world.

The fact that this proposal has appeared at all is perhaps more important than its specifics. When the Governing Council was organized, it was said that no one would take it seriously unless it publicly opposed the US occupation authority on some major issues. It has been doing that frequently, so much so that one wonders whether some of the disputes may have been exaggerated simply to demonstrate the Council's independence. This proposal to revive the army and police is just the biggest initiative to come from the Council so far.

And what of the merits? The Coalition dissolved the army and police for the excellent reason that it would not have been able to trust them. Moreover, institutions like the Iraqi army often have a debilitating effect on the political life of developing countries. They are not really militaries, but a combination of police force and political party. Such armies become the single largest interest group. They offer a measure of stability, but often at the expense of occupying political space that ought to be filled by civilian associations. Certainly the Iraqi Governing Council would have been a negligible institution, if the Coalition had kept the army in being and worked through a committee of anti-Baathist generals.

These things are a matter of degree, however. The plan had always been to recruit police and military officers from the institutions of the old regime. The question remains how much use can safely be made of the old institutions themselves. One suspects that the Governing Council will eventually get at least part of its wish, now that there is a core of personnel committed to the new order of things.

* * *

On a different but not wholly unconnected topic, we should be giving some thought to the likelihood that laser weapons could soon make the recent revolution in military affairs obsolete. Writing in The Oakland Tribune, Ian Hoffman points out in an article entitled Warfare at the speed of light that even today's superduper smart weapons are still bound by the limits of Newtonian ballistics. Not so the laser weapons now under development, which have passed beyond gas lasers to chemical combustion and now to solid state. Once deployed and married with computer guidance, they could clear the skies of everything from ballistic missiles to mortar shells. Hitting a bullet with a bullet is problematical. Hitting a bullet with a beam of light is not.

There are problems, of course. Lasers are fair-weather weapons. The chemical lasers closest to deployment, as air-to-air canon, sound a little like the steam-driven computers in The Difference Engine. Nonetheless, it is likely that they will turn warfare into something new by midcentury. Note that the evolution continues away from unconscionable mass destruction, and toward precision and ubiquity.

* * *

Meanwhile, back at the current war, readers might want to compare two recent assessments of the next step.

I can't remember the last time I actually touched a copy of the The Village Voice. However, when I saw that its current issue had a picture of President Bush as a crusader on its cover, and not as a moron or a cowboy, I took the trouble to view the cover-story online. The piece is called Bush's War Plan Is Scarier Than He's Saying: The Widening Crusade, by Sydney H. Schanberg. He tells us in the first paragraph:

If some wishful Americans are still hoping President Bush will acknowledge that his imperial foreign policy has stumbled in Iraq and needs fixing or reining in, they should put aside those reveries. He's going all the way-and taking us with him.

Part of the reason I found this interesting was because it contrasted so strongly with a the opening paragraph of a recent analysis by Dr. George Friedman of Stratfor. His article, entitled "The Next Phase of the War," begins thus:

Washington is reformulating its war plans in Iraq -- something critics of the Bush administration might view as a sign of weakness. The real weakness lies not in that the United States is shifting strategies, but rather that it has taken so long to make adjustments. However, even with a new strategy, it is unclear whether the United States will succeed.

The important point is that these two views of what is going on are not essentially different. Friedman says that the Iraq War had two objectives:

1. Seizing the most strategic country in the region as a base of operations from which to mount follow-on operations against countries that collaborate or permit collaboration with al Qaeda.
2. Transforming the psychological perception of the United States in the Islamic world from a hated and impotent power to a hated but feared power.

Schanberg fleshes this out with the increasingly famous five-year, seven-nation to-do list that has supposedly been circulating in the Pentagon since 911, but his article makes the same point: It's All Part of a Big Plan. The difference is that he finds this shocking:

A five-year military campaign. Seven countries. How far has the White House taken this plan? And how long can the president keep the nation in the dark, emerging from his White House cocoon only to speak to us in slogans and the sterile language of pep rallies?

May I in turn express my surprise that people continue to say they have been surprised by the Bush Administration? The president has repeatedly said pretty much what he was going to do: just look at his State of the Union speech in 2002. For rhetorical purposes, the president's opponents have named him Liar. In fact, few presidents have been clearer about what they intend to do and why they intend to do it.

Please pay attention. 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-05-22: What this Country Needs....

John said in 2002 that no century in modern times had produced less intellectual history than the twentieth. Another way of putting it might be that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The quoted WNYC story in this post from 2003 is by now clearly right. Our attempt to build representative democracy in Iraq could have been foreseen to turn out exactly the way it did. Brian Lehrer, do you ever look back and think to yourself, "I told you so"?

Unfortunately, part of the dynamic behind why things keep going around in circles in recent history is that no one is on top of the pile for long. Learning from the mistakes of your political enemies may be even harder than learning from your own mistakes. I wonder whether Lehrer questioned the value of democracy in Libya the same way after the fall of Qaddafi, because the same result could have been predicted in Libya, or really anywhere affected by the Arab Spring.

Further evidence that nothing really changes except who is on top is provided by the second section of John's post. In 2003, anti-war liberals were heckled on college campuses. Today, anti-gay marriage conservatives are heckled on college campuses. The behavior is the same, only the approved targets have changed.

Finally, we might note that suit has again been filed to force the Selective Service to accept women. One thing is different now: with a lack of real combat operations for ground troops, no one has to face the cost of putting women in combat roles. This kind of thing went nowhere in 2003. In 2015, it is plausible that it will succeed, precisely because no one will ever see a 19-year old girl in a body bag or a wheelchair now.

What This Country Needs...
Last week, WNYC's Brian Lehrer made what, in effect, was a plea for a military dictatorship in the United States. Here are his key points:
The President's whole approach to democracy in Iraq, is in fact, the opposite of his approach to democracy at home. He is carefully building a transitional Iraqi government based on the idea that all major groups need to have some real decision-making power. The term he keeps using is a representative government - not elected or even democratic government, but a representative one. And he is right to do so. It's a worthy goal....So what about for us? This President squeaked into office in what was essentially a tie vote...[I]magine if he were building democracy in Iraq on the basis of 51 percent winner-take-all majority rule. Iraq would be a Shiite State tomorrow. Too bad on the Kurds, the Sunnis and other minorities...[M]aybe, Mr. President, your foreign policy would work as well at home. While Iraqis get to know you as the Affirmative Action President, maybe Americans whose groups have faced the biggest disadvantages need more opportunities, just like in Iraq. And maybe a more representative form of decision-making would improve OUR democracy too.
That is as clear a statement of post-democratic liberalism as you could hope to find. It puts "representation" before everything else, even at the cost of turning the organs of representative government into mere symbol. Under such a system, the real power necessarily resides with some version of Tommy Franks, who can correct the errors of unenlightened electorates. People who favor "guided democracy" generally assume that they will be Tommy Franks when the time comes, or at least they will be able to choose him. They are almost always wrong about that assumption.
* * *
Speaking of choosing the wrong patsy, no doubt many readers saw the four-hour drama that aired on CBS this week: Hitler: The Rise of Evil. Every generation gets its own Hitler, just as each gets its own Richard III. For myself, I kept wondering why Johnny Depp suddenly wanted to take over Germany. Still, the series was fine. Events had to be slurred and compressed to make a manageable story, particularly for the last year of elections and ministerial crises before Hitler became chancellor. (Hindenburg actually offered Hitler the chance to form a government twice, but Hitler refused to even try to assemble a parliamentary majority: he wanted a presidential appointment.) There are just three points about the program that I would like to highlight:
First, Hitler did not achieve electoral success by emphasizing antisemitism. That was important for keeping part of his base together. When he had the chance to win elections, however, he talked about economics and law-and-order.
Second, the Nazis probably did not burn down the Reichstag. They really didn't need to: they controlled the police and the media, and President Hindenburg was obviously not going to live forever.
Finally, the show had trouble attracting advertisers, at least for the New York City market. It's a bad sign when the commercials for prime time on a major broadcast network are for individual car dealerships.
* * *
Remember back when people first started to complain about political correctness? The problem came to public notice 15 or 20 years ago, when it became difficult for a conservative to speak in any academic forum without being heckled to silence. The fact that anti-war liberals are now having the same problem does not mean the world has become a better place. Still, it's happening. Consider the case of New York Times reporter, Chris Hedges, whose antiwar commencement address at Rockford College was shouted down with some enthusiasm.
I'd like to be sympathetic; certainly I hate to be heckled. What lends these events a certain rough justice, however, is the visible outrage of liberal media pundits. They live in ideological hothouses; they often don't know that there are opinions other than their own. They genuinely equate being contradicted with being censored.
Probably the Dixie Chicks don't qualify as pundits, but Bob Herbert of The New York Times does. His remarks in today's column is chiefly about Halliburton's contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, but he does say this in passing:
"The Dixie Chicks were excoriated for simply exercising their constitutional right to speak out. With an ugly backlash and plans for a boycott growing, the group issued a humiliating public apology for 'disrespectful' anti-Bush remarks made by its lead singer, Natalie Maines."
This is confused. The Dixie Chicks were not excoriated for exercising a right. They were excoriated because of the content of what their lead singer said. Government generally can't do that, but private persons can. In fact, the reason government regulates speech only procedurally is precisely to facilitate public reaction to its content. Of course people who say provocative things in public are praised and blamed. That's not "ugly." It's the First Amendment.
* * *
On the subject of confusion, I see that recent comments on homosexuality by Cardinal Arinze caused a walkout by some faculty at Georgetown University. His eminence was listing dangers to family life today, among which he mentioned homosexuality, which he says mocks it. The theologians in particular were shocked.
The interesting thing about this incident was not that a Catholic cardinal was criticized for stating a commonplace of Catholic doctrine at a Jesuit university. The interesting thing was that he was also stating what I gather is a commonplace of Queer Theory. Ideologies of sexual liberation begin with the premise that traditional family roles, and indeed traditional ideas about gender, are oppressive constructs. They must be deconstructed and laughed out of existence, or at least greatly modified. It's a little disingenuous to suggest that the cardinal was being paranoid.
* * *
Finally, this brings us to confusion coupled with depraved indifference to human life. Some under-employed civil liberties groups are bringing suit against the Selective Service system. The argument is that requiring only young men to register is sex discrimination.
Have these people given any thought to what would happen if they win? We are not talking about the promotion of women lawyers at major law firms. If they win, the ultimate result will be bodybags with dead 19-year-old girls in them.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-03-15: The Great White Whale

The most interesting part of this post is John's characterization of statehood in the early twenty-first century:

Harris argues that the current (classical) Liberal order of sovereign states is essentially a subsidy system. The privileges of sovereignty were designed for polities that were economically viable, that could police their interiors, and that could defend themselves. Today, however, these privileges are distributed without distinction to entities that are "states" only in an honorific sense. The result is fantasy: cabals of tribal leaders who plot like mountain bandits under the protection of sovereign immunity.

Unfortunately, many of the states with which we have become involved in during the past 15 years are precisely this: arbitrary constructs that are granted statehood from the outside.

The Great White Whale
Regular readers of The New York Times will know that the the illegitimacy of the Bush Administration has been columnist Paul Krugman's chief preoccupation since the Administration took office. Krugman has never been very particular about the content of his polemic against Bush. He went through a long period in which he argued that the Administration was a tool of the Enron corporation, until enough people pointed out that the Clinton Administration, and Krugman himself, had as much to do with Enron as Bush & Company did. Sometimes the bee in his bonnet buzzes to him about the president's Evangelical-Christian support, sometimes about the Administration's proposed tax cuts (where Krugman actually has a case). His most recent column, George W. Queeg, gives the impression that something in his head has finally snapped.
In a classic instance of psychological projection, he begins by asking:
"Aboard the U.S.S. Caine, it was the business with the strawberries that finally convinced the doubters that something was amiss with the captain. Is foreign policy George W. Bush's quart of strawberries?"
Well, no, but it is pretty clear that George W. Bush has become Krugman's White Whale. Krugman's obsession is impervious to experience. He is still asking why the president is not focusing on North Korea. A Baathist Iraq freed from sanctions, which would quickly follow if the Administration backs down now, would be North Korea's best nuclear customer. Additionally, the behavior of the US in the Mideast now will determine how seriously North Korea will regard US pressure later this year. Iraq and North Korea are the same crisis.
I gather that this "Queeg" business is going to be a key anti-Bush talking point. One of the talking heads on last night's Washington Week already gave a garbled account of the thesis. Krugman asserts: "There's a long list of pundits who previously supported Bush's policy on Iraq but have publicly changed their minds." He does not name these people. From other sources, though, I gather that the term is "Hawks Who Baulked." One might wonder what the point of these polemics at this point may be, but it's not simply malice. People like Krugman have moved on from trying to prevent the removal of Saddam's government. Now they are moving their attention to sabotaging the larger strategy of which the Iraq campaign is a part.
* * *
Moving from the ridiculous, let us consider the sublime, or at any rate some thing worth listening to. Thanks to Ian McCreath for bringing this essay to my attention: Our World Historical Gamble, by Lee Harris of Tech Central Station.
Coming from me, this is not a criticism, but the piece does wax a bit apocalyptic:
"The war with Iraq will constitute one of those momentous turning points of history in which one nation under the guidance of a strong-willed, self-confident leader undertakes to alter the fundamental state of the world. It is, to use the language of Hegel, an event that is world-historical in its significance and scope. And it will be world-historical, no matter what the outcome may be."
That could well be true, but even if it isn't, there is something to be said for any argument that links George W. Bush to Hegel.
Harris argues that the current (classical) Liberal order of sovereign states is essentially a subsidy system. The privileges of sovereignty were designed for polities that were economically viable, that could police their interiors, and that could defend themselves. Today, however, these privileges are distributed without distinction to entities that are "states" only in an honorific sense. The result is fantasy: cabals of tribal leaders who plot like mountain bandits under the protection of sovereign immunity.
The implication is that this subsidy of morbid fantasy has become too costly, in the sense of creating intolerable security risks. It will be replaced by something Harris calls "neo-sovereignty." He has not quite worked out what this will be, but then neither has anyone else.
* * *
When things settle down a bit, I will try to include more items about the paranormal and generally strange. In the meantime, though, you can satisfy your surrealism needs with this interview with Hans Blix. The chief UN weapons inspector thinks things like this:
"To me the question of the environment is more ominous than that of peace and war. We will have regional conflicts and use of force, but world conflicts I do not believe will happen any longer. But the environment, that is a creeping danger. I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict."
A man's anxieties are his privilege, of course. Still, you can't help but wonder: why is he in his current line of work?
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-11-21: Mr. Magoo Goes to Baghdad

Since I have talked a lot about John's mistakes regarding the Iraq war, let's turn to current events. Iran's nuclear program, and the negotiations thereof are much in the news lately. I mostly find this tiresome, since I don't care if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, and I also don't think they are crazy enough to try something stupid with Israel.

I think the first because the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century proved that any country with a nuclear weapon could do pretty much as it pleased as long as the dreaded weapon wasn't used. Affirmative cases: Russia annexed Crimea, North Korea continued being North Korea, Israel continued being a right wing nationalist Jewish ethnostate, and the US continued to find shitty little countries and throw them up against a wall so the others know we mean business. Negative examples: all of the shitty little countries the US threw up against a wall, plus whomever pissed off the British, French, or Russians. Pakistan, India, and China also have nukes, but Pakistan is a basket case, and India and China are busy trying to get rich.

As for the second, that is kind of a gestalt judgment. People who know Islamic eschatology, like Timothy Furnish, like to point out that Iran is officially committed to Twelver Shia eschatology. Meaning they believe the al-Mahdi, the guided one, will return to earth from his hidden refuge to usher in a period of peace and prosperity. However, what seems to be missing here is the willingness to gamble everything on a potential Mahdi who may not pan out, which has characterized the past Mahdist movements that Furnish documented in his book on the subject. I just don't think the current rulers of Iran are that kind of sucker. They seem more like cynical political survivors to me, but I am admittedly not an expert here. It is just that if they really wanted to go all-in on Mahdism, they already would have.

Getting a nuclear weapon is a long game. You have to put in a lot of money and effort to pull it off. Then you need to get enough of them to be a credible threat. Few true millennial fanatics are capable of playing the long game; by definition, they don't think there is a long game.

John also rightly pointed out that international agencies like the IAEA don't really have power. They depend upon the goodwill of the treaty nations to function.

This is not to say that Mr. Blix is crooked, or even that he is incompetent. He and the international arms-control bureaucracy do what they do very well. What we have to keep in mind is that what they do not do is control the spread of arms. Rather, they are agents of "cooperation" among the participants to arms-control treaties. This is more than enough, 90% of the time. States sign these treaties because they really have no intention of acquiring the weapons in question. The treaties have the effect of taking the issue off the table by providing proxy inspections of neighboring countries. If it amuses their neighbors to squirrel away a few cannisters of poison gas, the violation is rarely important. The inspections themselves are almost ceremonial.

I suspect Iran doesn't want a nuclear weapon, but I would put that at about 60-70% probability. There are some pretty powerful incentives to want one, and many of them are provided by us.

John also made a prediction here that the expansion of NATO was part of the debellicization of Europe.

Consider NATO, for instance. Even as I write, President Bush is in Prague at a summit meeting of the leaders of NATO countries, who are about to welcome another seven Eastern European states into their midst. NATO was formed as an anti-Soviet alliance; it has now rolled up to the very border of the Russian Federation. This is deeply offensive to Russian pride, but the Russians clearly understand that NATO is not a strategic threat.
The new additions are not the expansion of a military alliance. Rather, they are part of the process of the "debellicization" of Europe. NATO has become an excuse not to have a serious military. NATO's policy now is that the smaller members of the alliance should not even try to maintain full military establishments, however small. Rather, they should each specialize in some "niche" beneficial to all of NATO; the Czechs will do chemical decontamination if the occasion arises, for instance, and the Spaniards will do minesweeping. This sounds like an admirably rational way to allocate resources. Still, one might reasonably fear that, should it be mobilized, such a mosaic military would discover that everything from its flashlight batteries to its office folders are incompatible.
Without becoming too speculative, I might suggest that we are almost in a position to appreciate the difference between a national empire of the colonial period and an empire of the sort that comparative historians call "universal states." The British Empire, or for that matter Alexander's, were defined by their substance. In contrast, the Roman Empire was defined by its absences. It was a Zen kind of thing, founded less on conquest than on apathy. That apathy is back with us today, but no one cares.

I think this may be half right. Russia clearly thinks that NATO expansion in the Baltic states, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus, is a strategic threat. The mess in Ukraine is part of the Russian counter-strategy to this. As far as Western and Central Europe is concerned, I think John was on the right track. The West seems to be trundling towards Empire in a rather thoughtless way. A joint-NATO task force involving more than token presence from NATO members other than the US would probably make that clear.

Austrian Cultural Forum in NYC

Austrian Cultural Forum in NYC

The Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City is a strange one. I actually find it less offensive than some other modernist buildings. My personal favorite juxtaposition is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles [the Taj Mahony] across the 101 Freeway from the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts. As Steve Sailer memorably said, it looks like a giant Japanese robot is going to burn down the cathedral with a flamethrower.

Mr. Magoo Goes to Baghdad


Why did I immediately think of Mr. Magoo when I heard that Hans Blix had arrived in Baghdad to begin the leisurely process of looking for weapons of mass destruction? You remember Mr. Magoo, surely. He was a cartoon character from the UPA studios. Best known in the 1950s, he was an old gentleman who mumbled cheerfully to himself as he walked through adventures that his extreme nearsightedness hid from him. I soon found what must have been half of the connection: it seems that Mr. Magoo featured in a film called 1001 Arabian Nights, which I must have seen as a child, and which was no doubt set in Baghdad.

The other half of the connection is that Mr. Blix does seem to have more than his share of Magoo-like qualities. He, too, is an amiable old gentleman whom it is easy to imagine stumbling into a doorpost and saying: "I beg your pardon, madam!" This is the man who gave Iraq in the late 1980s, and North Korea in the early 1990s, a clean bill of health with regard to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. In the latter case, he even tried to get the inspector who blew the whistle fired. Like Mr. Magoo. he is quite capable of walking through a minefield and declaring, when he reaches the other side, that he had never seen a finer rose garden.

This is not to say that Mr. Blix is crooked, or even that he is incompetent. He and the international arms-control bureaucracy do what they do very well. What we have to keep in mind is that what they do not do is control the spread of arms. Rather, they are agents of "cooperation" among the participants to arms-control treaties. This is more than enough, 90% of the time. States sign these treaties because they really have no intention of acquiring the weapons in question. The treaties have the effect of taking the issue off the table by providing proxy inspections of neighboring countries. If it amuses their neighbors to squirrel away a few cannisters of poison gas, the violation is rarely important. The inspections themselves are almost ceremonial.

The problems arise when a country signs a non-proliferation agreement in order to cover up a weapons program. In that case, the inspection regime will not only fail to uncover the program, it will actually serve to cover it up.


* * *

The true function of the arms inspection agencies is only a special case of something that is becoming generally true of the the chief institutions of the international system. These entities often dispose of surprisingly little power. They are not idle exercises, however, because they do serve by occupying spaces where power would otherwise be.

Consider NATO, for instance. Even as I write, President Bush is in Prague at a summit meeting of the leaders of NATO countries, who are about to welcome another seven Eastern European states into their midst. NATO was formed as an anti-Soviet alliance; it has now rolled up to the very border of the Russian Federation. This is deeply offensive to Russian pride, but the Russians clearly understand that NATO is not a strategic threat.

The new additions are not the expansion of a military alliance. Rather, they are part of the process of the "debellicization" of Europe. NATO has become an excuse not to have a serious military. NATO's policy now is that the smaller members of the alliance should not even try to maintain full military establishments, however small. Rather, they should each specialize in some "niche" beneficial to all of NATO; the Czechs will do chemical decontamination if the occasion arises, for instance, and the Spaniards will do minesweeping. This sounds like an admirably rational way to allocate resources. Still, one might reasonably fear that, should it be mobilized, such a mosaic military would discover that everything from its flashlight batteries to its office folders are incompatible.

Without becoming too speculative, I might suggest that we are almost in a position to appreciate the difference between a national empire of the colonial period and an empire of the sort that comparative historians call "universal states." The British Empire, or for that matter Alexander's, were defined by their substance. In contrast, the Roman Empire was defined by its absences. It was a Zen kind of thing, founded less on conquest than on apathy. That apathy is back with us today, but no one cares.


* * *

Finally, speaking of purblindness and spiritual exhaustion, I came across this outraged reaction by William Mitchell of MIT's architecture school to Princeton's plan to build its new dormitories in the Gothic style. According to the New York Times (November 20, 2002):


"Dean Mitchell described Princeton's choice as 'roughly the equivalent of requiring all e-mail to be written in Shakespearean English' and said it signals 'an astonishing lack of interest in architecture's capacity to respond innovatively and critically to the conditions of our own time and place.'"

Actually, it is the dean's remarks that are anachronistic. The International and Postmodern Styles that MIT favors are the establishment, and have been so for two generations. Using Gothic today critiques the fact that architects working in those 20th century styles too often did uniquely bad work.


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The Long View 2002-09-12: Destabilizing Deterrence

There is immense value to a country in possessing nuclear weapons, at least in part because of the mythos that has grown up around them. Iraq didn't really have the ability to make nuclear weapons, but Saddam would be toasting his good health today if they did. [there are those who disagree] North Korea would still exist, since they managed to annoy their neighbors for a good long while without nuclear weapons, but everyone would take them far less seriously. Qaddafi thought that making nice with the US after the Second Gulf War would work, and you can see how well that worked for him.

However, for all that, there are a number of countries that plausibly could have developed nuclear weapons, and have chosen not to. Why not is a more interesting question than why.

Destabilizing Deterrence

 

Just this morning, the New York Times ran an Op Ed piece that illustrates the decay into which the concept of strategic deterrence has fallen. In "The Wisdom of Imagining the Worst-Case Scenario," Milton Viorst gives us some imaginary horribles to chew over in connection with a US invasion of Iraq. He suggests that by "moving into Saudi Arabia, Saddam Hussein would shift the battlefield far to the south, imposing on American troops a much heavier burden than just the capture of Baghdad." Such a move would put the operation of the Saudi oil fields at risk, and so the whole world's economy.

It's actually a little hard to imagine how Iraqi mainforce units could invade anything under the cover of US air supremacy, but it is not out of the question that Iraqi missiles could do some damage to the oil fields. However, these things would be only the beginning of evils. Suppose the Iraqis fire some bio-chemical weapons at Tel Aviv, and the Israelis nuke Baghdad? In that case:

 

"[Pakistan's President] Pervez Musharraf....has joined America's war on terrorism but would be unlikely to survive politically should there be a nuclear attack by an American ally on Iraq's Muslims. Islamists, overthrowing him, would take control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal; lacking the ability to launch missiles that would reach Israel, they would turn to India, their proximate enemy. A nuclear attack would set off global chaos."

As a matter of fact, a Pakistani nuclear strike would not "set off global chaos," though it would result in the end of the Pakistani state in short order. What would set off chaos would be if an Islamist government in Pakistan started handing out small nuclear devices as party favors to terrorists and criminal groups, something that elements of the Pakistani security services have hinted they might do. This would actually be far more like the situation we would face, should Iraq and Iran ever acquire the bomb.

Doubtless the sovereign suppliers of the technology of mass destruction could always maintain plausible deniability. They could feed the world's terrorist networks and black arms-markets with components, expertise, and occasionally sanctuary. Such countries rarely do anything blatant enough to constitute a traditional causus belli. Up until now, of course, it has been possible to strike at states that do such things, or to threaten them with retaliation: measures such as the air strikes on Libya by the Reagan Administration did much to transform the open support for terrorism displayed by some governments in the 1970s into the much more tactful attitude of the past 20 years or so. This is what is about to change.

A single, deliverable nuclear weapon grants a state a large measure of invulnerability. Even if Iraq were openly underwriting Al Qaeda's campaign against the United States, the US could not plausibly threaten to remove the government in Baghdad, if that meant that Tel Aviv, or Rome, or Paris, would go up in cinders as soon as the Rangers took the last Iraqi presidential bunker. Conventional aggression by such states could never be answered by conventional responses that posed an existential threat to their regimes. This is, in fact, much the situation that now confronts the US with regard to North Korea, a nuclear-armed failed-state that survives by exacting blackmail from the US and from its neighbors.

During the Cold War, deterrence served not just to prevent a nuclear exchange, but also to inhibit the direct use of conventional force by the US and the USSR. In the current era, deterrence has nearly the opposite effect; it still reduces the chance that weapons of mass destruction will be used, but it facilitates the use of force against the majority of the world's states that have no hope of acquiring an effective deterrent.

The dismaying thing about the Cold War was that, while it was on, there seemed to be no reason why it should not continue forever. That is not the case with the Terror War. The number of irresponsible states that seek to acquire the immunity afforded by weapons of mass destruction is not large. The arms networks they support are also limited in geography and resources. A consistent policy of preemption could end the danger worldwide in much less than a generation. Forcible regime change should be necessary in just a few cases; once it is clear the policy will be carried out consistently, no state will openly run the risk of falling within its ambit.

Then we will have deterrence we can live with.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

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