Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

That which must not be said - and why it must be

Dr. James Watson at 79 should be used to controversy by now. Evidently he is known as somewhat of a loose cannon at scientific conferences for coming up with off-the-wall statements on all kinds of subjects, not always related to his area of competence.

However, now he's gone and done it. While on a tour to promote his new book, he not only said something on a taboo subject, but one that is disturbingly close to his area of expertise. So of course, he has to be shouted down.

The basic story is: he told a newspaper interviewer that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospects of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really." He further said that while there is a natural desire to believe all people are equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

As a result, his tour was terminated and he was dismissed from his 40-year tenure as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. He is also being denounced as a racist in the US and Britain.

He has issued an apology but it doesn't look like it's going to do him much good. It may well be that for the rest of his life, his reputation will be overshadowed by this one incident.

Now note something please, he is everywhere being condemned for his statements, nowhere are they being answered.

"Why is it necessary to answer racist hate speech?" I can hear.

Fair question, and I'll offer an answer of my own. First though, let me direct your attention to Dr. Thomas Sowell, who I have written about here http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2007/04/review-conflict-of-visions-by-thomas.html

Dr. Sowell is African-American, and that's probably the first thing you'd notice about him if you met him. Superficial perhaps, but that's just the way it is. What you'd notice after reading his books and articles or speaking with him at length, is that he's a genius polymath.

Dr. Sowell has dealt with the question of racial differences in IQ scores in a highly controversial manner. What he did was to strip the question of the emotional freight it carries and treat it as a straightforward hypothesis.

His examination of the question is fascinating and goes into factors of geography, ecology, history and culture. One of the overlooked facts he found was, that while gaps in average IQ scores have persisted, overall scores are rising for every group. The "average" score (100 on the Stanford-Binet) has had to be re-normed every generation, or we'd all be living in Lake Woebegone, where "all children are above average."

I urge you to look up Dr. Sowell's writings, but bottom line is: a number of factors, taken individually or in combination, are sufficient to explain differences in average IQ scores among racial/ethnic groups. He concluded that a heredity hypothesis is simply not needed.

So why do I think it is necessary to even consider such controversial ideas?

Because treating the question as a taboo subject that polite people do not bring up may have done immeasurable harm to millions of Africans.

No sub-Saharan African country's population has average IQ scores much above 80. This is a fact that makes people avert their eyes and pretend not to see.

That's why they miss that one of the most important reason contributing to this may a high incidence of cretinism caused by a dietary deficiency of iodine common over much of the continent, that drags the average down.

In other words, the unwillingness to even look at the question prevents addressing a problem that could be fixed for literally pennies per person. For heaven's sake, making Morton's iodized salt widely available could fix it!

Other factors are no doubt significant, and a subject for another discussion. Point is, declaring any subject taboo does more harm than good. Liberals used to harp on this constantly when it concerned sex, why is it any different for intelligence?

P.S. I've been called a racist plenty of times, for writings on subjects that had nothing to do with race, and I expect that this time will probably be no different. But before you do, please do me the courtesy of reading what I have said on the subject:

Racism, some questions http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2007/02/racism-some-questions.html

Racism versus culturism http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/11/racism-versus-culturism.html

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Can I please exercise my right not to care?

Did you hear Dumbledore is gay?

Excuse me, but you've obviously mistaken me for someone who gives an expletive deleted.

I haven't read the Harry Potter books, but evidently there isn't the slightest hint in the text about Albus Dumbledore's sexuality, since it was never an issue until the author brought it up, for reasons known only to herself.

It doesn't advance the plot, nor does it seem a symbolic stand-in for any group - such as Ian McKellen insisted on reading into his character in "X-Men". What's the point? J.K. Rowling is already a billionaire, does she want to be a great Social Philosopher as well?

Sherlock Holmes fans are forever doing the same thing with their hero: inventing amorous interests, hetero- or otherwise. They can't accept that the Holmes stories are detective stories, adding a romantic interest adds nothing to the main theme of solving difficult problems with brilliant deduction.

Well, please forgive me but I am about to say something horribly cruel to the gay lobby - I don't care.

Long ago hetero men with my attitude would have been considered the ultimate goal of the "gay liberation" movement. I don't care what your private life is like - as long as it's private, and I expect to be treated the same.

When I was single, the existence of gay men just meant to me that the pool of unattached females was bigger. Now that I'm happily married, it's simply of no relevance to me at all.

But evidently that wasn't the goal of the lobby after all. Since the rights of gay people are now upheld by law and custom, everything should be pretty much hunky-dory, but evidently not. Every action of the "gay rights" movement these days screams, not "give us our rights" but "Notice me!"

Well sorry, I'm not interested in your private life any more than I expect you're interested in mine. That's why it's called "private."

And by the way, Dumbledore is not gay. He's not anything because he's a fictional character.

P.S. Just because I'm a trivia freak, I'm going to mention that "dumbledore" is an old English word meaning "bumblebee."

P.P.S. Yes, I have several gay friends. Some of them have told me that they value my friendship precisely because of my attitude.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Power of the Dog

Lately I've been marginally aware that there is some kind of news story involving Ellen Degeneres and a puppy.

Don't bother filling me in, I could care less and don't have the foggiest notion why this is even news. Well, at least not where it concerns Miss Degeneres. Perhaps it's news because it concerns Man's Best Friend.

Folks, we did good when we made dogs.

I said that once to a young lady who replied indignantly, "Steve, God made dogs!"

Nope, God (or evolution or Blind Chance or whatever floats your boat) made wolves. We modified them by selective breeding into the various breeds of dogs. They are mankind's first genetically modified animal species. (Cat's aren't really, they're a feral species that moved in with us and allowed us to stay - on condition of good behavior and keeping the chow coming.)

And what modification! We took wolves and changed them to protect our flocks and herds from the predation of other wolves. We taught them to hunt and retreive and not wolf down the prey before we take our share. We even made them into companions and bodyguards for our children!

But did you ever lie down next to a dog and look in its mouth when it yawned? At that moment, when you look at those teeth, you realize "Oh my, this really is a carnivore."

We are so used to our symbiosis with dogs that we don't even think about it most of the time. I only noticed it when a Chinese couple who had had no contact with dogs in their lives marveled at this.

Sometimes I wonder if mankind learned loyalty from dogs.

Case in point:

I knew a Norwegian woman who had a small dog, not even one of the bigger, more intelligent breeds such as the German Shepard (generally acknowledged to be the smartest.)

One day she was walking her dog down a country road and was hit by a drunk driver, who promptly drove off. She was literally knocked through the air into the wood where she couldn't be seen from the road.

She awoke two weeks later in the hospital, and was told how she came to be there.

Her dog it seems, had planted himself in the middle of the road right in the path of the next car to pass. The driver stopped and couldn't get around the dog. Ultimately he had to get out and try to shoo the dog away from the road. Her dog then bit down on his pant leg and tugged him over to where he could see the unconscious woman.

Of course, this saved her life. (And by the way, the drunken hit-and-run driver was caught. I love a happy ending.)

Case in point 2:

Friends of mine in Oklahoma City had two Dobermans, a big male named Fritz and a much smaller female.

One night when Mike was out of the house, there was a fire. His wife Donna had to jump out of a second floor window to get out, suffered some fairly serious burns and two broken legs.

After seeing to his wife in the hospital, Mike went back to the house, which the firemen had blocked off while making sure the fire was completely out.

Mike pleaded with the senior fireman on site, "Listen, I know my dogs are dead. Please let me in so I can take them out and bury them."

At that point a fireman came out and said, "I may be crazy, but I just saw something moving in there."

Turned out the female was found under the kitchen sink with her nose pressed against a crack in the wall that let her breathe outside air. Fritz had covered her with his body and not moved. Fritz was dead, the female was alive and didn't have a mark on her.

I visited them before going off on a year-long camping trip to Mexico and parts West, but I told them that when I got back I'd recite Rudyard Kipling's "The Power of the Dog" to them and they'd cry.

So when I got back, I did and they did.

There is sorrow enough in the natural way

From men and women to fill our day;

And when we are certain of sorrow in store,

Why do we always arrange for more?

Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware

Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy

Love unflinching that cannot lie-

Perfect passion and worship fed

By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.

Nevertheless it is hardly fair

To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits

Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,

And the vet's unspoken prescription runs

To lethal chambers and loaded guns

Then you will find - it's your own affair-

But... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,

With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).

When the spirit that answered your every mood

Is gone - wherever it goes - for good,

You will discover how much you care,

And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,

When it comes to burying Christian clay.

Our loves are not given, but only lent,

At compound interest of cent per cent.

Though it is not always the case, I believe,

That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve.

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,

A short-time loan is as bad as a long -

So why in - Heaven (before we are there)

Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Welcome to the Balkans

I urge all of you interested in foreign affairs, and those of you who share a horrified fascination with the Clintons' mismanagement of them, to check out Marvin Olasky's column "Leaping Before We Looked: The Clinton Administration's Bosnian Failure" in Human Events. http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=22912

On the strength of Mr. Olasky's recommendation I am going to check out former National Security Agency analyst John Schindler's book "Unholy Terror: Bosnia, al-Qa'ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad" which he reviews therein. http://www.amazon.com/Unholy-Terror-Bosnia-Al-Qaida-Global/dp/0760330034/ref=sr_1_1/103-7617911-9456643?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1192723876&sr=8-1

I lived in the Balkans during the years 1996-97, specifically in Sofia, Bulgaria and Belgrade, Yugoslavia. I returned to Belgrade several times over the next few years. The first time right after the NATO bombing, on another occasion to cover the election that brought down Milosevic. Schlinder has it exactly right - the situation was wa-a-a-ay more complicated than the western media had it.

The media tended to portray events as a conflict between three ethnic groups: Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Might we mention that outside Belgrade is a Hungarian village? A little further on is a Slovakian town. Anybody ever heard of the Tsintsars at all? Did the media ever mention that the Jewish community of former Yugoslavia was pretty solidly pro-Serb?

Understand, I am not claiming to be an expert on the Balkans. Not even the people who live there are experts on the Balkans.

Once when I was giving a talk at the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade, I responded to one hostile questioner that I had been living in Eastern Europe for some time with limited access to western media and that I had come to the country quite prepared to make up my own mind about the events in Yugoslavia.

My host then said with a look of incredible sadness, "When you figure it out, will you please let us know?"

When trying to explain the general craziness of the place, my friends used to shrug and say, "Welcome to the Balkans."

I've written about my experiences in Belgrade from the viewpoint of - perhaps "honest confusion" is the best term. For this I was called pro-Serb by some, anti-Serb by some, and accused of spreading "NATO lies" by others - none of whom had ever been there.

For the record, if I read Olasky right about Schlindler's findings, I agree with his conclusion that there were no uniquely guilty - or innocent parties in that fratricidal conflict. Everybody was doing it to everybody. Serbs, being the larger and best-organized faction, were just better at it.

Nota Bene: When I was in Saudi Arabia, I heard on several occasions from other foreign teachers, of Saudis and Palestinians trained and funded to travel through Bosnia and Kosovo for the purpose of radicalizing the local Muslims, who had fallen into Western ways.

(For example, a Polish friend's mother is a Bosnian Muslim. She has served me vodka and pork kielbasa with her own hands. Likewise, when I told a Bosnian poetess, Fatima Gorenchevska, that my Saudi students had told me that I absolutely must not meet with a Muslim woman, even a white-haired grandmother, she dismissed them as "stupid.")

Olasky quotes Schindler, "Radical Islam has a stronger hold there than ever before, and it remains a mystery to me why Western governments continue to not give this problem, in the heart of Europe, the attention it deserves."


Cross posted at The Right Angle http://www.humanevents.com/rightangle/

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How about these resolutions?

One day in 1997, just after I had just returned from living in Serbia, I was sitting in a cafe in Warsaw with a well-known Polish artist.

We were talking the news concerning the possibilities of war crimes trials in former Yugoslavia, when he cynically remarked, "So when will we see the crimes against humanity trials in the former Soviet Union?"

Maybe when those crimes are at least a hundred years old and all the perpetrators are long dead?

That seems to be the thinking of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress who want a resolution condemning the massacres of the Armenians around the turn of the 20th century. Maybe we just needed a while to think about it and work up the appropriate righteous indignation. Say a century or so.

A few years back it was revealed that among the consequence of Red China's Cultural Revolution in the southern provinces, was a famine so extreme that people resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Resolution anyone?


How about a resolution condemning the murders of the Khmer Rouge? Fidel Castro? Anybody still alive and kicking?

Apparently we'll have to wait and insult their grandchildren.

Monday, October 15, 2007

My crackpot theory about Al Gore's Nobel

The fact that Al Gore got a Nobel Peace Prize for promoting a scientific theory that rests on... shall we say, less than rigorous science, has come as no surprise to anyone.

The list of recipients over the past generation reads like a rogue's gallery of crackpots, frauds and terrorists. So what's one more crackpot theory advanced by someone with no scientific education or evident grasp of scientific method? That's why it's the "Peace Prize" and not the Physics prize.

So OK, I love a crackpot theory as much as anyone and I've got my own about Mr. Gore's prize.

Of course it's a political statement. We know the peace loving Swedes love to take a slap at American imperialism, aggression, warmongering etc, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

But what if it's also a slap at Bill Clinton?

Now I'm sure they have nothing against anything Bill Clinton did or said while he was in office. And we all remember that the most frequent visitor to the White House during his administration was Nobel Laureate Yassir Arafat.

But - it was rumored a while ago that Clinton was actively lobbying for a Nobel Peace Prize, and that is absolutely Not Done. Swedes are actually known for being pretty stuffy about etiquette, and not likely to overlook a gaffe like that.

We also know that relations between the Clintons and the Gores are, shall we say, strained.

So... I won't call it an 'inconvenient truth' but as a theory it kind of gives me global warm fuzzies.

Cross-posted: http://humanevents.com/rightangle/index.php?p=25158

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What I've been doing lately - keeping busy and interviewing freedom fighters

Keeping busy mostly. And a good thing too, I'm in DC without my family and if I don't keep busy I miss them dreadfully.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting town - sometimes for surprising reasons.

There are of course the museums, and they are mostly free. I'm going to try and take in the botanical gardens today.

Surprising reason; how dead this town is on weekends. It's Saturday morning and walking outdoors, it feels like Sunday. Evidently, since the major industry is government and the government shuts down on weekends, the city largely does too.

I've got some interesting projects to work on as well. I'm reading a pre-publication copy of Humberto Fontova's 'Uncovering the Real Che Guevarra and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him' for review.

That's going to be interesting - and infuriating. The fact of the existence of a cowardly, murdering psychopath who would (for documented example) shoot a six-months pregnant woman in the belly for "political" reasons is unfortunately, not surprising.

The fact that affluent and influential men and women would openly admire the son-of-a-bitch is infuriating enough to make you want to hurl the book out the window - and then the aforementioned individuals.

My only consolation is, that as tough as it is to read it, it must have been far tougher to write it.

Teaser: OK just this one. Everybody knows about 'The Motorcycle Diaries', that movie about "Those two passionate men" (Che and Fidel) as Hispanic actress Salma Hayek called the two greatest murderers of Hispanics in the 20th century. Well, one of the revelations of the book, attested to by witnesses, was that it was completely phoney - Che was deathly afraid of motorcycles!

Other project, I'm trying to reduce the fire hose of information I got in an interview with Ali Alyami to short article length.

Dr. Alyami is a Saudi in exile, and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Saudi Arabia. I urge you to look up the center's web site, and remember Dr. Alyami's name, 'cause the chances he's going to figure in homicide statistics some day are... better than average.

I've lived in the Kingdom and written about it, for which I got called a "racist" (most recently in a Scandanavian web site, comment appended to the original post 'Observations on Arabs'.) I was fortunate enough to get an extended interview with Dr. Alyami, perhaps because I was able to tell him that I'd lived in Saudi and worked with Eastern European dissidents, so he knew that I "get it" about tyranny in general and the Kingdom in particular.

So, IMHO Dr. Alyami is the real deal. Everything he told me I can either confirm by direct observation, or is a reasonable inference from what I know and have observed.

Dr. Alyami has lived in the US for 37 years now, and has two children, a son and a daughter. His son in an officer in the US Army and has served a tour in Iraq. I briefly met him and his charming fiance at a reception in the Rayburn House office building. His daughter lives in America - and that's all he or I care to say about that, for obvious reasons.

I hope I can do justice to the subject.

More later.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Senator Coleman, when did Karl Marx replace John Locke in our public discourse?

Note: cross-posted at The Right Angle http://www.humanevents.com/rightangle/index.php?p=25070

Friday, October 5 Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) spoke at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on attempts to revive the Fairness Doctrine.

I doubt that I have yet heard a more eloquent, well-thought-out defense of the First Amendment and the free market in media from a public figure.

Senator Coleman warned that with the next election only a year away, and the prospect of a Democratic administration, a revival of the so-called Fairness Doctrine could be “only one FCC commissioner away.”

“The idea of bringing it back today is not just a bad idea, but a dangerous idea” Coleman said.

Senator Coleman cited some surprising sources concerning the “chilling effect” of the Fairness Doctrine when it was in effect from 1949 to 1967: JFK and Dan Rather.

Though no doubt some would see benefits from a revival, “All the implications I can see or envision are negative,” Coleman said.

Senator Coleman warned that if every broadcaster who deals with opinions was worried that a bureaucrat with a stopwatch and a notepad was listening to insure “fairness” the effect would be to dumb down our political discourse as broadcasters simply chose not to take the risk and stuck to entertainment and celebrity gossip. As to charges that talk radio was unbalanced, Senator Coleman replied that much of the supposed imbalance was due to the market, “Air America just wasn’t very good – and that’s the reality.”

So, given that I liked almost everything the Senator said, why was I so disturbed by one remark he made in his presentation?

Senator Coleman was describing an exchange he had on the senate floor about the Fairness Doctrine. He told how he answered a series of questions, beginning with “Do you agree that…?” in the affirmative, while nonetheless disagreeing with the conclusion that the Fairness Doctrine was a good idea.

One of the questions was, “Do you agree that the airwaves are the common property of the American people?”

To which he answered, “Yes.”

So when did Karl Marx replace John Locke in defining our political principles?

“Common property of the American people?” What utter nonsense!

Our American concept of property was defined by John Locke. Unexploited resources are not property, they belong to no one – until someone “mixes his labor” with them and makes them the property of those who first develop them and use them productively.

Of course there are caveats and hard cases. Locke specified that the developer must leave “as much and as good,” and he did not deal with the notion of conserving nature in a wild state for our future enjoyment. But the basic principles of property rights he defined as, natural resources plus labor equals property.

Is there a role for government? Of course! On the American frontier, when there were multitudes streaming into a largely empty continent in search of free land, the federal government passed the Homestead Act, which defined the conditions of use necessary to stake a claim, registered the claims to keep conflict to a minimum, and set a limit on the size of claims. (This limit later became a problem when settlement passed beyond the rich, well-watered lands of the Ohio River valley to the more arid lands of the Southwest.)

In the 1930s the federal government could have adapted this established precedent to the exploitation of the airwaves. Instead they chose to throw it aside and take up the newly fashionable doctrines of Marxism, with its notions of “common property” of mankind. Common property means in practice that it belongs to the bureaucrats who permit it to be used on sufferance.

I am not accusing Senator Coleman of being a crypto-Marxist, far from it. I applaud his principled defense of the First Amendment and the free market in media. I hope he gives Al Franken the drubbing he deserves in the next election and I’d certainly vote for him if I lived in Minnesota.

What I’m saying is, this pernicious nonsense has become so entrenched in our political discourse that we accept it unthinkingly. And if it remains unquestioned, it will inevitably destroy those First Amendment rights in spite of all the persuasive arguments the Senator so eloquently put forth.

P.S. I say "eloquent" with a bit of surprise. As in it's surprising how many congresscritturs you meet here are only adequate speakers. Sen. Coleman actually used the word "oxymoron" correctly.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Friday visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum

Friday is a half-day for me. So afterwards I walked back towards Capitol Hill, ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (in company with mostly older folks like myself, some with kids) and then walked across the street to see the bedroom Linclon died in.

Unfortunately, Ford's theater is closed for 18 months for renovations but I can tell you it was a spooky feeling to stand in that room.

Afterwards I toured the Smithsonian butterfly garden and the Air & Space Museum. It's a foregone conclusion, I'm taking my boy there at the end of the month.

The place is fabulous. Old planes, rockets, cool hands-on science exhibits and even old movies showing in small theaters. Only one disappointment, the flight simulator section is not currently ready to play in.

What is really cool is that most of the stuff is original. There are Yaeger's x-1 and a real x-15 hanging from the ceiling!

I went up to the second floor, almost close enough to touch the x-15 and stood next to two elderly gentlemen with caps identifying them as former military pilots. "This is what space ships were supposed to look like," I said, "streamlined."

"Yeah, smooth and sleek. Instead we got soup cans" one replied.

OK, I know I've complained about this before. That sci-fi films do dumb things like orient the decks of big spaceships along the direction of accelleration instead of at right angles to it, and make space fighter craft look and travel like atmospheric craft - but durn it, wasn't the x-15 supposed to be what a one-man spaceship/fighter would look like?

There was however, a model of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's vision of a spaceship which was a very retro-cool, inverted teardrop shape with fins - and decks oriented right-angled to acceleration.

Tsiolokovsky was the Russian visionary who said, "Earth is the cradle of the mind - but you cannot live in a cradle forever."

Second impression from the Mercury, Gemini, Soyuz capsules and the lunar lander - they are always much smaller inside than you think. We're talking sardine tight here. It's ironic that the heirs of the pioneers who went west seeking "elbow room" were doing it in spaces that weren't big enough to move your elbows out at all.

I wonder what it's like in the Shuttle? In the videos it looks big enough to really enjoy zero-gee.

Thinking about it all brings to mind another quote, from Arthur C. Clarke, the sci-fi author who first pointed out the potential of the geo-stationary orbit, which is now sometimes called the "Clarke orbit" in his honor. It went something like:

"If the human race lasts even a tenth as long as the dinosaurs, who we condescendingly consider one of nature's failures, then it is certain that for the vast majority of the life of humanity, the word "ship" will mean "spaceship.""

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Poles hanging tough in Iraq

Cross-posted at Human Events, The Right Angle http://humanevents.com/rightangle/index.php?p=24999 and you might post comments there.

The Polish ambassador to Iraq was wounded in an attack Wednesday. In spite of the general unpopularity of the war, the President and Prime Minister of Poland, twin brothers Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski are urging Poles to hang tough and keep their troops in the country.

You can read the whole story here, but here are the highlights.

By Gabriela BaczynskaWARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will not withdraw its 1,000-strong troop contingent from Iraq after the Polish ambassador was wounded in an attack on his convoy in Baghdad on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said."Desertion is always the worst option," Kaczynski told reporters. "This is a difficult situation, but those who became engaged and were there for years and then withdraw are making the worst possible mistake."The Polish ambassador, Gen. Edward Pietrzyk, was wounded and one of his bodyguards was killed when his diplomatic convoy came under attack in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday.


A few things that might interest you, the troops Poland has in Iraq are mostly from GROM, the Polish Special Forces. GROM means “thunder” in Polish and is an acronym for Grupa Reagowania Operacyjno-Manewrowego "Operational Mobile Reaction Group." In the communist days they used to train with Spetznatz, the Soviet Special Forces – and are rather perversely proud of this, in spite of a strong dislike for all things Soviet.

The war is generally unpopular in Poland, but not enough to generate a really strong popular opposition so far. The defense minister remarked a while ago that of course wars are unpopular, property is destroyed and people get hurt.

So why is Poland in Iraq at all? What possible interest do they have in the situation there?

I will venture a couple of guesses.

Firstly, Polish armed forces previously had no combat experience since the Second World War – with the exception of participating under Russian pressure in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the “Prague Spring” of 1968 – an acutely embarrassing memory for them.

But now the Poles actually have more soldiers with combat experience than Germany does - a fact which always provoked big grins in my English classes in Warsaw when I pointed it out.

More importantly, the Poles are earning their way into the Western alliance. It cannot have escaped them that the West Europeans allowed the US to take on almost the entire burden of their defense for two generations. The combined military forces of the NATO countries, minus the US, do not have a tactical air force to their name and would have trouble fielding even a single combat division.

What they saved on defense spending, they spent on building cradle-to-grave welfare states, while sheltering behind a wall of American steel.

And make no mistake about it, the danger was real and eminent. The Polish government last year started releasing the secret Warsaw Pact plans for the invasion of Western Europe, originally scheduled for the early 1980s. The Russians are furious with them, the Poles could not care less.

Without an American presence in Western Europe, it would certainly have been lost.

I believe this explains a lot of West European anti-Americanism. Bluntly speaking, by failing to demand that they carry a fair share of the burden of common defense, we took their manhood from them – and they hate us for it.

The Poles, and a lot of the East Europeans are determined not to make that mistake, and we shouldn’t either. With western civilization in crisis, we need friends and allies, not welfare clients.

Steve Browne lived in Poland and Eastern Europe for 13 years, speaks fair Polish and his two children are half-Polish. His father-in-law is a former officer in the Polish Army Secret Chancellery. In 2001 he trained with GROM vets at the International Police Defense Tactics Association summer camp on the Baltic coast.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Last Friday I went to Reason Magazine to hear David Harsanyi

Cross-posted on The Right Angle http://humanevents.com/rightangle/

Friday evening September 28, Reason Magazine hosted a reception for David Harsanyi, author of Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children.

Harsanyi briefly described the theme of his book and answered questions from the audience.

In honor of the occasion beer, wine, cheese and twinkies loaded with trans fats were served.

Harsanyi spoke about how risk aversion, plus PC equals nannyism; the conviction that the state can take the risk out of life and smooth out its rough spots, making us all healthy and well-adjusted. And an assumption “that you’re an idiot” he said.

A recent local example of nannyism was the zero-tolerance alcohol policy that police in Georgetown used recently to arrest a woman who had had one glass of wine before driving home.

In one chapter of his book Harsanyi writes about “playground fascists” who have succeeded in some school districts in outlawing tag, dodge ball and keeping score in ball games (lest children’s self-esteem suffer when they lose).

“That’s where it starts,” he said, “a crybaby lobby for the children.”

Nannyism grows by mission creep, “where they chip away at the margins and work their way to the middle” Harsanyi explained. “It started with seat belt laws” – who could argue with that? “But I don’t buckle my children in because it’s the law, I buckle them in because I’m a good parent.”

Later came laws to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke, which extended to outlawing smoking in buildings, then threatening parents who smoke in homes with children. “Now in California there is a proposal to outlaw smoking in your car when you are riding with your pet” Harsanyi claimed.

From preventing one admitted health risk, the nanny mission grew. Harsanyi reminded the audience, “The Center for Disease Control used to be concerned with preventing infectious disease – now it’s trying to prevent obesity.”

For further examples Harsanyi mentioned that New York is trying to outlaw trans fats, and that Barbara Boxer favors this in California. Candy Lightner, founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has complained that the organization has become a prohibitionist group, which she never intended.

But these are admittedly health risks, where do we draw the line?

“When government goes from convincing to coercing.” Harsanyi said our basic value should be “to always fall on the side of more freedom. Life’s a little dangerous. But it’s like these people never want to die.”

And how does this happen in the Land of the Free?

“No politician is going to defend smokers, drinkers etc. They’re too lazy to make the argument from freedom. Politicians are typically cowards, or they become cowards” Harsanyi said.

Asked about his politics, Harsanyi said, “I’ve been called a conservative. I suppose I could be a small “l” libertarian because I agree with most of their positions, except foreign policy. I supported the invasion of Iraq.”

Harsanyi explained that his values came from his family background. “My parents were from communist Hungary and basically defected. My father was a chemist, but when he immigrated to America he couldn’t be one because here he didn’t speak English. So like all good Jews he became a jeweler. It’s because of this that I really believe in the America where you can work hard, take chances and make something of yourself in life.”

What a story – and what a man to tell it! I left the reception inspired.

Next morning I went out for a coffee and saw the day’s New York Times.