Rants and Raves

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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The passing of "the Liberal Lion"

The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar; Act 3, Scene 2

Well he's dead now, and the coverage is... actually less sickeningly sacharine than I expected.

That's not saying much however. I NEVER expected to hear the word Chappaquiddick, but in fact it got mentioned the very first morning after Edward Moore Kennedy died.

But the networks are treating this as only a little less momentous than his brother John's funeral, and even FOX is scrambling hard to avoid the impression of being mean-spirited by speaking ill of the dead.

Bible-thumping conservative Cal Thomas spoke movingly of his friendship with Ted Kennedy, as did Book-of-Mormon-thumping Senator Orin Hatch.

Many on both sides of the aisle have praised Kennedy's warm personality and capacity for friendship with people of different views. Something growing increasingly rare as politics grows increasingly mean.

Others point out he told vile slanderous lies about Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Teddy justified his famous "Robert Bork's America" speech by saying they needed a strong statement immediately to take the high ground while they did the background research on Bork.

In differing versions of the story, Teddy afterwards told either Robert Bork or his wife, "Nothing personal."

Sorry. Disagree is what free men do. Disagree forcefully is what free men do about issues they feel passionately about. Ridiculing dumb and dangerous ideas is what we should do.

But lying about someone's true beliefs and character for rhetorical advantage?

That's personal. And any man who is a man has every right to resent it.

Some have reminded those too young to remember that Teddy did after all leave a young woman to die in a car under seven feet of water.

Friendlier accounts mention in passing that Mary Jo Kopechne "died," or "drowned" in Teddy's car.

She did not "drown." She died of asphixiation in an air pockect, an excruciating death that may have taken hours. Ample time for Teddy to have gone to the door of the nearest house, which was evidently within eye-shot of the road, and rouse the residents to call for help.

Kennedy influence hurried Mary Jo into her grave without an autopsy. Teddy showed up at the funeral wearing an orthopedic neck brace. Apparently as a fashion statement, there was no medical reason for it. The judge at the inquest said publicly he thought Teddy lied.

I was a kid in neighboring Rhode Island then, and I saw Teddy's speech on TV to his constituents. I thought it was a tissue of lies and sanctimonious ass-covering.

When he said he'd wait and see what his constituents wanted, and resign if that's what the opinion ran to, I thought, "He's toast."

(Or the late-60s equivalent. We didn't use that expression then.)

When he announced public opinion was in favor of him sticking around, I thought, "Phoney! But he'll get turned out in the next election."

He didn't. He was re-elected eight more times and became the second most senior member of the senate and third-longest serving senator in U.S. history.

I've never felt good about Massachussetts people since.

What's my point? Why am I flogging a dead man, and possibly adding to the grief of those who cared for him?

I would like very much to be understanding of a man who made a horrible mistake in his youth, and (perhaps) tried hard to live it down and do something with his life that justified him living on longer than the total lifespan of the one whose life he cut short.

I know... more than a few people who have killed; by accident, in self-defense, war, hot-bloodded passion, and a few in cooler blood by grim necessity. Some had to face legal consequences. Some were outside the law.

All of them paid a price, in one way or another. Sometimes the legal price was the least of it.

But firstly, this was not a single mistake made in a moment of intoxication and bad judgement. This was a series of wrongful actions made over a prolonged period.

And, if Teddy had not been Edward Moore "Kennedy," he would at the very least, been charged with involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide.

Most likely he wouldn't have gone to jail. Most certainly he would have had to serve probation, report regularly to a parole officer, and had his right to vote, own firearms, practice law, and hold public office stripped.

That's why this man's life offends me. After Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon before he'd even been charged with anything, Teddy Kennedy asked:

“Do we operate under a system of equal justice under law? Or is there one system for the average citizen and another for the high and mighty?”

Teddy Kennedy's own life and career answers the question.

We don't live in "Robert Bork's America," we live in Teddy Kennedy's America.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Our national debt

Note: This appeared as the weekend op-ed in the paper.

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said, "If you don't work you die.”

-- Rudyard Kipling, The Gods of the Copybook Headings

Something very odd is happening in our country these days, our people have become worried about the national debt.

What's odd about that? (I hear you say.) Isn't it something to worry about?
Indeed it is, but we never worried about it before. Why have we started now?

Our national debt has been mounting ever higher longer than I've been alive. I've read dire warnings of the consequences to come for decades now. Warnings that included hyperinflation, economic collapse, food riots, and possibly a dictator sweeping to power, a la the Weimar Republic of Germany in the 1930s.

Thoughtful people did worry about the long-term consequences of rising indebtedness, but generally the only people who got really scared were fringoid types who stockpiled guns and canned goods, and muttered darkly about the Bavarian Illuminati controlling the Federal Reserve.

Intellectually everybody knew you can't keep spending more than you earn, as a household or a nation, and you can't live on borrowed money forever. But it never felt really real, and the inevitable consequences seemed a long way off.

Until now.

Now you can feel it, people are really scared. Ordinary people like you and me, not “Nazis,” not “mobs,” and not “racists,” either. And we're telling our senators and representatives about it in Town Hall meetings across the country, as little as they like to hear it.

What's different now?

I don't know for sure, but I can hazard some guesses.

One: The national debt finally hit the magic trillion mark that had been predicted for years, and it's projected to go into the multi-trillions in fairly short order. We used to think the longer the string of zeros, the less people were able to visualize the order of magnitude. Maybe there's something about 12 zeros that makes an impression a mere nine zeros didn't.

Two: The Democrats read the election wrong. The Republicans were turned out in disgrace at least partly because of disgust with George Bush's massive budget deficits and the first bailout. Then inexplicably the Democrats, rather than returning to the relative fiscal sanity of the Clinton years, took it as permission to max out the federal credit card and send the deficit into the stratosphere.

Three: Personal experience with debt. We live in a self-indulgent age of easy credit, and consequently an awful lot of us now have the experience of opening that dreaded credit statement every month. We've had our “Holy heck, the whole country is maxed out!” moment.

Four: We know who we owe. It used to be the vast majority had only vague notions of what the national debt was. We were reassured with soporifically stupid statements like, “We owe it to ourselves.” Nowadays whatever else you can say about media coverage, there has actually been discussion about who holds the debt. And as it turns out, mostly it's China.

So what's going to happen?

Some place their hopes on a third party to restore fiscal sanity. But there seems to be something in the political structure of our country that makes this unlikely. A third party rising to permanent national status has happened precisely once in our history, when Lincoln led the Republicans to victory in 1860.

Republicans are hoping for a replay of the mid-term elections of 1994 when they swept the House and Senate and taught Clinton the lesson that, “The era of Big Government is over.”

But in the longer run that didn't stop the Republicans from, to put it bluntly, betraying us. Perhaps they'll get another chance, simply because there is no one else to turn to. If so, then God help them if they betray us again. God help all of us.

And after this being accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My recent "West and the Rest" moment

I just spent Friday covering the second day of a two-day jury trial, and am currently wrestling with how to write it up.

Apparently I missed all the excitement the first day of the trial.

Thursday I saw a cop car heading up to the courthouse with the siren on. Unfortunatley I was headed in the other direction for a physical checkup.

Turns out a defendant, a Haitian citizen on trial for felonious restraint and simple assault had freaked out in the courtroom and had been removed to another room where he assaulted an officer and had to be put in leg irons. He spent the second day of the trial in his jail cell.

Understand, as far as I could see every attempt was made to include the guy in his defense. A translator was provided and a very intelligent and competent attorney. (Though his skill was severely hampered by the fact that he had zip to work with.)

The defendant had come to our town as part of a program a local enterprise has to bring in weekend shift temp workers recruited from a homeless shelter in Fargo.

A woman who was a night shift supervisor testified how she was impressed with the defendant's willingness to work hard, ambition, and how he always came well-dressed and groomed. Something that evidently made him stand out from the others.

She recounted how she recommended him for a full-time position, found him a room in town and paid first months rent, gave him some money for groceries, and drove him around on various errands to help get him started in town.

This was about four months ago during the flood crisis in our town.

Then the guy snapped.

The proximate occasion seemed to be some minor documentary problems with social security, which everyone was perfectly willing to help him with, and the mandatory closing of all businesses in town ordered by the mayor when the mainsewer system collapsed on a Friday. The defendant wasn't able to access his paycheck over the weekend. B.F.D.

This 60-year-old woman came by on Monday to take this guy to the bank, and was totally unexpectedly subjected to a terrifying ordeal.

He beat her on the head with a closed fist, knocked her down and stomped on her thigh, and at one point locked her in a bedroom.

Of course, she was terrified. At various points she thought she was going to be raped and murdered. She strongly suspected he might have murdered his (also my) landlord and another lodger. (Thankfully, not.)

He screamed, "In Haiti I am a man! Here I am nothing!"

When she asked if she could go he shouted, "No! You are my slave!"

He tormented her by throwing a cell phone on the floor and saying, "Why don't you call the police?" Then jumping up when she moved towards it.

Thankfully, he didn't rape her, but did subject her to humiliation I won't go into.

Then he totally weirded out and said calmly, "I invite you to my wedding. (Evidently an obsession with his landlord's 16-year-old daughter) OK, we go to the bank now."

When she found he had not followed her closely on the way out, she ran for her car, thinking, "Push once, push once." (Referring to her car remote: one push unlocks the driver's door, two unlocks all doors.)

She got in drove down the road, had to turn around, and said to herself, "If he's in the road, I'm not stopping."

She stopped by the first law enforcement officer she found and reported. Later a policewoman found the guy walking down the street jauntily in his pin-stripe suit.

When the officer told him what she stopped for, he cheerfully told her all about how he'd beaten the woman, complete with pantomime gestures of beating with a fist hammer. Backup arrived, and he repeated it for their benefit. And repeated it at length, in English with mixed French or creole commentary, all the way to the police station.

Under questioning he repeated it all again, and again, before and after being Mirandized.

Hold for a point. The victim is still traumatized and broke down on the stand. She was also mortified that this would appear in the paper. I think however the story will be about the defendants bizarre behavior and only minimally about the victim.

I do want to say that I think she acted with good instincts and great courage - and I kind of wish she had had the opportunity to run the son-of-a-bitch down!

A cop I saw on TV speaking about rape victims said, "If you survived, you did the right thing."

Now here's the point of all this. The perp is up for sentencing, max on the felonious restraint, five years. For simple assault, 30 days. But what's most likely is Immigration and Naturalization Service will step in and deport him back to Haiti.

Whether that's better than a prison term in America is another question.

I confirmed with the State's Attorney there had been a psych evaluzaion, and talked to one of the investigating officers.

They are aware that this guy acts crazy by our standards, but maybe not by the standards of his culture.

The translator told the judge (answering a jury question as to whether she could adequately communicate with him) what he'd said while looking at pictures of the victim's bruises.

"They are going to send me to jail for this?" he asked incredulously.

He's explained to any number of people that in Haiti it's perfectly OK to treat women this way.

My take: I think receiving this kindness from a woman was humiliating to him. It put him in the position of being dependent on her. That's the cultural misunderstanding.

My opinion: Back when I was an anthropologist of sorts, I reached a conclusion that may have a lot to do with why I'm not working in the field.

Just as there are insane individuals, there are insane cultures.

Big no-no in social science these days.

So they're wrong - and that's a truth that is not relative, not a matter of opinion, and not "racist," "ethnocentric," or whatever jargon word you want to use.

The wisdom, rightness and effectiveness of "exporting our culture" by whatever means is one of the great debates of our time.

But, what seems beyond debate to me is that we must have the confidence to tell everyone who would come to live with us that you can't bring shit like that with you to our country.

UPDATE: Doing the police reports this morning (the Thursday following the Friday of the trial) there was an 'information only' report from the jail that our Haitian guest had spit in the face of a female correctional officer.

The office deputy commented that this fellow has no trespect for women.

They didn't beat him up and they don't really want him in the North Dakota prison system at all. They just want him off their hands and out of the country.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What to expect when your doctor is a government employee

Note: A shorter version of this appeared as the weekend op-ed in the Times-Record. It had to be shorter, I could have gone on at consdierably greater length just on examples from people I know personally.

The president and congress seem determined to pass nationalized health care just as quickly as they can, despite 89 percent of Americans saying they like their current health care just fine.

Make no mistake about it, nationalized health care is what they intend, despite claims they only want to “create competition” or a “government option.” Go to YouTube and search “Obama,” and “single-payer.” You'll get videos of Obama speaking at public meetings two and six years ago, in favor of a single-payer health care system.

It is possible the president has changed his mind since then. So why hasn't he said so?

Now search “Barney Frank,” and “single payer.” You'll find Congressman Frank, quite frankly stating that creating a tax-subsidized government insurance plan is the best way to get to a single-payer system by driving private insurance out of business.

Here's just one which excerpts Obama on a number of occasions speaking in favor of a single-payer system.

“Single payer” is what they used to call “socialized medicine,” before the catastrophic collapse of socialism around the world starting in 1989.

There are arguments for socialized medicine articulated by honest, well-meaning people. But what we're getting is a dishonest attempt to pass it without first convincing us through that messy democratic process.

You've heard both sides. Perhaps you'd like to hear from people in countries where doctors and nurses are government bureaucrats?

In Poland a few years back, a lady friend was in a car wreck with her father and grandmother. Her father was dead of a heart attack at the scene. My friend was taken to the local hospital (minus her wallet and watch which mysteriously disappeared somewhere along the way) and treated.

Her grandmother, old and overweight, was left lying on a gurney in a dreary hospital corridor for hours. Finally someone passed by and reacted, “Oh, you're still alive? Maybe we should do something after all.”

She took her two months to die. There's no telling if quicker treatment would have saved her – it's just the sheer callous indifference that's shocking.

A dear friend of ours, a mother with three children, died in a ghastly Soviet-era hospital in Lithuania after eating poison mushrooms. The doctors ignored the pleas of her desperately sick husband to pump her stomach. He tried to tell them she had a life-long inability to vomit and her body wasn't expelling the poison.

Atropine is sometimes given for neurotoxins such as the amanita phalloidia mushroom. Perhaps atropine wouldn't have saved her. We'll never know. The hospital had none on hand and couldn't be bothered to send to town for any, “because then we'd have to do it for everyone.”

When my wife was a child she broke her leg in a playground accident. Her leg was set by a drunk doctor who didn't lay gauze down and screwed up the bone setting. When it had to be rebroken, the cast was taken off with a drill which cut to the bone on her ankle.

Fortunately, quality low-cost medical care is becoming available in the former Soviet bloc countries, as the competent medical personnel abandon government service for private practice.

But that was the communist system. We're told we should look at England and Canada.

Our son's late godmother suffered treatment by Britain's National Health Service on two occasions.

After treatment for a broken wrist, she asked if she could impose on my father (a retired orthopedic surgeon) to look at her X-rays and records. After examining them, my father wrote a scathing letter to the NHS bureaucrats about their “stone-age” treatment methods and “that rag” (the wrist brace) they supplied her with.

A few years later, following an operation for bowel cancer, she lay in the NHS hospital wasting away. They said she, “had no appetite,” and what could we expect, she was nearly 90?

It turned out she was too weak to sit up and eat. She got better after we sent a Polish friend to feed her and look after her at home. That for certain gave her the extra year-and-a-half of life the NHS didn't think she needed.

There are people who think the NHS is just fine. My own sister, a long-term resident of the UK, is one of them. Sis is healthy and rarely uses the service. But with her family history she should have a mamogram every year. NHS rations her to one every three years.

Canada? Ninety percent of their population lives within 100 miles of an American doctor. New York city alone has more MRI machines than all of Canada. Heck, Valley City, North Dakota, population less than 7,000 has an MRI parked outside of the local hospital right now!

Some believe we can create a nationalized health system that corrects all the defects of such systems around the world, despite all experience to the contrary.

Maybe so, but do you think they can do it in six months?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Here's my favorite cartoon

Yale University Press is publishing a book by Jytte Klausen, entitled The Cartoons that Shook the World.

Among other things, the book is of course about the cartoons of Mohammed published in the Danish newspaper Jylland- Posten in September, 2005, and the aftermath.

However, something interesting (the absurd is always interesting, don't you think?) is going on here. The book will omit the cartoons that are one of the most importants subjects of the book!

Yale University Press Director John Donatich said a committee of experts' "overwhelming and unanimous recommendation" was to withdraw all images of Muhammad.

Of course they gave a reason. And of course it was longish and left out the single word that would have summed it all up - cowardice.

Long-time readers know I try to avoid using vulgarity, satire, and personal insult too often. Not so much from delicate sensibility, but because overuse diminishes effectiveness.

Nor do I usually care to belittle any man's religion. However absurd I may think another's opinions on the Great Perhaps may be, if it gets you through this vale of tears with any amount of courage and grace, more power to you.

So here's my thoughts on the matter: Fuck you Yale University Press. You Ivy League assholes used to produce scholars, leaders, and heroes.

How are the mighty fallen!

And you Yale University Press Director John Donatich and your committee of "experts," fuck you you gutless cowards.

Now here's my challenge:

Fellow bloggers - plaster these pictures on your blogs. Pick your favorite and feature it prominently.

Shame the cowards, and defy those who would tell free-born Americans what they can and can't say or print.

Show them we are worthy descendants of the brawling, lusty, vulgar men who conquered this continent and built a mighty nation!

"Where there are no men - be thou a man."
-- Rabbi Hillel

"Freedom is not negotiable."
-- Andy Garcia

UPDATE: Here http://townhall.com/columnists/DianaWest/2009/08/20/yale_economics_101_crush_cartoons,_get_sharia-backed_gold

Columnist Diana West offers an additional explanation for the YUP decision - greed.
In "Yale Economics 101: Crush Cartoons, get Sharia-Backed Gold," West details why she thinks Yale is whoring after sources of Saudi money that has already benefitted Harvard and Georgetown Universities. The same sources have also openly supported suicide bombing and supported the families of the "martyrs."

Enjoy spening your 30 pieces of silver guys. But if and when the West ever wakes up to realize it's under attack, I wonder how much good your money is going to do you on that day?


Saturday, August 15, 2009

I have a very bad feeling about Afghanistan

It looks like President Obama wants his very own war, and I have a very bad feeling about it.

Long time readers may remember I was cautiously supportive of the Iraq occupation for a couple of reasons. Though recognizing it could go horribly wrong, as it almost did and may yet, my view is that Iraq is a strategically important theater in the Long War against jihadism.

Arguing "Iraq is not Vietnam," I said at the time:

In terms of geopolitics, the situation in Iraq is far different from Vietnam. Vietnam was a minor client state of a rival superpower that the U.S. could not afford to confront directly. Iraq was a major player among hostile Arab nations who resent and fear American world hegemony but cannot confront it directly and can only work covertly against American interests. Vietnam’s patron superpower had less interest in outright victory than they had in keeping the United States engaged in a protracted and expensive war that sapped its strength, created domestic chaos and distracted it from their main interest in Europe.

Iraq is in the geographical center of the struggle against Jihadism. The patrons of fanatical Jihadism are vitally concerned with Iraq and rightfully fearful that a stable, even semi-democratic Iraq would be the beginning of the end of their tyranny and autocracy throughout the Middle East.

That alone should explain my misgivings, but to elaborate...

Iraq is an ancient civilization which at this point in history is in the geopolitical center of Islam. Iraq is rich in resources, and in the hands of a hostile power capable of supplying money and materiel to the jihadist campaign against the West.

(Saddam for example, was with Saudi Arabia a source of payments to families of suicide bombers in Israel. Taking him out possibly reduced by as much as half the substantial bounties paid to families who successfully encouraged one of their own to take one for the team. Unless of course the Saudis are taking up the slack.)

Afghanistan has always been peripheral to the ancient civilizations of the region. It's importance to the jihadists is basically, that it's a great place to hide.

And for students of military science, the first difference that strikes one is the strategically important part of Iraq is pretty flat. Afghanistan... isn't.

A punitive expedition to Afghanistan after 9/11 was entirely justified. The planners of the attack were there, the local government said "Nyah, nyah you can't have them" when we asked, so we went in and killed and captured as many of them as we could find.

Comb the history of civilization and find me one which would deny a legitimate cassus belli existed in this case.

I say if the jihadists base themselves in Afghanistan, play whack-a-mole with them every time they stick their heads up.

Nor do I have moral objections to the nation building efforts afterwards - I just wonder if it's, A. possible, and B. worth the effort.

Thomas Sowell once pointed out how civilization can spread across plains, oceans, and along great rivers - and stop dead at 50 meters of mountain.*

I feel for Afghanis who have to live with the Taliban, especially women who aspire to a life as something more than domestic chattels. But our resources are not infinite, and we have every reason to believe this new kind of war is going to be a long one.

But at the risk of sounding heartless, what's in it for us? What do we gain by the enormous expense in the long term? And might those resources be better applied elsewhere?

And vis-a-vis the point I raised about Iraq, are we sure the jihadists don't want us in Afghanistan, i.e. have we allowed the enemy to choose the time and place of battle?

Steven Vincent, who was murdered in Basra while trying to find answers for the strategic questions raised by the Long War, said victory in Iraq would come when women could go shopping without fear of being kidnapped.**

Is there the same longing in the majority of Afghanis? Answer that question and we'll be better able to answer the others.

* Some of my ancestors were Scots Highlanders, and a pretty uncivilized bunch in spite of 19th century romanticism. Rather more like Afghani tribesmen than we'd like to admit in fact. We did eventually come to appreciate the benefits of civilization. All it took to accomplish this was to locate a civilized nation with 10 times the population and many times the resources next door.

But before that civilizing process was quite complete, Highlanders did good service for civilization all over the world when recruited into the British Army. One wonders.

** I was in email contact with Steven Vincent a week before the day I turned on CNN in the morning and saw he'd been murdered. It was like waking up from a pleasant dream to find a nightmare at the foot of your bed. I'd been hoping to meet him some day and it is one of the consuming regrets of my life I never shall.

Note: My posts on Iraq a few years back can be found here:



Thursday, August 13, 2009

The seductive lure of conspiracy theories

My weekend op-ed in the newspaper.

To conspire,” verb: from the Latin con spirare, “to breathe with”: 1. to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement . 2. to act in harmony toward a common end. - Merriam-Webster

“Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
- The First Principle of Conspiracy.

The Daily Kos website recently posted the results of a survey that purported to find that in spite of contemporary birth announcements in newspapers and Hawaiian state documents, 28 percent of Republicans believe President Obama was not born in the U.S. and 30 percent are not sure.

Note however, this is the same website that took seriously columnist Andrew Sullivan's claim Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was not the mother, but the grandmother of her child Trig.

In 1997 when I was living in former Yugoslavia a student very seriously asked me, “Do you think (President) Milosevic is working for Clinton?”

After 9/11 a student in Poland asked me, “Is it true that all the Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were told to stay home that day?”

What is the appeal of the notion events are ruled by sinister groups of conspirators?

For one, conspiracy theories appeal to our sense of self-importance and the thrill of possessing occult knowledge. "Everybody's been duped about how the world really runs but me and a few like-minded comrades. We know things nobody else does."

Conspiracy theories offer reassurance. The realization the powerful are not inherently wiser than we are can be terrifying. The idea those in charge are sinister conspirators is actually reassuring, if the alternative is that no one really knows what's going on.

And then there are people so convinced of the self-evident rightness of their position the mere existence of people who disagree is incomprehensible. They must have ulterior motives for denying what is so obviously true.

For example, the reaction of the proponents of the administration's health care plan to the opposition amounts to sheer incomprehension that so many people could sincerely disagree. Which causes them to, equally sincerely, attribute dissent to “a vast right-wing conspiracy” in Hillary Clinton's famous words.*

Real or not, widespread belief in conspiracies has driven historical events more often than we're comfortable thinking about. Historian Bernard Bailyn has documented how much popular belief in a conspiracy against American liberty motivated the American Revolution. The Nazis claimed a Jewish conspiracy against Germany justified the “Final Solution.”

Calling a claim someone is making a “conspiracy theory” can be used to dismiss, rather than address a position.

The Associated Press recently ran an article stating, “Conspiracy theories about a secret Mexican plan to reclaim the Southwest are also growing amid the public debate about illegal immigration.”

Calling it a “conspiracy theory” is disingenuous. In fact, there is a “conspiracy” in the sense of “acting to a common end,” but it's not the least bit secret. It's openly discussed in articles, websites, and speeches by Mexican officials and Mexican-American intellectuals who have never forgotten what Americans never remember – that the southwest quarter of the U.S. was once the northern half of Mexico.

And, sometimes there really are conspiracies. That's why we have criminal conspiracy laws.

“Never be surprised by conspiracy. Conspiracy is normal primate politics.”
- The Second Principle of Conspiracy

* Hillary's dismissal of claims her husband had "sexual relations with that woman" and lied about it under oath.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A pleasant satirical exchange in the morning

Monday morning I came into work to find the email copied below from a local resident commenting on my weekend op-ed posted below as "Dane-geld."

It was marinated in mild sarcasm, so I responded in kind.

The resident does this kind of thing, and we probably won't be printing the exchange, because once we started doing exchanges, we'd be spending a lot of time and space on them.

I'm posting it, because I'm rather pleased with myself. I LIKE doing satire, it's the Irish in me. My guilty secret is that I love reading Ann Coulter rip somebody a new one.

But... Coulter does it all the time, and I think that makes it less effective than it might be. Using satire is like cussing; for greatest effect it should be used sparingly.

Soooo- the Resident wrote:

"I read with interest your article on N. Korea's release of the two American journalists coming at a price. Obviously the public, like myself, is not privy to some of the things you mentioned or I just missed them by not reading my 3 newspapers closely enough. I thank you for the update.

"Perhaps you can clarify a few things yet. Which "armed and agile nation" were you referring to at the beginning? Both we and
N. Korea are armed to the teeth, whether either country can currently afford it or not, but I am not sure which one or both are considered "agile" and in what sense?

"Being half Norwegian, I have always been interested in the Vikings and how they worked things out with the countries they invaded. In many cases I think the countries or areas felt the Dane-geld paid was a small price to being annihilated or devastated by the Vikings and as long as they got what they wanted, geld, they pretty much "honored" the agreements. The current day idea of "no negotiations with terrorists" just did not work that good back then. Ha I am not convinced it works now.

"In both the recent cases we got our people back and the families reunited. I doubt if that would have happened under the Bush Administration or some others.. It would have been, "You got yourself in that position and you live or die with it. No help from your country.", even if it only meant giving up some people or concessions you had no further use for anyway.

"With the N. Koreans, as with most oriental cultures, (which our government seldom seems to care to know nothing about, like with the Middle East also), saving face is still a big deal. Did you see the big smile on the face of Kim Jong II when he was standing next to the unsmiling Bill Clinton? The man could not have been happier for someone in his health! Happy people are LESS likely to kill like that angry young man in the news the last couple days. A small price to pay I think for those women, but then you obviously know something we don't.

"Like with the Iran deal to get Roxanne out. Until your article I had never heard anything about the "Irbil five" and still have not.

"Did these 5 really kill hundreds of American's themselves? If so, they indeed should have been kept, but I suspect they had served their usefulness to us, if not to the terrorists. Anyone that believes we did NOT have to give anything up to get the two releases is very unaware anyway and probably would believe anything. So no harm done. :-)

"Just who is the SPJ?. Can you speculate at least on all the things we don't know about yet?. If we did give them cash, maybe some of it will go to feed their people. Is that all bad? How would you get rid of the "Dane" Kim Jong II without taking out a lot of other people with him, on both sides? Just curious. Blockades don't work.

"My moment of sympathy for the little girl was not when she met her mother again, where she almost acted uncertain of who she was, but the story by her father of her starting to draw pictures of just him and her and leaving the mother out.. The damage was already being done, but to "save face" for our country, it normally would have continued. I personally hope to see more diplomacy tried or used, then just just the "big stick". Teddy R. advocated both. Was the price really that great? What was the concession exactly N. Korea got other then some recognition they crave? Will they be "nicer" now and talk at least?

"You referenced violence professionals calling it "rewarding bad behavior:. We obviously see it different as I felt it was rewarding good behavior, i.e releasing the women.. N. Korea has long set certain standards. Cross into our country without permission for any reason, even if it might be a malfunctioning GPS unit, and you are toast. Could this have happened here?

"They, like the 3 hikers that ended up in Iran push the envelope in even getting that close to known belligerent countries, but does that mean we should abandon them to their fate or possible stupidity? Will we get them back too "for a price"? Who knows.

"Kipplings shame is just a western way of saying you do not want to lose face yourself. No one does, but common sense has to prevail sometimes. I think the current administration is making the right "adjustments" in our foreign policy. Thanks for listening."

(SIC: All misspellings and syntax are his.)

I replied:

Google "Irbil five." That should get you into the inner sanctum of information I'm privy to.

You said: "What was the concession exactly N. Korea got other then some recognition they crave?"

Perhaps, and I'm just guessing here, it's the privilege of being treated as if they were a reasonably civilized nation that say, doesn't allow a few million of their own people to starve to death to maintain their "face."

You said: "A small price to pay I think for those women, but then you obviously know something we don't."

Read it again. I have no alternative to doing what we did to get them back. There isn't one. Teddy Roosevelt could cry, "Pedicaris alive or Raisuli dead!"* but North Korea though tiny, is one of the countries China regards as its tributary/buffer states.

What I said, plainly enough I think - though it goes against the American cultural assumption that all problems have unambiguously good solutions, was that there is a price to pay. Period.

I can say that with confidence because there is a price to pay for everything. It's called economics I think.

You say the price is "small enough." We shall see. My personal opinion is, there are no "small" prices to pay when dealing with mass murderers.

You said: "Happy people are LESS likely to kill like that angry young man in the news the last couple days."

Really? That's an interesting theory. My own reading of history (and personal experience with psychopaths) is that states such as North Korea, the Soviet Union, National Socialist Germany, etc. are ruled and staffed by people who are really happy when they are bending other people to their will, and hurting and killing them from sheer sadistic glee. In such states they take people like that angry young man in the news and give them jobs.

One of the happiest smiles I ever saw was on the face of a uniformed thug in Eastern Europe swinging a rubber truncheon. (They're not all rubber actually, they have a steel rod inside.) But then it connected with my face and I don't remember much after that, so perhaps I didn't see the remorse after he realized he'd hurt me.

You said: "Being half Norwegian, I have always been interested in the Vikings and how they worked things out with the countries they invaded. In many cases I think the countries or areas felt the Dane-geld paid was a small price to being annihilated or devastated by the Vikings and as long as they got what they wanted, geld, they pretty much "honored" the agreements. The current day idea of "no negotiations with terrorists" just did not work that good back then. Ha I am not convinced it works now."

I'm confused. You say the idea of "no negotiation with terrorists" didn't work that good back then - but in the previous sentence you mentioned that negotiating, buying them off, was precisely what they were doing.

Nonetheless I agree, "no negotiation" is a silly way to put it. "Don't mess with us or you'll die" is a negotiation.

Oh, and as I recall the Danes wound up taking the Saxon kingdom, until Alfred the Great took it back by force. Later a descendant of Norwegian Vikings took England for good in 1066. That works pretty good if you're Norwegian I guess. I suppose it's all in your point of view.

* One of the most delightful things I ever learned was that the central incident of one of my favorite movies, "The Wind and the Lion," with Sean Connery as the Raisuli, Candace Bergen as Eden Pedicaris, and Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt, was based on an actual incident. And Roosevelt really did say, "Pedicaris alive, or Raisuli dead!"

On of the biggest disappointments in my life was learning that Pedicaris was a man.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A cloud on the horizon, no bigger than a man's hand

Last October I wrote 'The Perfect Storm of the Left,' published on The Atlasphere and posted here.


Comments were mostly favorable with some demurrals along the lines of,
"Oh I don't think it'll be THAT bad - just like Jimmy Carter maybe."

One of those who agreed it was going to be very bad indeed, was appropriately enough, a Russian lady with a keen sense of history.

I wrote about Obama's trial balloon of a "...civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded" as the military.

My comment was, "Who do you think they'll be recruiting from? Teenagers? Disaffected minorities? Illegal aliens even, as part of an "amnesty" and "path to citizenship"?

By now, a lot of you have seen this video from the election in 2008:

Two Black Panthers, one of them conspicuously armed, swaggering in front of a Philadelphia polling place, intimidating people with remarks like, "You're going to be ruled by the black man."

Their particular hatred seems to have been directed at two African-American poll watchers they called, "race traitors."

Keep that in mind, it's an important point.

Attorney-General Eric Holder's Justice Department dismissed the case against the Black Panthers after it had already been won by default.

Oh, but the one with the billy club has been enjoined not to brandish a weapon near a polling place anymore.

It's already illegal to brandish a weapon near a polling place - or any other place with intent to intimidate for that matter.

Now the media (well FOX, CNN hasn't posted it yet) is abuzz with this:

Kenneth Gladney, an African-American was handing out 'Don't Tread on Me' buttons and stickers at a demonstration against nationallized health care outside a "town hall" meeting in St. Louis, when he got knocked to the ground and kicked by four Service Employees International Union (SEIU) thugs.

Gladney said in an interview the first to throw a punch was African-American - who called him the N-word.

If you'll look at the video, you'll see that people came to Gladney's aid - thank God! The day that doesn't happen is when we'll know our country is in it deep.

But, look at the body language of the man in the white shirt. He's angry, and gutsy enough to confront those thugs - but then he has to back off quickly when they advance on him. In the video it looks exactly like what it is, a man afraid.

Understand, I'm NOT criticizing that man's courage. It took cojones to stand up to those thugs. It's his preparation that was lacking.

And that goes for all of us.

Winston Churchill once said that the Second World War first appeared on the horizon like a cloud no bigger than a man's hand.

What do you think this is?

I've said it before, to put a fascist state in place they need a thug corps. And make no mistake, what is on the drawing board in Washington is the plans for a fascist state.

That's why there is this unseemly haste to overhaul, well pretty much everything: the banking and credit system, health care, etc. This has to be largely in place before the mid-term elections of 2010. Because even if the Republicans make substantial gains in congress, it's damn near impossible to dismantle massive government programs.

Once Americans have to go to the government as supplicants for their home loans and health care it probably won't matter who's in office anyway, we're serfs.

Once they control the credit system, and mandate health care through your employer - they control your job.

There is quite obviously a dawning realization of that in this country, and folks are taking to the streets and meeting halls to protest.

That's where the fascists have to strike back.

Next: The Thug Corps.

Note: The statement of Kenneth's lawyer.

Kenneth was attacked on the evening of August 6, 2009 at Rep. Russ Carnahan’s (D-MO)town hall meeting in South St. Louis County. I was at the town hall meeting as well and witnessed the events leading up to the attack of Kenneth. Kenneth was approached by an SEIU representative as Kenneth was handing out “Don’t Tread on Me” flags to other conservatives. The SEIU representative demanded to know why a black man was handing out these flags. The SEIU member used a racial slur against Kenneth, then punched him in the face. Kenneth fell to the ground. Another SEIU member yelled racial epithets at Kenneth as he kicked him in the head and back. Kenneth was also brutally attacked by one other male SEIU member and an unidentified woman. The three men were clearly SEIU members, as they were wearing T-shirts with the SEIU logo.

Kenneth was beaten badly. One assailant fled on foot; three others were arrested. Kenneth was admitted to St. John’s Mercy Medical Center emergency room, where he was treated for his numerous injuries. Kenneth was merely expressing his freedom of speech by handing out the flags. In fact, he merely asked people as they exited the town hall meeting whether they would like a flag. He in no way provoked any argument or altercation, as evidenced by the fact that three assailants were arrested.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Internet Snitch Brigade

If you'll have a look at this article by prize-winning investigative journalist and major hottie Michelle Malkin here:


Czardom has its privileges. This week, President Obama's health care overlord, Nancy DeParle, launched a taxpayer-funded initiative to recruit an Internet Snitch Brigade that will combat "disinformation about health insurance reform." As the White House explained in a special online bulletin:

"These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain e-mails or through casual conversation. Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help. If you get an e-mail or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov."

There's the email, I think you all know what to do.


Thursday, August 06, 2009


Note: This appeared as a weekend op-ed in my newspaper. I've used the Dane-geld trope before, in an email after the Madrid bombings, and it went viral. So sue me, it's a damn good poem and expresses an Eternal Truth.

Dane-geld (A.D. 980-1016)

It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbor and to say: --
"We invaded you last night--we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away."

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you've only to pay 'em the Dane-geld
And then you'll get rid of the Dane!

- Rudyard Kipling

Dane-geld (Dane-gold): A tax raised by Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to pay off Viking raiders in return for not ravaging their lands.

A while ago in these pages I explained why I thought the U.S. government probably couldn't do anything for Roxanne Saberi, then imprisoned on espionage charges in Iran.

In hindsight, it seems I overlooked one possibility – they could buy her out.

And it appears they have. The price was the release of the “Irbil five” Iranian terrorists captured in Iraq, where they specialized in deploying anti-armor explosives that killed hundreds of Americans. There may have been other concessions we don't know about yet.

This Tuesday I received a message from the Society of Professional Journalists that American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling had been released by the North Korean government after being imprisoned for 140 days and sentenced to 12 years hard labor – which in North Korea essentially means a sentence of death by prolonged torture.

The release stated, “Former President Bill Clinton arrived in North Korea today, Tuesday, Aug. 4, to negotiate the release of Lee and Ling, who had been imprisoned since March. North Korea’s... leader Kim Jong II pardoned and ordered the release of the journalists after meeting with Clinton for negotiations.”

With apologies to the SPJ, this is false and misleading on one essential point. President Clinton did not go for “negotiations,” the outcome was established before he set foot on the plane. He was there to pay a ransom: legitimacy for North Korea, tremendous “face” for Kim Jong Il, and most certainly more we don't know about yet.

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: --
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

This is how small but unspeakably brutal countries hold rich and powerful nations to ransom. North Korea's leaders were indifferent to the death by starvation of an estimated 300,000 to 800,000 people a year for three years in the recent, preventable famine.

We care deeply as a nation about the fate of only two of our own, in a deeply personal way. I could feel the anguish of their husbands, and my heart nearly broke to see Lee's little girl run to hug Mommy when she got off the plane. Like everyone else in the country, I breathed a sigh of relief when we got these two back safely.

But let's not fool ourselves, there is a price for this. One we're all going to pay eventually. North Korea has demonstrated again they can get big concessions for a trivial cost. The Obama administration calls it “engagement.” Violence professionals call it “rewarding bad behavior.”

Somewhere down the road, we're going to re-learn what Kipling tried to tell us a long time ago.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: --

"We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!"

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What's Kathleen Parker about?

Readers may remember that I've heaped scorn on Civil War revisionism here:



and defended the South here:


Now I have to defend the South again, from an attack from an unexpected direction.

If you go here


You'll find a column by allegedly-conservative Kathleen Parker, 'Them Dang Southerners.'

Some excerpts:

"In a fusillade of pique, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich charged that Southerners are what's wrong with the Republican Party.

"We got too many Jim DeMints (South Carolina) and Tom Coburns (Oklahoma)," he told an interviewer with The Columbus Dispatch. "It's the Southerners. They get on TV and go 'errrr, errrrr.' People hear them and say, 'These people, they're Southerners. The party's being taken over by Southerners..."

"Whatever Voinovich's sound effects were intended to convey, his meaning was clear enough: Those ignorant, right-wing, Bible-thumping rednecks are ruining the party."

To begin with, Okies are not exactly Southerners. We're either the most north-westerly southerners, or most northeasterly southwesterners, or whatever. The accent is not "southern" but a distinct regional accent linguists call the Arkahoma dialect.

But OK, it was technically part of the Old Confederacy, though not a state at the time and its part in the Civil War was pretty much a civil war among the Five Nations.

Ah don't know nothin' 'bout no Jim DeMint, but I've met Tom Coburn and know something about his reputation in Congress.

I might find some differences with Coburn if I cared to comb through his record, but the guy is one Republican who made himself unpopular with his own party by putting their damn feet to the fire about out-of-control spending back when they had their snouts in the trough. AND he's willling to vote against pork in his own district.

This is a problem?

"Alas, Voinovich was not entirely wrong.

"Not all Southern Republicans are wing nuts. Nor does the GOP have a monopoly on ignorance or racism. And, the South, for all its sins, is also lush with beauty, grace and mystery. Nevertheless, it is true that the GOP is fast becoming regionalized below the Mason-Dixon, and becoming increasingly associated with some of the South's worst ideas..."

Nice of you to acknowlege that Kath. Strategically I'd say you put your foot in it though.

The fact is the Democratic Party is now, as it was in its beginning, the party of institutionalized racism.

Can anyone explain with a straight face how the unspoken assumption behind affirmative action is NOT that certain minorities are incapable of rising by their own efforts on a level playing field?

Allegedly benign paternalism is every bit as racist as the hateful cross-burning variety - and the latter is pretty dead in the South, case you hadn't noticed.

Friends of liberty, even the tepid Republican conception of it, should be shouting this from the rooftops, not making feeble, defensive, "Am not!" statements.

"In a poll commissioned by the liberal blog, Daily Kos, participants were asked: "Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?..."

"In 1966 Buchanan and Richard Nixon were at the Wade Hampton Hotel in Columbia, S.C., where Nixon worked a crowd into a frenzy: "Buchanan recalls that the room was full of sweat, cigar smoke, and rage; the rhetoric, which was about patriotism and law and order, 'burned the paint off the walls.' As they left the hotel, Nixon said, 'This is the future of this Party, right here in the South.'"

"That same rage was on display again in the fall of 2008, but this time the frenzy was stimulated by a pretty gal with a mocking little wink. Sarah Palin may not have realized what she was doing, but Southerners weaned on Harper Lee heard the dog whistle."

There's that loathing of Sarah Palin of hers, which I absolutely fail to understand. I don't mean when Parker publicly asked Palin to withdraw after poor performance on TV interviews. That's a legitimate position on electoral stategy.

This is a visceral loathing, and it's kind of weird coming from Parker.

"What the GOP is experiencing now, one hopes, are the death throes of that 50-year spell that Johnson foretold. But before the party of the Great Emancipator can rise again, Republicans will have to face their inner Voinovich and drive a stake through the heart of old Dixie."

This sounds like the kind of Southern-bashing we're used to hearing from people who've forgotten that the Ku Klux Klan was huge in the North in the early 20th century. That historical embarrassment was by no means an exclusively Southern thing.

However, it turns out Kathleen Parker was raised in Winterhaven, Florida and lives in South Carolina.

(Well, Florida hardly counts as Southern anymore. The native Floridian is thought to be mythological or at least extinct.)

At any rate, this is what I published in the comments section. It's kind of lost in the 130-and-counting indignant replies and the one or two "Right on!"s though.

Ms Parker,

1) The Daily Kos is perhaps neither the most reliable source for accurate polling, nor in a position to point fingers after having promoted the "Sarah Palin is not the mother of her Down's child but covering for her daughter" story against all reason and evidence.

2) "Southerners weaned on Harper Lee" means what? You mean the author of 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' possibly the most powerful anti-racist novel since Huckleberry Finn?

That doesn't strike me as an association to be embarrassed by, but then I guess I'm just a dumb redneck.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Such is life...

Heavy sigh. I wrote the following editorial after the events described within. The web site of the organization is here: http://www.nrn.org/

Everybody must have heard by now about the bunch of volunteers in town from an organization most of us have probably never heard of.

The National Relief Network evidently contacted Valley City Mayor Mary Lee Nielson and asked if we still needed help with flood cleanup.

She answered, “Heck yes!” or words to that effect.

Nielson set Lori Jury to work compiling a list of people who needed help, and pretty soon we had about 100 kids from Maryland and Michigan working around town.

They’re between 14 and 18 years of age, though kids as young as 13 may volunteer.

This bunch was recruited from two Catholic youth groups. Scott Harding, founder and CEO of the National Relief Network, says they work with high schools, universities, churches and synagogues. Volunteers pay their own way for what is typically a five-day, six-night project. They usually come during the cleanup phase of a disaster,because of the potential danger for the younger volunteers.

I’m impressed.

Like a lot of others, I thought interest in helping out would fade after the immediate, dramatic danger of flooding was past.

I remember joking with fellow sandbaggers during the emergency, “Does anyone think we’re going to get this many volunteers to empty sandbags when this is over?”

I’m impressed that anyone thought to organize help after the flood was over. I’m impressed by the whole concept of this unique organization, and I’m impressed with the kids.

Of course the help is welcome, but I’m also thinking of the benefit this effort is to these young volunteers. This is a character-building activity of the highest order.

In an age when life is, materially, pretty easy for teenagers, these volunteers are seeking ways to challenge themselves.

In a time when the dominant problem-solving model is the massive government program, they are practicing and developing the model of voluntarism.

And in a time when many people feel a soul-sickening inability to affect change as individuals, they are learning that individuals are all that truly matters in creating change for the better.

Thanks from all of us in Valley City, kids. The help you bring is most welcome, but even more important may be the lift to our spirits you’ve brought with you.

The example you’ve set will live on long after the flood and is a memory preserved in our historical museum, which I hope you will take in while you’re here.

And when my children are of age, I hope to send them on just such a wonderful adventure.

After it published, I got an email from the director telling me that this piece expressed what they're about better than anything he'd ever read.

"Well," thought I, "that's laying it on with a trowel, but I'll take it."

Then Saturday a lady told me, "Hey Steve! Scott's going to take your editorial to a meeting in Maryland and show it to the Secretary of Education!"

"Wow!" I thought.

It turns out he's going to argue the program should be instituted in the public schools.


Pity, it was such a wonderful idea while it lasted...