Monday, February 28, 2005

And furthermore...

Whoa. Dominoes tumbling all around. From Fox News via Instapundit:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — With shouts of "Syria out!," more than 25,000 flag-waving protesters massed outside Parliament on Monday in a dramatic display of defiance that forced the resignation of Lebanon's prime minister and Cabinet two weeks after the assassination of an opposition leader.

And, according to the Christian Science Monitor, also via Insta (you have got to check out the InstaSource of All Knowledge) "In a surprise announcement Saturday, Egypt's long-ruling president, Hosni Mubarak, ordered constitutional changes that would open the door for the first-ever multiparty presidential elections in the world's most populous Arab country."

And furthermore, according to Yahoo! News via Captain's Quarters, Saddam Hussein's half-brother Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, who was captured in Syria by Syrian authorities along with more than two dozen other ex-Ba'athist officials, has been turned over to Iraqi authorities.

Democrats being Democrats?

Today I was following my nose (and a bunch of links) as I often do, from Instapundit to BuzzMachine to Oliver Willis, when finally Willis's commentary inspired me to bloggage. Thusly:

Jeff [Jarvis, of BuzzMachine, a Democrat but one who can be critical of his party] believes that there's room for the two parties to work together. On what planet?

...and elsewhere,

The weakest points for the Democratic Party have been their moments when they have shunned what it is to be a Democrat (intelligent answers to complex dilemmas, common sense over corporate cronyism, justice over calculated acts of violence) in order to be "just like the Republicans" (ie. voting for the Bush tax cuts or the war in Iraq).

It takes no particular genius to combine these statements logically and come up with the following: Republicans, who are The Enemy (per the first statement), stand for [per the second statement] foolish answers to complex dilemmas, corporate cronyism, and calculated acts of violence. If he honestly sees Republicans in this light, it's really no wonder the Democrats lost seats across the board in November. Even politicians who hold no love for bipartisanship tend not to portray their opponents as moronic criminal types, if they want to win office. (Dean, on the record as a Republican-hater, sort of excepted.)

Willis subtitles his site, "Like Kryptonite To Stupid." If I were in the mood to be pedantic, I might point out the flaw in his simile: kryptonite does nothing to stupid (or to stupid people or to stupidity). But maybe - considering the very evident inefficacy of this worldview at winning elections - it's accurate after all.

Update: A commenter points out that I'm guilty of a similar sin: extrapolating the words of one blogger to the entire Democratic party. S/he's right - my post does read that way. What I should have said instead of "If he honestly sees Republicans in this light, it's really no wonder the Democrats lost seats across the board in November" is, "If Willis's view of Republicans is widely shared by Democrats, or even just by significant portions of the Democratic leadership, it's really no wonder the Democrats lost seats across the board in November."

Friday, February 25, 2005

Lebanon rises

I remember Lebanon. Vaguely.

Some twenty years ago, while I was in high school (has it really been that long?), the family was living in England, about 70 miles northeast of London. RAF Woodbridge/Bentwaters, Dad's station. My first (and last) experience with DoDDS - Department of Defense Dependent Schools. Also my first (and last) experience with Model United Nations, and for a very long time, the last time I was interested in and informed about world affairs, though at the time I was more "up" on Africa than the Middle East, since my school was acting as the delegation from Ghana.

Still, it was also contemporaneous with the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed so many American soldiers and resulted in concrete barriers' being set up in front of the US military base gates all over the world to prevent car bombers from gaining access. Hard not to notice that when your school bus has to slalom through them daily. And I remember that Lebanon had the largest Christian population in the Middle East, which was interesting to me.

But after those two years, I'm afraid I didn't really spare a thought for Lebanon, to the point that I was only just barely aware that it was occupied(?!), and had no memory at all of who the occupiers were (Syria, in case you're in the same boat - and the current Lebanese government is a puppet of Syria). But apparently there are rumblings now that Syria is responding to the Bush Doctrine: Instapundit lists about four other sources that indicate plans for civil disobedience and a promise from Syria to withdraw from certain areas of Lebanon, apparently in response to recent accusations that Syria is complicit in the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri - and, I'd bet, in response to Secretary Rice's first world tour and her failure to be a kinder, gentler secretary of state than Gen. Powell (who, much as I liked the guy, was a bit too kind and gentle for my tastes).

Let's do the tally: Afghanistan. Ukraine. The Palestinians. Iraq. North Korea - feeling goaded and therefore entering another rant phase? Iran and Saudi Arabia - mutterings from the street about how Iraq gets to have elections, so why can't we? Now... Syria and Lebanon?

Please note: apologies that I haven't yet figured out how to link to specific Instapundit pieces... Just search for "Syria" or "Lebanon," or scroll down. It's on February 23.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Missing the point

I had another topic all picked out, darn it. Oh well.

Eason Jordan has resigned from CNN. When I heard the news, via Instapundit Friday evening if I recall, the first thing I did was to email Megan McArdle (yes, we have the same last name - weird, eh?), a.k.a. Jane Galt, at Asymmetric Information, my favorite blog, and then... the realization hit.

While fully acknowledging the lack of perspective in this statement, I have to say it anyway: It was like the day Saddam Hussein's regime suddenly collapsed. At that time, I was first overjoyed at our success - and then a niggling anxiety tickled the base of my spine: did I really understand what was going on? Did we? I have since concluded that, in the main, "we," the US military, did understand. But I did not. In this case, Jordan's resignation is just as out of proportion to the attacks on his statement, and I have a similar niggling anxiety: what game is CNN playing? They could have simply asked Davos to release the tape. They didn't. Why not?

I'm not tearing my hair and crying "conspiracy theory!", I promise. All I'm saying is, what has CNN accomplished by getting rid of Jordan? Was his resignation already in the works - had he been too hot to handle for a while and they were just looking for an excuse? Or (or possibly "And") do they have an overall strategery to do their part to discredit bloggers on behalf of the MSM, while simultaneously unloading someone who was no longer an asset? (It was Jordan, after all, who revealed in the pages of the NYT that CNN had deliberately failed to report on Saddam's atrocities in order to maintain its access in Baghdad. I have to wonder whether some at CNN might have preferred that information to stay under wraps.)

In any event, MSM outlets reporting on the Jordan resignation are largely missing the point. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit brought to his readership's attention the comments of Steve Lovelady, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review Daily Web site, by quoting from this column by Michelle Malkin in the NY Post. According to Malkin, Lovelady "blasted Jordan's Internet critics in an e-mail to New York University professor Jay Rosen's blog PressThink: 'The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail'" (Lovelady's comments in the original are available via the NY Post link). So far I've heard no dissenting voice from the MSM - they all rue the day blogs came online and envision bloggers (at least conservative bloggers) as ignorant parvenus drinking beer - out of the can - at the cocktail party that is Journalism. A poor analogy, because journalists seem to take their profession veddy veddy seriously, but there you have it.

That's not it at all. Journalists are experts on nothing. They're the Seinfelds of life. I mean no particular disrespect: Seinfeld was a funny show, and generalists tend to be more interesting people than specialists, in my book. But what the journalistic community has before it here is a willing pool of honest-to-God experts, with credentials and opinions they aren't afraid to state, and if the journalists don't abuse them, their reporting could benefit significantly from bloggers' contributions, properly vetted. Journalists could be establishing new contacts, testing the waters of public opinion in subject-dedicated blogs, floating story ideas and points of view, gaining background... but instead they're throwing up ad hominem barricades.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Strategery or bankruptcy?

Via PowerLine, I was just reading a liveblog covering a recent debate between Hugh Hewitt and Peter Beinart of The New Republic. In this debate, Hewitt apparently repeatedly brought up the Democratic party's lack of new ideas; Beinart objected, saying that they had ideas but couldn't get them out because of Republican control of Congress.

I wonder.

Is lack of Congressional control that much of a barrier to getting ideas out? Seems to me Pelosi and Reid had the eyes and ears of the nation (or at least that portion of the nation that watches the State of the Union address) the other night, and Bush's general ideas about SocSec have been floating around for plenty long enough to formulate a response to the likely form they would take (and in fact did take) during his address. Yet all these two "leaders" of the minority party in Congress could come up with on the subject was that it was a sacred trust and we shouldn't dink around with it. And I have yet to read a single Democratic alternative to Bush's personal-accounts idea that involves more, or other, than lowering benefits in the future, raising retirement age someday, and/or removing the earnings cap on SocSec payroll deductions.

The question I have, then, is whether Democratic silence on the subject is, as it appears to be, lack of anything better to offer, or - and this may be worse - a sign that the party is hunkering down to wait out the next four years (or at least the next two, although by now they should know better than to place too much stock in the midterm election) before they reveal any of their own ideas, to prevent Bush and the Republicans from taking credit for any good ones that might be taken up and passed? If it's the latter, shame on them.

I suppose time will tell.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

From the airport lobby

So Steve called me a few minutes ago from Charlotte, NC. He's trying to get onto an earlier flight so he can help out with getting the now three sick kids to bed, and he had some things to say about USAir.

He paid $25 to get on the standby list, which is a sign of his love and pity for me, because the desk attendant informed him that that $25 was USAir's whether he got onto the flight or not. (For those who don't fly standby often, including me, I conclude that this isn't normal practice... nor would I expect it to be.) He said to her, "So it's basically like gambling, then." She nodded brightly. (I may be reading too much into Steve's tone at relating this conversation.) "But your odds are pretty good!" she added.

Then he told me about another USAir flight he'd taken recently. USAir, like some other carriers, charges for meals; this flight was to span the dinner hour, so Steve decided to pay his five or seven dollars and eat on the plane. The desk attendant in this case consulted the seating chart and advised him against buying the meal. "Why?" Steve asked. It was because he was seated near the rear of the plane, the meals were first-come-first-served, and therefore he stood a good chance of buying a meal but not receiving one.

So apparently USAir has figured out some extra sources of cash. Could be helpful when you're in bankruptcy, I suppose, though I've never been in bankruptcy myself.

The vigilant maintenance of perspective

I have two sick kids today. All right, to be fair only the three-year-old is truly sick, but the baby is getting over the same illness (as am I), and altogether There Is No Joy In Mudville. Seems to be standard-issue flu with fever, congestion, headache, body aches, but there's a lovely stomach component that is, not to put too fine a point on it, approximately doubling my laundry chores. I should note too that my husband is out of town until (handily enough for him) after bedtime tonight, then leaves again tomorrow for a long day trip.

I was trying to get one of the endless loads of laundry folded and put away as the three-year-old was sitting on the sofa whimpering and the baby was making cat food soup (as we call it when he dumps all the cat's dry food into the water dish and plays in the result) a few feet from me, and I could feel resentment bubbling up and threatening to overflow like a pot of rice left on high (I did that just last week so I know). I heard myself muttering, "Daddy owes me a whole day this weekend." My laundry-folding motions grew larger yet more precise, angry basically, and then -

- it came to me that neither of my kids was going to die from this bug, that I had a washer and dryer to take most of the work out of my work, that I have a freezer and a pantry full of food and cookbooks geared toward turning it into good meals in minimum time, that Steve's going to volunteer to give me the "day off" on Saturday before I even get a chance to ask for it. So I did my best. I took a deep breath and said a quick "Thanks" to the One I like to thank for things, for sending me the dose of perspective I'd been lacking. It didn't entirely quell the resentment, but it did turn the heat down to a more appropriate simmer.

And because I purport to write about matters political herein, let me assure you there's a link. Yesterday, Brit Hume (Fox News) misinterpreted an FDR quote, in defense of personal retirement accounts. You can read the story at Media Matters, which I came to via a favorite blog, Asymmetrical Information, which in its turn directed me to Al Franken's blog at the Air America website ( - a dead link you'll have to copy and paste into your URL window, because I don't want to give the man business unnecessarily), in which Al called for Hume's immediate resignation. Commenters to Al's blog thread likened the error (If Error It Was) to Dan Rather's rush to get the Bush National Guard memo forgeries on the air, followed by his and CBS's insistence that they were not forgeries, followed by his acknowledgement that they might be forged but they were accurate anyway.

Hume's egregious error was to imply (some would say "to state" - it was a one-liner in a TV dialog; I have to go with "to imply") that FDR wanted private retirement annuities to "supplant" (Hume's word) the government-funded program he envisioned as Social Security. The original source material indicates that FDR saw three phases of Social Security: an old-age pension, half federally-funded and half state-funded, to support those who didn't have enough time before retirement to pay into the system; a compulsory annuity; and a voluntary annuity for those who could afford to contribute to it and wanted to supplement their retirement income. He further stated that he expected the entire system to become self-supporting over time.

So, question: did Hume simply misspeak, saying "supplant" when he meant "supplement"? I haven't read a transcript of the entire program yet - I'll update when I do. But even if he indeed meant what he said and knew that he was to some extent mischaracterizing FDR's vision, is it equivalent to Rather's actions? What could each man expect, or hope, the results of his actions to be? Hume: one line, attempting to draw support for Bush's retirement accounts by adopting the so-called "mantle of FDR" with at least some philosophical basis, to bring about an optimal outcome that Bush's SocSec strategery (I love to write that!) gains some popular support in states with Democratic senators, possibly breaking a filibuster. Rather: four memos, rushed to air in the run-up to a national election with - to say the least - inadequate fact-checking, that could have tipped the balance in the election by tarnishing the military record of a wartime president (who signed his Form 180, unlike his opponent) - followed by stonewalling and then an insistence that while the memos might be fake, he still believed them to be accurate - so that even if the memos weren't all they were cracked up to be, the outcome had a chance of being the same.

You be the judge.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Long long ago, I earned a degree in communication studies, with no area of concentration such as business comm or interpersonal comm. That it was the smallest degree available (in terms of required credits) at my university was all to the good, to me at the time; all the better to pursue interesting-sounding electives like History of the American West and Voice for Musical Theater. But I did get one or two things out of my still-pristine comm studies degree.

Notably, I recall a discussion about the press and its agenda-setting function. Access is everything, and the press (or as we call it these days, the MSM) has been tremendously successful in achieving access while excluding others from access - or had been, until blogs came along. Now, it seems anything goes - information flows from whoever on the scene has internet access to anyone who cares to hunt through the crazy chaotic card catalog that is Google and its ilk, limited mainly by the writer's ability to write cogently.

Hence the Eason Jordan hoopla. If you've somehow missed it, may I direct you to Roger L. Simon's blog on the subject, one of many. There's even a website devoted to the story ( - I referenced a blog first because it was in a blog (a different blog, cited below) that the story broke. Briefly, summarized from the blog that broke the story: at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 27, 2005, Jordan, Chief News Exec at CNN, made the outrageous claim that the US military is targeting journalists. I leave out a lot of controversy when I move directly onward to say that he has since claimed to have been misunderstood: his comment, he says, was intended to draw a distinction between journalists killed accidentally ("collateral damage") and journalists killed deliberately ("targeted" by snipers) but not because they're journalists - rather because they are mistaken for insurgents or suchlike.

There is reportedly a videotape of the session, including Jordan's remarks, but Davos (shorthand for the forum) has so far refused to release it.

The story remained essentially blog-only until about Feb. 7, when the Washington Post finally reported Howard Kurtz's retelling (subscription-only link to WaPo here - full disclosure: I haven't read it in the Post but have read many an excerpt elsewhere).

From a column by Michelle Malkin in

Jordan's the man who admitted last spring that CNN withheld news out of Baghdad to maintain access to Saddam Hussein's regime. He was quoted last fall telling a Portuguese forum that he believed journalists had been arrested and tortured by American forces (a charge he maintains today). In the fall of 2002, he reportedly accused the Israeli military of deliberately targeting CNN personnel "on numerous occasions." He was in the middle of the infamous Tailwind scandal, in which CNN was forced to retract a Peter Arnett report that the American military used sarin gas against its own troops in Laos. And in 1999, Jordan declared: "We are a global network, and we take global interest[s] first, not U.S. interests first."

Access and agenda-setting. In a pre-blog world, Jordan's remarks would have gone utterly unreported, as would CNN's deal with the devil to "maintain access" in Baghdad and its role in Tailwind. The MSM lags significantly in recognizing that the sun is setting on their agenda-setting: the failure of Davos to release the tape is like an illustration of Sherlock Holmes's contention that a criminal who believes his hidden loot is in jeopardy will often rush directly to its hiding place. It only serves to give away the game.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Stop me before I blog again!

Not since the fall elections have I been so unaccountably obsessed with Life Online.

The effect is to give me the impression that the world is very small and very well informed. I'm always shocked when I start talking to actual people (not virtual people) about something so well known in the blogosphere that it hardly merits more comment, and they're utterly unaware of it. Happened the other night at a dinner party: I mentioned the GI Cody story to a group of four intelligent, interested, politically active friends, and none of them had even heard of it. It made me feel almost like an insider - or dare I say, a fledgling journalist?

Nope, I don't dare say that. I think I'm just making a virtue out of a vice, to support and justify my habit. Not that I decry the importance of that story: few things point to cracks in the Iraq terrorists' organization more clearly than their kidnapping of an action figure. But there's laundry to be done and bills to be paid, and GI Cody will not be helping me with them (as he's recovering from his ordeal in Wiesbaden, I understand). So off I go, to interact with real (not virtual) people in the dirt-o-sphere. If I'm not back by next week, you can have my camera.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A Gordian solution

Social Security is not something I've paid a lot of attention to, over the years - except when I was a private contractor and realized the true size of the payroll tax I'd simply grudgingly paid as an employee. Even then, my concern was for how I would come up with the extra 13% that I hadn't known existed. (I was very young; my contractor gig was very small; but the income was untaxed, so I had to learn more about the tax code than how to fill out the 1040EZ whether I liked it or not.)

Lately I've been trying to slog through the arguments about the solvency of Social Security, potential fixes, their short- and long-term effects... in brief, the logical arguments. I'm coming up dry. The reason, I think, is because at root this is an ideology issue, not an economic one. The fact is (how I hate that phrase - only slightly less than "the fact of the matter is"), Social Security's solvency could be ensured for the long, or at least the longer, haul by the simple expedients of raising the age at which people receive benefits and making some modest benefit cuts. As for the crisis/non-crisis question, I will say that the Democrats are being disingenuous: it was a crisis while Clinton was trying to deal with it; it was a crisis while Kerry was using it as a rallying cry during the 2004 campaign. What's changed?

But that aside. Historical notes: FDR signed the first Social Security bill into law in 1935, in the throes of the Depression. At the time, Civil War veterans (and their dependents in the event of their death) were eligible for pensions; some states had limited old-age pension plans; a few companies offered retirement plans for their workers. But overall it was still the responsibility of the individual or his family to provide a living in old age. "Old age" is not as much of a moving target as we like to think: in the 1930s, although life expectancy at birth was less than 60 years, a white male who made it to his 50th birthday had a life expectancy of another almost 22 years, which has only gone up 6 years since then. In other words, infant and childhood mortality, and probably the chance of being killed on the job, made it much more likely in the '30s than today that this white male would not reach the age of 50.

So, even at the inception of Social Security (to be more accurate, five years into the program when monthly checks started being distributed), beneficiaries were looking at a probable seven years or so of benefits. Today, based on the same post-50 life expectancy statistic, we're talking about some ten or eleven years of benefits rather than twelve or thirteen because the retirement age has been increased slightly. But of course any individual may receive benefits for a much shorter time or not at all, or for many many more years than the average.

It's a government annuity. You pay your premiums for your working life and you play the odds that you'll reach "payout age." There's nothing wrong with an annuity: in fact, if I were reworking Social Security I'd include an annuity as a portion of the program, because it has the great advantage of ensuring (or insuring) that your benefits will never run out.

But the question for me is twofold: 1. Does the government have a right to take some 13% of my compensation - about half from me, half from my employer - to buy me an annuity that I may not even need, either if I do a sufficient job providing for my own retirement or if I die too soon? 2. If an annuity is a good idea, as I just got finished saying it is, do I need one starting at age 67, or could I buy a cheaper product that starts paying out at, say, 87 - 20 years into retirement?

All right, threefold: 3. What about the fact that today's beneficiaries are dependent on the premium payments being made by workers right now?

You notice that I've glossed over the big question: does Social Security have a right to exist? As a Republican, it offends my non-redistributionist sensibilities that my money goes to the government to be used willy-nilly for the welfare of others. But as a human being first (something I share with all Republicans, whatever liberals may think), I recognize that a civilized society doesn't condemn unfortunate citizens to indigence in old age, even if their indigence is self-inflicted. But back to being a Republican: increasing the percentage of Americans who provide for their own retirement via tax-deferred vehicles already in place, like 401(k)s and IRAs - didja know that less than half of eligible Americans take advantage of these things?? - would be right in line with my philosophy.

Hence, Social Security reform: we're all used to the payroll tax now, so keeping it in place is, I concede grudgingly, the path of least resistance. How do we encourage more personal investment while paying significant service to the idea that individuals have a right to do what they like with their money? Forced savings, that's how... much as I hate to say it. Personal retirement accounts that - ahem - replace (not supplement) part of existing Social Security benefits, a defined payout schedule similar to that used for 401(k)s, plus (I think) a cheap annuity starting 20 years after retirement to cover the certainty that some people will outlive their accounts and won't be able to live on the reduced Social Security benefit they'll still be entitled to... and here's the secret core of my evil plan: a schedule to phase out the Social Security benefit altogether (that is, increase the percentage of the payroll deduction that goes to private accounts, and increase the annuity benefit, over the course of a working generation or so) so that people will own essentially all of their retirement.

It'll never be all all. The poor will be with us always. But the more earned income we can acknowledge as belonging to the worker, the happier I'll be.

Here's the thing. Back in our mid-twenties, my husband and I instituted a "$30,000 by 30" plan by which we scrimped and saved to put maximum percentages into our 401(k)s for several years so as to have a "nest egg" of thirty grand at the earliest age we could manage, giving it maximum time to grow. At a 10% interest rate (wildly optimistic but we were young and idealistic, and more to the point we believed in the annualized stock market return charts), even if we never invested another dime we'd have a million bucks at age 67. We did it this way because we knew that once we had kids it'd be a while before we would be able to invest so aggressively again - if ever. The maximums our companies allowed to invest were 12% and 15%, over and above the 6.5% or so already being taken out of our paychecks for FICA. If, instead, most of our FICA contribution had been earmarked for our own private accounts with the remainder going to the upkeep of the program and of the indigent, we would've been well on our way to a truly livable nest egg, instead of dreaming of 10% returns, by the time I dropped out of the workforce to have babies; we might already have had that $30,000, because we'd been working for several years before putting the Plan in place - so our aggressive 401(k) savings would have been, in essence, gravy. Or insurance. With no need for future workers to supplement us.

It hardly seems necessary to add the disclaimer that I am not an economist, but I am not an economist; I'm just a Republican, and I want people's paychecks to belong to them in the greatest proportion possible while providing for truly essential government functions such as "the common defense," to quote a much wiser head than mine. From my perspective, where a need can be reasonably and effectively met without recourse to taxation, it oughta be; and thus far it appears to me that Social Security fits that bill in large part.

I welcome contrary opinions (including my husband's; he just wants the "trust fund" to be run the way an insurance company really would run its annuity fund, that is to say, more aggressively than it is at present).

Thursday, February 03, 2005

A question of motive

Because the pre-school period in this house is the province of Clifford the Big Red Dog, I haven't yet heard any commentary on the President's State of the Union address last night. Perhaps that's best; perhaps I ought to rely first on my own impressions, though I admit I'm often, initially at least, swayed by powerful rhetoric.

So. This morning President Bush will speak at the National Prayer Breakfast, a circumstance that plays right into my bloggin' hands. Because I want to talk about motives. Bush - I'm far from the first to say it - confounds the Democratic leadership. He's not only Christian, as most Americans describe themselves, but is Christian openly, emphatically, without regard to the effect of his belief on others (that is, whether he will offend the sensibilities of those who don't share his faith). Many Americans don't know what to make of that old time religion. I didn't myself, for a long time; I was born a Yankee and raised primarily in the North and on the West Coast, a Roman Catholic, and in that tradition during my growing-up years if you cared for the poor and disadvantaged you were a liberal. Fundamentalist Christianity was a subject for deep suspicion. Televangelists were hypocrites motivated not by God but by greed - and what came to light about them in the media certainly bore out that impression.

But then I moved South, as an adult, and lived in Texas for five years. One of my two bosses, a woman about my own age, was a fundamentalist Christian, the first I had ever had occasion to deal with daily. In my first few weeks of work, I secretly remained sure that her Christian belief was all a pose, cynical and studied, for the purpose of insinuating herself into the lives of other Texans from whom she could profit one way or another. But slowly I began to realize (gasp!) that she was sincere. She gave out candy and "tracts" - little slips of paper with joyful Bible verses - at Halloween, because she didn't want to disappoint the children who came to her door, but at the same time she couldn't let slide the fact that in her mind they were celebrating something horrible. Her friend and co-founder of the company for which I was working was a Jewish man, and while the two of them had lots of fun together and worked together in great harmony, she never implied to him or to anyone else that she didn't actively pray for his conversion, while accepting him just as he was. She had been a successful banker, on track to make great money, when the two of them quit to start their business; she hoped as fervently as anyone in the company that we would succeed and make great money in this venture too, but never, not once, at the cost of dealing unethically with a client or cooking our books.

She was sincere. Because of her, I had to reexamine my beliefs about "that kind" of Christian. Her low-level motives, like mine, were (not necessarily in order!) to make good money, be successful, have friends, have a nice house, be happy with her husband. But her high-level motive was to serve God in whatever way God chose, and she meant it, and she did it. When the company went under, she expressed her pain and disappointment, but also her conviction that God was acting in this circumstance just as God had in the circumstances that led to her starting the company in the first place.

When she attended the National Prayer Breakfast, as she did while I was working for her, she did it not to curry favor with powerful people nor to get the President's autograph; she did it because she felt lucky to have reason to be in Washington at the time and wanted to share that morning with like-minded fellows. If she ended up meeting the President and getting to know powerful people, well, bully for her, and it must have been God's will. If the company had been a huge success instead of fizzling out, she would have been just as convinced that God's purpose for her included starting and running the company, and she would have made business decisions based on her conviction, including treating her employees well but not allowing them to be undisciplined, charging her clients a fair price that allowed for a profit but not an obscene one, and going public when it was clear that an IPO would serve the shareholders best, not just when she felt it was time to cut and run.

I think Bush is just about the same. He isn't a fool and he isn't a solitary monk; he's a businessman and a politician who nevertheless believes sincerely that he is where he is for God's purposes, not his own. He is not soft-headed nor soft-hearted - he's honestly a Republican and honestly a conservative - but when he says he's a "compassionate conservative," he's telling the absolute truth as he sees it. His idea of compassion is much different from the standard-issue Democrat one, but compassion it is: to end "social promotion" in schools because kids' ability to function in the working world is more important than sparing their tender feelings about being the oldest in the class; to privatize part of Social Security because free will is a cornerstone of self-esteem, and there's no free will involved in the Social Security annuity; to end affirmative action because it's no kindness to give anyone the impression, true or not, that he or she succeeds because of skin color or gender rather than ability and merit. Bush's compassion is "tough love" in some cases. Any parent knows that requiring your son to finish his homework, requiring your daughter to go to school dressed appropriately rather than stylishly, seems cruel to the child and can break your own heart, but is nevertheless an expression of love.

The (Democrat) House and Senate minority leaders responded to the State of the Union address by demonstrably clutching to their bosoms each one of the "lessons" of the last election as taught them by liberal commentators. They were sure to mention God. They tried to rescript some of their issues as "moral values." They tried hard to be "Red Staters" - Harry Reid especially, with his pointless story about the little boy who approached him in Searchlight, NV, admiringly wanting to be just like him someday: the story was a painfully obvious attempt to convince listeners that Harry hangs out in Searchlight whenever he's not in Washington, eating meat & three at the one restaurant in town, chawin' and spittin' and talking about horses and NASCAR and making an impression on the little boys skateboarding along the tumbleweed-tumbled streets. But here is the difference: when your teacher tells you to do a book report of at least five sentences (as my son was assigned this week, his first book report ever) and you read the book and come up with four sentences plus "I liked this book very much," you have not internalized the lesson. You're fulfilling the letter of the lesson but you don't understand its purpose.

On the other hand, when you read a book for an at-least-five-sentence book report and write a whole page, summarizing the plot, voicing your admiration for one character or another, telling how you could hardly wait to turn the pages or you wished you could jump into the story and beat the crap out of the bad guy, you have internalized the lesson of the book report: to read, to love reading, to comment on what you have read, to persuade others to read. You may also be really annoying, but you are at least sincere and you do at least understand what the purpose of the assignment was. When the President talks about God, it's because he believes talking about God is necessary and intrinsic to his discussion. When he discusses morals, it's because of his personal convictions. When he goes through an entire campaign year saying that he not only will not pull back or out from Iraq but plans to step up the war on terror, it's because he believes it is the right course of action - not because he believes it will get him reelected, though it did.

The Democrats lost because they believe it's all about message; but it isn't. It's all about doing what is right and necessary, and doing it because it's right and necessary, not because it's popular.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Inferential evidence

One of my early arguments in support of Saddam Hussein's ongoing relationship with al Qaeda was that avowed al Qaeda terrorists were so quickly able to enter Iraq and get set up - not have neighbors ratting them out, be familiar enough with the area in which they stayed that they never made wrong turns and ended up in the middle of an American patrol, were able to hook up quickly with the Ba'athists so as to learn where weapons stockpiles were, etc.

Analogy: in high school (I was at a DoDDS school in the UK) I understood from friends that it was easy to get hashish - but I myself (scared to death of drugs) never saw a score being made; it was only easy to get if you knew to whom to go and where to talk to that person to avoid the MPs and other inconvenient adults intent on enforcing the law.

In short, I think al Qaeda had significant infrastructure in Iraq before the American invasion. I would dearly love to hear commentary on this, because it still seems true to me, intuitively.

As it relates to current "force strength" among guerrillas in Iraq, I've heard nothing to indicate that coalition forces or the interim Iraqi government has been able to lay hands on all the unsecured weaponry around the country. If there's a lot of materiel still out there, these conditions must be met for al-Zarqawi and his cohort to get it:

1. They must know where it is - that is, they must have in their ranks Ba'athists who had that knowledge before Saddam was deposed, and - a guess only - probably a good number of informed Ba'athists, not just a couple of them. Or, they must have written records telling where the stockpiles are. If the estimates of numbers of stockpiles I've heard bandied about are correct, it'd be impossible for a normal person to commit all their locations to memory. Ba'athists are undoubtedly in the ranks of the Z-man. But how many informed ones are left? (Of course, if I were al-Zarqawi, I would have picked the brains of any Ba'athist officers who came my way as my first act. This would constitute written records.) (Side note, added: one way for the guerrillas to acquire stockpile locations would have been from the horse's mouth, so to speak. See Belmont Club, Feb. 1 entry, as well as for brief but suggestive comments on what Saddam might have been doing in the six months between Sept. 2002 and the start of the war.)

2. They must be able to get out of where they are.

3. They must be able to get to the stockpiles, with trucks. (Also added: I say "with trucks" because while an individual could probably move a backpack's worth of ammo or explosive, it seems likely that the guerrillas would want to limit their exposure risk by making as few trips as possible. A truck or van, minimum, per trip - my guess.)

4. They must be able to return to where they hide, undetected. (Also added: an email from an Army guy I know in Baghdad indicates that while they may think they're undetected, increasingly they aren't. Loose lips still sink ships, so my correspondent gives me no more details, but check out all the al-Zarqawi operatives who have been captured lately and see if you make the same inference I do: it's getting harder and harder to hide in plain sight.)

5. They must have enough room in their safe areas to store what they've collected.

Strategy/tactical buffs, enlighten me: is there any public reporting about weapons stockpiles?