Thursday, November 29, 2007

Not optional, Chapter TWo

That's me, the once-a-month blogger... I'm burning the candle at both ends and at various places along its length, so this is the best I can do right now. But it's certainly got to be time to return to Mark Steyn.

When last we spoke of Mr. Steyn, the subject was the out-populating of western pluralist liberals such as myself by adamantly non-pluralist illiberal groups. Chapter Two, entitled "Going...Going....Gone," Steyn's argument is that to believe with all your might that the unassimilated and fertile young will one day take up their (ahem) cross and support you in your age is to ignore the obvious. The Spanish election results in March 2003 clearly marked the Spanish populace's position: as Steyn puts it, "We apologize for catching your eye." That Theo van Gogh could be brutally murdered in the street and the outcry concerning the culturally insensitive subjects of his movie-making could actually be used, if not to justify, then at least to rationalize the manner of his death - farce. Let me quote a paragraph in its entirety:

In June 2006, a fifty-four-year-old Flemish train conductor called Guido Demoor got on the number 23 bus in Antwerp to go to work. Six - what's that word again? - "youths" boarded the bus and commenced intimidating the other riders. There were some forty passengers aboard. But the "youths" were youthful and the other passengers less so. Nonetheless, Mr. Demoor asked the lads to cut it out and so they turned on him, thumping and kicking him. Of those forty other passengers, none intervened to help the man under attack. Instead, at the next stop, thirty of the forty scrammed, leaving Mr. Demoor to be beaten to death. Three "youths" were arrested, and proved to be - quelle surprise! - of Moroccan origin. The ringleader escaped and, despite police assurances of complete confidentiality, of those forty passengers only four came forward to speak to investigators. "You see what happens if you intervene," a fellow rail worker told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen. "If Guido had not opened his mouth he would still be alive."

Wait - I've got to include two more sentences:

No, he wouldn't. He would be as dead as those forty passengers are, as the Belgian state is, keeping his head down, trying not to make eye contact, cowering behind his newspaper in the corner seat and hoping just to be left alone.

The so-inclined reader will no doubt glom onto that first paragraph as "further" "evidence" of racism by a non-voting Rethug. But that's not it at all. The point Steyn makes is that "youths" are young; their victims, or their neighbors if they're just ordinary "youths" rather than violent criminals, are older. As he notes, the ten percent of France that is Muslim is significantly skewed younger (more like 45% of the under-twenty crowd in the major cities), which makes cultural assimilation absolutely vital to the future of French society as it is generally understood. Let me say it another way, to be utterly clear: I don't give a hoot whether 45%, or 65%, of all of France visits a mosque rather than a church or synagogue (or, more likely, a café), and their country of origin is even less important, provided that that 45% (or 65%) buys into the kernel of Western civilization that makes us liberal and pluralist: individual, natural rights that are only affirmed, not granted, by government.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

For the love of Pete...

So Instapundit steered me to this piece in The New Republic. I can't figure out how to comment on it directly, which it deserves - and which its commenters deserve even more so - so I'm a-blogging instead. (And America Alone languishes on the bedside table, because blogging on it takes more thought and time.)

Saith author Michael Crowley,
What do the Democrats do if--yes: if, if, if--the surge appears to have succeeded? (Or at least seems, to voters, to have succeeded: I realize the tribal shift in Anbar, for instance, wasn't imposed by US troops--although my correspondent friend said surge forces did enable us to exploit Sunni tribal cooperation and root out al Qaeda.) Indeed, if Iraq somehow stabilizes and even incrementally improves, doesn't that affect the presidential campaign in important and unpredictable ways? Obviously it's almost impossible to concieve of an outcome in Iraq that any reasonable person could call "victory." Democrats will resonably argue that the adventure wasn't worth the cost in lives and dollars. But the notion that Bush's patience really did save Iraq from unmitigated humanitarian and strategic catastrophe might be a powerful one. Expectations have been lowered to such an extent over the past several months that any glimmer of hope is a godsend for Republicans.

First point: who cares whether "the surge" was the proximate cause of success, if we and the Iraqis do achieve lasting success? Overlapping a troop rotation or two ("the surge") was and is the necessary factor for improving security at a critical time; most of the heavy lifting is up to the Iraqis now, with spotting and assists from us and our allies. As a guy named Reagan once tried to remind us, credit is a whole lot less important than results.

That being said, the "important and unpredictable ways" in which the 2008 elections would be affected by lasting stability in Iraq are indeed important, but does the author really believe they're unpredictable? The Democrats have done an absolutely fantastic job of ensuring that any success in Iraq, or shall we say "any glimmer of hope," will not be laid at their feet.

All the rest that needs to be said about this post is basically this: About time you people started to consider the consequences of your policy stance, not to mention your tactics.

On to the comments. Here's my favorite:

[Even if lots of good things happen, with expletive,] what have you got to show for our efforts? An Iranian Shiite outpost in Mesopotamia, a disempowered and p[...]ed-off Sunni minority with allies in Saudi Arabia and across the Islamic world, and the legacy of 6 years of criminality, sectarian cleansing and armed conflict - and a disreputable government that does not command the loyalty of its security forces and cannot rule without the US military to support it.

Hmm. Let's review what Iraq had before: a no-fly zone expending American resources to absolutely no good effect, international sanctions which, we were told, killed some hundred thousand innocent Iraqi children a year, an oil-for-food program that undermined our alliances with some of our formerly staunchest allies, an empowered and p'ed off Sunni minority (with the same allies the commenter named, but less need of them because they already had all the guns), the legacy of 20+ years of criminality, sectarian cleansing and armed conflict, and an utterly disreputable and dangerous dictatorial government that had already invaded two of its neighbors, that commanded the loyalty of its security forces by holding their families hostage, and that held power by dint of rape and torture rooms and an established willingness to use at least chemical and possibly biological weapons against its own people.

Gosh. Now Iraq has trouble, right here in River City - but also the most liberal constitution in the Middle East, a significant and growing cadre of people of good will of all ethnic stripes who see their own and their country's interest in defending that constitution, and the help of the undeniably mighty American military to get to their feet and keep on cranking out those clean elections. None of which they had under Saddam Hussein.

That same dour commenter goes on, "The only thing worth celebrating is the day when no more Americans will be fighting and dying in that hell-hole -- the difference is I would like to bring that celebration home tomorrow, whereas you are willing to wait till 2009." And again I say, Gosh. That's the only thing worth celebrating? And is s/he laboring under the delusion that the American military would in fact "celebrate" it if they left tomorrow? Perhaps s/he doesn't visit milblogs very often... This commenter believes that we're in Iraq because Bush wants to "save face"; I beg his or her pardon, but does s/he really believe that Bush, a lame duck president whose approval ratings hit rock bottom long ago and have only rebounded into the 30s, has "face" to save? If Bush were interested in saving face, he could've done so by doing exactly what the Democrats want to do: by declaring victory at any arbitrary point and pulling out all American troops, then blaming Iraq (and/or Iran) for not being able to hold the gains we'd given them.

Instead, this man's legacy is going to have to wait. I'm an optimist; I believe that Iraq has a good chance. I also believe that Bush's legacy will be a heck of a lot more history-book-apt than Clinton's (at least, I cringe at the thought of my children's learning about the more noteworthy aspects of Clinton's presidency), and certainly more positive than that bumbling goofball Carter's. (Bravo to you, Carter, for swinging a hammer for the downtrodden - but ferme la bouche about Israel, sir; you only come across as an antisemite.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Two things. Well, three.

One: I really, really don't like Bob Dylan. Whiny little so-and-so...

Two: I was listening to NPR this afternoon and heard a review of the 40th anniversary edition of The Graduate by the network's - what did they call him again... reviewer-at-large? Roving reviewer? Anyway, some guy named John; it cracked me up. See, when the film first came out, he was a sophomore in high school, and he saw it repeatedly (the way some of my generation saw Star Wars, albeit when they were five years or so younger). He felt swept up in the zeitgeist of it all; he felt as if Nichols had made the movie just for him. In the review, he wryly noted (side note: at least some programs on NPR remember to poke fun at themselves for putting such a premium on wryness, though this was not one of those programs) that millions of other teens felt exactly the same way. He identified strongly with the Ben character (Dustin Hoffman, for anyone who - like me - has never actually seen the movie but only the "You're trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson," clip). He says that Mrs. Robinson was much more interesting to him than her daughter even at the time, but still goes with the Young as his point of connection with the movie back then.

Fast forward: he refuses to re-watch the movie until now, when he was asked to review it, honoring his memory of it (yup, actually said that). (Another side note: I'm not above "honoring the memory" of something by avoiding it; I'm sure I've done so myself. But I recognize that the impulse comes from fear that it'll either (a) age poorly, or (b) reveal me as a philistine. Probably a lot more (b) than (a). I recently passed up the chance to watch Ladyhawke, which I loved in my early twenties, for just that reason. Maybe next week I'll be brave...) He was pleased and delighted that the film held up well through the years... but lo and behold, as a grown man he suddenly "realized" that the true "rebel without a cause" (yup, actually said that too) was not Ben but Mrs. Robinson. Ben was, he said, a cipher, a suburban placeholder for the real (one might say "authentic") rebels who, by the time the film hit theaters in 1967 rather than the few years earlier when the film appeared to have been set, were actually on the scene in American life; Mrs. Robinson, now, she was the iconoclast, the brave soul who broke out of her milieu.

Oh, please. He's now 55, by my count, and suddenly Mrs. Robinson is the "real" rebel? Is this guy completely without self-awareness? If he would just have wrapped up his review with a (wry) "Of course, I would think that now, wouldn't I?" I would've forgiven him. But instead, we're supposed to stroke our chins and muse, with him, over the Truth that back in the '60s, Ben was universally perceived as the rebel, yet now, with our eyes sharpened by time, we can easily perceive that it was Mrs. Robinson, all along, who should have engaged our sympathies. Or perhaps "empathies" is a better word, since that's the obvious problem here: he identifies with the middle-aged character now. Duh.

I am not, I repeat, immune to these feelings. I certainly identify more strongly now, speaking of the zeitgeist and all, with the Han Solo of Return of the Jedi than with the Mark Hamill of A New Hope (which, for you non-Star Wars geeks, is Episode IV, most commonly known as Star Wars), and I don't identify in any smallest way with any character from any of the Episode I-III movies (especially not that bleeping Natalie Portman, just hours from delivering twins, in heels, leaping gazelle-like from rock to rock with boiling lava all around, her belly pretty much invisible unless she turns sideways, dang her). All right, maybe with C3PO, which makes sense, given my love of Miss Manners. But it's not one of those things I'd care to admit publicly.


Third thing: I shall, as God is my witness, get back to America Alone - soon. When my husband relinquishes custody of it and the beginning of the school year steadies down a bit.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Not optional - Chapter One

Chapter One of Mark Steyn's America Alone is entitled "The Coming of Age." I ended rather abruptly yesterday - maybe I can be a little more coherent today.

And so. Populations in the developed world are aging. And, in the developed world, old people expect that systems they've been "paying into" for much of if not their entire adult lives will continue to "pay out" at expected rates. And how, pray tell, do we manage this on less and less actual money coming in, given that among these social programs there's not a "lockbox" to be seen? Take the U.S. Social Security system: it's apparently predicated on "30 percent population growth between now and 2075 or so and, even then, expects to be running a deficit after 2017." Yet the U.S. population is at replacement rate, 2.1-ish births per couple. How do we grow by 30 percent in the next seventy years when we're only just replacing ourselves?

Immigration, of course. Right? The trouble is that everyone in the developed world is in the same boat, many nations in far worse shape than we are. Take Spain, now, at 1.1 births per couple. Their population is halving itself in every generation. Can it possibly invite - attract - support enough immigration to replace all the babies not being born there, to pension off its rapidly aging populace? And add to this conundrum the fact that fertility rates are declining all over the world, not just in developed countries; it's just that in the developed world, we've already been close to the edge for some time.

Steyn's point is why I'm calling this portion of this blogpost series "Not optional." You ignore the bare facts of demography at your peril. You, as a society, defer or avoid having children for today's reasons, but tomorrow you'll pay.

His secondary point is that if you're going to rely on immigrants to have the children who will eventually pay your social security, you ought probably to think about how those immigrants and their children will fit in to your social systems, such that they'll be willing to abide by the social contract that compels them to give up (at present) a quarter of what they might otherwise expect to pocket in order to support today's elders. (Yes, I know the percentage that comes out of my paycheck is half that, but if my employer weren't having to pony up the other half, perhaps he might consider increasing my rate of pay. Or not; I'd settle for the extra 13 percent and my own IRA that nobody but me has to fund.)

I was on a demographics blog (yup, there are some) today in which someone was claiming that "family friendly" policies including cash payments until age 18, free day care for all, etc., etc., were the solution to the demographic cliffhanger in which participating. You know, in some ways I almost wish I could believe it. But I have three children; free day care would not have enticed me to work, work, work to support somebody else's grandparents while my kids were babies, and I'm already making "cash payments" for my children until age 18 and beyond; I can't imagine why anyone else would be willing to pay for them too. Any "cash payment" that could make a meaningful difference in the expense of having children for me would be prohibitive. Three kids, each costing a quarter mil or so to raise to adulthood - isn't that the number we hear so often? So society - which, face it, is US, all of us, whether or not we have children, whether or not we have one, two, three, or eight children - would "owe" me $750,000 over eighteen years? And by the same token, I as a worker in society would owe a portion of that amount to some other three-kid family? How on earth do we make those books balance? Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Social payouts can't be a longterm solution. But the problem must be solved, somehow, or we pass from the earth - we liberal pluralist democrats.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Not optional

There's only one man in the world who could, at my advanced age, convince me to have another baby, and he's neither my husband nor that lopsided-lip knowitall naif George Clooney, however popular he is with my set: it's Mark Steyn, humorist commentator and demographic doomsayer. I finally found his America Alone and started it last night. I'm only up to page 59 (Deathly Hallows was like the world's longest sprint while hopped up on goofballs, while this book takes a little more digestion on the way), but I decided on the strength of what I've read so far that I'm going to blog it chapter by chapter.

Beginning with the prologue, and beginning here: "To Be or Not To Be."

Steyn acknowledges the resemblance of his thesis to the many end-of-the-world theses that have been promulgated since, well, the beginning of the world (as he says) - but perhaps I should start with that thesis: that Islamists pose the greatest-ever threat to (in his apt formulation) the community of liberal pluralist democracies, and that demographics alone gives them a significant advantage over the nations that belong to that fraternity. Muslim-majority nations have, across the board, way way higher birth rates than we LPDs (because I wouldn't be a military brat without occasionally introducing a new acronym) have, and most of us, save - wait for it - America alone, are not even close to replacement level. Therefore we'll simply be outpopulated, and the Islamists and their indifferent Muslim counterparts will achieve the Islamist aim of widespread, even global, caliphate without firing a shot. Or many, at any rate.

It's terribly hard to resist launching into a whole lot more on this piece of the topic right now, but I'll try to stick to the prologue, the point of which is the ever-popular "We stand at a crossroads." We do, and I (and many others) have been talking about it since 9/11, when multicultural sensitivity first clashed with the determination of the world's most committed enemies of liberalism on the front pages and the TV news ledes. Yet we continue to muddle through the bogs of fantasy:

All dominant powers are hated - Britain was, and Rome - but they're usually hated for the right reasons. America is hated for every reason. The fanatical Muslims despise America because it's all lap-dancing and gay porn; the secular Europeans despise America because it's all born-again Christians hung up on abortion; the anti-Semites despise America because it's controlled by Jews. Too Jewish, too Christian, too godless, America is George Orwell's Room 101: whatever your bugbear you will find it therein; whatever you're against, America is the prime example of it.

That's one reason why its disparagers have embraced environmentalism. If Washington were a conventional great power [I might say, instead, if it acted like one - ed.], the intellectual class would be arguing that the United States is a threat to France or India or Gabon or some such. But because it's so obviously not that kind of power the world has had to concoct a thesis that the hyperpower is a threat not merely to this or that rinky-dink nation state but to the entire planet, if not the entire galaxy. "We are," warns Al Gore portentously, "altering the balance of energy between our planet and the rest of the universe."

Spoken like a true child of the Crazy Years. Al Gore, I mean. And my Lord, my Lord, I'm reminded of my dear friend who told me, post-9/11, that her most potent fear was that Bush would be reelected in 2004. Here we are, three years on from that dread day, and so far she and her kids continue to live normal liberal lives, probably sporting that puckish little "Oh well, I wasn't using my civil liberties anyway" button I ran across in Dallas.

I also heard a dude on the radio the other day, a caller to the Glenn Beck program, which I seldom hear but usually get a chuckle from when I do, who came across with the usual "You righties are living in fear" line. Uh-huh. No. The analogy that sprang to mind was actually a real event: a wasps' nest outside the door of my work, which happens to be a door children use a lot. I'm not afraid of stinging insects. In fact, there's a ground nest of bees in the lavender in my herb garden, and we live in perfect harmony, the swarms of bees and I. I do, however, realize that wasps can hurt people, that some people actually are in grave danger from stinging insects, and that a door opening and closing in front of the nest all the time might incite the critters to action.

So my choices were (a) to detour everybody to another door, and therefore avoid irritating the wasps, or (b) to remove the nest, at some risk to my skin. I removed the nest - of course. What are we, as a society, as a liberal and, we hope, global community, to do about the Islamist wasps who have built their nest outside our door? Do we avoid them so they don't get stirred up, or do we remove them, taking back possession of our door? Me, I'm for removing them; we built the damn door. (The analogy fails where it comes to Europe, because the nest - of unassimilated, disaffected Muslims - is in the middle of the living room.)

Standard disclaimer: I'm speaking of Islamists, not Muslims: of that minority in the Muslim world that looks forward to and works toward a renewed caliphate in which non-Muslims are dhimmis who exist on suffrance. Those who practice Islam but are committed, by birth or by conversion, so to speak, to the principals of liberal pluralist democracy, are my brothers and sisters as much as anyone else who embraces the principles of the Enlightenment.

Steyn concludes his prologue: "One day the British foreign secretary will wake up and discover that, in practice, there's very little difference between living under Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity and sharia." This statement comes after a bunch of examples of Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity's capitulation to the unreasonable demands of Islamists: the Danish cartoon "kerfuffle" that resulted in dozens of deaths, Burger King's elimination of squiggly-topped ice cream cones from British menus because they looked too much like the word "Allah," the fact that Muslim inmates at Gitmo are handed complimentary copies of the Koran by gloved soldiers (gloves not being normally part of the Uniform of the Day), such that the U.S. military has tacitly acknowledged and attempted to mitigate its ritual uncleanness to its prisoners and enemies.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Book Club

June 21, huh? Amazing how time flies, especially when a new Harry Potter book and movie come out...

So let's start there, shall we? Putting aside for the moment my Mrs. Robinson thing for Harry (and I do mean Harry, not Dan Radcliffe, who I think is cute and all but my goodness, he could be my son if I'd just gotten an earlier start), what makes the Potter franchise so very not a franchise and so very much a world to which I wish I had access? Well... consider Wicked, which I read this summer too, for the first and last time.

Before I go on, I should point out that I'm an avid rereader. I love to read more than just about any other recreational activity. But the only books that survive my periodic purges of my home library are the ones I want to read, and read, and read. Dune is in there, but not any Dune franchise book after the third. The Mitford series are all there. Most of the Evanovich number books (One For the Money, etc.) made it, but none of her other romantic pabulum. Wicked was great when I read it - in talking it over with them afterwards, it appeared that I enjoyed it much more than did most of the friends who had recommended it to me - but then Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out and Wicked became just another book I'd borrowed and given back, without wanting to rush out and buy it for the home shelves. I loved the style of Wicked: the fairy tale made real, with mundanities salted through the magic to make it a little bit droll and with big emotions played out on an enchanted stage. It echoed the gorgeous Technicolor of The Wizard of Oz.

But it failed to catch my heart, because no matter how you slice her, the Wicked Witch of the West really does try to kill Dorothy and her friends, and ideological necessities can't erase that fact. Let me be clear: in the real world, there is such a thing as a "lesser evil." Hard decisions can and do cost innocent lives. It's possible to be a hero and not have clean hands. And yes, I do understand that Wizard is the children's version, Wicked the adult one: that we, the nuanced, are supposed to see Elphata in shades of gray, so to speak. Sure, I can do that. But it doesn't make me want to revisit her. She stood up for something good but her means to that end were meants to encompass the willful killing of a child; why should I have to read that twice?

Deathly Hallows, now - and while we're at it, Order of the Phoenix, which I took my oldest to see and then sneaked out two days later, leaving a babysitter with the kids, to see again alone: there's no doubt about Voldemort. Not even his own supporters actually think he's good - they just substitute power for virtue, knowingly and often cynically. The whole story arc of the Harry Potter books brilliantly combines a very clear view of global good and evil with far less clear personal struggles on the part of several characters (Harry first, of course) to choose, and to continue to choose, over and over, the good. What the books do is to instruct the reader, entertainingly and with generally terrific pacing, that it's never enough to be good once. Teenagers sometimes think they know this already, but it's my opinion that most adults (perhaps all adults) could use the reminder. I know I can.

That's why all the Harry Potter books (except, inexplicably, Order of the Phoenix, which I swear was in the house two weeks ago but has vanished) are on my shelves: because I need that reminder.

Which brings me to two more books, one a former and one a current selection of my friendly real book club: The Kite Runners and A Thousand Splendid Suns. For the four people who haven't read them, they're Afghani stories: one that begins in Afghanistan and moves to the United States, the other that never makes it farther than Pakistan. Both moved me profoundly. Both impressed me horribly with the sheer brutal punishment the human body can endure, and impressed me tragically with the odds-against possibility of staying normal when everything around you is crazy-bad. Both made me feel woefully inadequate as a human being. But that's not why they're leaving my shelves; they're one-timers for me for the same reason that Prince of Tides was: because, having suffered through vicarious depravity once, I don't see why I should pollute myself again.

Anybody spot the discrepancy there? It's not as if Deathly Hallows is short on depravity. Maybe this is why I enjoy a certain degree of fantasy, and certain subgenres of science fiction: because there, the depravity is invented - even if it's based on what people have indeed done to one another over history, it's still not to be taken as "really real." No characters were harmed in the making of those stories. Whereas, in a realistic novel such as A Thousand Splendid Suns, it's hard to escape the sense that Hosseini was writing biography with (as Heinlein said) the serial numbers filed off. A doctor, perhaps he's revisiting old cases; an Afghan, perhaps he's recounting first- or second-hand accounts. I don't close my eyes... but I read fiction for entertainment, not to be harrowed up. The real world is quite harrowing enough... and while we're on the subject, Suns is a frickin' fantastic advertisement for why we need to stay in Iraq until Iraq can hold itself together on its own.

A rather clumsy segue into this appalling non-comedy:

A Roman Catholic Bishop in the Netherlands has proposed people of all faiths refer to God as Allah to foster understanding, stoking an already heated debate on religious tolerance in a country with one million Muslims.

Bishop Tiny Muskens, from the southern diocese of Breda, told Dutch television on Monday that God did not mind what he was named and that in Indonesia, where Muskens spent eight years, priests used the word “Allah” while celebrating Mass.

“Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn’t we all say that from now on we will name God Allah? … What does God care what we call him? It is our problem.”

(Actually an MSNBC story, but I prefer to credit Jeff at Protein Wisdom with winnowing it out.) Honest to God. Goes right along with the story I read sometime in July about the Episcopal (of course, she says, rolling her eyes at her adopted sect) priest in Seattle who is also a practicing Muslim, seeing no cognitive dissonance there. Again let me be very clear: Islam is not my, nor our, enemy. Muslims are not my, nor our, enemy. But when fanatical practitioners of one religion cause clergy of another to abdicate tenets of their own faith out of a sense that the fanatics might quite literally go medieval, it's hard to avoid labelling the fanatics "evil." Isn't it?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Danger? What danger?

So I was reading this blogpost from the Instapundit Glenn Reynolds's "lovely and talented co-host," his wife Helen Smith, and I supposed I'd better weigh in, since I bought the book in question last week. It's The Dangerous Book for Boys, and Dr. Helen's post did two things for me: first, it noted the upcoming publication of The Daring Book for Girls, a companion book of sorts; and second, it made me roll my eyes at the willingness of some folks to see sexism behind every door and under every throw rug. (Not Dr. Helen - Cathy Young, on whose post Dr. Helen was commenting.)

I have children of both genders, so I'm thrilled that the wonderful Dangerous book has a possible Daring commadre. Because I loved Dangerous. I haven't finished reading it yet - but man alive, just its table of contents sold me. Seven poems every boy should know! Spies - codes and ciphers! Making a paper hat, boat, and water bomb! First aid! Extraordinary stories - part one: Scott and the Antarctic! Coin tricks! Tanning a skin! Grinding an Italian nib! (Hang on, I want to check that one out right now.)

Okay, grinding an Italian nib is a little... arcane. And it's not the only thing contained herein that a whole lot of boys (and girls, and men and women) might not find all that interesting. (I myself found that particular bit very interesting indeed; I'm just not willing to try it with any of my good pens! I thought it'd be about actually making a quill pen, which I've always wanted to try. Not as if there's a dearth of goosefeathers around my house...) But the overall flavor of the book, both at the table-of-contents level and at the level of the actual articles and essays, is delicious. And dangerous in only one sense:

This book is about concepts, skills, even values, that are on the verge of passing into history, a place I don't believe they belong, because too many people disagree with me. I think I've written on heroism once or twice; today's heroes must be antiheroes, or minimally have Size 13 EEE feet of clay, or their stories aren't told. Scott's Antarctic expedition failed, it's true, both in its goal to be first to the Pole and for its members to return alive - but the attempt was great, and kids should know the story undistracted by petty details. There is plenty of time to learn whether Scott and Oates squabbled on the way south, or whether Shackleton was a dilletante, or whatever (I made up both of those irrelevancies); but the value of the story is in the determination of the men to overcome hardship, to win one of the original great races, to return triumphant, and failing that, at least to die well.

I think every kid should make invisible ink. I think every kid should be familiar with the biggies of Shakespeare. I think every kid should know what a mackeral sky means (that a warm front is coming - rain in a couple of days, if the clouds have enough moisture in them). I don't think calling a book The Dangerous Book for Boys is either sexist or a significant barrier to any girl; I think (boys and girls being what they are, society today being what it is) a book called The Daring Book for Girls is less likely to be seen in a boy's hands than the other way around, because, for instance, girls can wear skirts or pants, but a man in a kilt still attracts attention in today's United States, however unfairly. I'm looking forward to Daring, and I plan to photocopy good parts for my boys if need be.

Basically it comes down to this: I want my kids, all of them, to be brave, virtuous, resourceful, polite, and determined, among other things. If Dangerous and Daring help, even a little, to counteract the effects of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, then they have a place in our library. (Like all the Harry Potter books, which celebrate the virtues I'm trying to teach.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Remembrance of things past

Specifically, Bill Whittle of Eject! Eject! Eject!. I have yet to figure out exactly who or what he is; I know he's a pilot, I know he's a TV producer, I know he's an essayist. He takes forever (longer even than I do!) to come up with a post, but when he does, it's so persuasive and so full of insight (that paradoxically seems utterly self-evident) that somehow you come away from it thinking that he didn't tell you anything at all that you didn't already know, but you want to go out and tell other people to read what he wrote anyway.

I seldom write in the second person because I don't like to make assumptions about other people's reactions, and saying "You do this" and "You do that" sounds an awful lot like making those blanket assumptions. But there were 650 comments attached to the post I just finally got around to reading, and the reactions of as many of them as I could get through seem to bear up my own (the man's fans are as passionate as any Beatlemaniac).

The post: Tribes, from September 2005. Its hook is Katrina, but its theme is much larger: Whittle divides society into the Pinks and the Greys, and uses the old military analogy of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs to good effect. Here we go:

On the subject of disasters man-made and natural, one more thing from INSIDE 9/11 [a TV documentary -ed.] rings a powerful bell with me. At the very end, as Osama makes his way out of Afghanistan and into hiding, he tells an Al Jazeera reporter his motivations for the 9/11 attack. In his own words, to the friendly folks back home, he explains that his goal was to hurt America so badly that we would have no choice but to go after him and start the world-wide jihad that would result in him becoming the new Caliph, ruling from his recently completed palace outside Kandahar. He had seen much of the Pink tribe in his formative years, seen weakness and retreat in places like Somalia. He thought he had our number, but he made the mistake of having perhaps the least Pink individual in modern history in the White House when he made his move. He made a worse mistake in flying his murdering deathbots into a town that looked Pink, that was painted Pink from head to toe, but whose foundation was rock-solid granite Grey.

If I had gotten my 2000 voting wish and Al Gore had been president that day, would he have been Grey enough to knock that entire regime over and carry the fight to the rest of the region? Or would he have issued Stern Warnings and Worked With Our Allies and gotten the UN to Issue a Major Ultimatum?

I don’t know.

But I do know, that there, in his own words, the wolf said why he did what he did: he wanted to provoke War with the US, and would do whatever was necessary to accomplish it. And if we had not given him this war, he would have kept striking until he got what he was looking for. Nothing about US foreign policy, no word about injustice for the Palestinians or Evil Corporations or any of that. No, he said he wanted to start a war with the US. And so he has it. And he would have done whatever he had to do to get it.

And they will strike again, and those silent, dogged sheepdogs who have succeeded so many times in the dark silent hours will miss a scent somewhere, and more people will die and that's what we can expect. Not dying of Influenza or Black Death, not being steamrollered under Nazi jackboots or watching Mongol hordes swarming towards us over the horizon as we run for the city walls. None of that. Only this.

And when they come, storms man-made and natural, what will the sheepdog/sheep ratio be? Enough?

Let me briefly review the sheep/wolves/sheepdogs thing, because while parts are obvious, others could stand a little illumination. One particularly noteworthy part is that sheep generally don't like sheepdogs. (See Babe for instance.) Yet sheepdogs, historically, were the only thing preventing the wolves from picking off the sheep at the edges of the herd. I think a lot about shepherding analogies, because I attend a church with actual sheep, and am of a sect that puts great stock in the whole Good Shepherd thing; it's easy for us moderns to read "shepherd" and think "Bo-Peep" rather than "unwashed, lanolin-stinking roughneck sleeping on the ground for months and killing predators with a stick." Those shepherds in the Christmas story? The ones abiding in the fields by night? First off, it means that Jesus's birth didn't happen in the winter because -

Well, have you seen Brokeback Mountain? Those shepherds were a lot like the shepherds of Jesus's place and time: hard-bitten guys who didn't shrink at either dark nights or sharp claws or snow in June. But they brought the herd back down at the end of summer, because even the worst sheep owner knows that winter in the uplands will kill his sheep. So the Jesus shepherds were living in the fields because it was summer.

Anyway. Shepherds aren't necessarily nice to sheep; they just protect them with their lives. (At my church, the amateur shepherds complain bitterly about the bleeping rams, whack them with the food bucket to keep them at a distance, and generally go about their shepherding duties because they do indeed want the sheep to live, even if sheep as individuals are not their favorite people, so to speak.) Sheepdogs - as Whittle's essay points out - look a lot like wolves, share a lot of heritage and instinct with wolves, and are even less beloved of sheep than shepherds. But they too live to protect the sheep.

Here's the important part: the sheep are able to live in denial of their haplessness in the presence of the danger that surrounds them (or used to, at any rate). They carry on, bleating and eating, heedless of the wolf, because there's a mean shepherd who makes them go where they don't want to and there are vicious dogs that nip at them and keep them in a bunch.

Whittle's point is that, as humans, we may be born with or without the capacity for violence, but it's possible for both the naturally non-violent and the naturally violent to be "good." Sheep, he says, are not weak, and they also greatly outnumber both their protectors and their enemies; they're just not able, on some level, to hurt or kill. The wolf is. The sheepdog is. But the sheepdog husbands his capacity for violence, saving it to use against the wolf.

How does all this get to the Pinks and the Greys, the Tribes of Whittle's theme? Pinks are sheep. All of them are sheep. But not all sheep are Pink. Because we're humans and not in fact sheep, we can choose whether and when we'll support the sheepdogs, even if we ourselves don't share their capacity for violence. (A sidenote that's maybe not so "side": a preponderance of Whittle's commenters either termed themselves sheepdogs, hoped that they were, or wished that they were. I'm in that camp too. I find that a little weird - predictable, but weird nonetheless.)

So the other day I heard the reprehensible Daniel Schorr holding forth on Putin's recent invitation to the Bush (Sr.) family getaway at Kennebunkport. Schorr actually said that Putin and his ilk would not view this unprecedented invitation as conciliatory and diplomatic but as weak, and cautioned (all right, scolded) Bush about it. Where, oh where, was this point of view where Iran was concerned? How about Kim Jong Il? Go back a little - Saddam Hussein himself? I don't listen to Schorr unless I happen to turn the radio station at an inopportune moment and haven't eaten recently (among sort of mainstream radio folk, only Garrison Keillor is as hard on my digestion), but I think I can say definitively that he was not advocating a tough-guy stance when Ahmadinejad was publicly praying for the coming of the twelfth imam by the expedient of wiping out Israel. Daniel Schorr: Pink sheep. George Bush: sheepdog, possibly forced into the role against his preference (I think that's the case, based on his general softness on just about every issue except Islamist terror) but nonetheless willing to accept great personal rancor and significant physical risk in order to protect Schorr from his own damn self.

Believe it or not, my posts aren't as long as Whittle's.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

You can make the worst of anything

Here's a headline for you:

New detainees strain Iraq’s jails
Sharp rise follows start of security plan; suspects housed with convicts

And the lede:

BAGHDAD - The capture of thousands of new suspects under the three-month-old Baghdad security plan has overwhelmed the Iraqi government's detention system, forcing hundreds of people into overcrowded facilities, according to Iraqi and Western officials.

I wonder what the headline would have been if the "surge" had been unsuccessful in rounding up "thousands of new suspects"?

This article carefully skirts the issue of the evidence against these "suspects." Nowhere is the claim that neighbors with grudges are gleefully informing on one another and that this alone is enough to get you crammed into Baghdad's overcrowded jails - so, since there's no doubt in my mind (particularly given the tenor of the many, many other articles to which the WP's special correspondents on this story have contributed) that that detail wouldn't have been left out if true, it strikes me that perhaps the standard of evidence to throw someone into the slammer where they'll await arraignment is perhaps along the lines of "seen planting a roadside bomb."

This isn't to say jail overcrowding is not a problem, nor that it's good that uncharged suspects are held with convicts. My point is that the narrative doesn't change no matter what the news is: Baghdad is burning. Pre-"surge," it was an insurgency out of control; inter-"surge," it's an imperfect and inadequate criminal justice system, of all things. (Still no resurgence of the rape rooms, though.)

I commend to your attention the "parliament of clocks" fable from Chicagoboyz. It's highly instructive, with regard to the media narrative.

Monday, May 07, 2007

And running away, and buggering off...

Via Captain's Quarters, which I haven't visited in too long, we hear that Bill Richardson goes that extra mile beyond his Democrat brethren in advocating pullout from Iraq:

He would pull American troops out of Baghdad, but also from Anbar and Diyala, where they face al-Qaeda terrorists and where we have made a lot of progress in engaging the local tribes.

And from Richardson himself:

So I would deauthorize the war, I would set a timetable of all troops out by the end of the year. And here is where I'm different from other candidates -- I would have no residual forces. No American troops, except for an embassy detail [in Baghdad] of Marines, which is traditional in our diplomatic representation ...

Furthermore, he thinks Congress, acting alone, can correctly accomplish this lofty goal:

I believe that deauthorization, on the basis of Article I of the Constitution, also would have a Congressional reaffirmation of its power to declare war, which it has, but which it has not exercised. The President can't veto this. The issue probably would go to the courts.... But it's decisive, it's strong, it's direct, it's specific, it's easy to understand by the public, and that's the course I believe it should take.

So he plans decisively, strongly, directly, specifically, and most importantly ever-so-simply to leave Iraq altogether.

Paging the post-GWI Kurds...

Monday, April 23, 2007

The grace of God

I haven't posted on the Virginia Tech shootings; not only have I been busy with more personal matters, but I've been sorting out my feelings about the terrible crime and tragedy of that day a week ago. Here's what I've concluded.

My son has a little (all right, not so little) problem with negativity. I keep hoping it's just a phase - but he may in fact be one of those poor souls who goes through life under a cloud, all my husband's and my best efforts to change this pattern notwithstanding. When he starts in with the "I can't do it," "It's too hard," "I'll never be able to's," what do we tell him most often? We tell him that thoughts like these, negative thoughts, are first of all not the only way to look at whatever situation he's in, and second not helpful in changing the situation he's in. Try this, we say. Instead of saying, "I'll never be a good pitcher! I've been practicing all afternoon and I still throw more balls than strikes," try saying, instead, "Wow, this pitching thing is a real challenge. I've been spending a lot of time practicing, and look how much I've improved since I started!"

Sappy, right? But positive self-talk is a way to shape your attitude, to predispose you to positive outcomes.

I'm a sometime Weight Watchers member (the only program I've ever found that, if you choose to learn it this way, teaches you how to eat normal foods wisely). One of their tools is positive self-talk. Like this: "I can't believe I ate all those chips. What was I thinking? I have no willpower. I might as well give up now." Versus, "Those chips were really good; I really enjoyed them. I'll just make some really good choices at the next meal and be right back on track to meet my goal this week." Acknowledge your action, put it in the most positive light you can, and get back on the horse: it's the next thing you do that counts.

Columbine. Not the first school shooting, but the most notorious. A terrible waste that day was that police policy was to secure the perimeter but not to engage while shooting was going on. And after Columbine, police policy changed, and lives have been saved elsewhere on that account.

I remember after 9/11, I used to think a lot about Flight 93. My dad and I talked about it on one occasion I remember well. I told him, "I just hope that if I were ever in a situation like that (God forbid), I could be brave enough to try something. But I don't know... after all, my kids would probably be with me..."

He glanced up at me from whatever computer he was tinkering with. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "I think when something like that happens, people just... do what they have to do."

That's a fairly unambitious and undemanding statement. But consider the source: while sitting on a flak jacket, he flew helicopters into combat zones in Vietnam, as a newly married 23-year-old with a pregnant wife. Perhaps because he found himself in terrifying straits so soon after both intensive training and (let's face it) the onset of adulthood, my father's own personal pattern was set: "what he had to do" would forever include the possibility of barricading a door with his body while his charges escaped, as Prof. Librescu did last week (I find myself wondering whether one reason God brought this man through the Holocaust was to save the lives he saved last Monday, may he live forever in the loving presence of his Creator). It would include facing a crazy man with a shotgun in a playground, as my mother had to do one afternoon at the Catholic school in East St. Louis where she taught when I was fourteen. It would include - it did include - dropping into a clearing in a jungle where the gunfire could come from any direction. I feel sure that it would have included rushing the cockpit with a drinks tray.

And after that conversation with my dad, I started scoping out airplane cabins. I'd been counting seat backs between my seat and the exit for quite a while; I'd been mentally lining up the friendly-looking people between my row and the exit row to whom I'd physically pass my kids if the need should arise. But now I started also assessing what I had that could either distract or disable, and how I'd go about using it if I had to. A positive response, an internal dry run to help shape my reaction if the real world ever presented a scenario where such planning was necessary.

I'm just now getting to this point about the VA Tech shootings. I don't know what the classrooms looked like (I've avoided all television coverage, and apparently I should be very happy that I have), so I don't know, for instance, whether the desks were fixed to the floor. But I'm thinking about books, laptops, calculators - what could be thrown? If the desks were free-standing, wow, what a great tool they could be for someone in the front row. Could I have been the one - even if from under my desk - to chuck something from my purse at the door and try to get the shooter to turn? Would that have been enough to get someone on his blind side moving, to clock him with a textbook? Enough to start a rush for his knees?

My first reaction to these thoughts is guilt: I feel as if I'm judging the students facing a stone killer in a Keanu-Reeves stance with two very scary guns and obviously no compunctions about using them. Shouldn't I be saying to myself, "I don't know what I would have done. I can't possibly tell what I would have done"?

Just now, after a week, I'm giving myself permission to have these thoughts - because, after all, if I don't "know" what I would have done (and indeed, how could I know?), why must I assume that I would have done nothing? Why not let those thirty-two deaths teach me something, as the deaths of those on Flight 93 taught me something? Just as we all realized that 9/11 was separated from 9/10 by a chasm of unbelievable proportions, just as we all realized sometime in the latter half of September 2001 that we were living in a post-9/11 world, we now live in a post-VA-Tech-shooting world: it's a world where no one, armed with gun, bomb, gas can, or anything else will ever again be so damnably successful in his designs on the lives of other students. I hope we can generalize still further and no one will ever again be so damnably successful in holding anyone in any public space hostage.

But, you see, it's the attitude, not the weaponry, that makes the difference: while I wish we could turn back the clock and arm an ROTC student in one of those classrooms, I wonder whether a conventionally unarmed but determined few students could have turned the tide against that poor, deranged, and now dead man.

I'm utterly ignorant of any personal stories from the scene; there may have been an attempt, or more than one, to stop him. I'm not actually second-guessing what any person did on that day; I'm only preparing myself for an exigency I hope will never arise. The only reason I'm blogging on the subject at all is because the "vibe" I'm getting from listening to the radio and reading some other blogs is that we have no right to consider alternative responses - to judge, in a sense. There but for the grace of God sat I. I'm blogging to say that it's not only my right to consider alternatives, but my duty and a smart course of action, and indeed an homage to those who died - that their cruelly curtailed lives can make a difference even now.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dream... or epitaph?

Victor David Hanson dreamt about the West:

I recently had a dream that British marines fought back, like their forefathers of old, against criminals and pirates. When taken captive, they proved defiant in their silence. When released, they talked to the tabloids with restraint and dignity, and accepted no recompense.

What a poignant beginning. My Anglophiliac soul weeps. I remember a scene from Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys, in which she's advising her nephew Emil about how to behave as an officer at sea. She tells him that every bit of rope used by the British Navy contains, at its core, a single red thread - that anywhere in the world, anyone can tell that that piece of rope is British because it contains that strand of red. She urges him to take that rope as his model: to let his character be known to and seen by all, no matter the circumstances, no matter his companions. He's later shipwrecked, and when he's rescued, he recounts that in some of his darkest moments on the lifeboat, he remembered the story and her admonition - and that it was out of fear that his loved ones would have to discover that he had behaved dishonorably that he did his best to behave honorably.

Somehow I doubt that a red thread is at the core of British rope today. Moving on...

Fellow Democrats like John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, and Harry Reid would add [to Pelosi's stern opposition to the actions of leaders of Syria and Iran] that, as defenders of the liberal tradition of the West, they were not about to call a retreat before extremist killers who behead and kidnap, who blow up children and threaten female reformers and religious minorities, and who have begun using poison gas, all in an effort to annihilate voices of tolerance in Iraq.

These Democrats would reiterate that they had not authorized a war to remove the psychopathic Saddam Hussein only to allow the hopeful country to be hijacked by equally vicious killers. And they would warn the world that their differences with the Bush administration, whatever they might be, pale in comparison to the shared American opposition to the efforts of al Qaeda, the Taliban, Syria, and Iran to kill any who would advocate freedom of the individual.

Et cetera, et cetera. In brief, his dream is that the West has definable character, a recognition of its roots, its fundamental aims, and the price paid over hundreds of years to achieve a good measure of those aims. What do we have instead? An essentially two-party system in the United States such that the undisputed enemies of this country actively root for just one of those two parties to take power. What message should the Democrats be getting, loud and clear, from that fact? And why aren't they? Or, if they are, why don't they care?

He ends this way:

And then I woke up, remembering that the West of old lives only in dreams. Yes, the new religion of the post-Westerner is neither the Enlightenment nor Christianity, but the gospel of the Path of Least Resistance — one that must lead inevitably to gratification rather than sacrifice.

Once one understands this new creed, then all the surreal present at last makes sense: life in the contemporary West is so good, so free, so undemanding, that we will pay, say, and suffer almost anything to enjoy its uninterrupted continuance — and accordingly avoid almost any principled act that might endanger it.

I heard a tarot reader on the radio this morning. She did a passable cold reading for a caller; if you were inclined to believe she had "powers," she didn't shake your belief. (If you were disinclined to believe in those "powers," well, her probing questions were kinda obvious.) She told this woman that the hardships in her life were just "tests," that there's no negative outcome in life - just exercises from God to help her move to the "next level." The funny thing is, I tend to see my faith in this light: the stumbles I've had, the obstacles in my way, have each contained some lesson or some hidden good that was eventually revealed, so I've had a pretty easy time believing that God sends these trials at the same time that God sends the means to cope with them, with a purpose known only to God.

But what about the family whose child is abducted and killed? Where's the "hidden good" in that for them? There may indeed be a hidden good for someone there; John Walsh's personal tragedy has brought about good for others, but I doubt that he misses his murdered son any less as a result. God's plan may not include my happiness, is what I'm saying. The thought that they might move to the "next level," for victims of Nazi inhumanity during WWII, would probably have been small recompense for the horrors they endured and from which so many millions escaped only through death. (I could have circumvented Godwin's Law there, but with a Holocaust denier at the top of the list of enemies of the United States, I felt the need to underscore the reality of the Holocaust.) How many enslaved people died as chattel, in the US and elsewhere, so that their disregarded remains could scream out the injustice of considering a human life "ownable" by anyone but its holder?

There is, like it or not, evil that can't be overcome by good thoughts. Likewise, there are threats to our most passionately held and vitally important societal beliefs that fail to respond to linking arms and singing about buying the world a Coke. That project to get as many people to have (shall we say) very, very happy thoughts simultaneously, and thereby bring about an end to the war in Iraq? Somehow I doubt that my refusal to participate was the deal-breaker there.

We went to Williamsburg for spring break this year. We didn't spend enough time in colonial Williamsburg - much more at Busch Gardens, to be honest - but while we were among the colonials we did at least have a chance to hear the Declaration of Independence declaimed. I hope, oh, I hope that kids are still stirred by these words as much as I am now and was as an idealistic teen:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

I hope that there are as many Americans (and others! This document should be known to everyone who values freedom) today as ever who realize that those words were not empty. Those men, and the women in their lives who supported their dangerous act, undoubtedly knew that they faced hanging and permanent familial disgrace if they failed - and that some of them might (probably would) die in the attempt even if they succeeded. Their lives. Their fortunes. Their sacred Honor. That's the price they were willing to pay for the inalienable rights in which they believed. Hanson believes that the West is no longer willing to pay that price for those goods - that the highest price we are now willing to pay, we pay for craven comfort instead.

What do I believe? I believe, or perhaps I only hope, that he's wrong.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Unconfirmed report...

...of bombing in Iraq, via Bank of America. Crude oil spiking - up about $1.50 - unconfirmed, once again. ??? Awaiting information!

UPDATE: OK, just a rumor. In particular, apparently the rumor was that Iran had fired on an American carrier (?). The Navy denies. Another rumor, so far as I know NOT being denied, is that the US has moved two carriers into the Gulf. I haven't been keeping up at all with troop movements and such, so for all I know, this is old news!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Idealism: what it is, what it isn't

Via Instapundit (as usual), recently I came across this very interesting piece, entitled "The Gospel of John and Yoko: The Origins of Mad Morality." An excerpt:

If you believe the Gospel of John and Yoko [ed. Think of the lyrics of "Imagine" for a quick apologia.] represents a higher morality, you will naturally begin to resent such obstacles in the way of “progress” as reason, the rule of law, common sense, the need to be a master of your own life, and the responsibility for your own well-being. And since the United States of America was built on such values and remains their most dedicated proponent, any honest and consistent “progressive” is bound to develop a seething hatred towards this country.

In the “progressive” book of virtues, American values are the quintessence of evil. So if you are a “progressive” and you aren’t mad at this country, that just means you’re neither honest nor consistent. But then again, because living by this dead-end moral code is logically impossible, one has to resort to hypocrisy and seek compromises, forever balancing on the edge of madness.

The writer, born in the Soviet Union when there was a Soviet Union, is as determined a foe of collectivism as pretty much everybody who escaped that terrible regime is. His past naturally colors his opinion. I myself am inclined to listen to the opinion of a former socialism victim, however intemperate it may seem in the current circumstances, for the same reason that I'd go to a famine survivor for accurate information about what the early stages of starvation feel like, or to a resident of the Northwest Territories to find out about SAD: he's really been there, and my baby experiences of leftism, hunger, and seasonal depression don't even mildly compare.

(Am I being intemperate by using starvation as a comparison? Hmm. Ask Stalin. Ask Mao. Of course, they're dead - like the millions they starved.)

Here's the rub: I believe there's an important role for (stereotypically) youthful idealism in a liberal society. Idealistic thinking, particularly when it's articulated intelligently, causes society to examine its postulates. When an idealistic concept is able to stand up to this first examination, it can mean that the context of a societal construct has changed and the postulate itself must be altered or even discarded. Slavery, for instance, has been a given in human society since there was human society. But perhaps the most important fruit of the Enlightenment was (and is!) the assumption of the fundamental value of each individual human being - and the idealistic concept that a slave of African descent is observably and provably a human being, and therefore a natural beneficiary of the Enlightenment, ultimately could not be denied. It kept coming back. Thoughtful people continued to hold it up to the light, to discomfit the conservatives (in the old and true sense of "people committed to preserving the status quo"), until the idea was no longer revolutionary but inevitable - because internal consistency demanded it.

But like Bills on Capitol Hill, not every idealistic notion makes it to inevitability. All societies that endure are conservative to some degree: they've come across a system that works, and they have a significant interest in preserving it. The beauty of a classically liberal society is that new ideas, propounded by free people, can be heard and debated - not that they're immediately adopted and the old stuff tossed on the rubbish heap of history. The presence of a strong conservative (still in the old and true sense) element in society is a buffer against too-precipitous change. And where that buffer is weakened or absent, the adoption of new ideas may take place without the hard-eyed examination that may, just may, prevent a really bad turn.

So here's the problem with idealism in our society today: somehow it's escaped this vital testing and tempering.

Someone (I think I know who) is going to read this post and conclude that I think slavery in America lasted just long enough, or some such drivel. No. At the moment that the Enlightenment took hold, when the value of the individual became a paramount societal concept, slavery should have passed from the earth - and ideally, of course, it should never have arisen; the intrinsic value of a human being, and the simple fact of the humanity of every mammal, however different-appearing from The People (whoever The People are to the particular observer) that can breed true with another human being, should have been obvious from the start. But the world is what it is, and apparently an Enlightenment was necessary in western culture in order to introduce the idea that human life is beyond buying and selling, and many years were necessary after that to break down the status quo.

So what about the idealistic notions of today? I believe that they too should be judged by whether internal consistency with our core principles requires them. "War is not the answer" doesn't rise to that level. Nor does "logic is male, male is bad; feelings are female, female is good." Nor does "Arabs aren't ready for democracy." Nor does "private ownership is by nature oppressive to someone." I hope that effectively instant mass communications can bring about necessary change more quickly than we saw with slavery, civil rights, female suffrage, child labor... but I draw the line at assuming that every possible change is necessary.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On carbon neutrality

Let's start with the links. Here's Wikipedia on the subject. And here's a killer bit about Al Gore's supposed carbon neutrality - note particularly that he's apparently buying his offsets from a company of which he's cofounder and chair. And of course here is a piece about Bush's Crawford ranch, with its geothermal climate control, rainwater collection system, graywater recycling, and modest size.

What I bring from these stories is a Lenten theme, weirdly enough. It's the injunction to pray in secret, to wash your face and smile on the street - not to be like "the hypocrites" who hire people to beat drums ahead of them on their way to make their offerings at the Temple. It'd be so much easier to take the Terrible ThreatTM of (anthropogenic?) global warming seriously if its Jeremiahs were less ludicrous.

Instead, as I've said before, my position on global warming, cooling, spinning, magnetic-pole-changing, etc., etc., is that the Earth has been doing these things, willy-nilly, for some five billion years now; it behooves us, as a species that may (for the first time in global history) have some modicum of control over its destiny, to try to make ourselves and our society as adaptable as possible to major changes. We know that we as a species already survived ice; we know that large numbers of people already survive heat, though there are obvious problems such as disease, crops, and how to get everyone to like warm beer. We already genetically engineer lots of plants to suit our current needs; is anybody working on genetically engineering very heat-tolerant and cold-tolerant and drought-tolerant and wet-roots-tolerant strains of foodstuffs? If not, that's where our concentration should be. Water purification and desalination: another no-brainer. Inoculations against diseases more common in lower latitudes, especially those horribles for which the main therapy right now is "get the uninfected out of Dodge and wait for it to play itself out."

When the Earth's climate changes, it will be beyond us to stop it - and any efforts we make that have an actual effect, however small, are bound to have other, unintended consequences as well (see: rabbits, Australia). If we limit our attempts at ginormous changes to the social and technical, it seems obvious to me that we also limit those unintended consequences. That alone, even leaving aside the do-ability factor, brings me to my firmly held opinion that our better course is to prepare ourselves, not to try to hold back the tide.

Social engineering, then? No... I'm agin' it. But if we're going to try to take some kind of major action, I vote for explicitly setting out to build a resilient society rather than (a) giving very rich people feel-good points plus a free pass to contribute as much carbon to the equation as they like, (b) setting up a "carbon underclass" of people who, because they can't afford a "carbon usage tax" or magical (if ineffective) offsets, simply have to live as our grandparents and great-grandparents did, and (c) holding down the development of the undeveloped and underdeveloped world in the name of The Environment. And as I (and others, I'm sure) observed somewhere (I'm sorry, it's after midnight and I don't recall whether it was in some blog post of mine or a comment left elsewhere), if those selfsame Jeremiahs actually believed the drivel they're spouting, they'd be doing things differently: if Gore thought we were decades from "buh-bye Manhattan," he'd be living... um... the way Bush does.

So it comes down to power, as always. Sometimes I imagine Gore in his carefully offset obscenely energy-hungry mansion, giggling like a little girl over how much more influence and exposure he has now than he did as a Presidential candidate.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What a maroon

I just stumbled across Mark Kleiman at Reality-Based (?!) Community, via this Instapundit bit. Kleiman has a "thoughtful and damning critique" (not a quote from Kleiman or anyone else but my characterization of how he seems to appear to himself in that spotted and wavy glass he evidently calls "reality") of Mark Steyn. In sum, Kleiman claims that Steyn advocates genocide against Muslims. He bases this claim on this passage from an interview Steyn gave to Christopher Hitchens:

Why did Bosnia collapse into the worst slaughter in Europe since World War Two? In the thirty years before the meltdown, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43 percent to 31 percent of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26 percent to 44 percent. In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography—except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out—as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em. The problem that Europe faces is that Bosnia’s demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent.

And here's what Kleiman says about that passage:

Hitchens let this pass in silence, except for a little bit of tut-tutting about the differences among Muslims, but let's call it by its real name: Steyn is justifying genocide, both retrospectively in Bosnia and prospectively in the rest of Europe.

He implies that the silence of everybody else from "Red bloggers" to anti-Holocaust groups on the subject (of Steyn's call for Euro-genocide, that is) is tacit agreement with Steyn's premise as he - Kleiman - interprets it. He of course overlooks the fact that all this silence might just mean that his interpretation... um... doesn't fit the facts.

Only someone who had never read one other word of Steyn could interpret that statement as advocacy of genocide. I'll admit that a passing familiarity with Steyn's actual premise on Europe - that demographically, Muslims in Europe are not just outperforming but overwhelming traditional, or ethnic, Europeans, and that therefore the "never again" Europeans had better watch themselves lest they somehow manage to forget the "never" part of that phrase - is a bit helpful.

Kleiman, you listening? (At last I understand the frustration Michelle Malkin's opponents feel when they can't comment on her blog - though, given the horrifying examples of comments she received that led her to disable commenting, I don't blame her, and for all I know, Kleiman has been on the receiving end of similar disgusting displays of pique.) Steyn is, was, and has long been warning Europe that they will be faced with "the cold equations" sooner than they expect: Muslims will soon outnumber ethnic Europeans (forgive the awkward phrase - I'm at a loss for what to call non-Muslim Europeans besides the even more awkward, and less descriptive, "non-Muslim Europeans") if current demographic trends continue, and birth rates among ethnic Europeans and Muslims in Europe and elsewhere pretty much guarantee that current democratic trends will continue. Europe has a history of using genocide as a weapon against "threatening" ethnic groups. It has happened in living memory, not just in the Holocaust but thereafter in Bosnia, as he points out in the passage from the Hitchens interview. Muslims are a potentially "threatening" ethnic group, in that all over Europe, Muslim communities have resisted assimilation and have insisted that they are or should be bound by other rules - sometimes even other laws than the rest of the society in which they live. Some of these rules, and certainly Shari'a law, stand in direct opposition to the Enlightenment values on which European civilization is supposedly based.

Steyn's assertion is that European "civilization" is a veneer. It's an effective, beautiful, and in some ways robust veneer, but he writes and speaks from the standpoint that a veneer is not very thick and is vulnerable to accidental or willful rubbing, and that it didn't take a whole heck of a lot to sand through that veneer to expose the barbarity beneath during World War II, for instance.

He doesn't except the rest of western civilization; he just points out that Europe is in a particularly bad position at present: faced with what it - Europe - has tended to view as an existential threat, with feckless domestic policies that do nothing to address that threat, a populist sense not unlike that which allowed Hitler to come to power in the '30s could again prevail in Europe, and we don't want that.

Are we clear?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wonders of modern medicine

You want to know how many different drugs my children are getting at the moment? Three proton pump inhibitors - a different one for each - to block acid production in their stomachs in response to acute gastritis attacks, probably caused by a nasty stomach bug that's going around; two antibiotics - a different one for each of two of them - for strep and an ear infection possibly caused by strep (I assiduously avoid giving antibiotics for ear infections without great cause - but in this case, the older brother with strep is cause enough); two pain relievers, alternating around the clock, for fever reduction and pain management (I normally only medicate fevers if the child is really uncomfortable, figuring that a fever serves a purpose - but in this case, rest trumps allowing body temp to rise for whatever purpose); and one antihistimine being used as a sedative (on doctors' advice! I swear it!) until a couple of nights ago to help one of them sleep around the gastritis; and one narcotic, given in the hospital to two of them over the last two weeks whose gastritis was severe enough to warrant (I'd say require) hospitalization.

Five, count 'em, five trips to the ER. So far five visits to our regular doctor's office. One meltdown by my dear husband addressed to said doctor's office, to the effect that the county hospital is apparently now our primary caregiver and what the bleepity-bleep is our doc doing for us besides rubber-stamping what the ER and peds docs are saying? Four strep cultures and a flu culture. Untold urine and blood samples. One (ugh) stool sample (that was a fun one). A chest X-ray, a belly X-ray, a CAT scan, an ultrasound. More lousy hospital food than I care to remember, none of which was for me, so why should I complain? Five full nights and about seven days in the hospital, plus two (I think) more partial nights. One overnight babysitting issue, precipitated by a five-day business trip by my better (or at least 'other' - the jury was definitely out during the business trip) half. One nor'easter, just to add variety and excitement to our regular (far too regular) route to the ER.

All of this is out of order and minimizes the strenuously resisted panic that's been at the top of my emotional spectrum for the past seventeen days; at the moment, with everyone well medicated and apparently recovering, it all just seems banal. Thank God for the art and science of medicine, and the efficient yet compassionate care of the nurses and docs who have been taking care of us. My title was in no way ironic: while none of what has ailed my kids has been life-threatening (probably - or not too life-threatening anyway), it's been far, far easier to cope because of the tools, therapies, and knowledge of which we've been the beneficiaries.

I was, and am, a fan of minimalism, preventative medicine, medicinal herbs, and providing support to the body while it does the heavy lifting. But the naturopathic options for my child sobbing "Help me... help me..." as he arched, writhed, and twisted in agony just didn't seem all that... compelling somehow. I still advocate doing as little as possible to mess up body chemistry and function - but bring on the morphine, baby, when it's needed: that's what it's for.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Wretchard at Belmont Club was writing recently about Palestine, in particular the terrible price Palestinians pay for their hallowed status as perpetual victims.

Did I just state a chicken-and-egg problem? Are Palestinians poor, insecure, and desperately unhappy because of their refugee status, or are they still considered refugees because their situation is so dire? Well... as Wretchard says,

The pseudonymous Spengler, writing in the Asia Times, argues that Palestine is partly the Frankenstein creation of Western guilt and international fantasy. They are people forced into a time trap, in a kind of ghastly ethnographic museum, except that their native dress consists of explosive wrapped round their waist, and their colorful dances celebratory gunfire fired up to rain down on their heads, because we want to remember them that way.

The comment thread for that post includes a number of observations about the irony of multiculturalism: that once you postulate that all cultures are not just equally valid but equally desirable (or, in practice, that the less first-world - even more, the less American - the culture, the more desirable), and take it as your mission to preserve each native culture unchanged, you've become King Canute standing in the incoming tide. Worse, you've become the paternalist you deride.

Orson Scott Card wrote about this phenomenon in Speaker for the Dead. Humanity's first contact with another intelligence resulted in the destruction of that other intelligence. So, long afterward, when humans discover another intelligent species, they strictly constrain themselves from "polluting" that species in any way: like anthropologists they spend time with this other species and observe them, but the human scientists carry no artifacts (they do wear clothes!) and say nothing, ask no questions that would provide clues to human culture. No asking about hunting, for instance, because if this species doesn't hunt, asking them about hunting might encourage them to explore this species-inauthentic activity for themselves.

Eventually a representative of this other species, the pequeninos, finally snaps, accusing the human observers of withholding valuable information from them not out of respect for their culture but out of fear. (It turns out that the human enclave on this planet, which the humans believed to be protected by an impassible barrier, had been under close observation by the pequeninos from the get-go: a goldfish bowl.) Why not share agriculture with these hunter-gatherers so that they can thrive, work less hard, develop more technology on their own, have more offspring? Because if the pequeninos are given this head start, they may sooner pose a threat to humanity. So says this "piggie," as they're colloquially known.

And so. When we say, "The Muslim world isn't ready for democracy," "The Palestinians can't help being disaffected," "There's no sense in opposing tribalism in Africa," or "Western culture is supplanting authentic native cultures all over the world, and we need to stop," what is our real motive? Does it even matter? If our motive is in fact respect for these different cultures, who are we to tell them what they can and can't do, should and shouldn't adopt? More, if we can save them some stumbles on the road to first-world status, aren't we negligent if we withhold our experiences? Yes, it smacks of paternalism, as I said - but at least it's a more benevolent paternalism than the alternative form, which pats a third-world culture on the head and says, "You're not mature enough," then stands back and watches, bemused (or even sticks out a foot to trip them), as they make mistakes we can see coming.

On the other hand, if our motive is to keep these other cultures "authentic" (hence relatively primitive) so that they pose less of a threat to us, we're first, cowards, and second, obtuse.

I know an ardent nativist. He has traveled fairly extensively in the Southern Hemisphere and considers any incursion of American or Western culture there a travesty, an ugly blot on the pristine fabric of native life. And he's convinced that he is on the side of the natives in taking this view. Now, don't get me wrong: I have zero desire to live in a homogeneous world, and great respect for both differences among peoples and the right of every person, and every people, to stay separate if that's their wish. But, as a privileged member of the dominant culture, for this man to try to keep his culture away from others in the name of cultural purity - for the little village, not for the American city - denies the village information and opportunities that could be helpful as well as "polluting." If he's doing it for the natives, he's being paternalistic; if he's doing it for the authenticity of his own experience, he's being selfish. And either way, he's condemning the natives to nastier, more brutish, and shorter lives than they might otherwise enjoy.

Of course he doesn't see it that way. I applaud and share his desire to experience all the great diversity of humanity, even as I hope his tactics fail: whether he likes it or not, all culture is authentic.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A short course in terror

So another SOTU is behind us... and again Bush laid out what we're fighting and what we're fighting for in Iraq:

In the mind of the terrorist [sic], this war began well before September the 11th, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past five years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.

Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments, and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: "We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse." Osama bin Laden declared: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement.

But here, as the President was speaking about the 2006 response of terrorists to our military and diplomatic successes in 2005, is the passage I believe most important:

In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia -- and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in.

I'm not a fool, and nor (in spite of claims to the contrary) is Bush. Sectarian strife existed in Iraq long before Saddam Hussein and was bound to be problematic in a post-Saddam Iraq whose central government had not yet consolidated its power and authority. But for a while it appeared manageable - disruptive and sometimes tragic, but not rising to the level of an existential threat. Heck, sectarian or ethnic violence has existed and does exist in many nations not considered failed states. Actions like the destruction of the Golden Mosque, which incited a degree of violence that hadn't yet been seen from the Shia majority, were instrumental in bringing us, and Iraq, to this point, and it's vital to realize these actions for what they were and are: a tactic in an overall strategy.

The strategy: to weaken Iraqi support for a moderate government and to sap the American will sufficiently to undermine our efforts to uphold that duly elected government. The tactic succeeded in bringing strongly Shia-sectarian elements in that government into ascendancy, which in turn gave cover to Shia militias, first perceived as "protectors" but eventually functioning as lawless pseudo-vigilantes, their every action undermining the Iraqi government's necessary monopoly on armed force.

Enough, says Bush - and I hope al-Maliki is speaking the truth when he echoes that declaration. Because if al-Maliki is ready to back up the word with the commitment, Baghdad can be a real capital city of a real democratic nation.

This whole exercise - a live-fire exercise with no do-overs - is a fascinating study in what we've taken for granted. We in the West, I mean. Take that monopoly on force: in the United States, the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear arms, and the debate rages (to coin a phrase) over whether the founders meant that each individual ought to be able to own a gun, or whether the intent was to arm a national guard. (Where I stand should be obvious.) In neither case is there any implied threat to a government monopoly on the use of force. When militias have arisen in the United States, post-Revolution, they've been widely decried as - at least - bordering on extra-legal. (Yes, some American militias have achieved a regional and ephemeral celebrity.)

But in Iraq, such groups actually had, and for some Iraqis no doubt still have, a tacit claim on legitimacy. Middle Eastern society has skipped too many steps. The nations with oil have been able to pole-vault from the Middle Ages to the new millenium without passing through an Enlightenment. A math analogy: in my freshman calculus class, about half the students had taken calculus as seniors in high school, and, smug, shouted out, "3x2!" as soon as the instructor wrote "x3" on the board. The prof, determined to get us to understand what we were doing, rolled her eyes and, in her lovely Texan drawl, asked them, "Why?"

In other words... Iraq can do this. There is nothing intrinsically lacking from, or different about, Iraq in terms of its ability and even its desire for civil liberties such as we take for granted. (Side note: we take them so much for granted that recently I saw a button in a novelty store that said, "Oh well, I wasn't using my civil liberties anyway." The irony inherent in that button's even existing must have escaped both its manufacturers and the store.) All it lacks is time to get up the learning curve. We can give Iraq that time - and it's obvious to the Administration and me, among others, that it is in our national and moral interests to do so. Unfortunately not everyone seems to agree.

Two more years.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Waste of time

I've spent time recently at Asymmetrical Information and am flat-out depressed: Megan McArdle has not only come to believe that going into Iraq was a mistake (with which I disagree completely - none of the strategic reasons for doing so at the time have changed, as far as I can see), but has opened her forum to a bunch of ninnies who all just want to chant, "We were right, you war-mongers were wrong," incessantly. Now, whatever gets them through the night, I guess... but what I hate about Megan's original post is that its subject is, "I was wrong - discuss!"

It's possible, pig, as Westley said, that those of us who supported (and, in my case, continue to support) the Iraq invasion were wrong to do so. We can never know, of course, because we don't have a handy parallel universe in which to test the other case. It's certain that people at all levels have made mistakes in prosecuting, not the invasion, but the reconstruction/stabilization period, but that's no different from any other war or aftermath thereof. I can concede and in fact insist that a "postmortem," a debrief, a lessons-learned session of seriousness and length is appropriate, because how else can we avoid the mistakes in future?

But to provide nothing but an opportunity for snarky folk who think it's the height of wit to refer to Bush as Dear Leader to gloat - that's not only not helpful or productive, it's darn close to pandering in my eyes. Poor Megan... She lives and works in Manhattan, and the pressures brought to bear on her must be extreme, just through the course of her day. But I do so wish that she could've kept her confession to herself - because we're in Iraq and must make the best decisions we can, now, about what to do next. Providing fuel for the pitiful birthday candle that passes for "fire" among the particular doves she attracted to that post doesn't assist anyone in that effort.

Yeah. I know. We in the 101st Chairborne aren't going to be the deciders. But we, the American people, are going to have influence over our representatives, and the nature of the blogosphere combined with the nature of Washington are such that (a) we don't know how influential a few emails to any one Congressperson will be, nor (b) do we know how many blog readers are going to be influenced to send those emails by a blog like AI.

Naturally it also irks me on a sheer emotional level to watch valuable pixels being used for "Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah" with - still! - no consideration or discussion of where to go from here. Megan's critics took exception to her claim that just because "the doves were right," it wasn't through their perspicacity; they predicted all kinds of direness that didn't come to pass and were therefore correct only by chance. Those critics had a point of a sort; there were in fact anti-invasion people bringing up the possibility of insurgency and destabilization before the invasion. But - and this is where those critics' "rightness" falls right off the page - those were far from the loudest or most quoted voices, nor can I quite believe, listening to Megan's commenters, that they, the commenters, were stroking their chins and nodding sagely in agreement with Pat Buchanan back in the day.

And here's the next place where I feel confident in predicting that those critics will turn to the logic they just rejected: they'll say that since they were "right" about not invading, they're also right, now, about pulling out altogether. It Does Not Follow. If the common goal is a stable, moderate Iraq, Iraq the Model one might say, which, as a significant benefit, also serves as a demonstration that it's possible to be prosperous as a nation and part of the Middle East (and not Israel) at the same time, it's incomprehensible to me and to everyone on my side of this debate how leaving Iraq at this time will accomplish that goal. The only way that an early pullout appears to be a viable choice is if the goal is something else.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Band-Aid for Iraq?

In short, no, again via Instapundit, which is the only blog I get a chance to read pretty much every day now.

No, but as usual, opponents of an Iraq strategy that involves making an actual positive difference in the Middle East (and, always, importantly, in our own position and security therewith, or else we would be irresponsible as a nation to undertake it) focus on the one factoid they appear able to comprehend, or at any rate willing to sound off about: 21,500 troops. What they - the forces of both troop reduction and troop increase - consistently fail to talk about, and have failed to talk about all along with regard to their own competing proposals (such as they've been), is what to do with the troops. For over a year I've been listening to and growing increasingly frustrated with demands that we send "more troops" (sometimes with a number attached) or that we "bring the troops home," either precipitously or gradually - with no discussion of tactical change, when a change in troop strength, up or down, clearly implies a change in tactics.

But we do indeed have a change in tactics. 21,500 more troops (which, I heard pointed out by a Republican Senator whose name I missed on NPR yesterday, still leaves the total number of coalition troops in Iraq at a level below that total last year at this time), primarily deployed in Baghdad, where current troop strength is just 13,000. An almost 150% increase in troops, in the area that most needs them, since anyone paying attention is aware that the vast majority of Iraq is already stable, with Baghdad the primary hotspot. Does that sound better than "a niggling 21,500 added to the 140,000 already there"? Furthermore, a concomitant change in the rules of engagement: the Shi'ite militias are now an explicit target, a monopoly on the use of armed force by the duly elected Iraqi government an explicit goal. And still furthermore, a commitment from that same duly elected Iraqi government to bury the militias, in spite of sympathy to them at high levels.

So the race against the clock continues. We have two years from next week, or so, to stabilize Baghdad and provide the nascent moderate democracy of Iraq with a margin of safety in which to operate; after that, we have to assume a worst-case scenario involving a rabid dove in the White House who would rather play to the crowds (when was the last time the Great American Public was consulted so often and taken so seriously in the matter of how to prosecute a war?) and "bring our boys home" without regard to the price of that action.

As I started saying in, oh, 2005 or so, please, Democrats - for the sake of the children you tend to trot out at convenient moments, nominate someone with some foreign policy credibility and a will to maintain the American Moment.