Wednesday, December 20, 2006

To heck with it

Gosh, look at the time. Has it really been three months since my last post?

I've been ruminating on whether to take this blog down; I work in a bastion of progressivism, in a field in which my "clients" expect and favor the nice-sounding but too often ineffective nostrums of that ideological position, regardless of its irrelevance to what I do and what they expect me to do, and I feel a certain responsibility to my wee staff not to rock the boat with our "clients." (Am I being sufficiently inscrutable? Sorry about that... I fear Google.) But in the end, I yam who I yam. I skipped the election season; it's time to say something again.

Newsweek has noticed what's been reported in "off-Broadway" sources for over a year now: Iraq's economy is booming. Of course they don't present this "news" without the requisite disclaimer:

Says Wael Ziada, an analyst in Cairo who tracks Iraqna: "There will always be pockets of money and wealth, no matter how bad the situation gets."

But the funny part is that that statement immediately follows this one:

[T]he company [Iraqna, a mobile phone company] posted revenues of $333 million in 2005. This year, it's on track to take in $520 million. The U.S. State Department reports that there are now 7.1 million mobile-phone subscribers in Iraq, up from just 1.4 million two years ago.

That's... let's see... fivefold growth in subscribers in two years nationally, and a near-doubling of revenue in one year for that company. Looking further:

Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006.

Requisite disclaimer: The World Bank "has it lower: at 4 percent this year." And more requisite disclaimers: the article lays credit for Iraq's economic growth at the feet of the rest of the world ("money pouring in from abroad"), while nearly simultaneously noting that oil revenues "and foreign grants" are set to exceed $41 billion this year. That's a nice bit of sleight-of-hand: combining revenues from sales of Iraq's one unequivocal natural resource with handouts from a sympathetic world, without telling us how much comes from each source.

But that's not enough yet:

It goes without saying: real progress won't be seen until the security situation clears up. Iraq still lacks a functioning banking system. Though there's an increasing awareness of Iraq as a potential emerging market, foreign investors won't make serious commitments until they are assured a measure of stability. Local moneymen are scarcely more bullish on the long term. In Iraq's nascent bond market, buyers have so far been willing to invest in local-currency Treasury bills with terms up to six months, max.

If it "goes without saying," why does it have to be said? "Real" progress is apparently signified only by foreign investors' trust, not at all by a nascent and enthusiastic middle/entrepreneurial class and several-hundred-percent real estate price growth. A moving goalpost, in other words: signs of health in the economy of another nation cannot possibly be taken as signs of health in the Iraqi economy, because the narrative is Disaster; therefore, we have to discount these signs and look only at the ones Iraq isn't yet exhibiting. Remember the Iraqi elections? Remember the ratification of the Iraqi constitution? In both cases, the pre-vote story was that security issues would overshadow and ultimately kill the democratic process; since the democratic process failed to be killed, the post-vote story had to be that in spite of the millions of Iraqis who voted, the electoral results were unimportant, even irrelevant, because violence didn't suddenly and magically cease.

Why, I continue to wonder, is the narrative Disaster? What's the goal of those penning (keying?) that narrative? Why not hope for success and concentrate on potentially useful critique of strategy and tactics, rather than carping, snarking, and continually pointing out only those areas where success hasn't yet been achieved?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five years ago tonight

...I was eight and a half months pregnant with our second child and had no idea that the world was going to stop spinning the following morning.

God rest the souls of the three thousand who, tomorrow morning, I'll stop and remember most particularly. Now that we live close enough to both NYC and DC that we can day-trip to either by car, we know people who lost friends and family that day rather than just, ourselves, feeling a kind of remote anguish at the lives - and the life - that ended. But that "remote" anguish is still a strong motivator for me: My own personal circle was unbroken by the evil of that morning, but for the first time since the Challenger disaster when I was in high school, I felt viscerally and powerfully the horror of completely unjust death. Certainly, every time I hear a story in which an innocent person dies, I'm moved and saddened - but as I curled on our sofa on 9/11/01, unconsciously mimicking the posture of the baby in my belly, and watched the towers fall on live television, I was - I was -

If I had been God, I would have been Shiva in that moment. I was wroth.

Angry. Dreadfully, impotently angry. Because I was not God.

It's been years since I've doubted the existence of God. It's been a year, perhaps, since I've doubted His motives. September: the month I was born, the month I was married, and the month in which I most often ask that question God must weary of hearing from all of us: Why?

The answer has been around since Job railed against his undeserved lot: Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? I'm not the first to recall that answer to this question, though I'm forgetting where I first read it. It's not a satisfying answer, but it's the only one we get, and then we have to go on and do something with it. In our case, in this instance, we took up not just a billy club but a rifle, and we not only went after the immediate perpetrators but the ideological instigators, and that's where we are today: trying to make a difference in the atmosphere that allows such evil to breathe. That's the side I'm on, and that's the only vengeance I claim for our side against the evil and for September's dead.

I can't blog much any more. I'm busy with my new work, and the work I do requires - to me, in any event - that I keep my personal views personal, since I now represent some small part of an organization much greater than myself. But this day can't pass uncommented.

Requiescant in pace.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

O tempora! O mores!

All right, twice now I've written posts about today's foiled plot to bring down six to ten jetliners using liquid explosives in carry-on luggage. The first time, my kid deleted it to play some game or other (why again did we buy him a GameCube for his last birthday?). The second, I got caught in a Blogger planned outage and didn't save the whole thing quite in time, and the part I did manage to save before the outage was the link-free intro. Darn it.

I'm too tired now to recreate the links. The point was this: I woke up this morning and flipped on the TV, something I seldom get to do, and - holy cripes, a monstrous plan to kill thousands, caught apparently just in time, disrupting air travel in the UK and the US in ways we haven't seen since 9/11. Surely, I thought, this near-miss will have a salubrious effect on the Left, in spite of their foolish triumphalism about Lieberman, one of dang few Democrats with any appeal to the center.

But no - the two dominant memes I've seen on the big sinistrosphere blogs have been these:

1. I Question The Timing! or, isn't it conveeenient that this plot is disrupted right after the Lieberman-Lamont primary? (No kidding. That really is one of the nutty ideas floating around out there: that the Rovian Right was willing and able to create a fake plot that would cause the British government to shut down Heathrow and US travel authorities to cause parents to drink their babies' formula in front of a security officer in order to bring it aboard, yet for reasons known only to them, delayed it until after Lamont won, as a kind of "told you so" to the anti-war anti-forces. No kidding. No kidding.)

2. Nothing to see here..., which describes the way Kos was treating it. Two pages into DailyKos, no story or commentary. A few diaries addressed the plot, over in the right sidebar (which may be no coincidence... though they seemed largely to conform to either my #1, above, or #3, below), but Markos apparently didn't find the situation compelling enough to talk about.

3. This plot demonstrates the failure of Bush's War on Terror! or, as a Protein Wisdom commenter noted, apparently the new standard for success in the War on Terror is that no terror attempts - nay, no terror plans - occur. I guess the idea is that Bush thought we were so convincing that a group of people who, like medieval Europe, are living only for the rewards of the afterlife, in the space of three to five years (depending on when the Leftish speaker believes Bush started screwing things up), should have abandoned their pursuit of Allah's glory and their own paradise in favor of a Prius and a bargain on a Super Tuscan.

I actually saw one Left-side commenter referring to Bush's Iraq policy as "short-sighted." "Short-sighted": a generational plan to recast the Middle East in a more liberal image. I also read one blog, apologies that I can't recall which one, in which the writer mused about a definition of intelligence s/he had read: (paraphrased, but accurately) the ability to hold two opposing views in mind simultaneously. I certainly hope that that writer meant "to consider" rather than "to hold," which IIRC was in fact the word used (I can say definitely that it wasn't "consider"), because otherwise what we're talking about is not intelligence but cognitive dissonance, the resulting imbalance from which can lead to awful and nonsensical rationalizations.

Such as, for instance, "The Bushies are stupid doofuses who masterminded the 9/11 attacks." Or "The interruption of a plot to kill thousands, which resulted in inconvenience to many more thousands of travelers but no loss of life, was [take your pick here] a Rovian plot to spank the righteously angry anti-war netroots, or a failure." Or "Portraying Joe Lieberman in blackface is not at all antithetical to our liberal commitment to tolerance and proportionate ethnic diversity in the public and private spheres, but rather simply political speech that really doesn't concern you Republicans, since it's internecine." Or "Israel is committing genocide(!) [do they even remember what 'genocide' means?] by attacking the sources of rockets being fired at civilian targets in Israel by an organization pledged to destroy Israel as a nation and Jews as a people, because those sources are placed deliberately in civilian neighborhoods in Lebanon."

I thought - I hoped - that the good that could come out of this foiled plot, besides the fact that thousands who might have been killed will not be, would have been that the Democratic party would wake the hell up and realize that Islamism really doesn't give a flip which American president is in office: the aim is to destroy the West because of its liberal, to some observers libertine, ethos. And the people most vilified by Islamists are the ones the Democratic party claims most especially for its beautiful organic-cotton vegetable-dyed rainbow tent: atheists. Gay people. Feminists and other uppity women. Jews. Fornicators and the debauched of all stripes (which we might call "people who believe in bodily freedom," perhaps).

Wake up. The important common denominator among us in the West is not which groups we embrace or identify with - it's which philosophies we embrace and identify with. And the greatest of these, the one that changed everything and continues to inform our lives daily, is:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Generalization versus specialization

Steering well clear of Lebanon, not out of lack of interest but out of lack of energy to get all read up on it so I could have anything at all insightful to offer...

I've been reading Jane Austen lately, and as always with literature of that period and the periods immediately following - say, up until the Edwardians or so - I'm struck by the concept of "accomplishments." I mean the way all girls of the middle class and above learned to draw, play piano or some other instrument, sing, write descriptive prose and poetry, dance, arrange flowers, do fine needlework, all of them acceptably well regardless of native ability; and the way all boys of the middle class and above learned some of the above but more about riding, shooting, maybe swordplay (ornamental or practical), dressage if they were in the country, and so on. Both genders were expected to have a working knowledge of "the classics," of course.

All times have their accomplishments. In my teens I was "expected" to master (or at least to perform acceptably) certain things that I largely didn't: gymnastics (no prayer - I couldn't even touch my toes for most of my youth), pop singing (classical is another matter! But I could never get the whole close-your-eyes-and-whine-nasally genre down), drawing horses (I've never figured that out), fashion (to judge and to wear, not to design, not that I could design it either). My brother had to be competent in certain team sports, be familiar with some canons like Star Wars (at which I was better), and do tricks on something with wheels like a bike or a skateboard. I'm not able to step outside my own life well enough to determine which well-rounded young person, the 1980s one or the 1800s one, had the harder time learning his accomplishments. But I find roots in the youthful-accomplishments idea in the Renaissance and the Renaissance man, and I find similarities in places today.

This post, from the Long Tail blog, deals with how digital photography and cinematography change acting and directing:

Why [has digital caused such large changes]? Because film costs a lot and must be used sparingly, while digital tape is practically free. The difference between the scarcity economics of film and the abundance economics of digital is, as Bill put it, "the difference between pointing a loaded gun at someone and a toy gun. You point a loaded gun at them and they're going to act different. A film camera is a loaded gun. Digital is not."

He explained further what he learned shooting Flyboys with the Panavision Genesis. "The old model of acting is that the rehearsal is great and then things change when you say "rolling"--usually for the worse. Now there's no film in the camera. You can shoot everything. So there's no rehearsal. Or perhaps it's all rehearsal. Either way, it's far more natural."

Actors freeze up when they know that there's a cost to failure--a thousand-foot magazine of film costs $1,200 between film and developing. Said Bill: "That slight whirring noise of film running through the camera is the sound of money. And it gets in the way of being real."

Anybody? Anybody? I have on my wall three absolutely fantastic candid pictures of my kids, enlarged and proudly displayed rather than clustered on a shelf or on the fridge, because we bought a big memory card for our digital camera and are able to take a hundred and some high-res pictures without unloading. If I hadn't had literally dozens of shots of each child to choose from - that is, if I'd been limited to the amount of film I was willing to buy and develop - I would have had virtually no chance of taking three shots good enough to treat like professional portraits. My mother-in-law, digital camera always at the ready, treats the medium the way she always has: "Get over there next to your brother, honey. Sit up a little. Turn. No, the other way. Now - SMILE! Darn it, you had your eyes closed. Let's try it again..." rather than clicking away twenty times on the premise that one of those twenty captures will yield something good. It frustrates me to watch (especially since the whole reason professional photographers can charge the big bucks for children's portraits is because it's so hard to get three kids to look good all at once in a portrait-style shot), but I understand the impulse.

So. Available tools change the types of accomplishments we strive for - no great news there. The question for me is whether our "accomplishments" in these days, aided by tools that can turn the rankest amateur into an occasional master by dint of sheer persistence, render this age a new renaissance, in which we ought to try not just to perform learned skills adequately but actually to be relatively masterful in several areas at once. With my computer, an internet connection, my digital camera, and enough time, I can (both theoretically and, in some cases, in fact) turn out a killer home movie, gallery-worthy photos or even "art" if I apply enough filters, an animated feature, a book that only needs professional binding... Add some readily available craft materials and I can actually bind that book and expect it to last for decades, or turn out cards that ought by rights to put Hallmark out of business, or illuminate a manuscript. If I have a melody line in my head and a Moog or its equivalent, I can (and this is purely theoretical - I've never yet come up with a melody that's worth remembering) arrange it and "perform" it with multiple virtual instruments, sing it in harmony, and distribute it over the internet. Between the resources available at any public library and the resources available at my desk, I have access to almost everything I need to become "accomplished" in the 19th-century sense, at least on paper (I can't afford a horse), as well as in the 21st-century one (that's what my HTML, VBScript, and SQL books are for). So. Do I focus, or do I diffuse my efforts? With so very much available to be learned, am I better off as a specialist or as a generalist?

Heinlein had his opinion:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, first published in Time Enough For Love

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A distinction with a difference

I'm at a bit of a loss. I believe that the state of things worldwide breaks down into a few categories: Western capitalism-of-sorts against (largely) Eastern collectivism, though I'm not sufficiently versed in Asian culture to understand why collectivism should have so much persistence (albeit in corrupted form) there when it's clearly failed everywhere else; national wealth through general adherence to a code of fair play that we, at least, inherited from the British in the form of common law, versus national poverty and degradation through kleptocracy and rampant open corruption - I discount tribalism in this equation not because it doesn't exist, but because I believe it can coexist with common law; and finally, liberalism versus fascism, which at present means "liberalism versus Islamism." Not that there are no other fascists around; I'm certain that there are. But only Islamists marry the elevation of a central leader to a far-flung organization with enough coherence to coordinate attacks against the West and Westward-looking others, yet enough "looseness" to defy rounding up and fencing in.

Because to my horror, that option - fencing in the Islamic fascists - keeps occurring to me. "Circumscribing" might be a better term: I'm not talking about concentration camps here (God in His mercy forbid that we ever relive those days again), but about limiting the scope of their actions, financially, politically, and socially, not just by not preferring them under the law (see for instance last year's debate in Canada about whether to look to Shari'a as a source of legal precedent, a debate that fortunately ended correctly - for now), but by forbidding them to do certain things that we in the West take for granted, such as starting a school, without significant oversight. But as I said, it can't be done; the Islamists are too scattered, too independent whenever they choose to be, for even circumscription to work.

Point is, the struggle is existential, as I've said before, even if it's going on at a low level at the moment. I urge you to read all of this before you scoff:

“Asian youths,” a British euphemism for Pakistanis and Muslims from South Asia, in parts of Oldham are trying to create no-go areas for white people. One of them told: “There are signs all around saying whites enter at your risk. It’s a matter of revenge.” However, it’s not just the white natives that are targets of Muslim violence, but other non-Muslims, too. A report on Hindus being driven out of the English city of Bradford by young Muslims was described by some Hindus as “ethnic cleansing.”


Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post noted that some Muslim leaders explained that what they wanted was autonomy in their ghettos: “They seek to receive extraterritorial status from the French government, meaning that they will set their own rules based, one can assume, on Sharia law. If the French government accepts the notion of communal autonomy, France will cease to be a functioning state.” Following three weeks of unrest, the police said 98 vehicles torched in one day marked a “return to a normal situation everywhere in France.”


A researcher for the Netherlands Ministry for Immigration and Integration found that 40% of young Moroccan Muslims in the Netherlands rejected Western values and democracy. Six to seven percent were prepared to use force to “defend” Islam, and the majority were opposed to freedom of speech for offensive statements, particularly criticism of Islam.


In Denmark, the nation-wide organization of Women’s Crisis Centres claims that a number of taxi drivers with immigrant background are spying on female immigrants who are in hiding, sending information about their whereabouts to their families. It was a group of taxi drivers who informed a Pakistani man where he could find his sister. He murdered her in broad daylight outside a train station because she had married a man from Afghanistan against her family’s orders. 80% of the women seeking help at crisis centres in the city of Oslo, Norway, are from immigrant background.


A secret high-level UK police report concluded that Muslim officers were more likely to become corrupt than white officers, with complaints of misconduct and corruption against Muslim officers running 10 times higher than against their colleagues. “Asian officers and in particular Pakistani Muslim officers are under greater pressure from the family, the extended family [...] and their community against that of their white colleagues to engage in activity that might lead to misconduct or criminality.” The report argued that British Pakistanis live in a cash culture in which “assisting your extended family is considered a duty” and in an environment in which large amounts of money are loaned between relatives and friends. It recommended that Asian officers needed special anti-corruption training.

So. Is it possible to distinguish between a Muslim of a generally liberal bent and an Islamist? As a practical matter, walking down the street - no, just as it's impossible to distinguish between, say, me, and a granola-crunching (I love granola) Birkenstock-wearing (OK, my Birks just got "retired," but I'm in Tevas or barefoot six days a week anyway) Bush-hating (you've got me there) hippie in her middle years (no bifocals yet, but gray roots). However, there is a difference, and we must distinguish it. The challenge is in drawing the distinction without going all racist, though the people we, the liberal West, need to watch and guard against often share some physical characteristics that could invite cries of "racism!" How do we do it?

Heck if I know. But here, from a post entitled "Marx and Muhammed":

In many ways, there was a basic premise inherent in the policy of containment taken against the communist world: Wait long enough and the truth of the superiority of liberal societies will become apparent to the world. But a policy of containment against Islamic imperialism cannot hope for such eventual success. Since Islam does not make any ambitious proposal to improve the lot of its followers in the real world, but only in an imaginary [I'd say "an unobservable," but the point is taken. -ed.] afterlife, no amount of waiting can undermine its claim to truth.

There's my circumscription idea and yet another reason why it won't work against Islamism. What it points up is the necessity of figuring out ways to convince people fixed on the hereafter that the here is also worthy of attention, and not just the kind of attention that results in blowing it up in order to hasten the journey to the -after. So perhaps the solution is just to bombard everyone, all of society, with the superiority of life under a liberal banner; the people who already experience and accept that superiority will roll their eyes, order another latte or lassi or lager, and ignore it, while the unconvinced may - possibly - be drawn in against their will. It means rejecting multiculturalism, or at least that part of multi-culti that begins from the premise that all cultures are equally good and sufficient for their adherents.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Steyn making sense

Some more reasons why you ought to be reading Mark Steyn, whether for the humor or for the insight (you can't have one without the other):

The danger we face is not a Chinese superpower or an Islamist superpower: If it's a new boss, you learn the new rules and adjust as best you can. But the greater likelihood is of a world with no superpower at all in which unipolar geopolitics gives way to nonpolar geopolitics, a world without order in which pipsqueak thug states that can't feed their own people globalize their pathologies.

In other words, American hegemony: If not us, who? If not now, when? Read the whole thing; it points out that the threats we, and the world, face are not our opponents' (or even enemies') strengths, but their weaknesses. We have an unbeatable package right now. We won't always - that's the way of things - but at present, there is no other nation, nor even a group of nations functioning together such as the E.U., with the money, the military, the technology, or (much less "and"!) the will to do what we are doing by default: policing, funding, and establishing liberal (you know which "liberal" I mean) social and cultural norms for the world.

Or take this, concerning the recent "rolling hunger strike" of celebs, during which they each vowed to lay off the kibble for 24 whole hours before tagging out and letting the next undernourished accessory display fixture skip three squares:

Personally, if celebrities have to ''put their bodies on the line for peace, I'd much rather see them bulk up. How about if Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow promise to put on 20 pounds for every month Bush refuses to end his illegal war? Absent that, it's hard to see what a ''rolling fast'' does except confirm the vague suspicion one or two Americans may harbor that politically active celebrities are a lot of vain dilettantes unwilling to discombobulate their pampered lifestyles. It's unclear whether any of these celebrities will be ''starving'' long enough even to feel hungry. Bobby Sands and the IRA hunger strikers of the 1980s were never going to force Mrs. Thatcher to back down, but at least they did actually starve themselves to death.

How about if the celebs did that? Wouldn't that, after all, get right to the heart of the matter? Wouldn't that bring piercing clarity to the issue by forcing the American people to choose between tedious geopolitical responsibilities and Jennifer Aniston? Imagine if the flailing neocon warmongers had to explain to the American people why we were now down to one Dixie Chick.

No, I am not kidding: these vacuous infants actually thought it'd be a valid protest, a "sacrifice" worthy of measuring against the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers deployed in the Middle East, to do what crash dieters do by choice. Now. I just watched Emma Thompson's lovely Sense and Sensibility today, and I loooove a good costume drama, as well as a good action flick (I have an as-yet-unset date with the husbands of several of my friends to see X-3 since, inexplicably, neither my own husband nor my women friends are interested). I have great respect for a gifted actor as an actor; I have zero respect for an actor as an activist. Perhaps they just got confused, being used to reading lines on the fly and all, by the fact that the two avocations share some letters at the beginning.

Anyway. That's a decent segue into the world of the cinema.

In Depp’s hands, Cap’n Jack is more of a swishbuckler than a swashbuckler, and the more he swishes the more it’s the movie that seems to buckle. He’s worked so long and so hard and so ostentatiously on multi-layering the micro-details of his character that he leaves everybody else looking like preliminary sketches. It’s like Medea joining Charlie’s Angels: it’s bound to leave the other gals looking a little underwritten.

I haven't seen the first Pirates, about which Steyn was writing there, won't for some time since my oldest has declared it "too scary," and may not see the second ever if the first turns out to stink, but I love the Medea reference. Back in my extreme youth, back when I had a crush on one Jason and was into writing silly love stories, I couldn't imagine anything more romantic than his falling in love with a fictional Medea (even though I did know by then that Medea was a tragic heroine who had murdered her own children and that her marriage to Jason was, like, the definition of ill-starred love). I think I was the only thirteen-year-old in my school who had read the play. I may be the only almost-forty-year-old in my neighborhood who has, for all I know.

That's enough.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Escalation of hostilities

Anyone out there doing the same blog macarena that I do (DUM dadaDAdadadaDAda InstaPUNdit, DUM dadaDAdadadaDAda Protein WISdom, DUM dadaDAdadadaDAda FallbackBELmont...) will have seen the Frisch situation arise and quickly spiral out of control on Protein Wisdom - and I should note that this will be a link-free post, because there's altogether too much heat surrounding the exchanges already. Here's the background for interested parties who follow other blogs:

Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom is an expert in hermaneutics. He's also a stay-at-home dad of a toddler. He's also multiply employed in academia and the World o' Blogs. He writes frequently about the cost to society of identity politics and the importance, in critique, of authorial intent, and believe me, these subjects are highly relevant in the world of politics-politics today. He's loathed by the Left generally, as far as I can tell from my seat in the Right's bleachers (though, to extend the metaphor beyond its logical limits, I'm more along the first-base line than way out in right field). He has a few intrepid dissenting commenters, who suffer a certain amount of verbal "abuse" (quotation marks because this post is about actual verbal abuse) and mocking from his more generally concurring commenters, plus he gets pretty regular influxes of ill-tempered and intemperate trolls from Glen Greenwald's site and elsewhere.

One such intemperate person was a woman named Deb Frisch, a psychology professor on the staff at the University of Arizona. She had some strongly dissenting comments to make about a post I can't even recall at the moment - strongly dissenting but presented in such uncivil terms that I, who avoid the term "troll" almost all the time, can find no other word for her. Jeff's regulars piled on her with the mockery, which she took relatively well for a little while. That's kind of the price you pay when you're working a hostile room, it seems to me.

Then she stopped taking it well. She decided, according to her later comments, that she felt "threatened" by some of the comments directed at her (she hasn't specified which ones, and although I was following the conversation at the time, I can't think of any that struck me as over the line - I remember insults but no threats, overt or implied), and she responded "in kind," also according to her own comments, by starting to say some very ugly, very scary things about Jeff's child, and some very insulting things about his wife. I'm not going to repeat what she said except this far: noting that Jeff lives in Colorado, she several times brought up Jon Benet Ramsey in a context involving Jeff's son that would give any parent (and ought to give any non-parent) pause.

Jeff, never one to recede meekly into the background, posted directly about her comments, and his commenters, some of them currently or formerly in law enforcement, urged him to contact the FBI and, themselves, contacted the UofA about Frisch's giant leap over the line. The comments, which started out in dogpile mode, rapidly progressed to a realization that this woman might be mentally ill; upon that realization, the comments stayed strongly critical of her words but at least started to involve calls for her to get help and calls for other commenters to lay off her personally because she might not be compos mentis. Problem being, of course, that she might read comments encouraging her to seek help as some kind of dismissive mockery rather than sincere wishes, which I believe almost all of them were, based on the people commenting. (No doubt a few were intended otherwise. Jeff's minions aren't all sweetness and light, though most of them are, between the lines.)

Cutting to the chase, she resigned her (temporary) post there and blogged a non-apology apology at her own blog. Meanwhile, in a possibly related incident (it's happened to him before, so it's unclear whether he ticked off someone else besides Frisch's supporters at the same time), Jeff's site was brought down by a DOS (denial-of-service) attack that, as far as I can tell, continues for some of us, at least; Instapundit and others report that the site's back up, but I can't get there yet.

I'm terribly troubled by it all. Stepping way back from the situation, I'm troubled by the fact that Jeff's often bitingly on-point critiques of matters on the Left are bringing about actual livelihood-threatening actions from his enemies such as this DOS attack. There's a difference between, say, boycotting a newspaper because you disagree with a columnist or the paper's editorial stance, and sabotaging the presses so that the paper can't be printed, which is the analogy that applies here. (Talk about your chilling effect...) I'm troubled that dissenting rhetoric so easily segued from simple rudeness to actively threatening a blogger's child because the blogger's commenters were rude back. But even more than these, I'm troubled by Frisch.

I read the non-apology she posted. Only two comments, at the time that I read it, supported her, which, this being the internet and all, is about the best I could've hoped for; even most of her ideological allies couldn't get behind her "tactic." But she herself ought to be frightened by the fact that she even had these thoughts, much less that she then made the decision, such as it was, to go public with them. As a psychologist, she ought to be terrified about what they reveal about her mental state. But that's the rub with mental states, isn't it: she may not be able to step way back, as I can. She may not see, even now, how dangerous she's been accurately perceived to be. I feel as if I've witnessed a full-blown break with reality, and it gives me renewed respect for those in the mental health field who see this kind of thing daily and do their best to help those going through it. On top of that, although my sympathies are almost all with Jeff here (I reserve some sympathy for Frisch if she is indeed over the edge - but I do not in any way condone any of her horrible comments about Jeff's family), it appears to me that Jeff's post may have been the factor that pushed her over. Now, as with the total engine failure of our recent houseguests' car upon their return to their home airport, it was going to happen regardless; if not this trigger, another one. But I wouldn't want it to happen on my watch.


Sunday, June 18, 2006


If I'd remembered to post a tribute to mothers on Mothers' Day, this would be a tribute to fathers only... but I didn't, so here's to parents of both genders: those of you who approach the vocation with love, commitment, and determination, as mine did and do, are the invisible flying buttresses of your children's lives. We wouldn't be what we are if not for you and all you've done for us.

Thank you!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

An open letter to my friend Cobra

Cobra -

My reply to your comment here was getting overlong, so - thanks for inadvertantly getting me to write a new post! The question you asked:

Ponder this...exactly what argument could we make against China if they decide that Taiwan poses "an imminent threat" to them?

Give me a hard question, Cobra! The answer: We could say, in our own national interest and in complete truth, that we therefore consider China to be a threat to us. That's an oldy from the Cold War. Communism, or socialism if you like, totalitarianism in general, is a threat to what we like to call "our way of life" - which does not mean the trappings of Western society half so much as it means the Bill of Rights and the (relatively) free market. The MI complex as profit generator? Yes and no - there's a broken-window fallacy there, I think, wherein IF that money weren't spent on guns and tanks, it could be spent on other things, things that create more profit, but once it's spent, it's spent. I'm far from an economist - but here's my take on the "neo-con" strategy: We will have to deal with the consequences of totalitarianism abroad, one way or another. Containment is not a viable option any more, and hasn't been since, oh, China got the bomb, I'm gonna say. The first line of both defense and attack is economic: beat them by GDP, which is largely what we (the West) did with the Soviet Union. But when the opposition is not necessarily motivated by self-perpetuation, but is instead messianic or more or less purely ideological, the economic approach is limited: an ideological enemy is much less open to the persuasions of the market than an essentially socio-economic one like the Soviet system.

Look at China: still a totalitarian regime, but with widening cracks in its facade because it can't withstand the pressures of the market - both the economic and informational market - without giving in to some of them. The demise of that system is coming, sooner or later. I don't think we'll ever have to raise arms against China in order to bring it about.

Or, look at the current divide between Repubs and Dems: it's an ideological chasm that separates us, and appeals to common sense (in analogy, the marketplace) don't do diddly to bridge it.

It's my opinion, and one that the Bush Administration apparently shares, whatever its motives (and thank you for assigning me altruistic ones! I know your intentions are altruistic, though, as you said, I often disagree with your proposals), that nations with a strong commitment to individual rights approximately as our founders spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are good neighbors. Or at least better neighbors than those whose commitment is instead to the collective.

"Altruism" is a private matter, I think; when government attempts it, the line blurs between help and coercion, because government has power far beyond that of most individuals. An individual may choose to act outside his own self-interest without much risk of doing great harm if he's wrong in his choices; a government doesn't have that luxury. As such, it makes a lot more sense to me that government should primarily stay out of the way of individuals' attempting to exercise their freedoms to live mostly as they want to, up to the point where their exercise of freedom infringes on someone else's. That, in a nutshell, is why I named this blog what I did: because the principles of the Republican party (which, sadly, may differ a whole lot from its elected leaders' practices) suit my ideal of the least government, most of the time - but I completely reject the stereotype of Republicans as heartless.

So many of my metaphors are parental; heck, it's what I do. But here goes: It's not heartless for a parent of an adult to stand far back when the adult offspring falls into something nasty - instead, it's an acknowledgment that the adult offspring has agency, capability, pride, responsibility. However, it's also not characteristic for most parents to allow the adult offspring to die - and indeed, this is why I'm not a libertarian. If one of my kids, when grown, tries to come back home because living on his own is inconvenient, well, it was a nice visit, kiddo, but hit the road. If he comes home because he's at rock-bottom and has no other options, I'll make up the spare bedroom with love and reluctance, and try to light a fire under him to get him back on his feet as fast as possible.

Far afield. It's 3AM; I can't sleep. I hope you have fun in MD - I assume you're going there for fun, though you didn't say. We'll disagree again when you get back! Always interesting - thank you for continuing to visit.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi dead

Abu Musad al-Zarqawi, operational head of al Qaeda, is dead, along with seven of his aides. Link here, among other places; I saw it on TV, an exceedingly rare occurrence. (And I'm scooping Instapundit! Unbelievable!)

May they rest in the peace they strove against. May God have mercy on their souls. May the people who gave Zarqawi up come in from their self-imposed cold and the rank-and-file of al Qaeda be discouraged in their fight; may the Iraqi people take a bit of time to celebrate (as they are at present, appropriately, since they were his primary victims) and then carry on proving the world wrong about their ability to create something fruitful there in the desert.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Here's Victor David Hansen:

[W]hat did 2,400 brave and now deceased Americans really sacrifice for in Iraq, along with thousands more who were wounded? And what were billions in treasure spent on? And what about the hundreds of collective years of service offered by our soldiers?
Our soldiers fought for the chance of a democracy; that fact is uncontestable. Before they came to Iraq, there was a fascist dictatorship. Now, after three elections, there is an indigenous democratic government for the first time in the history of the Middle East. True, thousands of Iraqis have died publicly in the resulting sectarian mess; but thousands were dying silently each year under Saddam — with no hope that their sacrifice would ever result in the first steps that we have already long passed.

Our soldiers also removed a great threat to the United States. Again, the crisis brewing over Iran reminds us of what Iraq would have reemerged as. Like Iran, Saddam reaped petroprofits, sponsored terror, and sought weapons of mass destruction. But unlike Iran, he had already attacked four of his neighbors, gassed thousands of his own, and violated every agreement he had ever signed. There would have been no nascent new democracy in Iran that might some day have undermined Saddam, and, again unlike Iran, no internal dissident movement that might have come to power through a revolution or peaceful evolution.
After Iraq, the reputation of bin Laden and radical Islam has not been enhanced as alleged, but has plummeted. For all the propaganda on al Jazeera, the chattering classes in the Arab coffeehouses still watch Americans fighting to give Arabs the vote, and radical Islamists in turn beheading men and women to stop it.

These are significant matters. We've lost 2,400 soldiers in this conflict; we'll lose more. The people of Iraq have lost many thousands to suicide bombers and other forms of terrorist attack, as well as to the horrible vagaries of combat in an urban zone, and they too will lose more - ask Israel - yet they continue to campaign and vote and start businesses and create newspapers and buy appliances and open clinics and exhibit an optimism missing from their nation for decades.

So in addition to the gratitude we formally offer the fallen soldiers of our history on Memorial Day, I want to add this remembrance of the accomplishments of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the hundred-thousand-plus fighting and building in theater and the hundreds-of-thousands-plus in supporting roles:

What you have done is near to a miracle, and you've done it essentially under radio silence, uphill through molasses, ignoring the "support" that calls for you to leave your job unfinished and the "respect" that decries you as ignorant children. Thank you for your service; thank you for your sacrifices; thank you for your Churchillian commitment.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Preaching to the choir

I've come across this essay several times in the past couple of days - I think Instapundit had it, and I know Jeff Goldstein over at PW did, and I just saw that Pejman at the mellifluous A Chequer-Board of Nights and Days does as well. The terrible misfortune of it all is that not a mind will be changed. Those whose minds are made up won't even read it, much less be influenced by it, because Opinion Journal is after all a mouthpiece for the Administration. But still...

Iraqis can participate in three historic elections, pass the most liberal constitution in the Arab world, and form a unity government despite terrorist attacks and provocations. Yet for some critics of the president, these are minor matters. Like swallows to Capistrano, they keep returning to the same allegations--the president misled the country in order to justify the Iraq war; his administration pressured intelligence agencies to bias their judgments; Saddam Hussein turned out to be no threat since he didn't possess weapons of mass destruction; and helping democracy take root in the Middle East was a postwar rationalization. The problem with these charges is that they are false and can be shown to be so--and yet people continue to believe, and spread, them.

Of course Mr. Wehner proceeds to demonstrate the falseness of the charges, so that all of us who do read OJ can nod our heads vigorously. But in a week in which a skinny wide-eyed kid claims to be a Ranger (and Special Forces to boot) and proceeds to "admit" to military atrocities rivalling WWII propaganda (on both sides!) about what the enemy would do to "our" women and children if they could, it's got to be worth something to stand up for the verifiable.

In case any benighted soul reading this thinks Jesse MacBeth has a shred of credibility left after his pathetic impersonation attempt, click the link, click the link; he's at best delusional, and at worst malevolent.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Iraqi cabinet is formed

Tip o' the hat to Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom for alerting me to this... ahem...


I have to say that the Iraqis have a positive talent for doing noteworthy things that don't coincide with the Western news cycle. I'd like to refer the interested to Gateway Pundit's roundup of the story, which includes the headline that "A Sunni representative tried to stop the proceedings but he was voted down" - which, gosh, is one heck of a sight better than being gunned down, you know?

Still light blogging; I'm in the process of preparing to go back to work. I don't mean "go back to work" as in, "I was on my lunch hour but I'm going back to work now," but rather "I was staying home with kids for some five years but I'm going back to work now." It's... distracting, to say the least, which bodes well for my work but not so well for my blog. I hope to achieve balance. Someday.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Revolting versus revolution

The inimitable Strategypage has an interesting piece on "information warfare." It begins, briefly, with a discussion of the six retired generals who have called for Donald Rumsfeld's retirement over his handling of the Iraq phase of the war.

Let me first say that I'm sure these generals are men of courage. What I don't understand is why that portion of their courage that falls on the political spectrum apparently failed to make an appearance until after their next star was no longer on the line. As my dad points out, they're still "vulnerable," if you'd care to call it that, even in retirement, in that Congress could vote down their pensions, or something like that - but again, if mishandling of Iraq is a matter of conscience, and these men are men of courage and conviction, shouldn't their retirement packages be a secondary concern?

Nonetheless. They've been outtalked not only by the great mass of other retired generals and their active-duty brethren and sistern (as Anything Goes has it), but by the troops themselves, as Strategypage points out:

The mass media ran with the six generals, but got shot down by the troops and their blogs, message board postings and emails. It wasn't just a matter of the "troop media" being more powerful. No, what the troops had going for them was a more convincing reality. Unlike the six generals, many of the Internet troops were in Iraq, or had recently been there. Their opinions were not as eloquent as those of the generals, but they were also more convincing. Added to that was the complaint from many of the troops that, according to the American constitution, it's the civilians (in the person of the Secretary of Defense) that can dismiss soldiers from service, not the other way around.

Emphasis mine, and please note it well. The troops appear to have a better grasp of their place in American society than these few retired generals do - which, given the temperament that goes along with becoming a general, is perhaps not so surprising. A general, like a tenured professor or a CEO, has to have thick skin, unshakeable confidence, and a certain amount of arrogant belief in his or her own superiority, or he (or she) is not general-officer material. However, the framers of the Constitution, aware of this tendency (in spite of their close relationship with General Washington, whose innate arrogance he himself kept in iron check, at least where his civilian bosses were concerned), made it abundantly clear that the civvies were in charge.

All right then. So much for the revolting generals. Strategypage then goes on to the more interesting part - in which we learn that the Internet once again changes everything:

The troops got on line, found each other and have been sharing opinions and experiences, getting to know each other, and doing it all very quickly. The most striking example of this is how it has changed the speed with which new weapons and equipment get into service. Troops have always bought superior commercial equipment, usually from camping and hunting suppliers. And a lot more of that gear has been available in the last decade. Because the word now gets around so quickly via the net, useful new gear is quickly purchased by thousands of troops. After September 11, 2001, with a war on, having the best gear was seen by more troops as a matter of life and death. This quickly got back to politicians, journalists and the military bureaucrats responsible for buying gear for the troops. The quality of the "official issue" gear skyrocketed like never before because of the Internet pressure.

And more than just gear: Strategypage notes that milbloggers, early on, began to share "tactics and techniques" openly on their (publicly viewable) blogs. The DoD necessarily called a halt to this too-open information sharing - but in contrast to an earlier day, in which the DoD might have tried to hold back the tide and forbid the guys from trying to pass on what may have saved their lives in their last engagement:

The military got into the act by establishing official message boards, for military personnel only, where useful information could be discussed and exchanged. All this rapid information sharing has had an enormous impact on the effectiveness of the troops, something that has largely gone unnoticed by the mass media.

The brass have not tried to discourage all this communication, because the officers use it as well, for the same reasons as the troops.

This is a revolution - in a good way, so far. Strategypage points out that there may be negative consequences to all this connectivity, but that so far the benefits are clear. The military lives in tension: freedom versus imposed discipline (the imposition of discipline, which occurs nearly always without the threat of violence or legal consequences, is only possible because members of the military are themselves disciplined, by temperament or training); openness versus secrecy (which is another self-discipline issue); internal hierarchy versus civilian control (an even larger self-discipline issue, but because the concept is ingrained in our soldiers from the get-go, you won't be seeing a military coup anytime soon in this country). When the ignorant talk about GIs as if they're unlettered adolescents, zipped into inferior armor and sent out with inadequate training to perform an undefined mission, I want to take them by the ear and show them the inside of a Bradley. Your average nineteen- or twenty-year-old GI (who is not your average American soldier in Iraq, by the way) may or may not have read Jane Eyre, but he or she is highly trained, drilled, and disciplined in the mission, knows why he or she is performing that mission, and will perform it to the best of his or her ability out of a sense of pride and duty with which the ignorant critic may be completely unfamiliar.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Iraq defies "conventional wisdom" again

All right, I don't have time for a real post, but -

Iraq has formed a unity government. Praises be. I'm actually too surprised and happy to use exclamation points - and I don't think they do the event justice in any case.

Jawad al-Maliki, an outspoken Shi'ite and member of the same party as the outgoing al-Jaafari (but apparently a more respected statesman than al-Jaafari), has been named Prime Minister. He hasn't been confirmed yet by the general assembly, but the major parties have backed him, which is a darn sight better than we've seen for months now. Via GatewayPundit, via Yahoo!News:

Parliament elected President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to a second term and gave the post of parliament speaker to Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab. Al-Mashhadani's two deputies were to be Khalid al-Attiyah, a Shiite, and Aref Tayfour, a Kurd.

The tough-talking al-Maliki was nominated by the Shiites on Friday after outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari gave up his bid for another term the urging of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Benjamin Franklin of Iraq. I just want to send that man some flowers. Or, as GatewayPundit suggests, a Nobel Peace Prize, for heaven's sake.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The unbearable lightness of blogging

Spring break is over; the grandparents have returned to the Wild West; Little League baseball season opens this week; I have a staff meeting, a church playgroup, and a school auction project to complete tomorrow alone; a painter is discombobulating my house, life, and mind; and therefore I have nothing of value to say and probably won't until next week. Apologies in advance to both of you. Oh, sorry, is there someone behind the door there? All three of you.

Friday, April 14, 2006

How not to be offended

Many years ago, I read a science fiction short story called "It's a Good Day!" by Jerome Bixby. It inspired a Twilight Zone episode, and, if I recall, a Simpsons episode as well. And here's the synopsis, in chronological order rather than in narrative order, because I reread that story so much that its "history" took the place of its narrative in my mind:

A baby is born in a small town. Something terrible, and unspecified, is obviously wrong with the baby; the doctor, seeing the wrongness, drops the baby in horror, and WHAM! - the town is suddenly... nowhere. It's afloat in nothingness. You can walk off the edge of it.

The baby grows. The people of the town learn to fill their minds with la-la-la's and random counting and nursery rhymes, because this baby can read their minds and has a deadly combination of "talents": he can read minds, and he can make awful things happen, as someone who once tried to spank him (or something - fuzzy on the details) discovered. Anyone who has a negative or angry thought about the child that the child perceives (you may be safe if you're far away and surrounded by others - but then again you may not be) may find himself dead, or worse.

No one can kill the child, because first, there's the problem of getting close enough to kill him without one's intention's coming to his attention, and second, killing him will only doom the town; he's the only one keeping it functional (that is, with air, water, food), wherever it is. And there's the unspoken hope that as he grows older, perhaps some seed of conscience or reason will take root in his psyche - perhaps someday, on his own, he'll WHAM! the town back into the world (or was it the world that he WHAMMED!?) So the townspeople are reduced to blanketing their uncensored thoughts in gibberish, smiling until their faces ache, and periodically losing one of their number through error or sheer frustration. They walk around like automatons, declaring to one another, "It's a good day!" regardless of what horrible thing their neighbor has just been turned into.

It's one of the most chilling stories I've ever read. It holds out no real hope - there is only, as I said, the "hope," more of a desperate but utterly unfounded wish, that the boy will somehow grow self-discipline on his own, with no adult guidance at all. <shudder>

South Park just shone a white-hot spotlight on the stakes of ersatz "tolerance." Now, I never get to watch South Park any more - obviously we can't have it on while the kids are awake, and by the time they go to sleep I'm up to my eyeballs in end-of-day stuff - but here's my understanding of the situation: In the first of a two-part episode, members of the South Park community hear that The Family Guy (another animated series) is considering airing an episode in which Mohammed is portrayed. Some South Parkians - South Parkers? Parkites? whatever - undertake a campaign to keep the portrayal off the airwaves, in the name of tolerance and respect for Islam. Blah, blah, blah - end of first episode, on a cliffhanger note.

Second episode: apparently this is where the hammer drops. In this episode, the image of Mohammed is supposed to appear on The Family Guy, the South Parkians' campaign having failed - and, knowing the South Park creators' general way with stories like this, I'll bet global jihad was the result.

The unfunny punch line is that Comedy Central censored the episode. The scene in which Mohammed was to appear does not take place, and an on-screen message flashes up saying that Comedy Central has chosen not to show the scene. (Or possibly they blurred Mohammed's face - as I said, I didn't see the episode.) All this information can be found at firster-hand, so to speak, here on Protein Wisdom, with links to more first-hand reportage.

So Comedy Central, a network that exists to lampoon cultural taboos, with a record of subjecting many religions to its irreverence, has decided - for reasons of public safety - that Islam is exempt. Two points about this decision:

1. Comedy Central, notwithstanding protests from the Left that "fear" of Muslim fanaticism is a mirage of the Right, appears to believe that "fear" of Muslim fanaticism is sufficient justification for self-censorship.

2. By preemptively (as opposed to after-the-fact, which is how Comedy Central has dealt with its recent episode concerning Scientology, running it uncensored but then pulling it from the rerun rotation - not a victory for the First Amendment, but less egregious than this Mohammed thing) self-censoring over a rule of Islam not even followed by all Muslims, Comedy Central has demonstrated the best way to get things done, or more accurately not done, in our vaunted free-speech broadcast environment: threaten violence. Be amoral in its application. Behave, in essence, like an undisciplined child with horrible and disproportionate powers.

I think I'll leave it right there.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The paradox of law

Q: Why do laws arise?

A: Because someone breaks them.

Q: But... but...

This statement is not true of all laws. In today's America, it's possible to write and pass a law concerning behavior that's pretty well theoretical, which is a reflection not of how enlightened we are but of how bored legislators must get.

The laws that matter most, the laws that create society's framework and keep its many movement parts oiled and functional - these laws reflect an ethical state that already exists. They are in, at best, the fat part of the curve of societal evolution rather than at its leading edge; they may even be at the tail of the curve. What they are not is immutable.

Belmont Club discusses the changeable nature of law in the context of a tremendously powerful challenge to international law:

[UK Secretary of State for Defence John] Reid's points taken together comprehensively call into question the international constitutional system. It is unlikely the issues raised by those questions will be resolved any time soon because those issues are typically addressed by the victors after a war (Utrecht, Westphalia, Vienna, Versailles, etc) to codify a consensus that has emerged in the course of events. All one can say with the conflict still in progress is that current concepts of the Rules of War, pre-emption and territorial sovereignty will be called into question; that they will change under the pressure of future events is all but certain; but what they will change into is anybody's guess.

The points to which Wretchard refers are (1) whether the Geneva Conventions need to be updated in order to reflect an enemy that does not make war by the rules that the Conventions took as given when they were developed; (2) when pre-emptive military action against another country ought to be permissible (at present, legality for this type of action exists in a fuzzy cloud of "imminence"); and (3) the nature of sovereignty, in terms of whether a national leader, acting entirely within his own borders against people entirely under his leadership or rule, can act with impunity against them.

These three points are already settled among American hawks. Obviously Geneva has been no help in dealing with un-uniformed, extra-military, non-state actors; the remaining question is, do we rewrite Geneva, or do we somehow convince those who believe they do apply to these shadow-enemies that they don't? Because the arguments for the latter have been made and re-made without notable success so far, a rewrite would appear to be in order. Second, when small and unacknowledged groups can inflict mass casualties, pre-emption becomes not just a choice but a responsibility of a nation's leader. And third, it's astounding that in a world where Holocaust museums are thick on the ground, there's any question that the world community legally can and morally should "interfere" with a sovereign (elected or not) who is pursuing genocide or other obvious outrages against human rights.

But these same three points remain up for debate among too many others. I can't figure out why; they appear self-evident from my seat at the keyboard. I've long believed that "international law" was a lovely castle in the air; and the events of the last decade or so have confirmed my belief again and again. No one who understands power abides by international law unless doing so somehow consolidates his power. American hegemony is dangerous - of course it's dangerous; hegemony by anyone would be dangerous, because it implies, if not power, then influence beyond the realm of "fairness," and as such is open to abuse. But power, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so in the absence of multipolarity of powers there will be a hegemon; there is, in fact, a tacit hegemon, and it is the United States. The check on our hegemony is partly economic, partly political. But increasingly it appears that Europe sees its peril and is coming to accept a form of clienthood, in that Euro-armies are more and more involved in Afghanistan (how can you learn to fight an enemy if you never fight that enemy?). What Asia will do is beyond me; so far they appear to believe, or to act as if they believe, that their societies are too closed to be vulnerable to Islamist extremism. Africa is part of the problem at present, where it figures at all.

It's going to be an interesting century. New American? So far, yes.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

When will they ever learn? (or, Where have all the people quoting, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it," gone?)

Thanks to Pejman at the beautifully named A Checquer-Board of Nights and Days (it's a reference to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) for the tip on this story:

Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez yesterday seized control of a French-run oil field, strengthening his control of the country's vast oil wealth, the lifeblood of his "Bolivarian Revolution".


Mr Chavez has decided to redefine the terms under which foreign companies can operate in Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves outside of the Middle East.

The new terms state that the Venezuelan government must have a 60 per cent share in any venture. [In brief, some major companies have knuckled under, Exxon-Mobil has sold its interests, and some others have refused to comply, which has led to the Venezuelan government's seizure of Total SA's operations.]


Mr Chavez is using his oil windfall to promote a social reform programme, arms purchases and to engage in anti-US diplomacy, selling oil at below market rates to detach Latin American nations from Washington's orbit.

"His oil windfall"? Is it actually a windfall when you shake the holy hell out of the tree?

Good luck to Mr. Chavez in seeking foreign investors for his "social reform programme."

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Taking it to the sticks

Michelle Malkin notes a bald attempt to create news (or possibly an international incident) on the part of NBC. From an email forwarded to Ms. Malkin by a reader:

I have been talking with a producer of the NBC Dateline show and he is in the process of filming a piece on anti-Muslim and anti-Arab discrimination in the USA. They are looking for some Muslim male candidates for their show who would be willing to go to non-Muslim gatherings and see if they attract any
discriminatory comments or actions while being filmed.
I'm urgently looking for someone who can be filmed this April 1st weekend at a Nascar event (and other smaller events) in Virginia.

And Ms. Malkin's comment:

Catch that? The apparent "sting" involves targeting Nascar and other sporting events. 'Cause that's presumably where the fair and balanced NBC news staff thinks all the bigots are.

Now. I have never watched NASCAR. I have only ever watched golf as a child when my mom was glued to the set and we were a one-TV family, for the same reason: I'm just not interested. But a close relative of mine is pretty high up on one of the NASCAR teams, and I'd love to know what he thinks of these shenanigans. As Eric McErlain of Off Wing Opinion pointed out,

If I were at NASCAR HQ, I'd be blowing a gasket about now, and getting on the phone to NBC Sports in New York. After all, this is ocurring against a backdrop of NASCAR's increased efforts to bring minority drivers and owners into the series, and expand its appeal outside of the traditional Southern fan base.

In other words, something like this may very well cost NASCAR some money. And while there are undoubtedly racists at any large sporting event that draws literally hundreds of thousands of people each weekend, I can't help but think that NBC's choice wasn't a coincidence.

(h/t to Instapundit.)

The calculus is easy to perform: a sport popular in the South, where a plurality, at least, of our military hails from; one or more people dressed in unordinary fashion for both the area and the event, with an agenda to fulfill. Is there any doubt that both Dateline and the Muslim people hired as "tethered goats" will be selective about their contacts and what is actually aired? After all, "I went to NASCAR and nobody cared" doesn't exactly bring home the bacon, you should excuse the expression, in the same way that "I went to NASCAR and had food/punches/insults thrown at me" would. As McErlain notes, in a crowd as big as NASCAR crowds tend to be, I wouldn't be surprised if there'll be some of both - but what's the likelihood that we'll be told the details of the mix?

Wait and see.

Update: Apparently the Virginia sting has already taken place. Here, from the AP, with a hat tip to Michelle Malkin, is what happened:

The NBC crew was "apparently on site in Martinsville, Va., walked around and no one bothered them," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said Wednesday.

And yes, NASCAR is blowing a gasket. And I should have mentioned yesterday that NBC is in its last year of covering NASCAR - next year the contract goes to Fox, ABC, and ESPN. According to the Instapundit link I put up yesterday, viewers were not happy with NBC's coverage even before NBC decided that to "expose" them as bigoted rubes.

Adding insult to injury, according to Malkin's latest, the sting operation may be moving to Texas (to a bigger, and hence rowdier, track, with an infield area where racegoers say the party crowd camps out) for another go.

Sheesh. I may have to start watching NASCAR just to stick my thumb in NBC's eye.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


My son appears to believe that socks are disposable. This is one of the new ones. The picture would be more effective with half his foot sticking out through the hole in what used to be the toe, but you get the idea: it's a legwarmer now.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The danger of frost

No doubt there's something profound and quasi-political to be said about the title of this post: something about the difficulties of living and working in uncertainty, and that hindsight is a cheap shot, and all that... but really, I'm just talking about gardening. For the first time in four houses, we have a yard with a sunny patch big enough for more than a couple of pots, so we've activated Plan Vegetable Garden. There are a few things I'd like to say about gardening, and here they are:

  1. I cut my teeth on an oscillating hoe.
  2. Figuring out your soil's composition, chemically and physically, is actually pretty easy if you know a couple of simple tests.
  3. And (a companion piece) figuring out how to correct your soil's composition is just a matter of memorizing a few simple rules, or even just having a decent gardening book handy.
  4. A small but productive vegetable garden can save you money and will certainly provide you with better-tasting food.
  5. Kids love to help in the garden; gardening is a great way to do something together as a family.
  6. Creating a show-worthy garden is less effort than you might think.

I'd like to say these things, but in all honesty I can't... My mother, though she gardened off and on when we were kids, proclaimed her own thumb "purple" and didn't try to draw out our interest - probably because she knew that #5 is a crock. Kids love to garden only if gardening means digging random holes, preferably in already-worked soil (because it's easier), and often "transplanting" picked flowers (dandelions are popular) into the holes, then getting really upset when they're dead the next day. The horticultural company that comes out with a flower that roots itself upon being picked and stuck into dirt will have the undying gratitude of parents everywhere.

To address the other points: As to #2 and #3, soil composition is mostly a closed book to me. When I'm digging in something that feels like reinforced concrete, I can make a pretty good guess that it's either reinforced concrete or clay; when I jump on my spade and sink to my knees I generally conclude I'm in either a pond or sand. But between these extremes, it's anybody's guess, and my solution to whatever I perceive as a "problem" with my soil's texture or chemistry is to add stuff to it that makes it feel and look more like potting soil. Sometimes I take what a good friend of ours terms the Darwinian approach, and figure that whatever can't thrive in the soil as it comes to the table, so to speak, ought by rights to be crowded out by That Which Survives. (This is the approach I've taken with the herb section of my garden this year: I did no soil amendment beyond mixing in the leftover bark mulch that we'd piled on the dirt last year, cut back my woody herbs from last year's pots almost to the ground, yanked them out of said pots and buried them in this year's garden plot, sprinkled on some water, crossed my fingers, and had a beer.)

As to #4, it's vaguely possible that I'll save money on lettuce, if the rabbits don't get to it. (The seven-foot deer fence we're going to have to put up may deter them. Then again, it may not; I've read Peter Cottontail.) But my savings are likely to go toward subsidizing my several attempts at tomatoes, which I've only successfully grown from seed by accident, in our compost heap.

As to #6, I calculated that I moved at least two, probably closer to three cubic yards of soil this weekend - that's somewhere between 54 and 81 cubic feet, or 400-600 gallon jugs' full. (I know that doesn't seem possible, but the conversion factor is 7.48 gallons per cubit foot. It's a conversion drummed into my head in the daily course of seven years of environmental consulting and project work, and I'll probably die with it on my lips.) With a cubic foot of damp soil (thanks to all the Powers That Be not wet soil) weighing in at about 100 pounds, I moved the equivalent of my Sienna with my extended family in it - maybe all that and a Mini Cooper on the roof rack - one spadeful at a time.

I do have a couple of things going for me: that patch of ground had been a garden before, though (again using the Darwinian approach) the daylilies had made it almost their sole turf, so it wasn't as compact as the lawn; seeds in little packets these days are made for the fumble-fingered home gardener rather than for the subsistence farmer whose life depends on their successful nurture; and anything grows in Pennsylvania. (OK, not citrus fruit. And nothing tropical. But "mainstream" veggies? There's a reason the Amish settled here.) Reality in the backyard may never touch my vision, but you gotta dream, right?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Looking forward, looking back

Mohammed at Iraq The Model has something to say as we variously celebrate and mourn the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion:

Yes. We are facing enormous and dangerous challenges and this is not unexpected because the old will not easily step down and accept the loss; the old will fight back fiercely and the old here is not only Saddam and the Ba'ath, the old can be found among many of our current leaders and the mentality they carry that belong to the same generation that bred Saddam but I believe they will melt away as well because no one can go against the direction of time and the clock cannot be forced backwards.

The green bud looks weak and is buried in the dirt and surrounded by a tough shell but it will break through this covering, pierce the dirt and stand on its feet to announce a new era.
We will not be defeated and orphans of the dark past will get what they deserve and our sacrifices and the sacrifices of those who stand with us shall not go in vain, our sacrifices will pave an easier road for those want to follow us when they decide it's time for them to change.

And yes…Iraq will be the model.


That one talent which is death to hide

Free Hao WuChinese blogger Hao Wu has been detained by the Chinese government, charge unknown. Hao Wu is a documentary filmmaker and blogger who was working on a film project that involved his interviewing a Christian group not recognized by the Chinese government; there's speculation that he was detained and his materials seized in order to help the government prosecute underground churches in China. His family and friends, knowing him, expect that he would not cooperate with such an endeavor. However, the government ain't talking, so it's unclear whether he is being held for this reason or another.

It appears, though, that individual liberty is again under attack, perhaps in two forms: Hao Wu's freedom of speech, and the freedom of Chinese people to practice their religion if that religion is not state-sanctioned. Yes, I know that these freedoms are not considered inalienable to China - which is one reason that multiculturalism as commonly practiced is an ethical outrage. Celebrate the good, appreciate the benign or at least un-bad in other cultures - certainly. But when a different cultural practice results in oppression of individuals and suppression of the liberties that we contend are inalienable, then it's time for us to stand on our own two feet, leaning on no other authority than our founding documents, and protest it.

The Chinese embassy in the United States has zero email information, which means I'll have to write an actual paper letter. But as Instapundit also helpfully provides contact information for Wal-Mart in China, an email to those quarters is in order too, since in dictatorships it's all about influence.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Some thoughts on music

Recently I've heard two old songs at least twice apiece, and while they were songs I loved when they first came out (in my childhood!), and songs I still sing along to, I'm increasingly uncomfortable with letting my kids hear them. (I should take the lesson that I grew up with these two songs on power rotation and never, ever paid attention to the lyrics... but anyway.) The songs: "The Piña Colada Song" and "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad."

Think about them for a sec if you never really have. In the first, the guy is bored with his girlfriend, so he takes out a personal ad looking for a replacement, implicitly without breaking up with the girlfriend first. Someone answers; they plan an assignation, sight unseen; and when they meet - [wahp-wahp-wahhhhh] it's "his own lovely lady." They've deepened their intimacy via the personals, they now know that each likes piña coladas and so on, and happily off they go to make love at midnight, in the dunes on the Cape, all oblivious to the fact that each of them had had full intentions to cheat on the other.

In the second, gosh, the girl is going to throw poor Meathead - I mean Meat
Loaf - out into the snow, because despite the fact that he both wants and needs her, there ain't no way he's ever going to love her. Sadly, his heart is permanently locked on some other chick who both wanted and needed him, but would never love him, though she at least had the decency to get out of bed and get out into the snow without argument.

Yuck. What amoral creeps ruled the airwaves in the Seventies. Is the new millenium any different? Hmm... I confess that I'm not keeping up well with the hits of today, though I'm reasonably familiar with the so-called "kid-friendly" tunes featured on Kidz Bop X ads. (Kidz Bop is a bunch of nameless children singing pop tunes, karaoke style. It's all the rage with those who don't yet need deodorant. The fact that these "kid-friendly" songs include "When September Ends" and "Vertigo" which are about as far from light and fluffy as you can get without actually venturing into "Cop Killer" and "My Name Is Luka" range, I wonder who's making the "kid-friendly" determination. Please note that I like these two songs quite a lot - I just don't think they're exactly "Puff the Magic Dragon," and yes, I know, I know - but at least "Puff" could make a reasonable pretense of being about an actual magic dragon.)

All that aside, If I had to take a stand somewhere on the general tone of Today's Music, I'd go with "painfully earnest," with the important caveat that my musical tastes don't run to hiphop, country, or dance, so I'm even more ignorant of these genres. There are worse fates than painful earnestness.

And so we move on to American Idol, a show I've never actually seen. I do, however, try to pay attention to commentary I hear about it, so I've reached a couple of conclusions that may or may not hold up. The first is that the show has rekindled an appreciation for singing, really from-the-guts appassionato performance. I just heard a brief music review on NPR of a - hmm, I think it was of a singer-songwriter rather than a band, but anyway the point of the review was that part of the singer's appeal is that he sings flat. I don't mean "without passion" in this case; I mean flat, as in, the note is supposed to be C# and he's singing C, if that. It's not a "bend," it's not remotely bluesy; the guy just can't sing. But some rarified stratum of music listeners considers his inability to hit the notes a feature, not a bug.

And this in turn reminds me of a science fiction short story I read years ago, "Vintage Season." In this story, which is told from the point of view of a man of the present day, a little clique of time travellers (not identified as such, yet) is travelling to all the "vintage seasons" of history: the spring just before the Black Death of 0-Dark-Ages (that's a military reference - nevermind), the summer before Hiroshima... I can't remember the specific examples beyond the plague one. But in the story's frame, the travellers are renting a house from the protagonist for the month of May, and they go on and on about the beautiful weather, the glorious sunsets, etc., etc. From time to time they mention another person, let's call him Bob though his name is probably Mephisto or something profound like that, who is the real connoisseur - he doesn't even arrive until the aftermath. Huh? thinks the protagonist, but with no other clues, can't figure out who Bob is, what the aftermath might be, or why these people want his house but only for a month. The travellers leave in a rush at the end of the month. The final scene shows us the protagonist near death, days later; he survives just long enough to see Bob, as they both hear the explosions coming closer as buildings are dynamited in a futile attempt to halt the advance of the Blue Plague. Something like that. Bob, or Mephisto, is a whacko who revels in rot, but who is seen by his contemporaries as a "aesthete" because he's so darn edgy; as a singer myself, I have a hard time seeing the people who enjoy the flat guy's singing as "aesthetes" of the same decadent type.

And at last this opinion o' mine brings me to my second observation about American Idol: that what we're seeing is a little of what opera aficionados like to point out about Italy. In Italy, they say, opera is a populist artform, or at any rate it was. A shopkeeper or a teenager (I'm going to make an unfounded assumption and add "say, 50 years ago" about the teenager, but it may be true today) would be as likely to hum an aria as a pop tune. Why, the opera-lovers ask plaintively, can't we achieve the same thing here? Why can't opera be as popular as Beyonce?

My answer: because opera, like it or lump it, has a connotation that will not allow it to become populist here. There's Il Divo, true, but opera as opera-lovers understand it is not available to the populist ear. As Andrew O'Hagan said in the Telegraph,

Maybe opera is just too bold-gestured and not the kind of drama I can believe in when set in a modern context. Even where the music is lovely, and the look is right [...] there is something grandiose and even hysterical in opera's natural state which can obliterate subtlety. [...] The singing of words - "Get me a cup of coffee"; "No problem" - even in voices as capable as Stephanie Friede (as Petra von Kant) or Kathryn Harries (her mother), tended to ridicule all serious themes.

You can understand why people want to stage modern productions, but it is too literal-minded to imagine that things must move into the present day in order to be fresh. Opera's bombast and grandeur may be intrinsic to the past and to a notion of romanticism and society that no longer easily applies. Maybe that would explain why any modern opera that works (such as Jerry Springer) tends to be based almost entirely on pastiche.

(I found O'Hagan's attitude enlightening: he is precisely the problem with opera. He finds nothing opera-worthy in the modern age. In fact, he makes the absurd claim that opera cannot encompass the banality of modern life - which assumes that life in the past was free from banality, rather than that opera composers rightly chose not to hammer on the banality, for heaven's sake. Wha??)

You want to know where modern populist opera lies? In Miss Saigon. In Rent. Yes, even in Cats, and even in Jesus Christ Superstar. Look at how opera was born, and it's obvious that the Golden-Age-of-Musicals musical was the new opera bouffe, and that West Side Story was the harbinger of a new golden age of modern populist opera. These works call for bravura singing - of a different type from traditional opera, but similarly demanding in range, power, and emotion; they succeed on a story that strikes a timeless chord; they demand a suspension of disbelief beyond the fourth wall of spoken theater. But I think it's precisely because they have populist appeal that they aren't appreciated as the heirs of traditional opera by those who want opera to be loved by a new generation.

And finally: my oldest is learning to play "Ode To Joy" on the violin. I am so very proud.

Slainte - the postmortem

OK, I survived. Everything reheated as I'd hoped, nothing either boiling into leathery unchewability or drying out into Saharan tastelessness, and the shepherd's pie in particular garnered rave reviews from all quarters, with lesser partisan squabbling breaking out over the top round braised in Guinness and the Irish whiskey-glazed ham; I planned and prepped ahead so assiduously that I pre-cut apple slices for the salad the day before and left them soaking in the cider vinaigrette to keep them from browning - but on the "suspenders-and-belt" principle also brought along a strainer and a couple more apples to the neighborhood clubhouse just in case, and had to use both when I discovered that I'd inadvertantly pickled the apples; the Bailey's mousse that had worked perfectly in a home-sized batch absolutely refused to set up in a crowd-sized batch, but I discovered the problem in time to fly to the grocery store and buy (shudder!) boxes of "instant milk chocolate-Irish cream mousse - imported from FRANCE!!" that did the job reasonably well, then actually resisted my Catholic impulse to confess my duplicity to every attendee (so of course I'm confessing to whoever's out there in the blogosphere now instead)...

All in all, I've about had it with Irish food for the time being and plan to have a meatball parm sandwich for dinner tonight. Or curry. Can't get less Irish than that. I'm suffering a good bit of emotional letdown and frankly resent the fact that I still have to cook here.But I'll get over it. Thank you for your patience...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Blogging will be light until after St. Patrick's Day. While channelling my inner dumba**, I offered to take over my neighborhood's St. Patrick's Day party from the caterer-neighbor who usually runs it but who's been called out of town unexpectedly. My fridge is full of beef. My whole house smells like beef. I may never eat beef again. Or potatoes. I mashed ten pounds of potatoes this morning; only twenty pounds to go.

So slainte to you all, and may you be in heaven ten minutes before the Devil knows you're dead, and all that good Irish stuff, and I'll see you in a few days... if I survive.

Friday, March 10, 2006

How - and what - are we doing?

The other day I heard an NPR story about a new reality show, Black/White (I'm guessing at the punctuation). The premise is that two families, one black, one white, move into a house together. So far, it's The Real World. But once in the same digs, when the members of each family venture out into the actual Real World, they're first transformed into their own "negatives" - the white family is made up to appear black, the black family to appear white. Then they go do things that will help them experience race as The Other. The white teenage daughter, for instance, checks into a Beverly Hills boutique in search of a job. The saleswoman to whom she speaks (who sounds about eighteen and as Beverly Hills as it's possible to sound) tells her that yes, they're hiring, but the manager isn't in and there is no application she can take with her. "Got it," snaps the daughter.

Unfortunately I had to get out of the car between this example and the tail-end of the story, so I missed any other examples. At the end of the story, when I turned on the radio again, the director (I think) was speaking about how his own views on race were affected by the program, or "project" as the participants called it. He had always thought that "color blindness" was the appropriate goal, but now, he said, he'd realized that it's even more important to try to empathize with those of other ethnicities, because their experience isn't the same as yours, no matter what yours is.

So my question for the day is, what is the correct model in the United States? Is it the "melting pot," the "tossed salad," or - my preference - the "stew"? The melting pot analogy implies that all differences are somehow dissolved into a single homogeneous substance; the tossed salad implies that each "ingredient" remains entirely intact and can be enjoyed either separately or in combination with others; the stew implies that the "ingredients," while retaining some of their starting character, nevertheless take on some of the "flavors" of other ingredients, so that the carrot, eaten alone, tastes of the onion, and the potatoe (sorry, little joke there) potato tastes of the meat. I like stew. I like the ethnic "stew" I perceive in the United States; my life is richer for its exposure to other cultures and other people's stories. But what do other Americans think? This is not a trivial question. Europe appears not only to be using the tossed salad model but the composed salad model, in which the ingredients are kept separate on the plate, and the results have been played out just this year alone in riots, arsons, and murders on a frightening scale.

The reality show raised another set of questions for me too, one that comes up a whole lot on Protein Wisdom pretty much all the time under the heading of identity politics: who decides when "the problem of race" has been adequately addressed, and using what standard? I consider myself a classical liberal, which means to me that the way to address societal inequities is twofold: remove barriers in society, and change my own mind, if it needs changing, to align with the maximum in individual rights and liberties. The responsibility does not lie with society to legislate improper thought - in fact, it can't be done; attempts to do so, I believe, often just push it underground. What can be legislated - and adjudicated, when necessary - is removal of barriers, but then there arises the difficulty of determining what is a substantive barrier to equal opportunity, versus an inconvenient barrier to equal outcome.

Again, this question is not trivial, and I use the term "inconvenient" not to downplay those barriers that do stand in the way of equal outcome - for instance, the teenager in inner-city Seattle has access to Franklin High School, which is (or was, when I lived there) a great school, so he has substantive equality of opportunity for a high school education with my (not-yet-teenage) son here in suburban Pennsylvania. But my son will probably have the advantage of access to a group of peers' parents with better summer jobs available than the inner-city boy might have - maybe; let's stipulate it for the sake of argument. Let's further stipulate that the inner-city kid is African-American. Is his lack of access to better close-by summer jobs than fast food, or even more importantly, his lack of access to the people who can hook him up with better opportunities, a substantive barrier, subject to legislation, or just... one of those things?

Black/White is probably not a show I'll be able to watch; I can count the grownup television shows I've seen in the past year on one hand. But just on the face of it, it presents the case that while we've removed legal barriers to opportunity, actual equality of opportunity is still out of some people's - some groups' - grasp because of barriers no less formidable but not subject to the force of law, notably attitudes. But who determines when the attitude is finally correct? Did the teenage daughter really run up against racism in the Beverly Hills boutique, or was the saleswoman just a SoCal brat? Or were there actually no applications for employment at that boutique, just a face-to-face process with the manager? Did the teenage daughter follow up by asking when the manager might be in? Did she later call, or go back with her own face on, and ask the same questions? Or are we to conclude, as the snippet on NPR clearly wants us to, that she was denied even the opportunity to apply for the job because of her apparent race?

So. Where are we? What is racism today, as compared to racism historically? Is it a problem amenable to legislative solution (you'll have some arguing to do here), or is it a waiting game? With members of pretty much every ethnicity represented at the highest levels of government, business, academia, sports, entertainment, is proportional representation the desired outcome, or a shift in the goalposts? If porportional representation does not occur, is it a sign of racism, or of temporary coincidence in a meritocratic system? Cobra, are you out there?

UPDATE: I just found an article on the show in the Philadelphia Inquirer from last week. It's Black. White. rather than Black/White, but beyond that, the article was not especially illuminating.