Monday, October 31, 2005

Let the festivities begin!

Well, this should be interesting:

Alito, 55, is considered a conservative in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia. Alito is sometimes given the nickname "Scalito" -- a comparison to Scalia, who shares his Italian heritage as well as his reputation for conservatism and a strong intellect. He is a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Conservatives should be starting to bind their wounds and gear up for the coming battle with the Democrats that some of them so deeply desired. Liberals, no doubt, are hopping mad.

It's OK, they're only anti-Zionists

Dymphna and the Baron, the Anchoress, and Dr. Sanity are among the many bloggers who have discussed Iran's "World Without Zionism" conference, which featured the following poster:

Lovely, isn't it? I mean that sincerely. One of the more pernicious aspects of much modern propaganda is its slickness and polish, its ability to appeal to the most sophisticated among us. This aesthetically pleasing poster is no exception--in fact, it's an excellent example of the genre.

Note how the conference and the poster focus on the word "Zionism," not "Jews." The old argument about whether one can be anti-Zionist and nevertheless not anti-Semitic keeps cropping up around the blogosphere and elsewhere. The comments section of the thread linked above at Gates of Vienna contains a good example of such a discussion.

I'm sure there truly are people who have objections to Zionism but honestly feel they have no objections to Jews themselves. But I'm just as sure that such people would have been hard-pressed to have explained where else the leftover Jews were supposed to go right after WWII, when Europe had killed so many of its Jews and was in the process of spitting out the exhausted survivors. Even the UN, that august body which in recent decades has been the very poster child for "anti-Zionism," voted at that time to partition Palestine and give the Jews their own tiny piece of land.

In the years since Israel's founding, the sophisticated propaganda which has over the last few decades managed to demonize it in the eyes of many has emboldened the Iranian mullahs. It is possible for them to speak quite openly of wiping Israel off the face of the earth, and trust that at least some will defend such a statement on the grounds that it's not technically "anti-Semitic," it's merely "anti-Zionist" (see this).

Poor, poor Hitler, so ahead of his time! If only the state of Israel had already existed when he offered his Final Solution, he could have phrased it in terms so much more acceptable.

And of course it's just a coincidence that the mullahs would love to destroy both Israel and America, the little and big Satans. If by some twist of fate they were to be successful in both goals, they would have annihilated virtually all the Jews on earth--a Final Solution, indeed.

Perjury update

Here's an update on the post "Calling all lawyers":

The call has been answered. I consider the following e-mail response from a trusted legal source to be definitive:

There's no question that perjury can be prosecuted if the defendant lied about something that was material to the investigation, even though the investigation did not otherwise result in charges being brought.

As for how often such cases are prosecuted, the reality is that perjury is a relatively rarely prosecuted crime. No doubt the vast majority of people who lie under oath, in trials, let alone grand jury hearings, are not prosecuted. However, Libby certainly should have expected that in this kind of high-profile, no-stones-unturned investigation, any perjury as stark as his allegedly was, would be prosecuted.

In the previous thread, commenter "the Unknown Blogger" offered the following statistics about perjury prosecutions, which dovetail neatly with the above information:

There are relatively few federal perjury prosecutions. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in fiscal year 1999 there were 126 perjury defendants disposed of in U.S. District Courts. One hundred and six of these defendants were convicted and 80 imprisoned. The average sentence was 22.9 months.

And I'm still wondering about the observation of commenter Holmes, who wrote:

In this instance, the original charge wasn't dropped for lack of evidence despite having probable cause as in Stewart's case, but that there was no case to begin with. An element of the CIA law was that Plame be a CIA covert operative who had been overseas in the past 5 years. That was clearly missing. It would be like prosecuting a murder where the victim was alive and had been unharmed. This is the danger in Congress' power to call investigations.

I don't think I can press for any more free advice from my legal source. But I'm wondering about Holmes's point. Were some of the elements of the crime clearly missing from this case in the first place? And, if this were in fact true, would it even matter in regard to the perjury charges? Or does perjury stand alone once it's committed, needing no original valid cause of action?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

An apology? Not good enough!

Do you think this public apology thing may have gotten just a wee bit out of hand as redress for every possible error, including those not made by the one asked to do the apologizing? I do.

But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid doesn't agree with me. Au contraire. In fact, Reid has called on both Bush and Cheney to offer the American people a public apology for the possible perjury of Cheney's aide Lewis Libby:

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Sunday that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should apologize for the actions of their aides in the CIA leak case...There has not been an apology to the American people for this obvious problem in the White House," Reid said. He said Bush and Cheney "should come clean with the American public."

Well, I think apologies are not going to be good enough--after all, an aide to the Vice-President has been indicted (although not convicted) for perjury in a grand jury hearing based on a case that doesn't seem so far to have any legs. Quelle horreur! (And yes, yes, yes, perjury is a serious offense, but one that resides so far only in the innocent-till-proven-guilty person of one Lewis Libby).

I think the proper course of action, and one that the American people would probably appreciate far more than mere apologies, would be a stint in the stocks for Bush and Cheney. It would be especially apropos for some time around Thanksgiving, recalling one of the more quaint and endearing customs of our Pilgrim forefathers/foremothers.

Harry Reid requires more even more of Rove than of Bush and Cheney. An apology simply won't do in his case:

Reid also said that Karl Rove, the president's closest political adviser, should step down. Rove has not been charged with a crime.

As far as Rove goes, Reid might want to look into pillory in addition to the resignation. Or Reid might perhaps want to "roll out the barrel"--as in barrel pillory (boy, Wikipedia is edifying!), to wit:

There even was a variant (rather of the stocks type, in fact), called barrel pillory, or Spanish mantle, to punish drunks. It fitted over the entire body, with the head sticking out from a hole in the top. The criminal is put in either an enclosed barrel, forcing him to kneel in his own filth, or an open barrel, leaving him to roam about town and be ridiculed and scorned.

Strategic quote-cropping at the NY Times

An especially pernicious example of quote-cropping at the NY Times has been noted in the blogosphere, most prominently by Michelle Malkin, here.

One can't help but conclude that the Times's omission of the most telling parts of Corporal Starr's e-mail was quite purposeful. I suggest you take a look at Malkin's post and write the ombudsman at the Times if you are upset by what they've done.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Henry James missed his calling

I think he should have been a blogger.

Oh, I don't mean he shouldn't have written his novels. I'm referring only to the last year or two of his life, when he became very politically active as a result of WWI.

I had first learned of the fact of James's strong reaction to WWI a while back. But I was reminded of it by some passages in the book Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, which I've recently finished (and may write a separate post about).

I was struck by the fact that James could be roughly classified as a "changer," WWI having been the catalyst for his change, much like 9/11 has been for so many people recently. Previously, he'd been relatively apolitical. But after WWI began James, who was living in England, became consumed with the need to turn his energies to the war:

In the last two years of his life, Henry James was radically transformed by his intense involvement in the First World War. For the first time, he became socially and politically active, a man who all his life had done his best to keep aloof from the actual passions of existence. His critics, like H. G. Wells, blamed him for his mandarin attitude towards life, which prevented him from any involvement with the social and political issues of the day. [James] wrote about his experience of World War I that it "almost killed me. I loathed so having lived on and on into anything so hideous and horrible."

James had lived through the Civil War as a young man, but hadn't served due to a back ailment. According to Ms. Nafisi, James:

wrote in part [during the Civil War] to compensate for his inability to participate in the war. Now, at the end of his life, he complained about the impotence of words in the face of such inhumanity. In an interview on March 21, 1915, with The New York Times, he said: "The war has used up words; they have weakened, they have deteriorated like motor car tires; they have, like millions of other things, been more overstrained and knocked about and voided of the happy semblance during the last six months than in all the long ages before, and we are now confronted with a depreciation of all our terms, or, otherwise speaking, with a loss of expression through increase of limpness, that may well make us wonder what ghosts will be left to walk."

Oh, that Jamesian sentence structure!

I think it's interesting that for James the human suffering, which obviously deeply moved him, led to a deep mourning of the loss of the power of language to convey what was happening. For a man like James this was terribly important; as a writer, words were key to him. Clearly, though, he was undergoing a deep crisis which led to a turning point, because despite that despair about the power of words he began using them in an activist way for the first time in his life:

...this time to write not fiction but war pamphlets, appeals to America to join the war and not to remain indifferent to the suffering and atrocities in Europe. He also wrote poignant letters. In some he expressed his horror at events; in others he consoled friends who had lost a son or a husband in the war.

He fell into a round of activities, visiting wounded Belgian soldiers, and later British soldiers, in hospitals, raising money for Belgian refugees and the wounded and writing war propaganda from the fall of 1914 until December 1915...What inner horror and fascination drove this man, who all his life had shied away from public activity, to become so actively involved in the war effort?

One reason for his involvement was the carnage, the death of so many young men, and the dislocation and destruction. While he mourned the mutilation of existence, he had endless admiration for the simple courage he encountered, both in the many young men who went to war and in those they left behind...He lobbied the U.S. ambassador to Britain and other high American officials and reproached them for their neutrality. And he wrote pamphlets in defense of Britain and her allies.

That's the point at which it occurred to me that James, had he lived today, might have become a blogger.

I won't even venture a guess as to whether James would be a hawk or a dove in the present conflict. However, it seems clear that, despite his deep distate for killing, he was a hawk during WWI. But not a bloodthirsty one--au contraire. It seems that he wanted the sacrifice of so many courageous young men and their families to be meaningful and not wasted; he wanted the war to be fought decisively rather than go on and on in a bloody stalemate. I have not been able to find his actual writings about the war online, so I've not read them, but my guess is that he reasoned that the entrance of the US into the war would enable the allies to win and therefore would staunch the bleeding.

James suffered a stroke on Dec. 2, 1915, and died three months later. When James had written that the war had "almost killed" him, perhaps he spoke too soon.

Calling all lawyers: about perjury

It's about perjury.

"Perjury" is a term that's being used in connection with the Libby indictment. It's often loosely defined as "lying under oath."

But it turns out that lying under oath is a necessary, but not sufficient, element of perjury. I remember learning this way back (seems like decades ago, doesn't it?) during Clinton's impeachment. It turns out that the lie involved in perjury must be about a fact material to the case.

Take a look; here's the "material" part:

a) Whoever under oath (or in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code) in any proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury of the United States knowingly makes any false material declaration or makes or uses any other information, including any book, paper, document, record, recording, or other material, knowing the same to contain any false material declaration, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

"Material" in this context means "relevant to the case at hand."

So my question is actually quite simple (and please don't call me a simpleton for asking it): can someone be indicted for perjury--that is, lying about a material element of a case--when there is no other case? If perjury ends up being the only charge in a long-term investigation, what case is the lie material to?

The answer, of course may be "the one that was suspected, but for which not enough evidence was found to sustain an indictment." Doesn't this seem a bit strange, legally speaking?

Of course, one could argue that, even when there ends up being no primary case, the secondary case--perjury--still needs to be prosecuted to make it clear that lying under oath about a fact that would have been material had the case gone to trial is a serious offense.

But I'm wondering, if that's true: how often are such cases actually prosecuted? And under what circumstances?

All you lawyers out there, please feel free to comment.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Pundits, bloggers, sharks, and feeding frenzi

I've referred to the swirl of criticism around the Miers nomination as a "feeding frenzy" a number of times (for example, here). Like many other metaphors, it's become less colorful through overuse: "feeding frenzy" has come to be a sort of cliche meaning "intense attack by a group."

But, in an attempt to give the phrase back some of its original force, I offer you the following, from Melville's Moby Dick, the best description I've ever read of how a feeding frenzy actually works in nature among its prime practitioners, sharks:

...when, accordingly Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small excitement was created among the sharks; for immediately suspending the cutting stages over the side, and lowering three lanterns, so that they cast long gleams of light over the turbid sea, these two mariners, darting their long whaling-spades, kept up an incessant murdering of the sharks, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly their only vital part. But in the foamy confusion of their mixed and struggling hosts, the marksmen could not always hit their mark; and this brought about new revelations of the incredible ferocity of the foe. They viciously snapped, not only at each other's disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound.

So, that's a feeding frenzy, folks: sharks, excited beyond measure by the smell of blood, bite and bite and bite until they rip each other--and even themselves--to shreds.

A cautionary tale, no? Pundits and bloggers, known for the sharpness of their opinions--and, as with sharks' teeth, such sharpness is often a necessary part of the arsenal of such creatures--need to be careful that, in the group excitement of the fray, they don't end up destroying more than they intended.

First, a caveat (always have to try my best to head the critics off at the pass): when I say the Miers nomination response has resembled a feeding frenzy, I'm not for a moment saying people have no right to criticize her, or that there weren't some very excellent grounds for criticism. They do, and there were. No, I'm talking about the nature of the criticism, which was in many cases more degrading and personal than necessary, amounted virtually to mockery of the intelligence of a woman who had done nothing to deserve it, and had a sort of synergistic quality.

One of the commenters here, John Moulder, wrote the following about blogs:

For every 2 Memogates & Condi Rice photo corrections there will be 1 Miers assassination. Nope, the blogs ain't no panacea, that's for sure,'cause their medicine sometimes causes nausea. And doc, these 2-edged swords are killing my neck.

So, what's going on with bloggers and pundits? To simplify, I'd say the whole thing comes down to ego.

By "ego" I do not mean something mostly bad. Notice that there are multiple definitions of the word: (1) self-importance (an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others); (2) your consciousness of your own identity; and (3) a technical Freudian term meaning the part of the personality responsible for reality-testing, defense, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory.

So yes, bloggers and pundits tend to have ego in all senses of the word--lots of it, plenty to spare. In order to put one's opinions out there as though they matter, a person must have the courage of his/her convictions. But that can sometimes spin out of control due to a number of factors, including but not limited to definition #1.

For example, there's the actual activity of blogging or writing a column. Doing this day after day and week after week tends to sharpen and hone the ability to define and have strong opinions, to express them, and to feel they have value. It's almost like developing a muscle through exercise, and it usually happens whether or not the pundit/blogger/columnist realizes it or not or wants it to happen or not.

Personally, I think that realizing it is half the battle. I'm not saying that pundits or bloggers should be shy and retiring, with an attitude of "well, I don't really know, but maybe perhaps it might possibly be the case that..." But I think they (we) do need to be careful not to get carried away with the sheer brilliance of their (our) rapier wit and trenchant opinions.

Alone in front of the computer (or, increasingly less often, a pad of paper), the pundit/blogger sits. Inspiration strikes, and the need to be wittier, sharper (there's that word again!), more opinionated--to be noticed--rises up in folks who tend to be pretty witty and sharp to begin with. "The pen is mightier than the sword" is a cliche because it has some truth to it--and the sharper the words the mightier they sometimes sound, especially in the solitude of the act of composition. And once put down and published, they can't be recalled.

Then there's the group aspect. Bloggers and pundits write in isolation, but they're not really in isolation at all, except physically. Mentally and emotionally they are part of one huge mass shouting out at each other and at everybody else, the sounds of the exchange echoing and ricocheting and reverberating all over the country--and in some cases the world. As such, we influence each other greatly. It's not even a case of following the herd, it's more a case of being influenced by the opinions of others, a process we are all susceptible to no matter how independent we may think we are. We influence each other directly by our words, and also indirectly by the sense of competition that's inherent in this pundit/blogger game--the need, for some at least, to try to outdo each other.

So what's the result? Sometimes it's wonderful--in fact, since I'm a fan of blogs, I'd say it's often wonderful--a liveliness of writing and thinking and interacting that you just can't get in the staid old MSM. There's an energy here, and part of it is the energy that comes with a bunch of sharp (in several senses of the word) and verbal people mixing it up and trying to say intelligent things in a way that's interesting to read. Sometimes it segues into a group of people trying to say outrageous things, either to amuse or to stir up or out of anger or the desire to call attention to themselves, or some of the above or all of the above.

When is the line crossed and it becomes a feeding frenzy? I don't have the answer; each person has to decide that for him/herself. But when there's a lot of blood in the water and people find that their own entrails, and those of their allies, are hanging out--that could be a sign.

[ADDENDUM: To those of you who may have thought I misspelled the word "frenzy" in the title of this post ("frenzi") in order to show solidarity with Ms. Miers--oh, would that you were right! Actually, my solidarity with her seems to be deeper than just a show; it was a bona fide typo, and one that spellcheck didn't catch because apparently spellcheck doesn't do titles.

That said, I'm leaving it in to demonstrate solidarity with Ms. Miers (actually, in truth, I'm leaving it in because I fear that, were I to change it now, the link wouldn't work). Anyway, the perfect is the enemy of the good, right?]

Changing of the guard

I just may weep; Uma Thurman is the "older woman."

And what does that make Meryl Streep? The old woman?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The 2,000th US military death in Iraq

Back during Vietnam, one of the features of that war was the body count. The US military issued a running estimate of the number of enemy combat deaths, which was considered by some to be bloodthirsty, exaggerated, and a misplaced measurement of the progress of the war. Criticism was so intense that in recent years the military has stopped the practice, although others have taken it up for their own (and often suspect) reasons.

The body count of American dead in the Iraq war goes on, however. It is based on statistics supplied by the US military--apparently it's still okay to count our dead. The recent publicity given to the 2,000 American death can seem to give off an aura of ghoulish celebration clothed in solemn mourning, just in time for Halloween.

I'm not saying the MSM's emphasis on this body count doesn't contain an element of sincere sympathy for the sorrows of the families of the fallen, at least in some instances. But I believe that, all too often, observations such as the following one highlighted approvingly by Dymphna--from a commenter on her blog writing on the death of #2000--are quite correct:

I've been thinking about the cries that he is being victimized by the left--and how ignoble a title "Victim" to bestow upon a warrior. Instead, he is, with his family, a warrior whose service goes beyond merely his life, and includes bearing the weight of fools.

In honor of the 2000th death and all the other US military deaths--and lives--in Iraq and elsewhere, I thought I'd recycle a portion of a post I wrote around Memorial Day on the subject of the liberal attitude towards the military. Here is the excerpt:

It's not my impression that liberals/leftists necessarily even focus on the courage of the military. It's my impression, from talking to liberals/leftists and reading what they write, that many primarily see the military (as I wrote previously) as either bloodthirsty--or, much more commonly and condescendingly, as unintelligent lower- or working-class pawns of a cowardly and exploitative ruling class (thus, the "chickenhawk" accusation against that ruling class, especially towards those who didn't serve, or whose service is deemed inadequate)...

In my experience, liberals don't necessarily even think very often in terms of concepts such as physical courage--it's an old-fashioned word for an old-fashioned value. They think in terms of the values of kindness and/or tolerance and/or intelligence, which they feel that they themselves demonstrate. Or, if they do think of courage and admire it, it is more often the courage to speak out, or to stand up for a cause (to "speak truth to power," for example).

Remember the old slogan, "Better Red than dead?" The people who said it meant it. And they weren't all Communists, not by any means. They were people who believed that almost nothing--no abstraction, anyway, including freedom--was worth fighting for in the physical sense, and especially not worth dying for. Therefore anyone who does believe in fighting for something so abstract must be deluded in some way, or oppressed in some way, or both...

I also think that the template for the liberal/leftist view of the military was set during Vietnam, when the draft was one of the main ways to enter the service...People whose attitudes towards military service were based on that era are sometimes unable to understand the changes that have been wrought by the all-volunteer military. They continue to see those in the service as victims, although now they are not seen as victims of the draft, but as victims of coercion and class via economic incentives for joining the military, and/or as victims of the self-serving lies of politicians. It stands to reason that the class interpretation would be especially common on the left, since it fits in quite nicely with a socialist or Marxist viewpoint. And, if the enlistee is viewed as a pawn of economic circumstances, and his/her motivation is seen as economic, then it's easier to circumvent the whole topic of personal courage.

This idea of the dead soldier as victim, rather than courageous hero, is often cited by the left for propaganda purposes against the administration and those "ruling classes." Here's a recent and very typical example of this type of thinking (found here in comment #80--supposedly it's taken from Michael Moore's website, but I looked and couldn't find it there, so I can't swear it's a proper attribution):

Bush and the Crime Cabal in power sent 26 more soldiers to their graves this week and 26 more families to lives of living hell. 26 more lives and families devastated and destroyed for absolutely nothing. We will see the hypocritical mobsters of the state at their events today and tomorrow spewing filth from their mouths, such as: "Freedom isn't Free," and "We must stay the course in Iraq to honor the sacrifices of the fallen...Then the morons who killed our children will happily go back to their homes and have a nice Memorial Day dinner secure in the fact that their children will never die in a war and their children will have nice, wealthy, long lives because of the incredible riches this misadventure in Iraq has brought their fathers and mothers.

Then there is the idea of those who serve in the military as the "other." Here's an interesting article from the LA Times that discusses the change of heart a father experienced when his son, a Marine, went to Iraq. The father had never served in the military himself, and seemed to have never even considered what might motivate someone to serve. He writes:

Before my son unexpectedly volunteered for the Marines, I was busy writing my novels and raising my family, and giving little thought to the men and women who guard us...

But later, when his son returns from combat, the father writes:

I found myself praying and crying for all the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives of those who were not coming home. For the first time in my life, I was weeping for strangers.... Before my son went to war I never would have shed tears for them. My son humbled me. My son connected me to my country. He taught me that our men and women in uniform are not the "other."

Prior to his son going to war, this man was almost dissociative in his ability to tune out the military. They simply did not exist for him as people--or, if they did, they were the "other." What he means by that I'm not sure--were they the "other" in his eyes because of perceived class differences, personality differences, or merely a failure of imagination on his part? One might say he seems to lack the ability to put himself in someone else's shoes--and yet it turns out he is an author, and a novelist! Very perplexing indeed.

I can only conclude that people like the author, Frank Schaeffer, are operating with blinders on. The motivations of people in the military are not understood by them, and they are not curious about those motivations. Schaeffer's change of heart occurred for one simple reason: a military man finally became "real" to him, because that man was his son. He could no longer regard this particular Marine as the "other," because he knew him and loved him, and that ended up humanizing all military personnel in his eyes.

Miered no more

I have to say that this news comes a relief.

I was looking forward to the hearings out of curiosity. Honestly, I wanted to see Ms. Miers wow everyone with her vast knowledge of constitutional law and her keen and articulate intelligence. Just as honestly, I wasn't at all sure whether her hearing would be a triumph, a train wreck, or something in between. I cannot imagine her performing to the satisfaction of her critics, even if she did have the requisite intellectual chops--which is still unknown and will remain unknown forever--under such an intense and harsh spotlight.

I'm glad it turned out this way, and that she finally did what seems to be the right thing for all concerned. Now, on with the dog and pony show of the next nomination. Will Bush be a contrarian and make another pick that will have people up in arms? Or will he be a good boy and play ball with the right? And will whatever he does staunch the bleeding and end the feeding frenzy?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Nuclear bunker busters busted; meanwhile, Iran thumps its chest

Remember those nuclear bumper busters from the Kerry-Bush debates of '04? They reminded me a bit of Quemoy and Matsu in the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960: a big fuss made at the time, but then virtually forgotten.

Well, it's a mystery as to exactly why, but development of these nuclear bunker busters has been scrapped, at least for now:

The move to remove the funding comes at the request of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which has been the driving force behind the bunker buster. It is unclear why the chief proponent of the funding withdrew its request.

The folks in Utah, where the testing would probably have taken place, are very happy--which is understandable. NIMBY takes on a whole new meaning when it's the testing of nuclear weapons in one's backyard.

I'm wondering about the decision, though, in light of this other news of the day--the announcement by Iran's President that Israel should be "wiped off the map" (via Roger Simon). Wasn't it to combat Iran's development of nuclear weapons, which seems to involve underground storage, that such nuclear bunker busters were being developed? I can only hope that the reversal on the program represents a decision by scientists and strategists that conventional weaponry would work just as well with fewer dangers, rather than a decision that the program doesn't have the political clout to be funded. I would certainly prefer conventional weapons to nuclear ones myself, if the former can be effective.

There are a few other interesting details in the article about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement. Notice, for example, those who have spoken against it. One of them is Ebrahim Yazdi, a former Iranian foreign minister who said that Ahmadinejad's remarks hurt Iran:

"Such comments provoke the international community against us. It's not to Iran's interests at all. It's harmful to Iran to make such a statement," he said.

So, if I get this straight, it's another case of "nothing wrong with the remarks themselves but shhhh!, quiet about it! Let's keep it in the family; no need to get the international community onto us."


As for that international community, there are were other, and better, responses, some from surprising quarters:

In Madrid, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos summoned Iran's ambassador to protest Ahmadinejad's comments. Moratinos said he rejected the remarks in the strongest possible terms.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Baptiste Mattei also condemned the remarks "with the utmost firmness."

Of course, words are cheap. But they're better than nothing. Would that they were followed with meaningful actions.

Lost in translation: the girl from Ipanema

I recently made the acquaintance of yargb, yet another really great blog. That is, Yet Another Really Great Blog.

It's a group blog (which makes me a bit envious, since it means each blogger can take it easy sometimes) composed of some of the most articulate and well-known commenters around the blogosphere.

This post at yargb--about the fate of the real Girl from Ipanema--caught my eye (via Dymphna at Gates of Vienna). Her fifteen minutes of fame were all too brief (the Girl's, that is, not Dymphna's).

But I'm bringing up the song for another reason. A couple of days ago we had a discussion about poetry, and whether its recent incarnation speaks to most people these days. As the back-and-forth in the comments section got going, quite a few people ventured the idea that song lyrics have taken over where poetry left off about fifty years ago.

Well, I happen to know a little bit about the lyrics of "The Girl from Ipanema." Even though I don't speak Portuguese myself, I am close to someone who does, and he once gave me a recitation and translation of the original Portuguese lyrics to the song. And I have to say I was blown away, not only by their loveliness (you could recite the phone book in Portuguese to me and I'd think it was lovely), but by the depth of the Portuguese version compared to the relative shallowness of the English translation-which-is-not-a-
translation (can't resist those water metaphors).

It turns out that the author of the Portuguese words to the song, Vinicius de Moraes, was a man who quite handily bridged the poetry/lyrics gap. He was a well-known poet and popular lyricist, as well as a diplomat (!) who was at one time vice-consul to Los Angeles (no, I kid you not, so if things had worked out differently we might have had "The Girl from Santa Monica").

Here are all the words: first, the familiar English version most of us know; then, the original Portuguese lyrics; and lastly, a literal translation into English of those Portuguese lyrics. I wish the popular English version had followed them more closely--but then, if it had, would it have been as popular?

Tall and tan
and young and lovely
the girl from Ipanema
goes walking
and when she passes
each one she passes
goes ahhh

When she walks
she's like a samba
that swings so cool
and sways so gently
that when she passes
each one she passes
goes ahhh

Oh, but he watches so sadly
How can he tell her he loves her
Yes, he would give his heart gladly
but each day when she walks to the sea
she looks straight ahead not at he

Tall and tan
and young and lovely
the girl from Ipanema
goes walking
and when she passes
he smiles but she doesn't see
she just doesn't see

Olha que coisa mais linda,
mais cheia de graça
É ela menina
que vem que passa
Num doce balanço
caminho do mar

Moça do corpo dourado
do sol de Ipanema
O seu balançado
é mais que um poema
É a coisa mais linda
que eu já vi passar

Ah, porque estou tão sozinho
Ah, porque tudo e tão triste
Ah, a beleza que existe
A beleza que não é só minha
que também passa sozinha

Ah, se ela soubesse
que quando ela passa
O mundo sorrindo
se enche de graça
E fica mais lindo
por causa do amor

Look at this thing, most lovely
most graceful
It's her, the girl
that comes, that passes
with a sweet swinging
walking to the sea

Girl of the golden body
from the sun of Ipanema
Your swaying
is more than a poem
It's a thing more beautiful
than I have ever seen pass by

Ah, why am I so alone
Ah, why is everything so sad
The beauty that exists
The beauty that is not mine alone
that also passes by on its own

Ah, if she only knew
that when she passes
the world smiles
fills itself with grace
and remains more beautiful
because of love

There's more: here's a discussion comparing the legend of the writing of this song to the supposedly true story of its origins (I have no way to evaluate the veracity of any of this).

And here's an interesting comparison of the two versions, along with a link to the Getz/Gilberto rendition.

It depends what the meaning of "friend" is

Yesterday I wrote about the UN being implicated by its own computer.

Now it seems that the reprehensible George Galloway may have slipped up in his Senate testimony last May. Pity.

And in the future I, for one, will pay particular attention whenever Belmont Club asks us to pay particular attention to something. Why? See what the amazingly prescient Wretchard wrote back in May about the questions Coleman and Levin were asking of Galloway during the Senate hearings.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The UN: hoist by its own computers

You gotta love it: a computer error reveals another shabby UN action, this time a coverup of the explosive allegations of a connection between Syrian President Assad's family and associates, and Hariri's assassination in Lebanon:

The United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday. The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.

The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.

Isn't the modern age wonderful?

I know those editing programs. I've done some free-lance editing, and have been required at times to track my changes. It's a nifty little thing where your edits show up in blue or red or whatever color you happen to choose. When you send the document, there's a version that looks normal, and then with one magical click the removed material suddenly appears--usually with a strikeout line though it--and the additions leap into color. Very helpful for the top editor to see what you've done and how you've done it, without having to perform a laborious line-by-line comparison.

But computers are such funny things--one little click of the mouse and you can make the Mother of All Errors. You can send an e-mail to the wrong person--to spouse instead of lover, to boss instead of friend. Or, in this case, the wrong version of an e-mail to the wrong person. Big trouble in either case, private or public.

Or sometimes your computer just takes over, and ups and does it all for you. Mine once went on a rampage and sent copies of what was, thankfully, a fairly innocuous and even boring e-mail of mine out to four or five randomly selected people from my address box, including someone with whom I'd had only business dealings. I apologized for my computer's wild ways, but unfortunately it kept happening over and over every few days, to the point where the business person asked me to stop harassing her, and I had call in some sort of computer doctor to advise me on how to fix the glitch.

So I can feel the UN's pain--not! It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of scoundrels, in my opinion. The UN's long long record of kissing up to tyrants, of anti-Semitism cloaked as anti-Zionism, and of rampant corruption, has made me deeply distrust nearly everything they do. So this coverup of the possible Assad connection is not a surprise, and the computer faux pas gives me no end of satisfaction.

Even Senators get lucky sometimes

Somehow I missed the following tidbit from a couple of days ago, so perhaps you did, too.

New Hampshire's Republican Senator Judd Gregg, known as a staunch fiscal conservative and chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has won a not inconsiderable amount (to the mind of this fiscal moderate, anyway) in the Powerball lottery.

Gregg won $853,492, which is hardly chump change, although far from the $340 million grand prize. And, since he's from New Hampshire, a state without income taxes, he gets to keep 75% of it. Some guys live right:

Gregg already is a millionaire, according to personal financial records that senators are required to file annually.

His latest filing, which documents his financial records for the calendar year of 2004, shows that Gregg has assets between $2,697,000 and $9,430,000, mostly in an extensive stock and real estate portfolio.

After hearing the lottery news, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, quipped the money should be used to pay down the federal deficit.

Senator Conrad beat me to the punch.

How does Gregg actually plan to spend the money? Some will go to charity, and much of the rest to his wife. Sounds about right to me.

I can't recall any other celebrity or public figure winning a substantial lottery prize before. Can anyone help me out on this?

It surprises me a bit that the relatively wealthy, such as Gregg, might play the lottery, too. Although, why not? When you buy a lottery ticket some say you're basically throwing away your money, and they are mathematically correct in terms of probability. But they are ignoring the vagaries of the human heart; for most people, a lottery ticket is a ticket to a dream. And I guess even fiscally conservative Republican Senators can dream.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I just published a huge post, but it's not showing up on my computer, although it's recorded as having been published. So this is a test, to see whether there's a problem.

[ADDENDUM: It worked! Suddenly they both appeared. A little Blogger trick I once learned when faced with a similar glitch.]

Judging Harriet

Methinks I hear the fat lady singing for Ms. Miers, and it's an ugly sound--a cross between a squawk, a whine, a groan, and a croak.

I don't believe we have any real way of knowing whether Ms. Miers is as competent and meritorious as Bush has alleged, or as incompetent and mediocre as nearly everyone else is saying. But I, for one, am willing to wait to actually hear the lady speak for herself before I make a final judgment (in other words, TTLB: I am neutral on the Miers nomination).

There's certainly much to criticize about this nomination--particularly, IMHO, Miers's closeness to the President (although the argument could also be made that this means he knows her likely judicial philosophy). But I've been surprised at how much of the recent criticism, especially in the blogosphere, has focused on her writing ability as demonstrated in her answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

Now, I'm not able to give a learned discourse on just how grievously Miers may have erred in claiming that the Equal Protection clause has a proportional representation requirement (a little? a lot? not at all?), but I'm able to speak with more conviction about her writing ability.

First, there's spelling and grammar: I hadn't been aware until now that Ms. Miers was applying for a job as proofreader. I've done some editing here and there and, believe me, proofreading is a highly overrated (although extremely necessary) skill that doesn't say much one way or the other about intelligence and/or reasoning ability.

Those who state that committing a few typos and grammatical errors is a failure of precision and carefulness are quite correct. But it's a failure of precision and carefulness that's irrelevant and immaterial (to coin a legal phrase), and this heated criticism represents a repellent phenomenon I've never witnessed before and never care to witness again: a grammatical feeding frenzy.

Another criticism of Miers's responses is their brevity--in particular, her answer to the only substantive question, the final one, which deals with her views on judicial activism. For example, James Joyner of Outside the Beltway criticized its shortness.

I decided, just for fun, to compare the length of Ms. Miers's answer to that of John Roberts. As far as I know, I'm the first in the blogosphere to actually do this mindbogglingly difficult piece of research, which involves the arduous task of going to the PDF file of Miers's questionnaire and the PDF file of Roberts's questionnaire and actually counting the pages in each answer. Well, the font's a bit different, so it's hard to compare exactly, but Roberts's answer to the question appears to be shorter than that of Ms. Miers by a full page.

Do I care that it's shorter? Nope, I've never felt that length had much to do with evaluating the worth of a piece of writing. But if people are going to criticize Ms. Miers for not writing a long enough answer, how can they ignore the fact that hers is longer than Roberts's?

Then I read her answer. Not quickly, but slowly. And what did I find when I actually read it? I found it a bit dry, straightforward, relatively uninspired--but it seemed intelligent. Yes, you heard me right--it seemed intelligent (and, by the way, indicative of a constructionist approach, as far as I can see). Was it markedly erudite? Not especially. Was it eloquent? No. Was it clear and intelligible? Perfectly. Was it going to set the world on fire with the extremity of its brilliance? No.

And then I went back to that other questionnaire filled out by someone who actually had set the world on fire (metaphorically speaking, that is) with the extremity of his brilliance in his Senate hearings: John Roberts.

And what did I find? Is his answer to the same question well-written? It's competent enough. The style is more formal and conventionally academic than Ms. Miers's, a bit more ornate. Is it clear? Sure. Does he actually say anything much different than Ms. Miers's does? No. Does the answer demonstrate his genius? No. It was a decent response, nothing more (by the way, I'm not cutting and pasting any examples here because the files are in read-only format. So you'll have to take a look yourself: Miers's answer begins on page 55 of her questionnaire, and Roberts's begins on page 66 of his.)

In fact, I think Miers's essay has more content as well as length. I went through both essays writing down a summary of the major thoughts in each paragraph (I'll spare you a copy of that, dear readers). The Committee's judicial activism question isn't framed in a way that opens itself up to groundbreaking thinking, so you'll pardon me if I say that, IMHO, Roberts's answer wasn't all that different from a regurgitation of the first few days of an undergraduate ConLaw course (the phrase Joyner used to describe Miers's answer).

To those who have criticized Miers's answer so heavily, I'd love to see them compare and contrast it with Roberts's answer, and explain in what ways his is so clearly superior to hers. It's definitely possible that there are some legal niceties I'm missing here. But I haven't even seen a single attempt at a comparison. Why not?

It seems to me that the nature of the question itself, and the need to give an answer sufficiently vague as to not leave oneself open for criticism, dictate that any possible answer will be rather mediocre. In fact, I'd be surprised if the answer of any candidate so far has been especially wonderful .

Let me make it perfectly clear: I don't care. I don't care that Roberts's answer is pretty pedestrian, and rather short. I think he'll make an excellent justice, perhaps even a stellar one. But Ms. Miers's answer to this question--the only "substantive" one in the entire document--actually shows a bit more imagination than that of Roberts. She makes the interesting--to me, at least--point that she has experience in all three branches of government: judicial (in her clerkship to Judge Estes), legislative (in her position on the Dallas City Council), and executive (as President Bush's counsel)--and that therefore she has firsthand personal experience of how the three branches of government interact, and what roles each has in relation to the judiciary and to each other. It's a decent point, and it's an argument from experience.

Oh, and I found a couple of punctuation errors in Mr. Roberts's questionnaire: a comma or two that I see as problems, and one improper use of the dash. And no doubt someone looking at this post of mine can find a couple of similar mistakes too, even though I've tried to proofread it carefully. Do you really care? I don't--although, of course, I'd prefer all these documents to be absolutely perfect.

I don't mean to say that Ms. Miers is smarter or would be a better justice than Mr. Roberts; there's no indication that that's true. I also believe she's far from the best nominee possible for the position. But can we not wait to hear how she thinks and reasons during her Senate hearings? We learned a great deal about Mr. Roberts this way. What's the all-fired hurry to condemn her? Surely there will be enough time to do this after her hearings, if she is indeed the fool so many say she is.

Oh, and another thing. Please read "Remote Control" by Stuart Taylor, Jr., a piece that appeared in the September 2005 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. It's an eloquent plea for appointing a justice with real-world rather than just ivory-tower or academic experience (suggesting, specifically, a person who "has argued big-time commercial lawsuits"). One can almost hear it as a plea for a justice like Ms. Miers, although author Taylor now says he doesn't support her for the job.

Mr. Taylor recently wrote that the closeness of Ms. Miers's relationship to the President, and her position as his advocate, is especially troubling:

Might she shy away from casting votes that could cause Bush political embarrassment? Or even ask herself, "What would the president want me to do?"... A few presidential cronies have, of course, turned out to be notable justices. They include Robert Jackson, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter, all appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt. But each of them had been a legal or political giant of independent stature – as attorney general, U.S. senator, and Harvard Law School dean [sic: he was a professor at HLS], respectively – before taking the bench.

Good point. It's the closeness of her relationship with the President coupled with her lack of extraordinary independent stature that should give one pause.

But to give pause is not to reject outright. It seems that Taylor is with me; he's still willing to give Ms. Miers a final chance to prove herself:

The Senate should reject any Supreme Court nominee – especially one close to the president – who has not proven herself to have extraordinary ability and independence of judgment unskewed by loyalty. The woman who once called Bush the most brilliant man she had ever met has not met this burden of proof during her first 60 years. Unless she can do so in the next few weeks, she should be treated with respect, praised for her character and accomplishments, and voted down.

Ms. Miers needs to show her independence and keen intelligence in the hearings. If so, she should be approved; if not, rejected.

And lastly, while waiting to hear what she has to say and how she acquits herself, you might want to read this Washington Post profile of Miers, written before the feeding frenzy really got going.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A fallen fall

Fall is ordinarily my favorite season. I love it when the air starts getting that snappy crispness. Then some time in late September I see the first few patches of startling red in the maples. Each day after that a new tree turns red, and then the oranges and yellows appear, and the whole thing builds to that glorious symphony of natural beauty we call fall.

It doesn't hurt that the sky is often powerfully blue, the grass still green, and the weather good for almost any activity, including just walking around and savoring it all. Here in New England we drink it in, trying to store the sensations to help us get through the long hard winter.

I don't want to gloat, but while you may see these images on a calendar, we see them all around us:

My favorite is the lowly sumac, a weed that grows freely and doesn't look like much in summer but turns into a shimmering glow of superbly and subtly mixed colors come fall:

But don't worry; I'm not gloating any more, and there's no cause for envy of New Englanders this year. Fall has been more or less a bust. A combination of factors, especially the rain and lack of sunlight, seems to have caused the worst fall in my memory, and I've lived in New England almost continually since 1969 (here's a bulletin-board discussion of the sorrowful situation from a bunch of leaf-peeping photographers. And here's the science of the whole turning-colors thing, from the US National Arboretum.)

Some trees do have a bit of tepid color, with mostly shriveled or mottled leaves. Many trees still sport green leaves, a thing ordinarily unheard-of at this time of year. Another bunch went from green to brown without passing through a colorful stage. Added to that, it feels as though we live in Seattle-on-the-Atlantic: rain and gloom, day after gray day.

Makes a person grumpy.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The poetry you know and the poetry you don't know

Some of you who've read this blog for a while may recall that I like poetry, and that as a child my school assignments included memorizing a lot of poetry.

And so it is that often when I'm thinking about a subject--even a political one--a poem or line of poetry comes to mind. It happened the other day with, of all things, Saddam Hussein's trial and the poem "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath. And it just happened again with a comment to my nepotism post.

When I was composing that comment, I had to look up Thomas Gray's poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." I hadn't read it in decades, and I was struck by the fact that in this single poem there are at least three famous lines--lines that have become, to a greater or lesser extant, part of the buzzing hum of sayings--cliches, really--that swirl in our heads and have become part of our popular knowledge base whether we're aware of them or not.

Often, we haven't a clue as to where these sayings come from or why we know them. But many come from poetry, even if we don't know the poems any more.

Here are the lines (or, in one case, phrases) from Gray's Elegy that I've tagged as famous. You may not know all of them, but I bet you know some, even if you detest poetry and have never read the poem:

The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Far from the madding crowd
's ignoble strife,

The same is true for Shakespeare, Robert Burns, countless other poets--their words have seeped into our culture and become so much a part of our language that they are almost indistinguishable from proverbs such as a stitch in time saves nine; waste not, want not.

As I was musing about this, it struck me that this fact is no longer true of recent poetry. Gone are the memorable and quotable phrases that become well-known--unless, of course, you count parodies such as the "who blew up da owl?" jokes at LGF and elsewhere, making fun (and rightly so) of the erstwhile poet laureate of New Jersey, Amiri Baraka.

Who can recall a single line from a poem written in the last fifty years that has become commonly known? And, lest you think the lack is just because it takes time for these things to catch on and percolate, who can nominate a line of recent poetry that you imagine has even a chance of living on for future generations?

One of the last poets who wrote such things may have been Frost, and perhaps Eliot. Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in; I took the one less traveled by; Not with a bang but a whimper; April is the cruelest month--there are quite a few.

But as I rack my brain trying to think of a more recent example of a memorable poetry line that has seeped into the public consciousness, all I can come up with is the first line of Ginsberg's "Howl" (so far I can't find the text online, so there's no link to the full poem itself): I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness... As it serendipitously turns out, the poem was first declaimed by Ginsberg almost precisely fifty years ago: on Oct. 7, 1955, to be exact.

Practically everyone knows the line; almost no one has read the poem (have you? I haven't). Ginsberg was somewhat of a one-trick pony, as far as I know--that line caught fire, but not much of anything else he wrote ever did, although he remained a celebrity for most of his life. It's also odd that the line tends to be misquoted as "I have seen the best minds of my generation..." and, in that misquotation, is often used for the purpose of parody (see this for examples).

So perhaps we can date the death of the poetic quote as household word--and to poetry itself as having any sort of deep importance to most people outside of the narrow range of literary academia or a few stalwart diehards such as myself--to its swan song fifty years ago, Ginsberg's "Howl." If any of you can think of a truly famous line of recent poetry other than outrageous travesties such as Baraka's, I request that you hereby submit them. And by "recent," I mean within the last fifty years.

(And by the way, if anyone has in mind the vaguely famous line from "The Gift Outright" by Frost, recited at John Kennedy's 1961 inaugural--"The land was ours before we were the land's--no dice. The poem was actually written in 1942.)

Dinner party politics and how to avoid them

I think I'm making progress.

A year or two ago, when I would go to a party and the inevitable comments would come up, apropos of nothing--Bush is evil, Michael Moore's movie is the repository of Speaking Truth to Power, those Swift Vets are a pack of Republican lying scum and vicious attack dogs, etc. etc. etc.; I would turn red in the face and have to leave and go cool off.

And now? Now when I go to a party and the inevitable comments come up, apropos of nothing--Bush is evil, we are a pack of murdering marauders in Iraq, Abu Ghraib was the equivalent of the political killings and imprisonments in Iran under the mullahs, etc. etc. etc.; I turn red in the face and have to leave and go cool off.

You don't see the difference, you say? Well, here's the difference:

(a) The comments no longer surprise me.
(b) I no longer get quite as red in the face, and my cooloff period is shorter.
(c) When I return, I don't try to argue with or convince anyone (i.e., I've given up on logic and facts, and have accepted that this is the way it is with certain people).
(d) The intensity of my need to talk about these things is somewhat mitigated by the fact that we're no longer facing the possible election of John Kerry.
(e) The intensity of my need to talk about these things is somewhat mitigated by the fact that I have a blog.

All in all, I consider that progress. You may not. But at least it makes get-togethers a bit easier for me.

One thing it does drive home when it happens again--as it did last night--is that most intelligent liberal people still consider what they read in the MSM to be the simple, unadorned, basic Truth. And not just to Power.

[ADDENDUM: Oops! Sorry I failed to make myself clear. I'd alluded to this before, in my "about me" section, but from responses in the comments section I can see that, obviously, I need to say it again and say it clearly: I'm fully out of the political closet, perhaps even obnoxiously so. At last night's get-together, everyone present knew full well exactly how I feel. I've had it out with all of them many times, and I've given up.

I've also spoken up with strangers, and I find that if there is a certain level of reasonableness to their comments, we can have a conversation. If they're way over the top, I know at the outset--from bitter and repeated experience--it will be fruitless. Sometimes I don't speak up then, and sometimes I just say a sentence of disagreement and move on.

Rest assured though, I'm one of the more vocal people on this issue. It's cost me a lot of grief and I've gotten a lot of flak for it, and I soldier on--just not again and again with the same people.

And please don't tell me to make new friends! Or rather, you can tell me, but my answer is that I like these people and enjoy their presence. They just turn into Jekyl-Hyde dimwits when politics rears its ugly head.]

Friday, October 21, 2005

Nepotism is okay as long as you keep it in the family

Because of the Miers case (no, this isn't about Miers, promise!), the word "cronyism" has been bandied about quite a lot lately. Via Roger Simon, I found this interesting article by Adam Bellow in the National Review on the subject of cronyism and its kissing cousin, nepotism.

Bellow isn't especially interested in distinguishing between cronyism and nepotism; to him they are almost identical, since they both "offend our public creed of meritocracy." According to Bellow, the problem with cronyism/nepotism is a possible conflict with our deeply entrenched idea that getting jobs or promotions or appointments should always be based on merit only. Cronyism/nepotism muddies the waters.

Sounds reasonable, and I agree with Bellow here. I think it's true that appointing friends or family or even former colleagues to an important post can raise the suspicion that the person was chosen solely or at least primarily because of that relationship. As Bellow points out, the phenomenon is not at all unusual; cronyism/nepotism often plays at least some part in the making of a selection from among a bunch of applicants, whether in industry or in politics--perhaps especially in politics. Bellow calls it "a permanent feature of the American political landscape."

One might generalize and say not just American politics--it's probably, to a greater or lesser extent, a prominent and permanent feature of every political landscape, or of any other type of landscape where such choices are made. Unknown quantities are just that--unknowns, and therefore risky. And it is human nature to want to reward family, friends, and acquaintances, and to help them on the road to success. In politics, it's understood that one of the benefits of past service is often an appointment, a sort of quid pro quo. And even if we should want to stamp out this behavior, it would be naive to think we ever really could.

So what, then, is Bush's fatal flaw, according to Bellow? Not nepotism or cronyism itself, but cronyism without regard for the saving grace of merit:

[Bush] has made the common dynastic mistake of confusing loyalty and merit; in his eyes, the merit of people like Michael Brown and Harriet Miers consists in their being his friends. They are loyal to him, and their loyalty must be rewarded...His greatest failing is his inability to hold people accountable for their errors. Because they are his creatures, he seems unable to disown them or even to see their faults.

Putting aside the question of whether Miers lacks objective merit and is just a loyal "creature," (remember, I said this post wasn't going to be about Miers, and I'm sticking to that), I found Bellow's article to be a bit disingenuous, given his own history--for Adam Bellow is the son of Saul Bellow, a fact he fails to mention either in the article or in the short bio that accompanies it.

I'm not saying that Adam Bellow can't write. Or that he's not a fully meretricious fellow himself. I really don't know, since this article is the only work of his I've ever read--although, having heard his name before, I immediately recognized his identity.

So when I read his article, I suspected that at some time in his life his name had probably opened a few doors for him that would have otherwise remained closed. And it's often getting that first foot in the door that matters, because it turns out that the world is not really a strict meritocracy after all, as much as we'd like to think otherwise.

As it turns out, the internet is a wonderful thing. So it is that I was able to find this interview with Adam Bellow on a website devoted to information about family businesses. In it, Bellow talks about the role of nepotism/cronyism in his own life:

I didn't grow up with my father because my parents divorced when I was two. So he served more as a model than someone who was hands-on and personally involved in my learning to write. He did have a powerful influence on me, and I was clearly drawn in his direction at an early age.

He had nothing to do with my getting into publishing, however... at least, not directly. That was more of an accident after I ran out of other options. I was thirty and just married and went to see a friend of my father for advice. He directed me to Erwin Glikes, publisher of The Free Press, who hired me as an editor. Over the course of my career I have not benefited at all as the son of Saul Bellow, even though my entry was definitely facilitated by the connection. I'm a good example of what I refer to in my book as the "new nepotism."...

New nepotism is not the same kind of nepotism that people generally think of. It's not the same as we have defined in years gone by. There are important differences. With the new nepotism, parents no longer pick up the phone and pull strings. Instead, it's the children themselves who decide this on their own and they find their own way to exploit those connections.

I'm not so sure what difference it makes whether a parent makes the call or the child does--in fact, I'm pretty sure it makes almost no difference at all; it's still the relationship that greases the wheels. After all, making one's own phone calls to ask for hiring assistance from a parent's friend is hardly a model of extreme initiative.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not knocking it. I'd do it if I could, and so would most people, and I don't think it's a terrible thing at all. As I said earlier, it's the way of the world, here and everywhere, and I'd be hard-pressed to figure out a benign way to stop it, even if I wanted to.

But this business of Bellow's father having "nothing to do with" his son's getting into publishing may be a case of "I fear the man doth protest too much." Saul Bellow certainly had, as Adam Bellow himself points out, something to do with Adam's entry into the field, and entry is often the most important hurdle. How could Adam Bellow know for sure that over the course of his own career he has "not benefited at all" as the son of Saul Bellow? Would people actually be telling him if his family connections had figured into their promotion of him?

The children of the very famous often encounter something like the old problem the very rich face: does he/she love me for myself, or for my money? Hard to tell. That's why in folk tales the prince or princess sometimes dresses in commoner's rags, just to see how people will treat them if their identity is hidden. Sometimes the results are not very pretty.

[CORRECTION: Ooops! I've been informed by a kind and careful reader that "meretricious" isn't quite what I meant, not by a long shot. The word, of course, should be "meritorious"--having merit. A thousand pardons.]

Thursday, October 20, 2005

New blogger?

People sometimes write to me seeking advice on starting up a new blog. Well, they could do worse than to heed the sage advice of Iowahawk (via LGF).

(If I heeded it myself, I'd probably get a lot more traffic.)

Don't make RINOs an endangered species

Lately, there's been a lot of rage going around at RINOs. (For those who aren't familiar with the appellation, it stands for "Republicans in Name Only"--or what used to be known as "Rockefeller Republicans" in a somewhat less acronym-mad era).

Quite a few members of the dread "Gang of 14" are RINOs, assumed to have sabotaged hopes for the real conservative nominee for Supreme Court Justice that Bush could--and would--have chosen, if only the Gang of 14 and the RINOs didn't exist.

So, get rid of 'em, who needs 'em? say many real conservatives in the Republican Party.

It wasn't so very long ago that the Republican Party considered itself a "Big Tent," a party in which moderates were welcome and considered an asset. The phrase was coined in 1988 by Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater (as mentioned in this Time magazine article from 1999, which features an almost cuddly Karl Rove--the times, they have a-changed, haven't they?). Interestingly enough, the Time article cites Rove himself as having transformed Texas from a Democratic to a Republican state by following Big Tent precepts.

So, what's happened? Perhaps certain Republicans have forgotten that they didn't get where they are today by alienating the middle. Of course it's also true that--as Jerry Falwell points out in this article--they didn't get where they are today without the evangelical Christians and other cultural conservatives, either. The problem now is how to keep both under that shrinking tent.

I'm neither a Republican nor a conservative, but I do have an opinion (trust a blogger to always have an opinion). I don't think the answer is to replace RINOs with traditionally conservative Republicans in states where the latter simply have no chance of winning. I happen to know about one of those states, from which two of the most prominent and vilified RINOs of all hail: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Senators from Maine and RINOs extraordinaire.

Perhaps the fact that Maine has a long Republican history blinds many conservatives to the fact that it is a solidly Democratic state in many ways, and that the only Republicans who have a chance of being elected there are RINOs. Maine is not New Hampshire (another state of which I have more than a passing knowledge), which is fairly evenly divided, and whose two Congressmen and two Senators are all Republicans in more than name, as opposed to Maine's two RINO Senators and two Democratic Congressmen.

Take a look at Maine's results in the 2004 presidential election. A landslide for Kerry, despite the fact that the Bushes have ties to the state. Does this seem like a place where a conservative Republican could win? Don't think so.

To drive the point home further, look at this map of counties in Maine and how they voted in 2004. You would be hard pressed to find a bluer state--and keep in mind that the south is where the people are (same is true of New Hampshire, by the way; and in Vermont there just aren't any people). Those two lone light pink counties in Maine are very sparsely populated.

Compare it to the map of New Hampshire in 2004, a state in which the vote was very close indeed. Not only are the counties far more evenly divided, but some of the areas that voted for Bush are quite populous. This is a state where conservative Republicans have a chance, although it's not easy.

So, please explain. I don't get this failure to look at things pragmatically. Is it that ideological purity thing again? Would very conservatives Republicans rather a candidate be "right" than elected? Would they prefer the election of a clearly liberal Democrat to that of a person who is in fact a centrist? I don't see how that would benefit them--but hey, it's not my issue. Just trust me when I say that throwing Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to the wolves and replacing them with non-RINOs (love those animal metaphors!) will probably lose you two Senate seats, if that's what you're after.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The justice of a trial

In my last post, about Saddam as press hero, I wrote about transmuting the very human desire for personal revenge into the desire for a different sort of justice, the justice of a trial.

No sooner said than done, apparently. I just came across this wonderful post by Mohammed of Iraq the Model, entitled, "Let Justice Be Served." In it, he describes that exact process taking place as he and his friends watch the trial:

“Why do we have to listen to this bull****?” said one of my friends.
“I prefer the trial goes like this:
Q:Are you Saddam Hussein?
Then take this bullet in the head.”

Everyone could find a reason to immediately execute a criminal who never let his victims say a word to defend themselves “let’s execute him and get over this” sentiments like this were said while we watched the proceedings which were rather boring and sluggish for the first half of the session.

At the beginning we were displeased by the presentation of the prosecution which was more like a piece of poetry in the wrong time and place and this is what encouraged the defense to give us a worn out speech about objectivity and how the court must not go into sideways; the thing which both the prosecution and the defense were doing.

Anyhow, the prosecutor began reading the facts and figures about what happened in Dijail. The defendants went silent but Saddam objected on some details and then prosecutor said “Do you want me to show the film where you said and did that?” Saddam stopped talking and the prosecutor asked the court to allow showing the film, we don’t know if it was played there as transmission was paused for a while.

As the prosecution went deeper into details and facts, the way we viewed the trial began to change and those among us who were demanding a bullet in Saddam’s head now seemed pleased with the proceedings “I don’t think I want to see that bullet now, I want to see justice take place as it should be”. We were watching an example of justice in the new Iraq, a place where no one should be denied his rights, not even Saddam.

We smiled seeing the news anchors lower their voices and nodding down when the prosecution grew stronger and more reasonable and convincing and they also abandoned the previous poetic sentimental tone that couldn’t stand in the face of facts and figures...

We’re drawing the outlines of a change not only for Iraq but also for the entire region and I can feel that today we have presented a unique model of justice because in spite of the cruelty of the criminal tyrant and in spite of the size of the atrocities committed against the Iraqi people, we still want to build a state of law that looks nothing like the one the tyrant wanted to create.


A new press hero: Saddam, defendant

I've been looking forward to the sight, and here it is: Saddam on trial.

I watched a bit of coverage, enough to assure me that Saddam was playing his outraged defiant role, as expected, and that the judges are among the bravest men on the face of the earth to let their faces be shown and their names be known.

The sight brought back memories of the joy I felt the morning I learned Saddam had been captured alive, and of the photos of the Iraqi press corps whooping it up on hearing the news. But the danger always was that a living Saddam standing in the docks would try to turn his trial into a showcase for himself, a la the interminable Milosevic trial, and in the process turn himself into that most unlikely of things: a victim.

Makes a person wonder what would have happened had Hitler not killed himself. We'll never know, but times and attitudes were certainly different then.

As for Saddam, it seems that some media outlets are already taking up his case--the case for the defense, that is. Well, if not the defense exactly, then certainly the case of criticizing the prosecution and the court, and of a sort of sneaking admiration for Saddam's moxie and "defiance," a word I'm already heartily sick of.

To paraphrase Sylvia Plath (of all people), in her poem "Daddy":

Every [left-leaning journalist] adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

Well, it doesn't scan well as poetry, and yes, it's hyperbole, but it comes to mind these days when I read things like the NY Times editorial highlighted and discussed today by Captain's Quarters.

The Times is criticizing the Iraqi court for--oh, well, for just about everything. Being American puppets, for starters; not having a big international tribune trying the case; being bloodthirsty for wanting the death penalty to be a possibility for Saddam; not having a comprehensive trial for all his crimes but taking the easiest charge first (as, by the way, good prosecutors always do: earth to NY Times), saying it looks like a show trial, and so on and so forth.

Can the Times spare a word in the editorial for any sort of satisfaction that the day of reckoning has come for one of the worst murderous tyrants of recent memory? No. On this momentous day of the trial's beginning, it seems our Blue-Gray Lady's editorial board can't manage to muster up even a smidgen of happiness, only a tongue-scolding for the all-too-imperfect prosecution.

And what of the news wing of the Times? The ordinarily relatively fair John Burns and Edward Wong write the story today. It's an interesting document, which describes Hussein and the court proceedings and then segues into a recounting of objections much like the ones outlined in the editorial--criticisms from Human Rights Watch and the like, as well as opponents of capital punishment; allegations that the US was too involved (for example, the US provided the money for the especially-secure courthouse and has aided the investigation process--horrors!). The article ends with a quote from a group purporting to be spokesmen for the pesky insurgents, condemning the trial.

But to me what was most telling was the article's failure to give much space to the reaction of the Iraqi people on this momentous day. The following constitutes the sum total of what this lengthy lead article has to say on that subject (keep in mind as you read it that Dujail is the town where the murders for which Saddam is currently being tried took place):

This morning, images on one Iraqi television network showed residents of Dujail calling for Mr. Hussein's execution. Meanwhile, in Mr. Hussein's home town of Tikrit crowds gathered to show support for their former leader, chanting slogans such as: "You are still the son of Iraq." They appeared to be in a frenzy, waving Iraqi flags and photos of Mr. Hussein. Iraqi police, wearing blue uniforms and carrying Kalashnikovs, walked through the crowds but did not appear anxious to break up the demonstration.

So, one TV station showed some anti-Saddam demonstrations--and only from the very town where the massacre occurred. But the Times must balance that tiny little piece of news with a bulletin from Saddam's homies demonstrating for him.

I'll not go on too much longer about all of this; the wonder is that it still has the power to surprise me.

I haven't gone back to read the Times coverage of the trial of these guys, but I imagine it might have been a bit different:

But back to today. As soon as one turns to the far-less-renowned but also less liberal New York Post, one notices the change in coverage. In the following excerpt, the Post doesn't neglect to balance the happy responses of some Iraqis with the reactions from an area of Saddam sympathizers. But at least it gives due weight to the anti-Saddam feeling of what must be the majority of Iraq's people:

Many Iraqis gathered around TV sets to watch the proceedings.

"Since the fall of the regime, we have been waiting for this trial," said Aqeel al-Ubaidi, a Dujail resident. "The trial won't bring back those who died, but at least it will help put out the fire and anger inside us."

In Baghdad, Shiite construction worker Salman Zaboun Shanan sat with his family at home in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, having taken the day off from work to watch the trial.

When Saddam appeared on television, his wife Sabiha Hassan spit at the screen.

"I hope he is executed, and that anyone who suffered can take a piece of his flesh," said Shanan, who was imprisoned during Saddam's rule, as was Hassan and several of their sons.

But across the Tigris River in the mainly Sunni Arab district of Azamiyah, some were embittered by the trial of Saddam, whose regime was dominated by Sunni Arabs who have now lost their power.

"Saddam is the lesser of evils," said engineer Sahab Awad Maaruf, comparing Saddam to the current Shiite-Kurdish led government. "He's the only legitimate leader for Iraqis."

In particular, the Shiite Muslim majority and the Kurdish minority - the two communities most oppressed by Saddam's regime - have eagerly awaited the chance to see the man who ruled Iraq with unquestioned and total power held to justice.

"I'm very happy today. We've prayed for this day for years," said Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, an anti-Saddam opposition leader in exile for years and now one of the fiercest proponents of the purge of Baathists from the new government.

In closing, I'll return to that Plath poem "Daddy." It contains another image, one I think captures the understandable sentiment of so many Iraqis who had come to hate Saddam and all he stood for:

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.

This is the very human desire for revenge, a desire that is transmuted from its primal savagery into the desire for the accounting and punishment that comes with justice--the justice of a trial. It would be good if our MSM could find it in their hearts to applaud the fact that the Iraqis are on their way to the latter satisfaction rather than the former.

[ADDENDUM: I just came across this NY Times article on their webpage. It deals specifically with the reaction of ordinary Iraqis to the trial and its images. Those of you who are registered with the Times can read the article and see for yourself how, despite paying lip service to the fact that some Iraqis despise him, the thrust of the article is that a) many, many Iraqis still adore him; and b) even those who dislike Saddam have little faith in the trial, but many criticisms of it--almost as many as the Times itself. How very extraordinary.]

[ADDENDUM II: Michelle Malkin has a roundup of coverage and commentary. Michelle highlights the following quote from an article in the Boston Globe, which I thought particularly relevant in light of my final words on the Plath poem and the understandable human desire to take personal revenge:

"We want to eat [Saddam] alive," said Salimah Majeed Al-Haidari, 60, who spent more than four years in detention, then waited 17 more to learn that her husband and two sons, hauled off by security officers, had been executed. "We wish they would cut him to pieces and hand them out to us and families like us."]

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Vietnamization vs. Iraqization

Even though Vietnam and Iraq are far from the same, there are certainly similarities--although they're not necessarily the ones the "quagmire" crowd would cite. We are now engaged in a very intense part of the "Iraqization" phase of the current war, very roughly similar to the "Vietnamization" phase of the Vietnam War (I've written about the latter here).

Seekerblog has an edifying post on the trajectory of the process of Iraqization, and why there's every reason to believe it's building geometrically, and will continue to do so.

Coincidentally, in the newly-released issue of Foreign Affairs, none other than Melvin Laird, Nixon's Secretary of Defense, discusses the topic of Vietnamization, and compares it to the current situation in Iraq. Of course Laird, as the architect of Vietnamization, is defending his own record when he writes that Vietnamization (contrary to MSM spin) was actually going rather well until Congress pulled the funding plug in 1975. But I've read other pieces on much the same theme, (such as this one), and I find their arguments quite persuasive.

Laird notes an important ideological and tactical difference between Vietnamization and Iraqization, and thus has saved me the trouble of writing my own post on the subject, because--astonished though I may be to find myself agreeing with Nixon's Secretary of Defense at this late date--it's a distinction I'd been thinking of pointing out myself:

Those who call the new Iraqi government Washington's "puppet" don't know what a real puppet government is. The Iraqis are as eager to be on their own as we are to have them succeed. In Vietnam, an American, Ambassador Philip Habib, wrote the constitution in 1967. Elections were choreographed by the United States to empower corrupt, selfish men who were no more than dictators in the garb of statesmen.

Little wonder that the passionate nationalists in the North came off as the group with something to offer. I do not personally believe the Saigon government was fated to fall apart someday through lack of integrity, and apparently the Soviet Union didn't think so either or it would not have pursued the war. But it is true that the U.S. administrations at the time severely underestimated the need for a legitimate government in South Vietnam and instead assumed that a shadow government and military force could win the day. In Iraq, a legitimate government, not window-dressing, must be the primary goal. The factious process of writing the Iraqi constitution has been painful to watch, and the varying factions must be kept on track. But the process is healthy and, more important, homegrown.

Funny how the old man has gotten so much smarter over the years. I suggest you read the whole thing.

I said no more Miers, but I just couldn't resist this

Here's a song to brighten your day. Pretty clever, I think.

(And here's the original for comparison).

And, since the author has solicited new stanzas, here are my offerings (the last one is based on the final stanza of the original):

Pundits, oh! they think I'm dumb,
They wish they could carry me home,
Next I'll nominate my mum,
Coming for to carry me home.

The brightest day that I can say,
In front of the Capitol dome,
'09 Inauguration Day,
Then I'm gonna carry me home.

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