Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Be careful what you wish for: the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots and their aftermath

In a recent post, I mentioned the antiwar demonstrations and resultant police brutality at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I now want to expand on some thoughts connected with those events.

In Chicago, Mayor Daley's police did in fact go on an unwarranted and well-documented rampage. Until then, the rank and file of antiwar protestors had felt somewhat protected by the relative safety of demonstrations in this country. Chicago 1968 changed that perception, even though no one was killed (but that sorrowful eventuality was less than two years in the future, at Kent State).

This contemporaneous article from Time magazine (hardly a right-wing fringe publication) discusses the intent of the leaders of the 1968 Chicago Convention demonstrations:

[The protestors] left Chicago more as victors than as victims. Long before the Democratic Convention assembled, the protest leaders who organized last week's marches and melees realized that they stood no chance of influencing the political outcome or reforming "the system." Thus their strategy became one of calculated provocation. The aim was to irritate the police and the party bosses so intensely that their reactions would look like those of mindless brutes and skull-busters. After all the blood, sweat and tear gas, the dissidents had pretty well succeeded in doing just that.

Some demonstrators came prepared; defensively:

...many were equipped with motorcycle crash helmets, gas masks (purchasable at $4.98 in North Side army-navy surplus stores), bail money and anti-Mace unguents.

And a few, offensively:

A handful of hard-liners in the "violence bag" also carried golf balls studded with spikes, javelins made of snow-fence slats, aerosol cans full of caustic oven-cleaning fluids, ice picks, bricks, bottles, and clay tiles sharpened to points that would have satisfied a Cro-Magnon bear hunter.

The leaders were also prepared:

Most of the protest leaders stayed in the background. Mobilization Chairman David Tyre Dellinger, 53, the shy editor-publisher of Liberation, who led last fall's Pentagon March, studiously avoided the main confrontation before the Hilton. His chief aide, Tom Hayden, 28, a New Left author who visited Hanoi three years ago, was so closely tailed by plainclothesmen that he finally donned a yippie-style wig to escape their attentions. Nonetheless, he was arrested. Rennie Davis, 28, the clean-cut son of a Truman Administration economic adviser, took a more active part as one of the Chicago organizers: his aim, he said, was "to force the police state to become more and more visible, yet somehow survive in it." At Grant Park on Wednesday afternoon, he both succeeded and failed....

And here's David Horowitz's insider-turned-apostate version:

In fact, the famous epigram from '68 "Demand the Impossible" which Talbot elsewhere cites, explains far more accurately why it was Hayden, not Daley, who set the agenda for Chicago, and why it was Hayden who was ultimately responsible for the riot that ensued. The police behaved badly, it is true and they have been justly and roundly condemned for their reactions. But those reactions were entirely predictable. After all, it was Daley who, only months before, had ordered his police to "shoot looters on sight" during the rioting after King's murder. In fact the predictable reaction of the Chicago police was an essential part of Hayden's calculation in choosing Chicago as the site of the demonstration in the first place.

I disagree with Horowitz's statement that Hayden was ultimately responsible for the riot that ensued. Just because a group (in this case, the leaders of the demonstrations) is counting on provoking a brutal reaction does not mean that those reacting are not totally responsible for what they do, especially if that reaction is an overreaction, which appears to have been the case here. The police, and those in charge of the police, bear full responsibility for the fact that they behaved badly in just the very way that the demonstration leaders had predicted.

The organizers of the demonstrations in Chicago in 1968 were far from terrorists. But they did have the same intent as terrorists in one respect, and one respect only: to act from a weakened position to provoke, by their actions, a repressive response from authorities (in this case, the police) that would then further inflame public opinion against those authorities, and engender more sympathy for the cause of the planners.

In that endeavor, they were wildly successful in Chicago, but that success required an overreaction on the part of the Chicago police, who kindly obliged and played their predicted part in the drama.

And what of other intents of the demonstration leaders, and other consequences? Horowitz again:

In a year when any national "action" would attract 100,000 protestors, only about 10,000 (and probably closer to 3,000) actually showed up for the Chicago blood-fest. That was because most of us realized there was going to be bloodshed and didn't see the point. Our ideology argued otherwise as well. The two-party system was a sham; the revolution was in the streets. Why demonstrate at a political convention? In retrospect, Hayden was more cynical and shrewder than we were. By destroying the presidential aspirations of Hubert Humphrey, he dealt a fatal blow to the anti-Communist liberals in the Democratic Party and paved the way for a takeover of its apparatus by the forces of the political left, a trauma from which the party has yet to recover.

One reason the left has obscured these historical facts is that the nostalgists don't really want to take credit for electing Richard Nixon, which they surely did.

So, should they take "credit" for Nixon's election? Is this a case of "be careful what you wish for?" I believe the election of Nixon was more of an unintended consequence. The real goal seems to have been to fuel a trend toward the relative radicalization of the Democratic Party, and to gain support for the antiwar movement. In both senses, they were successful.

That "success," however, did in fact help pave the way for a string of Republican Presidents--with the sole exception of Jimmy Carter's single term--until the election of Bill Clinton. And in Clinton's first Presidential campaign, he consciously attempted to counter those long-ago forces from the 60s that had moved the Democratic Party to the left, despite his being a child of said era. This move towards the center is probably what enabled his election in the first place.

Was his move cynical and strategic, or from conviction? At any rate and for whatever reason, the fact is that Clinton had positioned himself as a "New Democrat" as far back as 1985, when he became heavily involved with the Democratic Leadership Council. Its focus was multifaceted, and included domestic issues, particularly fiscal responsibility. But transforming Democratic foreign policy was definitely also a stated intent, according to Clinton (emphasis added):

I opened the [DLC] convention with a keynote address designed to make the case that America needed to change course and that the DLC could and should lead the way. I began with a litany of America's problems and challenges and a rebuke of the years of Republican neglect, then noted that the Democrats had not been able to win elections, despite Republican failures, "because too many of the people that used to vote for us, the very burdened middle class we are talking about, have not trusted us in national elections to defend our national interests abroad, to put their values into our social policy at home, or to take their tax money and spend it with discipline.

Regardless of whether those promises were--like the majority of campaign promises on both sides--ultimately unfulfilled, my point here is that they were made with the conscious purpose of pulling the Democratic Party back from the disastrous and losing course it had set itself on (at least, regarding Presidential elections) back in the late 60s.

If the goal was to win the Presidential election for the Democrats, Clinton was remarkably and stupendously successful, at least for eight years. If the goal was to actually pull the Party back from the influence of the left in foreign policy, that goal has not been achieved.

The 2008 election promises to be an interesting one, does it not?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Petite woman of the world,unite! You have nothing to lose but your dowdy, ill-fitting dresses

Listen up--you are about to receive some intimate personal information about neo-neocon: I'm five feet, four inches tall. And, what's more, I tend to do better in petite sizes, despite the fact that 5'4" is ordinarily the cut-off for petites.

Trying on dresses, I usually look like a child borrowing my mother's clothing if I put on a regular misses size (and yes guys, you can tune out here if you like; this is gonna be bor-ing). Even if the dress fits elsewhere, the sleeves flop over my hands, the waist lies somewhere around my hips, and the shoulders are too big.

And now--quelle horreur!--I read that petite clothing sizes may be in jeopardy. Yes, three stores--Neiman-Marcus, Saks, and Bloomingdale's--have suddenly and simultaneously eliminated their petite departments.

Bummer and double bummer, even though I don't shop there. And I'm not alone in these feelings:

Feeling overlooked and undervalued, [petite customers] have written the stores angry letters and groused, often loudly, to salespeople. "It's horrible, just horrible," said Laurel Bernstein, 60, a 5-foot-1 Manhattan resident who stormed out of Saks's flagship store in March after learning that the company had stopped carrying petite sizes. A lifelong Saks shopper, she has not returned since.

The emotional response from petite consumers has proved so strong that Saks is reconsidering its decision. "It appears that we have frustrated some customers," said Ron Frasch, the chief merchant at Saks. "We are trying to figure out how many we have frustrated."

Some manufacturers of more upscale petite clothing have followed suit (pun intended) and plan to stop making their lines. But what they really need to do instead is change their lines.

Because one thing I can tell you is that it is hard work finding attractive clothing in petite sizes. Long ago I noticed that petite clothing tended to be dowdy. The Times article agrees:

...petite departments gained a reputation for traditional — some would say frumpy — career-oriented clothing. Chic looks, clothing executives said, never made the leap from regular sizes to petite. So the very word petite became synonymous with many women who shopped there — working women over the age 50.

I never could figure out the reason the styles were so old-fashioned and old-ladyish, until I looked around one day while shopping in the petite department and noticed that a great many of the other customers were elderly women who appeared to have shrunk.

That's not me, fortunately; I'm merely middle-aged, and I'm the same height I always was. And don't tell me to go to the junior department--not any more, although every now and then I do venture in there. But even though I'm not a frump (or, at least, I try not to be), jeans that end an inch above the top of my thighs and tops that end many inches above that are not exactly what I'm looking for.

But Ann Stordahl, executive vice president for women's apparel at Neiman Marcus, has a plan. She says that:

...designers were making clothing smaller than a decade ago and that Neiman Marcus orders extra size zeros and twos, knowing they will appeal to petite women. Even without petite sizes, she said, "there are many offerings for the smaller size customer."

Extra size zeros and twos, how marvelous!! Earth to Ms. Stordahl: "petite" does not mean "size zero or two." Although I draw the line at telling my dress size (revealing my height is quite enough disclosure for one day), let's just say it's a trifle larger than that. The same is certainly true for most petite women.

But I became curious about the serendipitously-named Ms. Stordahl. What does she look like? Through the kindly services of Google, I believe I've found her:

Ms. Stordahl is the attractive blond lady on the right. She certainly doesn't appear to be a petite, although it's impossible to be certain from a photo. But it does seem that her dress size just might be very close to a 2.

When I was younger, I don't think they even made size twos; at least, I don't recall seeing them in stores. Six was the lowest the sizes went, to the best of my recollection--a size I (sigh) recall wearing for a time in my ballet dancing days.

Now, though, there's been a proliferation of miniscule sizes (what's next, negative numbers?), as well as fashionable clothing in the Plus sizes so many women need. I suppose it's all another example of greater diversity, and we should applaud it. Which I do. But why, oh why, can't the petite woman be part of this trend and have some snazzier clothes?

Monday, May 29, 2006

The whole world isn't watching: rioting in Iran

At the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, antiwar-protesters who massed outside were beaten with bully clubs by Chicago police. The entire episode was covered heavily by the media. This fact was not lost on the students, who chanted loudly, "The whole world is watching."

If it was not literally true that the entire world was watching--after all, CNN was barely a twinkle in Ted Turner's eyes at the time--it was most certainly true that the police brutality at the Convention was widely covered, and that it paradoxically played into the hands of the protesters, the leaders of whom wanted to spark a police overreaction and thereby gain sympathy for their cause (see link for discussion of these motivations).

One of the reasons the brutality in Chicago in 1968 was so shocking to those of us watching on television--and I count myself among them--was that its extent was unexpected. Some tear gas, yes; but wading into the crowd and indiscriminately cracking people's skulls with billy clubs? No. Although many of the protestor's organizers may have counted on some sort of violence of that type, many of the rest of us did not. We had grown used to relative police restraint--although there is some history, even in this country, of violent official reactions to rioting and/or demonstrations (see the Bonus March of the Great Depression).

But even the police violence in Chicago, although deplorable and excessive by almost all accounts, resulted in no deaths. And this is also part of what the demonstrators relied on; they never thought they were risking their lives.

Not so with many other demonstrators around the world. In fact, recently in Iran, there have been a series of demonstrations in which protestors have died.

There appear to be two sets of types of protests going on right now in Iran. The first type seems to have been sparked by ethnic strife; the result, naturalment, of US provocation, according to Iran's leader Ahmadinejad.

The ethnic protests erupted over a cartoon (how odd that cartoons have been the subject of so many recent protests that have led to deaths):

Four people were killed and 70 were injured in riots last week in the Azeri region northwest of here, according to local news reports, as tensions spread after the publication of a cartoon that has outraged Iran's Azeri population.

The Azeris are Turkish in origin, and the region in which they live was (at least, according to the article) one of the strongholds of Iran's 1979 revolution. The cartoon, by the way, depicted an Azeri-speaking character as a cockroach. It is significant, I think, that the cartoon is described as having been published in an "official" newspaper, and therefore to have had some sort of government approval.

The demonstrators have other demands as well:

...the release of jailed protesters and the right to start independent television channels that would broadcast in Turkish Azeri.

Independent television channels--sounds like a desire for more freedom of speech. Although perhaps not; the article is not very forthcoming on what's really going on here. In fact, note the passive voice for the rioting deaths: "four people were killed."

I'd like to know a lot more. Were they killed by police, or did they somehow get trampled in the demonstrations? Gateway Pundit has fairly extensive coverage of the story, and there are reports that police have fired on demonstrators and killed them in some of the protests.

The other type of Iranian demonstrators are anti-government students; ironic, because many of their parents were probably in the forefront of the 1979 revolution, back when they were students. And, despite the increased ability of the post-1968 media to cover these events and beam them instantaneously around the globe, I can't say that the slogan "the whole world is watching" applies.

Here's some opinion from a blogger who bills himself as "Winston," a "Canadian based Pro-America Iranian neo-conservative, seeking a democratic regime change in Iran."

Winston links to this report at Rooz Online, which mentions accusations of police brutality and students in critical condition.

Of course, these are not unbiased sources. But the same could be said for much of the media. At any rate, it's impossible to know exactly what's really happening in Iran right now, or what effect it might have on the Iranian government. My guess is, on the latter question, not much.

But I think it's logical to suppose that the less the western MSM covers it, the better it is for the Iranian leaders. If the whole world really were watching, it would be a good thing. But it's not likely to happen.

Is this the fault of our MSM? Partly, I suppose. But it's also due to the fact that student protests have been going on sporadically in Iran for many years, and it's old news, not new--it doesn't seem all that dramatically different.

Generally, something is news because it's different. Although the police in Chicago had never been known for their gentleness, police brutality against student rioters in Chicago was bigger news, paradoxically, because it was not the norm; it was different, and therefore shocking.

Another paradox is that, in a society with a free press and a fair amount of transparency, even events that make government look bad can be freely covered and widely disseminated. Not so in repressive countries that make it much harder to get such information. The Rooz article reports that coverage of the student demonstrations has been almost nonexistent in Iran itself, except for a short article downplaying them. This, of course, is to be expected. If, as Rooz writes, local reporters are not allowed into the university, it's exceedingly difficult to cover the event properly, even if the will to do so existed.

Blogger "Iranian Woman" thinks these protests may be the start of something big, however. Wishful thinking? I haven't a clue. But if she's correct, the whole world will soon be watching.

[MORE: At the end of this post, Gateway Pundit offers links to other Gateway posts on the subject. Pajamas Media likewise has a roundup of links here).

For Memorial Day: on nationalism and patriotism

The story "The Man Without a Country" used to be standard reading matter for seventh graders. In fact, it was the first "real" book--as opposed to those tedious Dick and Jane readers--that I ever was assigned to read in school. As such it was exciting, since it dealt with an actual story with some actual drama to it. It struck me as terribly sad--and unfair, too--that Philip Nolan was forced to wander the world, exiled, for one moment of cursing the United States. "The Man Without a Country" was the sort of paean to patriotism that probably would never be assigned nowadays to students.

Patriotism has gotten a very bad name during the last few decades. I think part of this feeling began (at least in this country), like so many things, with the Vietnam era. But patriotism and nationalism seem to have been rejected by a large segment of Europeans even earlier, as a result of the devastation both sentiments were seen to have wrought during WWI and WWII. Of course, WWII in Europe was a result mainly of German nationalism run amok, but it seemed to have given nationalism as a whole a very bad name.

Here's author Thomas Mann on the subject, writing in 1947 in the introduction to the American edition of Herman Hesse's Demian:

If today, when national individualism lies dying, when no single problem can any longer be solved from a purely national point of view, when everything connected with the "fatherland" has become stifling provincialism and no spirit that does not represent the European tradition as a whole any longer merits consideration..."

A strong statement of the post-WWII idea of nationalism as a dangerous force, mercifully dead or dying, to be replaced (hopefully) by a pan-national (or, rather, anational) Europeanism. Mann was a German exile from his own country, who had learned to his bitter regret the excesses to which unbridled and amoral nationalism can lead. His was an understandable and common response, one that helped lead to the formation of the EU. The nationalism of the US is seen by those who agree with him as a relic of those dangerous days of nationalism gone mad without any curb of morality or consideration for others.

But the pendulum is swinging back. The US is not Nazi Germany, however much the far left may try to make that analogy. And, in fact, that is one of the reasons they try so hard to make that particular analogy--because Nazi Germany is one of the very best examples of the dangers of unbridled and amoral nationalism.

But, on this Memorial Day, I want to say there's a place for nationalism, and for love of country. Not a nationalism that ignores morality, but one that embraces it and strives for it, keeping in mind that--human nature being what it is--no nation on earth can be perfect or anywhere near perfect. The US is far from perfect, but it is a good country nevertheless, striving to be better.

So, I'll echo the verse that figured so prominently in "The Man Without a Country," and say (corny, but true): this is my own, my native land. And I'll also echo Francis Scott Key and add: the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


The weather was beaufiful for the holiday, and I took a holiday. Hope you all had a good one, as well. See you tomorrow!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day: freedom isn't free

[This is a repost from last Memorial Day.]

Austin Bay delivered this Memorial Day speech in Texas a few days ago, at the request of a group called "Tejanos in Action." Reading the speech, and speculating on what many of my liberal or leftist friends would think of it (and, knowing it's always dangerous to speak for others, I'm writing this with the caveat that I could be wrong about their reactions), I came to the conclusion that I don't think they would understand his speech in the way it was meant. To them, it would sound like mere platitudes and cliches.

I am virtually certain that all of my friends feel sorrow at the death of young men and women in the military--they are not cold-hearted, far from it. But I think they see them as victims, not as people who freely chose to do this, knowing that the possible cost might be their very lives. And yes, I know that not all in the military, especially those in the Guard, thought all of this through when they signed up. But I believe that the majority of those in the military were well aware of the risks when they enlisted.

I don't think most of my friends can conceive of a person making such a choice of his/her own free will. And of course it is difficult to comprehend; that kind of courage is not ordinary, and will never be ordinary. I think my friends look on military volunteers of today as being either bloodthirsty warmongers (the minority), or poverty-stricken and brainwashed cannon fodder who have no idea what they're getting into (the majority). Someone such as Lance Corporal Perez, of whom Austin Bay speaks, a young man who served in the Marines and was killed in Iraq, would probably be seen as the quintessential victim of Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al., because of his Hispanic heritage.

I think my friends would certainly understand this part of Bay's speech:

Military service is hard service. Everyone who’s ever worn the uniform knows that. It is a special burden, particularly in a free society.

The idea of hardship is one with which they would agree, and the idea of burden. But not the sad necessity of it, expressed in this part of the speech:

In some ways it is the hardest job as well as the most necessary job. It is the job of the soldier that makes our liberty possible, and it is our liberty that makes everything else possible.

Many, if not most, of my friends live in a dreamworld where such things can be avoided, if only we listened to and revered the UN, Europe, and Jimmy Carter. There is no problem that can't be solved with love, understanding, and talk. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but not by a whole lot, I'm afraid. Would that they were correct, and that human nature worked this way!

I was watching the news the other day--I think it was MSNBC, but I'm not certain. They had a feature on a young Hispanic man who had been killed in Iraq. I don't think he was the same young man of whom Bay spoke, Lance Corporal Perez, but it's possible that he might have been, because this man had also been nineteen years old when he died, as I recall. The news showed wonderful photos of a handsome and smiling young man who looked nearly like a kid (well, he wasn't so far away from having been one, was he?), and an interview with his father.

The father's courage and dignity were almost unbearably moving. It seems the young man was not a citizen, but he'd signed up anyway. The father showed some sort of memorial statuette of the twin towers that he owned, and he pointed to it and said that the son had been greatly affected by 9/11, and determined to join and serve. The father said he'd asked his son, if he had to join up, why couldn't he be something like a cook? But the son had said no; he felt he needed to do more than that. Then the father went over to an American flag he had on his wall, and put his finger on one of the red stripes, and said something like this (only far more eloquently), "When I see this red stripe, it symbolizes the blood of my son and all the others who died so that we could be free--because freedom isn't free."

Heartbreaking and well said, on this Memorial Day.

Politics and friendship

I've written many times before about conflict with old friends and relatives over post-9/11 politics. I know I'm not alone; many here and elsewhere have similar stories to tell, and some have shared them with me, both on this blog and in private emails.

In my experience, the phenomenon most often occurs in the context of a social event, small or large. Almost invariably one ends up listening to someone go on and on with fierce anti-Bush invective, usually laced with more than a sprinkling of obscenities. And this is done without any thought that there might be someone within earshot who could find this offensive or even the least bit controversial.

If I voice even a mild objection, such as "I think Bush actually has done some decent things," the invective has sometimes been turned on me. And this can happen with good and old friends, as well as close relatives.

I virtually never raise the issue of politics anymore (this blog takes care of that need), but it's raised for me, over and over again. Therefore I can't avoid it. And, strangely enough, at times after I've voiced my mild rejoinder, people who had been silent in the surrounding crowd have come up to me and whispered that they agree with me, but are undercover for fear of losing friends and/or jobs. Astounding.

By now, for the most part, my close friends and family have settled down, only occasionally raising the issue when I'm around. I encounter the phenomenon far more commonly when I'm in a group who don't know me well. And I've only lost one close friend because of it, although there's been a noticeable cooling on the part of a few others. I do get some teasing at times, but I'll take that over the other.

So it drew my interest when, in a link from Dean Esmay to my post "Anger: still in style" (Dean's observation, "Neo's experiences mostly match mine"), commenter DBrooks offered the following story from his personal experience:

I find the level of discourse depressing and disheartening. What I have been struck by in my own experience with friends on the Left is they seem to think it is acceptable, even righteous, that they can be offensive, yet one is not allowed to be offended. To disagree or offer contrary evidence is viewed with scorn and intolerance.

An example--my wife and I have very dear friends whom we love like family. We have known them for 12 years, and have traveled in the Keys, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Colorado with them. They came for dinner last month, and the woman went up to my 10-year-old son's room with him to look at some drawings he had done. He has a poster of GWB, and one of Ronald Reagan on his wall. These were given to him by his aunt. My good friend commented, "Why do you have that asshole on your wall?" referring to GWB.

My son was upset, and told me that she had used "bad language" talking about President Bush. He told me what she said, and, over dinner, I told her that I thought it was inappropriate for her to say something like that to a 10-year-old. Instead of apologizing, she became more and more angry, and told me I was "brainwashing the kid." I said I would never think of commenting on some child's choice of wall posters, at least not in a negative manner--unless it was someone like Stalin, Che, or Hitler. Her response? She said, "My point exactly."

We haven't spoken to them since by their choice, and my wife, who is very upset about the whole thing, really thinks they may never speak to us again. That we could lose such close friends over this incident is incomprehensible to me. Her anger seems more important to her than reality, or the people in her life. Just another casualty of our current political environment.

At one time it would have seemed incomprehensible to me; no longer. I highlight this story because it includes a point that actually makes the reaction comprehensible, even though I think the reasoning behind that reaction is flat-out wrong. The point is that this woman believes that Bush actually is someone like Stalin or Hitler (although I doubt she'd include Che; in fact he may be a hero of hers). So her statement, "My point exactly," is--well, her point, exactly.

If one takes the absurd Bush=Hitler equation seriously, then of course speaking up about a child's wall poster would be a righteous thing to do. Apparently, at least some on the left in this country--or whatever appellation one gives to the point of view this woman is espousing--have come to believe their own rhetoric about Bush.

So, Bush isn't just a President with whom they disagree; he's Hitler, he's Stalin. Once that equation is accepted, anyone who supports his policies is a Nazi or a Stalinist: the enemy. The lack of actual concordance with Hitler or Stalin is irrelevant. Once the belief system is in place and that first premise is accepted, all the rest follows.

Friday, May 26, 2006

You say you don't want a revolution

In case you missed it, here's John J. Miller's list of the fifty greatest conservative rock songs (and here's a NY Times article about the list).

"Conservative rock songs"--sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? And I have to admit that some of the tunes on Miller's list do represent a bit of a stretch. Witness the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice," which is less a conservative song than one describing a more culturally and socially conservative time, the era in which it was composed and performed (ah yes, I remember it well). Mellencamp's "Small Town" doesn't seem especially conservative, either, so much as populist or non-elitist. And one could probably criticize many of the other choices, as well.

One song I particularly remember in context was the Beatles's "Revolution." Here are the lyrics:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right
all right, all right, all right
all right, all right, all right

It's a song that appears to come more from a pacifist than a conservative viewpoint, and this impression was solidified when I looked up some background to the song, here: Written in 1968, it:

...was the first overtly political Beatles song. It was John Lennon's response to the Vietnam War. John Lennon wrote this in India while The Beatles were at a transcendental meditation camp with The Maharishi. The original slow version appears on The White Album. The fast, loud version was released as a single. In the slow version, Lennon says "count me in" as well as "count me out" when referring to violence. This gives the song a dual meaning.

An ambivalence that is not exactly surprising, given the times. But the lyrics as written were considered fairly hard-hitting when they came out, and were a pretty bold slap in the face of many of the Beatles's college-age fans, who fancified themselves revolutionaries, as so many did in the 60s.

So I guess it qualifies as at least a partly conservative song after all, one that's stood the test of time. Yes, good old Chairman Mao; the test of time has been less kind to him (except, perhaps, in China itself):

In the epilogue to her biography of Mao Tse-tung, Jung Chang and her husband and cowriter Jon Halliday lament that, "Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital." For Chang, author of Wild Swans, this fact is an affront, not just to history, but to decency. Mao: The Unknown Story does not contain a formal dedication, but it is clear that Chang is writing to honor the millions of Chinese who fell victim to Mao's drive for absolute power in his 50-plus-year struggle to dominate China and the 20th-century political landscape. From the outset, Chang and Halliday are determined to shatter the "myth" of Mao, and they succeed with the force, not just of moral outrage, but of facts. The result is a book, more indictment than portrait, that paints Mao as a brutal totalitarian, a thug, who unleashed Stalin-like purges of millions with relish and without compunction, all for his personal gain. Through the authors' unrelenting lens even his would-be heroism as the leader of the Long March and father of modern China is exposed as reckless opportunism, subjecting his charges to months of unnecessary hardship in order to maintain the upper hand over his rival, Chang Kuo-tao, an experienced military commander.

Using exhaustive research in archives all over the world, Chang and Halliday recast Mao's ascent to power and subsequent grip on China in the context of global events. Sino-Soviet relations, the strengths and weakness of Chiang Kai-shek, the Japanese invasion of China, World War II, the Korean War, the disastrous Great Leap Forward, the vicious Cultural Revolution, the Vietnam War, Nixon's visit, and the constant, unending purges all, understandably, provide the backdrop for Mao's unscrupulous but invincible political maneuverings and betrayals. No one escaped unharmed. Rivals, families, peasants, city dwellers, soldiers, and lifelong allies such as Chou En-lai were all sacrificed to Mao's ambition and paranoia. Appropriately, the authors' consciences are appalled. Their biggest fear is that Mao will escape the global condemnation and infamy he deserves. Their astonishing book will go a long way to ensure that the pendulum of history will adjust itself accordingly.

Hope--and spring--springs eternal

It's spring--really spring this time, not just the spring the calendar declares on March 20th or 21st, which usually isn't springlike at all here.

I write about my garden every now and then, as you may have noticed. But don't conclude that I'm some sort of garden freak, or even a garden expert. I most assuredly am not.

In fact, growing up, I didn't know much about gardening at all. Oh, we had a few plants in the yard--very few. The neighborhood boasted some flowers, mostly tulips and daffodils and some annuals like marigolds. I only knew the names of the first two; I was fairly garden illiterate. No one I knew had a perennial garden, and I didn't even know the difference between annuals and perennials.

By the way, this might be as good a time as any to introduce my perennial joke (that is to say, my joke about perennials):

Q: What's the definition of a perennial?

A: A plant that comes back every year, if it had lived.

Yet, quite a few years back, when I was a New Hampshire resident, I had a family and a house and a yard and I decided I'd spruce it up a bit with a bit of gardening. I started with vegetables--in much of New England, when you say you have a garden, a vegetable garden is what you actually mean.

I knew nothing about growing vegetables or growing much of anything else, but I got a bunch of books out of the library and set forth. After a couple of years of this I learned the bitter truth of vegetable gardening in northern New England, at least as neophytes such as myself often experience it, and that is: you get a ton of green tomatoes, and I don't like them (even though I bought a book of recipes for green tomatoes and gamely tried a few), and you can't even give zucchini away.

So I switched to flowers, which I like better anyway. Books again; I learned the perennial/annual distinction (duh!) and ordered a bunch of plants from a mail order catalogue because in those days it was much harder to find interesting perennials at the local garden store.

I thereby learned the truth of the above joke. Much of what I planted didn't return, and the portion that did was random. Speaking of random, when I decided to plant a bed of poppies, I ordered six plants that were supposed to be a paler version of the traditional ones--a beautiful peachy color instead of the usual flame red. They arrived, I planted, and when they flowered it turned out I'd been sent five peach ones and one red. They looked rather odd together, not at all what I'd planned. Not at all what I'd planned--remember that as your gardening mantra.

But in the end it turned out to be A Good Thing, because those peachy ones died after that first year, while the red one lived. Turns out that those specialty items tend to be far less hardy than the originals, which have stood the test of time and evolution (hmmm, there must be a message there). The red ones thrived for about fifteen years before they finally died after an especially wet and cold winter.

That particular garden never really got going, though. Perhaps something about the soil, the light, my tender loving care--who knows? But when I moved to my present home about five years ago I took custody of a fairly well-established perennial garden, or set of gardens.

My home is actually quite modest, as is the yard. But my predecessor was a gardening fiend. There's a sun garden in front, a semishade rock garden on the side, and a shade garden in back. When I was looking for a home I was so happy to find one that I didn't think much about the gardens, but that first spring-summer in residence I realized I had a choice: let it all go to seed, as it were; or rise to the occasion.

I've tried to do the latter. I've moved things around, cleaned things up, planted new ones, replaced those that died out. And I have to say I think it looks pretty good, although I sometimes resent the chore I've taken on as a sort of inheritance. But I love looking at the garden, and I love the compliments I get--just don't ask me too many gardening questions!

This is all a long-winded intro (long winded? moi?) to my central point, which is this: I love this particular time in the garden year. It's been raining (as it often does in late spring), so things are lush and green, not dried out as they often get later on.

For this is the time of garden hope: everything will be wonderful this year, of course! I can tell. The weeds haven't really taken hold yet. There are hardly any bugs in sight. Those repulsive Japanese beetles and voracious lily beetles that take over every year and force me to confront the toxic spray decision won't come back this year, right? Right.

The first flowering plants are in delicate bloom:

After my dog of fifteen years died and I decided not to take on the pet responsibility right now, I got this one, who chases a metal butterfly in the rock garden. I don't usually like cutesy little garden sculptures, but this one--well:

And then there are the irises. When I moved in, one of the pleasant surprises was a couple of irises of a very spectacular variety. I don't know their name, but I did a search once and I think it's "Witch of Endor." At any rate, they look like this, only much much more beautiful (the color is much deeper and richer than it photographs):

Last spring those iris plants came up far more plentifully than in the past. I had two sections of them with about fifteen plants each. I was eagerly anticipating their beautiful bloom, so I waited. And waited. And it turns out that all I got was foliage--not a single flower.

No one could tell me exactly what had happened. So this year I watched that plentiful that foliage come up with more trepidation--would they, or wouldn't they? And, sure enough, here they are, about to bloom. Although it's clear that most of the plants still aren't going to flower this year, but some clearly will:

I can't wait.

You might say, "get a life." But I think I have one, and flowers happen to have become part of it. A person could do worse than looking forward to the return of spring.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Old singers never die, they just Sail to Byzantium

Commenter "snowonpine" made an interesting observation in the American Idol thread, in response to my praise of the getting-on-in-years Dionne Warwick's performance:

Ms. Warwick seemed, to me, to exemplify the inability of a star--be it a TV star, prize fighter or singer--to let go and retire gracefully at the top of their form rather than drag it out, year after weary year until all that made them great has vanished and only an embarrasing croak or just the ability to take punishment remains. When they start to rearrange your charts, so that notes you once sang with ease but which are now unattainable are eliminated and the song is changed, its time to retire.

I can understand snowonpine's point; sometimes performers stay way too long at the fair. And if all that had made Ms. Warwick great had vanished, I would agree with snowonpine that it was time for her to hang it up.

But listening to Warwick at this point--when of course her voice has changed and isn't what it once was--was still wonderful, and far more enjoyable (to me) than listening to the Idol contestants with young, strong, more perfect voices. Warwick still retains that je ne sais quoi that made her great.

Another analogy is to ballet dancers. The really great ones (Fonteyn, Ulanova) tended to dance long past their prime of optimal technical skill. But those same really great ones made up for it in artistry, often exhibiting a growth in spirit and the ability to convey something meaningful through their art. In the end, they transcended technique.

Of course there comes a time for many, if they live long enough, when technique falls so very precipitously that performance is an embarrassment and it is indeed time to retire. But that time's a while away for Warwick, at least for this listener.

Since I'm in a poetry-quoting mood today, I'll post one of my favorite poems, Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium." And it just happens to be especially relevant, as I think you'll see:

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees -
Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Good fences make better neighbors?

So, was Frost right? Do good fences make good--or at least, improved--neighbors? We may get a chance to find out.

Here's a very interesting perspective from today's NY Times, on the effect of a possible US/Mexico fence on Mexican policy itself:

"To build, or not to build, a border of walls? The debate in the United States has started some Mexicans thinking it is not such a bad idea....

The old blame game — in which Mexico attributed illegal migration to the voracious American demand for labor and accused lawmakers of xenophobia — has given way to a far more soul-searching discussion, at least in quarters where policies are made and influenced, about how little Mexico has done to try to keep its people home.

For too long, Mexico has boasted about immigrants leaving, calling them national heroes, instead of describing them as actors in a national tragedy," said Jorge Santibáñez, president of the College of the Northern Border. "And it has boasted about the growth in remittances" — the money immigrants send home — "as an indicator of success, when it is really an indicator of failure."

Indeed, Mr. Fox — who five years ago challenged the United States to follow Europe's example and open the borders and then barely protested when President Bush announced plans to deploy troops — personifies Mexico's evolving, often contradictory attitudes on illegal immigration.

Gabriel Guerra, a political analyst, said the presidential election in July and the negotiations over immigration reform in Washington have put Mr. Fox on unsteady political terrain...

Analysts said it was unlikely that Mr. Fox would ever speak publicly in favor of a wall. But in recent communications to Washington, his government, as well as leaders of all Mexican political parties, have hinted about building walls of their own.

Last March, in a document published in three of America's largest daily newspapers, including The New York Times, the Mexican government, along with leaders of the political establishment and business community, explained its position on immigration reform.

In that document, the Fox government said that if the United States committed itself to establishing legal channels for the flow of immigrant workers, Mexico would take new steps to keep its people from leaving illegally.

So perhaps this sort of deal was an intended consequence of the proposal to build a wall. At any rate, it's an interesting one. Of course, it's not really about the wall itself so much as it's about the combination of the wall and the amnesty proposal.

But since the wall is such a good metaphor, I'll let Frost have the last word:

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Thoughts on American Idol: what makes a singer great?

I haven't kept up with American Idol much this season, which is just fine with me. But every now and then I do take a look.

Last night was the final, as the populists among you no doubt are aware. I was out, so I taped it and fast-forwarded through, looking for something, anything, of interest--since I wasn't the least bit interested in the results, telegraphed long before they were announced.

For some, this thing of interest might have been Prince, who made an appearance, looking sleek and slinky. Not me; not my era, I guess. For others it could have been Al Jarreau, who sounded smooth and soulful. But for me it was the surprise of seeing and hearing an old, old favorite from my youth, Dionne Warwick.

Dionne was looking good, although there may have been some facial plastic surgery in evidence; at any rate, she was never known for her looks. What she was known for was her voice and her intense and light-as-air, make-it-look-easy, effortless musicality.

Yes, the voice wasn't exactly the same, but what is? It retained enough of her absolutely unique and utterly and instantly identifiable deft touch to be pure pleasure to listen to.

Many of the American Idol contestants can sing, but one of the things I think they almost always lack is the individuality that is the mark of every great singer. Hear Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra or whomever it is you like--Dionne Warwick--and after only one second you know whom it is you're listening to. The sound is as one-of-a-kind as a fingerprint.

A wonderful voice is a wonderful voice, and a great singer has to have one. But to be truly great, the voice has to have some timbre, some quirk, some quality that spells uniqueness. Ms. Warwick had it, and she still has it.

Linkage and roundup

Since I'm not really a "linker" type blogger (I like to think of myself as a "thinker"), I don't usually write a post that is just a series of recommendations.

But every now and then I make an exception (hey, it's my blog, right? So I can do whatever I want). This is one of those times.

So here, without further long-winded ado, are some links for you (hmmm; was that a poem?). You may notice that their themes are somewhat linked, as well:

1) Ace nails it on the left's requirement for absolute selfless purity in our humanitarian military interventions.

2) Scott Kirwin at Dean's World gives a roundup of the ways in which media coverage has misrepresented and/or spun the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan , to the possible detriment of our efforts there.

3) The Anchoress expands on the general theme of media misrepresentations, with a lengthy list.

4)Austin Bay makes a proposal that I heartily second: the formation of the Astonishing News Network.

5) And a must-read from the always deeply thoughtful Richard Fernandez at Belmont Club, on how 9/11 upped the ante in our political disagreements. His post is a good companion piece to my recent ruminations about the intensity--and anger--of political debate today (or maybe mine's really more of a companion piece to his).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why this war is so hated : Part II

In Part I I tried to advance some arguments as to why the Iraq war is so hated. Here are a few more. Neither that post nor this one is meant to be exhaustive.

One of the main justifications for the war was that Iraq had violated the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire and the UN inspections. But the war was also widely--and rightly--seen as an attempt to begin to change the face of the Middle East. For that reason, the fear exists that this war will just be the first in a long series of wars in the region, a sort of "where will it all end?" apprehension. This apprehension is also, I believe, behind some of the otherwise almost incomprehensible defense of Iran's leadership by segments of the antiwar contingent.

To many liberals and those on the left who never accepted that Saddam's violations of the ceasefire and inspections were a large part of what led to the US decision to go to war ("it's all for oil, it's racism, it's imperialism"), the decision to go to war with Iraq seemed purely arbitrary. Therefore the fear was that nothing would stop this administration from attacking country after country in that region.

Perhaps that's even part of what's behind the seemingly inexplicable need of some on the left to have the whole enterprise fail. Think about it: if it succeeds, then what's to stop those evil crazed neocons from doing it again and again in the region? Because of course, we all know that neocons have no sense of nuance, no knowledge of the differences between countries, nor of why a possible solution for one is not necessarily the right approach to another.

Another aspect of this war that is hard to accept--not just the Iraq war, but the larger "war on terrorism" or "war on Islamic jihadism" or whatever term one wishes to use for it--is that it does most definitely have religious overtones, although those religious overtones are actually those of the enemy. Our own religious battles in the West are for the most part of the "cold" variety, although our history is one of lengthy "hot" wars of a religious nature. But to a great degree we've put all of that behind us.

Now it rears its ugly head in a way that seems positively medieval. But the fact is that we are fighting an enemy with a medieval/religious mindset and access to modern weapons, and one who is trying to gain access to the most modern of weapons--nuclear ones--even as we speak. It's a lethal combination, and very hard to believe and accept, especially if one is accustomed to thinking in PC terms. And, strangely enough, when all this became clearer on 9/11, we happened to have had a President in office who takes his own religion, Christianity, usually seriously, and is unashamed to state that fact.

This whole business of a war that is at least partly religious in nature (if only because the enemy wills it to be so) is assuredly not what most of us expected for the beginning of the 21st century. I remember, when I first started reading blogs, coming across the site of an Australian blogger (now defunct; wish I could remember his name!) who wrote a funny piece on that very subject. The gist of it was that the whole thing can be explained by a mixup in time: the numbers of the years got reversed, and instead of it being 2001 it was actually the year 1200.

Sometimes it feels that way; the sense of dislocation can be profound. Hard to accept the fact of an enemy with a medieval mindset wedded with modern technology. Much better, and far more reassuring, to think that those who are aware of the threat and who want to do something different about it are nuts. Because who would want to recognize that we're in a long struggle against an unusually implacable and rage-filled enemy?

Anger: still in style

I almost didn't write Part II of "Why this war is so hated." The reason is that Part I, yesterday, was actually an attempt on my part to imagine some of the best and most reasonable arguments that could be mounted by those against the war. I was, as Dean Esmay points out, actually trying to be kind. And yet the comments section of that thread degenerated at some point (I didn't chart when, but I think it was some time in the wee hours of the morning) into the childish name-calling that is so common, counterproductive, and worthless.

I've noticed over and over that the tone of arguments on the left, on blogs and also in my personal experience out there in the world, often has this element of rage and name-calling. In fact, sometimes the rage is so ubiquitous that it just seems part of the package.

Of course, in the usual tiresome disclaimer, I must say that name-calling as political argument is not limited to those on the left. Of course not! But I also must say that it's my observation that it is far more prevalent there. And sometimes it also seems that such insults are the mainstay of argument on the left today, their meat and potatoes.

Alexandra of All Things Beautiful has been the recipient of a spate of name-calling recently, and writes about it here. If you're unfamiliar with Alexandra's blog, I want to mention that one of her trademarks is the creative use of art and photography to illustrate her points. The post in question is no exception; love that photo/painting (which is it?)!

Another point to ponder, in this case a historical one: on a certain day in the late 60s I was at a large university campus of the typical liberal sort. As I idly looked around me, I suddenly noticed that most everyone there was wearing some form of uniform. And I don't mean the uniform known as blue jeans; I mean variations on military garb. Army surplus-type olive-drab jackets, fatigues, camouflage, navy pea coats--it was almost as though we'd all enlisted, because there was hardly a person in the crowd who was not in uniform, except the few stray tangential professors.

It struck me as odd, and then it struck me as even odder. If one had polled the group, the aggregate antiwar sentiment would have been almost unanimous. In fact, the aggregate anti-military sentiment in general would have been enormous, as well. So, why the embrace of the garb of the hated ones?

I thought (and still think) it went well with the macho posturings of the rhetoric, the need to look tough and sound tough. I myself never felt that need, although in the interests of full disclosure I will report that I did have my own olive-drab jacket to match the others (in retrospect, not a flattering color for us olive-skinned Mediterranean-type brunettes). So some of it may simply have been the usual slave-to-fashion routine, with no greater meaning than that--especially prevalent, of course, among the young.

I also remember attending an SDS meeting at that same university. For my twenty years of life up till that point I'd been a liberal (and was to remain so for even more years than that), but I was flirting with Leftist thought at the time--trying it on for size, as it were. And what I saw there made it clear to me that it was not a good fit for me. The level of mindless rage was immediately apparent. The speeches seemed nothing but name-calling and obscenities, with a few prepositions and conjunctions and verbs thrown in to aid the flow. It was assumed that everyone was on the same page and no argument or reasoning was necessary. The type of language used reflected the jettisoning of the conventions of rational discourse on the part of speakers who fancied themselves revolutionaries.

Flash forward some forty years, and no doubt many of those speakers would be ashamed to see a videotape of that SDS meeting, if such a thing existed. But no doubt many of them would remain proud.

At the time, of course, those speakers thought they were on the cusp of something wonderful, trailblazers for the brave new world that they would create and that would eliminate war and inequality and rage--except, of course, for their own anger, on which they thrived. The fact that these things had been tried before and found rather difficult to implement, to say the least, was lost on most of them, since history wasn't their bag. Their anger had the energy of hope to it, a belief that they were going to change the world and that their vehemence was part and parcel of that positive and youthful energy.

Now, of course, the Left is considerably more tired, and more than a bit more disillusioned. And some of it is older, a self-righteous remnant of those very same contemporaries of mine who were at those SDS meetings so long ago. But the anger remains, perhaps even stronger than before.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Why this war is so hated

The war in Iraq is especially hated.

Of course, all wars are hated by most thoughtful people, since they involve bloodshed and suffering. And havoc.

It's not for nothing that Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: "Cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war." The word "havoc" has two meanings: widespread destruction, and disorder or chaos. Any war unleashes the possibility of either or both; they are part and parcel of the enterprise.

But I'm not talking primarily of that sort of generalized hatred of war, the type that's shared by both sides and applies to all wars. No, there seems to be something special about the war in Iraq and its aftermath, the reconstruction, which seems to have aroused a level of ire unprecedented in my lifetime (a lifetime that's included quite a few wars, including another exceptionally controversial one, Vietnam).

So I've been wondering about the origins of the extremity and intensity of the hatred. After all, it's not as though this is a war with especially high casualties on either side, at least as wars go; that first element of the definition of havoc--widespread destruction--has not occurred, not even in Iraq.

And it's not as though Saddam Hussein, whose regime was the original target of the war, is anybody's hero outside of Iraq--and even in Iraq his supporters were/are limited, although previously powerful and presently out for blood. So no, even most of those who hate this war find it difficult to get worked up into a lather of sympathy for Saddam, and they often remember to begin war critiques with the disclaimer: "Of course, Saddam was bad, but...".

Nor is there a draft. So in this country--and in all the other coalition members, as far as I know--no one's life is on the line who hasn't volunteered for that solemn responsibility. In Vietnam, in contrast, there's no question that the draft gave enormous fuel to the protest fire. Self-interest being what it is, and human beings being what they are, that's understandable.

So, what's going on here? I've come up with a numbers of theories. The first, of course, is the enormous enmity people feel for Bush personally (I've written on the subject here, and Dr. Sanity has written a great deal more extensively about it here.) This hatred--and "hatred" is almost not a strong enough word for it--predated the war, of course, so the war has not caused it. Hatred for Bush is no small part of the hatred of the war itself; the two work in a sort of synergy. But by itself it doesn't appear to account for the degree to which this war is hated.

Nor do I think hatred of this war stems mainly from the failure to find WMDs, although that likewise contributes. Once again, the hatred of this war predated that failure, so it can't be caused by it.

So, what's going on? I think there truly is something qualitatively different about this war that contributes greatly. Perhaps many things.

The war in Iraq was characterized with a certain audacity in its genesis. The reasons behind it, although they were explained, were complex and multiple. Some of them seemed merely "technical"--violations of UN resolutions and the ceasefire of the Gulf War, and failure to cooperate with inspectors, are unusual (perhaps unprecedented?) reasons to attack a nation. Even though the war was described as defensive--including defensive of the UN's authority, which somehow seems ironic--it is very hard for most people to see it as defensive. This is partly because the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a third-world nation that might give them to terrorists is a relatively new one, difficult to credit and to wrap the mind around (and the failure to find WMDs in Iraq feeds into this difficulty).

But it is especially hard for many to credit the "self-defense" or "defense of the neighbors of Iraq" argument for the war because the US is a strong and powerful nation, especially militarily, and Iraq, although strong for a third-world country (as compared to, for example, Haiti), was no match for it. So the notion of bullying comes into play in many people's minds as an almost kneejerk reaction to the disparity, without a focus on the fact that Saddam was actually the quintessential bully.

But Saddam's bullying--and "bullying" is way too weak a word for it; better to call it "tyrannical systematic mass murder and the installation of a totalitarian fear state"--was simply not on the radar screen of most people in the West. Out of sight, out of mind, for the most part. I'm not being especially critical of this; it's something we all do in order to go about our lives without the constant awareness of all the suffering on earth about which we can do nothing. But the consequence of this tuning out of the hardship of others it that it makes it easy for many people to forget that earlier carnage, and to argue their case as though the suffering just began, sprung full-blown from the head of Bush and only as a consequence of "his" war.

This war and its aftermath also have also been unusually long, at least by modern standards. No, the war's not even remotely up there with Vietnam in that regard. But compared to the Gulf War, for example, it's extremely long and complex. That's mostly because it involves a reconstruction, always a long and difficult project. In fact, if just the original invasion and battles with Saddam's official armies are considered, the war was remarkably, almost freakishly, short. But we are all correct to consider those skirmishes just the beginning; the real war is the reconstruction.

That fact, combined with modern-day impatience, leads to some of the rage. We've lost sight of how difficult such a thing is; we want immediate solutions and clean and simple endings. And of course those things would be wonderful. But they are unrealisitic. And many believe that the Bush administration expected those things as well; witness the focus on Ken Adelman's "cakewalk" remark (I discussed that remark and its meaning and context here).

But even though Bush actually made many prewar comments on how difficult the tasks of this war would be does not change the fact that the actual reconstruction has been more difficult than most people (including, I believe, most in the administration) expected. I discuss these issues here, and I urge you, if interested, to read what I've said, so I don't have to reinvent the wheel.

Underlying all of this, I believe, is the fact that in some ways this war is sui generis. The invasion of a smaller, weaker country by a larger, stronger one is a familiar sight in history, of course. But previously (absent a provoking attack on the stronger by the weaker) the reason for the attack tends to have been that the larger nation was up to no good. That is, that the invasion was motivated by an exploitative impulse to plunder.

Ancient history is full of such examples, and it's also much of the modern story of imperialism. So that's the template: exploitation. The fact that one of the motives for this war--although certainly not the sole factor--was the liberation of the Iraqi people is a statement greeted with derision by so many partly because it isn't something with which we've previously had a great deal of experience. Therefore it's something we have reason to be cynical about.

But it is nevertheless the truth, in my opinion--part of the reason this war was fought was said liberation. But in this case the critics are at least partly correct, in that the motive for wanting to liberate the Iraqi people has not been solely altruistic. There's something in it for us, of course.

That's one of the reasons the dread neocons were in favor of this war: the liberation of the Iraqi people was felt to have been in our own interests. As such, however, it would be a win-win situation: the people's liberation would also have been in their own interests, as well as ours. And some of the anger of war opponents stems from a difficulty in seeing that self-interest and altruistic impulses are not necessarily in conflict, but sometimes (as in this case, if all goes well) can go hand in hand.

That leaves us with another question: has all gone well? Of course, the jury is out on that so far. And the answer also depends on one's definition of "gone well," which, in turn, depends on what one is comparing Iraq's present state to--Switzerland? Or prewar Saddam's Iraq? Or, especially, to what would have happened had Saddam stayed in power?

The answer also depends on how patient one is. I think the Iraqi people have demonstrated more patience than many in the West have. Of course, the "insurgents" have quite a bit of patience, too. The patience of Iraqis on both sides is understandable, because they've been through a lot more than most Westerners have, and have a lot more to lose. But, paradoxically, whether or not the patience of the freedom- and peace-loving elements of the Iraqi people will be rewarded depends in part on our having patience. And we in the modern West are not known for our patience.

[I may opine some more on this tomorrow; I've got enough material for a Part II. We'll see).

Monday, May 22, 2006

That lone Jewish Iranian representative: the history of religious minorities in Iran

My original post about the (now pretty much debunked) report of an Islamic dress code law for minorities quoted that report as stating that the clothing designations were to apply to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians in Iran.

That got me wondering about the histories of those three minorities in Persia, now Iran. So I started by looking up the history of Jews in Persia, and discovered this article, which sheds quite a bit of light on the history of all those minority groups, including their recent representation in Iran's legislature. I have no reason to doubt the information in it, but it's best to issue a caveat that all the following information is based on that one article from something called the "Iran Chamber Society," which (at least according to its own self-description) appears to be a non-affiliated and nonpolitical group dedicated to learning about Iranian/Persian history and culture.

I'm sure books have been written on the subject, and this is only a short article, but the gist of the history is that yes indeed, these three communities have ancient and deep roots in Persia. They had all experienced an unusual amount of religious freedom for the times until the Moslem conquest of Persia in the seventh century. At that point, all members of polytheistic and pagan religions were given the choice to convert or die, but Jews and Christians, as "people of the book," were given second-class citizen dhimmi status under reigning sharia law (made to pay poll taxes, prohibited from friendship and intermarriage with Moslems, etc.). Zoroastrians were later included in this category, interestingly enough.

Putting the whole thing in context, if one compares dhimmi status to the previous pre-Moslem-conquest religious freedom in the area, it was indeed a restriction. But if one compares it to the status of Jews in Europe at the time, for example, for the most part dhimmi status seems like an advance. Application of the more stringent discriminations varied over time according to the whim and personalities of the various rulers of Persia.

There were massacres or these minority groups as well--also not unheard of in Europe, to say the least. But more recently, especially by the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century, the secularization movement swept through Persia/Iran and owed some of its success to the activities of members of these minority groups. In 1907 their efforts bore fruit--except for the Bahais, who were still excluded--citizenship there was now based on nationality and not religion, and the Majlis (the legislature) was secularized and no longer solely Islamic.

Here's the part that relates, interestingly enough, directly to the story that began this whole quest for me. You may recall that one of the people denying the rumor was the sole Jewish representative to the Iranian legislature. Many--including myself--were wondering about this man: how did he get elected? Who was he?

It turns out that the 1907 law establishing the national Majlis ordered that there be representatives of each religious minority: one for each major religion. In fact, the way it worked was that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians could participate by voting in the election of their respective single representatives, but not in the selection of any other members of the legislature. It was a strictly segregated vote for a very limited representation (Jews were to vote only for the single Jew, Christians for the single Christian, and Zoroastrians for the single Zoroastrian), but it was a slight advance over what had gone before.

When the Shah came to power he furthered religious tolerance in the country and even ignored the ban on non-Shiite Moslems in government. During his regime there were not only some non-Moslems in government; even some members of the previously most reviled group, the Bahais, served. This all ended with the 1979 Islamic revolution, which restored the rule of sharia law.

At present, the old 1907 rule is in force, allowing one representative each from the Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian populations of Iran. The article is mum on the topic of how they are elected; my best guess would be that the old way is followed on that, as well, and that each minority group votes only for its one representative and no others.

So that is apparently the story of how Maurice Motammed came to be the lone Jewish representative in Iran's Islamic parliament.

Update: the dress code rumor

Via Dr. Zin of Regime Change Iran, here's an update on the Iranian dress code story, from the Canadian newspaper that originally published it.

The gist of the most recent information seems to be this:

Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament — and they denied any such measure was in place.

Mr. Kermanian said the subject of “what to do with religious minorities” came up during debates leading up to the passing of the dress code law.

“It is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around,” he said. “But to the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups.”

Ali Reza Nourizadeh, an Iranian commentator on political affairs in London, suggested that the requirements for badges or insignia for religious minorities was part of a “secondary motion” introduced in parliament, addressing the changes specific to the attire of people of various religious backgrounds.

Mr. Nourizadeh said that motion was very minor and was far from being passed into law.

That account could not be confirmed.

So far, the whole thing seems to be on the order of a rumor that was allowed to pass muster and be published in Toronto's National Post, as well as to be given voice by Amir Taheri. I have a small wish (or maybe it's not so small): that newspapers, both on the left and the right and in the middle, do more fact and source checking before they publish the news that we all rely on.

Roger Simon has further thoughts on the matter.

[ADDENDUM: Taheri, one of the original disseminators of the rumor, has put out a further statement.]

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Revolutionaries and regret: Eleni

In my post on the unfortunate tendency of revolutions to devour their own, Elmondohummus made the following comment:

Such movements, such revolutions, tend not to be the wonderfully exciting, meaningful, free places that participants imagine, but coldhearted, calculating monoliths of purpose unimagined by the individual participants caught up in the heady romance of the moment...But to be openly abused, jailed, even executed... Such a betrayal... yet, time and time again, you read of people in Ghotbzadeh's shoes, true believers chewed up and spit out by the momentum of the movement, a mere commodity to be used to the movement's own ends.

Most revolutions do tend to turn on their own in time--and often not all that much time. But there's a further aspect of it I want to discuss here, and that is this: when revolutions change into something unforeseen by their original-- sometimes starry-eyed, idealistic, and naive--proponents, those early advocates often turn into opponents of the very revolution they launched. Their efforts to undo what they've unleashed are usually futile. That is apparently what may have happened to the sardonic Ghotbzadeh, who did not have the last laugh, after all.

Back in 1983 I read Eleni, Nicholas Gage's testament to his mother's life and a depiction of her execution by Communists during the Greek Civil War in the 40s. It's an extraordinary book for many reasons, and its power is difficult to describe. It's long and complex, with so many characters that, halfway through, I wished I'd kept a chart with all the names and familial relations graphed, because every now and then I got lost in the maze. But, even though at the time I was the exhausted mother of a young child, it was so compelling that I exhausted myself still further by staying up night after night until I'd finished it.

It's one of those books where you know the ending right at the beginning--Gage comes right out with it in the introductory chapter. But that doesn't diminish the story any more than knowing the plot of a Shakespearean play takes away from the experience of seeing it again. Gage's mother Eleni is a true heroine, a woman of epic courage and love (as well as great intelligence, despite her lack of formal education). I submit that the book cannot be read by any feeling person without its pages becoming wet with tears.

But in the days after I read Eleni, I realized on reflection that Gage tells another story in addition to his gripping personal story. He attempts to describe the Greek Civil War itself. In this, by the way, he has drawn some fire from those who believe he hasn't given the Communist guerillas their due.

But when I read Gage's book I actually thought his portrait of said Communists was somewhat sympathetic. It's hard to forget his description of them; one in particular was the local schoolteacher, initially a gentle idealist, as I recall. The book delineates, step by careful step, how over the course of time these people compromised and hardened until they were all but unrecognizable, their dreams soured and their cause utterly transformed into something they wouldn't have recognized (or supported) at the outset. To me, that was a twin tragedy.

The two brothers, Prokopi and Spiro Skevis, the locals who, in Gage's words, "sowed the seeds of Communism" in Lia, his home village, both were killed in battle rather than at the hands of their own. But Gage writes that, after the execution of his mother and four other villagers:

Spiro Skevis' success in bringing Communism to the Mourgana villages had turned to ashes in his mouth. The execution in Lia of his five fellow villagers tormented him. A captain in his battalion later told me how, shortly after the retreat from the Mourgana, Spiro went out of control and tried to kill one of the chief aides [to the judge in the trial that led to Gage's mother's execution], drawing a gun on him and screaming that the man was a criminal, a murderer of women. Other guerillas jumped Spiro before he could pull the trigger. He went to the grave tormented by the perversion of the movement that he and Prokopi had begun with such high intentions.

I don't think Spiro would be alone among revolutionaries in having such regrets. Ghotbzadeh, Robespierre, Trotsky, and the rest--what were they all thinking in their last moments?

Friday, May 19, 2006

New dress code may go into effect in Iran

Iran may be about to revive an old custom. A law passed by the Iranian parliament needs only the approval of "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi to become practice.

It actually was passed two years ago, but languished until recently "revived at the behest of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." What a surprise.

Here's the gist of it:

Iran's roughly 25,000 Jews would have to sew a yellow strip of cloth on the front of their clothes, while Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue cloth.

Oh well, there are so few of them left in Iran, anyway. But it wasn't always that way.

See this, this, and this.

[NOTE: Allahpundit cautions that the story may not be true.

And here's more on the confusion.

Still more evidence that this is likely to be false.]

Revolutions devouring their own

In the Atlantic article I discussed yesterday, a name on the first page caught my eye: Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, the Iranian foreign minister at the time of the hostage crisis.

Suddenly, although I hadn't thought of him in decades, the memory came back. Ghotbzadeh! I recall his sardonic, jaded, man-of-the-world expression--a strange combination of arrogance and weariness. As the spokesperson for the regime, he was featured often on TV (I think on the nascent "Nightline," then entitled "America Held Hostage"). As a visible and familiar figure, he became somewhat of a focus for my frustration and annoyance with the entire situation. Something about him seemed hollow, although he was clearly intelligent and articulate.

As events unfolded, it turned out that Ghotbzadeh was one of those cautionary figures, a man who was instrumental in planning a revolution that then got away from him and proceeded to devour him in the process. Like Robespierre, Danton, and Desmoulins; like Trotsky and so many other engineers of the Russian revolution who were slaughtered in the great purges; authors of violent revolutions often come to violent ends at the hands of their violent former comrades.

Thus it was with Ghotbzadeh. Here he is:

Ghotbzadeh was close to the Ayatollah Khomeini while both were in exile in Paris, and became one of his right-hand men back home in the early days of the revolution. He seems to have been motivated most strongly by hatred of the Shah's regime. But, paradoxically, his role in the hostage crisis was as a relative moderate (accent on the "relative;" moderate in comparison to what?). He seemed to be working for a diplomatic solution, and lost favor with the Iranian powers that be in the process.

Former hostage and Ambassador at the time, Bruce Laingen, has this to say about Ghotbzadeh:

I didn't like him at the outset for the role he played as Foreign Minister, but I sensed as time went on over those months, that he came to the conclusion, himself, fairly early, that this hostage business was counterproductive to the revolution and that it needed to be ended. I think he genuinely wanted to end it and was prepared to make some concessions to do that. And he stuck his neck out to do that. He showed some guts.

It all unraveled rather quickly:

Ghotbzadeh finally resigned in 1980 over the deadlock in negotiations. That year, after he was arrested and briefly detained after criticizing the ruling Islamic Republican Party, he retired from public life. In 1982 he was arrested on charges of plotting against the regime. Although he denied any conspiracy to take Khomeini's life, he apparently admitted complicity with Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariat-Madari in a plot to overthrow the government. Ghotbzadeh was convicted in August 1982 and executed the following month.

Did he really plan to end the Khomeini reign, and, if so, with what was he planning to replace it? Or were the charges trumped up, and was he forced to confess to crimes he didn't commit? At the time, I remember being astounded at the news of his startling reversal of fortune and allegiance; it was quite a switch from disliking him to feeling some sympathy for the man.

Guillotining having gone out of style, Ghotbzadeh was shot by a firing squad shortly after his trial. The revolution had eaten another of its own.

But not everyone connected with the early days of the revolution has met such a fate. Others connected with the hostage crisis have prospered. It's unclear whether or not the current Iranian President, our good friend Ahmadinejad, was one of those "student" hostage-takers, although several former hostages have identified him as such. But there's very little doubt about the identity of another former hostage-taker who's riding high at present: Hussein Sheikholeslam, recently an Iranian diplomat and legislator.

Why do I mention Sheikholeslam? Only because I came across an interesting fact about him, an indication of the sort of cross-fertilization process that seems to have been at work in the revolutions of the 60s/70s. Sheikholeslam may not have been an actual student at the time of the hostage-taking in Iran. But whether or not Sheikholeslam was a student at that point, he certainly had been a student earlier--at UC Berkeley, where he learned a thing or two:

UC Berkeley gained a reputation as a center of student anti-war protest during the 1960s and 1970s. During that tempestuous period, an Iranian student named Hussein Sheikh-ol-eslam attended Cal. He became fluent in English. He also absorbed the demonstrations criticizing American imperialism in Vietnam and other nations.

After Hussein returned to Iran, writes Mark Bowden in his new book, "Guests of the Ayatollah," his anti-Americanism planted deep roots in his Islamic religion. In late 1979, the tree connected to those roots bore ugly fruit.

The student protests of the 60s didn't actually revolutionize much in the political sense in this country. The "revolution" they began here was more cultural than anything else. But not so in Iran, where students who had learned the anti-American and propaganda lessons of the 60s used them later to great effect. Some forget that the 60s didn't just happen in this country; the protests occurred in Europe as well.

Khomeini spent some of his exile in France, but I was surprised to learn (from Wikipedia, so this could be taken with a grain of salt) that the French were not necessarily simpatico to him during his rather short sojourn there:

In 1963, [Khomeini] publicly denounced the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was thereby imprisoned for 8 months, and upon his release in 1964, he made a similar denunciation of the United States. This led to his forced exile out of Iran. He initially went to Turkey but was later allowed to move to Iraq, where he stayed until being forced to leave in 1978, after then-Vice President Saddam Hussein forced him out...after which he went to Neauphle-le-Château in France. According to Alexandre de Marenches (then head of the French secret services), France suggested to the Shah that they could "arrange for Khomeini to have a fatal accident"; the Shah declined the assassination offer, arguing that this would make him a martyr.

[NOTE: My post about Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, is relevant here. Nafisi, an Iranian national, likewise fell in with other radical Iranian students while studying in this country. Then, when she returned to Iran, she saw quite a few of those former associates imprisoned--and in some cases executed--by their former comrades-in-arms.]

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