Thursday, May 5, 2011

Vacation

I think it is time for me to take a break from my blog. I am sure my readers have noticed that my last few posts were not quite up to my standards. Even if they didn't, I noticed, and I don't like turning out substandard work.*

But between my health problems and several excessively busy days at work, I have just not been up to par lately. And so I think it is time for me to take a rest from blogging.

I don't know if one can really take a vacation from what amounts to nothing but a hobby, but I will give it a try. So, until next Monday, I am not reading, writing, or replying to comments on my blog. I figure my family may enjoy getting a bit more time with me (or maybe not) and I will certainly be happy to be able to forget about politics for a while, and not feel the urge to obsessively document every last thought on this blog.

So, I will see everyone on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.

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* Actually, as I didn't want to go out on a sour note, I wrote my last piece before declaring my intent to take a vacation. I think it is good enough to qualify as leaving on a high note. At least it is better than the few before it.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/19.

The Lessons of the Obama Candidacy

So, what have we learned from Obama's run for the presidency?

First, I think we learned that any young politician should be careful before selecting either a church or a mentor. The wrong choice may come back to haunt you later.

Second, we have learned that you can get pretty far running a campaign with no positions.

Third, we learned that you can establish an almost cult-like following as long as you manage to avoid stating what you believe.

But I think the most important lesson is about race, specifically that many assumptions about race relations are completely wrong.

For example, the traditional liberal belief is that white, especially in the less "enlightened" states are inveterate racists. Yet, those same racist whites were quite willing to vote for a black presidential candidate. Not just in the northeast and on the west coast. Obama won white votes throughout the "unenlightened' states of fly-over country. And many voted for him specifically because he promised racial healing. All of which is hardly the behavior liberal dogma would lead one to expect.

On the other hand, Obama also taught us an uglier lesson. From the rhetoric spewed by Reverend Wright, to the casual way that many other black pastors accepted his rants, we were also reminded that separatism, racial distrust, and outright hatred is not alien to a large segment of the black community. 

So, after years of equal opportunity laws, of affirmative action, of civil rights legislation, of speech codes and hate crime laws, even with a white majority more ready than ever to accept a color blind society, we are still left with an angry, separatist minority. White America has spent decades regretting past behavior, moving closer and closer to the ideal of racial equality, but it appears that in that same period much of black America has done the opposite, dwelling on past wrongs and building up resentment. Strangely, though affirmative action and other preferences were always predicted to create white resentment while stilling black complaints, the reality seems to be the opposite. All the laws designed with the idea of creating racial harmony have done just the opposite.

If nothing else, Obama's candidacy raises one important question: Isn't it time we admitted that the politics of racial identity and victimhood  leads to nothing but resentment and animosity?

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UPDATED 03/20/2008

I have made some small modifications to this essay in a later post. While the main point has not changed, I have corrected what I believe is a small mistake in this essay.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/19.

And Now the Explanation

I am sure my last post will get some angry responses from those irate that I would dare to compare the Irish, or Ukranians or Cherokees to blacks, so let me explain.

I do not mean that blacks were never subject to discrimination. Nor do I say that it is not understandable that some blacks would be unhappy with their lot after a history of such discrimination.

My point is very simple:

Senator Obama is running as a healer, as someone who will overcome race. He is essentially offering racial absolution in exchange for votes.

Yet now, he is also justifying the most detestable type of racial hate speech on the grounds of past discrimination. In other words, he has gone from the "healer" he claimed to be, to a slicker version of Jesse Jackson, excusing any action by referring to past discrimination.

It is a shocking change in his position, and one I think will lose him a lot of his luster.

Then again, some of his followers have a lot invested in their belief in him. We will have to see if their adoration is stronger than their logic. Only time will tell.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/19.

Can I Hate America Now?

I know I said I would stop writing about Obama's speech, but I can't.

My question now is this: Since Obama says that Rev. Wright was justified in his tirades because black people were mistreated in America, can I start hating the US with impunity too?

My Irish ancestors were treated badly. They were denied jobs, forced into Irish neighborhoods, kept from many respectable establishments, and were presumed by many to be violent drunkards. My Ukranian relatives were unable to find work here and ended up working 16 hour shifts in coal mines from an young age, continuing to work until they died an early death. And my remote Cherokee ancestors were treated no better. My specific relatives were not involved in that whole Trail of Tears thing, but many were. And even if they were not forcibly relocated, no one can claim Cherokees were treated well.

So, since I have an ancestral history of discrimination and poor treatment, can I now spout off about any hateful topic without offending anyone?

Or better, can I adopt a rabidly conservative position, associate with any hate filled speaker, yet still run for the presidency as an almost messianic "healer"? After all, my people were mistreated too.

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Spell checker note: Strangely enough, when I misspelled "Irish" as "Irtish", my spell checker paid no attention. Apparently it does know the names of Siberian rivers, but not the word "Objectivist." How odd.

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Note: Before the irate responses begin, please read my next post.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/19.

An Off-Topic Post

I know I normally write on matters political and social, but from time to time I have questions on other topics and I can't help but write about them. It is why I named this blog "Random Notes", I have an inability to stay constantly on topic.

So, please forgive me for deviating from my usual topics, but I have two rather minor theological questions. If such matters hold no interest for you, then please skip this post. For those who read on, I hope I manage to at least hold your interest.

My first question is for those who believe in reincarnation. Why do those who believe in transmigration of the soul insist that it occur chronologically? Why do they assume someone who died in 1800 will be reincarnated in 1801?

As I see things, time is a facet of the material world. "Entropy's arrow" it has been called, making this relationship clear. Time only has meaning in terms of material things. So, for the spirit, time is meaningless. The soul is not part of the material world, so it has no part in all things temporal either. A spirit, released from matter, does not need to obey the dictates of time.

So, why could a soul not be reincarnated before an earlier incarnation was even born? Or why could various incarnations not overlap? It makes no sense for us, as we are trapped within the material world, where time rules, but for spirits there is nothing which demands they obey chronological rules.

Which leads to my second question, one related to my first. Why do people assume G-d's omniscience conflicts with free will?

If we postulate a G-d who is just a super powerful being, kind of a pagan deity, then, yes, omniscience would be a problem for free will, but neither Jewish nor Christian theology postulates such a G-d.

G-d created both the material world and time itself, so he is neither bound by them, nor within them. G-d stands outside of time, which is why he can be omniscient. He sees all of time, so of course he knows the outcomes of every event. It is as if he stands at the end of all history looking back.

Which is why I say it is no problem to reconcile this with free will. If my knowledge of what Sophocles did does not remove his free will, the fact that G-d knows what I will do also does not remove my free will. His perspective simply allows him to see the outcomes of my choices, it does not predetermine them. Only our mistaken impression that G-d is a temporal creature makes us think otherwise.

Well, I am sure I will get some interesting responses to this, if anyone reads it at all. I just could not resist asking these questions and seeing what others had to say.

I will now return to my usual political and social topics. I have satisfied my urge to write off-topic essays, and will probably stay on topic for the next few weeks at least.

Thank you for indulging me.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/19.

Hypothetical Situation

Allow me to paint a picture of a hypothetical situation and ask you how the US would react.

Let us suppose, at some future date, the US decided to get serious about immigration reform, and expelled 10 million or more illegal aliens from Mexico. Let us also suppose that Mexico refused to take them back. As a result, the border patrol ends up with dozens of camps near the Mexican border, holding these millions of Mexicans. The conditions are not particularly squalid, but obviously the residents are less than happy to be there, and there are endless small incidents between the detainees and the guards.

After a while these detainees become a major political issue in the US. Several Mexican-American groups become more and more militant in their calls for the release of the detainees, eventually pushing for the formation of an autonomous Aztlan formed out of the southwestern states won during the Mexican-American War. They are joined in these claims by detainees and supporters in Mexico. There are even rumors that the Mexican government is supporting some of the groups.

More time passes and the conflict becomes more violent. The Aztlan Organization, the most prominent of the groups agitating for independence, begins to engage in outright terrorism, killing thousands each year, almost entirely civilians. The government of Mexico bands together with other Central and South American nations to form a coalition supporting calls for Aztlan independence. Along the border the US government frequently crosses the Mexican border chasing terrorist groups, and sometimes this results in small clashes with Mexican army troops.

After years of terrorism, tens of thousands dead, and ever increasing tension between the US and Mexican governments, the UN decides to intervene. The General Assembly passes several resolutions blaming the US for its inhumane treatment of the Mexican immigrants it detained. In addition, the UN calls for the US to either grant those detainees citizenship, or to settle them in an autonomous Aztlan state.

When the US ignore the UN demands, the EU and China begin to intervene, threatening to stop all diplomatic relations unless the US begins negotiating directly with the Aztlan Organization. They demand the US create an autonomous Aztlan to be inhabited solely by Hispanics, and also that the US grant citizenship to the 10 million illegal immigrants in detention camps, as well as their descendants and other family members.

So, were this situation to occur, what would you want the US to do? Should we surrender the southwest to militants and then grant citizenship to 10 million aliens as well? Wouldn't that just create a new terrorist core inside our remaining territory leading to additional demands for concessions?

Actually, aren't most readers already irate and asking themselves why we should give up any land at all? Or asking why illegal aliens can demand citizenship?

Well, if you feel that way about this hypothetical situation, how can anyone demand that Israel stop "the cycle of violence"? If my hypothetical seems unfair, just ask what has happened to Israel.

The original Israelis were not given land, nor did they take it. Settlers bought land the Ottoman Empire, and later the United Kingdom, said it was legal for them to buy. When the UN created a state of Israel, it did not give any additional land to the Jews, Israelis still held only the land they had bought.

In the original treaty, the Arabs we now call "Palestinians" had about half, more for less, of the modern state of Israel allocated to them. However, the neighboring states decided to attack, and many of those Arabs fled, hoping to come back and get even more after the Jews were killed. As the Israelis won, they were not kindly disposed to the Arabs who fled. The other Arabs were treated as citizens, even having an Arab party in the Knesset. So, the Israelis did not "dispossess the Palestinians", they just denied reentry to those who sided with their enemies. That hardly seems unreasonable.

But, to return to my example, if we were forced to cede land, admit aliens, and to say we were wrong to have taken land from Mexico, would we do it? If not, then why do we expect Israel to do the same and worse? They are a small nation, surrounded by enemies. To give up land is to place enemies within a dozen miles of every major city, enemies who are already overly fond of rocket attacks. Would we make a similar concession to terrorists? Allow them to set up shop in Bethesda or on Long Island?

But I could go on forever. The double standard between how we behave and what we demand of Israel is blatant, and absurd. If I were to dwell on it, this page could go on forever. So it is time to cut this short.

My point is simple: If we were being pressured by other nations to do these things, we would view it as an impermissible assault on our sovereignty, yet many see no problem doing the same to Israel. It makes very little sense.

UPDATED 03/23/2008

There is actually a very good explanation of Israeli history reprinted on another blog. It goes into much more detail than I did. It makes a very good companion piece to this one.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/19.

NOTE: The link above was left unchanged as the blog is not reproduced in archive.org.

Last One For Now

I suppose I should wait for the public reaction to Obama's speech, so I can judge how well he sold his speech to the public. Still I have some thoughts that I think may make his speech less convincing.

First, the delay between Obama's scandal coming to light and his speech scream "ghost writer". I don't know if most of American will pick up on it, but the fact that he waited until a winning speech had been written doesn't convince me he was speaking from the heart.

Second, even with a professional ghostwriter, the claims just don't add up. He can insult his grandmother all he wants, but it just doesn't make sense that he knew nothing about Wright. I have covered that before, again and again, so I will not explain here. All I will say is that it is far too convenient that he somehow spent 20 years completely ignorant of what was going on under his nose. Either he is lying or he is so dimwitted as to be ineligible to become president.

Finally, even if the public buys it, doesn't his need to repeatedly denounce those around him make voters uncomfortable? He had to denounce Farrakhan's support, then he had to kick Rev. Wright off his campaign and denounce his views. I am sure Billy Ayers will come soon. I don't know for certain, but I have a feeling at some point voters will start having second thoughts about a candidate who has to spend so much time issuing denunciations and repudiating those who are on his campaign committee, who were once his friends, or who supported him.

Having said that, I don't know anything for certain. The voters can behave unpredictably. So, until I see what the public does, and how the MSM tries to spin this, I will leave Obama alone for now. Anything I can say is just speculation. The voters will decide in the end, and I will wait for them to speak before I say anything more.

Actually, that isn't quite right. The voters may not decide it. As the Democrats have created the peculiar superdelegate institution, they have short-circuited the popular vote. So I should say "The voters or the superdelegates will decide." And my thoughts on the superdelegates have been recorded elsewhere. So, perhaps this scandal will be decisive, whether the public buys Obama's story or not. If it is enough to push the superdelegates away from Obama, it does not matter what the public believes.

But to decide about that, we will need to wait for the convention.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/19.

The Adoration of Youth

In the comments to an earlier essay, I discussed with The Crawfish the idea of our modern worship of youth and the consequences. As it seemed interesting to me, I decided to elaborate a little bit.

Historically youth was seen as a period of high spirits and misbehavior, which one would then overcome and join the adult world. One would then adopt adult attitudes and behaviors. Childhood was something one might sometimes remember fondly, but was something one was to outgrow, and society in general was oriented towards the elders, not the young.

At some point, maybe beginning in the 1950's or a bit later, the western world and especially the United States began to idolize the young. Rather than seeing the young as silly, immature people who needed to be molded and guided, the adults began to look to the young for guidance in how to behave. The preferences of the young began to set the course for society, and what appealed to the young became the standard by which everything was judged.

The result should have been obvious to anyone, the culture became more and more immature. But not just immature, we also became less and less restrained. The young always try to push the envelope. In the past, every generation of youth was absorbed into the society of the elders, and the envelope each generation pushed was the same. Now, with the youth defining the standards, the standards became more lax with each generation, and the youth had to go to ever greater extremes to push the envelope. And, as the adults were now following the young, they too became ever more excessive, standards grew lower and lower, and society in general took on the character of a locker room or a gathering of pre-pubescent boys. It became a world of "torture porn", celebrity sex videos, and internet porn.

Since about the 1970's we have been engaged in an ever escalating descent into juvenile behavior. As we gradually lose the last generations raised with the idea of venerating elders, we are left with nothing but adolescents, many now gray haired, but adolescents, nonetheless. And with no adults left to tell the rest to grow up, I have to wonder, will we ever get over our flirtation with immaturity?

Or are we destined to spend whatever time our nation has left indulging in ever more immoderate behavior, trying to find the next excess to break the few remaining rules and shock whoever is left capable of being shocked? In short, will we realize that rule by youth is nothing less than cultural suicide, or will we continue down this road until we finally just wither away or are absorbed by a less frivolous rival culture?
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Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/18.

NOTE: I did not change the comment link to archive.org, as there was no archived copy. However, as of this writing [2011/05/05] the link is good. I also left the link to Crawfish's old blog as the archive.org version had serious formatting problems.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm Confused

I was watching local news report on Maryland's debates about gay marriage. However, it is not the debate but the statement by  a newsreader that puzzled me. In speaking of the law he said:
"Couples, gay, bi, or straight..."
My question is, how can a couple be bisexual? Unless one member is regularly changing sex, I think the other two terms pretty much exhaust the possibilities.

Then again, no one said you had to be clever to be a newsreader.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/18.

Not Just Another Politician

I have previously said that Obama is just like other politicians. I now take that back.

Other politicians are not sleazy enough to malign their grandparents to defend their presidential aspirations. Obama apparently is, having said he can no more disown the racist, divisive Rev Wright than:


... I can my white grandmother--a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street...

In other words, granny has to take one for the team, and appear a racist to try to make Wright more palatable.

Of course, this is also part of Obama's attempt to paint Wright as senile old "uncle" who just happens to be getting up in years and started spouting racist screeds. Of course, that ignores the fact that these screeds have been going on since 2001, at least, that such screeds are sold on video by the church itself, and admitted freely on the church website. But that is not my point.

My point is that I cannot understand how anyone can endorse a man who pitches aside not only longtime friends, but even his own grandmother in his pursuit of the presidency.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/18.

Frightened For Our Future

Before I start, let me say I am no prude, in fact by any standards I have had a rather colorful life. I was a punk in the 1980's, I did my share of illegal and degenerate deeds. I have hardly led a sheltered life.

Still, I am troubled when I visit the Urban Dictionary* site. It isn't the obsession with foul scatological sex acts, though that is part of it. When you cut loose teenage boys and give them computers they will surely find a way to indulge in their penchants for trying to top one another with disgusting terms.

What disturbs me much more is the nasty misogynistic, and often simply misanthropic, streak I see in the site. And not just in the site, but in teen society at large. Everywhere I look, it appears that we are steadily coarsening our teens to the point where they are verging on sociopathic behavior.

In part, it comes from our increasingly casual attitudes towards sex. When we teach young boys to view girls as nothing but a source of oral sex, and teach young girls that servicing boys is a meaningless act, you tend to create youth who have an instrumental view of one another.

Of course, it isn't just sex, we have also made a shambles of traditional notions of success. When you create idols of pimps, pushers and bimbos, holding up the truly worthless idle rich as role models, you create children who think being noticed is the highest aspiration and that doing anything it takes to fulfill your whims is the normal state of affairs. Careers have been replaced with slinging dope and shooting, happiness has been replaced with fame, marriage has been replaced with multiple hook-ups. In other words, we have taken the teen behaviors we used to discourage and turned them into the goals towards which teens and adults aspire.

And when adults are behaving like teens themselves, the teens will emulate them. Our own irresponsibility is mirrored in the behavior of teens, and amplified, as they take its logic to heart and run with it to its logical conclusion.

Teens are, by nature, a bit self-centered. That is why traditionally we have struggled to force them to view one another as actual beings, forced them to recognize that other teens and adults share a common humanity with them. But now our culture has given up on that effort.  As we have created adults who are obsessed with nothing but themselves, we have now turned to creating children cut from the same cloth.

There is only one problem. When an adult turns into a monster of ego, he does so having been previously taught to recognize others' humanity. He may choose to ignore it, but in some way he is still aware of it. In most cases it keeps him from committing truly horrible acts.

Our teens have no such background. Young children are self-centered and teens even more so, as they have not yet truly evolved the empathy we need to live in society. So when you allow teenagers to turn into brutal, selfish, self-obsessed creatures you end up with sociopaths in the making, creatures who have no understanding of what it means to have empathy, without an ability to understand the feelings of others. When you view others solely as objects either to gratify your whims or to be moved out of your way, you end up with your textbook sociopath, one who feels nothing while committing the most monstrous deeds.

And that is what I see in the Urban Dictionary. The scribblings of a generation of future sociopaths.

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* Be warned, this site contains some pretty foul language as well as non-obscene descriptions of some pretty offensive acts, both sexual and otherwise. I know I sound like a boring old man when I say this, but trust me, I am not. I own the complete Grove Press library of De Sade's writings and have read them, yet the Urban Dictionary disturbs me. So you have been warned.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/18.

NOTE: As the Urban Dictionary is still active, I have left the link alone, instead of changing it to a link from archive.org.

NOTE: The links here may seem to cover a broader content than this essay warrants. However, this was the first essay in what eventually became quite a lengthy series of reflections on our culture and the way it changed in the 20th century, so, while this essay may not explicitly discuss, say, the substitution of novelty for actual worth, it laid the foundations for the posts that did, and thus I find the links appropriate.

More on Obama's Woes

Here is a quote from the New York Times:

In the interview last spring, Mr. Wright expressed frustration at the breach in relationship with Mr. Obama, saying the candidate had already privately said that he might need to distance himself from his pastor. But perhaps the two could repair things, said Mr. Wright, pointing out that Mr. Obama’s opponent, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, had faced worse.
Please read that and think about what it means.

If Obama told Rev. Wright that he may have to "distance himself", does that not mean that Obama was aware Wright was a political liability? And, why would Wright be a political liability except for his inflammatory rhetoric and beliefs? So, it appears Obama was well aware of Wright's beliefs last spring, but he now claims to be unaware of what the Reverend had said? The only way I can see for any of this to make sense is to assume that Obama is lying.

Of course, there are other explanations offered, but those have problems as well. For example, the idea that Reverend Wright is just getting a little dotty in his old age. Well, for those who claim the Reverend Wright is going senile and just started making such statements (a claim partly based on Obama's image of Wright as “an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with”), I would remind you that Wright made these statements as long ago as the weekend following 9/11. Not to mention that the church's website claims the church believes in "black liberation theology" and I have trouble believing this one doddering old uncle managed to completely alter the church website on his own without anyone noticing.

As black liberation theology, as described by James Cone1 (of whom Wright speaks favorably), believes that G-d must "[identify] completely with the goals of the black community" and "participate in the destruction of the white enemy", and as the church officially endorses black liberation theology, it stretches credulity to breaking and beyond to think Obama was completely unaware of  the Reverend's beliefs. If you attend a church which claims to embrace a divisive theology, and you have a minister spouting the same divisive rhetoric, to claim you were unaware of your minister's beliefs seems a bit far fetched.

Let us leave it at this: Wright has been making statements of this nature since at least 2001. The church's web site officially states it supports black liberation theology. Obama has been a parishioner for 20 years and has been close enough to Wright to use a line from one of his sermons for a book title. Yet we are expected to believe that Obama has failed to hear one word of black nationalist rhetoric from Reverend Wright? As I said before, I am skeptical.

Of course, as with any political scandal, it is only important until the next one. It is quite possible that Wright, Rezko, and all the other baggage dragging Obama down could vanish in an instant, should Hillary manage to step into something worse. But, for now, I think Obama need not spend much time planning how to decorate the Oval Office.2

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1. See the quote from Cone here along with some more material about Wright's interest in Cone.

2. Of course, even if Obama does win the nomination, he can still forgo any decorating plans, as I don't see either Obama or Clinton beating McCain given the current circumstances.

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NOTE: A hat tip to Best of the Web for providing some of the quotes I used. Always a good for a laugh, and often for a few interesting ideas. Also, for an amusing take on this, which also indirectly supports my concept of Obama as a mirror for his supporters, see The American Thinker.

UPDATED 03/17/2008

Oops. Obama should have made sure not to put anything in writing, and remembered to check the public record. Apparently there is some evidence which, while not damning, makes his denials a lot less convincing.

First, a mention of one of Wright's anti-white sermons in Obama's  (sort of) autobiography. Of course, it doesn't sound as inflammatory as some of Wright's stuff, but it does prove that a young Obama heard Wright blaming the ills of the world on white people, which certainly doesn't square with Obama's claims that he was unaware of Wright's beliefs.

Second, a reporter notes that Obama was in attendance and nodding in agreement while Wright launched into a much more venemous sermon in 2007. That is much more damning, and certainly does make Obama's claims sound like nothing but a standard politician's evasions and outright lies.

So much for Obama being a new type of politician. Seems he is just the same old corrupt, lying politico we know all too well.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/17. 

NOTE: The NYT link above leads to an infinite loop in archive.org, so I left the link to the NYT, which is good as of 2008/05/03. I have done the same for the National Review link, as the archive.org link is nonexistent. I have also not changed the link to the front page of Best of the Web, as the site is still active.

Blood For Oil

As Obama's freefall has started to become obvious to everyone, I am giving up on writing about the election for the moment. Actually, I wasn't going to write at all today, as my pain flared up horribly. But I find writing is strangely addictive, and I can't seem to go a day without posting something. So here it is, as essay on one of the sillier slogans around: "No blood for oil".

Though everyone associates the idea of "blood for oil" with left wing politicians and activists, the underlying concept, that we are involved in the middle east solely for oil, is accepted by a whole range of individuals.From proponents of realpolitik to supposedly idealistic conservatives, it seems everyone has accepted the idea that we are involved in the middle east solely because of oil. I even had a commenter call our military spending in the middle east a "subsidy for the oil industry". Ignoring for now the misuse of the word subsidy (though I will probably write on that topic eventually1), the concept that we are interested solely in oil is just absurd.

I suppose I should start with a slightly unusual strategy, conceding the point I am trying to disprove. At least partly conceding it. Yes, we are involved in the middle east because of oil. Of course, our dependence on foreign oil is largely the result of bad domestic policies, but, as those policies are a fact, we are of necessity involved in middle eastern politics. But to claim that we are solely involved, or that we try to "control the middle east" because of oil is just absurd. If we were trying to seize control of oil producing countries, then Hugo Chavez would have been killed by now. Likewise Canada and Mexico would have been annexed, or at least controlled by puppet governments. The fact that many large oil producing states continue to exist, pursuing policies often at odds with the wishes of the US, and are free of any substantial US military presence argues that oil alone does not bring US intervention. So, yes, keeping oil flowing on the world market is part of the reason we are in the middle east, but on its own it is hardly enough to explain our military presence.

To understand our interest in the middle east, we need to go back to the cold war.

First, we should look at Turkey. As a NATO ally, it is inevitable that we would have some military presence in Turkey, as we do in most NATO nations. But even without our NATO obligations, Turkey would have been of interest to our military during the cold war. It borders on the former USSR, both along the Armenian border and across the Black Sea, and the Bosporus and Dardanelles served to keep the Soviet Black Sea ports from getting access to the Mediterranean and beyond. All of this translated into a substantial military interest in this middle eastern country. And, not surprisingly, we find that early in the cold war we stationed a number of short and medium range nuclear bombers in Turkey, and later the nation hosted a number of our intelligence operations. All of which explains a considerable military presence, completely unrelated to oil.

Beyond Turkey, we find the Soviet Union was responsible for our interest in a number of other middle eastern nations. Not just during the cold war, but stretching all the way back to the reign of Peter the Great, Russia had an interest in obtaining a year round deep sea port unobstructed by other nations. Their Baltic and Black Sea ports could be cut off at  the Oresund and Kattegat (Baltic)and the Bosporus and Darndanelles (Black Sea), and the other ports were blocked by ice at least part of the year. So the Soviets, as the Russians before them, invested a lot of effort into obtaining that port. And one area to which they turned was the middle east, especially Persia/Iran. As Iran bordered on the Soviet Union and had desirable ports, it was a target for much Soviet activity. (Iraq and Syria were less attractive, as less accessible, but they too received Soviet attention.) As our policy of containment could allow neither a Soviet takeover of an independent state nor Soviet access to the open seas, we were required to maintain a large military presence capable of intervening in the middle east at a moment's notice.  So, yet again, we find a large military presence without any interest in oil.2

As our Soviet era treaties usually obligated us to provide some protection in exchange for military access, we also found ourselves involved in local military matters unrelated to the Soviets, such as providing military protection for Saudi Arabia, or, later, driving Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Thus, even after the Soviet threat was no more, we were still required to maintain a considerable military presence in the region to fulfill our duties to allied states.

There is also the state of Israel, which has also been a valuable US ally.3 Little of our military presence in the middle east is there directly to provide support to Israel, but some is. And this is yet another reason for our military presence, unrelated to oil.

Which brings us to the biggest reason, and the one which the "no blood for oil" crowd should be able to recognize, but don't. Due to both our military presence in the area and our support for Israel (as well as other reasons too numerous to mention here4), local terrorist groups have often developed an animosity toward the US. As certain hostile nations (Libya, Iran, Syria, etc.) have both supported and provided shelter for these groups, they are more of a threat to the US than other anti-American terrorists. Fortunately, until recently, they have also been largely confined to a single geographic region, the middle east, which provides yet another reason we maintain troops in the area, completely unrelated to oil. If states are going to support terrorists hostile to the US, is it any wonder that we keep troops close to those nations?

So, yes, oil is a concern, and part of the reason we keep troops in and around the middle east, but it is hardly the sole reason. During the cold war, we protected the area against Soviet expansion, and the treaties we signed then still keep us involved today. But, even more significant, so long as most terrorists come from the middle east, and are supported by rogue states within the middle east, I don't think we need to even consider oil when asking why we have troops there.

Why do we have so many troops in the middle east? For oil? No. Because that is where the enemy is.

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1. The habit of mischaracterizing normal spending as "subsidies" for this or that industry seems to be used in a number of spurious arguments. I haven't decided yet, but looking at the misuse of the concept of subsidies may make an interesting essay.

2. It is possible that some Soviet interest in the middle east was also an effort to cut off our oil supplies. They had little interest in taking new oil for themselves due to their own impressive reserves, but they could have ideas of threaten the oil reserves needed by the US. However, as they spent much less effort on the Arabian peninsula than in Persia/Iran, it appears the quest for ports was paramount in their middle eastern policy.

3. If anyone plans to respond to my description of Israel as an ally using the words "USS Liberty", please don't bother. I have read the sites, seen the arguments, and I am convinced "fog of war" explains it all perfectly. I have to think those who insist on some Israeli plot have another agenda, as not only isn't the evidence there, but what possible motive could Israel have? Unless you are of the "Israel=Evil Jews" school, what could explain an intentional attack on the Liberty?

4. It is likely that our presence in Saudi Arabia did not really motivate Bin Ladin. Still, the fact that he could use it as a justification, and that his followers would believe it means that our presence did help him recruit. So, whether he would have acted had we never been in Saudi Arabia is moot. Our presence provided him with a recruiting tool.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/17.

NOTE: It is not relevant to this post, but for a short discussion of why my predictions about Obama proved wrong, see "Cover for the Superdelegates" and the notes I have added upon transcription.

NOTE: I was unable to find archive.org links for the comments on my blog. The present link is still good as of this writing [2011/05/03]. 

I Don't Care

I have been reading the weekend columnists on Townhall and I realize that several have brought up a topic in which I have no interest: why Spitzer was using prostitutes.

In all honesty, I just don't care. Some have claimed he was arrogant, some claim he is self-destructive, and one (not on Townhall) even blamed his wife. I have not even bothered to form an opinion, I just don't care.

It is akin to those historians who try to find a reason for Hitler's nationalist antisemitism, or the causes of Stalin's paranoia. They may prove diverting intellectual games for those interested in such things, but in the end all we will ever have is unsupported speculation, and it will put us no closer to any understanding of the events*. In the end it does not matter why historical, or current, individuals did what they did, what matters is what they did and the consequences.

So, I just don't care why Spitzer risked his career with prostitutes. What I do care about is that New York is finally free of a megalomaniacal shakedown artist with an overwhelmingly arrogant personality. Sadly, it will do nothing to discourage other attorneys with aspirations to higher office from following his model and shaking down corporations to score political points, but I will take what I can get. We have one less shakedown artist in office, and that is all that matters to me.

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* In certain rare instances, sufficient documents exist to allow us to understand the motivation behind acts by individuals or groups, but those are the exception, not the rule. Most attempts to analyze historical motives are not based on documentary evidence, but are the outcome of applying the current trendy theories of psychology to more mundane deeds and drawing conclusions. As it usually results in nothing more than "discovering" results already inherent in the theory applied (eg. Freudians find child rearing and sex at the base of everything, Marxists find class struggles), the end result does little to provide any understanding of what truly motivated the individual.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/16.

Short Comment on Voting

I am tired of hearing how people don't vote on issues. Again and again I have heard various pundits, as well as people I know, say that "people don't vote on issues".

I just don't buy it. If people don't care about issues, why do debates so strongly change the direction of elections? Why did Mondale lose based on his promise to raise taxes? How did Perot and Nader manage to run their campaigns, as it certainly wasn't on looks or charisma? Why are so many conservatives threatening to sit out the election because McCain is the nominee?

Yes, other factors can play into it, but it seems to me that positions are a huge part of any election. Everyone I ask about elections says that they are voting based on the candidates' positions. So, either I hang out with an unusually erudite crowd, or the assumption made by many that issues don't matter is wrong.

As I know the shortcomings of many of my associates, I am betting that it is the pundits underestimating the voters.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/16.

Quick Thought on Russert

Does Tim Russert even claim to be fair? I watched a little bit of his Sunday morning show and saw at least five minutes of people discussing how wonderful Obama is, and how it is such a tragedy that these scandals broke, followed by a minute of worrying about why McCain is in Baghdad, followed by a minute of showing how Vice President Cheney's statements in 2003 did not predict the outcomes of the war in Iraq correctly.

I normally don't watch much MSM on Sunday mornings, but are they always like this? Maybe someone who watches can tell me if this is unusual or if they always act as unpaid auxiliaries for the Democrats.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/16.

Cover for the Superdelegates

I have been saying for some time that the superdelegates seem ready to jump ship from the Obama candidacy and throw in with Hillary, if only they have proper cover.

Initially this cover seemed to come with Texas and Ohio. If Hillary continued to win primaries, especially if she ended up with a majority of the popular vote, if not the delegates, the superdelegates could claim the momentum was with her and the Democrat voters were having buyer's remorse over Obama.

Of course Ferraro seemed to derail this, painting Hillary as a racist. But, now that the Rev. Wright scandal has arisen, the superdelegates again have the option of throwing in with Hillary.

But will they?

I think it is likely. The Wright scandal has manged to taint Obama. Even if he manages to distance himself, it has raised doubts in some minds, and Obama's readiness to cast aside a friend of 20 years has started to destroy his image as being "different" from other politicians. As a large part of his appeal is this carefully crafted image of not being "just another politician" it is likely that continued coverage will not help his chances at a general election victory. Even if it does not destroy his base, it is certain that ties to Wright will not do much to draw in the independents.

And now the Rezko matter is resurfacing. As I said before, if this story remains in the press, the combination of "Chicago politician" and "financial scandal" will not help his chances in the general election. So now that new stories are arising, showing even closer ties and more irregularities in his relationship with Rezko, Obama's chances are looking worse.

So, facing a nominee saddled with two major scandals, who was already unlikely to be able to win over the center, I think the superdelegates are ready to throw in with Hillary. At the moment all of her scandals are either in the past, or have been ignored as Obama has taken the lead, and, whatever her weaknesses in the general election, and there are many, she still has more possibility of winning that Obama does at this moment.

Again, any prediction can be proven wrong by changing circumstances, but, as long as things remain the same, I think the superdelegates will find reasons to vote for Hillary.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/16.


NOTE: For a discussion of why I believe my predictions went awry, see "Are the Democrats Worried About Obama" and "Why Rezko Matters". As for the superdelegates, I must assume they were more canny judges of political winds than I am. Though, as they are likely as immersed in the political environment as any politician or political junkie, it is a bit surprising they recognized that the public at large had almost completely failed to notice Rezko, Ayers, Wright and the other scandals. With the chattering classes so fascinated by those topics, it was easy to forget how little impact they made on the general public, which was behind many of my incorrect predictions.

To Be Fair

I have written a lot lately criticizing Senator Obama, and I think there are a lot of problems with his candidacy. First, I find his campaign a bit creepy and cult-like. Second, I am disturbed that he has made it this far without taking any positions of substance. Third, I find him a generally uninspiring person. Fourth, I am disturbed both by the company he keeps, and by his willingness to cast them aside when they become a liability. However, having said all of that, there is a recent line of criticism that I think is unfair.

Obama has no control over having been given the middle name "Hussein", nor does he have any control over where his parents lived and the schools to which he was sent as a child. Just as we should not criticize those forced into Hitler Youth or the Piccoli Fascisti, and as we should not hold anyone accountable for the sins of their ancestors, we cannot blame Obama for his naming or upbringing.

Nor do I think there is anything sinister in his youthful attendance at an Islamic school. Even if the school did teach content which we would find objectionable, that says nothing about Obama's current beliefs. Many of those on Townhall attended public schools which have, for decades, been busy indoctrinating youth with left-leaning values, yet they all became conservatives. Just because Obama was attending an Islamic school says nothing about his beliefs, and to claim he is some sort of madrassa Manchurian Candidate (the Medina Candidate?) is just silly. When Islam wants to control someone, they throw money at him, or find a willing fellow-traveler like Galloway in the UK, they don't need a Manchurian Candidate.

As many have realized this, and attacks on Obama's childhood have not received the attention some hoped, there has surfaced a new variation. Some have now started to argue that, as Obama is presumably an apostate from Islam, Islamic nations will not be willing to deal with him, making him a liability as president.

Again, I have to say that this is just a bad argument. We should not allow other nations to decide who will be the president of the US. That is a decision solely for those who reside here. And in making that decision, we should not allow other nations to blackmail us by saying they will or will not negotiate with this candidate or that, as it would effectively allow foreign states to decide our elections for us.

Imagine, if you will, an election where Russia declared they would not negotiate with McCain. Would we then refuse to elect McCain because he could not negotiate effectively with Russia? Of course not. Just as (most of us) have rejected the silly idea that McCain will have problems with asian diplomacy due to his years as a POW (and that issue has been raised from time to time), we should also not allow the fact that Islamic states may have a problem with Obama to decide the election.

Now, there are more than enough reasons to reject Obama, and I am happy to set them out for readers. But I think to attack Obama on such improper grounds as his middle name, or his childhood is just pointless. Why try to raise such issues when there are literally dozens of complaints one can raise with what he decided to do with his adult life?

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/16.

NOTE: In the post above, I wrote "when Islam wants to control someone". I am afraid that was an unfortunate choice of wording. What I intended to say was when specific Islamic groups want to control someone. I recognized then, as I do now, that there is no monolithic "Islam" which acts with one voice, any more than there is a monolithic "Judaism", despite the claims of many conspiracy theorists, or a unified Christianity.

Penitence or Betrayal?

I know Obama has now "distanced" himself from Rev. Wright and denounced him. I know he has denounced Farrakhan. And he will probably issue a host of additional denunciations before the primaries and general election is over. But the question remains, do we want a president who has to denounce so many of his associates?

Before the election, Obama had no problem associating with Rev. Wright or with Billy Ayers, his "mentor". He did not mind being associated with the New Black Panthers. And, until the press made it an issue, he did not have any problem with being endorsed by Louis Farrakhan.

So, yes, he has now denounced some, and will probably denounce the rest in the near future, but so what? If a Republican had been associating with klansmen, but denounced them, would he get such a pass? Of course not. However, we are supposed to think that by "denouncing" his former associates, Obama has wiped the slate clean.

My impression is different. His denunciation makes things worse, in my mind. Now, not only did he have poor enough judgment to associate with such people, but he also showed his political opportunism by casting aside his friends when things got tough.

In short, for me, his denunciation did not wipe out his past poor judgment, that remains. Instead, it just makes him appear disloyal and opportunistic as well.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/15.

Why Worry About Grammar?

I am growing tired of those who tell me spelling and grammar don't matter. These rules exist for a reason.

First, if we have a common framework for communication it allows us to convey our thoughts precisely. If we can't agree on what precisely the word "dog" means, for example, some people will use it to mean a canine and others will use it to mean a horse. If we can't agree on a precise set of meanings then our communication becomes less precise, maybe even becoming completely meaningless.

Second, the rules we have are those that have stood the test of time. The rules of grammar have evolved over time because they have proven the most useful at conveying a precise meaning. Other noun and verb forms, even whole parts of speech, have vanished as our ancestors decided they were not needed. Of course, various languages have differed somewhat as to what is and is not important, so there are cases in some languages which do not exist in others. However, if one examines most modern languages, he will find that, in general, certain basics exist in almost all of them. The idea of nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, and instrumental/ablative/locative cases for nouns exists in most languages. Similarly the idea of an imperative, a subjunctive, of active and passive voices exist for verbs in most languages I can name. The list is much longer than that, and there are the rare exceptions, but in general there are certain basics which exist in all languages.

Currently we are seeing a rapid erosion of our rules of grammar and spelling. It is not a continuation of the evolution of language, though many try to sell it as that. Evolution is a slow process. For example, it is possible that the subjunctive may disappear from English at some date, as it has been slowly fading for decades. But, under normal circumstances, that process would probably continue throughout my lifetime, and into that of my grandchildren. The evolution of language is a slow process.

No, what we have seen over the past two decades or so is the destruction of language. It is, in essence, the linguistic expression of moral and cultural relativism and the permissive, infantile culture it creates.

Let me explain.

The whole relativist belief system is based, primarily, on the idea that one cannot judge another. Anything someone wants to do is fine, there are no moral absolutes. As this system favors those who push the boundaries the farthest, and as the young tend to be more likely to go to extremes, this relativism tends to produce an infantile culture. Anyone who doubts that look at the scatological humor and "torture porn" which form a large part of popular culture at the moment, both clearly phenomena of a juvenile society.* Whether this is a result or a cause of our worship of youth, as opposed to the historical veneration of age, is not important. What does matter is that once one starts down the road of relativism, one ends up venerating the most worthless and childish things.

And that is what I see in grammar and spelling. Perhaps, at some point in education, it is more important that children simply write than that they write correctly. I have had that argument with teachers, and I don't wish to get into that again. But, whether or not that is true, at some point these same children do need to learn proper spelling and proper grammar. One cannot pass through life writing "c u l8r" and hope to be understood. Yes, in some contexts abbreviations are appropriate, and in some settings rules of grammar can be relaxed, but only if one already knows those rules. Why? Because at other times one will want to be as precise as possible, and without a clear understanding of how to communicate, as embodied in our rules of grammar, he will find himself unable to communicate effectively.

For those who doubt me, and think one can communicate clearly without understanding grammar, let me draw an analogy. If one is going to attempt to perform mathematical operations, one needs to understand the rules of mathematics. No one can perform calculus without understanding algebra or even addition. We would not call someone a mathematician who could write numbers on a page but did not know that three minus two is one. So why do we claim someone can communicate if they do not understand the purpose of the subjunctive or why it is improper (in English at least) to end a sentence with a preposition?**

Of course none of us are going to speak properly at all times, and most of us will not explicitly recall all of the rules of grammar at all times. On the other hand, if we are surrounded by a culture which speaks properly, which says "if it were" instead of "if it was", even those who don't know the rules of grammar will speak better. When rules are observed, even those who don't know the rules tend to follow them simply by emulating those around them.*** This works for grammar as it does for any set of rules.

Then again, I am sure that many of my readers are wondering why I am wasting time with such unimportant topics. To many the rules of spelling and grammar are not important. But I must differ with them. The breakdown of grammar is not just a symptom of our generally permissive and juvenile culture, but also a driving force. When you cannot communicate clearly, you tend to be more susceptible to poorly thought out appeals to emotion. Those who cannot clearly express themselves do not expect clarity form others, and are, as a result, more open to vaguely defined ideas.

In other words, by dumbing down grammar, we dumb down society in general, with the end result being that society is ruled not by the best ideas by by those with the greatest emotional appeal. And that is why even such seemingly unimportant issues as spelling and grammar truly do matter.

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* Of course, advertising, with its obsession with the 18-25 demographic, with their disposable income, and their belief that 14-30 is the ideal age tend to reinforce this, but it is society at large that allows advertisers to cater to the immature, so to blame Madison Avenue is foolish. They are, of necessity, simply a mirror of society at large.

** I confess to ending sentences in prepositions. I understand that a preposition must have an object, so it is improper to have one standing alone. On the other hand, I like to blame my childhood, growing up near Baltimore, where German immigrants have imported the detachable particle into English. Well, that is my story, and I am sticking with it.

*** The perfect example of this is New York City, where enforcing minor quality of life laws led to a decline in other crimes. It is apparent that those living in a lawless environment tend to become lawless, while those who live in an environment where even the most trivial laws are obeyed, tend to obey the laws. A similar process will occur with language. If most follow the rules, then those around them will follow the rules as well. It may not be pleasant to admit, but man does tend to behave like a herd animal in some respects.

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NOTE:

Before anyone faults me for sentence fragments, run on sentences, and a general disregard for the rules on composition, I will point out that I consider this a relatively informal setting and do not feel a need to abide by every rule. Also, as Orwell wrote concerning his rules in "Politics and the English Language", it is better to violate these rules than write something barbarous. At times, and I freely admit as much, the strict rules of grammar produce sentences which are simply ugly, and in those cases, I feel no hesitation in bending the rules a bit for aesthetic reasons. Of course, knowing the rules in the first place makes that choice possible. Those unaware that the rules even exist have no choice, they can only continue on writing the horrors they always write.

UPDATED 03/16/2008

I found a very similar essay on another blog. This perspective is not the same as mine, but I thought it would be of interest to anyone who enjoyed this essay.

UPDATED 03/16/2008

I forgot to link to my two earlier essays on spelling and grammar:
Spelling Nazi
HILARIOS DANCEING CAT

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy them as well.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/16.

NOTE: I did not replace the townhall blog link above, as the archive.org version had formatting problems.

Charisma Gap

A while ago, I wrote that Obama's main appeal was that he had no agenda, so his followers could project upon him whatever they wanted. Other than that he was just a nominally handsome man who was a passable speaker.

Since then I have had several arguments with Obama supporters, and it only serves to reinforce my opinion. How so? Mainly because, as I wrote before, I just don't see the "charisma" he supposedly exudes.

When we think of the charismatic, spellbinding speaker, we think of those who can sway even their opponents. In books we can read of those who despised everything the NSDAP stood for, yet found Hitler captivating in person. Likewise, from time to time one will find a particularly effective minister who can preach with such power that even those who don't believe in his faith are carried away for a moment. These and similar examples are true charisma, a personal magnetism that carries away even those who oppose the speaker.

Obama just doesn't have it. We have all seen Obama speak, and, as a rule, the only ones who find him charismatic are either those who support him, or those who would support him but for concerns over his lack of experience. In other words, one must already be kindly disposed toward Obama for this supposed charisma to manifest itself. And given the slant of the few, vague policy statements he has made, this is primarily limited to Democrats, more specifically, liberal Democrats. Which means that it is not charisma. At least not the sort of charisma that drives great movements.

No, true charisma is a gift, and it is usually found in those with unshakable confidence in themselves and their cause. Both of my examples above were men on a mission. Though Hitler and my hypothetical spellbinding preacher are worlds apart, they are both men driven by a firm belief, and that belief is what shows through their speech, that is what drives their charisma.

Obama has none of that. He may have firm beliefs, he may not. A lot of his behavior suggests he values election to office over any other beliefs, but it is still possible he is just casting aside beliefs until he is in power, so that he can enact his grand design. But whether or not he has beliefs, his speeches are designed precisely to mask and obfuscate those beliefs,  to make him appear as nothing but a mirror of his audience's hopes. And that does not create a truly charismatic appearance.

So, if he is not charismatic, and if his appeal is predicated on the listener filling him with the listener's own beliefs, why do people support Obama?

That I cannot answer. Not completely. In some ways he seems to appeal to the same people as cult leaders, and via a similar method. That his strongest support comes from idealistic college students is no surprise, as they are a fertile recruiting ground for cults as well. The way that he seems to offer them exactly what they want, because they read it into his vague statements, mirrors precisely the way cult leaders draw in their members. Why other, presumably less easily manipulated, would like him, I cannot say. When I asked my mother (an Obama fancier) directly, what about him appealed to her, she said he was against the war, for universal health care, and would "be a healing change". As that means he differs from Hillary Clinton only in the "healing change" bit, it doesn't give me a lot to work with, so I have to punt and say I don't know why Obama appeals to so many.

All I can say is that Obama's much touted "charisma" is really nothing of the kind. He doesn't even have the ability to be "all things to all people", as his emptiness only makes him appealing to a select group. Instead he is nothing more than a pretty face and silver tongue that appeals to the hard-core left and nothing more. He may appeal to them to a novel degree, but his appeal is still limited to those traditionally in the Democrat camp.

In short, the myth of a "charismatic" Obama reaching out to the entire electorate and holding them all in his grasp is a PR fable and nothing more. Obama is particularly astute at drawing in the left, but that is all.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/16.

Changing Predictions Once More

Back around the Texas and Ohio's primaries, I predicted the superdelgates were looking for an excuse to toss Obama overboard and nominate Hillary. I argued that they were beginning to realize that Obama could not both appeal to the independents and keep his fanatical left-wing followers. Perhaps, at the time, they were also aware of the ticking Rev. Wright time bomb. Whatever the case, I was pretty sure back when I made the prediction that, should Hillary win the two big primaries, and continue winning enough primaries to give the superdelegates a plausible claim that the momentum had shifted to favor Hillary, they would toss their support behind her and give her the nomination. (Followed, of course, by a McCain victory.)

Then came the Ferraro brouhaha, and Hillary's mea culpa to the press. As she had been marked with the scarlet R, I was pretty sure she was done. The superdelegates no longer had plausible cover for a shift against the popular vote, and, no matter what momentum Hillary could muster, they were not about to throw their weight behind a declared racist against a black candidate with a majority of the popular vote. And so I ended up predicting an Obama nomination followed by a McCain victory.

Fortunately, I ended that new prediction by saying:


So, unless there is another drastic shift before the convention, I believe that it will be an Obama-McCain race*.

And that drastic shift seems to have happened.

Earlier I wrote about the whole Rev. Wright incident and said I would defer judgment until I saw what the talking heads said Sunday morning and how Obama responded. But I don't think I have to wait that long. A brief survey of the bloggers and other alternate media making up the fifth estate shows that they are not about to let the MSM spike this story. And, if I have noticed, I am sure the MSM has as well. Since they dread being scooped by "some amateur in his pajamas" I can pretty much guarantee they will be on this story for the foreseeable future.

It doesn't matter what the press says, how they handle the tale, or how Obama responds. Whether someone finds a tape of Obama listening to Rev. Wright giving an inflammatory speech or Obama gives the most eloquent defense ever, it makes no difference. As long as this story lasts long enough to create a tiny doubt in the public consciousness, the superdelegates have their cover once again. The fact that Obama has provided even more reason to worry about him in a general election just adds to the motivation to switch nominees. Just by having a new scandal involving him, Obama has erased the memory of the Ferraro event and given the superdelegates an opportunity to cast him aside.

However, as this event shows, nothing is certain until the convention. Hillary could once again manage to put her foot in her mouth, or one of her supporters could do it for her, and we could once again be back where we started. But barring any such incident, I am confident we will see a superdelegate insurrection come convention time.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/16.

Private Versus Public Racism

I had a rather heated political discussion with my mother tonight and, among the many future topics I gleaned from it, I encountered a confusion that seems to plague discussions of racism in the US, the confusion of private and public action.

Whenever you hear someone going on about continuing racism in America, I guarantee that the conversation will involve some sort of confusion of public and private racism. Usually it will follow this pattern: The initial statements will be worded to make it sound as if the government itself discriminates (public racism). When pressed, the speaker will start giving examples of individuals acting in racists ways (private racism). However, the remaining discussion which follow almost always glosses over the difference, returning to the assumption that the government is racist. In other words, examples of private racism will be used as if they prove that public racism continues to exist.*

This matters for many reasons, but the main reason I mention it is that it leads to bad government decisions. The government has a role in eliminating public racism, but it has no part to play in removing private racism. To confuse the two is to assign to the government functions and powers it should not have.

The state should be blind as to race where race has no objective role. Race can be a consideration in a very few government decisions, such as recognizing racial patterns of sickle cell anemia or Kaposi's sarcoma, but it should not be used in decisions where race has no objective role. Voting, office holding, arrests, prosecutions, civil decisions, and so on should all be neutral in terms of race. Eliminating any state or federal laws which are explicitly based on race, and even those which are clearly designed to have a racial disparity, is a valid function of government. We may disagree about which laws are implicitly racist, but eliminating racism from the government is not a liberal issue, both parties and all points on the political spectrum (excepting a few militants on either end) can agree that race should not change the behavior of government.**

What is not a function of government is eliminating private racism. And, sadly, this is an issue where conservative and liberals differ. To a liberal, it is the purpose of the state to make those who hold "the wrong ideas" to change their minds. In other words, it is the purpose of the state to eliminate private racism, and racism will not be over until not one person in America holds racist views.

Opposed to this over-reaching, impossible goal, the conservative position is this: Every individual is entitled to their own beliefs, and it is not the purpose of the state to change them. Should you wish to be a racist, you are free to do so. In fact, true conservatives (at least on the libertarian wing of the party) argue that racists should even have the right to run their stores and businesses using their own beliefs, as forcing integration simply because it is a "public accommodation" is to violate their property rights. But even if we do not go that far, it is still the conservative position that racism will be with us forever, and, if it ever does disappear, it will be because of social pressure and private changes of heart, not through governmental action, that it is not the role of the state to change man's heart, just to regulate his behavior.

And that makes this kind of a microcosm of the whole liberal-conservative divide. Conservatives know their limitations and have humility about their beliefs. We do not know if we are right or wrong on all things, so we do not want to impose our will on everyone else. Instead we want to let each put forth his own views and let the best idea win out. We will be happy once we have the government purged of explicit racism, individual racism is a matter for individuals to sort out on their own.

The liberals take a different view. They are not humble, and are perfectionists as well. They want to make sure that every individual trace of racism is gone, and will not be happy until the world has been turned into utopia. In other words, they want to build a massive state apparatus, dedicated to perfecting man. They have no problem trying to change the thoughts of others, and have no qualms about massive growth of state power. In their minds, so long as enlightened souls wield the power, there is no problem with the state meddling in every facet of life.

No matter what the liberals think, no massive state will ever cure mankind of all its ills. In the end it will just create more ills of its own. Instead of the socialist utopia of which they dream, we will just have a massive gulag, whose residents are still every bit as fallible as they were in the beginning. But when have the consequences ever stopped a bad idea? As long as it promises to make man better, to help the weak or correct an ill, there will always be plenty willing to sign on.

As I said before, if we ever destroy the nation it will be from an excess of good deeds.

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* Obviously, some public racism does exist, but it is the "good" racism, at least in the minds of those who speak on racial matters. EEOC, EHO, affirmative action programs, set asides on contracts, etc. are all racist by definition, as they base decisions on nothing but race in area where races is not relevant. But, as this sort of racism is approved by the left, I will ignore it for this essay. Just assume when I say "there is no public racism" I mean "there is no public racism not approved by the political left."

** Again, some on the left argue for some preferential racial treatment, but we are ignoring that for this essay.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/15.

NOTE: This was accidentally posted twice. Once on May 3, 2011 and once on November 21, 2013.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Musings on the Failures in Iraq

Before I begin, let me point out, this is the first "Random Notes" post which actually began its life here on "The Ghost Squirrels." As blogtownhall.com is down (reinforcing the need to move elsewhere), I am writing my blog posts here, with the intent of transferring them back to "Random Notes" once it is up again. Still, I suppose it is a good first step, or second step, if you count my slow transfer of old posts, to actually begin writing here, even if it is only a stop gap to get around an outage.

Now, on to my post.

For reasons which are neither interesting nor relevant, I found myself reading the Wikipedia biography of Rory Stewart, and was surprised at what small accomplishments it takes to be considered an "academic" these days. Of course, I have been reading a lot of Goethe lately, and almost anyone short of Aristotle suffers by comparison. But, to be honest, Mr. Stewart sounds more like a politician and maybe diarist than an intellectual. But, that can be debated at another time. I only mention Mr. Stewart as one of the comments attributed to him inspired me to think about an issue I had not recently considered. And that the statement that he supported the war in Iraq until he saw how little the coalition did to produce a modern state.

My first reaction was incredulity. While "nation building" was the buzz word of critics in the early stages of the war, no one supporting the war wanted "nation building", only critics seemed to think about it. We who supported the war wanted to strike at known sponsors of terrorism (if not al Qaida, at least open offers to pay PLO/Fatah bombers). We wanted not to build nations, but eliminate a hostile force. Now, if we could rebuild Iraq into a friendly power, that was fine, but if not, then we just wanted to destroy their infrastructure, remove the present hostile regime, and generally impede their ability to promote terrorism.

Of course, some would argue leaving behind a wrecked nation would help, not hinder, terrorism, and in a way they are right. If we had just bombed Iraq into rubble, those who are willing to fight regardless of the chance of success would likely become more fired up. And so it would "help terrorism" in that segment. But on the other hand, the much more numerous group, who like to support a winning side would likely not become the next generation of terrorists. I know we in the West like to think every Moslem is a suicidal fanatic, but every conflict from the Crusades on show that the sensible Moslems, who follow their own self interest, are just as numerous as the same type among non-Moslems. So making it clear terrorism will lad to death might fire up a few extremists, but it will drive away many more, and reduce the support provided by non-members.

But the most significant factor, which those who claim a purely destructive war would "help recruiting" forget, is that recruiting terrorists is not a big deal. Name a cause and I can find a few hundred willing to fight. That is more than 9/11 required. What is needed for effective terrorism is funding, logistics, coordination, supporters, safe houses, and so on. In other words, money. Just look at Lebanon. It might house many terrorists, and many groups may recruit there. But every one is funded by outsiders, by Syria or Iran or (at one time) Iraq. Why? Because "terrorists" without money, as would be the case in war-ravaged Lebanon, are just a mob of ticked off shepherds, which should scare no on, except maybe stranded motorists or the new residents in "Straw Dogs". Otherwise, without funding and a support network, as well as organizational aid, those recruited are simply more mouths to feed, more people to raise voices in complaint when plans fail. Without money and support, all the recruiting in the world will not produce successful attacks.

And those were the thoughts I originally wanted to write here. I wanted to say little more than that the war was not fought to save Iraq, but to protect our interests, and those of our allies, when confronted by a nation engaged in supporting and sponsoring hostile forces.

But I thought about it a bit more, and I came to realize that the humanitarians, and the "nation builders" were actually even more off course. The problems they bemoaned, the failure of the coalition to reform Iraq, probably came about because of their own involvement. And so they were upset by something they helped create.

Think about it this way. For better or worse, World War I produced a democratic Germany, a democratic Austria, a democratic Yugoslavia and an autocratic Russia. Basically, all the nations which surrendered to the entente were reformed into something approaching the early 20th century Democratic ideal. Unfortunately, that ideal already had a heavy dose of socialism and social reform, and so many of those mixed democracies failed within a few years*. Then came World War II, and we see the defeated Italy, Japan and Germany all replaced with stable democratic states which still exist today.

And that brings me to my thought. In the Iraq war, we were forced to fight, not against Iraq, but "only against the government". In short, we were told to accept that many enemies would escape, lest we harm someone who was not clearly part of the government. We worried more about museum looting than victory. We imagined when Saddam was dead, the war would end. And, when that did happen, we gathered together local potentates, which means people who had been potentates under Saddam -- read as "the usual suspects" -- and expected people who had been big wigs under the dictator would form a nice, stable, free state, rather than return to the corruption and abuses that had characterized the governments under which they had become prominent**.

In other words, we fought a half-hearted war, basically allowing all the infrastructure, both physical and social, to remain, only lopping off the very top of the social hierarchy, then invited in the second tier of that hierarchy to build its replacement. It would be akin to asking a cadet branch of the Hohenzollerns to rebuild Germany in 1918. Would you expect real reforms?

Ironically, had we fought a more complete war, had we destroyed more of the social structure, we probably would have had better luck building a real, stable Iraqi state. We need only look at Germany or Japan to see what come from the total removal of the upper echelons of society. However, because we fought a kinder, gentler 21st century war in Iraq, it seems we have created a government which is starting with several strikes against it. It may succeed, it may not, but it definitely started with some serious impediments due tot he way in which it was created.

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* I do not accept the general belief that reparations made Germany revert to totalitarianism. After all, as von Mises and other have pointed out, SOMEONE had to pay for damage done in the war, why should the aggressors not be made to pay? And anyway, if Germany had enough money to re-arm and carry on covert research on submarines and aircraft, they were more than capable of paying reparations. Granted, protectionist policies made reparations more difficult, but that is an issue for another time. (I made this point in an essay in "Random Notes", but I cannot link now due to technical problems. I will add the link whenever possible.)

** And recall, if it is a potentate Saddam threw out, then either it was a potentate he elevated and then cast out, or else a potentate who predates Saddam, that is, rose to power under Saddam's corrupt predecessors. Not exactly a heartening resume.

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POSTSCRIPT

Afghanistan is a little different, in that there really was no central government, but more a set of competing states, each seeking to dominate the others. Rather like a better armed version of the heptarchic period in England. That being the case, it is, ironically, more likely we can build a stable state, as there is no previous central state to get in the way. Of course the materials with which we have to work are not the most reliable, as they are drawn from those competing states, but it also means the local population probably has realistically low expectations of the central government, which is promising. But all of that is material for another post.

POSTSCRIPT II

My mother just told me (11:07 PM Eastern) that  Osama bin Laden was killed. I am not sure how to fee about that. It is obviously a good thing, in many senses, but I wonder how much good it will do. Osama was definitely a charismatic leader, and seemed to be a clever planner. And his funds were much appreciated. But he was no Hitler or Lenin or Frederick the Great or Oliver Cromwell, a charismatic leader whose vision so shaped things that we was irreplaceable. He can and will be replaced, and, though al Qaida may suffer somewhat from the change, it will not destroy them.

On the other hand, had we known where Osama was, it seems keeping him alive in order to track all his contacts would ahve been wise, as it would have allowed us to chart all of al Qaida. In fact, back in 2001 and later, I always argued, if we knew where Osama was, we should not kill him, but use him for intelligence gathering. But, perhaps we did. Maybe he is dead now as his worth as an intelligence asset is at an end, and so they were trying to capture or kill him. I do not know enough yet to say.

Still, I wonder if, in the weeks to come, this will make any real difference. (And this has nothing to do with the occupant of the White House. Look at my old blogs under Bush and I argued then that he was right to concentrate on matters other than the single minded hunt for Osama.)


POSTSCRIPT III

And no, for once I am not going to complain about Wikipedia when I mention them. I know it is unusual, but there is enough material that I don't have the time for my usual rants. (Though I will link to them once blogtownhall is back up.)