January 30, 2005

Iraqi elections

Today was a great day for the Iraqi people. Their voting went much better than expected, although not without sacrifice -- a fact that marks their courage and achievement as even greater.

Iraqis defied violence and calls for a boycott to cast ballots in Iraq's first free election in a half-century Sunday. Insurgents seeking to wreck the vote struck polling stations with a string of suicide bombings and mortar volleys, killing at least 44 people, including nine attackers.

Women in black abayas whispered prayers at the sound of a nearby explosion as they waited to vote at one Baghdad polling station. But the mood for many was upbeat: Civilians and policemen danced with joy at one of the five polling stations where photographers were allowed, and some streets were packed with voters walking shoulder-to-shoulder to vote. The elderly made their way, hobbling on canes or riding wheelchairs; one elderly woman was pushed along on a wooden cart, another man carried a disabled 80-year-old on his back.

"This is democracy," said Karfia Abbasi, holding up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted.

Officials said turnout among the 14 million eligible voters appeared higher than the 57 percent that had been predicted, although it would be some time before any turnout figure was confirmed.

Note how the Associated Press reporter in the story cited above includes the dead suicide bombers in the casualty figure for the day in an attempt to pump up the negative.

President Bush made a statement, including this:

The Iraqi people, themselves, made this election a resounding success. Brave patriots stepped forward as candidates. Many citizens volunteered as poll workers. More than 100,000 Iraqi security force personnel guarded polling places and conducted operations against terrorist groups. One news account told of a voter who had lost a leg in a terror attack last year, and went to the polls today, despite threats of violence. He said, "I would have crawled here if I had to. I don't want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today I am voting for peace."

Across Iraq today, men and women have taken rightful control of their country's destiny, and they have chosen a future of freedom and peace.

We weren't the only ones watching.

The Arab world is anything but indifferent to Sunday's polling in Iraq, which has dual implications for the restive region. It will almost certainly bring to power Iraq's long-suppressed Shiite Muslims, boosting the sect's influence in this Sunni Muslim-dominated area. It also will mean Washington has succeeded in bringing democracy to Iraq by force — at least for the moment — a precedent that could shake up the autocratic Arab world.

"Arab governments may not say it, but they don't want Iraq's democratic experiment to succeed," said Turki al-Hamad, a prominent Saudi columnist and former political science professor. "Such a success would embarrass them and present them with the dilemma of either changing or being changed."

The blogosphere is in fine form today covering the election, and the Day by Day cartoon for Jan. 30 is getting lots of well-deserved exposure. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

Visit Friends of Democracy for first-hand reporting from Iraq.

Posted by Alan at 02:11 PM

January 29, 2005

God's Politics?

Book received: God's Politics : Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, by Jim Wallis.

Let's see, the book jacket endorsements are from Bono, Bill Moyers, E. J. Dionne, Jr., Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Cornel West. Say, this could be... interesting.

Related: Interview with Jim Wallis by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air.

Posted by Alan at 08:48 AM

Our friends the Saudis

Here's yet more evidence that Saudi Arabia is still a huge part of the problem in the War on [Islamic] Terror.

The government of Saudi Arabia is spreading "hate propaganda" in religious tracts sent to mosques throughout America, telling Muslims to hate Christians and Jews and to kill any Muslim who converts to another religion, a leading human rights group charged yesterday.

Saudi government literature collected during the past year from American mosques also tells Muslims living in the United States to "behave as if on a mission behind enemy lines," says an 89-page report released by the Human Rights Group Freedom House.

The report, titled: "Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques," is based on a yearlong study of more than 200 original documents, all published and disseminated by the government of Saudi Arabia.

"When a government agitates hatred and intolerance, when it counsels people in an authoritative voice to kill other people, that's a human rights violation. That's not protected by First Amendment or free speech," said Nina Shea, director of the Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom and the editor of the report.

Freedom House, which was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, is one of the oldest human rights groups in the United States. It is headed by James Woolsey, who was director of the CIA during the Clinton administration.

The organization examined literature available in more than a dozen mosques and Islamic centers in Los Angeles, Dallas, Oakland, Calif., Houston, Chicago, New York and Washington, including the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in Fairfax.

It collected more than 200 books, brochures and other publications, about 90 percent written in Arabic with some publications in English and others in languages such as Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.

The texts promote the views of the extremist Wahhabi sect of Islam, the official religion of Saudi Arabia and the primary source of teachings espoused by Osama bin Laden and his followers.

Mrs. Shea said that the mosques themselves were not scrutinized in the report, only the actions of the Saudi government.

In most instances, the report said, involvement by the Saudi government was immediately evident from the seal or name of a government department emblazoned on the cover of the literature.

Related: Freedom House

Posted by Alan at 08:22 AM

January 27, 2005

Mission statement

After taking some heat for her earlier comments, Peggy Noonan is still pondering President Bush's inaugural address, and is still concerned. She seems to yearn for more signs of realpolitik in this White House, which may be very good advice.

[W]ords have meaning. To declare that it is now the policy of the United States to eradicate tyranny in the world, that we are embarking on the greatest crusade in the history of freedom, and that the survival of American liberty is dependent on the liberty of every other nation--seemed to me, and seems to me, rhetorical and emotional overreach of the most embarrassing sort.

[H]istory is quite big enough right now. We've already been given a lot to grasp. The president will have real juice for the next 2 1/2 years. If in the next 30 months he can stabilize and fortify Iraq, helping it to become a functioning democratic entity that doesn't encourage terrorism; further gird and undergird Afghanistan; keep the U.S. safe from attack; make our alliances closer; make permanent his tax cuts; and break through on Social Security, that will be huge. It will be historic. It will yield a presidency that even its severest critics will have to admit was enormously consequential, and its supporters will rightly claim as leaving a lasting legacy of courage and inspiration. We don't need more than that--it's quite enough. And it will be quite astonishing. Beyond that, don't overreach. Refrain from breast beating, and don't clobber the world over the head with your moral fabulousness.

The temperature of our world is very high. We face trouble that is already here. We don't have to summon more.

Healthy alliances are a coolant in this world. What this era demands is steely resolve, and actions that remove those who want things at a full boil. In this world we must speak, yes, but softly, and carry many sticks, using them, when we must, terribly and swiftly. We must gather around us as many friends, allies and well-wishers as possible. And we must do nothing that provides our foes with ammunition with which they can accuse us of conceit, immaturity or impetuousness.

Here is an unhappy fact: Certain authoritarians and tyrants whose leadership is illegitimate and unjust have functioned in history as--ugly imagery coming--garbage-can lids on their societies. They keep freedom from entering, it is true. But when they are removed, the garbage--the freelance terrorists, the grievance merchants, the ethnic nationalists--pops out all over. Yes, freedom is good and to be strived for. But cleaning up the garbage is not pretty. And it sometimes leaves the neighborhood in an even bigger mess than it had been.

It's an important debate. Also study the very tough perspective of Mark Helprin, who is way beyond concerned.

Posted by Alan at 06:32 AM

January 25, 2005

The wrong trousers

"No pants" is a multi-purpose tag line here at Bedlam Manor, so actor, writer, and comedian Larry Miller provided great satisfaction today with his tribute to Johnny Carson, complete with a rich, detailed account of his own penultimate appearance on The Tonight Show, involving a side-splitting trouser malfunction. Read the whole thing, preferably aloud, then note his sincere conclusion:

You all know how good Carson was. In an era that seems to grow coarser each day, he radiated manners and virtue. Everyone used to say that Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America when he was on, but I think it just might have been Johnny Carson. I know who I'd trust more, and I sure know who was funnier.

There's an old Jewish saying that every man's heaven or hell is determined by what people say about him after his death. It's a good thought, and if it's true, Johnny Carson is soaring very, very high.

Tip via Power Line.

Posted by Alan at 10:44 PM

Loser

Billionaire (formerly multi-billionaire) Ted Turner's meltdown and the subsequent smackdown from Fox News is just too good to let pass.

Ted Turner called Fox a propaganda tool of the Bush administration and indirectly compared Fox News Channel's popularity to Adolf Hitler's popular election to run Germany before World War II.

Turner made those fiery comments in his first address at the National Association for Television Programming Executives' conference since he was ousted from Time Warner Inc. five years ago.

The 66-year-old billionaire, who leveraged a television station in Atlanta into a media empire, made the comment before a standing-room-only crowd at NATPE's opening session Tuesday.

His no-nonsense, sometimes humorous, approach during the one-hour Q&A generated frequent loud applause and laughter.

While Fox may be the largest news network [and has overtaken Turner's CNN], it's not the best, Turner said. He followed up by pointing out that Adolph Hitler got the most votes when he was elected to run Germany prior to WWII. He said the network is the propaganda tool for the Bush Administration. "There's nothing wrong with that. It's certainly legal. But it does pose problems for our democracy. Particularly when the news is dumbed down," leaving voters without critical information on politics and world events and overloaded with fluff," he said.

The Fox response:

"Ted is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network, and now his mind," said a Fox News spokesperson. "We wish him well."
Posted by Alan at 08:19 PM

Euros on the sidelines

Well-traveled columnist Thomas Friedman has been in Paris thinking about the upcoming election in Iraq.

Either Iraqis turn out in large numbers to take control of their own future and write their own constitution — and I think they will — or the fascist insurgents there will prevent them from doing so, in which case the Bush team will have to move to Plan B. What's sad is that right when we have reached crunch time in Iraq, the West is totally divided. All the Europeans care about is being able to say to George W. Bush, "We told you so." What happens the morning after "We told you so"? Well, the Europeans don't have a Plan B, either.

"The most important threat (to the West) is Islamic terrorism," said Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Doctors Without Borders and one of the few French intellectuals to support the ouster of Saddam. This is not a war with the Muslim religion, he stressed, but with a violent "fascist" Muslim minority.

"We (in the West) have always been allied against fascism since the Second World War," he said. "We have to be together, America and Europe, because our enemies are the same, Muslim extremism and fascism," but right now, unlike in Bosnia, "we are apart."

Kouchner blames Paris for having been too quick to threaten a U.N. veto and blames even more the Bush team for having been too quick to go to war without a real U.N. alliance and for mismanaging postwar Iraq. At least he cares. Most of his countrymen, I sense, are hoping Bush will fail in Iraq so that the ends will never justify his unilateral means. It's quite amazing, when you consider that Europe, with its large Muslim minorities, needs the moderates to win the war of ideas within Islam so much more than America.

It's not always the case with Friedman, but this time read the whole thing.

Posted by Alan at 05:43 AM

January 23, 2005

Inaugural pondering

Commentary is still swirling around President Bush's inaugural speech (you know where to look). Preston Ledger at Consternations read Peggy Noonan's concerns and has a bottom line take:

[C]ould it indicate an overreach by Bush? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be the first time. Dubya does swing for the fences a lot.

Maybe he’ll strike out with this “ending tyranny” thing, but I say why not try? Hey, it’s the second term. There should be no holding back.

If you can’t give ’em heaven, give ’em hell.

Scott Ott has a quite different take.

"The guys over at the State Department had coffee shooting out of their nostrils."
Posted by Alan at 11:00 AM

History awaits us, no rest in sight

Charles Krauthammer says there's good news and bad news about the web of global conflicts that engage the U.S.

The great democratic crusade undertaken by this administration is going far better than most observers will admit. That's the good news. The bad news is a development more troubling than most observers recognize: signs of the emergence, for the first time since the fall of the Soviet empire, of an anti-American bloc anchored by Great Powers.

I am not talking here about the obvious, the continued survival of al-Qaida, although it has clearly been diminished over the last three and a half years.

I'm talking about the other, more subtle challenge to Pax Americana: the first stirrings of what might become an anti-American coalition involving at least two Great Powers. The most remarkable fact about the post-Cold War era is that for the first decade and a half no such opposition emerged. Historically that is almost unheard of. Hegemonic powers, such as Napoleonic France and imperial and Nazi Germany, tend almost inevitably to spur the creation of a coalition of Great Powers to oppose and contain them.

That may be beginning again. The quiescence with which Russia accepted the Soviet collapse may have run its course. Russia's helplessness at the loss of Ukraine followed a long string of humiliating losses: first the external Third World empire, then the outer East European empire, then the inner empire of 14 Soviet republics.

Add to this NATO's attack on Serbia, Russia's traditional Balkan ally, and the expansion of NATO into the Baltic states. Putin's Russia, already moving decisively back to traditional Czarist authoritarianism, then suffers political defeat in Ukraine, which it considers its natural patrimony. This only compounds and embitters the feeling of alienation from the West in general, and from the United States in particular.

It is no accident that Russia then begins hinting at making common cause with China. This is potentially ominous because of China's rising power and its status as the leading have-not nation on the planet, the Germany of the 21st century. In December, during the week of the rerun Ukrainian election that finally brought the pro-Western Viktor Yuschenko to power, Russia made two significant moves toward China. First was the announcement of intensified economic cooperation in developing Russia's vast energy resources. More ominous was the Russian defense minister's Dec. 27 announcement of, "for the first time in history," large joint military exercises on Chinese territory.

China in turn is developing relationships with such virulently anti-American rogue states as Iran. Add such self-styled anti-imperialist flotsam as Syria, North Korea, Cuba and (Chavez's) Venezuela, and you have the beginnings of a significant "anti-hegemonic" bloc — aimed at us.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Alan at 08:53 AM

January 21, 2005

Caution

Wise Peggy Noonan has some words of caution after yesterday's presidential inauguration, especially President Bush's speech.

The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.

A short and self-conscious preamble led quickly to the meat of the speech: the president's evolving thoughts on freedom in the world. Those thoughts seemed marked by deep moral seriousness and no moral modesty.

There were moments of eloquence: "America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies." "We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery." And, to the young people of our country, "You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs." They have, since 9/11, seen exactly that.

And yet such promising moments were followed by this, the ending of the speech. "Renewed in our strength--tested, but not weary--we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

This is--how else to put it?--over the top. It is the kind of sentence that makes you wonder if this White House did not, in the preparation period, have a case of what I have called in the past "mission inebriation." A sense that there are few legitimate boundaries to the desires born in the goodness of their good hearts.

One wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not.

Just soaring rhetoric or looming reality? Time will tell, but Noonan's take is mandatory food for thought. She has other observations about Inauguration Day, so read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Donald Sensing sees the President drawing long-overdue ideological battle lines in a war declared on us by militant Islam.

Liberty as we conceive it is at the heart of the conflict. For Islamists, the most desirable state of human society is not one that is free, in the Western sense, but one that is submissive to Allah, according to the dictates of Quran. This state of society is dar al Islam, the world of peace. Anything else is the dar al harb, the "world of war." Societies, peoples or nations are either at war with Allah or at peace (through submission) to Allah.

This concept of submission is the matter of ultimate concern to Islam generally and is enormously amplified by radicalized Islamists. In their view, no sacrifice is too great to achieve their ends, and no violence is unjustified. I don't think we have reached the point yet of widespread American understanding that the war is one of ultimates for us as well.

The real issue is whether the Western Civilization shall prevail against the last vestige of medievalism; whether the rule of men who behead their prisoners, enslave their women and deny the rights of self-determination to their own people, shall kill us and displace us, to whom the individual and individual rights are sacred and whose laws require respect for freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and whose traditions preserve freedom from fear and cruelty. In the long history of civilization, this task is to be done now.

Naysayers asked for "nuance" from George W. Bush, and now they may be getting it: the hard-nosed requirements of national security achieved through the relentless pursuit of God-given ideals of freedom and democracy at home and abroad, through all means necessary, including political philosophy, theology, diplomacy, military action, and more. Pretty complex. Hubris? We'll see.

Posted by Alan at 06:15 AM

January 20, 2005

Presidential Inauguration 2005

C-SPAN will have wall-to-wall coverage of the Inauguration, including live streaming for those away from their televisions. C-SPAN's Presidential Inauguration site also has a extremely comprehensive set of resources, including video, schedules, briefings, and historical materials. Impressive and informative.

No sign yet of a Kerrycam or such to further convey the unbearable soreness of losing.

This photo from the pre-inaugural Black Tie & Boots Ball Wednesday night shows pretty well how the Republicans are feeling right now.

UPDATE: Missed the President's speech live, but the text is here. It looks very, very good. His conclusion:

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now" - they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.

When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, "It rang as if it meant something." In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength - tested, but not weary - we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.

Sidenote: today seems like a very appropriate day to roll over 100,000 visits to this site, which far exceeds any expectation. Thanks to all.

Posted by Alan at 05:27 AM

January 19, 2005

Barbara Boxer bulldog

If it were possible to reach through a car radio to grab a vain, sanctimonious, grandstanding politician in mid-sentence, California senator Barbara Boxer would NOT have gotten away unscathed Tuesday during her disgraceful hectoring of Condoleeza Rice during a supposedly serious confirmation hearing.

Boxer's official website purports to provide the text of her "opening statement," but a comparison against what I heard and the hearing transcript via The New York Times reveals it to be expurgated. Boxer's actual "statement" was a full 2,100 words (to start) and included this nasty dig (not on her own site):

Now, the war was sold to the American people, as chief of staff to President Bush Andy Card said, like a new product. Those are his words. Remember, he said, You don't roll out a new product in the summer.

Now, you rolled out the idea and then you had to convince the people as you made your case with the president. And I personally believe -- this is my personal view -- that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth.

Rice's reply was firm, indeed steely:

Senator, I am more than aware of the stakes that we face in Iraq, and I was more than aware of the stakes of going to war in Iraq. I mourn the dead and honor their service. Because we have asked American men and women in uniform to do the hardest thing, which is to go and defend freedom and to give others an opportunity to build a free society which will make us safer.

Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before and what went on before and what I said, without impugning my credibility or my integrity.

Impressed with herself, Boxer kept at it and Rice stated again:

Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like. But I really hope that you will reframe from impugning my integrity.

Radio windbag Michael Savage, usually no favorite of mine at all, got it right today when he said Boxer would be barely qualified to manage a brassiere store if she had to earn a living. True enough.

Luckily for our nation, Condi Rice is made of stern stuff, in addition to being brainy and beautiful. She'll be Secretary of State very soon.

UPDATE: The committee voted 16-2 today to send Condi Rice's nomination to the full Senate for certain approval. Boxer and John Kerry were the "no" votes in committee. Wizbang notes that Boxer "set a new high in lows."

Posted by Alan at 05:00 AM

January 17, 2005

Sy Hersh rides again

This story is getting a lot of attention, as well it should.

The United States has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran to help identify potential nuclear, chemical and missile targets, The New Yorker magazine reported Sunday. The article, by award-winning reporter Seymour Hersh, said the secret missions have been going on at least since last summer with the goal of identifying target information for three dozen or more suspected sites. Hersh quotes one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon as saying, "The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible." One former high-level intelligence official told The New Yorker, "This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush administration is looking at this as a huge war zone. Next, we're going to have the Iranian campaign."

The White House said Iran is a concern and a threat that needs to be taken seriously. But it disputed the report by Hersh, who last year exposed the extent of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "We obviously have a concern about Iran. The whole world has a concern about Iran," Dan Bartlett, a top aide to President Bush, told CNN's "Late Edition." Of The New Yorker report, he said: "I think it's riddled with inaccuracies, and I don't believe that some of the conclusions he's drawing are based on fact." Bartlett said the administration "will continue to work through the diplomatic initiatives" to convince Iran -- which Bush once called part of an "axis of evil" -- not to pursue nuclear weapons. "No president, at any juncture in history, has ever taken military options off the table," Bartlett added. "But what President Bush has shown is that he believes we can emphasize the diplomatic initiatives that are underway right now."

James Joyner responds thusly:

Interesting. The fact that Bartlett didn't deny the report outright gives it some credence. Given that Iran has been the biggest state supporter of terrorism for 25 years and is on the verge of gaining nuclear weapons, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if some sort of covert reconnaisance operations were ongoing. Indeed, I'd be surprised if they weren't.

The omnisicient InstaPundit observes:

I hope that this is true... On the other hand, the source is somewhat dubious.

Indeed, just last year National Review cautioned its readers:

The man behind many of the most provocative Abu Ghraib stories — Seymour M. Hersh of The New Yorker — is one of the best-known reporters in the business. But that doesn't mean he always gets his facts right. "If the standard for being fired was being wrong on a story, I would have been fired long ago," he once said. Hersh has admitted to lying to his sources and one former editor accused him of blackmailing them. Can he be trusted today?

Decide for yourself -- Hersh's newest report is available in full in The New Yorker. His intro sets the stage:

George W. Bush’s reelection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national-security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities’ strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control—against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorism—during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as “facilitators” of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long-range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush’s reëlection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America’s support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon’s civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing.

“This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”

Posted by Alan at 09:44 AM

January 16, 2005

Michael Crichton's State of Fear

Michael Crichton's new best-seller is State of Fear, a sci-tech thriller centered on global warming. As usual, it's written in his unique screenplay-as-novel style. Crichton is a notably and explicitly cinematic novelist; for him, the "novelization" comes first. But this one won't win him any friends among the Hollywood elites.

Why? Because State of Fear says global warming is bunk and the novel's villains are the icons of Hollywood itself: environmentalist actors, green activists, sanctimonious NGO spokesmen, etc. The Left is aghast.

Here's a typically horrified reaction, via The New York Times:

The novel itself reads like a shrill, preposterous right-wing answer to this year's shrill, preposterous but campily entertaining global warming disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow."

In Mr. Crichton's ham-handed novel, the dangers of global warming are nothing but a lot of hype: scare scenarios, promoted by shameless environmentalists eager to use bad science to raise money and draw attention to their cause. For that matter, the ludicrous plot revolves around efforts by radical members of an environmental group called NERF (National Environmental Resource Fund) to surreptitiously trigger a series of natural disasters including a supersize hurricane and a giant tsunami that would hit California with 60-foot waves; these disasters would be timed to coincide with the group's big media conference, thereby awakening the public to the dangers of climate change wrought by global warming.

Here's the Los Angeles Times:

The question is why, on the subject of global warming, we should believe a techno-thriller writer rather than thousands of scientists from around the world, many of whom have devoted years to the study of climate change.

In perusing the body of Crichton's work, I may have come upon an answer. His interests have sent him traveling beyond straight-ahead science and into the psychic world, with layovers in channeling and exorcism.

You get the idea. It's no use wading into the fever swamps of the Far(ther) Left, but they must be just unglued that this book is #4 on The New York Times bestseller list. It has attracted 286 reader reviews so far at Amazon.

Bottom line: this is a prototypical Michael Crichton novel, including a provocative scientific context, well-researched techno-babble, somewhat two-dimensional characters, and page-turning plot twists. At 600 pages, it's too long, but that's now fashionable among best-selling authors who can no longer be edited (think Stephen King and Tom Clancey). State of Fear is entertaining and may very well open the eyes of the general public to the notion that human-enduced global warming isn't an established fact. How often does the public hear a statement like this one from British journalist Melanie Phillips?

Global warming is an enormous scam, the greatest scentific scandal of the latter part of the 20th century.

You won't learn that reading the mainstream media or watching Hollywood's typical products. So try a novel, or a blog.

It will be interesting to see if Hollywood actually makes State of Fear into a movie, and, if so, then to see how they try to palliate its vastly politically-incorrect message.

Related:
Michael Crichton Official Site
• The Sunday Times (UK) - Interview
• HarperCollins Publishers - chapter excerpt

Posted by Alan at 08:56 AM

January 15, 2005

Hezbollah in Israel

While all eyes are on Mahmoud Abbas following the latest terror attack on Israel, intelligence officials in the Jewish state are watching the underground activities of Iran-sponsored Hezbollah.

Senior defense officials monitoring Hezbollah activity, which include sending money and instructions to Palestinians in the territories during the last two years, describe a very different picture. The Shi'ite organization runs a conveyor-belt operation in the territories. Its goal is to create as many small terrorist cells as possible, and Hezbollah is happy with even the smallest attacks.

It's the "launch and forget" method. If a network's efforts don't work, Hezbollah moves on to another network. Hezbollah is not even providing specific tactical instructions to its West Bank and Gazan operatives. It makes do with general instructions.

Palestinians, despite the temptation of the high pay offered by the Lebanese group, are well aware of the ramifications of the system. A Fatah activist from the Tul Karm area who was arrested by the Shin Bet security service said that he regarded his contact with Hezbollah as deadly - a short-lived, fatal framework that would lead him to doom. Hezbollah, he told his interrogators, pushes people to ever more operations, even at the cost of their lives. And the chances of getting out of the "contract" safely are nil.

The hard data shows a steep rise in Hezbollah involvement in Palestinian terrorism. In 2002, the Shin Bet identified seven Palestinian groups operated by the Hezbollah. In 2003, there were 14, and in 2004, there were 51 such groups. Only some of those groups were neutralized.

Hezbollah is devoting significant resources to the war against Israel. Most of these resources come from Iran. Hezbollah sent an estimated $9 million into the territories in 2004 out of an overall budget of $100 million. Since a terrorist attack costs an average of NIS 5,000, clearly some of that $9 million ended up in the pockets of the cells in the territories. The current bonus paid for a dead or wounded Israeli is NIS 4,000.

Hezbollah's command in Beirut wants to forge unity between the various groups in the West Bank, unifying bomb makers, suicide bombers and those who dispatch attacks into one organization. But it has apparently stopped trying to send a senior bomb expert into the territories. Instead, it uses couriers who carry instructions on computer disks. That's no way to create a successor to Ihiye Ayash, but if the goal is quantity of attacks and not quality, its apparently enough for Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah, under instructions from Iran, has targeted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, even to harm him physically, to prevent any accommodation between Israel and the PA.

Tip via AFPC.

Related: Terror takeover

Posted by Alan at 08:32 AM

January 14, 2005

Unremitting liberalism

Van Gordon Sauter, former president of CBS News, draws cruel but fair conclusions from the Rathergate scandal.

What's the big problem at CBS News?

Well, for one thing, it has no credibility. And no audience, no morale, no long-term emblematic anchorperson and no cohesive management structure. Outside of those annoyances, it shouldn't be that hard to fix.

Personally, I have a great affection for CBS News, even though I was unceremoniously shown to the door there nearly 20 years ago in a tumultuous change of corporate management.

But I stopped watching it some time ago. The unremitting liberal orientation finally became too much for me. I still check in, but less and less frequently. I increasingly drift to NBC News and Fox and MSNBC.

This week, when CBS News announced that four employees would lose their jobs in connection with the George Bush National Guard story, I was struck by how the network had become representative of a far larger, far more troubling problem: A large swath of the society doesn't trust the news media. And for many, it's even stronger than that: They abhor the media and perceive it as an escalating threat to the society. More...

Tip via RatherBiased.com

Posted by Alan at 05:41 PM

Storming the ramparts, again

Here's an in-depth commentary on the conservative counter-revolution happening on America's college campuses: students aren't just taking it anymore.

For decades, conservative critics have bemoaned academe's monolithically liberal culture. Parents, critics note, spend fortunes to send their kids to top colleges, and then watch helplessly as the schools cram them with a diet of politically correct leftism often wholly opposed to mom and dad's own values.

But the left's long dominion over the university--the last place on earth that lefty power would break up, conservatives believed--is showing its first signs of weakening. The change isn't coming from the schools' faculty lounges and administrative offices, of course. It's coming from self-organizing right-of-center students and several innovative outside groups working to bypass the academy's elite gatekeepers.

Read the whole thing while the struggle continues. I'll be interested in hearing the reaction of my two daughters in college right now.

Posted by Alan at 07:09 AM

January 13, 2005

They want it in electrons

It's good to see this work recognized: military librarians are providing essential support to both miltary personnel and their families. Their mission is intensified during wartime, just like all other operations.

A Marine in Iraq wants a database search for information about terrorist suspects. A lonely child with a deployed military parent needs a few good books to help pass the time. A sailor deployed for months at sea wants to study for college entrance exams.

As the war on terror continues, America's military librarians serve readers who range from warriors in the field to the families they've left behind.

"Last year, we had 20,600 people sign up to use our services," said John Vassallo, director of the Thomas Lee Hall Library at Fort Jackson, the Army's largest training installation.

Vassallo's tiny library - the main branch on this huge base - serves not only the 30,000 people normally associated with Fort Jackson, but also the 50,000 soldiers a year who come through here for weeks or months of training.

As noted by Camille at Book Moot, the "number of military libraries is amazing."

Army officials say there are about 82 such Army libraries at installations around the world. In all, there are about 230 libraries in the Army system, which includes academic, technical, legal, medical and military unit libraries.

Air Force officials say their service has 109 libraries worldwide; Navy officials said their branch has 32 general libraries on bases and book collections on some 322 active vessels.

The Navy and Marine Corps also have more than 50 specialized libraries for academic, technical, medical and legal matters, according to Carole Ramkey, head of the Grey Research Center at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va.

The Library Journal says:

Under normal, peacetime circumstances, military libraries resemble their civilian counterparts, except that they serve additional special constituencies. Their hospital libraries emphasize military medicine and trauma care. Service academy libraries support traditional liberal arts, but the collection and reference questions are heavily weighted toward military history, technology, and strategy.

"General libraries"—those serving army posts and navy and air force bases, which comprise the majority of military libraries—are like public libraries, serving the needs of soldiers and their dependents plus the strategic planning needs of commanders and the professional advancement goals of officers.

Related links:

Military Librarians Division of the Special Libraries Association
Military Libraries on the Web
Defense Technical Information Center

Posted by Alan at 05:45 PM

Terrorists released

Here's another example of how political expediency will eventually be paid for with the blood of innocent people.

President George W. Bush has agreed to release five “dangerous” detainees from Guantanamo Bay following repeated pleas from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and growing protests from human-rights groups amid disclosures about abuses by U.S. military interrogators at the camp, according to U.S and British officials.

Pentagon officials expressed grave misgivings about freeing the five detainees—four Britons and one Australian—who are seen by Washington as hardened Al Qaeda members who could pose a serious terrorist threat if, as seems highly likely, they are soon allowed to walk the streets freely as a result of this week's agreement.

Indeed, in documents filed in federal court just last fall, Pentagon lawyers alleged that one of the detainees, Mamdouh Habib, the Australian, had advance knowledge of the September 11 terror attacks, trained some of the hijackers in martial arts and “planned to hijack a plane himself.”

[T]hose concerns were in effect trumped by Bush’s desire to mollify Blair, who has come under increasing domestic pressure to protect the rights of British citizens held at the controversial U.S. detention camp in Cuba. In a trip to Washington last November, and in follow-up teleconference calls that the two leaders regularly have, Blair made “personal pleas” to Bush to repatriate the British detainees, a British government official said today.

Still, Pentagon officials are ambivalent at best. They acknowledge what they see as mistakes in releasing prisoners in the past: according to some U.S. intelligence reports, between 10 to 12 former Guantanamo Bay prisoners were released—and then returned to the battlefield to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. At a minimum, officials fear a replay of the case of the so-called Tipton 3: three British detainees from a suburb of Birmingham who were released from Guantanamo last year and promptly let go by British authorities upon their return to the U.K. The former Guantanamo prisoners then were celebrated in the British press and used their newfound freedom to denounce the U.S. government for their alleged mistreatment.

Posted by Alan at 05:33 PM

Cacophony of truth

Peggy Noonan gets it.

The Rathergate Report is a watershed event in American journalism not because it changes things on its own but because it makes unavoidably clear a change that has already occurred. And that is that the mainstream media's monopoly on information is over. That is, the monopoly enjoyed by three big networks, a half dozen big newspapers and a handful of weekly magazines from roughly 1950 to 2000 is done and gone, and something else is taking its place. That would be a media cacophony. But a cacophony in which the truth has a greater chance of making itself clearly heard.

[I]n the past decade the liberals lost their monopoly. What broke it? We all know. Rush Limbaugh did, cable news did, the antimonolith journalists who rose with Reagan did, the internet did, technology did, talk radio did, Fox News did, the Washington Times did. When the people of America got options, they took them. Conservative arguments rose, and liberal hegemony fell.

All this has been said before but this can't be said enough: The biggest improvement in the flow of information in America in our lifetimes is that no single group controls the news anymore.

You can complain now, and your complaints can both register and have an impact on the story, as happened with bloggers and Rathergate. You can be a part of the story if you find and uncover new information. You can create the story, as bloggers did in the Trent Lott scandal. American journalism is no longer a castle, and you are no longer the serf who cannot breach its walls. The castle doors have been forced open. Other voices have access. Bloggers for instance don't just walk in and out, they have offices in the castle walls.

Is there a difference between the bloggers and the MSM journalists? Yes. But it is not that they are untrained eccentrics home in their pajamas. (Half the writers for the Sunday New York Times are eccentrics home in their pajamas.) It is that they are independent and allowed to think their own thoughts. It is that they have autonomy and can assign themselves stories, and determine on their own the length and placement of stories. And it is that they are by and large as individuals more interesting than most MSM reporters.

Remember the movie "Broadcast News"? The bland young reporter played by William Hurt who yearned to be a star and a member of the establishment would be a major network anchor or producer now, his hair gone a distinguished gray. The character played by Albert Brooks--the bright, mischievous and ultimately more talented journalist--would be a blogger now.

Now anyone can take to the parapet and announce the news. This will make for a certain amount of confusion. But better that than one-party rule and one-party thought. Only 20 years ago, when you were enraged at what you felt was the unfairness of a story, or a bias on the part of the storyteller, you could do this about it: nothing. You could write a letter.

When I worked at CBS a generation ago I used to receive those letters. Sometimes we read them, and sometimes we answered them, but not always. Now if you see such a report and are enraged you can do something about it: You can argue in public on a blog or on TV, you can put forth information that counters the information in the report. You can have a voice. You can change the story. You can bring down a news division. Is this improvement? Oh yes it is.

As always, read the whole thing.

Related:
• Dorothy Rabinowitz - The Small Matter of Proof
• Howard Fineman - The 'Media Party' Is Over

Posted by Alan at 01:11 AM

January 11, 2005

New blogs

Here are two new blogs of note, each recommended by Donald Sensing:

Austin Bay Blog
The Counterterrorism Blog

Both look like daily reads. Check 'em out.

Posted by Alan at 05:40 PM

Self-evident to all but the experts

So the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel has found fault with the journalistic practices at CBS News, but declined to find "evidence" of "political bias" or document forgery.

That's more than bizarre, since the truth is obvious: the incident itself and all the statements surrounding it are self-evidentiary. The panel's conclusion is analogous to declining to find "evidence" of a broad daylight bank robbery because the thieves refuse to acknowledge that they did anything illegal.

As noted by Power Line, the single best short take on the report so far is by Jonathan Last at The Weekly Standard: the report is a "whitewash."

The Thornburgh-Boccardi report deals mostly with the news-gathering practices of CBS, which is all well and good. But what was needed was a definitive accounting of the truth.

Surely the blue-ribbon report had the responsibility not merely to critique CBS standards and practices, but to help us find out the truth about the incident at hand. To return to the New York Times analogy, it would be like judging the Jayson Blair case without knowing what he had and hadn't made up. By assiduously avoiding conclusions of any kind, the report has left only one possible conclusion: The Thornburgh-Boccardi panel believes that the way in which CBS went about its business may have been improper, but that the story they produced wasn't necessarily wrong. If anything, this represents a step backward in the official reckoning of the case.

Well, if the documents weren't forged and Mary Mapes acted with no political bias, then her firing would have been unjust and she really would be a scapegoat. But since there is abundant evidence that the documents were forgeries and that political attitudes were important in driving the story, the better conclusion is that the CBS Report is a whitewash.

More solid commentary at TKS, Hugh Hewitt, and WizBang, among others.

Posted by Alan at 11:51 AM

January 10, 2005

"24" on Fox

In case you weren't tuned in and turned on last night, the fourth season of 24 on Fox got off to an amazing start. Episodes 3-4 are on tonight.

It's not too late to be drawn into the non-stop action and intrigue. The 24 website has detailed summaries of episodes 1-2.

What a great, risky show.

[A]s in past seasons, there's no way to tell from the first hours where the new story line is going or what the ultimate threat to America might be. Even [executive producer and writer Howard] Gordon and the other writers don't know -- as hard as viewers may find that to believe.

"Not only do we not plot far ahead, we seem to plot less far ahead with every year," Gordon says. "And this year, we're going closer to the edge than we've ever gone before. We've really had a stronger idea of where we were going in previous years. This year, it's by the seat of our pants."

But, he adds, that creative brinkmanship is "what gives the show the energy and freshness, the spontaneity. We're kind of watching it as we write it.

"We continue to have to surprise ourselves -- along with the viewers -- rather than knowing every note we're going to hit along the way."

Posted by Alan at 05:10 PM

Finding the truth

John Fund says that "new media" -- bloggers and talk radio, especially -- are leading the way to expose massive voting irregularities in the flawed Washington election.

The new media--talk radio, bloggers and independent watchdog groups--have followed up their success in exposing Dan Rather's use of phony memos by showcasing another scandal: Washington state's bizarre race for governor, which features a vote count so close and compromised it allows Florida to retire the crown for electoral incompetence. If Democrat Christine Gregoire, who leads by 129 votes and is scheduled to take the office Wednesday, eventually has to face a new election, it will have been in large part because of the new media's ability to give the story altitude before it reached the courts.

Seattle Times columnist Joni Balter says the attack on the vote count by Republican-leaning media "is by now a near-military operation--air, land and sea." She blames radio hosts Kirby Wilbur, John Carlson and Mike Siegel for keeping listeners updated and in a constant state of outrage. "There's a lot to be outraged about," responds Mr. Carlson, an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2000. "Last week, I did 13 out of my show's 15 hours on the election and people wanted more."

In his new book, "Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation," radio host and law professor Hugh Hewitt calls the new media a form of "open-source journalism" in which gatekeepers can no longer control what reaches the public. Readers and listeners interact with bloggers and talk show hosts so that a free market of ideas and information can emerge. "Blogs analyzed the Washington state election shenanigans in a more sophisticated and comprehensive way than the mainstream media," he told me. "When a swarm of blogs and new media focus on a story it can fundamentally alter the general public's understanding of an event or person. Ask John Kerry, Trent Lott, Tom Daschle and soon-to-retire CBS anchor Dan Rather if they think the new media changed people's perceptions of them."

Similarly, when Christine Gregoire takes the oath of office as governor on Wednesday, she will still face a threat to her seat of power should the new media keep up the pressure and more evidence of a tainted vote count emerges in court.

Posted by Alan at 05:54 AM

January 09, 2005

Bring back the traditional bowls

Mark Starr of Newsweek sure has it right on the tendentious issue of college football "playoffs."

I’ve never been an advocate of a college playoff system. I don’t like the idea of extending the season any closer to NFL length and keeping those “student athletes” out of the classroom any longer than they already are. Make it a four-team playoff and there will, inevitably, be a fifth team that gets screwed. Expand it to eight and pretty soon we’ll be watching “January Jubilee,” a 64-team big dance with Chris Berman hyping the opening game: “Will little Delaware be the Trojan Horse that trips up mighty USC and Matt 'Days of Leinart Roses?' ”

But when the college system essentially vests everything in a single game, it risks a monumental stinker that pollutes the entire 28-bowl marathon. Nobody remembers the gems (Louisville 44, Boise State 40; Iowa 30, LSU 25; Texas 38, Michigan 37) because they are of no consequence—just the lone snoozer that counts for something more than a payday.

What to do when you hate the current system but dread an extended college playoff? My choice would be a return to the traditional bowl format, with meaningful conference rivalries like Big 10-Pac 10 and the prospect of several games that matter. It might reverse the TV ratings plunge for other bowls. And the added fun comes afterward in the endless debate—fodder for barroom discussion and sports talk radio—about which team really deserves the No. 1 ranking. That’s why folks of a certain age can still get worked up over 1966 and whether Notre Dame, Michigan State or Alabama deserved the top spot. In years hence nobody but USC alum will have much reason to rehash this season’s outcome.

Posted by Alan at 10:57 AM

Not the voice of peace

The conventional wisdom says Mahmoud Abbas will walk away today with the presidency of the corrupt Palestinian Authority. Various "experts" -- optimists, double-talkers, and the self-deluded -- claim he will be a force for moderation and peace. Charles Krauthammer asks: "Has no one learned anything?"

How has President-to-be Abbas been campaigning?

Dec. 30: Abbas, appearing in Jenin, is hoisted on the shoulders of Zakaria Zbeida, a notorious and wanted al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist. Abbas declares that he will protect all terrorists from Israel.

Dec. 31: Abbas reiterates his undying loyalty to Arafat's maximalist demands: complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines, Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and — the red-flag deal-breaker — the "right of return," which would send the millions of Palestinians abroad not to their own country of Palestine but to Israel in order to destroy it demographically.

Jan. 1: Abbas declares that he will never crack down on Palestinian terrorism.

Jan. 4: Abbas calls Israel "the Zionist enemy." That phrase is so odious that only Hezbollah and Iran and others openly dedicated to the extermination of Israel use it.

What of Abbas' vaunted opposition to violence? On Jan. 2, he tells Hamas terrorists firing rockets that maim and kill Jewish villagers within Israel, "This is not the time for this kind of act." This is an interesting "renunciation" of terrorism: Not today, boys; perhaps later, when the time is right. Which was exactly Arafat's utilitarian approach to terrorism throughout the Oslo decade.

In the Middle East, words are actions. Never more so than in an election campaign where your words define your platform and establish your mandate. Abbas is running practically unopposed and yet, on the question of both ends and means, he chooses to run as Yasser Arafat.

During the decade of Oslo, Arafat's every statement of hatred, incitement and glorification of violence was similarly waved away. Then bombs began going off in cafes and buses, and the Middle East wise men realized he meant it all along. Now, once again they are telling us to ignore the words. Abbas does not really mean it, they assure us. This is just electioneering. We know his true moderate heart. Believe us.

Why? On the basis of their track record? And even more importantly, you do not conduct foreign policy as a branch of psychiatry. Does Abbas mean the things he says about Israel now? I do not know, and no matter what you hear from the experts — the same people who assured you that Arafat wanted peace — neither do they.

But we do know this. In Abbas' first moment of real leadership, his long-anticipated emergence from the shadow of Arafat, he chooses to literally hoist the flag of the terrorist al-Aqsa Brigades.

Posted by Alan at 08:29 AM

January 08, 2005

Torture or not?

Here's Manhattan Instititute scholar Heather MacDonald on how the Alberto Gonzales hearings are harming the ability of military interrogators to extract needed information from terrorist prisoners.

Senate Democrats decided to turn the confirmation hearings of Alberto Gonzales into a referendum on the war on terror--specifically, on the Bush administration's decision that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al Qaeda terrorists. They implied that the denial of prisoner-of-war status to al Qaeda fighters resulted in the torture of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

This "torture narrative" is gospel truth among elite opinion-makers, yet it is false in every detail. It relies on ignorance of the actual interrogation techniques promulgated after 9/11. However spurious, the narrative has had a devastating effect on interrogators' ability to get intelligence from detainees.

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib disaster and the ensuing media storm, the Pentagon has shut down every stress technique but one--isolation--and that can be used only after extensive review. An interrogator who so much as requests permission to question a detainee into the night could be putting his career in jeopardy. Interrogation plans have to be triple-checked all the way up through the Pentagon by bureaucrats who have never conducted an interrogation in their lives.

To succeed in the war on terror, interrogators must be allowed to use carefully controlled stress techniques against unlawful combatants. Stress works, say interrogators. The techniques that the military has used to date come nowhere near torture; the advocates can only be posturing in calling them such. These self-professed guardians of humanitarianism need to come back to earth. Our terrorist enemies have declared themselves enemies of the civilized order. In fighting them, we must hold ourselves to our own high moral standards--without succumbing to the utopian illusion that we can prevail while immaculately observing every precept of the Sermon on the Mount.

Read the whole thing. Then watch Heather MacDonald speak and field questions via C-SPAN (Real format).

Another concern: the blithe and irresponsible use of the term "torture" as a political weapon against the Bush administration makes it inevitable that audiences abroad, far removed from our domestic political wrangling, will assume as fact that we have, in fact, engaged in officially-sponsored torture. That's a lie that will take on the aura of ugly truth, with deadly consequences.

• More by Heather MacDonald: How to Interrogate Terrorists.

• Provocative commentary via Belmont Club here and here.

Posted by Alan at 11:24 AM

January 07, 2005

Guy Davenport, RIP

Our world is diminished yet again: gifted author, artist and teacher Guy Davenport has died.

In 1990 he received a so-called genius grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for his short fiction and essays linking American civilization with the traditions of classical and European culture.

In typical Davenport short stories, Kafka promises a little girl that her lost doll, Belinda, is actually on a trip around the world and will write to her ("Belinda's World Tour"), or there's a juxtaposition of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris, the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, Fourier's utopian New Harmony community, Leonardo's bicycle, pollinating bees, and Beckett in conversation ("Au Tombeau de Charles Fourier").

Mr. Davenport's playful explanation for his technique was, "You get up in the morning and you've got Keats' 'Odes' to take some sophomores through, and you've got a chapter of 'Ulysses' for your graduate students, and the mind gets in the habit of finding cross-references among subjects," he told an interviewer for the periodical Vort in 1976.

But critics saw the deeper point to his fiction. Hilton Kramer, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote of Davenport's conception of the short-story form: "He has given it some of the intellectual density of the learned essay, some of the lyric concision of the modern poem - some of its difficulty too - and a structure that often resembles a film documentary. The result is a tour de force that adds something new to the art of fiction."

In 1974, his story "Robot" won a third prize in the O. Henry Awards, and in 1981 he won the Morton Douwen Zabel award for fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

His friends at the University of Kentucky and elsewhere will miss him.

When people are reading about the great writers of the 20th century, he'd be on the list," said Ellen Rosenman, chairwoman of the UK English department. "He was an amazing, inventive, quirky mind, just really unique."

But his works were not the kind to read at the beach.

"You had to know a fair amount to know how original he was," said James Baker Hall, a retired UK English professor and former state poet laureate.

"I think he was one of the great prose stylists in the English language," Hall said. "You never could anticipate where a sentence would take you."

Mr. Davenport had a reputation for intellectual and artistic breadth.

Jack Shoemaker was Mr. Davenport's publisher for about 30 years, successively at North Point Press, Counterpoint and most recently Shoemaker and Hoard.

Shoemaker said Mr. Davenport blended his many interests "into one vision of the world" by making "incredible connections."

"He was one of the greatest prose stylists of modern American letters," Shoemaker said. "I think his work will be read in a thousand years, as long as there is English prose."

Mr. Davenport also was an artist. Erik Reece, a lecturer at UK's English department and the author of a book about Davenport's visual art, said: "He was a synthesizer of a lot of modernist styles. He was always trying new forms."

I first became aware of him when he wrote a brief euology for J.R.R. Tolkien when the professor died in 1973. I would have to scrounge to find that old, treasured photocopy, but here's a snippet of what caught the eye of my young collegiate self: Davenport in National Review(!) on Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings.

We can easily say that it is the best book of the century, though the greatest is Ulysses, and Lewis' The Human Age is the book we deserve most to be remembered for ... Tolkien dared to resuscitate the romance, a form requiring the genius of a Rabelais or Spenser, a form which was shattered after its brilliant flowering in the hands of Boiardo and Ariosto by the publication of Don Quixote."

So I knew immediately that he was smart and learned and a careful discriminator of different kinds of excellence - eye-opening stuff for a simple sophomore.

Along those same lines, here's something he wrote about Tolkien in 2001:

Tolkien at a turning point in his career found ancient Greek too logical and neat. He fell in love instead with the runes of the North, the almost indecipherable prehistory of Denmark and Finland, a time of chain-mailed nobility and a belief in dragons. He made an imaginary past place, Middle Earth, in which to revive the old tales, the old ways, the ancient morals that survive as English fair play, honor, and decency.

When, fifty years ago, I attended Tolkien’s lectures, I realized that I was absolutely ignorant of the Far North, its Wagnerian gods and heroes. Professor Tolkien lectured to the floor, had a speech impediment, and was all too often given to wandering off into Welsh cognates. The Lord of the Rings was, for me, a redeeming gift for having learned the principal parts of Anglo-Saxon verbs, fifty every Friday. Further redemption came when I met, here in Kentucky, a classmate of Tolkien’s who told me that good old Ronald ("whatever became of him?") was deeply inquisitive about backwoods Kentuckians, who grew pipeweed and had names like Baggins and Barefoot.

There's much more, of course: short stories, essays, translations from the Greek, art. I'll be learning from Guy Davenport for a long time to come. Many thanks for making my world bigger and more interesting.

"Our understanding of the world is largely secret, limited to our kin and friends, and evaporates in the winds of time. The artist's understanding of the world is public, available to all, and can become a long-lasting resource."

- Guy Davenport

Posted by Alan at 05:06 PM

LARK Program

This is currently making its way around the Internet. Hat tip: my sister in NC. Enjoy.

A person wrote a letter to the White House complaining about the treatment of a captive insurgent (terrorist) being held in Guantanamo. Attached is a copy of a letter they received back:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20016

Dear Concerned Citizen:

Thank you for your recent letter roundly criticizing our treatment of the Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Our administration takes these matters seriously, and your opinion was heard loud and clear here in Washington. You'll be pleased to learn that, thanks to the concerns of citizens like you, we are creating a new division of the Terrorist Retraining Program, to be called the "Liberals Accept Responsibility for Killers" program, or LARK for short. In accordance with the guidelines of this new program, we have decided to place one terrorist under your personal care.

Your personal detainee has been selected and scheduled for transportation under heavily armed guard to your residence next Monday. Ali Mohammed Ahmed bin Mahmud (you can just call him Ahmed) is to be cared for pursuant to the standards you personally demanded in your letter of admonishment. It will likely be necessary for you to hire some assistant caretakers. We will conduct weekly inspections to ensure that your standards of care for Ahmed are commensurate with those you so strongly recommended in your letter.

Although Ahmed is a sociopath and extremely violent, we hope that your sensitivity to what you described as his "attitudinal problem" will help him overcome these character flaws.

Perhaps you are correct in describing these problems as mere cultural differences. He will bite you, given the chance. We understand that you plan to offer counseling and home schooling. Your adopted terrorist is extremely proficient in hand-to-hand combat and can extinguish human life with such simple items as a pencil or nail clippers. We do not suggest that you ask him to demonstrate these skills at your next yoga group.

He is also expert at making a wide variety of explosive devices from common
household products, so you may wish to keep those items locked up, unless (in your opinion) this might offend him.

Ahmed will not wish to interact with your wife or daughters (except sexually) since he views females as a subhuman form of property. This is a particularly sensitive subject for him, and he has been known to show violent tendencies around women who fail to comply with the new dress code that Ahmed will recommend as more appropriate attire. I'm sure they will come to enjoy the anonymity offered by the burka - over time. Just remind them that it is all part of "respecting his culture and his religious beliefs" - wasn't that how you put it?

Thanks again for your letter. We truly appreciate it when folks like you, who know so much, keep us informed of the proper way to do our job.

You take good care of Ahmed - and remember...we'll be watching. Good luck!

Cordially...

Your Buddy,

Don Rumsfeld

UPDATE: Note for non-alert readers: this pass-around e-mail, like most such things, is obviously satire. Still funny, though.

Posted by Alan at 06:52 AM

January 06, 2005

Artie Shaw remembered

Power Line notes the recent passing of iconoclastic jazz titan Artie Shaw and guides us to several useful links. Insightful Terry Teachout wrote a fine piece in 2000 for Shaw's 90th birthday. I'm no expert on Shaw's music, but Teachout's fine writing has the desired effect: it makes me want to go to the back catalog and listen right away. Artie Shaw was one-of-a-kind.

H.L. Mencken once suggested that in a well-run universe, everybody would have two lives, "one for observing and studying the world, and the other for formulating and setting down his conclusions about it." This is more or less the way that the clarinetist Artie Shaw, who turns 90 on Tuesday, has contrived to arrange things. In the first half of his long, spectacularly eventful life, he played jazz with Bix Beiderbecke and Mozart with Leonard Bernstein; married Lana Turner and Ava Gardner; made a movie with Fred Astaire; and was interrogated about his left-wing ties by Joe McCarthy. Then, at the age of 44, he stopped playing music and started writing fiction...

Mr. Shaw's first big band was an ensemble of unorthodox instrumentation (it included a string quartet) whose failure inspired him to change musical directions and organize what he called "the loudest goddamn band in the world." He then struck it rich in 1938 with a crisp, incisive recording of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" that made him a superstar virtually overnight. For all his oft-expressed contempt of commercialism, he had a knack for making good music that pleased the public—a knack with which he would never come to terms—and the "Beguine" band, which featured the superlative singing of Billie Holiday and Helen Forrest, the fiery drumming of the 21-year-old Buddy Rich and a saxophone section that played with breathtaking fluidity and grace, was an incomparable dance band, by turns lyrical and galvanizingly hot.

Mr. Shaw himself wrote many of the band's lucid, transparent arrangements, whose simplicity was deliberately intended to appeal to a mass audience, but which had the paradoxical effect of providing an ideal background for his richly elaborate improvisations. His intense, saxophone-like tone was sharply focused but never shrill, even when he was cavorting in the instrument's highest register, and his blues solos were tinged with an exotic modal color suggestive of synagogue chant.

Related:

• NPR - Artie Shaw: The Reluctant 'King of Swing' Looks Back on Life on the Throne (2002)

• PBS - Jazz A Film by Ken Burns Artist Biography - Artie Shaw

Recommended: Self Portrait boxed set.

Artie Shaw Self-Portrait.jpg

Posted by Alan at 08:46 PM

Army Reserve "broken"

The media and Capitol Hill Democrats are all over this story.

The head of the Army Reserve has sent a sharply worded memo to other military leaders expressing "deepening concern" about the continued readiness of his troops, who have been used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and warning that his branch of 200,000 soldiers "is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force."

In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and "dysfunctional" policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.

The three-star general, who has a reputation for speaking bluntly, said the situation has reached a point at which the Army Reserve is "in grave danger of being unable to meet" its operational requirements if other national emergencies arise. Insistence on restrictive policies, he continued, "threatens to unhinge an already precariously balanced situation in which we are losing as many soldiers through no use as we are through the fear of overuse."

His pointed remarks represent the latest in a chorus of warnings from military officers and civilian defense specialists that the strains of overseas missions are badly fraying the U.S. Army. The distress has appeared most evident in reservist ranks. Both the Army Reserve and the National Guard last month disclosed significant recruiting slumps.

Not unlike the current frenzy over "torture," there's a real issue here but it will be obscured, not helped, by blatant politicization. Our armed forces will be better served by a searching policy debate.

Here is the full text of the eight-page memo itself, via the Baltimore Sun. Think I'll read it in detail before additional comment.

Posted by Alan at 12:21 PM

January 04, 2005

Tsunami nonsense

Mark Steyn is not impressed with the international bureaucrats and busybodies calling for all tsunami relief to be managed only by the U.N.

Aside from its "moral authority," the justification for doing everything through the United Nations is that you need one central coordinating authority — that 1,000 ad hoc organizations and volunteers swarming Indonesia and Sri Lanka would just stumble over each other wastefully and inefficiently.

Yet, even though Mr. Egeland's office has a permanent bureaucracy dedicated solely to humanitarian relief work, a week after the disaster it didn't seem to have actually done anything other than fly in some experts to assess the situation. Reporters on the ground have noted the lack of activity in Colombo and Sumatra. But the U.S. government already had ships and troops and water and medicine on the way.

That's what you need: an operational infrastructure for long-distance emergencies — or, in a word, a military. If you don't have a functioning military, it doesn't matter how caring you profess to be.

Neither are the keen observers at The Diplomad:

In this part of the tsunami-wrecked Far Abroad, the UN is still nowhere to be seen where it counts, i.e., feeding and helping victims. The relief effort continues to be a US-Australia effort, with Singapore now in and coordinating closely with the US and Australia. Other countries are also signing up to be part of the US-Australia effort. Nobody wants to be "coordinated" by the UN. The local UN reps are getting desperate. They're calling for yet another meeting this afternoon; they've flown in more UN big shots to lecture us all on "coordination" and the need to work together, i.e., let the UN take credit....

Maybe watching the UN flounder is not like watching a train wreck; perhaps it's more akin to watching an Ed Wood movie or reading Maureen Dowd or Margo Kingston -- so horrible, so pathetic, that it transforms into a thing of perverse beauty. The only problem, of course, is that real people are dying.

Tip via Chrenkoff.

Posted by Alan at 12:15 PM

January 03, 2005

Tolkien's birthday

Today would have been the birthday of scholar and author J.R.R. Tolkien. As suggested by the Tolkien Society and practiced around the world, we drank a toast to him at 9:00 p.m. in the traditional way: "To the Professor."

Entire forests have been leveled in recent years discussing (or dismissing) Tolkien's achievements. Be that as it may, here's David Mills on the mythic power of the story:

In his “Over the Chasm of Fire: Christian Heroism in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings,” [Stratford] Caldecott argues that “The Lord of the Rings is not a flawless work, but it is richer and deeper than many books more carefully crafted by shallower men.”

People read it over and over because “the ‘truth’ in myths and legends bears repeating because it cannot be taken in all at once. There are stories we have to grow into; stories that deal with the way the world is made, and the way the Self is made.” (And unmade as well.) Because they can “restore a balance to the psyche by turning our energies and our thoughts towards truth . . . [r]eading them can be a bit like praying.”

And here is Mills again on the Christian dimensions of The Lord of the Rings:

Providence requires that we accept the burdens given us, and accept that we do not know why they have been given to us. When Frodo wishes that Sauron had not risen to power in his time, Gandalf agrees: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

A little later, when Frodo asks why the Ring came to him, Gandalf explains that “Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”

The Lord of the Rings is a Christian work, not least in its picture of the workings of Providence, and of what will happen if we accept that we have been chosen for whatever adventure we have to undertake, and if we use such strength and heart and wits as we have. And that is an encouraging thought.

Tip via Brandywine Books blog.

Indeed. That's why we say our toast each year. Thanks again, Professor.

Posted by Alan at 10:26 PM

Tsunami children

Thousands of children have been tragic victims of the Asian tsunami, but here's an amazing tsunami survival story: a young girl who saved a beach full of people.

A 10-year-old British girl saved 100 other tourists from the Asian tsunami having warned them a giant mass of water was on its way after learning about the phenomenon weeks earlier at school.

While other holidaymakers stood and stared as the disappearing waters left boats and fish stranded on the sands, Tilly recognised the danger signs because she had done a school project on giant waves caused by underwater earthquakes.

Quick action by Tilly's mother and Thai hotel staff meant Maikhao beach was quickly cleared, just minutes before a huge wave crashed ashore. The beach was one of the few on the Thai island of Phuket where no-one was killed.

Related: children's literature blog Book Moot refers us to not one but two works that deal with children facing tsunamis: Peg Kehret's Escaping the Giant Wave, and The Big Wave by Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck.

UPDATE: In India, a family dog was a hero as well. Nicely done.

"Run away!" her husband screamed from a rooftop after he spotted the colossal waves. The command was simple, but it presented Sangeeta with a dilemma: She had three sons, and only two arms.

She grabbed the youngest two and ran — figuring the oldest, 7-year-old Dinakaran, had the best chance of outrunning the tsunami churning toward her home. But Dinakaran didn't follow. He headed for the safest place he knew, the small family hut just 40 yards from the seashore.

Sangeeta thought she would never see him again. The family dog saw to it that she did. While water lapped at Sangeeta's heels as she rushed up the hill, the scruffy yellow dog named Selvakumar ducked into the hut after Dinakaran.
Nipping and nudging, he did everything in his canine power to get the boy up the hill.

Dinakaran credits the dog with saving his life. "That dog grabbed me by the collar of my shirt," the boy said from under some trees at Pondicherry University, where the family is waiting for relief. "He dragged me out."

Posted by Alan at 12:06 PM

Good News from Iraq

In the interests of more balanced reporting, Arthur Chrenkoff has published the latest in his series on Good News from Iraq. Yes, there is some amongst the mayhem.

Occasionally--but not too often--we catch in the media the glimpses of that other Iraq: the optimistic, hopeful, enthusiastic and normal one. More often than not, however, our access is restricted to the now very familiar Iraq of constant bloodshed, rampant terrorism, political instability, stalled reconstruction and widespread disillusionment and frustration. Only time will show which Iraq proves to be more resilient and consequential. But for the time being, as the struggle for the soul and the future of the country goes on, it pays to bear in mind that this struggle if far from a one-sided one--that as the violent Iraq strikes, the normal Iraq fights back, on thousands of fronts and in thousands of small ways.

Related: Voices of Iraq and more.

Posted by Alan at 06:13 AM

January 01, 2005

Happy New Year

Mark Twain on New Year's Day, 1863:

Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. To-day, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.
Posted by Alan at 12:56 AM