Archive for April, 2004
Posted by Lexington Green on 29th April 2004 (All posts by Lexington Green)
I finally saw Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers (2002). My sister got me the DVD, and I watched it on the laptop. Small screen indeed. I thought it was a solid effort. Gibson is a competent but not brilliant film-maker, who knows his limits and operates within them. He reminds me of something George Thorogood (I think) once said — I only know three chords, but I know ‘em cold. Gibson, similarly, knows how to do war and violence and mourning and survivor’s guilt, stoicism and family life all in a very plain and unironic style. Gibson also uses stock characters — the tough commander with a heart of gold, the hard-ass top sergeant, the handsome and idealistic officer doomed to die, etc. This all works decently well in Gibson’s hands, though it is a set of artistic blunt instruments he is wielding. Gibson tells a linear story — a war is underway, troops assemble, a leader (Lt. Col. Hal Moore, played by Gibson) appears, Moore trains them, he leads them into battle, many die, there is mourning over the dead. The parallel plot about the wives at home receiving death notices allows a counterpoint to the din of gunfire, explosions and screaming, wounded men. Moore’s wife is played in a convincing and dignified way by Madeleine Stowe. She is a good actress, with striking looks, who seems to have spent almost her entire career being squandered in sub-par movies. A third somewhat muted parallel plot has unidentified men in Saigon trying to figure out how to “sell” the story of what is happening back home. This allows the suffering and courageous soldiers to be contrasted with a cynical leadership which cares nothing for their lives and which has, in effect, betrayed them before it even committed them to battle. This seems true to historical fact, alas. It is also a theme which has deep roots in American war cinema, including the similar scenes in Pork Chop Hill (discussed here). Some scenes shown from the point of view of the NVA commander and his men are done well, and the NVA soldiers are depicted without rancor or ideology.
The battle scenes are graphic in the contemporary post-Private Ryan style. However, it seemed to me that both the Air Cav troopers and the NVA regulars all fought too bunched up. There were repeated charges, by both sides, with men standing only a few feet away from each other, against an opponent with automatic weapons. That struck me as wrong. This led to a video-game-like destruction of many NVA troops by the Americans. I suspect they did not die quite so easy. Also, an American counter-attack at the end led to a very “Hollywood” moment which did not strike me as plausible. But, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know for sure what really happened. I was reminded yet again that the modern, bloody war movie style, with bullets blowing fountains of blood out of heads and torsos, and the riddled men twisting and falling in slow motion, all goes back to an unacknowledged ancestor, Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch (discussed here).
The fact that the critics hated this movie on ideological grounds was strong and accurate reassurance that I would like it. One film reviewer I read (can’t find a link; it was a long time ago) went on about how it was mawkish, corny and unbelievable to see Lt. Col. Moore, saying prayers with his children at bedtime. Since I and millions of other parents do the exact same thing, this scene in the movie struck me as perfectly normal. Apparently this particular film reviewer has never met anyone in person who prays with his children. A classic contrast between red state and blue state America right there.
It turns out that diapers are evil:
Despite his concerns, Noelle continued to use diapers on his daughter, despite the fact that he “felt like a monster and a fraud.”
Noelle finally chose to go diaperless and looked to traditional cultures for inspiration. “How I longed for a simple, dirt-floored, baby-friendly hut like that of a Yequana family,” he wrote.
I think it’s clear that this is a man who has done a lot of thinking.
Oh yeah, composting toilets. We know everybody wants one. How could one not? But take heed of this cautionary tale by a pioneer. This composting everyman sheds light on the origins of irrational prejudice against an ecological marvel:
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to have all kinds of worms, flies, spiders, cockroaches, a whole mini-ecosystem in your composter but you don’t really want them coming out of the pedestal and into your house. Even if I was to be convinced that there was little health danger from flies coming out of the toilet and landing on food (e.g. drosophila go straight for the fruit bowl) how would I convince my guests that it was ok. Guests rarely had a problem with the composting toilet per se, although I did move the light so it didn’t shine straight down the chute, and some wanted a tape-recorded flushing sound to really feel that the act was complete. But at one stage I was spraying low-toxic personal insect repellant down the chute just before the guests arrived, and hoping for the best.
Obviously the man is a cynic, but true believers will not be dissuaded.
(Via Iain Murray)
UPDATE: Moira Breen’s comments on the diaper issue are worth reading. It’s easy to make light of this subject. However, what’s interesting to me is how some people can look at a technology that has become universal, and instead of studying its history and the issues involved, and trying to figure out why the technology has become popular, they proceed from ignorance and latch on to marginal theories, then invest themselves in alternatives that have not stood the test of time.
One sees this kind of behavior in many fields of human experience, and I think that it goes beyond merely reinventing the wheel. It seems to be based on a systematic unwillingness to credit human experience, and ultimately on contempt for other people.
An unvarnished example of a quid pro quo . Either do what we want you to do, or we are going to “scrutinize” your budget. Should not the legislature be “scrutinizing” the budget of the state-run university as a matter of course? I’ve got to get out of Illinois, always feel like I need a shower.
Andy B. forwarded this neat photo. The machines in the foreground are harvesting beans while the ones in back are preparing the ground for corn planting. The photo appears to have been staged (normally the combines would advance next to each other) but it’s still impressive.
Scott links to this informative article about a proposed Florida law that would allow local governments to condemn private land for the sole purpose of making it available to developers. This is a recent and very bad development in U.S. local politics. The proposed law would formalize the until-now casual predatory behavior of local governments which seize land for the benefit of developers and other well connected interest groups. Legislation should forbid this kind of behavior, not codify it.
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That would be the coy Tom Bihn, handbag designer extraordinary.
The bag’s designer Tom Bihn never guessed that purses with the message, “We’re sorry our president is an idiot. We didn’t vote for him” — inscribed in French — would be blowing out of the stores.
“It is a mystery, but since we launched the bags with the label sewn, sales have doubled,” said Bihn, 43. “It is a record in the history of the company.”
He denies the message is targeting US President George W. Bush (news – web sites).
“It depends on either your nationality, or the president you think is an idiot; you choose.”
Ha ha ha! And nobody can accuse Tom of partisanship, because he told us himself that his little canard isn’t aimed at our Prez. Of course not, that’s why the lettering is in French.
Stick to designing handbags, Tom. Leave the comedy to professionals.
I fear two things, mainly. One is that we will lose our nerve politically, and that this war, which we should win handily, will instead become the protracted existential struggle that some of us now say it is when we are feeling pessimistic. The leaders of the Democratic Party, in tacit collaboration with much of the media, seem to be oblivious to this possibility, or indeed even to favor it if it would bring about George Bush’s political downfall. They are helping our enemies to demoralize us into giving up. For all that people like John Kerry talk about Vietnam, it is they who have most conspicuously failed to understand what happened there, and it is they who now allow themselves to be manipulated by our Islamist enemies (that is the kindest interpretation of some Democrats’ behavior). These Democrats, by encouraging defeatism among Americans, risk reenacting past U.S. blunders. The Islamists, unlike the Democratic leadership, have learned the lessons of Vietnam, and are trying to replicate North Vietnam’s success in turning American public opinion. Our enemies would have a much harder go of it if more of our public figures showed some backbone and a better sense of history. Yet as things stand it is we who are having a harder go of it than is necessary.
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Wretchard frames our problem:
In one sense, the prodigious American technological engine assures a near chronic imbalance between US military capability, which has increased exponentially and the slow, uncertain and labor intensive process of political transformation.
On the occasional days that I forgo the train and drive into downtown Chicago, I keep my radio dial on a constant, shifting rotation between four stations, news, news/talk, Stern, and NPR. People who think they know me often are surprised that I include NPR, but I like the diversity, and I really try to stay intellectually honest by listening to varied points of view.
Yesterday, I was listening when they played a piece by one of their commentators, Ben Walker. I listened as he told of B.D., the character from the Doonesbury comic strip, who has recently joined the armed forces and went to Iraq. Mr. Walker went on to say how B.D. was the only “person” that he personally knew in Iraq, and how B.D. had brought the war home for him, making him realize the sacrifices being made by brave, young and old men and women. I felt a little odd as he went on about B.D losing a leg in combat. The whole incident seemed to be greatly affecting Mr. Walker on an emotional level. I was not sure how to react to this, it seemed so superficial, being a cartoon, yet if it was the only way for this man to interpret reality, through the cartoon character, I guess it’s okay, right? As he came to the end of his piece, he said that, upon waking up from his ordeal, B.D. was very angry, and with a definitive tone in his voice, a tone that seemed to dismiss the whole idea of the conflict, Walker said “and I am angry too”. As I thought about what I had heard, I got a little angry as well. I was angry at the thought of a parent who had lost an actual, living, son or daughter, or a wife who had lost her husband, hearing this plaintive cry over a cartoon character. I planned to post on it last night, but it slipped my mind.
When I heard the news about Pat Tillman being killed today, it re-entered my mind. I am pissed off. I am sick of people like Walker, living their life through a cartoon character while myself and the rest of the country have blood and friends putting themselves on the firing line for us. I know the destructive, corrosive power of hate, but I hate Michael Moore and his ilk, people so selfish and stupid that they will gladly forgo confronting a festering global problem, increasing the odds that my kids will be in some future war in the godforsaken Middle East. And I am sick of losing the best and the brightest, the ones with the most guts and courage, lost in the defense of freedom for a miserable bunch who don’t deserve it. Ben Walker, I am angry too, but for a completely different reason.
I’ve installed a predictions quote board on the right side of this page. If you’re not familiar with the concept, this is a real time, real-money display of market odds percentages generated by people betting on various events — in this case political and world events that might interest readers of this blog. Odds generated by groups of people wagering their own money in this way have a generally good predictive record as compared to predictions made by individuals.
Click on the board to learn more about odds markets for particular events, or to open a trading account with the board’s sponsor. (Chicagoboyz receives a royalty for business generated via our board.)
Also, please let me know if you want me to add a particular market. The ones up there now are just a few that I thought would be generally interesting.
Carroll Andrew Morse makes a strong political argument for partitioning Iraq (via InstaPundit). The United States, by insisting on keeping Iraq together, has made Iraqi progress hostage to wreckers and terrorists who must be killed or coopted before a stable nation can be created. Morse says that we could make more headway by subdividing Iraq into self-governing sectors, so that the non-disfunctional regions and people are not held back by the thug minority. I agree, and think that we have made a big mistake by not considering such a course of action.
Reuven Brenner, in a December 2003 column, addresses the same problems as Morse does, dealing with the politics in historical context and also taking more account of economics. He frames the issue as a failure of the Wilsonian paradigm that we still use (and that wasn’t successful the first time around):
Wilson’s administration miscalculated. The policy prevented neither German nor communist aggression. Adherence to the abstract principle of “self-determination” also showed that the creation of small nations did not solve the problem of other smaller ones, which now found themselves within new borders. They were just called “minorities”, so as to deflect their claim to nationhood and self-determination. Language, too, can be an effective weapon.
Brenner suggests a federal solution that is similar to Morse’s. One issue that Brenner deals with explicitly, which Morse does not address, is oil. A unified Iraq likely means a central government controlling all of the revenue, which thus both encourages and facilitates centralization of power — as Saddam Hussein well knew. Brenner suggests that oil revenue be split proportionately among the various Iraqi ethnic groups.
With revenues from oil being widely dispersed, the chances of much funds going for rebuilding centralized military and police powers are diminished. “Power” has been dispersed and brought closer to the people. Whether or not such dispersion of financial clout will lead to developing – bottom up – a “canton”-like federal arrangement as in Switzerland, or lead to a breakup of Iraq along ethnic lines – time would tell. Both solutions seem more stable than what the world now faces.
If the tribes do not see eventual advantages of staying together, so be it. The separation of Slovakia from the Czech Republic did not end in any great disaster. If the ethnic groups now populating Iraq can’t get along, and will end up fighting, the resulting instability can be more easily contained, since none of the groups would have as much financial (oil-generated) clout as Saddam Hussein had. The best scenario would obviously be if these tribes – now having stakes in stability because of shared oil revenues administered by impartial outsiders (some Swiss, maybe?) – slowly find ways of making deals, and trade and live together. But even if one is prepared for the worst-case scenario – of the three major tribes not finding a modus vivendi and breaking up within the anyway artificial borders of what now defines Iraq – the harm is minimized.
“Ideas have long lives,” as Brenner puts it. Part of our problem is that our policy makers still rely by default on a sort of stagnant Wilsonianism as their model for dealing with multi-ethnic societies. Iraq, perhaps more than any other post-war crisis, demonstrates the limits of that approach. Brenner and Morse use different routes to arrive at similar policy responses to the crisis, and those responses make a lot of sense.
Robert Roy Britt has a great follow-up over on Space.com, covering the large meteorite that hit Chicago on the evening of Wed 26 Mar 03. In my posting over on Arcturus , I estimated its kinetic energy at seven-tenths of a kiloton. Now, thanks to the U of C’s own Steven Simon, I can perform the calculation more accurately.
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Posted by Lexington Green on 19th April 2004 (All posts by Lexington Green)
(This is the second part of an email exchange referred to in this post.)
I picked up a book as a gift for a friend, Robert Kaplan’s An Empire Wilderness: Travels Into America’s Future. Kaplan’s travel books are all worth reading. They are really strategic analyses of the parts of the world he visits admixed with his first-rate “muddy boots,” on-the-scene observations. If you don’t know his stuff I strongly, strongly recommend it.
I opened it at random and found this:
Throughout my travels [in the USA], I did not find much sympathy for blacks who require special help. Affirmative action evidently runs counter to the American notion that the scramble for wealth, jobs and positions be unaffected by the government. Of course, for so long blacks were denied such equality that affirmative action is simply an imperfect way of redressing grievances and fostering social stability by quickening their entry into the middle class. Though government may not be able to alter vast social and economic forces such as the disintegration of inner cities, that does not mean that it cannot soften such painful blows. Throughout history, social stability has been achieved by pacing out change so that it is never too burdensome and therefore destabilizing. Affirmative action fits well within this historical tradition of easing the burden of change — the death of inner cities and the creation of a sizable black middle class. But it has to be applied extremely judiciously, or it may split society rather than unify it.
[Lex] again. That is close to my view. I would phrase it differently, but Kaplan is close.
I take an even longer view. The integration of the blacks who migrated from the deep south in the 1940s and 1950s, due to the introduction of mechanical cotton picking equipment as well as in response to demand for low-skilled workers and greater freedom in the North, is just one of the more recent episodes of a landless, illiterate peasantry being driven from the country-side by dire need or perceived opportunity and into the Big City.
This process is one of the great, ongoing dynamic processes in world history. It goes back to Mesopotamia, and was hugely important in Hellenistic and Roman times. (Read Rodney Stark’s excellent chapter on Antioch in his (superb) book The Rise of Christianity.) Talk to a sociologist and he will say, “of course urbanization is modernization.” Historians are usually too microscopically focused to discuss this, with certain honorable exceptions like William H. McNeill. Talk to any normal person, and they are at best dimly aware of this universal phenomenon.
It happened in 17th and 18th century England. For decades you could not go out at night in London without armed guards. Samuel Pepys’ diary and Boswell’s depiction of Johnson’s London are 100 years apart, but the basic (violent, dirty, dangerous) texture of life is very similar, though it was somewhat better by Johnson’s time. London was transformed not by secular city planning, or democracy, but by a popular religious revival, specifically Methodism. This religious revival transformed the anarchic London of Hogarth’s “Gin Lane” into the safe and orderly city it became under Victoria’s reign and was until within living memory. (See Jenny Uglow’s book Hogarth: A Life and a World.)
Similarly, the Irish in New York in the 1840s and ’50s were a violent, gang-ridden, drunken underclass, with vast majorities of children born out of wedlock and frequently abandoned. The grandchildren of these dead-enders became the familiar stodgy, tough, pious Irish Catholics we think of here in America, due to a religious revival led by such men as Dagger John Hughes.
This process took about three generations in New York and Boston and other locales for the Irish. To inculcate middle-class values and conduct into the rural poor and to acclimatize them to urban life, rules and expectations seems to take about that long once you get serious about it. It was faster in Chicago, where there were more economic opportunities.
Similar processes of internal immigration, urbanization are occurring now in South America and Africa, including a revival of popular religious enthusiasm. Lagos and Sao Paolo are the London and New York of the next century. Or so we hope. See Philip Jenkins on the religious dimension of this:
The fact is that America has long been and remains the emigration destination for the world because the opportunities are here to be grasped. The problem with most poor and backward communities in America is that they have failed to develop the skills and habits to grasp those opportunities. Clarence Page had an article in the Tribune (August 13, 2003) on this very topic. Black children of middle-class families did less well in school than white children despite similar income levels. The parents and the kids had still not mastered certain practices and attitudes which are necessary to be academically competitive. Page, to his credit, is willing to face this squarely. Blaming Whitey for something like that is simply not plausible to any rational observer.
Liberals call this view of things “blaming the victim.” I call it “facing reality.”
The rural-born black American and his children and grandchildren have had a hard time. That is a fact. But that community has actually had a relatively easy time compared to similar peasant migrations, due to the (comparatively) free, orderly, prosperous and receptive conditions prevailing in urban America. It takes nothing away from their suffering to be aware of this. And it is foolhardy not to be aware of the larger picture both geographically and historically, to learn from hard-won lessons in other places and times. Americans are too parochial. Our country does not exist in a galaxy of its own, nor is today all that different from yesterday in many important ways. We are unique in some ways, but only in some. Common patterns which take on a local or contemporary coloring are still common patterns — and hence suggestive if not dispositive of possible solutions or at least (being a conservative I do not think the world is composed of “problems” with “solutions”), possible ameliorative or mitigating measures.
The well-documented balkanizing and politically destabilizing effect of race-, class- or linguistically-based preferential policies world-wide is a topic for another time, if ever.
We Americans do ourselves a disservice if we think we can work miracles overnight. And by overnight I mean other than over the course of several generations. We have accomplished absolutely breathtaking things in the area of race relations in the last 50 years. This is an accomplishment we should be aware of and proud of. Looking at our situation with too narrow a focus leads to an unmerited sense of failure. It also feeds a neurotic and counterproductive sense of liberal guilt. And that in turn leads to ill-considered social policy.
Posted by Lexington Green on 18th April 2004 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Happy Patriots’ Day.
The opening volleys of the American Revolution were fired by redcoats on Lexington Green, early on the morning of April 19, 1775.
These seven Americans were killed or mortally wounded:
Jonathan Harrington crawled home, shot through the chest, and died on his front doorsteps.
Blood is the price of freedom. Never forget.
God bless America.
Just about. Here’s a striking example of industry incumbents trying to block technical and business advances that threaten local advertising monopolies. Apparently it is not in the public interest for the public to have too many choices.
WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) – U.S. radio broadcasters have asked federal regulators to bar rival satellite radio services from offering content tailored to local markets, according to a petition obtained on Friday.
[. . .]
The broadcasters’ group demanded that the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses satellite services, explicitly ban their rivals from using any technology to offer content in one area that is different from another location.
Congress should pass a law allowing open trading of radio frequencies. Then let’s “explicitly ban” the FCC, which is the regulatory life-support machine for a huge political ecosystem of parasites and rent-seekers.
Posted by Lexington Green on 15th April 2004 (All posts by Lexington Green)
This superb article by Gerald Alexander (from the reliably good Claremont Review of Books) provides good information to dispel the myth that the Republican Party was able to become the majority party in the South by becoming “racist.” I never bought that, and this article provides excellent, fact-based details. It is written in a careful, analytical, empirical style similar to that of Michael Barone.
The clincher paragraph:
In sum, the GOP’s Southern electorate was not rural, nativist, less educated, afraid of change, or concentrated in the most stagnant parts of the Deep South. It was disproportionately suburban, middle-class, educated, younger, non-native-Southern, and concentrated in the growth-points that were, so to speak, the least “Southern” parts of the South. This is a very strange way to reincarnate George Wallace’s movement.
The bottom line is this: One more historical “fact” which “everyone” “knows” is “true,” that the GOP is a party which inherited the mantle of Jim Crow, and should be ashamed of itself, is no more than another lie in the hegemonic mountain of lies which is modern liberalism.
(I’d put in a hat tip, if I could remember where I saw this … .)
[interviewer]: Did you ask him about his relationship with Juanita in Miami?
[Stone]: God, I don’t remember. There were so many women.
[interviewer]: Juanita is his sister.
[Stone]: Juanita’s his sister? … He seemed to be a very straight-shooter, very kind of shy with women.
[interviewer]: I’ve called him the movie star dictator. Did you get that sense about him?
[Stone]: Totally. I think it would be a mistake to see him as a Ceausescu. I would compare him more to Reagan and Clinton. … They were both tall and had great shoulders, and so does Fidel.
[interviewer]: For the second film, you received permission to see the dissidents [Stone]valdo Paya, Vladimiro Roca, and Elizardo Sanchez. They spoke critically of the government. Obviously, that couldn’t have happened unless permission for them to see you was granted, right? What do you make of Castro allowing that to happen?
[Stone]: I don’t think he was happy with it. I don’t think he wants to be in the same film with Paya. In his mind they are faux dissidents.
[interviewer]: He actually calls them faux dissidents? He called them the so-called dissidents?
[Stone]: Yeah, so-called, right. I was in Soviet Russia for a script in 1983, and I interviewed 20 dissidents in 12 cities. I really got an idea of dissidents that was much rougher than here. These people in Cuba were nothing compared to what I saw in Russia.
[interviewer]: Did you ever think to bring up why he doesn’t hold a presidential election?
[Stone]: I did. He said something to the effect, “We have elections.”
If you’re naive it’s easy to conclude that leftist cultural icons like Stone have some special insight. After all, they seem so confident in their views, and so many people in the press treat them deferentially. But it can take nothing more than a few pointed questions to make clear that a famous maker of politically themed movies is an ignorant fool. What’s remarkable is how seldom journalists ask such questions. But once in a while someone does, and once in a while the interviewee lets his guard down and the celebrity balloon deflates. (I give Stone credit for risking a hostile interview. Famous leftists like Barbra Streisand, who issues proclamations on her web site but otherwise shirks open debate, deserve even less respect.)
Posted by Lexington Green on 14th April 2004 (All posts by Lexington Green)
A friend wrote to me recently, upset about the TV images of the war. He noted that the people fighting us seem to have “twisted thinking,” and concluded by saying “we seem to be trapped without options.” I took issue with all that, more or less as follows:
We are not trapped without options. The whole thing is optional. We could pick some guy in a khaki uniform and hand him the keys. Not that we’d ever do that.
In Falujah, they took us on, and our Marines invaded the city, which was prepared for us, and full of armed men. At the cost of fewer than 100 (last I checked) casualties, the Marines inflicted well over 1,000, occupied 3/4 of the city, and despite our enemies’ efforts to use their own women and children as human shields, killed very few civilians. Remember, the whole thing about going into cities? Remember Mogadishu? Grozny? Supposedly a death trap for a modern army? Wrong. We won a crushing victory in Falujah. The Russian news media gets it. Read this.
Of course the Iraqi resistance has twisted thinking. They grew up under an Arab Stalin. They were the beneficiaries of the fallen regime. They are terrified of being left in an Iraq with an Iraqi government which they don’t control It is going to take a generation for Iraq to get anywhere near where we’d like it to be, if ever.
Don’t doubt it: America holds ALL the cards to win a counterinsurgency war in Iraq. The only way we lose is if the American public gives up. And the weakest link as far as I can see is that the Bush administration is either (1) unsure of what to do, or almost as bad (2) unwilling or unable to articulate what we are doing now and will do next. But, that has been Bush’s style, he does minimal amounts of public speaking and tub-thumping. He should do more. In a war, you need active leadership.
But I’m not too worried about all this. If these people come out in the open, our soldiers can kill them. Better now than later. It is, after all, a war.
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Posted by Lexington Green on 13th April 2004 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Last year there was a controversy at Indiana University School of Law — Bloomington, my alma mater, over affirmative action. Basically, one professor raised a stink saying the Law School was admitting totally unqualified students, and everybody closed ranks against him. He may have been overblown in his claims, but I will remain neutral on any such factual details. I ended up having an email exchange with a friend who is associated with the Law School. The immediate impetus for our conversation was this article by the law school Dean, which talked about desegregation in the military. The Dean’s article more or less argued that there was a need for minorities to see people of their own group in positions of authority for the sake of legitimacy and public order. I thought the article was off point, and had the following response.
I have any number of objections to affirmative action. I am enough of an old-fashioned small “l” liberal to actually believe in an ideal of a democratic society composed of citizens who are judged on their merits and conduct as individuals without regard to race or any other non-relevant criterion. I am not talking about the old canard that everyone has the same right to beg for bread or sleep under bridges. If some person or group of persons is at a disadvantage, it is both practical and decent to assist them. So, if there is a neighborhood where most of the kids have fathers who take no responsibility for them, the community can (1) condemn the bad behavior, and (2) intervene to assist the children who are so afflicted. This type of thing could be applied without regard to skin color as a criterion. The fact that a disproportion of people so assisted might be black would not change the basic approach. That is how I’d like to play it. But that little squib on Lex’s views is all by way of background.
What we have currently is a system of interest-group politics with a moral fig leaf. Its ongoing viability requires that resentment and guilt be preserved rather than superseded, and it requires all participants to believe that blacks and other groups which may lobby successfully for “victim” status are perpetually going to need to be judged by different standards than the supposedly privileged majority. In Chicago we have the farcical situation of a gay alderman insisting on business set-asides for gay-owned businesses, where the gays in Chicago are already near the top of the economic ladder, just because they are supposedly an oppressed minority. The unspoken presumption is that the majority can be cowed into silence forever with accusations of racism and imputations of guilt, and because sophisticated opinion is uniform on the subject. The problem is that when a majority is told its genuine concerns about fairness are illegitimate you create a vacuum which can be filled by someone like George Wallace, or Jean-Marie Le Pen in France or Georg Haider in Austria. Sweeping majority grievances under the rug forever is not long-term viable.
In a democratic society, these forced diversity-seeking approaches present a serious problem of legitimacy. For example, the article talks about how IU looks at other things beside LSATs and grades. OK. Does everybody get looked at that way? If the LSATs and grades are not good predictors of success in law school, or otherwise valid criteria for admission, why are they used at all? In other words, what is the playing field, and who gets to play on it? Americans have made a bargain with themselves that most foreigners cannot understand. We tolerate lots of inequality because we also insist on lots of opportunity, widely and fairly diffused, and a system which rewards the winners of competitive struggles, and which allows failure. This system does not work ideally as advertised, but it works pretty well much of the time. This is the capitalisme sauvage the French cannot stand. It leads to a very productive, dynamic economy and great, if un-egalitarian, wealth — and contra F. Scott Fitzgerald countless opportunities for many, many second acts and third acts in people’s lives. Communal efforts to opt out of this basic system, but still seize its benefits, lead to widespread and angry resentment, usually of the sullen and quiet variety. And sullen, angry resentment has a way of exploding out of the blue and causing all kinds of problems. Every time an affirmative action hire is made, there is a retail benefit conferred on that person, and wholesale resentment on the part of the numerous persons rejected, in their view unfairly. This is a prescription for further balkanization of a country whose social peace rests on a strong, widely-shared vision of equal opportunity and competitive fairness on an individual basis.
The specific issue of the military does not cut a whole lot of ice with me. There was an excellent article in Business Week which explained that the business community hated the idea of any change in affirmative action. They have invested heavily in the current arrangement, and businesses hate uncertainty and change more than anything. They have diversity coordinators, and diversity policies, and they have their ducks in a row to oppose any discrimination suits, and they don’t want any changes made, which is rational. The military is similar. It is a large bureaucracy, with enough on its plate right now without having to reinvent the wheel on something they have been doing for a while now which is accepted, however grudgingly by some. They are way down a certain road and don’t want to change.
Now, the Vietnam example points up a moral problem underlying this. The idea seems to be that there must be black officers so that black troops will believe the army’s authority is legitimate, otherwise they will “frag,” i.e., murder, their officers if conditions get bad. Well, is this the model we apply to society at large? Minorities must see people of their own race/religion/sexual orientation in positions of authority or they will do … what exactly? Have a riot? So, minorities can use an implicit threat of violence, or some other extra-legal and extra-democratic threat, as a way to obtain what they want? The problem is, what if majorities start playing that game? For one thing, they’d win.
I don’t think the high proportion of minority personnel in the military is there because there was affirmative action to get more black officers. The poorest people in any society disproportionately go into the military — urban slums and rural backwaters are always good recruiting grounds, all the way back to the Roman legions. In the late 19th and early 20th C. the US Army had a huge disproportion of off-the-boat Irish Catholics. The officer corps was southern and midwestern Protestants, and the senior ranks were mostly Freemasons. There was utter social exclusion, every bit as severe as any race-based exclusion. The officers led, the men followed, and the Indians and the Spanish and Aguinaldo’s guerillas in the Phillipines were all beaten by that army. The Army is highly Hispanic these days, as well as black, for the same reason. And the “fragging” in Vietnam had more to do with the failure to properly train and lead the troops, and the increasingly obvious fact that the leadership (civilian and military) did not have any idea how to win the war and that dying in it was pointless. That pathological state of affairs had a lot to do with what happened over there, and even with more black officers the same basic dynamic would have been in place. Anyway, there are countless examples of successful armies led by a minority of officers whose troops are of some other group, racial, social, religious, what have you. In fact, that is the historical norm.
Even if the Army were better off for having made an effort to create more black officers, I don’t think there is a strong analogy between leading people into mortal danger and getting a job at Ice, Miller.
So, there should be criteria for admission, they should be as objective as possible, and everybody applying should have to satisfy them. What would happen is that the same minority student who now gets into an elite school where he lacks objective qualification, and then ends up in a self-imposed ghetto of similar students, would be a true competitor at a school one tier down. We’d all be better off.
I responded to a subsequent email with a further e-avalanche, which I will post in a few days.
Compare and contrast:
. . . and this
(All images are from Wednesday, April 7.)
– is nicely, and literally, illustrated by A Better Tighty Whitey, currently #6 on Blogdex, in which citizen volunteers make great strides in improving the Presidential Daily Briefing process. Combined with things like technology transfer from FedEx and Wal-Mart and the role of Jeffrey “Skunk” Baxter in missile defense (210 kB *.pdf), this demonstrates the strengths provided by a healthy civil society.
UPDATE: If anybody in government is actually paying attention, that is. Jon Osborne, author of Miss Liberty’s Guide to Film and Video, writes:
Apparently John Kerry was given specific and actionable evidence of wholesale security breaches at Boston’s Logan International Airport, over which he had potential authority, with the specific warning that it could be used by jihadists to kill passengers–and he did nothing. More here.
Spread the word.
Posted by Lexington Green on 12th April 2004 (All posts by Lexington Green)
By way of preface, I should say that I saw many, many war movies on TV up to 1981, growing up outside of Boston and watching Channel 56, which had a small but decent stock of films which it re-ran continually. Channel 38 and Channel 10 in Providence also had a decent supply of old movies. Since then I have, mostly voluntarily, not had regular access to a TV, and I don’t own one now, though I do occasionally watch a dvd on the “small screen” — our laptop. So, thinking about war movies is at least as much about childhood impressions of old war movies as it is about any mature appreciation of any of these.
The Korean War, the so-called forgotten war, has indeed largely been forgotten by Hollywood. But it did produce two good war movies which had a strong influence on me. Pork Chop Hill is a well-crafted combat film, with a stoic Gregory Peck at the center of a remarkable collection of character actors (Norman Fell, Robert Blake, Harry Guardino, Martin Landau, Rip Torn, George Peppard) playing the American grunts who capture the Hill and then have to hold off swarms of counter-attacking Chicoms. Gregory Peck’s troops are sent forward into battle, and then abandoned when the back-office decides it has lost enough men for a worthless hill. This cinematic depiction of betrayal and discarded courage and suffering has, I believe accurately, shaped my vision of authority ever since. The Bridges at Toko Ri is the tale of Navy aviator Harry Brubaker (William Holden) who served in World War II, and who voluntarily returns to service, leaving behind his lovely young wife (Grace Kelly) to go back into harm’s way. I first saw this movie when I was about eight years old. Holden is under-rated as one of the last, great Hollywood leading men. Mickey Rooney is solid as a brawling sailor who has saved Brubaker’s life once already, and dies trying to do so again. The movie drags a little in the middle, but all is forgiven for the closing minutes. Gripping scenes as the aircraft are launched, and streak toward the target. The planes fly into a narrow valley, through a hail of flak, to take out the bridges. Brubaker’s F9F Panther is hit. He cannot make it over that last ridge to ditch in the sea. (A little kid in pajamas is sitting on the couch saying “oh no, oh no, oh no …”, but the Navy aviators on the TV are all business.) His buddies try to keep the chicoms away from his crash site, strafing with guns and rockets. The closing scene, set in “a muddy ditch in Korea,” has stuck with me ever since as the true face of the sacrifices made for freedom.
Sometimes the good guys die.