New Year’s Eve

I was across the street at a party. Neighbors. Karaoke. Three beers. Unseasonably mild weather, some of the guys smoking cigars on the porch. Kids upstairs watching some damnable cartoon movie on video. My wife sang about 23 songs — “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” “Space Oddity,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “All My Exes Live in Texas,” etc. She is the queen of karaoke. I just sang Merle’s “Swingin’ Doors,” and a duet on “Fightin’ Side of Me.” Our two year old was walking into furniture she was so tired, and had defecated in her diaper. Time to bring her home. I got her cleaned up, pajamaed, she said her prayers in repeat-after-me fashion (she can say “trespasses”), and she was instantly out like a light.

Being some kind of junkie blog addict, I had to turn on the machine. Some people are wearing tuxedos and drinking champagne right now. I’m standing in my kitchen in my socks, doing this. Hey, it’s a big world. There’s room for all of us.

It’s about 11:31 here, and this year of grace 2003 is dribbling its final grains of sand into the big hourglass. A good time to wish all of you a healthy, happy, safe and prosperous 2004. Predictions for ’04 and “Best Ofs” for ’03, time permitting in the next few days. For now, one forecast: ’04 will be good year. Lots for the Boyz to kvetch about. Count on it. See y’all next year.

So If There Weren’t Any Iraqi WMD Programs …

What can this possibly be about? Whaddaya know, turns out that “more than a thousand [Iraqi] Ph.D.’s were trained in the black arts of making nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.” Now we’re going to spend $22 million giving them non-WMD work.
It may be glorified welfare — a similar program for Russian scientists “has yet to develop a single commercial product” after eleven years — but the concept of redirection training is sound. I note that $22 million over 2 years would employ only about 50-60 Americans at high-tech labor-market rates, but presumably could pay 10-20 times that many Iraqis a comfortable salary by regional standards.

Bush’s “Centralized” Management

Jonathan sent me this good snippet from Bruce Bartlett, one of the better economics commentators. Bartlett states that:

It has long been apparent to observers like myself that this is the most centralized administration since Nixon’s. Cabinet secretaries and cabinet departments seem to have less influence on policy than at any time in recent memory. All key decisions appear to have been made in the White House and the only job of cabinet secretaries is to sell the policy, get votes in Congress, and raise money for the president’s reelection. It has long been apparent to observers like myself that this is the most centralized administration since Nixon’s. Cabinet secretaries and cabinet departments seem to have less influence on policy than at any time in recent memory. All key decisions appear to have been made in the White House and the only job of cabinet secretaries is to sell the policy, get votes in Congress, and raise money for the president’s reelection.

My response was more or less as follows:

Not surprising. Bush runs a tight ship. He learned a lot of lessons from his earlier experience with his Dad’s administration, which was crippled by his Dad’s overly collegial and genial and too-trusting style, and by in-fighting and leaking and political posturing. So, he is like a CEO who dictates policy and it is up to the division chiefs to execute it successfully or get new jobs. W may be going to[o] far the other way. But in W’s experience the alternative is not a healthy airing of views, and the dynamic generation of innovative policy initiatives, but a rudderless executive presiding over ill-disciplined subordinates, leading in turn to stasis and disaster. Also, W has guts. He is not afraid to give clear orders. He is not covering his ass. If something goes wrong he cannot blame a subordinate. He is in charge, and everybody knows it, and there is nowhere to hide. And he wants it that way. He is willing to bear the costs of command to obtain the benefits. And as to the comparison with Nixon, the salient comparison from Bush’s perspective is that Nixon was reelected in a landslide. Maybe Nixon’s management style had something to do with that.

So, this doesn’t bother me too much. Maybe I should think it is awful that Bush’s administration is highly “centralized.” But I don’t see why. I think he’s doing pretty darn good, myself.

Die, ALBUM, die!

One of our totally excellent readers sent me this interesting link. The article is entitled, “The day the album died? It may be soon” and acts like this is a bad idea. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It notes that the song-swapping craze created a demand for songs. Now that this basic approach has gone legit, duh, people still want to pay for good songs they like, and only for that.

“It’s a song economy now,” says iTunes spokesman Chris Bell. “Consumers have come to expect it through illegal file sharing and CD burning, and we’re making sure every song is available for individual downloading.”

The article’s author bemoans this overwhelming display of consumer rationality, and inadvertently displays a rather silly and bigoted misconception of what is and is not good, as well as getting a key part of the chronology wrong.

In the ’50s, rock ‘n’ roll revolved around the 45-rpm single. Albums – if record labels even bothered to put them out – were just ragtag compilations of unrelated singles.

First, the 45-rpm single dominated until the mid-60s. In other words, the golden age of rock and pop, the early Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Motown, Stax and countless others, was the age of the 45-rpm single. You could get by just buying the singles. You didn’t need the albums. But if you bought the albums, far from being “ragtag” the better albums in the period from, say, 1964-67, were compilations which contained several songs good enough to be singles and a bunch of others songs almost good enough to be singles. The “filler” was often oddball tracks which had their own quality or humor. The Beatles’ “Help” or the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” are good examples of this period. Not one really bad song on either of them. Also typical was the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl,” which had several brilliant songs, a few decent ones, and a few humorous throw-aways, but you got your money’s worth. And the Motown albums of the era were incredible – the odd tracks were usually covers of hits by other Motown artists (some really great) or of other hits of the day, again, often very cool, or interesting even if terrible.

The author then tells us:

Spurred on by free-form FM radio, musicians started writing longer songs and weaving whole albums around a musical or lyrical theme: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), The Who’s rock opera, Tommy (1969), Marvin Gaye’s socially conscious What’s Going On (1971). Suddenly, rock ‘n’ roll was no longer just a random parade of ditties blaring from an AM car radio. Thanks to the album, rock was an official art form, worthy of being analyzed on hi-fi stereos and dissected in The New York Times – just like jazz or classical music.

This is all wrong. What began to happen is that the business side of the music industry got control of what had been a revolutionary and bottom-up musical explosion. They began to package bands and albums and tours to support them. The deathless glory of the mid-60s singles era this writer disparages as “a random parade of ditties.” Yeah, and Renaissance Florence was just a bunch of random daubs of oil paint on canvas. These few years were a maelstrom of innovation and creativity, which to this day remains incompletely understood and incompletely mapped and cataloged. The number of compilations of 60s bands which had only regional hits, for example, is mind-boggling, both in terms of quality and quantity. This phase ended, for a variety of reasons too lengthy and sad to detail here, and was replaced by a much more cynical, money-driven, predictable, mechanized process. Selling albums, bigger pieces of plastic, with mostly filler on them, became the mainstay. That plus arena-sized shows. All a total scam. As to Rock suddenly becoming, “respectable” and analyzed by the New York Times, that is all nothing, dirt, scraps, words to carve on the tombstone. CDs made all of this worse. With 60 minutes to fill, you just got more filler, most of the time.

One of my great hopes is that the rise of the Internet and modern technology will restore the well-crafted song to its just primacy of place. It is long overdue.

The refocus – customer-driven, fan-driven, on SONGS not albums – may portend a new age of greatness in popular music. The incentives are there, and getting stronger: Write good songs, or you have nothing to sell.

Music news you can lose

Fantastic* news coming from our favorite leporidae-flavored warmonger: William Shatner has recorded a new album.

The new record, produced by alternarock piano-man and sometime pop-genius Ben Folds, will feature a guest appearance by former black flag front-man, and long-time professional angry person, Henry Rollins.

For those of you unclear as to this event’s importance (how can you be so uncultured!?!), please visit William Shatner Sings for examples of the man’s great talent. My personal favorite is his rendition of Lucy In The Sky, but they’re all… well, how do I put this… let’s just say they’re all entertaining.

*In using that adjective “Fantastic” in this context, I am perhaps twisting its meaning a bit. Although the dictionary does have fantastic defined as “Quaint or strange in form, conception, or appearance” that doesn’t quite get the meaning I was after. I was really trying for a word that meant, “so fundamentally terrible that the brain rejects it and latches onto ironic humor as protection.” I apologize for any confusion.


For those of you who unfamiliar with the antics over at my blog (currently on hiatus), I’m Captain Mojo, the latest addition to the fine Chicago Boyz family.

I like to think that I’ll provide that air of confused unprofessionalism, juvenile commentary, and semi-coherent ranting so necessary to balance the skillful writing, astute observations, and capability for abstract reasoning that my fellow contributors demonstrate so commonly.

It’s all about balance and harmony people.

Anyways, thanks to all the other fellas for letting me play in their sandbox, and I’m looking forward to joining in on all the fun.

The Hordes of Mordor, the Baby in the Manger

I just got back from the third and final Lord of the Rings installment. I brought my two oldest kids. It was good. I grew up with the books, and I read the whole series aloud to the kids starting when the first movie came out two years ago, and it took almost until the second one came out last Christmas to finish it. So, the text has primacy for me. Still, the movie is very good and far truer to the spirit of the book than anyone could have dreamed possible.

Tolkien wrote a fantasy, but his message that evil must be fought was based on sound reality. First, his Catholicism taught him that we live in a world scarred by original sin, and that Satan is real and active. Evil is not a metaphor which can be dispensed with by some rhetorical gimmick. Nor is evil a psychiatric or social condition which can be resolved by the march of progress. Evil is a permanent element in human affairs. Tolkien’s book is saturated with Catholic symbolism and philosophy. Tolkien’s academic discipline was in the ancient languages, whose extant works consist of songs and ballads about deeds of violence and deeds of bravery. He knew well the best and worst that men are capable of. And Tolkien served in the British Army in World War I, that bitter, bloody, thankless struggle, where he lost friends who were dearer to him than brothers. He knew that every good thing in this world, and in the next, was bought with blood and sacrifice. This is a hard but hopeful message, at least from his Catholic perspective, one which I share with him.

And the news which has gotten my attention lately, and caused me the most worry, is the increasing likelihood of a renewed, massive Al Qaeda attack on the United States in the upcoming days or even hours. I am thinking more and more and more that the struggle with radical Islam is not going to be like the Cold War, lasting decades but mostly occurring abroad. I think it is going to last generations, and much of it is going to occur here. Al Qaeda’s people have announced that the massacre of five million Americans is their target, including specifically one million children. That is what we are up against. If they obtain nuclear weapons, they may well get close to those figures. But one way or the other, they are going to kill a lot more of us before they are eliminated as a threat. Some of the people reading this blog, and possibly some of those posting on it, are going to die violently at their hands, and not in decades but in days or months or a few years.

They can kill some of us, but they cannot destroy us. I was at my law firm’s Christmas party the other night, and I felt inspired by several drinks, as I looked around the room at the lawyers and clients chatting and networking and weaving their political webs, one of my colleagues said something about the terrorists. I said, look at this room, look at these people, each one is a node of decision, a node of action. These are smart and enterprising people. These people would reconfigure themselves and spontaneously reorganize themselves and recover from anything short of literal universal death. A society like ours is not an atomized mass, but a community of free, responsible, active individuals. This is our greatest strength. It is something our enemies cannot understand. It is the reality which is eventually going to sweep them from the face of the earth.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Like the late Professor Tolkien, my hope does not lie entirely in this world, but in the Incarnate God who loves us, who came to be one of us and to share our suffering — and in the intercession of His Blessed Mother. The strength which we will need to survive and prevail in the harsh struggle which is just beginning in these years will not be derived from our merely human powers, but our prayerful reliance on God and trust in His providence.

I see this post has morphed into a Christmas message. That is what I get for typing with no set plan at midnight. My fellow ChicagoBoyz do not share my particular views and faith, and I fear I embarrass them a little when I put up something like this from time to time. But, hey, I hide nothing from our readers, so there it is. And I happily pray for them and for our readers.

As Churchill said, these are not evil times, they are great and terrible times.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

He Said What?

General Clark says some amazing things off the cuff:

I would say to the Europeans, you know, we’ve had our differences over the years, but we need you. The real foundation for peace and stability in the world is the transatlantic alliance. And I would say to the Europeans, I pledge to you as the American president that we’ll consult with you first. You get the right of first refusal on the security concerns that we have. We’ll bring you in.

(Via email from some guy.) What does “right of first refusal” mean? Which Europeans? Chirac? Schroeder? Miss Belgium?

Well, OK. I’ll be reasonable. Clark can check with Miss Belgium before we bomb the crap out of anybody. You know, just call her up to rap about it, get her thoughts. But it is strictly consultative and non-binding.

But seriously, can Clark possibly mean this? To whom is he addressing these comments? What constituency in the United States actually wants to give some vague group of foreigners, “the Europeans,” veto power over our national defense? Can this really be the kind of thing you need to say to get the Donk nomination? Is this all about trying to “out-Dean” Dean?

Dudes, things are very bad indeed if this is what a guy has to do to get nominated by one of our major parties. Fortunately, the majority of Americans are going to repudiate this nonsense next November. Then the Donks can go back to the drawing board.

Keeping Our Eye on the Ball

Here’s a troubling post by Hugh Hewitt. I can’t find fault with his argument.

Here is a harsh political truth that most Republicans have avoided saying because they thought there was no sense in rubbing it in: If America is struck again today, this week, this month or anytime in 2004, it will be because the cancer of radical Islam grew too large during the presidency of Bill Clinton to be excised in the space of a few years.

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I received this today, it is a letter authored by a friend of our family. I have deleted names to respect their privacy:

Dear ******,

Nope. This is not a Christmas letter. Rather this is the most heartfelt and sincere thank you note I have ever written. This note is to express the love and gratitude ****** and I have for all of you who prayed for us and/or wrote letters or sent packages to my soldiers and I while deployed to Iraq. It is to thank you for supporting ******, my parents, and ****** on the home front. It is to thank you for supporting American troops in your day-to-day lives even if you opposed the war.

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Managing the Risk of Nationalism

Via Redwood Dragon, we find Body and Soul‘s The Doctrine of American Infallibility (1,900 words, plus over 3,000 words in comments). Is (Dave’s phrase) “modern American nationalism” imbued with an inability to admit systemic error? And if it is, what should we do about it?
I’ve written about risk management many times over on Arcturus; in the most relevant such post, I mentioned the fundamental error of “failing to acknowledge that there are any risk management strategies other than avoidance and acceptance.” (MEDACT’s predictions, unsurprisingly, were not realized.)
Before going further, I should quote the PMBOK (pp 142-3) on the available risk response strategies:

  • Risk avoidance is changing the project plan to eliminate the risk or condition or to protect the project objectives from its impact. Although the project team can never eliminate all risk events, some specific risks may be avoided.

  • Risk transfer is seeking to shift the consequence of a risk to a third party together with ownership of the response. Transferring the risk simply gives another party responsibility for its management; it does not eliminate it.

  • [Risk] mitigation seeks to reduce the probability and/or consequences of an adverse risk event to an acceptable threshold.

  • [Risk acceptance] indicates that the project team has decided not to change the project plan to deal with a risk or is unable to identify any other suitable response strategy. Active acceptance may include developing a contingency plan to execute, should a risk occur. Passive acceptance requires no action, leaving the project team to deal with the risks as they occur.

Stereotypical anti- and pro-war stances fall into the first and last of these: “don’t invade, we might kill some noncombatants” vs “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” Step one in achieving greater understanding is to recognize that while there are people on both sides of the issue who really do fit the pattern, there are far more who do not.
Good risk management practice would erode any doctrine of American infallibility; to quote again from the PMBOK (p 129): “To be successful, the organization must be committed to addressing risk management throughout the project. One measure of the organizational commitment is its dedication to gathering high-quality data on project risks and their characteristics.” Such data gathering is the antithesis of an insistence on historical perfection.
But if self-congratulation is no strategy, neither is hand-wringing. In describing our involvement in Southwest Asia in risk-management terms, I inherently imply that success is not only possible but can become more likely with time — the opposite of a quagmire.
The two cases presented in Jeanne’s post are combat in Afghanistan and reconstruction in Iraq. The identified risks are the death of noncombatants, especially children; and schedule/cost/quality problems in rebuilding. These are nontrivial concerns, and as (I hope) moral people and as taxpayers, we need to be vigilant about them.
For the combat environment, risk mitigation should take note of the following:

  • The use of extremely reliable precision-guided munitions presents an exceptionally lethal risk to persons in target areas, who are now hundreds of times more likely to be injured or killed, by comparison with the unguided bombs and missiles of past wars. It must therefore be balanced by equally improved target assessment. For a relevant development, see the optimistically titled Micro-drone aerial spies preparing for takeoff.

  • Conversely, relatively indiscriminate munitions should be phased out or at least upgraded to facilitate safe disposal of unexploded units.

These are significant scope/quality improvements, and will take time and (substantial) money to implement. For Iraqi reconstruction, corrective action requires a more strategic decision: should the work be delegated (risk transfer), and if so, to whom? Many Americans do not trust the UN to oversee such a task. This is complicated by the additional need to nurture civil society in Iraq to a relatively healthy condition; an organization which can’t keep dictatorships out and even puts them in charge of things is an unlikely candidate for this role (a while back, I jokingly suggested a new cabinet department).
It’s hard to foresee any significant policy changes in this area — there just aren’t that many organizations, public or private, who seem capable of performing the work. But American resentment over paying for it is inevitable. And if other nations are added to the list of defeated former enemies in the next few years, such resentment will become a high-profile campaign issue. Keeping from blowing up kids in Afghanistan may seem easy by comparison.

Reply to ‘Guns AND Butter. . .’

Lex and I had an exchange of emails about Bush. Lex argued that Bush is doing a great job all around. I agreed he is doing well on the war, but argued that he has been irresponsible on the economy and that I am concerned he might sign a reauthorization of the gun- and high-capacity-magazine ban in Clinton’s 1994 crime bill (which sunsets in 2004). Lex has blogged his response to me, and what follows is an edited version of my rejoinder to his response.

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Guns AND Butter, Beer AND Victory

I read the Diane Sawyer interview with President Bush, and I was once again favorably impressed with him. I don’t have a TV, so I didn’t see it, but my sister said he did fine. With the good news on the war, it will be up to the Donks to increasingly focus on the president’s domestic policies. (As to the good news, the capture of Saddam has led to a “cascade effect” of Ba’athists being rounded up – See Belmont Club and Ralph Peters on this topic.)(Updating this point — Den Beste has a good piece on the consequences of Saddam’s capture, arguing that Saddam’s insurgency was planned as a short war, a bet that failed. Austin Bay has one of his typically good posts on the Cascading Effects of Saddam’s Capture.)

One of my fellow ChicagoBoyz offered the thought that Bush may be good on the war, but that “His current monetary (weak dollar) and fiscal (big spending) policies are irresponsible in the extreme”, and noted that the “the 1994 Crime Law (gun and hi-cap-magazine ban) sunsets next year”, and that Bush may be willing to sign new legislation.

My mildly flippant but fundamentally sincere response was, more or less, as follows:

I agree that Bush is great on the war, and that it probably won’t hurt his reelection prospects. It may go south on us, of course, but I’m not counting on it. (See for example, this absolutely brilliant critique by Robert Kaplan, Think Global, Fight Local. Kaplan’s article raises various concerns. I hope Sylvain will write about it, since it echoes concerns he has raised here.)

As to the gun thing, if it gets to Bush’s desk I’m sure he’ll sign it. Any attempt to stop it will be in Congress. The battle will have to be waged there. Some libertarian/gun people will be mad if it happens, but the Donks will be worse, and they know it, so most of them will snarl and vote for Bush anyway. Maybe the gun folks will commit the ultimate political suicide and organize a “2nd Amendment Party” or something. What they really need to do is learn to explain to normal people who think guns are yucky and wrong why guns are actually a good thing. Someone needs to produce and promote a 50 syllable sound bite to explain to Jane Minivan why, say, ordinary people should be able to buy large magazines for their handguns. But since gun people also insist they have a right to their guns and don’t have to explain themselves to anybody, and resent being asked to do so, they are going to keep being a political faction that loses most of the time it is confronted directly. Oh well.

I’m not at all worried about the budget or the dollar or the trade deficit or any of that stuff. There is an iron rule of politics in this country: The party that wants to balance the budget always loses. The GOP was the “fiscal responsibility party” from Hoover through Ford, a pair of losers bookending a trail of tears. Reagan came in, smile and a shoe-shine, f_ck the budget, buy lots of guns, cut taxes too, woo hoo. It all worked out. Bush is doing the same thing, except he doesn’t have to take on inflation at the same time. I’m all for it. Open the spigots. Light a cigar.

Plus, Larry Kudlow and Niall Ferguson, coming at it from different angles, both think the current budget and debt situation is tolerable and that growth prospects are good. For one thing, debt service is cheap at these interest rates. Let the election cycle turn, as it inevitably will, in ’08 or ’12 or whenever, and the Donks can come in as the Mean Dads to shut down the party. They can clean the mess up. Then they can lose because it hurt so much to do it.

And we will party on.

Here’s Kudlow. Here’s Ferguson.

UPDATE: A response to this post appears here.

This is the Loyal Opposition?

Apparently, DNC stands for “Do Not Comment”. I visited the Democratic National Committee website, and proceeded to check out their blog page, Kicking Ass . I read a short blurb regarding the Halliburton story, and then I registered on the blog and posted a comment to the effect that Halliburton could use Cheney back at the helm. My posted comment elicited this somewhat unrelated response:

When Cheney went to work at Halliburton, it is reported they had about 4 off shore accounts. When he left, they had 44. Two, with the joblessness, what are our troops going to do for jobs when they return home. Thirdly, last night we heard the doctors in Iraq are furious because after all these months the hospitals there still don’t have antibiotics.
Posted by Don and verna withrow :: 12/16/03 04:37 PM

I posted a second response comment, very lucid, no ranting or profanity. Immediately following my second comment, a new poster who identified himself as a Democrat opined that if the Dems could merely offer up a candidate with a credible National Security agenda, he would happily vote for him/her. As of 8 o’clock this evening, both of my comments have been deleted from the blog and my login has been disabled. They even pulled the comment from the registered Democrat in search of a viable candidate. This is their idea of tolerance, inclusion, The Party of the People. They should be selling some nice brownshirts at the DNC online giftshop.

Dictators and Enablers

Steve has a great post about evil dictators and the lefty jerks who enable them. He is discussing Cuba rather than Iraq but the principle is the same.

Speaking of Cuba, what really frosts me is those ads for tour excursions, where they talk about the decrepit old cars as though these were manifestations of some quaint custom — perhaps a Latin version of the New England covered bridge — rather than tragic reminders of a wrecked society. For these morons it’s all about appearances and posturing, and the old cars serve as props to their immoral power-fantasies. Never mind how Cubans actually live, for “progressive” tourists Cuba is a kind of revolutionary Colonial Williamsburg where they can show solidarity with the inmates people in charge and pretend they’re fighting the evil Yanqui imperialists. Who knows — without those old cars, it might feel like just another third-world country that’s been run into the ground by a bunch of gangsters. That wouldn’t be any fun. (How many of these tourists realize that Cuba was a first-world country before Castro took over?)

The tourists get to go back to their nice homes in the U.S. and not be bothered by pesky ingrates who would rather risk being eaten by sharks than live in the workers’ paradise. Not to mention that if you don’t spend much time there you don’t have to deal with the Cuban medical system, which functions at around the same level as those old cars.

Iraq: Ideas, Incentives and Institutions

Economist Reuven Brenner argues that distribution of national oil revenues among the Iraqi populace would contribute greatly to peace, freedom and prosperity in the region, and that this would be the case even if the country eventually split along ethnic or religious lines.

Ideas have long lives. Embodied in institutions, they outlive their usefulness – and bring about instability. Ideas, which were initially useful in fighting misgovernment by foreigners and which were a response to growing mistrust among the increased population within each European “tribe”, were transformed into deeds and institutions. These institutions sustain myths, create habits, which are then exported to other countries. Habits of thought slowly harden into character – with the origins of thoughts and events that set this sequence in motion, long forgotten.

Oil money sustains both dictatorships and much outdated institutions and character traits. This is why the crucial first step in achieving stability in the Middle East is to disperse the funds among people living within the now recognized borders, rather than let it flow through the hands of unaccountable and corrupt rulers and governments. Unless the people within the present Iraq borders are given such tangible stake in the future, “democracy” and “constitutions” will become nothing but empty promises and worthless pieces of paper, with the vast majority of people mired in poverty and ignorance.

Too dumb not to be true

Time for a little levity. I came across this while perusing today, it’s the DNC’s official Democratic blog page and they call it…….Kicking Ass. I almost fell on the floor in tears, they put a little bucking donkey in the upper left-hand corner, I guess that’s the ass. That title has to be a McAuliffe idea.

A response

Upon hearing the Hussein story, I started an exchange with a good friend. He sent a message back saying that the capture of Saddam amounted to not much more than “an expensive Christmas present from” George W. to George H.W., and then he continued to ask: Why are we really in Iraq? If it is to stop genocide, why have we ignored the same in so many other instances in history? What is the September 11th connection? This is the reply I offered:

Because I was not a good enough person to stand up for a just cause yesterday, or last week, or twenty years ago, does this absolve me of responsibility to my fellow man today? The argument that goes “the same or worse occurred at such and such a time, and we stood by and did nothing; why should we take action now?” is morally bankrupt, and I am astounded that it has been used by so many in this instance. It is a complete abandonment of the concept of redemption, and an admission that self-improvement, whether it is for an individual, for a family, or for a nation, is not an option. Hopefully I never reach that point in my life, because if I do, what would be the point of slogging through more days? I had might as well just cash in the chips right now. I harbor no illusions about our world ever being transformed into a state of Nirvana. That is a condition that is not of this world, although when I was a child I believed that it was possible. However, having said this does not change my belief in striving to be the best person that I can be, or my conviction that our country, having been so uniquely blessed with both physical and human capital, bears a sobering responsibility to make attempts at righting wrongs and to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

I truly felt no smug satisfaction at hearing today’s news. What I did feel was a serene happiness for our soldiers, for those in the world that walked out on a tenuous limb with us in this broader action, and for the entire country of Iraq which may begin to shake off the specter of Hussein.
Hussein, bin Laden, Pol Pot, Taylor, Amin, Stalin, Hitler, Nidal, and on…they are figureheads. We may catch bin Laden, we may never catch him, he might be dead, or he may die before we can ever get to him. I believe that there is a sublime brilliance in this strategy that started in Afghanistan and then sharply refocused on Iraq. Not only have we made concrete progress in removing brutal, oppressive regimes in two countries, but also we have drawn a concentration of various groups of violent terrorists into a fairly definable geographical area, to be systematically hunted down and destroyed. Ask yourself, Is it just a coincidence that there has not been a single terrorist attack carried out on U.S. soil since September 11th? We were so vulnerable on that day, and yet no group or individual has succeeded in so much as a car bomb attack since then, in the very country where our cultural norms make such an attack possible to carry out. That may very well change, but the chain of events set in motion by our seizing control of our own destiny has surely held further domestic attacks in abeyance. Like flies to garbage, Iraq has sucked resources and people from terror organizations around the world. And while I would willingly go to serve my country if needed, I would rather be in harm’s way on the streets of a foreign country than on LaSalle and Jackson.

One of the most powerful messages that today’s events carry to the “Great and Fearless Leaders” of despotic regimes is: This could be you. You can bet that the message is being received and pondered by Jong, Khameini, Quaddafi, Arafat, and even Mubarak, the House of Saud, and Musharaff: These hypocritical dirtbags have sold “their people” a royal bill of goods for years. Did we as a nation have dealings with them in the past? Yes, of course we did. Does that fact preclude us from pursuing a more just view of the world which we by default, mind you, are left to lead? I say no. I do not want my three children to be dealing with the same intractable problems we have at present, nor do I want to lose them to some future military conflagration. I think that following our country’s current course of action radically reduces the likelihood of either scenario.