Models of Creativity

Steve DeAngelis of the Enterprise Resilience Management Blog had a post on creative thinking on Monday that should resonate with anyone with an engineering or entrepreneurial background where practical “problem solving” was a driver for finding new ideas:

A New Approach to Innovation

“….A creative thinker, however, is limited if he or she has little or no expertise. Expertise is, in a word, knowledge — technical, procedural, and intellectual. When creative, knowledgeable thinkers are presented with challenges, innovation is generally the outcome. This is particularly true if the creative thinkers are motivated. Not all motivation is created equal. An inner passion to solve problems generally leads to the most creative solutions.

….To be truly innovative, an idea must be manifested then taken to market where it changes how things are done. The prize approach is one of those vaunted “win-win” situations.”

Read the whole post here.

Nothing wrong with the approach to creative thinking that Steve outlined in his post. It is possibly, given the deomographic research on thinking styles, “hands-on” tinkering may be the dominant form of creative thinking – “ tweaking” already existing ideas or items to discover new uses.

However I do not think it is the only, or even the most productive form of creative thinking available. “Tweaking/tinkering or stochastic innovation by collective incremental advances is a gradualist process best exemplified by say, Thomas Edison or George Washington Carver in the lab. There is also the route of Nikola Tesla, Leonardo DaVinci or Albert Einstein where breakthroughs arrive after a moment of insight sets a thinker working down an untrodden path.

Insight-based creativity, while more rarely taken to a successful, concrete and productive conclusion ( Steve was correct to highlight motivation or “task persistence” as an aspect of creativity. Productivity is quantifiable) can potentially shift fields by orders of magnitude or even result in revolutionary paradigm shifts. Insight, on a neuronal level is very likely a product of horizontal thinking triggering certain activity in the brain that is recognizable on MRI studies ( at least it seems to correlate).
Horizontal thinking is a skill which can be practiced and for which the environmental conditions can be deliberately organized
(Vertical thinking experts from different fields, novelty, diverse stimuli, conceptual depth, time for ” free play” thought exercises and exchange of ideas).

Neither method of creative thinking should be relied upon alone. Nor should creative thinkers abandon critical analysis any more than your right hand should abandon the left. We simply need to become comfortable using all of the cognitive tools in our arsenal.

(Cross posted at Zenpundit)

The UN: a Case of Regulatory Capture

In today’s National Review Online, Mario Loyola argues that conservative esteem for the rule of law should extend to a refined understanding of international law, backed up with consistent enforcement of its principles (in other words, either both Kosovo and Iraq, or neither). Too late. That issue was settled over 60 years ago.

Here is how the Economist defines regulatory capture:

Gamekeeper turns poacher or, at least, helps poacher. The theory of regulatory capture was set out by Richard Posner, an economist and lawyer at the University of Chicago, who argued that “REGULATION is not about the public interest at all, but is a process, by which interest groups seek to promote their private interest … Over time, regulatory agencies come to be dominated by the industries regulated.” Most economists are less extreme, arguing that regulation often does good but is always at RISK of being captured by the regulated firms.

Familiar examples of regulatory capture in the US would include those agencies charged with setting rates, fees, and prices. The ICC, originally meant to keep railroads from overcharging farmers with no other means of shipping their commodities, eventually became a means by which trucking companies and interstate bus lines set prices, limited competition, and allocated routes. The FAA, until deregulation in 1978, assured airlines of an orderly and profitable division of routes, without the prospect of interlopers disrupting the arrangement. Similarly, the United Nations, formed in the very act of destroying a murderous tyranny, came to become a system for regulating tyranny and allocating the areas in which tyrants might operate without interference.

The immediate predecessor of the United Nations was actually not the League of Nations, but the Atlantic Charter between the United States and Great Britain. This was purely an Anglo-American document in terms of its principles as well as its origin. The two signatory nations disavowed any territorial claims, embraced consensual sovereignty and self-determination for all people, and stated their support for international economic cooperation, freedom of the seas, and eventual worldwide demilitarization. Even though the US had not yet entered the war, the treaty embraced the destruction of the Nazi regime as a common foreign policy objective. It also contemplated, but did not establish, “a wider and permanent system of general security.” The original agreement between the two countries was signed August 14, 1941. On January 1, 1942, the representatives of 26 governments, including some governments in exile, signed the “Declaration by United Nations, Subscribing to the Principles of the Atlantic Charter.” The United Nations then became the formal name of the anti-Nazi allies.

The signatories included the USSR. Stalin’s government had no intention of following most of the principles set forth in the treaty; its signing was a transparent fraud. The Atlantic Charter and the United Nations were designed to restrain the practices of aggression, brutality, dictatorship, and government-sanctioned murder, yet the United Nations brought in one of the most brutal and murderous dictatorships as a founding member. Stalin’s USSR set a precedent which is followed to this day.

The contradiction was present from the beginning in the UN Charter:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

These ends were not and could not be harmonized. They were in fact placed in opposition:

Article 2
Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.

Article 55
With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote … universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

Note the contrasting strength of the language in these two provisions (“nothing …shall authorize” and “shall promote”). If human rights are truly universal, the interposition of national boundaries must be irrelevant, since they exist everywhere. As a practical matter, Violations of human rights were defined as outside of the scope of the UN, as long as they took place within a country’s borders. It is as though there had been no reason to fight Hitler except for his invasion of Poland.

We cannot defeat tyranny by leaving tyrants safe and secure, as long as they stay close to home. The rights to life, liberty, and property are not just local customs. Either human rights are universal, or they are nothing.

Stephenson — The Diamond Age

Stephenson, Neal, The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, Bantam, (Originally published 1995)

[cross-posted on Albion’s Seedlings]

[Spoiler Alert!]

With the recent announcement of a new science fiction TV series based on author screenplays from this ten year old book, it seems like a good time to take a second look at Stephenson’s vision of the next century. Diamond Age contained the first use of the term “Anglosphere,” a neologism which Jim Bennett put to more specific use in 2000.

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State Failure 2.0

In the esoteric world of defense intellectuals, one of the sharpest points of contention between Thomas P.M. Barnett and John Robb is over the feasibility of Tom’s System Administration concept. This issue has been the topic of numerous posts and the occasional rhetorical jab between the two strategic theorists. This pattern repeats itself, in my view, for a number of reasons. First, even friendly professional rivalry causes a natural bumping of heads; secondly, Robb looks at a system and thinks how it can be made to fall apart while Barnett looks at the same system and imagines how the pieces can be reintegrated. Third, no one really has all the answers yet on why some states fail relatively easily while others prove resilient in the face of horrific stress.

Robb contends that Global Guerillas can potentially keep a state in permanent failure, despite the best efforts of System Administration intervention to the contrary. A new level of systemic collapse, call it State Failure 2.0, where failure constitutes a self-sustaining dynamic. Broadly defined, you would chalk up ” wins” for Robb’s point of view in Somalia, Iraq and the Congo. In Dr. Barnett’s column you would find Germany, Japan, Cambodia, East Timor and Sierra Leone in evidence for the efficacy of Sys Admin work. Lebanon and Afghanistan perhaps could be described as a nation-building draw at this point in time.

Why permanent failure in some cases but not others ? This is something that long puzzled me. Then today, I read an intriguing pair of posts at Paul Hartzog’s blog – ” Ernesto Laclau and the Persistence of Panarchy” and ” Complexity and Collapse“. An excerpt from the first post:

Ernesto Laclau was here @ UMich and gave a delightful talk that gave me some key insights into the long-term stability of panarchy.

…However, with the new heterogeneity of global social movements, Laclau makes the point that as the state-system declines, there is no possibility of the emergence of a new state-like form because the diverse multitude possesses no single criterion of difference around which a new state could crystallize.

Thus, there is no possibility of a state which could satisfy the heterogenous values of the diverse multitude. What is significant here is that according to this logic, once panarchy arrives, it can never coalesce into some new stable unified entity.

In other words, panarchy is autopoietic as is. As new criteria of difference emerge and vanish, the complex un-whole that is panarchy will never rigidify into something that can be opposed, i.e. it will never become a new hegemony. “

While I think Paul is incorrect on the ultimate conclusion – that panarchy is a steady-state system for society – I think he has accurately described why a state may remain ” stuck” in failure for a considerable period of time as we reckon it. Moreover, it was a familiar scenario to me, being reminiscient of the permanent failure experienced by the global economy during the Great Depression. Yet some states pulled themselves out of the Depression, locally and temporarily, with extreme state intervention while the system itself did not recover until after WWII with the opposite policy – steady liberalization of international trade and de-regulation of markets that became known as globalization.

The lesson from that economic analogy might be that reviving completely failed states might first require a ” clearing of the board” of local opposition – defeated Germany and Japan, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor were completely devastated countries that had to begin societal reconstruction at only slightly better than ground zero. Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, and Lebanon all contain robust subnational networks that create high levels of friction that work against System Administration. At times, international aid simply helps sustain the dysfunctional actors as a countervailing force.

System Administration as a cure for helping connect Gap states might be akin to government fiscal and monetary policy intervention in the economy; it may work best with the easiest and the worst-off cases where there is either a functional and legitimate local government to act as a partner or where there is no government to get in the way and the warring factions are exhausted.

The dangerous middle ground of partially failed states is the real sticking point.

Cross-posted at Zenpundit

Johnny Cash Would Have Understood James Webb

Spaced over several months, Netflix has been bringing us a series of Johnny Cash – at Montreaux, in Scotland, in Austin. Tonight we saw him in Ireland. These have been enjoyable and at times riveting. They tend to repeat themselves, but on this tour he clearly moved his audience (silently mouthing the words) with one he didn’t sing in the others, “Forty Shades of Green.”

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Whatever Hits the Fan is Never Evenly Distributed

Consider a bullet. I had one sitting on my dresser as a kid – a Civil War Minnie Ball. Toss it into the air. It tumbles. It hovers, for a split microsecond, pointing at you as it falls. Consider that same bullet in 1862 (I found it on a farm near Antietam). Consider standing in front of the line of Blue (it was clearly a Yankee bullet) with your fellow Virginians. Consider that same bullet again. Fired from a Springfield, heading your way. Take a split microsecond, same length of time as before, and focus in on only the bullet. The situations are almost indistinguishable if looked at on a short enough time scale. The 1862 bullet points at you in the same way the modern one does. In that split microsecond, an observer who happened to just drop in and observe only the bullet would be hard pressed to decide which situation he or she’d rather be in. Practically the same mass of metal. Same shape. But look closer. The 1862 bullet should be warm – evidence of the kinetic energy stored in it. The present bullet should have a coat of oxidation. But there were bullets fired in 1862 that had been dropped in the crick the month before they were fired, and the modern bullet might have been sitting in the sun for a while. There’s always something for the naysayer to latch on to. But take another snapshot a couple of milliseconds later, and the difference between the two situations is instantly clear – the bullet in 1862 has traveled a lot further – and in a much straighter line than the arc of the falling bullet tossed from your hand. Now which situation would our hypothetical observer rather be in?


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SOTU Links – Offered for Comment

Bush’s State of Union (with streaming video).

Webb’s response. Also on Drudge.

Michael Gerson speaks for himself (though where his loyalty lies remain clear).  So often his precision, more articulate than Bush’s own, led to our understanding the person who spoke them.  (Yes, I wish our presidents wrote their own speeches, but in the end it is Webb’s inconsistency rather than his hoary cliches that poses a problem.)

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On History

You have reckoned that history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future. The present attempt does not yield to that high office. It will merely tell how it really was.
– Leopold von Ranke

“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

History is less a science or an art than it is a craft; and like most craftsmen, historians have favored techniques that they tend to pass on to their students, rather than formulas. Moreover, what differentiates good history from bad is, to an extent, a matter of opinion. Even (or especially) among professional historians, there can be heated dispute on this point. Truly great history, though, tends to be like obscenity – we all recognize it when we see it.

In part, historians are like detectives because there is no substitute for a rigorous examination of archival sources with the intention of bringing something new about your subject to light. Finding the overlooked document is a coup but being an archive rat is not enough. To be useful to the larger society requires effectively communicating a meaningful analysis.

When historians produce great interpretations of historical events, narratives that have generational staying power, they begin with an implicit historicity, or at least an overarching theme, to act as a guide. Connecting small events to the largest picture gives a work of history great explanatory power, which is why that in 500 years from now, odds are that people will still be reading Gibbon, Herodotus and Thucydides but historians from the 20th century may be entirely forgotten (as the modern, doctorate-wielding, historical profession is only little over a century old, our best historians probably have yet to be born).

One of the great questions is whether to view history in a linear or cyclical fashion. Many of the ancients, like Polybius, tended to see history as a recurring pattern. This not as common today, though some historians, like the Vietnam era specialist David Kaiser, have embraced cyclicalism, an attractive concept intellectually, because it offers the hope of anticipating future events while mitigating the moral responsibility of causation. It is hard to make headway against the zeitgeist, after all.

Linear paradigms in history, while offering a tidy, chronological sequence that is familiar to anyone who, as a child, was required to draw a timeline in school, present their own analytical problems. On an ideological level, the view of history as unidirectional “progress” tends to breed a spirit of determinism that inclines the historian to ignore contrary evidence. Much has been made about leftist MESA scholars in academia who were blind to the rise of Islamism before 9/11; much the same could be said of conservative scholars in the West who ignored the potential barbarism of Fascism and National Socialism. It is possible for history to move backwards, metaphorically speaking. Or backwards and forwards at the same time, as in the case of the Nazis, who championed both atavistic racialism and modern technology.

The second problem with a rigidly linear approach, is that it is tempting to ascribe causation to prior events that are merely correlative in sequence but are weakly connected in substance.This fallacy appears glaringly among conspiracy theorists who offer seemingly impressive but isolated, data points that purport to show that “FDR knew about Pearl Harbor” or “the CIA killed Kennedy“. This tendency can easily affect legitimate works of history, if to a lesser degree though the process of robust, merciless and at times, gleeful, criticism that historians hurl at one another’s writings helps to keep this error in check.

Framing history is an analytical tool and like carpenters, historians are best served using a variety of tools instead approaching all historical questions with nothing but a hammer.

Worthwhile Reading

Nick Cohen was raised by liberal and very political parents, and never met a conservative until he was 13. In this post, he writes about the evolution of his thinking and about leftist attitudes toward Iraq.

Cohen’s book, What’s Left: How Liberals Lost Their Way will be published in February.

Today at A&L

A&L links to The Common Review, which appears to be the “Great Books Club” official journal- but I may be wrong. It is clearly associated with Penguin. Do the Chicago lads (and lasses, I guess) know anything about the path of the Great Books Clubs from then to now?

A&L was looking at the review of a new E. D. Hirsch book, The Knowledge Deficit. Albert Fernandez begins with some grudging agreement with the argument Hirsch develops.

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Another Path to Our Democratic Hearts

Architecture can move us and if we come to associate the institutions and offices of a democracy, the role of the rule of law, then those buildings are going to invoke in us a powerful allegiance. State capitols and county seats are the focus of our towns. In Europe, a visitor asks the natives where the cathedral is; a good tourist visits even the tucked-away chapel with the great painting. Few Europeans coming here find very satisfactory answers when they ask us. A few churches are lovely, of course. While we may be more religious in many ways than Europe, you can’t necessarily tell that from the beauty, centrality, or even inspiring nature of most of our churches. It isn’t just that we haven’t been religious as long and missed the great cathedral building centuries. We are splintered and take our religion a lot more personally.Across broad swaths of America and in small to middling towns, county courthouses define the geography, the history, and even the current social life of a town. Local citizens sit on the square, gossiping, watching the town’s life go by. As I sit wait to be taken or excused from a jury, I watch a cross-section of our community. Our history/government department put up a large poster of the county seats in Texas – some old, some new. Students stare at them intently, trying to find their county. The poster connects them to both the towns from which they came and the importance of the requirements for American history and federal/state government.

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Lex Says and, Mostly, Lex is Right

A state strong enough to enforce property rights and contracts, but which chooses not to be a predator is a rare anamoly. We are lucky to be here. Lex

Lex’s post on political music startled me & I responded in a slapdash manner. I hadn’t thought of it in quite that way. Of course, the left leaning nature of entertainment in general is hard to miss and the communist’s appeal to nineteenth century romantic folk traditions – all that singing around the fire in youth groups my ex-Iron Curtain friends describe – has paid for & encouraged groups that toured locally. Decades ago, the guy who edited the poetry magazine organized Wobbly songfests & my husband’s colleagues organized a party around Arlo Guthrie’s appearance. I was going to say I’ve found most of this politicized music as boring as it was irritating. But, then, I think, I still listen to Willie Nelson & Kris Kristofferson. Their self-indulgent & inconsistent stands are more leftish than anything – though it’s hard to consider these as consistent political arguments. They are pretty much for the underdog – whoever they perceive it to be. But that is the pull of such music – the age old narrative of the underdog, of David, as well as the communal nature of the communal political. And that may be the power that Lex rightly sees in some of that music. (I always thought “I am Woman” was that kind of a song.)

Lex concludes:

Good governance cannot be sung about. But people need things to sing about.This is a real problem for people who love freedom in a sensible, empirical, small-l libertarian kind of way. It has no songs. It does not grab the heart. Our enemies will always be more powerful in this department as a result. Too bad. But I see this as a condition to be worked with, not a problem which can have a solution.

Lex is right in general, especially if you look at the genre of political songs and eliminate nationalism. But, then, if you take out nationalism, you take out one of the ways we associate institutions with our emotions. Communism, like terrorism, was a world-wide movement – one based on a faux religion, the other on what may be a misunderstood but real one. “Onward Christian Soldiers” is in that tradition. But, the rule of law, the importance of private property, freedom of speech & religion, free enterprise – all of these must begin within a country itself. Libertarian blogs bash the EU and the UN because they recognize that state control is not going to get looser the larger the body grows. A recorder of deeds is a part of government. This is embodied in the rule of law authorized & enforced by the state. Nationalism and these values are so intertwined that taking them out leaves only abstractions.

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Origins of Mexican Anti-Americanism

Commenter Joseangel left an extremely informative comment in response to this post. I am reposting his comment in its entirety below, because I think it deserves its own post. It also relates to earlier posts (here, and especially here) here on Pinochet and his fight against socialist government in Chile.

(I have added Web links and corrected a few minor spelling errors.)

Comment on Frank Discussion of Diversity by joseangel

January 21, 2007

ElGaboGringo Says:
January 8th, 2007 at 8:05 pm

“Your second point – Are the Chinese a low or high-trust culture? The Vietnamese? I thought these were low-trust cultures, but they encourage assimilation of their youth. In my opinion, the biggest danger in current immigration isn’t societal trust, it’s anti-americanism. Mexicans (at least not the class that migrates here) are not pro-USA. They are pro-Mexico and unanimously think the USA got one over with TX/CA and that we are only rich now because illegals do all the work. If you didn’t speak Spanish, you probably wouldn’t experience this first hand, but I assure you it is the case. Combine the mexican anti-americanism with that of the left’s, throw in some “diversity” and we have a political trainwreck in the making.”

While it is true there is anti-Americanism in Mexico, it is not generalized to the whole country. In North Mexico the majority of the people do not hold the same anti-American feelings that some people in central Mexico do, although they might hold ignorant or misguided geopolitical views that resemble anti-Americanism, I cannot consider them as essentially anti-Americans.

In my opinion, Anti-Americanism in Mexico occurs mostly in Mexico City and for reasons other than territorial losses to the USA or even past interventions. One important reason being the fact that thousands of socialist Spaniards opposed to Franco’s regime and persecuted by his government found asylum in Mexico, these Spaniard immigrants were profoundly anti-American, professing a hate towards America, the likes of what we see today in Muslim fundamentalist, because of North American support for Franco and the cold war also.

These Spaniard refugees blended very well into the already Spanish rooted population of Mexico City who saw with anger how the Franco regime committed crimes and abuses in Spain, these refugees had a lot of political influence, they read Marx and Engels, and firmly believed in Communism, then they found jobs in Newspapers, Television, Universities and other institutions of Mexico, including government institutions sometimes (link).

Many of them got into movie making and helped create the Mexican movie industry, which reached its splendor in the sixties, a decade and half after their arrival. The Spanish immigration to Mexico did not stop but until the early 70s when Spain became a democracy and their economy begun to grow. But they brought their hatred towards the United States with them and spread it in Mexico City and of course it found a fertile soil in leftist movements in the city.

When Pinochet took power, many Chilean intellectuals arrived to Mexico and continued writing from here also, repeating the same process of anti Americanization, although Mexico also suffered from a dictatorial one party regime, it was considered a soft dictatorship, as opposed to the military regimes in Argentina, Chile and other south American countries. We also received many immigrants from Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay, where military dictatorships committed crimes and were, wrongly perhaps, linked to USA interests. All these immigrants came carrying a heavy bag of anti Americanism and normally settled in Mexico City.

Then there was the Cuban revolution, which also inspired many anti American feelings in the region, and Mexicans could not be denied from this important regional events. Castro became a hero in Mexico City and was received as one whenever he visited. The anti American seeds could not have a greater soil to grow.

All of these socialist and anti American influences flourished during the 50s and 60’s and by the 80’s, there were already several communist and socialist political parties and organizations in Mexico City and Central Mexico. They joined and created what today is the PRD.

But in North Mexico, the PAN a center right and catholic party and pro American had been advancing and fighting against the one party dictatorship for decades before the PRD was even created and they had made great democratic gains in Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and several other northern states.

In 2006, PAN won the most seats in Congress and the Senate, with 207 congressmen, followed by PRD with only 126 representatives. PAN has also won the last two presidential elections, the latest one very tight and controversial.

What this tells you is that Mexico can be hardly described as an anti American society. If only, we can say there are many who are and many other who are not.

Yes it is true that we have some hate spreaders in our society, La Jornada and Proceso are newspapers and magazines profoundly socialist and anti American but they are read in Mexico City, and are far from being the most read newspapers, which in Mexico City are El Universal, Reforma, and Milenio, the last two newspapers belong to corporations from north Mexico but actually dominate the newspaper industry in all Mexico and the most widely read by Mexicans in general, they are not anti American and tend to be very fair in the way they treat our relationship with the United States.

The problem is many Americans come to Mexico City and get to think it is the same all over the country, but I assure you it is not.

To end my point I would like to add that while there are some Chicano organizations that have repeatedly stated their radical ideas of returning CA/TX to Mexico, these are considered ridiculous in Mexico and have absolutely no ties just like the Black Panthers and the Black Nation ideas had no correspondence in Africa, the same occurs with these Chicano radical movements, they originated there and belong to a process of problems of immigrants in adapting to a new country.

Mexicans don’t even talk about those issues. It is history and our history books describe these states as part of the United States of America, holding no ridiculous claim whatsoever upon them.

For the most part, having many relatives in the USA who already proudly consider themselves Americans and having nephews and nieces participating in the armed forces of that great country, I cannot but reject the notion that Mexicans hold on to their national flags and state, but why would they? If my country did not give my brother or sister the opportunity to work and to live in dignity, why would I deny them their right to love and to adhere to great nation that has PROVIDED as our country hasn’t?

UPDATE: Joseangel provides additional information in the comments.

Steve, I wanna say thank you …

The Anglosphere is a really, really big place. Or, shared cultural space. Whatever it is, it’s big.

Australia is a part of it. And many of us, when we think of Australia, might think of kangaroos, or that guy who got killed by the manta ray, or those hats that have one side of the brim pinned up for some reason. That is all legitimately Australian stuff.

Now narrow the focus, Think of Australian rock. AC/DC. Yes! The Saints. Oh, yes! Emphatically, yes.

But, may I say….Radio Birdman?

The greatest tribute to the Hawaii 5-0 program originated way on the other side of the Pacific. It’s a funny old world.

Of course, we believe in democracy ….

.. it’s just we don’t really like it when it does not go the way we want it to. Or so, clearly, reasons Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament. He is not happy about what the EUObserver quaintly describes as the centre right being sort of in power in the European Union.

The reason for this mini-flap is that the former leader of the EPP, Hans-Gert Pöttering, has been elected as president of the European Parliament, thus becoming the third vaguely right-wing person to hold an important position in the EU. The others are Commission President Barroso, whose right-wing credentials are questionable or would be if one knew anything about his politics, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, temporary president of the European Union, rather handicapped by the grand coalition she heads back in her own country.

None of this is the slightest importance, politically speaking. Merkel is in that position only till the end of June and the Toy Parliament that Pottering presides over is not exactly a power in the land. In any case, what matters in EU politics is attitude to further integration and greater centralized regulation. In that there is not much to choose between the left and the right, the division being between the main groupings and the smaller ones.

Nevertheless, Martin Schulz is finding the situation disturbing.

Socialist leader Martin Schulz told EUobserver that while he was “not concerned” by the set-up, he added that “We’re here to ensure that this will not change into a dangerous situation.”

Oooh-err! Those centre-right Germans and Portuguese can make any situation dangerous.

Herr Schulz is worried by another development and that is the formation of the new right-wing (or so we think, though many of them are old-fashioned socialist corporatists) grouping in the Toy Parliament, the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group.

Disregarding the fact that all these people were elected in their various countries, just as Herr Schulz was and that they have not actually broken any rules in the European Parliament (they have not even pointed out the criminal past of various Commissioners, as UKIP has done), he is demanding that they be deprived of their rights.

Immediately after the announcement of the 20-member group’s formation, Mr Schulz wrote to leaders of the parliament’s democratic groups, urging them to deny the new group posts under the proportional d’Hondt system of appointment.

In his letter Mr Schulz says: “We must not abandon this Parliament, which symbolises the integration of Europe, to those who deny all European values.”

Oh dear, those European values again.

Let us for the moment set aside such awkward historic incidents as the Inquisition, religious wars, bloodshed on a large scale, concentration camps and various others I am too tired to mention. Let us take Herr Schulz’s statement at its face value. Surely those famous European values, as represented by the Toy Parliament, include the concept of democracy and freedom of speech.

In that case, much as one may dislike what the various members of the new grouping say, as long as they do not break the law (and that contingency is provided for by their immunity) and are not linked to any terrorist or criminal organization, they are entitled to the rights and privileges (of which there are many) exactly as the Socialists are.

Of course, if the European Parliament, which serves no real purpose beyond pushing forward a centralizing, integrationist agenda, were abolished with consequent large savings to all of us, none of these problems would arise.

As this is unlikely to happen in the near future, let us consider what might emerge if one started banning people from taking the positions for which they were elected because some do not like their views. Can Mr Schulz answer for all members of his grouping? Have none of them expressed support for deeply unpleasant systems and leaders like Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi-minh or Mengistu? Have none of them wept over the wrongs of terrorists who openly say that their aim is to exterminate as many of their enemies as possible?

What of Glenys Kinnock, chosen at random, who came back from a study trip in South Africa and neighbouring countries before the end of apartheid and cheerfully admitted that she had not bothered to investigate conditions in SWAPO prison camps?

What of the various East Europeans who had been in their Communist parties before “seeing the light” not to mention the various goodies, and becoming all European in their attitudes? Should they not be deprived of various rights and privileges?

It seems that European values, so dear to the heart of Herr Schulz and Chancellor Merkel, do not include freedom of speech or of historical debate. Once again, it has been put forward as an aim of the German presidency, to make Holocaust denial illegal across the European Union.

Germany has set numerous goals in its 25-page programme for the EU presidency, including everything from securing Europe’s energy supplies to outlawing Holocaust denial, improving Europeans’ image of the bloc and getting serious about climate change.

This is beginning to be seriously boring.

Let us be quite clear on the subject. No event in history, however horrible, can to be immune from discussion, wrong-headed arguments, lies and denials. That applies to the Holocaust as much as the far greater numbers murdered by various Communist tyrants.

It made sense to pass that law in West Germany and Austria immediately after the war. Let us not forget, however, that both those countries have been democracies for nearly six decades and there is not particular evidence of that coming to an end. Far from spreading laws passed at a particular time in history to other countries, who are in no need of this sort of cleansing, it may be time for Germany and Austria to rethink the matter for themselves. They have grown up and can treat deeply unpleasant episodes in their past as mature democracies.

Alternatively, we might have to start campaigning for the outlawing of denial of Communist atrocities. And then where will Martin Schulz and his grouping be?
(Cross-posted from EUReferendum)

Balancing Pacifica

Kucinich talks of bringing back the “fairness doctrine”; probably it won’t go anywhere, but it reminded me of how much we listen to NPR, how wonderful and how irritating it is.

The left seems awfully worried about the right’s AM dominance, but for years, while we hauled our kids around to lessons and when I was running the shop for 16-hour days, the local public station played in the background. When she was in junior high, my middle daughter wrote a poem to Martin Goldsmith. It wasn’t a school girl crush, but rather about the pleasure she felt in the music he introduced, in his voice, in the peace those lovely string quartets brought to her radio every night. His show, Performance Today, is now hosted by Fred Childs and with her out of the house, I go back to my more regular fare. Still, it provided a wonderful experience, even for someone as musically illiterate as I am.

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Congratulations to James Rummel!

James is our new Blogosphere Air Pistol Champion, 5 Meter Division. Congratulations also to runner up Dan from Madison, who I love like a brother even though he gives me a hard time.

In recognition of his outstanding performance, James receives this Chicagoboyz Certificate of Achievement to display on his blog:

James R. Rummel, you are the man!

Keep an eye on the Shooting section of the Chicago Boyz Forum for the latest info on this and other shooting events.

Quote of the Day

…One writer argues travel has lost its romance because it is too easy. Sorry, but travel has lost its romance because it is too hard, though hard in a different way than it was fifty years ago. In 1957, travel was difficult like a safari. In 2007, travel is difficult like getting a hip replacement in the British medical system.

Warren Meyer

Milton — Samurai William

Milton, G., Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan, Hodder & Stoughton, 2002, 400 pp.

[cross-posted on Albion’s Seedlings]

Some thirty years ago, beach readers basting themselves in the sun were reading the fictional adventures of an English sailor, a navigator or “pilot”, cast ashore after a Dutch shipwreck off Japan in the early 17th century. John Blackthorne was the ultimate “fish out of water,” making his way in an alien violent land through physical strength, mental acuity and prodigious love-making, rising finally after various reversals of fortune to become the trusted confidant and friend of the military supremo of the time — the Shogun. Battling ninja, the Portuguese, Jesuits, scheming Japanese lords, cultural confusion, and romantic tragedy, the novel left Blackthorne an older and wiser man at the peak of his powers.

Like many fans of James Clavell’s Asian novels, I enjoyed the story for what it was … laced with the critical potboiler elements of exotic settings, sex and violence (followed closely by clothes and food) … a great yarn … an uninspiring 1980 TV mini-series — but I thought no more about it until I glanced recently at the cover of a paperback version of Milton’s Samurai William in a bookstore. Hmm. That tale looks familiar.

It turns out that Clavell’s fish-out-of-water story was based broadly on actual events. Englishman William Adams was a crewman on a small fleet of Dutch ships attempting to open trade with the Far East by passing through the Cape Horn and sailing across the Pacific. Adams and a handful of starved, sickened survivors of the single Dutch vessel to make it to Japan were curiosities at first to the reigning shogun (Tokugawa Ieyasu). They were saved from crucifixion on a whim, despite the best efforts of the Jesuits to see that Adams and his crew met an immediate and very bad end. Adams was tossed into a Japanese prison after his first interview with the Shogun.

But the shogun quickly realized that the anjin or pilot was an unusually intelligent, skilled, and self-possessed man. Though not formally educated, his technical and geographic knowledge was substantial. And his ability with languages was to become a key factor in the subsequent history of Japan. For William Adams, English Protestant pilot, formerly of Limehouse in London’s docklands, was to become the European translator for the most powerful man in Japan.

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As Serious As Football

This morning was a chance to ponder the mysteries of life.

As a New England Patriots supporter (the Calgary Stampeders having missed the NFL playoffs again this year), I’m still in shock over the Pats’ upset 24-21 win over No. 1 seeded San Diego yesterday. The Patriots had no business winning that game. Tom Brady was unexpectedly off-target with many of his passes. More than once I was yelling at the TV screen “what the [heck] are you throwing at?” The experts last week, almost to a man, picked San Diego to win. The folks in San Diego were booking airline tickets for the Superbowl in Miami in early February. The city of San Diego was advance planning their Superbowl parade celebrations on city streets. Yet somehow New England scored 10 unanswered points in the last five minutes of the game, and won the game on a missed San Diego field goal in the final few seconds of play. What planet are we on?

And what would sports writers and fans make of this strange, strange turn of events? Of opportunities lost on both sides? Of outstanding athletes blowing very hot and very cold over the course of sixty minutes of play? Of the top seeded team, with the NFL’s MVP, losing at home?

It was an eye-opening experience to surf the Web this morning because I don’t read much sports journalism. The game was dissected in a thousand different ways. A few writers were clearly “in the bag” for one team or another but by and large I learned a great deal more about the game through the eyes of people who know it far better than I. It was clear, however, we’d watched the same game. The reference points, and the general sense of what was important, were the same.

It was a column by Pete King on the Sports Illustrated website which brought me up short and gave me reason to think. Here’s first-year NY Jets coach Eric Mangini’s post-season comments to the press corps:

I want to thank all of you guys. I know it’s been a long season for you. I appreciate your patience with me. I know I haven’t been Don Rickles in here. I’m trying. I think I made some progress. I’ll continue to try to make progress. I think the things that you guys do is extremely important. You’re the conduit to the fans. I just appreciate your patience with me and your understanding and your support throughout the course of the season.

“A conduit to the fans.” Jeez. That’s right. The media’s there to inform the fans.

It got me thinking. Most sports writers have an opinion. And certainly the local sports writers have an investment in communicating as much about their teams as humanly possible. Fan appetite for information is insatiable and where newspapers, TV and the Internet can’t satisfy it, fans will simply manufacture it themselves. Their passion is legendary.

Yet something still distinguishes sports media from the “current events” media — the MSM — that I usually read. Most of the sports media actually recognize that there are things that the coaches and players will not tell them. Never have. Never will. That the media do not require, and will not get, a briefing on all the details of a game plan, and certainly don’t need ongoing espionage operations to do a good job for their employers and readers. Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is legendary for his non-informative press conferences, yet sports reporters still line up to hear his words. One reason. His team wins, mostly.

Part of the “good guys” winning requires that the media play it straight. They can read between the lines all they want. They can dream up whatever schemes, plans, and strategies they think will prevail. They can interprete the slightest facial twitch or player limp in whatever way they want. But they cannot, must not, seek to betray confidences that would benefit the opposing team. A reporter who consistently attempted to sabotage the local team’s game plans would quickly be looking for work in a different discipline. Fans have too much invested in their teams to let that kind of behaviour continue.

Thus my broader view for the day — America will get the MSM it wants when America takes its national security as seriously as its football.

We don’t need “happy hacks” (to quote Mickey Kaus) but we do need media who recognize that they’ve got some skin in this game. That there are things that they do not need to know, immediately, under a system of representative government. That their role in life is not to undermine the effectiveness of the local team. Yes, we want to know the strengths and weaknesses. But winning the game … not exposing how the game is to be won … is what ultimately counts to the fans.

Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots move on to the AFC Championship against Indianapolis next week. And the fans couldn’t care less what they discussed LAST week. Thank goodness the media in Pats’ world are actually required to love football more than themselves. Football fans can still dictate how the game is played.

Maybe America needs a few more fans.