“Defining Deviancy Down”

Bret Stephens tells us why the Palestinians are not yet ready for prime time:

I AM often asked whether I favor an independent Palestinian state. I wish someone would ask me instead whether I favor an independent German one.

I favor an independent Germany, of course, but not if it’s going to be the Third Reich. I favor an independent Japan, but not the Japan of Tojo. I might even favor the independent state of Tamil Eelam, but not under a psychopath like Prabhakaran.

In each of these instances, I’d sooner have a benign colonial occupation than a nasty native dictatorship. And the same goes for the Palestinians.

Today, the international community is having trouble accepting the fact that the problem with Palestinian statehood has nothing to do with its borders, much less with the size of its army or the rights it has to its airspace, its water resources, and so on. It has nothing to do with what Israel does or does not do in its military or diplomatic efforts. The problem, rather, is the nature of the state itself, and principally its moral nature. Is it a respecter of the rights of its citizens? Or of the rights of its neighbors?

In the Declaration of Independence, America’s founders did more than insist on their inalienable right to self-determination. They also showed they knew what self-determination was for, and, in so doing, that they deserved to have it. Israelis, too, have shown that they deserve the state they fought for and were given.

By contrast, Palestinians continue to demonstrate, in word, deed and above all in attitude that they have no similar understanding. Until they do so, until they emerge from the moral swamp in which they have put themselves, they ought to remain – along with countless other peoples – stateless.

Well stated.

Will Tony Blair’s Support for the U.S. Be His Undoing?

Val e-diction asks this contrary question in his inaugural post, citing this Jerusalem Post column. The point is that Blair’s visceral pro-American orientation led him to offer early support for the war against Iraq, while Chirac and Schroeder have cynically opposed U.S. efforts in a way that may give them disproportionate bargaining power. The U.S. will thus have to pay off France and Germany to gain their cooperation, while Blair will gain nothing except the enmity of many of his Labour colleagues.

I doubt that this is how events will play out. Bush may decide that we don’t need the Euros (do we?). Blair’s political position may not suffer, especially if we defeat Iraq handily. Still, these concerns bear keeping in mind, particularly if the war goes badly.

Drifting Polls?

William Sjostrom explains elegantly why opinion-poll results may show spurious variation over time and should not be taken at face value.

French and Germans Behaving Badly: Causes and Consequences

In recent, much-noted piece by Steve den Beste he argues with his usual force, facts and logic that the French and the Germans are opposing the (almost certainly) upcoming war with Iraq primarily because they are interested in hiding their deep involvement in Iraq’s secret armament industry. Ralf’s recent ChicagoBoyz post takes a contrary position, arguing that the domestic forces in play in Germany are sufficient to cause Schroeder to dig in against the U.S., and that the scale of German involvement in Iraq’s arms programs is not as great as den Beste suggests. Ralf notes that Schroeder is desperate to mobilize his left political base so he avoids catastrophe in the upcoming elections. (See this piece on Schroeder’s current sorry state.) Politicians do and say many irresponsible things when facing political death.

There are further explanations for the behavior of the French and Germans beyond those mentioned by Ralf, other than dread of being smoked out as Saddam’s covert arms suppliers.

For example, Schroeder’s and Joschka Fischer’s political ideology is a factor in what they do and how they verbalize what they are doing. In this eye-opening article, from the National Interest, Siemon Netto analyzes the world view of the “68ers” now in power in Germany, and describes their odd love-hate relationship with America. The “America” they fell in love with was the “anti-American America” of the ’60s era hippie and radical movements. These guys would find it very, very hard to support a U.S. led war, no matter how justified, both on a personal level, and because it would necessarily alienate their core supporters. Also, the Germans have worked so hard for so long at being pacifists, atoning vicariously for the Third Reich’s conquests and genocides, that they have a hard time getting their heads around any war (seemingly) voluntarily embarked on. This factor should not be downplayed. So, these factors may play a large part in Germany’s actions, whether or not it has had dirty dealings with Iraq which it wants to keep in the closet.

Arguably, if that were the primary element in Schroeder’s and Fischer’s position, it would make just as much sense for them to condemn those practices, air the dirty linen, blame their rightist predecessors, and make up for past sins by supporting the war.

As to the French, the simple explanations are probably the correct ones. They are clinging to a grand scheme of a united Europe in which they will play a dominant role. Opposing the U.S. seems to be the purpose of any such union, in their eyes, and they are pretty straightforward about that. To the French, for many years, foreign policy has consisted of reflexively opposing whatever the United States does, at least out loud, or as a public posture, and then actually doing whatever seemed to the economic advantage of France. This current situation apparently seems no different to them. Also, there may be an element of sour grapes for the French. I think they are miffed at us championing Turkey for EU membership. They know and we know that the reason we did that was to strengthen our relationship with Turkey at the expense of France and the Euro-federalizers. So, the French may figure it is their turn to jam a stick in our eye. (ChicagoBoyz’ own Sylvain, who knows more about France than I ever will, is dubious about major French involvement in Iraqi WMD.)

Yet another facet of the odd and offensive behavior of Chirac, Schroeder and their henchmen is captured nicely by David Warren:

The North American media are if possible overplaying the soap operatic performances of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, as they strew thumbtacks along the road to Baghdad. If you turn to the European media, you see that the French and Germans themselves hardly take their leaders so seriously. They are used to this kind of cynical posturing, and it doesn’t make the front page. What scares them is rather the American earnestness, the possibility that Mr. Bush means what he says. They expect politicians to lie to them — it is part of the “social contract” as in Canada — and when one of them starts putting his money where his mouth is, they are naturally alarmed.

In other words, the French and German elites do not take themselves seriously, their voters do not take them seriously, and everybody knows that their words are gestures, play-acting, to be taken with a wink and a shrug. This may be correct. I guess this is the kind of thing over-educated people in the States mean when they say that the Europeans are better than us at dealing with “complexity”, “nuance”, “ambiguity”, etc. That kind of crap may be OK when all you are arguing about is the size of the agricultural subsidy, or how big and what shape cheese packages have to be to comply with EU regulations. But to deal with the actual cement-floor basics of statecraft, like deciding to wage a war when it has become necessary, this puppet-theatre model of leadership just won’t cut it. In other words, Chirac and Schroeder are misplaying this because they are out of their league when there are serious issues to deal with.

This is essentially the same argument made by Robert Kagan in his justifiably famous essay Power and Weakness, about the trans-Atlantic gap. Kagan argues that the U.S. still lives in “history”, where tough decisions have to be made, while the Europeans, under the U.S. security umbrella, have the luxury of living after “history”, where all is merely administrative detail and someone else keeps the wolves from the door. Such post-historical politics is all the French and Germans know how to do anymore. Worse, they think this is all that politics and political leadership consists of, categorically. They don’t know what to make of the real thing when they see it.

A final factor is plain fear. The French and Germans have shown themselves to be totally unable to deal with the massive influx of muslims into their countries. They are unwilling and unable to assimilate them. Their stagnant economies are unable to provide jobs, and their lavish welfare states allow the small minority of genuinely bad actors to subsist in their midst. (This strong article by Theodore Dalrymple is in part on point). They have allowed themselves to become havens for crime and terrorism. They want to be able to keep ignoring this festering reality. Their official and unassailable leftist ideology won’t even permit realistic discussion of these problem. (This stifling of legitimate debate has given rise to people like Le Pen, people who don’t care about preserving the decencies, and ordinary people can find no one else who will talk about the things which worry them most.) Most of all, the leaders of France and Germany live in mortal dread of terrorism in their own countries. They fear, with some cause, that a major war in the Middle East may lead to all kinds of horrors right at home. They would rather keep whistling past the graveyard than actually come to grips with all this. And they are furious at Bush for forcing all this onto the front burner.

So, the French and Germans are not adopting postures of opposition to the Bush juggernaut because they are an evil cabal with a lot to hide. At least not primarily. They are acting this way due to their own atrophied ability to function as real countries confronting serious challenges. They are also in the grip of leftist ideologies which consistently lead them to misread the world and its dangers, and to make stupid decisions. And they are afraid. Their elites also despise the United States generally and W in particular. They can’t take him or us seriously. These factors are the main ones driving their obstructionist policies.

Instapundit had a link to this excellent post by Trent Trelenko. Trelenko focuses on the conduct of France and Germany, and notes, as does den Beste, that this conduct may lead to an angry American response. There is certainly a growing animus in Blogspace, for sure. But so far it is a jeering, irritated animus, not true anger, and certainly not real hatred — the “Axis of Weasels” is not language directed at people truly perceived as enemies.

It is too soon to say whether what goes on in the rarefied world of the blogosphere will come sally forth and take up residence out in the rest of non-cyberspatial America. I tend to think not. Only a small proportion of the population are glued to the internet and television news and all on edge about the upcoming war. (Not many people are typing blog posts late at night on Saturday about all this, for example.) Meanwhile virtually the entire country focuses on the Superbowl and is only fractionally aware that anything big is going on with Iraq, or that a major war is about to start in a few days or weeks, or that Bush is going to, you know, do, like, whatever. So, where den Beste apparently anticipates an outpouring of Jacksonian anger about all this, I think that is still only a possibility.

Now, I am (by and large) a Jacksonian myself, and I think den Beste’s analysis of the Jacksonian response to all this is astute, so far as it goes. But it is also noteworthy that Jacksonians are slow to anger. There is a lot about the rest of the world that they simply don’t give a rat’s ass about, anyway. They need to really have a reason to focus on and care about any foreign country at all. They seem to have bought into getting rid of Saddam, as a villain, as a long-time enemy, as a guy we should have killed a long time ago and, most of all, as a threat to our oil supply. Assuming there is a war, and we win big, and win quickly, the final take-away for Joe and Jane Minivan, your typical crabgrass Jacksonians, may be simply, “the French and the Germans? What do they have to do with all this? Who cares what they think?” And that may be all to the good. It need not mean “the end of NATO” for example. That now pointless entity will continue to limp along. After all, bureaucracies rarely ever really die. We will continue to trade with Europe, and have military bases there, and nothing dramatic will necessarily happen. They’ll loathe us a little more, and we’ll ignore them as we do now.

However, if this French and German perfidy ever does penetrate the Jacksonian consciousness, there will be anger, and a sense of betrayal, and this will indeed have long, and lingering effects on any attempt by the Europeans to patch things up. For example, the war could go badly, or takes a long time, or lead to larger than expected casualties, or there could be attacks on Americans in Europe either by Europeans protestor-types, or muslims living in Europe. And if the Europeans adopt the wrong tone in these circumstances, the American public will notice. And if that happens the French and the German political elites will come to realize that they have made a disastrous miscalculation even appearing to side with the enemies of the United States. How exactly this Jacksonian anger would work itself out in actual policies is not clear to me. Outright war is not an option. But a mutually destructive trade war could be one consequence.

This potential is apparently absent from the political calculations of Chirac and Schroeder. They are focused on domestic consumption. If they consider their effect on American opinion at all, they seem to be doing so based upon their domestic political experience, rather than from a grasp of American political realities. But they ought to try to understand us better. Jacksonians do take honor seriously. (They don’t put it in quotations marks, for example.) And that means how they are viewed by the world at large, i.e. as meriting respect or not, not some subjective sense of worth. Chirac and Schroeder should not lightly dis America.

Another factor which den Beste does not mention, and which actually supports his point, is also worth noting here: Jacksonians tend to believe in conspiracy theories. They have for centuries believed that there is a foreign locus of evil which is manipulating us and leading us astray and infiltrating our institutions and corrupting them. First it was the Vatican, and in some circles it still is. Then, it was the Kremlin. Also, intermittently, it has been the Trilateral Commission and the East Coast business and political elite. But since the end of the Cold War, there has been no focus for this type of thinking, and the locus of worldly evil has not settled anywhere definitively. The United Nations is a perennial contender, except its blatant incompetence makes it implausible as a manifestation of Anti-Christ.

(Nonetheless, let me share an aside. I recall a perfectly rational-seeming man in a Kinkos in Lafayette, Indiana. He was photocopying part of his own translation of the Bible. He mentioned casually that there were stickers on the back of road signs, and these were coded to maps which were going to be used by the U.N. Blue Helmets that Clinton was going to bring in. The concentration camps had already been surveyed up in Michigan, for the arrestees in the Midwest. All registered gun owners were going to be arrested first. He was not going without a fight.)

Another low-level candidate as a focus of Jacksonian conspiracy theorizing has long been the European Union. I once saw an episode of the extraordinary and, in its own insane way, brilliant TV show This Week in Bible Prophecy. The program noted that the EU was using the symbol of Europa riding a bull, on a proposed euro note I think. The host of the show explained that this symbol was in fact predicted in the Book of Revelations, etc. If the EU becomes more widely accepted on the crackpot fringe of Jacksonianism as the seed-bed of foreign evil, the French and the Germans will have all kinds of extra trouble on their hands any time they have to deal with the United States.

In conclusion, if I had to take bets on where we will be in six months, I’d say that (1) Iraq will have been conquered, (2) nothing about French or German involvement in Iraq’s armament will have emerged which is very major or very novel, (3) United States relations with Germany and France will not be warm, but will not have undergone any very major changes, (4) NATO will continue to fade in importance, but will continue to exist de jure, (5) the U.N. will continue to exist and everyone will act like nothing big happened, even though that institution may continue to decline in importance and influence. I don’t think there will be a Jacksonian backlash against “Old Europe”, as Rumsfeld dismissively calls it, unless there is an unanticipated turn for the worse in the war, or other related disaster, and the French and the German politicians badly misplay their public response to it.

Nothing in the foregoing should be taken as an excuse for the French and the Germans. They are acting like weasels, and they should be ashamed of themselves.


A couple of days ago Steve Den Beste posted an article in which he speculated that German and French firms might have broken the sanctions and helped Iraq to acquire WMDs, with knowledge and backing by their governments. He went on to make assumptions about possible consequences if any evidence of this should be discovered after the fall of Baghdad. Among the possibilities he listed was the end of NATO, also that of the UN (France is a permanent member in the Security Council, after all), also a trade war or eventually even a real war. What led him to make these speculations and assumptions is the opposition of both countries to a war on Iraq. In his opinion it is much too strong to be adequately explained as pandering for domestic purposes. Since a lot of people have taken up this thought and almost treat Steve’s speculations as if they were fact I feel moved to post my own take on this. Germany and France among others *did* help Iraq to acquire WMDs in the eighties right up to Gulf War I. Here’s an article from last month about the German involvement: Iraqi Report Could Prove Damaging to Germany Germany was Iraq’s number one supplier from 1975 right up to Gulf War I, as far as the number of firms is concerned. In some cases conventional weapons technology was delivered after the war, obviously with kamagrawiki.org complicity of some officials. Even so I can’t imagine that the German government(s) approved of making Iraq a nuclear power (Steve himself calls his considerations highly speculative). Maybe it’s because I can’t take these people seriously, but they aren’t that perfidious (or suicidal, for that matter). Steve is mistaken to think that Schroeder’s foot-dragging can’t be explained by domestic purposes alone. Without the support of the left his party would lose the two state elections at February 2nd that badly that it might replace him with somebody else; they’ll lose anyway, but it depends on how bad they are going to lose. A catastrophic defeat in both states might mean the end of his political career; his predecessor Helmut Kohl was the first Chancellor to lose his office by elections, all others were kicked out by their former supporters during their terms, when they became electoral liabilities. Now to put in a word for France: It is much less involved in the Iraqi WMD programs than Germany and a number of other states. Trying to protect its investments there is legitimate, even if it is questionable to hide this motive behind a grandstanding pose of pacifism. Besides, neither Germany nor France think for a second that they can prevent this war or that the UN could for that matter. Nor does the Bush administration, or its reaction to all this would be much harsher.

The Reviews Are In!

Iain Murray (following Chad Dimpler) directs us to the latest release by one of the giants of our culture.

. . . Hasselhoff’s soothing voice- a voice that many compare to a polar bear mauling a box of weasels.

[. . .]

With every “Ooh Yeah”, “Baby” and “Whoa”, Dennis Handelshaft pushes his bowels to their very limit; what emerges is always solid.

Don’t miss it.

CNBC Doesn’t Get It

It canceled the excellent Wall Street Journal editors’ talk show, the only TV show that I watched regularly. What a disappointment (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). Given the generally clueless, pointlessly argumentative, conventionally leftist journalism-school sensibility that pervades CNBC’s coverage, it was remarkable that the WSJ editors’ learned, civil, conservative discussions ever passed muster. And given the show’s uniqueness and obvious quality, the Investor’s Business Daily editorial attributing its cancelation to political bias at CNBC seems a likely explanation for what happened.

CNBC doesn’t understand its own business. They have a franchise in financial journalism but are pissing it away trying to be like CNN. Feh. I want information not intermediation. I want more straight business news and less politics and Beltway herd-wisdom. Enough talking heads, suck-up interviews with Hugo Chavez, and pointless soundbite exchanges between “experts” chosen mainly because they disagree with each other. Such dross is abundantly available elsewhere. CNBC’s edge came not mainly from analysis, but from unfiltered presentation of basic financial information: prices, govt statistical releases, consensus projections. The WSJ show, the only decent analysis CNBC had, was icing on the cake. How fitting that it was dropped and that the junk remains.

Increasingly, commercial television’s business model resembles the social model of an insecure teenager at an adult cocktail party: If you’re unable to say anything worth listening to, make yourself annoying enough and people will be forced to pay attention. However, given the expanding supply of news sources, this model is beginning to work as well in business as it does socially.

Liberation or Law Enforcement?

I am noting more and more that commentators on the ongoing showdown with Iraq are talking past each other. First, let us dismiss out of hand the Chomsky/Sontag types, and the decrepit human detritus of the Vietnam-era anti-war movement, which is enjoying a moment’s febrile nostalgia before finally withering away. No, that is not it. The intelligent question is whether, given that America has interests at stake, what are those interests, and what should we do to achieve them? The Bush administration is not helping much, because, while it focuses on disarmament, and refers to compliance with the U.N.’s resolutions, the strong sense one gets is that it has larger ambitions, operating under the code phrase “regime change”. For the former, enforcing U.N. resolutions, something as minimal as a deal with the existing regime could, conceivably, suffice. For the latter, nothing less than conquest and occupation of Iraq and reconstruction along the lines of Germany and Japan after 1945 will do. In their much-cited essay “An Unnecessary War”, arch-realists John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt offer an analysis which basically concludes that Saddam is not entirely irrational, and that he can be contained and deterred, even if he obtains nuclear weapons, so a war is unnecessary. This piece, like everything by Mearsheimer is relentlessly logical and vigorously argued. I had the good fortune to be an undergraduate in two of Mearsheimer’s courses, and I learned a lot from him, most of which I still think is correct. Right or wrong, he is a serious and hard-nosed thinker. Mearsheimer and Walt set up the argument this way:

The belief that Saddam’s past behavior shows he cannot be contained rests on distorted history and faulty logic. In fact, the historical record shows that the United States can contain Iraq effectively-even if Saddam has nuclear weapons-just as it contained the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Regardless of whether Iraq complies with U.N. inspections or what the inspectors find, the campaign to wage war against Iraq rests on a flimsy foundation.
Mearsheimer and Walt then proceed to make the case that Saddam is no less deterrable than the old Soviet Union, i.e. he cannot use nuclear weapons, nor can he blackmail anybody with them, because he would invite annihilation if ever tried to use nuclear weapons. They are a little less convincing in arguing that Saddam would not “hand off ” a bomb to a terrorist. They conclude as follows:
… Both logic and historical evidence suggest a policy of vigilant containment would work, both now and in the event Iraq acquires a nuclear arsenal. Why? Because the United States and its regional allies are far stronger than Iraq. And because it does not take a genius to figure out what would happen if Iraq tried to use WMD to blackmail its neighbors, expand its territory, or attack another state directly. It only takes a leader who wants to stay alive and who wants to remain in power. Throughout his lengthy and brutal career, Saddam Hussein has repeatedly shown that these two goals are absolutely paramount. That is why deterrence and containment would work.
If the United States is, or soon will be, at war with Iraq, Americans should understand that a compelling strategic rationale is absent. This war would be one the Bush administration chose to fight but did not have to fight. Even if such a war goes well and has positive long-range consequences, it will still have been unnecessary. And if it goes badly-whether in the form of high U.S. casualties, significant civilian deaths, a heightened risk of terrorism, or increased hatred of the United States in the Arab and Islamic world-then its architects will have even more to answer for.
This article has been the most powerful assault on my pro-war position yet, and my summary does not do justice to its force. It took some mulling before I rejected it. First, my reading of Kenneth Pollack’s book, The Threatening Storm, suggests to me that Saddam is more a lone dictator than was the leadership of the old Soviet Union. Hence, whether he himself is personally sane or not is in fact relevant. And I’m not sure Saddam is so clearly a “rational” actor within the realist framework that Mearsheimer and Walt operate in. Nor do I think Saddam’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be such a non-issue in our dealings with him and with other countries in the region. Mearsheimer and Walt seem to hold a view not held by others in the region. Whether possessing nuclear weapons is practical or symbolic, Saddam wants them, and other people in the regime seem to be afraid of him having them. Mearsheimer and Waltz even assert that a “Desert Storm II” could be waged even if Saddam possessed nuclear weapons:
… If Saddam initiated nuclear war against the United States over Kuwait, he would bring U.S. nuclear warheads down on his own head. Given the choice between withdrawing or dying, he would almost certainly choose the former. Thus, the United States could wage Desert Storm II against a nuclear-armed Saddam without precipitating nuclear war.
I do not find this convincing. I don’t think the United States would mass conventional military assets where a desperate or irrational Saddam or his successor could use a nuclear weapon on them. Iraq would likely perceive such a force as an existential threat, and the United States would not perceive even an occupied Kuwait as an existential threat. No administration would put American soldiers and sailors in that degree of hazard. Saddam possessing nuclear weapons would nullify America’s advantage in conventional military power in the region, and I find the contrary argument unconvincing. Our willingness to threaten annihilation against Soviet Russia turned on their ability to do the same. And the political will to maintain that stance was barely adequate to last out the Cold War. We could not muster the will to make similar threats of annihilation against any lesser foe. That is my take on American political reality, and I’ll stand by it. Finally, even on their own terms, let us take Mearsheimer and Walt’s rationality postulate and turn it around. If Saddam is rational, and if possessing nuclear weapons is such an obviously self-defeating proposal, why has he risked his regime and his life to obtain them? Political Scientists of the Realist school remind me of certain kinds of economists, who tell you why what everyone on earth thinks is the case is wrong. Still, everyone carries on pretty much as before, and sometimes more sophisticated social science models emerge later, and, by Jove, what everybody thought all along actually made some sense. I won’t discuss Jonathan Pollack at length, but at the end of the day, his arguments in The Threatening Storm on the possibility of containment or deterrence are more convincing than Walt and Mearsheimer’s. And his book is subtitled The Case for Invading Iraq. (Read it if you haven’t yet.) Despite all the foregoing, Mearsheimer and Walt have put their finger on a critical point, which is that the United States needs to more convincingly present a “compelling strategic rationale” for an attack on Iraq. That compelling strategic rationale goes beyond disarming Saddam. It is the creation of a more peaceable and orderly region, with Iraq as the test case. In other words, the goal should be to conquer Iraq and drag it kicking and screaming into the world of democracy, rights, capitalism, etc. to the maximum feasible extent, along the lines of what we did in Germany and Japan 50+ years ago. (Incidentally, the Realist case is that the type of regime is irrelevant to whether wars break out or who wins them. A recent example of this is Democracy and Victory, Why Regime Type Hardly Matters by Michael C. Desch. I have not yet done more than skim the Desch article, but it looks like it is worth the effort.) Any number of commentators have been calling for just such a “maximalist” American engagement. I recently had the chance to read the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Fouad Ajami’s essay Iraq and the Arabs’ Future is one of the best arguments I have seen for the maximalist strategy. Ajami lays out the options:
For American power, there are two ways in the Arab world. One is restraint, pessimistic about the possibility of changing that stubborn world, reticent about the uses of American power. In this vision of things, the United States would either spare the Iraqi dictator or wage a war with limited political goals for Iraq and for the region as a whole. The other choice, more ambitious, would envisage a more profound American role in Arab political life: the spearheading of a reformist project that seeks to modernize and transform the Arab landscape. Iraq would be the starting point, and beyond Iraq lies an Arab political and economic tradition and a culture whose agonies and failures have been on cruel display.
Ajami argues that the transformation of Iraq will be a major undertaking, but that it is not a pipe dream. He contrasts Iraq with Egypt and Saudi Arabia:
Iraq may offer a contrast, a base in the Arab world free of the poison of anti-Americanism. The country is not hemmed in by the kind of religious prohibitions that stalk the U.S. presence in the Saudi realm. It may have a greater readiness for democracy than Egypt, if only because it is wealthier and is free of the weight of Egypt’s demographic pressures and the steady menace of an Islamist movement.
Ajami concludes:
Any fallout of war is certain to be dwarfed by the terrible consequences of America’s walking right up to the edge of war and then stepping back, letting the Iraqi dictator work out the terms of another reprieve. It is the fate of great powers that provide order to do so against the background of a world that takes the protection while it bemoans the heavy hand of the protector. This new expedition to Mesopotamia would be no exception to that rule.
So, the big problem, which Mearsheimer and Walt poke hard, is that the Bush Administration’s articulated reasons for the war are, arguably, insufficient for the risks and costs it is apparently willing to incur. My suspicion, and that of many others, is that the “limited aims” asserted by the Bush Administration are a mask for a more visionary and much more risky policy along the lines Ajami (and many others, usually less eloquent) suggests. In other words, the Bush administration’s actual goals are not the same as those articulated in its “declaratory policy”. (Further evidence can be found in the National Security Strategy published by the Bush administration, which hints heavily that it has ambitious goals, e.g. to “champion aspirations for human dignity” and to “expand the circle of development by opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy”. ) I don’t know what the Bush administration really plans to do. I don’t know if it knows. I find unusual Wilsonian stirrings in my breast. I feel a growing suspicion that there is a higher realism than the heartless physics-like modeling of systemic determinism, however valuable and accurate that type of Realism may frequently be. I fear that a mere “police action” in Iraq will settle only minor issues, and temporarily, and open us up greater dangers. Ultimately, Ajami’s analysis is more convincing than Walt and Mearsheimer’s – though they don’t really address the same concerns. If some hope and progress are not realized in the Muslim world, even if initially at the point of an American bayonet, and if America does not break with its habit of supporting and sustaining convenient tyrants in the Muslim World, then far worse disasters await us. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, not at this point inevitable, will become more and more likely. The next few weeks and months will be terribly important ones.

Decisionmaking Bias

Megan McArdle blogged:

I’m hearing a fair number of comments along the lines of “Wow! She’s not jaw-droppingly hideous the way she said she was!” I don’t recall ever really mentioning my appearance. . . how did I convey the impression that I was 300 pounds and covered with warts? Of course, I suppose it’s better to set up low expectations than to disappoint.
This is a good illustration of a common decisionmaking bias that behavioral economists call anchoring. In this case, McArdle’s occasional self-deprecating wisecracks were the only information about her appearance that many readers had, and skewed their expectations in the direction of “low.” Some of those readers were therefore surprised to learn that she is actually quite attractive.

Other examples of anchoring abound. In my own experience, traffic became systematically faster on a stretch of local expressway when a “Minimum Speed 40” sign was removed. When I met women through personal ads, I found that any explicit mention in my advertisement of a personal characteristic that I considered negative, and wanted to avoid in prospective mates, was likely to generate at least one response from somebody who considered it positive. (For example, “dislikes Clinton” might have a brought a reply from a two-time Clinton voter.) The existence of anchoring bias implies, among other things, that it’s wise in negotiations to mention desirable, even exaggerated, outcomes and avoid mentioning undesirable ones (make low initial bids and high initial offers); that you should avoid joking about death or lawsuits with the doctor who is treating you in an emergency room; and that platitudes about accentuating the positive and minimizing the negative may have an empirical basis.

Fireside Bowl, Nerf Herder, The Eyeliners

Many New Yorkers live their whole lives in one of the five boroughs and never visit the Statue of Liberty. Many Parisians never visit the Eiffel Tower. Similarly, I have spent many years in Chicago without, until a few weeks ago, setting foot in the legendary Fireside Bowl. (and here and here). One of my coworkers, a regular, described the Fireside as “the last of the great punk dives.” It really is a bowling alley, with the lanes roped off, and a stage at one end of the back wall. It’s truly amazing claim to fame is that it has exclusively all-ages shows. (The bar is a cordoned off area, which you need ID to get into). Perhaps even more amazing is its survival in the face of the City of Chicago’s quiet but clear determination to make it go away. A gentrifying neighborhood may ultimately finish it off. But there it stands, for now. My visit occurred fortuitously. I was looking for Christmas presents on the cool Interpunk site, and I stumbled across the inventors and still champion practitioners of “Nerd Rock”: Nerf Herder. It turned out that Nerf Herder are pretty darn good, they have a bunch of catchy songs (“Vivian” is my wife’s favorite), a great pop/punk rock sound, and some funny videos. (Click on the guys in Star Trek shirts for the video of “Mr. Spock”). The downside is that they have painted themselves into a corner with the lonely-guy-as-pervert business, sometimes pushing it way too far into the “not funny anymore” category. But, that is a big part of their shtick and I guess they are stuck with it. (They reminded of the Simpletones, who had similar dorky lonely guy themes and singing.) (Moreover, Nerf Herder’s singer, Parry, mentioned in an interview that “we are big fans of The Muffs” — so I like them a little extra for that, too.) Best of all, I noted that Nerf Herder were going to be playing in Chicago in just a few days! So, the wife and I, instant fans, decided to get a babysitter and go. It was a very good show, and the Fireside, far from being a “dump” was run-down but cozy. It is like a neighborhood pub, almost. I had a good chat with various strangers at the bar, describing now defunct punk dives of a bygone era 15 or so years ago. And, get this, the bathroom was clean. That is always the sign of someone actually caring about the place. Everyone was there because they were into the music. Nerf Herder put on a solid, well-rehearsed show. Parry, the singer, is a great showman. (The guys from Nerf Herder are from California, and they looked COLD in Chicago. The guitar player was selling cds and stuff before the show and he said he’d never owned a pair of gloves before this tour.) This site has a bunch of good photos of Nerf Herder, including a bunch from the Fireside show, here, and here. Half the place was singing along with much of Nerf Herder’s set. My wife and I were about the oldest people in the place, with lots of teenagers and other people who were in diapers when we were in bands. Some people were dressed like ordinary yuppies, like me, some totally in punk attire, and everybody was cool. Finally, the truly awesome Eyeliners are coming to the Fireside in March. These gals are doing a substantial tour. Check their site for the night they are playing in your home town – and put on your eye makeup and go.

War Movies II: “Combat Films”

This excellent article, “The Serpent’s Eye: The Cinema of 20th-Century Combat” from the current issue of Military Review has an excellent discussion of “combat films”, i.e. those dealing with “frontline fighting”, “the clash of rival infantryman”, as distinct from the broader and less precise category of “war movies.” A must read for fans of the genre.

The Return of the Spectator

I just found out about this American Prowler, which looks like an alumni association of the old American Spectator, the bandwagon and brainchild of R. Emmett Tyrrell’s. I used to like TAS way back when it was a large format thing on cheap paper based out of beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. Then it moved to DC and lost its unique look, got too big for its britches, tried a little too hard to get Clinton’s scalp and then — went away. Tyrrell’s book the Conservative Crackup was well written, with nice vignettes of the Conservative old-timers he’d met, like Claire Booth Luce, William Casey and Luigi Barzini. The book was prescient in that it accurately predicted a period of time in the wilderness for conservatism, which did happen. It also depicted, between the lines, how he left the good-hearted and wise people in the heartland, got seduced by the trappings of DC, and allowed his marriage to break up. But this relatively new website is pretty decent, and it is great to see this gang back under one bigtop.

A “Diplomatic” Solution to North Korea?

Orson Scott Card has a most interesting piece about Korea. (Yeah, yeah, of course Instapundit linked to it first. So what else is new?) Card offers an analysis I haven’t seen elsewhere, that this Korea problem is basically going to be up to China to solve. This is premised on quiet threats from W and his team to the Chinese, saying (in my paraphrase), “look, you created this monster, so fix it, because if we go in and fix it, you won’t like what we have to do.” I’m not sure the US team is actually playing this level of varsity hardball. But it sounds plausible, and I hope so. Even better is Card’s answer to the inane query now circulating among various handwringers and dimwits, who think they have scored some kind of debating point by asking, in a smug “gotcha” tone of moral superiority: “Well, why isn’t Bush going after North Korea instead of Iraq?” You wanna slap ’em. Card puts it well:

…Of course, you can take that as a self-answering question. Let’s see – which is safer to invade, the country that almost has nukes, or the country that already has them?
And this:
Foreign policy is conducted in the real world. In the real world, madmen like Saddam Hussein respond only to credible military force – and sometimes not even then. For the safety of our friends and allies in the region (notably Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait), and to protect the First World’s vital oil supplies from domination by a ruthless enemy, it is reasonable to strike that enemy before he wreaks devastation again.
In that same real world, however, there are opponents whom it is simply too dangerous to fight, unless you are forced into it. If China or Russia attacked us, of course we would defend ourselves. But we would have to be insane to provoke either of them into war.
Wow, rationality about the limits of power, the tragic fact that even moral-grounded action faces intractable limits, that it is stupid to attack a guy who has nuclear weapons already, etc. Too bad so many people think that waiting around for some imaginary state of moral purity is an adequate substitute for necessary, concrete action within the limits of what’s possible. Fortunately, W does not suffer from this particular malady. He’s not smart, sophisticated or “nuanced” enough, I guess. Thank God.

Charity (Or Is It Competence?) Begins At Home

Professor Bunyip scores some excellent hits, en passant, on a well-known practitioner of the trendy stupidity that is known as “socially responsible investing.” The Prof. is harsh on the lady (there are so many other mediocre fund managers to pick on!), but his points are well taken. When evaluating uses for your money, look at results and not merely stated intentions. If the goals and realities don’t match, look elsewhere. And beware attractive do-gooders who take a big cut for themselves.

Time to Drub Reno Again

That political genius Janet Reno is apparently considering running for the Senate in Florida. My pure beef Republican heart overrunneth with joy. Her elective political career is a sinkhole for Donk dollars. Go Janet, get that hat in the ring. Shovel that hard-earned liberal Democrat money into the furnace. Then if you get the nomination, we get to watch the elephants trample you into the sand. Fabulous.

Lex’s Favorite War Movies

A friend asked me for a list of my favorite war movies a while ago, and I decided to make it into a blog post. I may put up a sequel to this list for various specific historical periods, but for now, here is what I consider to be “the Best of the Best.” The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (and here) (and here). (1943). My favorite movie of all time, period. I had the good fortune to see the remastered, uncut version on the big screen at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1988, in gloriously restored Technicolor. The story begins with a fat, washed up, outdated, walrus-moustached English Home Guard Colonel being humiliated by a modern young officer, who ambushes him by preempting the starting time for a military exercise. Not sporting at all, old boy. The entire movie is a flashback covering 40 years of the life of Col. Clive Candy (as he turns out to) up to that moment. An epic of the demise of old-fashioned ideals of patriotism, decency and fair-play in the modern world of “total” war. The always reliable Deborah Kerr (in her first starring role) does triple duty playing Col. Candy’s love interest(s) – – three different women over the course of his life, a brilliant performance which captures the “modern girl” circa 1900, 1920 and 1940. Col. Blimp is not really a war movie, since it has no battle scenes, other than one excellent serio-comic sword fight. Rather it is a portrait of a particular kind of warrior and gentleman whose day was (apparently) coming to an end. Badly butchered versions of this movie are out there, so be sure to settle for nothing less than the restored, full-length 163 min. version. (recently reissued on DVD.) (I received a copy of this as a Christmas present and am well-pleased with it.) The Battle for Algiers (1965) (and here). In my darker moods, I’d say this is my favorite movie. A semi-documentary about the Algerian revolution against French rule, and the harsh but (initially) effective measures employed by the French to crush the resistance. While the director, Gillo Pontecorvo was a Marxist and sympathetic to the Algerians, he shows the cruelty of their terrorism without blinking, and he shows the hard-handed French as professional soldiers, without rancor or caricature. Unfortunately, the movie is something of a darling of leftists, who talk about how horrible it is that the captured terrorists are being tortured, while never mentioning that they and their comrades are sneaking bombs into public places to murder women and children. The one-sided critical response to this film shows the moral vacancy at the heart of western liberalism, especially of the academic/intellectual variety. Without regard to all that, this is the best movie about terrorism and guerilla warfare that I know of and truly brilliant movie, period. (Oddly, there are very few still images from the movie available on the net. There is however an excellent book, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers by Franco Solinas, which contains many stills and the full script.) That Hamilton Woman (1941). A sentimental favorite. Reputedly Winston Churchill’s favorite movie. (Incidentally, Churchill hated Col. Blimp.) Legend has it that Alexander Korda got funding for the film by letting Churchill write some of Nelson’s lines: “You can’t negotiate with dictators! You’ve got to stamp them out!”– That has a Churchillian ring. Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh play Lord Nelson, Britain’s greatest naval hero, and Emma Hamilton, the wife of England’s ambassador to Naples, and Nelson’s mistress. The historical facts are roughly accurate. Olivier and Leigh were married at the time, but that didn’t prevent these two monumental egos from trying to outdo, and even upstage, each other at every turn. (Vivien Leigh wins this struggle hands down.) The stars and the character actors all show just how technically good the old-school theatre-trained British actors could be. The scene where Mrs. Nelson confronts Emma is superbly acted out with very little dialogue between the two women, but primarily with body English and facial expressions. Made during Britain’s darkest days during WWII, it had a low budget and it shows, though the black and white is a positive in my opinion. Anyway, actors like these didn’t need special effects. And Vivien Liegh was never more beautiful than in this movie, which is saying something. The Cranes are Flying (and here) is the tale of young lovers Boris and Veronica, whose happiness is destroyed by the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and the travails suffered by Veronica, and how she overcomes them. These various links describe the film better than I can. The movie starred the extraordinary Tatiana Samoilova (some stills here; scroll down). I saw this at the Art Institute in Chicago, and even that hyper-sophisticated crowd was mesmerized by this film. It is the only time I have ever walked out of a movie where the crowd was totally silent, with tears streaming down their faces. Black Hawk Down (2001). With Saving Private Ryan, war movies have recently gotten bloody and “realistic”. Black Hawk Down is the best war movie so far of this new era. Too late to see it on the big screen. A pity for you if you didn’t for this is true big-screen film. It also does justice to the book, which is an achievement. The movie is harsh stuff. One friend of mine walked out. Too much blood. The skill, competence and coolness of the American troops under absolutely horrendous conditions is the subtext throughout the movie. Very impressive, and based closely on the actual facts. The episode where two Delta Force guys are helicoptered into the middle of a howling armed mob (and, knowingly, to their doom) to try to protect a downed helicopter crew is incredibly moving – – pure, selfless heroism, with nothing glamorous about it, just stone cold professionalism. Only two posthumous medals of honor since Vietnam, I read somewhere. (Read the book too, as well as the author, Mark Bowden’s, article about Saddam Hussein, and his interview about how he researched it.) The Wild Bunch . (1969). Why is this on a war movie list? Sam Peckinpah’s notorious “ballet of death” came out at the height of the Vietnam war. The death of a bunch of Americans getting mixed up in a foreign civil war they don’t understand, and dying pointlessly while killing lots of the locals, is a pretty heavy-handed metaphor. Also despite the horses and cowboy hats, it has uniformed men running around with Springfield rifles, a mass attack on a water-cooled machine gun, .45 cal. automatic pistols, hand-grenades, a German advisor, etc. It looks like a war movie. So, you can make a case it’s a war movie. It is also, of course, a Western, but it is a Western about the death of the Old West, the death of personalized honor codes and of personalized violence, the end of horses and six guns, the rise of organized and large-scale violence, internal combustion and automatic weapons. The film recounts the final days of a band of hard-bitten desperados, led by Pike, played by William Holden in his greatest role: “…we’re gonna stick together like it used to be. When you side with a man, you stick with him, and if you don’t, you’re like some animal… then you’re finished… we’re finished … all of us.” The fact emerges that Pike has failed this code more often than he has kept it. As one of the friends he once betrayed closes in on him, he and the bunch strap on their guns one last time and go off to certain death. To live up to their code? Or because they are already ghosts in this new world? Or because all that cornered rats know how to do is turn and bite? Make sure you see the uncut, long version, which clocks in at 144 minutes. The butchered shorter version omits key scenes without which the motivation of the main characters is barely comprehensible. (This short article about the film is insightful.)

American empire?

James Bennett speculates. He thinks the only plausible current justification for empire is to “secure those areas of the world that can be characterized as failed states or regions of ethnic conflict than cannot be resolved within the currently existing frame of reference.” Even then it isn’t such a hot idea. His hypothetical examples are Liberia and Israel. The Israeli example is dispositive:

Similarly, would they be willing to contemplate making Israel a state or territory of the United States, again, permanently? The United States extends a security guarantee to Israel little short of what it extends to its own national territory, but the Israeli government has the ability to make that guarantee more or less difficult by its actions, in a way a U.S. state government does not. The logic of empire would demand that Israel be brought under formal control as the price of its guarantee. This would be the end of the Zionist dream in some respects, but would guarantee the security of Israelis as no other action could.
Americans wouldn’t want to do it and Israelis wouldn’t trust them to. Israel wouldn’t be willing to pay the price in independence. And why should we prop up Israeli socialism? (And would an economically reformed, more productive Israel even need us?)
I raise both of these cases not as serious proposals but as examples to try to concretize the question of what empire might mean in the 21st century. It is more likely that the mild hegemony currently enjoyed by the United States as a by-product of its technological, financial, and social successes is as much empire as most Americans are willing to contemplate, or pay for. It is also more likely that the future lies in the further development of the international cooperative links such as NATO and the North American Free Trade Agreement into organizations that are more loose commonwealth than empire.
Exactly. The idea of an American empire in the style of past empires is fantasy. The U.S. isn’t likely to benefit from annexing five or 10 more Puerto Ricos, and productive countries will do much better to see us as a trading and cultural partner rather than a patron. (There’s also moral hazard in our implicitly holding out colonial status to dysfunctional countries as an alternative to their domestic reform. The very fact that we think it’s valuable to stabilize a region gives its inhabitants leverage over us. If we involved ourselves and insisted that they reformed, would we — who wouldn’t be there if we didn’t value their stability more than they did — leave as long as they appeared to be making an effort? I suspect that it is always easier for local elites to placate bwana than to do the hard, and perhaps personally disempowering, work of liberalizing their own backward economies.) Rather than talk of empire, we should invite countries like Israel into NAFTA while at the same time reducing the subsidies we pay to them. That would increase their incentive to reform. Our treating them as colonies would only increase their incentive to remain unproductive and, hence, dependent.

(Bennett link: Instapundit)

Lex’s Predictions for 2003

I may well be totally wrong on everything, but what the Hell, let’s just throw it at the wall and see what sticks. Iraq. The United States will conquer Iraq before March 1, 2003. The war will be brief, a true blitzkreig of stunning speed and force, and marked by the use of many new and massively effective weapons. The utter demolition of the Iraqi state and military will be evident in a matter of hours. Britain and Australia will make substantive contributions, though others may be along for the ride. Most of the world will respond to this smashing victory of American arms with sullen anger or vocal anger. The swift and crushing nature of the victory will make the United States feared and hated more than we are now in foreign countries. This will be most extreme in Europe, less so in poorer countries. Violence against Americans will break out in Western European countries, especially France and Germany. The American public will be ambivalent about the whole thing, though disclosures about the horrendous conditions in Iraq, and the relief if not joy of the liberated Iraqis, will convince a majority in this country that the war was just. As a result of this ambivalence, Bush will not get much political boost from the war. The occupation will last many years, perhaps in perpetuity. The Bush administration has bold plans to bring democracy to the Mideast. But, as yet, it is impossible to say whether these will be successful or a complete disaster, though by the end of 2003 we may have a decent idea of where things are heading. Economics, Finance, Technology. I leave all predictions in these categories for the other ChicagoBoyz, who know much better than I what the Hell they are talking about on such matters. (So Jon, Ralf and Sylvain, let’s get your predictions on the record here.) (And Seth, too, for that matter.) Politics. Wishful news media thinking is predicting that Bill Frist will be difficult for Bush to work with. Wrong. Frist will prove to be an articulate and effective Senate Leader who will work well with Bush. As a physician, he will have credibility when presenting Republican proposals for health care reform, which will be enacted in ’03. His elevation to the SML and the shit-canning of Lott have been a hands-down win for the Republicans. The Democrats will get essentially no benefit from what happened with Lott, and will have much to mourn at the accession of the appealing and tactically adept Frist to a visible, senior position. (An aside – it is a miracle that the whole Trent thing occurred after the election, too late to do the GOP serious harm, but before the new Congress came in, when it would have been much harder to force him out of the SML post. The GOP really dodged a bullet.) The Republicans will introduce a federal partial-birth abortion ban. It will be contentious. Bush will strongly support it. It will pass and be signed into law. The more libertarian (and/or libertine) wing of the GOP won’t like it, and there is some risk involved of alienating suburban voters who are moderately pro-choice. But Bush and Rove know that they need to cement the base prior to the run-up to ’04, and they know that polls consistently show strong support for the ban once people know what is involved. So, they’ll chance it. This will happen before the Summer, to get it out of the way. Hillary Clinton has been picked to respond to W’s State of the Union Speech. This is interesting for several reasons. One, it reflects the Democrat’s ongoing response to their November defeat: turning left. Exhibit A is the appointment of Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader. More significantly, putting Hillary up is a test-run for the 2004 Hillary for President campaign, which I herewith predict. Hillary is the clear Democrat front-runner. (See also Dick Morris on this point: “Notable, too, is how Hillary Clinton blows away all competitors. When she enters the field, she dominates with 40 percent. Way behind are Kerry and Lieberman at 16 percent and 15 percent. Hillary can get the Democratic nomination when she asks for it.) Morris concludes however that “she won’t ask until 2008.” I don’t agree. (And anyway Morris is always wrong lately, and he can’t be objective about Hillary, whom he hates.) The critical fact is that there is a leadership vacuum in the Democratic Party. The time to strike is now. 2008 is too far away. The Clintons are risk-takers and opportunists, and they have political courage. The gang of empty suits which is getting ready to run (Gephardt, Daschle, Kerry, Lieberman, to a lesser extent, Edwards) is so boring and awful that the core liberal Democrat voters whom I know are practically in despair. Two bellwether female liberal Democrats (my wife and mother-in-law) both told me they’d vote for whoever the Green candidate is rather than Lieberman, for example. Voters of this ilk will be elated by a sharply partisan, very left, very feminist Hillary run. These voters will be ecstatic to see the name Clinton on a ticket again. They loved Bill Clinton and wished he could have run a third time. I know Hillary said she won’t run, but Clintons lie and their supporters don’t care, and she’ll come up with some reason why she feels duty-bound to run. Count on it. She’ll run, and we will know it sometime before the leaves turn in ’03. Oh yeah, she will raise monumental amounts of money, clobber all opposition, and get the nomination in a walk. I’ll go out a little farther on a limb and tell you that General Wesley Clark (and here) will be Hillary’s running mate. Clark has been running around in New Hampshire, (and here) not quite running for President, but making it clear that he is not not running, either. With the telegenic General Clark on board, Hillary’s campaign will have instant credibility on military affairs. General Clark will barnstorm the country with a scathing critique of the Bush administration on pre-9/11 security, blaming W and his team for failing to stop the attacks, and criticizing each and every military action Bush et al. have taken. Clark will also attack Bush personally as a chickenhawk son of privilege who sat out Vietnam. Clark’s stripping away of Bush’s “War President” advantage, plus a run to the center by Hillary once she’s got the nomination, will be a very effective campaign. If I had to bet a dollar today, I’d say Clinton/Clark should win solidly over Bush/Cheney. As it dawns on the Bush team that they are going to lose the ’04 presidential election under this scenario, I predict that they will, sometime in ’03, move to ease Cheney out, due to “health problems” to open up the VP slot to someone who can add more to the ticket. They will want to do this early so as not to appear reactive. They may even put in someone as a “placeholder” until the convention. However they play it, I predict that the Republican ticket will be Bush/Rice in ’04. I am certain Condaleeza Rice does not want to do it. She seems to sincerely loathe the political process, which is reasonable. But I think she will do it if Bush asks for her help, because she is a loyalist and a team player. Bush/Rice should be a winner over Clinton/Clark. So, get ready for lots of political excitement in ’03. One other detail – a Hillary run means Terry McAuliffe keeps his job, even though his bad leadership had a lot to do with the Democrat defeat in ’04. He is a handpicked Clintonista who will work against any of her opponents and channel money to Hillary. Culture. We won’t need to reach for our revolvers this year. Some good things will be happening. For one thing, one of our wiser and more learned pundits, James C. Bennett, will publish his long-awaited book in ’03. Bennett is the historian, analyst and prophet of the ancient and ongoing Anglosphere, and its future articulation as a “Network Commonwealth”. Bookmark the link to his columns. They are always good. I and many others await this book eagerly. I predict it will not only be very good, but it will also be a very influential book, whatever its initial sales, which I hope will be substantial. Now, moving, way, way down the cultural and intellectual scale, I reiterate my earlier prediction that The Donnas will be huge in ’03. By “huge” I mean a nation-wide phenomenon. Big. Ubiquitous. My good pal Max strongly disagrees, and he offered these bitter words:

…the Donnas will not be “absolutely huge” by next summer — nor any summer. To think otherwise is to grossly overestimate the high-mindedness of the Keepers of Radio (ClearChannel, et al). Yeah, there are a few stations that will throw us a bone and toss the occasional White Stripes/Hives/Strokes tune into the mix, and yes, they may add the Donnas to their rotation, but “absolutely huge” they will never be (nor will Cat Power, nor will Sleater-Kinney …)
I take his point. But I do not rely on anyone’s high-mindedness for this prediction. To the contrary. It will not be (nonexistent) good taste of the music industry which will drive the Donnas to stardom. It will be greed. The music business has been suffering from a dearth of new talent with the potential for mass appeal and a long-term ability to sell lots of product. The Donnas have commercial appeal. They are reasonably pretty women who can be marketed as “hot babes.” They sing about non-controversial topics like partying, getting high, getting drunk and irresponsible sex. They have some catchy songs, and a killer guitar sound that will jump off the radio. And they are not in any way avant garde, really, the way Sleater Kinney or Cat Power are, to use Max’s examples, so the Donnas’ mass appeal is not compromised by anything “artsy”. Also, the Donnas appear to be a pretty good investment for a record company. They have been a band for eight years, so they are a pretty tightly-knit team, not likely to fly apart under stress too easily. And despite their feigned image as wild party-girls, they are clearly a bunch of committed, ambitious suburban gals with a good work ethic. All reports are that they put on a killer live show. That is the proof of the pudding. You can only do that consistently, year in and year out, if you have discipline and drive. Most importantly, I now have objective corroboration that ’03 is going to be the Donnas’ breakthrough year. They will be one of the featured bands on MTV’s “ Spankin’ New” program. As this article notes record companies are getting desperate over another year of “anemic” sales, and so “[w]ith the music industry slumping, MTV is intent on breaking new bands in 2003.” I hold to my prediction. The Donnas will be blaring out of car radios coast-to-coast this Summer. And we could do a lot worse. They do ROCK. On a more tasteful note, the Muffs‘ long-awaited new album (scroll down) will actually materialize in 2003. It will be a very good record, I predict with confidence. I hope the near-total silence on their website of late is a sign of intense activity putting on the finishing touches on the new masterpiece and not anything dire or worrisome. Commercial success seems a long-shot, for any number of reasons, but I just want the dang thing in the cd player blarin’ — soon. I hope they will tour as far into the heartland as Chicago. Fingers crossed for that. (Also, I just noticed these videos of some super-cool Muffs songs available on the net: “New Love”, “Sad Tomorrow” (what is up with that pancake makeup on Kim in this video, anyway?), and “Lucky Guy”.) (This MP4 site looks pretty decent, generally.) I note with concern that the Five Foot Two website no longer lists a new Lisa Marr Experiment record as forthcoming. Hmmm. I could have sworn that used to be on there. I note with jealousy that something called “Radiosonic”, on “29 June 2002” apparently played five Lisa Marr Experiment songs which are not on the (brilliant) last album, entitled “Shooting Stars”, “Iron Girl”, “Do You Really Wanna Know”, ” Monday Morning Echo Park” and “Slaughter House”. I also note that the very great eddog site (many great photos) has a LMX setlist (typed, even) from a show on September 27, 2002, which cryptically shows two versions(?) of “Donna Lee” as well as five other tunes not on the last album: “Little Red Bird”, “Carolina”, “Lou Reed”, “Niagara” and “Slim”. Hell, that’s ten songs, about enough for a new album right there. So, no prediction on it, but poor old Lex is hoping, nay pining, for a new Lisa Marr record in 2003.