Monday, August 28, 2006

Hey, you, off of my cloud

Middle East: case study: the tribal world of power-challenging. Nasrallah and Hizbollah threaten to throw Bin Laden and al-Qaeda off the jihad popcharts (requires TNR subscription). This has a sick-comic aspect to it, as JihadWatch explains.

EXTRA: To sign a petition to the US State Department to deny Iranian chief cleric Khatami a visa into the US, click here.

LATER: Oh well: Khatami got his visa. More about the Shia and their contemporary role in the Islamic world and the Middle East from Naval Postgraduate School professor Vali Nasr at BookTV (C-SPAN2).

At the bookstore recently, I again encountered Yale law professor Amy Chua's fine book of a few years ago, World on Fire. It explains why democratization and marketization of countries not ready for either is a really bad idea, a point Nasr also elaborates on. Briefly, the sudden transition immediately creates big winners and losers. This seems to be a growing decade-plus-long failure of globalization. It poses a potentially fatal danger to any hope that the Islamic world can be integrated peacefully into global civilization. It is also a major source of anti-Americanism.

Labels: , , , , ,

Further notes on Middle East madness

In my post on Middle East deep background, I mentioned Pryce-Jones' The Closed Circle as a critical and unique book in explaining to outsiders how the Middle East works. If you've read it, nothing in the Middle East will surprise you -- the incomprehensible becomes frighteningly understandable. Nasrallah and Hizbollah are the latest example of power-challenging, honor-shame, violent careerism based on sponsored proxyship, and the "closed circle" of destructive and self-destructive playacting.

I might have made it sound as if Middle Easterners themselves don't understand this retarded folly. Fortunately, there are some; unfortunately, they're rarely in the driver's seat. Check out IraqPundit's denunciation of Nasrallah here.

Although there are reprehensible individuals and organizations of this type all over the Middle East, I'm far from blaming individual Arabs on the street for this nightmare. It's the result of centuries of decay, once held in check by Ottoman rule and the Arabs' backwardness, now puffed up by oil revenue and modern technology. If there is a way, current elites or new ones will lead the Arabs out of it. It won't happen as the result of democracy, which seems everywhere in the Islamic world to be leading towards "shari'a by the will of the people."

LATER: In case you think the Arab-Israel national conflict hasn't been fully converted by the jihadis into a Muslim-Jewish religious conflict, see here and here.

It will take, oh, say a few years, for the Western "news" media to catch on to this. Its main role in our society is rehashing ideology, the manufacture and baby-sitting of conventional wisdom, clich├ęs, and half-truths.

EVEN LATER: Wrote too soon, sort of. The IHT has a disturbing story on the decline of secularism in Malaysia, which is barely-majority Muslim, as picked up by DhimmiWatch.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Real food for real people

Nina Planck has a great new book out, Real Food, which is all about eating real food, instead of industrial, heavily processed, and junk foods. Anyone concerned about diet, health, and weight control should read it. It's not long, and it has great, mouth-watering pictures. Food porn, you might call it :)

I shop occasionally at Whole Foods (then wait a few months for my wallet to recover). I've thought about real food for some time now, trying to sort out the whole diet thing. I was on medications for a decade that caused me a lot of weight gain. I dropped about 20 of those pounds in 2002, but struggle to take off another 10 or so.

Real foods is the right approach, including eggs, butter, and whole milk. Don't listen to the conventional advice about dietary fat -- it's wrong. A lot of the high-protein diets (especially Protein Power and South Beach) are essentially "real foods" in a different language. The problem is the heavy addition of fillers -- starches, mainly, but also unnecessary sugar and salt, etc. -- to industrial foods. It's all empty calories. The essential point is that most body fat is not produced from dietary fat. Most body fat, in fact, comes from unburned carbohydrates -- that junk food you just ate.

I had that experience today. For breakfast, I had fresh fruit with plain, whole-milk yogurt (the only kind anyone should be eating). But then at lunch, I had a peach "low fat" yogurt (meaning, stuffed with starches to compensate for the missing fat). You can taste the bland, yucky starches. In fact, when I was on the South Beach diet, it struck me just how much most cafeterias are still loaded up with starchy, sugary empty calories.

Instead of going on a diet, you just need to permanently change what you eat to something real, then stick to that. Planck's most memorable and brilliant advice is eating around the edge of the grocery store -- that is, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, juices, and fresh-frozen things. Eat dark chocolate instead of sugary milk chocolate; eat fresh or flash-frozen vegetables instead of the processed stuff; eat fruit instead of pastries; and eat moderate amounts of butter instead of margarine. And keep your kids off of the junk. Whenever friends talk about hyperactive kids, I ask about their caffeine and sugar intake.

Another life-transforming experience I had recently was my first trip to Italy. I spent a few days in Florence -- that's real food. The cuisine is brilliant -- very simple, as fresh as possible. (Then I noticed the pattern: the Florence cathedral, the Duomo, is the same as the cuisine -- Catholicism stripped to its essence, with no starchy additives. If you've been, you'll understand.)

I plan to get Planck's book. Sounds like a keeper.

POSTSCRIPT: There's a libertarian angle to this. Eric Schlosser's famous Fast Food Nation mentions it, but not until almost the end of the book, and Schlosser fails to understand its significance.

One of the main reasons American have been inundated with industrial food in the last 50 years is agricultural subsidies. (Most other countries protect their agriculture with tariffs and quotas, making their food more expensive than it needs to be. We mainly use subsidies and paying people not to grow.) The two most notorious cases are tobacco and corn. (Why do we keep subsidizing tobacco, then have to spend more tax money discouraging smoking and dealing with the consequences?) Most of Schlosser's book in fact is a report on the consequences of corn subsidies -- cheap corn feed, corn syrup, and corn oil are products of subsidized overproduction. That's where that bland meat, those questionable eggs, and all that terrible corn syrup come from. Sugar (in moderate amounts) and honey are better for you, but after all the subsidies, tariffs, and quotas, they can't compete pricewise with corn syrup.

Check out the podcast interview with Planck and Crunchy Cons author Rod Dreher at Instapundit.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gay marriage: A better way

I just read this very interesting article in USNews on the change in tactics supporters of gay marriage are pursuing as they face strong opposition to court-mandated changes to marriage law. Marriage and parenthood are humanity's oldest institutions and tend to be very conservative in their evolution, so the opposition to such change isn't surprising. Binah is not gay, so this posting is friendly and free advice from an outsider.

There are two essential flaws in how supporters have pushed gay marriage, one in political method and the other in conception and language. The first is the more obvious one. By using the courts to change existing marriage laws, activists have created another type of widely-resented judicial activism, commonly and correctly viewed as another case of judges overstepping their bounds of office. The best response to this mistake has been to get gay marriage institutionalized through state legislatures, which is certainly superior in every way.

But there's another problem, and that's the gay activists' use of concepts and language illegitimately borrowed from the civil rights movement and its long pre-history stretching back to abolitionism. This is the discrimination/equality lens. But that's not the way the large majority of Americans (including most Democrats) view this issue, which is why they're overwhelmingly opposed to gay marriage. They view it as a dichotomy between tolerated private behavior versus a legally-endorsed public institution. That's how most people can tolerate gays and gay sexual behavior, have gay friends, and yet not want gay marriage.

My advice: gay marriage activists should pursue this issue in state legislatures, make the case for the legally-recognized public institution, and drop the court-based civil-rights approach. This approach will be slower at first and take more work. But it will stick in the long run, because it will build broad public support and sympathy and remove (in most people's minds, anyway) any sense of threat to heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage.

LATER: Economist Thomas Sowell points out the dishonesty in the use of terms like "ban" on gay marriage -- when has gay marriage ever been recognized to begin with? Was it recognized before, then "banned" somewhere? This is more of the illegitimate civil-rights-style language that just confuses the issue and turns off most people. Attempts by the media to promote this language just turn off people even more. Sowell's argument also reflects the dichotomy I pointed out: toleration of private behavior is one thing, public-legal recognition quite another.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Because sometimes you feel like a nut

I'm not going to belabor the issue beyond one more posting, so I'll summarize what I think here and move on to other things. My previous postings on "nutroots" are here and here.

What made Lieberman's primary defeat possible? Anger over the Iraq war, Lieberman's ineffectual and clumsy self-defense, and low primary voter turnout (around 15%, about average for an off-year primary). Who is Ned Lamont? A classic "trust-fund baby" -- a patrician airhead, really, not only lacking any political experience, but any political knowledge.

Then there's the unbelievable debacle of our unconstitutional campaign finance laws. Because candidates can't raise enough money from other people, more and more of them in the future will be men who've inherited (Lamont), married (Kerry), or made (Perot) their own personal money. The days of outside challengers (Gene McCarthy in 1968, Reagan in 1976) raising enough money on their own to run history-changing races are over, thanks to the idiocy of campaign finance "reform." Instead, our politics is paralyzed, strangled by an unholy alliance of incumbents, the media, and the Pew Charitable Trust. Under the last three decades worth of campaign finance restrictions, raising enough money to run for national office has become like filling a bathtub with a thimble. Thus have our politicians been reduced to thimble-fillers.

Lieberman's real hope was higher voter turnout, since higher turnout tends to marginalize fringe candidates and their supporters. The left-liberal "netroots" and MoveOn voters are well under ten percent of voters and could hope to affect the outcome only with low turnout. (Perhaps they're more numerous in the liberal Northeast, although the primary results suggest otherwise.) As I alluded to in an earlier posting -- and it's been explained elsewhere in much greater detail then I need to here -- "nutroots" is a strange movement of the information-age declass├ęs, poorly educated, but with outsized pretensions to deep knowledge -- classic material for conspiracist movements, actually. Ignoring the trust-fund babies, the movement mainly consists of on-the-cusp-of-middle-age white folks still living with parents in the inflated-cost Northeast and SF Bay areas, often without steady employment. (In case you're worried, Binah does not fit this profile :)

The negatives here are not immediately apparent, but they will be in the coming months before the general elections in November. As the shock of Lieberman's defeat wears off, the airheadedness of Ned Lamont and the cultish parochialism of "nutroots" will come to the fore in the media as potent turn-offs. Whatever their biases, the media will expose these facts willy-nilly, even in the process of trumpeting "nutroots" as "radical," ending the Lamont bubble.

Also troubling must be the Democratic party, abandoning a vulnerable candidate, appearing as both turncoat and not even good at it (ineffectually disloyal, you might say). It will re-enforce the correct perception that the Democratic leadership is too weak and incompetent to exert coherent discipline over the party and support Democratic politicians. That has to negatively effect how marginally Democratic politicians will behave in the future. They can always become independents or Republicans, after all. The Republicans have famously turned militant partisan loyalty into a signature principle and are much less likely to abandon their own marginal politicians.

Lieberman will run as an independent and already has a real and growing lead over Lamont. If the Republicans decide not to run a candidate for the Connecticut Senate seat, Lieberman will almost certainly win. (He'll probably win regardless.) All of these factors -- the airhead factor, the nuttiness factor, and Lieberman's likely win as an independent -- will add up to another humiliation for the Democrats, who will also be deprived of another Senate seat. The key point here is that "nutroots" is not strong enough to defeat Republicans, only strong enough to pick off vulnerable Democrats in primaries. Only in a primary, with low turnout, can a small group have such a great effect. And if they can't pull off a decisive win in November in the liberal Northeast, they certainly cannot do it elsewhere.

"nutroots" is an attempt by a fringe group to impose an enraged "punish-and-purify" regime on the Democrats. How any of this is supposed to help them is a mystery to me -- maybe someone smarter can explain. This episode is shaping up to be a Democratic disaster and perhaps the start of their post-Bush free fall. Karl Rove couldn't have planned it better. The "nutroots"-Deaniac-MoveOn attempt to take over the party will likely only end in 2010, after a few more electoral debacles and after Dean is sacked as party chairman.

POSTSCRIPT: While the Northeast-based and heavily liberal conventional media is obsessed with Lieberman's defeat, arguably more important primary results elsewhere in the country were largely ignored. The execrable Cynthia McKinney was finally knocked out in the Georgia primaries by Hank Johnson, a new African-American politician who is worlds apart from her politically -- not a conspiracist and with no record of assaulting Capitol police officers.

A number of conservative Republicans won primaries running on anti-spending themes and expressing frustration with Bush's signal failures in the "war on terror" -- the failure to do anything about the main engines of Islamic jihadism, Saudi Arabia and Iran. If that doesn't have Karl Rove scared, he needs to check his morning coffee. Since the Republican party is the majority party and the Bush-populist chokehold on it is weakening, these events are probably more important than what happened in Connecticut.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Update on Middle East madness

Lots of stuff whizzing and banging around the blogosphere about Israel and the Middle East. Following up on my two earlier postings on Middle East lunacy and deep background, here are an additional two cents.

The narrow problem for Israel is dismantling or pushing out Hizbollah. Israel has obviously failed to do this, and Lebanese army control of the border is a questionable substitute. Israel has done a lot of damage to Hizbollah, however, so score a tactical victory here for Israel, even if it's still a strategic stalemate. But the Israel-Hizbollah conflict cannot be separated from the larger regional issue.

That issue is Iran's rising push for control of the region. The components of a counterstrategy are: dismantling or pushing out Hizbollah, isolating Iran's ally Syria, containing Iran and stopping its nuclear program, and preventing Lebanon from becoming this decade's Afghanistan or Sudan -- another ugly Jihadi-land paid for by a wealthy, reactionary sponsor swimming in oil money (Saudi Arabia in those cases, Iran now). Otherwise, Lebanon will become Tehran's western suburbs.

Of course, we can't duck Iran's major goal of getting nuclear weapons. This issue has conveniently and not accidentally vanished from people's attention during the Lebanese commotion. Iran's first use for such weapons will not be to attack Israel, but to intimidate and weaken existing Muslim governments in the region, push the US protective umbrella away from them, and get a hold of their oil revenues. If there are significant Shiite minorities present (like in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province), it's that much easier. In a world of abundant oil but heavy political control over a semi-monopolistic market and artificially elevated prices, that's the name of the game. (See here and here.) Iran will probably start with the oil-rich Shiites of Iraq, then move on to the Arabian Shiites. Coming from the reverse direction, Saddam tried to do just this in 1990 to Kuwait -- seize its oil fields and acquire a new stream of oil revenue. Saddam's attempt was justified on the fading appeal of pan-Arabism. Iran's will be based on some kind of Shiite caliphate claim.

Hey, maybe Ahmadinejad really is the Hidden Imam :^)

Strategypage gets it too: Israel has defeated (although not destroyed) Hizbollah, the diplomatic deal will probably self-destruct, but Hizbollah has won a real victory -- not over Israel, but by scaring Sunnis and Muslim governments, impressing them with the violent potential of a Shiite minority backed by Iran.

In my posting on Middle East lunacy, I suggested that Israel should offer to pay part of Lebanon's reconstruction costs. My suggestion has since been upstaged by Iran's generous offer of some of its $70/barrel oil money (see how oil $ twists the Middle East?), and it's unlikely to be accepted. But it should be out there anyway.

A friend wanted to know if I was suggesting reparations -- no, I wasn't. I was suggesting enlightened self-interest, a way for Israel to constructively stick its nose into the Lebanese tent and take advantage of the Sunni and Muslim elite fright of Iran and the Shiites.

And how about reparations for Israel?

And finally, not all is lost in Hollywood's narcissistic playpen: see the new L.A. Times ad about the Middle East from some serious star wattage.

LATER: Gadi Taub at TNR notes another aspect of Hamas and Hizbollah terrorism: they both operate from areas effectively not under the control of a sovereign government, and they both want Israel tied down as an occupier in Gaza and south Lebanon. Unilateral withdrawal has been a disaster for their strategy:

It's just that their use of the word "occupation" has a particular meaning. They're not referring to the West Bank or Gaza--they mean the whole of Palestine. Ending what we call the occupation is essential to Israel's long-term existence--the only way the Jewish state can survive in the face of new demographic realities and avoid unsustainable moral costs. Ending what they call the occupation means ending the state of Israel. Therefore, keeping Israel tied down in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon is strategically rational if your goal is Israel's destruction.

He concludes, as I do, that it is in Israel's interest to stabilize and strengthen Lebanese sovereignty. (The case of Gaza and Hamas differs somewhat, but the same logic holds: sovereignty is the enemy of terrorism.) Read the whole thing here (requires subscription).

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Middle East: Deep background

Friends want to know from where I know what I know about the Middle East (ME). My first advice: stop watching television news and treat newspapers with a large grain of salt. The latest faux-tography scandals just reinforce this point.

The Middle East's most basic problems are (1) its tribal/sectarian social structure; and (2) the curse of oil money.

1. The first means that ME countries are not societies in the Western sense, but tribal collectives lacking a "social contract" and making civilization and progress impossible. The only apparent alternative to endless Hobbesian war-of-all-against-all is dictatorship or theocracy.

2. The flow of oil out means a flow of oil money in. That money goes into the hands of elites (governmental and otherwise). It gets squandered on war and terrorism, or socked away in Swiss bank accounts. Governments also use it to buy off their populations, inverting the normal relationship between productive citizens and the tax-dependent state. Without the normal flow of money from society to state, society has no say in how the state operates. Here is one of the main reasons why the Middle East is not democratic.

American policy must be rebuilt from scratch to counter these two problems:

1. Political reform (NOT forced regime change) in promising Arab countries (like Jordan, Morocco, Gulf States) while reducing American relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt; and

2. An international effort by oil-consuming countries to reduce demand for oil. This is not mainly an American problem (most of that oil goes to Europe and Asia), but American leadership here is nonetheless essential. The international oil market is fully flexible, and oil is a fully fungible commodity, meaning that its pointless to try to achieve "energy independence" -- the oil market in one place is completely coupled to everywhere else.

On the subject of oil money and what it does, look at Roger Stern's concise, arresting analysis of oil market power (a politically managed monopoly with artificially elevated prices) and the ME mischief it makes possible (PDF download). Here's a non-technical summary.

Take a look at JihadWatch and its DhimmiWatch page. You will learn things that the establishment media would rather not discuss about Islam and its attitude towards nonbelievers and their status under traditional Islamic law. If you want to know what a dhimmi is, think of Uncle Tom living under Islamic law, then go read DhimmiWatch. In this vein, consider these books: Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad (2005) and Ibn Warraq (pseudonym), Why I Am Not a Muslim (2003). In a related vein, check out The David Project, led by the brilliant Charles Jacobs.

The best blog on the Middle East is that of Michael Totten. It is essential reading if you want to keep up and get a flavor of what it's really like. Totten has spent the most time in Lebanon, but also a lot of time in Israel, Kurdistan, and other places. And he has a long list of links to other great blogs and resources, as well as to wonderful essays by himself and others.

Here's my own, far from exhaustive, list of essential books, with comments.

Bernard Lewis: Any book you can get, especially The Muslim Discovery of Europe (1982), The Jews of Islam (1984), Semites and Anti-Semites (1986), Islam and the West (1993), and What Went Wrong? (2001). The last of the polymathic giants, an unrivaled knowledge of languages and literature, one of the last century's greatest historians and Orientalists. Increasingly under attack by PC-ignorant "Middle East studies" hacks not worthy to lick his shoes. Has important blind spots -- too close to the subject in some ways, often blinds him to what Pryce-Jones writes about (see below).

Speaking of PC-ignorant academic hacks, contemplate the corruption of American academia by political correctness and Saudi oil money by following Martin Kramer's devastating study of "Middle East studies," Ivory Towers on Sand (2001).

David Fromkin: International relations faculty at Boston University, author of A Peace to End All Peace (1989), the best single book on the origins of the modern Middle East. Narrows temporal focus to 1910-1924, broadens geographic focus to all of "greater" Middle East, including central Asia (Persia, Afghanistan, Soviet "stans").

Critical insights: the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and its caliphate in 1921 started the transition of the ME from an imperial-theocratic to a Western-style secular nation-state system, which transition is resisted by Islamic traditionalists and reactionaries. More than ever, now that the Cold War is over, this is THE major conflict at issue in the ME.

David Pryce-Jones: Journalist and novelist, 60-plus-year veteran of the ME, author of The Closed Circle (1989), the best single book on the culture of the Middle East. Dark, dense, long, with depressingly pessimistic conclusions, worth the long slog to get through it.

Critical points: defines like no other book the keys to the ME's tribal culture: the honor-shame system, power challenging and violent careerism built on sponsored proxyship (think Arafat, Zarqawi, Nasrallah etc.), lack of social contract, resulting in no progress possible -- hence, the "closed circle" or "zero-sum" game. How these tribal patterns interact in a toxic way with Islamic restrictions on women and religious and ethnic minorities. The noxious role played by petrowealth in creating pseudo-modern countries with the material trinkets of modernity (bought from actually modern countries), but lacking real political, social, and economic modernity.

Fouad Ajami: Now teaching at Johns Hopkins, author of two essential books on the post-1967 Middle East, The Arab Predicament (1981 and 1992) and The Dream Palace of the Arabs (1998). The best criticism of the ME is by semi-insider/semi-outsiders -- in Ajami's case, a half-Persian, half-Arab Shiite from Lebanon now living in America.

Conor Cruise O'Brien: Famous Irish diplomat, once Ireland's ambassador to the UN, got to know Israel's ambassador because "Ireland" is next to "Israel" in the alphabet, author of The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (1986). Somewhat dated and superseded by more recent scholarship, but still the best single-volume introduction.

Fareed Zakaria: I should also mention a book that I'll return to later, his The Future of Freedom (2003), one of the most important foreign policy books published since the end of the Cold War.

This generations' sharpest critics of Islam, not surprisingly, are women. Everyone suffers under the theocracy-based system of honor-shame, but women more so as a rule than men. Many of the best women authors here are Iranian. See these personal odysseys:

- Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), an astonishing best-seller
- Marjan Satrapi's Persepolis (2003) and Persepolis 2 (2004)
- Roya Hakakian's Journey from the Land of No (2004)

And they're not all Iranian: don't miss Irshad Manji (The Trouble with Islam, 2004) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (The Caged Virgin, 2006, based on Submission, a 2004 film co-produced with director Theo van Gogh, who was murdered by an Islamic fanatic as a result). See Christopher Hitchens' tribute to Ali here.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A clash of civilizations?

Are we seeing a clash of civilizations? It seems like a no-brainer -- the conflict between the Islamic and modern worlds has been brewing since the 19th century. It was then that the phenomenon we now call "globalization" first began to penetrate the Middle East. The resulting conflict is a chronic clash of cultures, institutions, and attitudes across a deep, wide chasm of centuries, punctuated by occasional political-military crises. Myopically concentrating on these crises means missing the larger picture.

The question is shibboleth among pundits, and many commentators, including some very smart ones, have repeatedly denied this obvious fact. (When you're that smart, you can rationalize and deny the obvious.) Francis Fukuyama, Thomas P. M. Barnett, and Mr. Clash-of-Civilizations himself, Samuel Huntington, have said so. (Historian and orientalist Bernard Lewis fudges the question, presumably not liking the implications.) But they're wrong. The clash between Islam and everyone else is an old one, just playing out under new conditions. Once it was a conflict of Muslims with Christians, Hindus, pagan Africans, etc. Now it's a conflict between a declining Islamic world and the secular, globalizing world of the 21st century.

A significant portion of Western opinion leaders also fail to see the obvious, even when it's right in front of their eyes. If you feel like you're living in a 1930s newsreel, you're not alone. While the scale and intensity of global conflicts have dropped dramatically since the end of the Cold War (something you'll never learn watching CNN), most of the world's remaining violent conflict occurs between Muslims and Muslims or Muslims and non-Muslims. Democracy has also spread in a striking way since the end of Cold War. But the Middle East remains the striking exception. Trends so consistent cannot be an accident.

What keeps smart people from seeing this is fear and incomprehension. Western culture revolves around rational self-interest and liberal give-and-take strategies. It assumes that, even if a conflict becomes violent, it can still be understood and ultimately resolved in political terms -- conflict can be contained within a box called "politics." The West's most important theorist of war, Clausewitz, famously wrote as much. Academically-trained thinkers, by the nature of their training and careers, are even more inclined to see things this way. They have fundamental blinkers that keep them from understanding the Middle East's culture of honor-shame, power-challenging, and religious dominance based on violence and imperialism.

A clash of civilizations means that political, military, and economic means cannot achieve much beyond holding the jihadists at bay. Everyone from the Bush administration to most of its critics, including the most hysterical, believe that political change is the way forward here. Suppose they're all wrong?

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 04, 2006

A useful antidote

Conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks have been festering almost since the awful day itself, helped along by college professors, Internet crackpots, and the likes of Michael Moore and Cynthia McKinney. Radio talkshow hosts are starting to give this fantasy-spinning even more exposure. The events of 9/11 threaten to become our generation's Kennedy assassination or Pearl Harbor -- conspiracy theories about those continue to be heard, in the latter case, more than 60 years later and the release and exhaustive study of all relevant, surviving documents by historians.

The 9/11 theories, like the others, thrive on ignorance and willful denial of facts and common sense. The 9/11 conspiracists -- like Kennedy assassination obsessives, McCarthyites, Pearl Harbor theorists, and so on -- manifest all the classic signs: the pseudo-skeptical pseudo-questioning style that actually consists of accusation-by-innuendo, lifting and garbling factoids out of their original context, and a complete failure to question their own rickety ideas in the light of evidence. It's timeless and fact-free blind credulity masquerading as skepticism.

Just in time comes a concise introduction to the debunking of 9/11 myths by the editors of Popular Mechanics. Since 2004, that reputable publication has enhanced its stature by studying the technical nature of the attacks. The editors decided to put together a selection of the most important theories and debunkings, with pointers to further information and a fine analysis of "conspiracism." Not that it will silence many of the loonies, but at least it will help everyone else stop listening to them. People open to reason should be able to figure this out for themselves, once they have real knowledge in hand. It's just been released in bookstores -- run out and get your copy.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds and Instawife Helen Smith recently interviewed the authors for a podcast. See their MP3 archive.

POSTSCRIPT: Divine lawblogger Ann Althouse continues to follow the Barrett story at the U. of Wisconsin in her home town of Madison -- a repulsive intersection of 9/11 conspiracism and the accelerating rot of American undergraduate education. There's a topic for a few more postings and some hard questions about what students and parents are getting at such great expense.

Labels: , , ,

More thoughts on "nutroots"

To follow up on my previous post on the Kossacks, "netroots", and the "progressive" attempt to take over the Democratic party:

What is it with these blogger "nutroots" cranks and their lunatic ranting, with CAPITALS and rude, incoherent insults, etc., not to speak of denial-of-service attacks and personal threats? (See this important article by Lanny Davis here.) Doesn't it say something very disturbing about them that, unable to defeat any Republicans, they turn on a vulnerable Democrat like Lieberman? As Instapundit puts it, it's like seventh grade out there. Any sensible person would run away from them at this point: you're not their friend --- they have no friends. Certain Democratic politicians are now pandering to them, because of their intense activism and willingness to open their checkbooks. But that doesn't change the reality: they're a small fringe (generously, five or eight percent of voters), and handing the party over to them is total folly. The Democrats need to be rebuilding their much larger center and pick up where second-term Clintonism left off. The fringe is moving in, because the center has collapsed. It will probably be 2012 before the party can be put back on its feet.

A future post will discuss the evolution (or devolution) of American politics. But here's a preview.

The "nutroots"-Kossack episode is a harbinger of a dark future for the Democratic Party. For six years, Democrats and liberals have had a free ride attacking Bush, weak candidate and marginally competent president. (For all the talk of Bush as "cowboy," this weakness is the real reason for the impeachment talk.) After 2006, Bush will effectively be out of the picture, and Republican losses will be probably be minimal in any case. The Dems are poised to turn on each other again, this time from a much shakier position than a generation ago. OTOH, the Republicans, free of the Bush albatross, will be in a much stronger position in the presidential race and closer than ever to stable majority dominance of all branches and levels of government. The 2010 census and congressional/electoral college reapportionment loom even worse for the Dems: Texas, Florida, and other Rep-dominated states will gain share; while New York and, for the first time ever, California will lose.

The big question for Republicans is whether they can form a successful electoral and governing coalition from a party fractured into three major pieces: populists, conservatives, and liberals -- and fight off a potential Perot-style third party. Recall that Perot denied Bush Sr. reelection and made Clinton president. Of this, more anon.

Labels: , , ,