None the Wiser

"Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think." --J.S. Mill

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Saturday, March 08, 2003
Good stuff from John Gross via The New Criterion, regarding Tony Blair's endlessly fascinating (in the manner of a bearded supermodel) career.

Don Quixote makes an interesting observation regarding Russia's stance on Iraq. He speculates that perhaps Russian cooperation with France is at least partly motivated by a desire to break up NATO. To wit:

France and Germany are also opening up their markets to some Russian goods, and the Russians want to encourage this. On the other hand, Russia wants to strengthen their relationship with the US for many reasons, including both military and economic issues. However, Russian resistance to the liberate Iraq plan has grown stronger ever since the French, Germans, and Belgiums showed that NATO was subject to the same internal politics as the rest of Europe. {link via Stephen Denbeste]

It's a seductive theory, to be sure. I've long thought that of all the world leaders dominating the news these days, Valdimir Putin is by far the most intelligent, ruthless, and resourceful of them all. He's got a reputation for being a moderate in the West, in spite of the fact that he's a long-time gangster and KGB thug. He's a consummate opportunist, and managed to navigate the shark-infested waters of post-Glasnost Russia to become head of state--not an ambition for the faint of heart or slow of mind. He has somehow managed to entice the world into believing--it's just so damned appealing!--that he is a Fully Reconstructed Friend of Western Democracy. Watch the hands, folks. Ignore the mouth.

France doing Putin's dirty work? Sounds good, and there's probably a lot of truth in it (though it's worth noting that as recently as a few days ago, people were floating the theory that Russia would do France's dirty work by vetoing the 19th Resolution). As Quixote rightly notes, the Weasels have opened their markets to Russia. And there's the small matter of all that oil money owed by Hussein, though in reality Putin stands to gain a lot more on that front by allying himself with the U.S., since we're still in the market for a lot of Russian oil (Venezuelan exports being a little, um, harried of late).

Russia also doesn't have to take the same diplomatic bitch-slapping as Schroeder or Chirac have, and they have no EU entanglements to worry about, so supporting France doesn't cost them anything diplomatically. We've already given the green light for him to keep massacring the Chechens in the name of counter-terrorism, so that's not an issue either.

So that does leave NATO swinging around out there pretty noticeably, doesn't it? There is, after all, more talk than ever about disbanding NATO following the debacle over the Turks.

In the end, I'm not so sure that's it either, though. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have been members for some time already (on March 12th it will be exactly four years), and even if NATO were to crumble tomorrow, something would take its place--something, more than likely, more amenable to the current security environment in Europe and more advantageous to the U.S. generally, unburdened by French and German intransigence as it would (and will) be. Most importantly, the end of NATO and the restructuring of that relationship would probably mean very big gains for the former Eastern bloc states. It isn't as though they would cast about looking for a revival of the Warsaw Pact.

As it stands, the paralysis and lack of utility that characterizes NATO, which is an organization in search of a mission, works to neutralize whatever concerns it may once have given less astute observers in Moscow. NATO was, ironically, dead and buried the moment the ink dried in Independence, Missouri, and the Poles' long-standing dream of a Western strategic alliance (unsullied by a dependence upon French commitment) was realized. As soon as NATO incorporated most of the territory between Germany and the Ukraine, it was an unofficial declaration of Cold War victory by the West.

What Putin realizes is that as long as NATO remains the dominant security framework West of the Urals, he can count on Central European duplicity as a kind of stultifying agent whenever America gets squirrelly and decides to take military action someplace. A lot of the current struggle is, of course, over whether to maintain or fundamentally alter the status quo, one in which the French can be deployed as a rapier by Moscow whenever its interests are threatened by the hyper-power (that's us..hee-hee). Two things prop up that status quo: the UNSC and NATO (see Yugoslavia, Dissolution of).

Which is one reason we need to scrap both, and quickly. When we do, a lot of our troops and materiel in Europe will probably flow eastward, and the former Soviet states will have a lot more than Article V to help them sleep comfortably at night (the famed Article has lately proven itself to be useless anyhow). If the Iraqi campaign is a success, then Bush will be able to embark on that process with a freer hand. I believe that is what the Russians fear most. The only impediment to that (short of the vagaries of the war itself) would have been a major diplomatic defeat for the U.S., which Putin has given the old college try to make manifest through his proxies in Paris.

But Putin's overall strategem seems to be to soak the current crisis for maximum advantage, since even if Russia defies us to the bitter end we'll still be interested in playing nice when its over (we just sort of expect that Russia will try to screw us, and we're always willing to entertain the fantasy of an East-West pot of gold at the end of that 9-11 rainbow).

Then again, I could be totally off-base, but that's why they pay me the non-existent bucks.

UPDATE: Interesting quote I found: "The Chinese...are reported to have a way of writing the word "crisis" by two characters, one of which signifies "danger," the other "opportunity." --Louis Wirth

More Steyn:

The "human shields" are leaving Iraq, disenchanted after discovering that their Iraqi "co-ordinators" wanted to deploy them not at "humanitarian" facilities but at military bases. One fellow said he was used to working with young children and would have preferred to be deployed at an orphanage. Pity the poor Iraqi official who had to explain to the guy that the orphanage has already got all the human shields it needs: they're called "orphans".

Classic. Just classic.

Friday, March 07, 2003
Another outstanding article by Mark Steyn in the (London) Spectator. Funny quote:

"The best evidence for this is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself. KSM is known in al-Qa’eda circles as ‘The Brain’, and his picture on the FBI ‘Most Wanted’ list shows a cold but dapper fellow with a trim beard — like the Westernised Arab academics who play the talkshow circuit or, indeed, an assistant choreographer on a Broadway revival. By contrast, the fellow seized in Rawalpindi is a wreck — haggard, bleary, unshaven, a loser who’s run out of everything except back hair. Asked to account for the stark difference in appearance, several experts pointed out that he’s a ‘master of disguise’. In that case, the master of disguise is doing a great job of convincingly passing himself off as a guy who’s been sleeping in a hedge for a month."

And scary quote:

"The seizure of Mohammed is testament both to Washington’s approach to Pakistan and to what they’re up against. The big-time terrorist was holed up in the home of a top World Health Organisation microbiologist, whose wife heads up one of the most radical Islamist political parties in the country. Is it normal for UN microbiologists to rent the spare room to terrorists known to be in the market for biological weapons?"

And money quote:

"Right now, progressive opinion couldn’t be less interested in root causes, preferring instead to parrot M. de Villepin’s talking points: ‘Containment works’. Maybe for M. Chirac, but not for the Iraqi people and, given what North Korea managed to accomplish under the dozy eye of UN inspectors, not for us in the long run."

So let me get this straight. Maureen Down has a Pultizer and Mark Steyn doesn't.

OK. Just checking.

Web Porn--um--Rides Again

3rd Circuit has struck down an internet indecency law, which it says in practice makes it too difficult for online smut-peddlers to reach their target audience. These things seldom seem to withstand judicial scrutiny, though I have to say I'm sympathetic to what people want to accomplish, namely, keeping children from learning the subtleties of bukkake at their local library. [link via Instapundit]

I'm not of the opinion that most advocates for these kinds of regulations are interested in keeping adults from viewing what they want to in the privacy of their homes, Ashcroft notwithstanding. But I can't abide the expansive and clumsy way in which anti-porn laws are usually written. I think the Supreme Court's recent decision regarding "virtual" kiddie porn was the right call, even if I would love to stomp on the throats of people who actually make that crap.

It's actually been found that children most often just close whatever porn windows and pop-ups they do run across in disgust. One wonders, though, whether this would be likely to continue if conditions were sufficiently changed such that kids were exposed to explicit material all the time.

As much as people do worry about this sort of thing, and justifiably so, I'm cautiously optimistic that their worst fears aren't likely to be realized. This isn't a counsel of laziness, exactly. But we have a tendency to disregard the sheer power of most people's convictions when it comes to "protecting" children. Human nature, understood spiritually or biologically, asserts itself against our wishes all the time. The best example I can give to illustrate what I'm talking about is the hysterical lunacy of anti-porn feminism. Anti-porn feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon are so fanatically puritanical that it makes me wonder about how far their project, which is sexually libertine in every other respect, is destined to go.

Of course, in their way, these feminists are so far to the "nurture" end of the human nature debate that it's anti-empirical and silly. Their supposed ideological enemies, Christian conservatives, tend toward the opposite end of that spectrum. But interestingly (and not just to me), they wind up in the exact same place. For all the energy they expend trying to "deconstruct" the patriarchy and its sexually repressive cultural schematic, these tyranncal little shrews just wind up right back where nature wants them to be--that is, irrationally terrified of sex.

In short, the debate over internet porn isn't going away, because each side is representing a different aspect of our nature. It's the ultimate clash of id and ego. Not that I buy Freudianism either, but that's for another post.

Charles Krauthammer is advocating a policy of "temporary appeasement" on the Korean peninsula. I'm not the prescient observer that Krauthammer is. But I have to respectfully disagree with him here. He seems to think, as do a lot of people, that time is on North Korea's side in this crisis. Which, clearly, it ain't.

I'm not sure exactly what he thinks we could do in the short term that would hold NK off for just enough time for us to wrap up in Iraq. Kim Jong Il's current position is thus: He is demanding negotiations with the U.S., and only the U.S. As a precondition of these negotiations, he has insisted that we forswear war on the penisula, and resume our shipments of oil and cash. In short, give him what he wants in advance of talks. At that point, the Dear Leader claims, conditions will be ripe for the negotiations that we had damned well better engage in, lest he get really crazy.

Sorry, but the situation is as bad as it is precisely because it's impossible for Bush to enter in to reasonable negotiations. Il has already broadcast his total unwillingness to concede ground on the very security questions at issue. What "temporary" measures could we offer them? A six-month diplomatic framework? Two more months of aid? No, I don't think that Krauthammer's firing on all cylinders here.

Maybe I'm wrong, and I'm always open to correction (except as noted below), but I think Bush's current policy of long, drawn-out, baby-step diplomacy is the right one. Journalists and commentators are running around in a panic because it's precisely what Kim Jong Il wants them to do. Why? Il's policy is borne of desperation on his part, not ours. Should NK launch a first strike against Seoul, then yes, hundreds of thousands will die. But at the current pace, there isn't much we can do about that, and pursuing paper diplomacy every six months instead of every six years doesn't seem to be the right policy to me. NK will lose any war it starts, and eventually they will have to blink first if they want to achieve their one and only aim, preservation of the Dear Leader's regime.

Thursday, March 06, 2003
Yes, the President's press conference was mighty awful. The man is just terrible in front of a microphone. He seemed distracted and slightly annoyed. He's slavishly dependent on his statement sheets. How in the hell did he batter the shit out of Gore in the debates? Oh yeah. Gore acted like a total jackass.

Some of his responses tonight were just weasly rhetoric. Not that that is anything novel or shocking, but when you have a President who gets in front of the microphone so little, and keeps his cards so close to the vest on every other day of the year, it would be pleasant to get a little bit of candid talk when asked something as stupid and obscene as whether he plans to visit another Vietnam on the U.S.

Also, when asked why our ostensible "allies" in Europe have come to the opposite conclusions as he, based on the same evidence, he opted to parry the question altogether. What an opportunity that was to go bareknuckle and tell it like it is, call out Chirac. I know, I know, things have gotten more heated than was necessary already. Still, I can fantasize about it.

Sorry, but if I had my way, Clinton would pinch hit for Bush during Presidential TV appearances. It's a little frustrating.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Post-Midterm, Wandering Thoughts

Well, Mid-terms are over at last. After my German history test, which was totally nightmarish, we watched the most bizarre movie I've ever seen. It was a 1920's German expressionist film called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The set designs in Caligari create the impression that the scene is collapsing in on itself, by using conflicting lines and angles, These visual effects were even amplified by the actors' lapels, the use of oddly shaped shadows, and strange perspective tricks such as uneven floors and ceilings. I recommend it to all of you fine art afficionados. I'm not a fine art afficionado, however, and after two hours of that craziness I think I need a beer.

I also found out today that my favorite teacher is terminally ill. This is the man who inspired me to pursue my current field of study. A brilliant man, a wise man, a gentle soul. I'm not sure I want to blog about that just now, so...

On the way home tonight (I travel an hour and a half each way to class), I had occasion to listen to Laura Ingram's radio show. Eric Alterman was her guest, promoting his new book describing the conservative bias in the media. For those of you who haven't heard about this, no that's not a typo. Rumor has it he thinks the earth is flat, too.

Among the more choice effusions of wisdom that Alterman had to share was his original idea that the widespread perception of left-wing media bias was the result of--yes, you guessed it, a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. He said, in essence, that conservatives managed to eliminate liberal media bias by the late 70's, and that because it worked so well for them then, they have since spent millions of dollars "getting that message out," and thereby tricking Americans into thinking there still exists a liberal slant in the news. You see, it's all part of that corporate right-wing Jedi Mind Trick. This is presumably the same hypnotic broadcast signal that makes everyone think, wrongly, that morbid obesity is an unattractive feature in a person.

I was stunned by Alterman's claim. Right-wing propaganda has blinded us to the conservative slant in the news, and made us see a liberal slant instead? And the "millions of dollars" that have been spent to achieve this purpose have somehow managed to override hour upon hour upon hour of constant daily exposure to this very same news? I suppose that's why he got hostile and shouted that experience counts for absolutely nothing, when confronted with a caller who had actual news room experience. Uh-huh.

This seems pretty typical. Leftists like Alterman (the man writes for the Nation) are constantly telling the rest of us to ignore what is in plain view--that welfare doesn't work, that Islamic extremists really are out to kill us, that capitalism is an emancipating force for the human creative spirit--and instead commit ourselves to theories about evil corporate cabals sitting in smoky cellars hatching their plots to enslave humanity. At least it's refreshing to hear a po-mo collectivist admit that we have to close our eyes to daily experience in order to swallow his ideas.

One other point of interest. Alterman said that the reason Brent Bozell and that entire crew gave high marks to the post-9/11 media reporting was that they were getting a lot of "conservative news." He described "conservative" news as a lot of flag-waving, shows of patriotism, and so forth. Now, I know that the editors of the Nation, and their columnists, have absolutely no interest whatsoever in being considered patriotic. Being called "anti-American" or "unpatriotic" is hardly a charge they would consider getting defensive about. They aren't the least interested in salvaging their pro-America credentials, and would be more than a little ashamed to try.

But it's worth noting that in Alterman's world, waving the flag and getting all choked up during the National Anthem are specifically conservative pastimes. The idea that patriotic images and events would carry some kind of particular appeal to conservatives not shared by liberals is a foundational assumption for Alterman. That being the case, it's hard to understand why leftists become so indignant over their "impugned" patriotism every time their obvious lack of patriotism is pointed out to them.

(Now, I'm not of the belief that patriotism is a virtue in and of itself. It's capable of animating all kinds of destructive forces in people, particularly when it is used as a substitute for actual national accomplishment. But it's important to distinguish it from nationalism, which is something different altogether. Americans don't have a nationalist problem, at least not right now. And we don't have any massive failings to paper over with delusions of American grandeur. We're not self-conscious because we have a lot more to be genuinely proud of than genuinely ashamed of. My God, just look at the second season of The Simpsons.)

So, wrapping up this little meandering post, it is a matter of common experience that the media are liberal. That's a fact. And since Alterman concedes that an overwhelming majority of actual media employees and employers are themselves leftist, his theory is basically that legions of liberal reporters and writers and editors and producers are engaged in a plot to give the people what their conservative overlords demand. Yeah. Ok. We can't even get unbiased results out of publicly-funded schools and media, where the bludgeon of the law can actually be employed. It's an insult to suggest that we've all been duped, tricked into thinking that Peter Jennings is a leftist and that his reporting reflects it.

In short, Alterman is an elitist asshole deserving of my contempt and yours.

Monday, March 03, 2003
Why Dr. Weber, you've been blogged again! Don't you feel special? Please read up on doctor Lynn Weber of the University of South Carolina's Women's Studies department, for a good hard look at what's wrong with the academy in general and Women's Studies in particular. She gets an honorable mention in Erin Oconnor's latest blog entry (just follow the link in her post). And if you're not reading O'Connor's blog regularly, you are a total loser and if I could ban you from None the Wiser, I so would. Seriously, Erin's is certainly one of the best-written, and frankly the most important, blogs on the web. Add it to your bookmarks. Now.

Has anyone else noticed the fact that it is only the anti-war faction that has to fall all over itself disavowing practically every expression of their point of view that hits the airwaves?

"Not only is this person not representative of average anti-war protestors, but neither is this one or that one or those thousand over there. Oh, and of course we have no truck with this argument, that talking point, this placard, that celebrity's statement or with that big stack British op-eds right there."

After a while, it does start to become anti-empirical to assume that the anti-war "movement" is not fundamentally anti-American. I still don't buy the anti-Semitic charge, at least on this side of the Atlantic, but that's another story. What is evident to the casual observer is that half of the anti-war talking points are devoted to damage control. That's usually indicative of a really serious weakness in your position, though I'll admit it's not definitive. Let's just say that there reaches a point where you have to start asking why your position has attracted the most unsavory and idiotic crowd on the American scene, and that the better part of your platform is devoted to the very legitimacy of the platform.

It's now at the point where the subject of the anti-war movement is the movement itself, rather than the substance of what they have to say--which is so desperately lacking it's almost sad. Not too long ago, on some cable news show, I saw an anti-war mouthpiece asked a direct question about whether Saddam was an evil dictator. Simple question. Evil? Dictator? Both? Neither? Yes or no will do.

She couldn't, or wouldn't answer the question, no matter how hard she was pressed and no matter how clear it became that she wasn't going to be able to escape the inquiry if she wanted to continue the show. When you've reached the point where you can't even engage the issue on the basis of centrally relevant and widely-known facts, then you can't really make much of a claim to having anything important to say. Dissent hasn't been squashed. It's been vanquished in the field of intellectual debate, just as it should in this case have been. That's just the way it goes, people.

Welcome to liberal democracy, where sometimes stupid ideas die in utero. Isn't it sweet?

Yes, still very light on the blogging until Wednesday, at which time I will inform all interested parties how this gauntlet of mid-terms has gone. Two down, two A's, one to go. Very scary test from a very scary prof.

I'm twenty-seven, and I should have gotten this over with a really long time ago. But I was busy getting into a lot of trouble. Some time, I'm going to tell that little story on None the Wiser. For now, however--must study.

In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, check out this rather fair-minded post from the Desk of Jane Galt (Megan) on the latest outrage from PETA. Meanwhile this guy has a very original way with dealing with that one really irritating, holier-than-thou vegetarian busy-body buzzkill you know: "sponsor" them by pledging to eat their share of the meat supply. Brilliant.

This isn't good.

Sunday, March 02, 2003
Something just occurred to me while I was studying that is worth mentioning, I believe. Christopher Hitchens, whom I have mentioned once already this week, is a virulently anti-religious man. Bitterly, dismissively, angrily anti-religious. That's nothing so unusual in a public intellectual, mind. But something has always struck me as odd about this, and I think I just realized why.

Hitch adores India. He said in an interview in February of last year that if he could not live in the U.S., he would live there instead. It is striking that India is the most religious country on earth, and that the U.S. is second only to India in this category, at least among the liberal democracies. I wonder about that. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don't think so. More later.