On re-reading Liberal Fascism: Defining Evil Down

Two years after reaching to the top of the non-fiction bestseller lists, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism remains an influential book on the right.  If you blog on topics that overlap with its subject matter, especially if you argue in any way against its thesis, conservative commenters will link you to it, seemingly under the presumption that, if only you had fully imbibed of its wisdom, you could never be so complacent about the evil ones on the other side of the American discussion.

As for that other side, Goldberg may at least have made leftists a bit more self-conscious about dropping the political f-bomb on their opponents, perhaps because those opponents have learned a set of comebacks.  In fact, partly due to the work of those who have taken up Goldberg’s arguments and run with them, the thesis has been taken a step further than the author claimed he wanted to go.  Goldberg writes insistently that, of course, he didn’t really mean to suggest that liberals are the same, or virtually the same, or as bad as, the real fascists.  Yet it’s not hard to find that thinking, in pretty much those words, on the internet right.  In part by lending his services to popularizers, but also by virtue of the argument as he set it down in 400-plus pages, Goldberg has encouraged that development.

Here’s Goldberg’s “working definition” of fascism, from LF‘s  first chapter “Everything You Know About Fascism Is Wrong”:

Fascism is a religion of the state.  It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people.  It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good.  It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure.  Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives.  Any rival identity is part of the “problem” and therefore defined as the enemy.  I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.

Read more ›

Posted in Books, Featured, History, Politics Tagged with: , ,

Paul Ryan on Real Progressivism

Many people believe Democracy obsolete.
They are wrong.
Obsolete is the one thing
Democracy can never be.

R. Buckminster Fuller – “No More Secondhand God”

In responding to Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech to the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs on March 31, even some of the constitutional conservatives on the HotAir headline thread and then again around the Quote of the Day gave both speech and speaker rave reviews. The general reaction to Ryan verges on “presidential boomlet,” and, really, why couldn’t this man be president, and as soon as we need him to be? He’s as qualified as… Woodrow Wilson was. He’s certainly as qualified as… Abraham Lincoln was. More qualified in many ways than various presidents any of us could bring up…

When people ask, as they often have over recent months, what I mean when I refer to “progressive conservatism,” I have often pointed to Paul Ryan. He’s not the only exemplar I could name, but he’s one of the best. Consider the entirety of his approach – and also consider passages in his speech like this one (our Contention of the Day bonus from last Friday): Read more ›

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: , , , , , ,

It wasn’t a very good year: 1938 – Hitler’s Gamble by Giles Macdonogh

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Considering the centrality of “Munich” to American thinking on foreign policy – and the centrality of the war that followed to what America has become – there’s an argument for considering 1938 to be as important to our understanding of ourselves as other American milestone years – 1776, 1787, 1860, 1929, 1945, and so on.

What makes 1938 unique on such a list is our own absence from the critical scenes. The effect in Giles MacDonogh’s month by month, sometimes day by day and hour by hour chronicle is a portrait of American leadership traced out as though in a photographic negative.

The cloudy, black and gray surface reveals the following: A world without American leadership is a world that can fall prey to the “gambles” of upstart second-raters and maniacs. A world without American leadership is a world in which secretive, shifting alliances, immoral deals, territorial larceny, and brute force lead, step by step, to chaos and conflagration. It’s a world in which everyone can choose to look the other way when a monster and his brood are appeased, and appeased again, at the expense of races, religions, and nations. It’s also a world in which anyone can get in on the action while the getting seems good, not daring to think that he might be next.

In other words, 1938 marks the last historical moment up to the present day during which other nations could pretend to solve matters of great importance without significant American involvement. For nearly three more years, the U.S. avoided formal entry into the developing conflict, but the last pretense that the world could take care of itself on its own ended a few months into 1939. Soon, the argument for acting “while dangers gather,” instead of waiting for whatever day of infamy, would have 60 – 100 million direct casualties and a rubble of nations weighing on its side. Read more ›

Posted in Books, History, International Relations Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How little you know: The Deniable Darwin by David Berlinski

The Deniable Darwin collects essays written from 1996 to 2009 mostly on the same general theme: That the insufferable pretensions and aggressive self-certainty of science ideologues prevent us from justly appreciating how much we actually have learned about the natural world, and how wonderfully little that is. David Berlinski applies his dauntingly well-informed, remorselessly cogent skepticism to several fields of study – theoretical physics, mathematics, linguistics, molecular biology, and so on – but it’s his dismantlement of Darwinism that he takes to center stage for a virtuoso recital.

The program’s highlights include two name-taking essays, the book’s title piece and another (“Has Darwin Met His Match?”) from seven years later, presented along with full replies from most of the named and regiments of their supporters, and extensive rebuttals from the author. Giving the impression of deep familiarity with the professional and popular literature, and advancing his critique in a richly literary style, Berlinski argues that the Darwinists remain very far from demonstrating and evidencing how evolution via random mutation and natural selection could explain what the evolutionists claim it explains – that is, everything.

Berlinski’s ideas have been taken up by some Intelligent Design and Creationist writers and activists – including the sponsors of the Discovery Institute Press, which published this book – and that fact leads the Darwinists to accuse him, in brief, of the thought-crime of religious faith. The maneuver conveniently relieves them from confronting his argument on its own terms, particularly his denial that the only logical alternatives to Darwinian evolution are Biblical literalism and its cousins. Read more ›

Posted in Books, Science Tagged with: ,

A journey to delicious and beyond…

This is one of the greatest TV Commercials of all time.

Friskies Adventureland Commercial

It makes me proud to live in a country where TV Commercials like this one are produced.

And if you disagree, then you’re worse than Greg Gutfeld.

Posted in Art, Pets Tagged with:

The Real Progressives

In a comment at my home blog, and in related comments at her own blog, J.E. Dyer has ably encapsulated the negative responses of numerous conservatives to my post on “The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck.” J.E. concedes some of her own hesitations regarding Beck (as she did, implicitly, throughout “Beck and the Legacy“), but also expresses incomprehension regarding one of my main criticisms:

How is it dehumanizing invective to refer to progressivist political ideology as a cancer on the American polity? It would be one thing to say the metaphor is inapt. I don’t think it is, but one could argue the case dispassionately. Another criticism that wouldn’t necessarily be a reach would be that it’s hyperbolic. Again, I don’t think it is. I am convinced that progressivism is antithetical to limited, constitutional government. I think Beck is correct that progressivism and limited, constitutional government can’t coexist. One of them has to recede, be defeated, dissolve over time. They can’t occupy the same space.

[…]

I really don’t see what’s out-of-bounds about putting this in metaphorical terms as the operation of a “cancer.” Is it the metaphor, or the basic proposition, that you find so offensive…?

Well – both – except that I never expected anyone to care whether I personally was offended by GB and the to me unfortunate resonances of his rhetoric. My concerns initially were that Beck’s approach might be politically counterproductive and potentially dangerous, and that it would be rightly taken as offensive and extreme, or just plain nuts, by others. I see no gain in making Frank Rich and David Neiwert look relatively reasonable, however briefly. I am equally concerned, however, about how “the basic proposition” may be taken and acted upon by us – by conservatives.
Read more ›

Posted in Politics Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

I'm a cancer, he's a cancer, she's a cancer, we're a cancer…

Last night, J.E. Dyer replied to “The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck” (at HotAir here), and to related comments at her blog The Optimistic Conservative. (For anyone new to the discussion, “The Point…” was itself framed as a response to J.E.’s “Beck and the Legacy,” which had referenced my short “Bennett vs. Beck” entry of last Monday).  At Zombie Contentions, we’ve had a wide-ranging discussion in the comment thread, but I’d like to consolidate the dialogue with J.E. rather than try to advance it in two or more separate venues amidst multi-sided group discussions.  This approach is further justified because J.E. is such an able and articulate spokesperson:  If I were Glenn Beck, I would be delighted and grateful to have J.E. speaking up for me and forcefully extending my arguments.  She also concisely expresses the responses of many who disagree either with the big name/high level critics or, rather a different thing, with me.

I also think that the discussion, whose implications go well beyond what anyone thinks of Glenn Beck, or thinks of someone else for what he or she said about Glenn Beck, can be usefully divided into style and  substance – even if, in the end, the two have to be considered together.

In this post, I will focus on style – that is, political rhetoric and presentation.

In the ZC comment, J.E. concedes some of her own hesitations regarding aspects of Beck’s approach (as she did, implicitly, in her “Legacy” post), then expresses incomprehension about one of my central complaints: Read more ›

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: , , ,

The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck

In a post at the Optimistic Conservative, also featured on the HotAir main page, our friend and colleague J.E. Dyer asks, “What’s the point of being annoyed with Glenn Beck?” Obviously, J.E. is asking the question rhetorically, in order to respond to conservative criticisms of Beck that have been launched since his CPAC keynote speech: Her post actually tells us why we should be pleased with Beck, and I agree with most of what she says in it.

But I think her question deserves an answer.

It was, of course, William Bennett, writing over the weekend at NRO, who first spoke up loudly and incisively in reaction to Beck’s performance at CPAC. He focused on one of Beck’s customary themes:

To say the GOP and the Democrats are no different, to say the GOP needs to hit a recovery-program-type bottom and hang its head in remorse, is to delay our own country’s recovery from the problems the Democratic left is inflicting. The stakes are too important to go through that kind of exercise, which will ultimately go nowhere anyway…

Jonah Goldberg replied at NRO along somewhat the same lines as J.E., stressing that, if Beck may have overdone things, it was to motivate the troops and scare the wayward straight. Soon, however, Peter Wehner was joining his colleague Jennifer Rubin to second Bennett, and in addition was raising the ante: “If Glenn Beck were the future of conservatism,” he wrote, “it would become a discredited movement.”

Wehner went on to disclaim much concern about either part of that proposition, but, by the beginning of the week, both Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin were each worried enough to devote significant attention both on- and off-air to Beck and his arguments. Read more ›

Posted in Politics Tagged with: , , , , ,

Books in Brief: THE LIFE OF BELISARIUS; I, SNIPER; THE WAR THAT KILLED ACHILLES

I ordered Lord Mahon’s The Life of Belisarius on a recommendation at NRO The Corner from Victor Davis Hanson.  For the amateur history buff, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book, which was first published in 1829, is its depiction of a 6th Century Mediterranean world riven by competition and war, still under the shadow of Rome well after the conventional date for the eclipse of the Roman Empire.  Though the last Western Roman Emperor had long since given up the imperial purple, classic Roman institutions like the Senate, in Rome itself, and the Consulship, awarded in Byzantium, persisted up to this period.  The former fell victim to a war in Italy that might have restored the old imperial heartland, when the old Senatorial families were taken hostage and in large number executed.  The Consulship was by this time a merely honorific position, but had retained enough of its old aura to excite the jealousy of Emperor Justinian, who emerges in the tale as the very embodiment of vain and unwise leadership (he “imposed his name on no less than nineteen cities, and of these not a single one has served to prolong his memory”) – especially against the character of Belisarius, who is depicted as a great and good general, the very embodiment of loyalty and patriotism.  The book is filled with marvelous characters and great events largely forgotten to history (outside of specialist realms), but the chief pleasure of reading it may be in Lord Mahon’s aphoristic asides and wry turns of phrase, reminiscent of Gibbon:

The national altar and the national throne cannot be merely foreign and indifferent to each other; if not allied, they must be hostile.

…he was invested with Patrician dignity, and spent the remainder of his days loaded with honors and contempt.

It is rarely that men reject any tale, however fantastic or improbable, provided it tends to show that their own sect or country is the peculiar favorite of heaven.

Read more ›

Posted in Books, History Tagged with: , ,

In a world of their own: Conservatives and Avatar

Having immensely enjoyed the audio-visual orgy of James Cameron’s Avatar, as the kind of out-of-body experience that big movies are for, I find myself feeling sorry for the many conservatives – published critics, self-publishing bloggers, and commenters – who have blanketed, one might say wet-blanketed, the right side of the internet with their complaints and indictments.

Hollywood has given our anti-nonsense reflexes a lot of exercise in recent years, but I had still expected greater enthusiasm for this movie, or at worst neutrality, from my fellow conservatives.  Regardless of how some people feel about Cameron personally, or about any statements he may have made about Avatar‘s intended messages, he remains the same director who gave us  Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens, and True Lies.  By the day that the Avatar trailer played to a national NFL TV audience and on the gigantic new video screen at Cowboys Stadium, it was clear to millions that an audacious effort was under way to re-vitalize the great American movie spectacle – a $400 million gamble by one of our leading auteur-entrepreneurs, in the shape of an advertisement for democratic capitalism at its most innovative, for the creativity and vitality of American culture during a time when American declinism and every other brand of pessimism about our future have been spreading to an extent not seen since the 1970s.

Those on the right who have been impotently and priggishly attacking the movie, their small-spirited wishes for its failure decisively dashed by a quick $1 Billion in worldwide ticket sales, have not just been embarrassing themselves and their political-cultural allies.  They may even have been doing harm to the conservative movement, at least as much as the movie itself may do with its incidental Gore- and Obamaisms.

Read more ›

Posted in Movies

Tales from the Geopolitical Crypt: Seven Deadly Scenarios by Andrew Krepinevich

Seven Deadly Scenarios can be read and enjoyed almost as a collection of near future science fiction stories, though unlike sci-fi writers, who typically unveil the imagined course of future events elliptically, piece by piece, thus to keep the reader puzzling, author Andrew Krepinevich attacks the shape of things to come straight on, and the implied test is persuasiveness, not literary or entertainment value.  Anyone who delights in scaring friends, family, and internet acquaintances with prophecies of doom will therefore want to order a copy, but Krepinevich, a longtime defense insider, wants to reach people who have more serious uses for such material.  In this respect it’s possible that he succeeds too well as a writer, and is more likely to induce dread, resignation, or denial, where he means to motivate policymakers and citizens to demand better preparation and planning – that is, better leadership.

Each deadly scenario puts the American military and national command authority in disastrously untenable situations just a few to several years from now, and each would be world-historical (not in a good way):

  • collapse in Pakistan involving the U.S. in a nuclearized and Islamicized regional war
  • politically and economically de-stabilizing pandemic plague
  • a series of nuclear attacks in the American homeland brought off by an effectively unidentifiable (and therefore un-targetable) sponsor
  • a 1914-like Middle East outbreak of war, centered on Israel
  • Chinese moves on Taiwan forcing a choice between global war and the loss of the Pacific Rim (and more)
  • systematic Islamist assault on global resource and supply chains leading to economic catastrophe
  • civil war in an abandoned Iraq leading to a re-alignment in the Gulf:  the U.S. on the outside; China, Russia, and Iran on the inside

In short, 7 American catastrophes – and each entailing blows not just to our abstract “interests,” but to the very concrete counterparts of those interests:   our lives and our way of life.

Now consider further that there’s nothing preventing two or more of these or similar scenarios arising concurrently.  Read more ›

Posted in Books, Future History, War Tagged with: ,

On the Surge to the Exits (To the President's Right on Afghanistan #5)

Anyone who’s been interested in American military adventures and misadventures over the last couple of decades has probably seen Anthony Cordesman on TV at some point offering his highly professional, well-researched, crisply presented, carefully hedged, and almost invariably pessimistic assessments on whatever invasion, intervention, expedition, arms negotiation, or other military matter happens to be in question.

Now on the inside looking out, as an adviser on the Afghan surge, Cordesman can be found turning his customary skepticism on the skeptics, as in the following video (especially after the midway point ca. 2:30):

If Cordesman weren’t on the inside, I suspect he’d be sounding a lot more like the Anthony Cordesman who gave the Iraq surge a “less than even” chance of success, or like the Anthony Cordesman who has consistently downgraded any prospects for Israeli action against Iran. Over the years, such Cordesman assessments, though hedged and guarded on their own terms, have frequently been seized upon by anti-war activists, pundits, and politicians, and I tend to believe that the same pattern would be repeating itself if he was again on the outside looking in.

I think Cordesman would in fact be sounding more like the British military historian Max Hastings, whose nuanced take on the Afghanistan enterprise – “Obama’s Afghan Surge Is Not About Winning the War, but Managing Our Looming Failure” – falls squarely within the pessimist camp, though with decidedly more understanding and sympathy for the President and his predicament than shown by American critics like George Will, Andy McCarthy, or Ralph Peters. At the same time, it’s not far from the worst-case/acceptable trade-off position implicitly acknowledged, but rarely advertised, by those who hold out greater hope for eventual success, but remain aware of significant obstacles between where we are and some final victory – with the uncertain, ever-receding, in-the-eye-of-the-beholder quality of unconventional “victories” not least among those obstacles.

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with:

On the Surge to the Exits (To the President's Right on Afghanistan #5)

Anyone who’s been interested in American military adventures and misadventures over the last couple of decades has probably seen Anthony Cordesman on TV at some point offering his highly professional, well-researched, crisply presented, carefully hedged, and almost invariably pessimistic assessments on whatever invasion, intervention, expedition, arms negotiation, or other military matter happens to be in question.

Now on the inside looking out, as an adviser on the Afghan surge, Cordesman can be found turning his customary skepticism on the skeptics, as in the following video (especially after the midway point ca. 2:30):

If Cordesman weren’t on the inside, I suspect he’d be sounding a lot more like the Anthony Cordesman who gave the Iraq surge a “less than even” chance of success, or like the Anthony Cordesman who has consistently downgraded any prospects for Israeli action against Iran. Over the years, such Cordesman assessments, though hedged and guarded on their own terms, have frequently been seized upon by anti-war activists, pundits, and politicians, and I tend to believe that the same pattern would be repeating itself if he was again on the outside looking in.

I think Cordesman would in fact be sounding more like the British military historian Max Hastings, whose nuanced take on the Afghanistan enterprise – “Obama’s Afghan Surge Is Not About Winning the War, but Managing Our Looming Failure” – falls squarely within the pessimist camp, though with decidedly more understanding and sympathy for the President and his predicament than shown by American critics like George Will, Andy McCarthy, or Ralph Peters. At the same time, it’s not far from the worst-case/acceptable trade-off position implicitly acknowledged, but rarely advertised, by those who hold out greater hope for eventual success, but remain aware of significant obstacles between where we are and some final victory – with the uncertain, ever-receding, in-the-eye-of-the-beholder quality of unconventional “victories” not least among those obstacles.

Read more ›

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: ,

Portrait of a Failed Presidency: "What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?" by Kevin Mattson

The fall in Barack Hussein Obama’s poll numbers, the difficulties he and his program have faced, naturally prompt comparisons to that emblematic Democratic presidential failure James Earl Carter.

Enter “Obama Carter” into a popular search engine, and you’ll find commentaries like this one from Seth Leibsohn at the National Review, reflecting on the President’s recently completed visit to Asia:

This is reminiscent of the Jimmy Carter years — the last time the U.S. was seen as weak — unable to move and coax other countries, unable to reassure dependent allies, unable to have the respect of the world and, of course, unable to move the mullocracy of Iran.

Already in July, Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie were invoking Carter in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post:

Barely six months into his presidency, Barack Obama seems to be driving south into that political speed trap known as Carter Country: a sad-sack landscape in which every major initiative meets not just with failure but with scorn from political allies and foes alike.

Carter 2.0, Carter^2, worse even than Jimmy Carter…  We’re still only in year one of the Age of Obama, but, if the bloggers and pundits are right about our man, if he doesn’t halt and reverse his decline soon, historian Kevin Mattson’s “What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?” – the story of the third year of the Carter presidency, organized around the famous “malaise speech” – may be a sketch of things to come: not just one or two grand catastrophes, but one botch of a fiasco of a screw-up after another…

Read more ›

Posted in Books, Featured, US History Tagged with:

If At First You Don’t Succeed… – WORLD WAR ONE – a Short History by Norman Stone


For the unhappy many on the front lines of the Great War, after no one much remembered why they were fighting, one last recourse was gallows humor, implicitly at the expense of their leaders. “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here,” they came to say. Many, of course, are still there – because they are – and there is no disrespect in recognizing that we honor them because we honor them because we honor them. That’s more than reason enough. We don’t really need to fear the Kaiser, remember Zimmerman, or rage against unrestricted submarine warfare.

For Norman Stone, World War I was a 4-year period in which the world “went from 1870 to 1940.” Rendering the whole story of this hyper-accelerated epoch in a mere 190 pages, when others have managed to illuminate much less while working at much greater length, Stone dramatically re-compresses time all over again, tracing the broad outlines of strategy, diplomacy, and personal and mass psychology, and yet he never seems too rushed for a witty turn of phrase, a memorable detail, or a colorfully absurd footnote.

The overall effect of this kind of history-writing is often exactly as diverting as it is ungraspably awful.  This feat of letters is possible not because Stone is desperate to crack a joke, but because his material cooperates and he has mastered it, as in the grandly and horrendously comedic set-up:

In 1914, to crowds of cheering people, the troops moved off, generals on horseback dreaming that they would have a statue in some square named after them. No war has ever begun with such a fundamental misunderstanding of its nature.

The philosopher Henri Bergson’s book Laughter (Le rire) had just three years earlier defined humor for the world as the imposition of the mechanical on the human.  Approaching a century later, it may not be too obscene to view the events of 1914-8, the industrialized mechanics of mass murder imposed on human scale expectations, as a test of Bergson’s proposition, its grim punchline – contradictory, unexpected, irrational, like most good jests.

Read more ›

Posted in Books, Featured, History, War Tagged with: ,

Just read: THE CAVALIER IN THE YELLOW DOUBLET

I won’t attempt a review of The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet, the fifth book of Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s “Captain Alatriste” series, which is set during the decline of the Spanish Empire in the early 17th Century.  Instead, I’ll note in passing that I fully concur with the Amazon customer who says, “The only problem with the Captain Alatriste series is I end up gobbling up each new installment in two or three days and then have to wait another year and a half for the next to come,” and I’ll supply a passage that I think conveys the sense and atmosphere of the tale and of the whole series while underlining some possible relevance to the political interests that normally concern us here.

For some justification on the relevance claim, let me quote John Steele Gordon at Contentions from just last Monday:

Watching the United States go the way of 17th-century Spain, with its power to defend its interests crippled by debts it can’t pay and its enemies emboldened by its weakness, won’t be boring. It will, however, be tragic for all mankind.

The comparison is one I’ve found myself bringing up, too, though its timely appearance makes me wonder if Gordon isn’t also a Captain Alatriste fan who also just finished The Cavalier. (As for broad comparisons of 17th Century Spain’s predicament to that of 21st Century America, one place to start for background might be Wedgewood’s classic The Thirty Years War.)
Read more ›

Posted in Books, History Tagged with:

"Wiegala," by Ilse Weber

The song posted below is only two and a half minutes long, and, unless you’re a really bad sport, I don’t think you’ll find it too much of a strain to listen to.  It’s in German.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of you already know quite a bit about it, but, for those of you who don’t, I think you might appreciate the opportunity to listen to it without pre-conceptions.  (Explanation after the jump…)

For those who like to follow along, these are the lyrics:

Wiegala, wiegala, weier,
der Wind spielt auf der Leier,

er spielt so süß im grünen Ried,

die Nachtigall, die singt ihr Lied.

Wiegala, wiegala, weier,

der Wind spielt auf der Leier.

Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
der Mond ist die Laterne,
er steht am dunklen Himmelszelt
und schaut hernieder auf die Welt.
Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
der Mond ist die Laterne,

Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
wie ist die Welt so stille!
Es stört kein Laut die süße Ruh,
schlaf mein Kindchen, schlaf auch du.
Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
wie ist die Welt so stille!

If you don’t read German, please trust me when I tell you that it’s a light confection of nonsense and numinous nursery rhyme images, expressed in stubbornly untranslatable idiom – wind playing sweetly on a lyre, on the green reeds – nightingale singing, the moon looking down, a lantern in the tent of the night sky – and then the final lines:  Viegala, viegala, vill:  now is the world so still!  No sound disturbs the sweet peace: sleep, my little child, you sleep, too… how still the world is…


Read more ›

Posted in Music

A Unique Take on Obama's Dual Crisis

George Friedman of STRATFOR has offered a unique take on what he refers to as a “dual crisis” – Afghanistan and Iran – awaiting action from the President.  To cut to the chase, his prescription for the President is as follows:

On pure logic, history or politics aside, the best course is to strike Iran and withdraw from Afghanistan. That would demonstrate will in the face of a significant challenge while perhaps reshaping Iran and certainly avoiding a drawn-out war in Afghanistan.

To reach this conclusion – more a strategic determination than a prediction or even a recommendation- Friedman systematically analyzes each problem in its broad political and military dimensions, and then takes apart the “four permutations” (fight/fight, flee/flee, fight/flee, flee/fight) of the major decisions that, in his opinion, Obama cannot delay any longer, since in each case delay itself will increasingly amount to having made the choice in effect to flee (withdraw, retreat, surrender, acquiesce, etc.).

Up until recently, the betting has been in the opposite direction:  Obama policy has seemed to consist of “fight” in Afghanistan combined with the equivalent of “flight” from any confrontation with Iran.  The former was Obama’s express commitment going back to the presidential campaign and resting on years of Democratic criticism, as re-affirmed repeatedly since the inauguration.  As for Iran, Obama has seemed willing or even determined to temporize to the point of giving in on a nuclear Iran unless Israeli action or some other event substantially alters the situation.

More could be said about Friedman’s assumptions and analysis, but for now I’ll just point to a paragraph that touches directly on a point discussed under the last CotD.  Here’s Friedman’s encapsulation of Iran’s strategic position and main objectives vis-a-vis the U.S.:

In Iran, Ahmadinejad clearly perceives that challenging Obama is low-risk and high reward. If he can finally demonstrate that the United States is unwilling to take military action regardless of provocations, his own domestic situation improves dramatically, his relationship with the Russians deepens, and most important, his regional influence — and menace — surges. If Obama accepts Iranian nukes without serious sanctions or military actions, the American position in the Islamic world will decline dramatically. The Arab states in the region rely on the United States to protect them from Iran, so U.S. acquiescence in the face of Iranian nuclear weapons would reshape U.S. relations in the region far more than a hundred Cairo speeches.

I find the above to be a nicely stated summary that gets at the shape of the threat instead of fixating on arbitrary or unlikely scenarios.

h/t:  Powerline Blog

Posted in International Relations Tagged with: , , , , ,

Messiah >> Joker >> Zombie >> Man

6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a556b3b4970c-500wiIt should come as no surprise that the “original artist” behind the Obama-as-Joker poster has turned out to be a politically undeveloped, one might even say confused, young man – not a committed activist of the far right or left, neither a brooding racist nor a gleeful, Joker-loving anarchist.

The words “original artist” belong in quotes because all that 20-year-old Firas Alkhateeb of Chicago did was employ a generally available web application to “Joker-ize” a photographic portrait, then save the result to his Flickr account, where it could then be viewed by other Flickr users.  His unique contribution seems to have been rather trivial:  There must be other web surfers who jokerized their own little Obamas, but merely failed to save them where a poster-izer would have found them.

In a strong sense the real “artist” or “author” of the Joker poster is whoever found Alkhateeb’s image file, cleaned up the text left over from Time, added the provocative title “socialism” at the bottom, and then “wilded” the poster on city streets in Los Angeles.  As we know, other members of a spontaneous virtual co-op were inspired to spread versions of the poster in other locales, turning the image from “found art” into national cultural phenomenon.  This act of displaying the poster became as much an act of authorship, and richer in intentionality, than creating the piece was or could have been.

In the most important sense, however, Obama and his image-makers remain the true authors, the originators – of a social morality play in which the poster is merely an inevitable moment:  Read more ›

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Never Mind the Nightmares, Reality’s Hard Enough: The Bomb by Stephen M Younger

What kind of nuclear capabilities do the Russians, Chinese, and other longtime members of the nuclear club have, how are they deployed and for what apparent purposes, and what more are they building?  What are Pakistan’s, India’s, and North Korea’s real nuclear capabilities? What is the real threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack?  How far along is the technology for remotely detecting nuclear weaponry and materials on site or in transit?  How secure are nuclear weapons depots in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere?  How hard would it be to steal and use a nuclear weapon?  How practical is ballistic missile defense?  What technical hurdles do new nuclear states have to overcome before their weapons would be usable?

And what about us? How many and what kind of nuclear warheads and delivery systems does the US currently possess, how powerful are they, how accurate are they, and what has to happen – legally and technically – for us to use them? How many bombs and warheads should we possess and of what types? Does Mutually Assured Destruction still underlie our nuclear posture? Is that a problem? Is there anything we can do about it if it is?

While we’re at it, how do nuclear weapons work, and what really happens when they go off?

Oh, and how did we get here, and where are we going?

Stephen M. Younger is among a handful of individuals in the world equipped to answer these questions comprehensively and authoritatively.  Indeed, as he on occasion is compelled to point out, he knows more than he’s permitted to say.  As a former chief of nuclear weapons R & D at Los Alamos and a former director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the Department of Defense – in other words a senior nuclear weapons researcher as well as a senior official dealing with WMD threats – he actually knows what he’s talking about, unlike, it must be said, many people around the world with very strong opinions on the same subjects. 

That situation may change a bit for the better, however, if Younger’s little black book finds its way onto the desks of politicians, wonks, pundits, bloggers, and creative writers – at least those who hope to ground their ideas and arguments in the facts rather than in widely distributed misinformation, yesterday’s Hollywood techno-thrillers, or popular “nightmare scenarios.”

Younger clearly possesses his own opinions on the US nuclear arsenal and on proliferation and disarmament issues, but The Bomb is not a polemical work.  The author’s objective isn’t to name names or to take down reputations or careers.  Nor does he set out either to frighten us or to offer false re-assurance.  Here, for instance, is how he addresses the EMP scare scenarios that have recently taken up a lot of pundit space, that have provided the background for a just-published novel (by frequent Newt Gingrich collaborator William Forstchen), and that regularly turn up in the mass media and the blogosphere:

Contrary to media reports, it is not true that an EMP attack from a typical strategic weapon would completely shut down the electronics within a country.  First, the effect is statistical in nature – some systems will not notice the pulse at all while identical counterparts will be affected.  Second, the most likely effect from an EMP attack is “upset” rather than destruction, that is, a temporary scrambling of the memory of a computer or the frequency of a communication device, something that is easily corrected by rebooting or resetting the device.  (Upset can, however, have catastrophic consequences if the computer is the flight controller of an aircraft or another time-critical system.)  Third, the EMP output from a typical device is degraded by several design isues so that few, if any, weapons currently deployed in military stockpiles will produce the maximum possible effect.  Of all the nuclear effects, EMP seems the most prone to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Those determined to preserve the EMP scenario for their books, screenplays, op-eds, and “we’re all doomed” blog comments may construct clever or fancifully nightmarish workarounds to the series of obstacles put before them by Younger’s sober assessment both here and in additional discussion.  In the real world, however, it becomes much harder to see why this threat should be especially worrisome for us compared to more “conventional” ones, or why preparing it would be an especially productive use of a would-be evildoer’s time, resources, and energy.

Blackmail or terror or both by possessors of stolen nukes is another favorite element of nightmare scenarios.  Again, Younger doesn’t pretend to be able to extinguish all conceivable concern, but he does carefully explain why, for instance, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the existence of all those widely discussed badly rundown nuclear depots didn’t lead to a plague of real world True Lies or 24 situations, including the loss of a major city or at least a suburb or two.  After dismissing the “suitcase bomb” rumors that were “chronic during the 1990s” (and that the late and greatly missed blogger Dean Barnett used to delight in taking apart), and after explaining that those Russian depots, which he’d personally toured, were much more well-secured than press accounts and photographs implied, he gets technical about what a real world version of Crimson Jihad would really have had to cope with:

In contrast to what is shown in movies, nuclear weapons do not have a red button on their side with an LED display counting down the seconds to detonation.  Most are tightly sealed packages with only a single electrical connector serving as their interface to the outside world.  Looking at such a connector provides no indication of what wire does what – some send coded signals that prepare the weapon to detonate, but others might simply report details of weapon status.  Dismantling the weapon (not always an easy task) would provide more insight, but here again, most subsystems are sealed in their own cases so that it is sometimes difficult even for an expert to identify what component does what.  Of course, a weapon could be completely disassembled and then rebuilt with a new control system, but this would require extreme care, and in most cases an intimate knowledge of the weapon’s design in order to avoid destroying key components.

After listing some additional practical hurdles, Younger concludes that “[o]nly a few people in the world have the knowledge to cause an unauthorized detonation of a nuclear weapon.”

Younger doesn’t happen to mention whether he himself is one of those few.  Nor does he go on to claim that the problem is no threat at all.  In conjunction with his examination of related detection and design issues, his discussion does however throw a goodly quantity of cold water on the categorical assertion, which you will frequently encounter on the internet, that a loose nukes catastrophe of some kind is “inevitable.”  Impossible?  No.  Probable?  Not currently – and, it seems, not really close.  Inevitable? Well, no – not at all – not when you look at the facts and think them through.

A generation ago, it was fashionable in the anti-nuclear protest movement to declare that nuclear war – and the end of civilization – was “inevitable” under then current circumstances, without heroic efforts (such as donating to your local chapter of the Alliance for Survival or Jobs for Peace).   The famous clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, stuck several some minutes to midnight for a couple of generations now, has likewise suggested an aura of inevitable doom.  It turns out, however, that the Bomb is a complicated, and, ironically enough, in crucial respects fragile technology, full of uncertainties for possessors and would-be possessors as well as for potential targets, and, so far – knock on wood, salt over the shoulder, etc. – demonstrably accessible to the governance even of imperfect, emotional, rivalrous, and contentious human beings.

Younger’s expertise and experience have not led him to believe that we are free to live as though the world did not change in some respects fundamentally, almost exactly 64 years ago.  He is quite aware of the awesome destructiveness of nuclear weapons, and in particular of the unique threat they pose to the US, which, by far and away the world’s leader in conventional arms, would have the most to lose strategically by a lower threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, or by their broad proliferation.  Yet neither has his knowledge led him to despair.  In de-mystifying the Bomb, he offers to turn us away from primitive nightmares and toward grappling like adults with problems that, though complex and uncertain, might be solvable, or solvable enough, in the light of day.

The Bomb: A New History
Stephen M. Younger
256 pages
Ecco, January 6, 2009


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President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.

The allegations, if true, would appear to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics, even as US-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million (£8 million) annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP.

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The texts, posted on a darknet website run by a hacktivist collective, appear to show Manafort’s family fretting about the ethics, safety and consequences of his work for Yanukovych. And they reveal that Manafort’s two daughters regarded their father’s emergence as a key player on Trump’s presidential campaign with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

In one exchange, daughter Jessica Manafort writes “Im not a trump supporter but i am still proud of dad tho. He is the best at what he does.” Her sister Andrea Manafort responded by referring to their father’s relationship with Trump as “The most dangerous friendship in America,” while in another exchange she called them “a perfect pair” of “power-hungry egomaniacs,” and asserted “the only reason my dad is doing this campaign is for sport. He likes the challenge. It's like an egomaniac's chess game. There's no money motivation.”

By contrast, the Manafort daughters and their mother seemed much more unsettled about Paul Manafort’s work as a political consultant for Yanukovych’s Russia-backed Party of Regions, which is a subject of renewed interest among investigators probing possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

In one March 2015 exchange that appears to be between the two sisters, Andrea Manafort seems to suggest that their father bore some responsibility for the deaths of protesters at the hands of police loyal to Yanukovych during a monthslong uprising that started in late 2013.

“Don't fool yourself,” Andrea Manafort wrote. “That money we have is blood money.”

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If there's anything mitigating the bad news for the White House here, it is that Comey may have also sent subtle signals that the matters under investigation are not principally about the personal conduct of Trump himself. While this is speculation, I do not believe that if Comey had, say, validated large swaths of the Steele dossier or found significant Trump-Russia financial entanglements of a compromising variety, he would have said even as much as he said today. I also don't think he would have announced the scope of the investigation as about the relationship "between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government" or "coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts"; these words suggest one step of removal from investigating the President himself. If the latter were the case, I suspect Comey wouldn't have used words suggestive of the Flynn-Manafort-Page cabal.

But that's reading a lot into a relatively small number of tea leaves. What is clear is that this was a very bad day for the President. In it, we learned that there is an open-ended Russia investigation with no timetable for completion, one that's going hang over Trump's head for a long time, and one to which the FBI director is entirely committed.

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@CK_MacLeod

State of the Discussion

bob
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+ Yeah, I read C's comments as trying to do a variety of things at the same time, having the effect of making interpretation more difficult. Any [. . .]
Benjamin Wittes: How to Read What Comey Said Today – Lawfare
bob
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+ Sure, so why do they have "work Phones" they take home? Even if they don't have fate of the world responsibilities, who they work [. . .]
Isenstadt and Vogel: Paranoia seizes Trump’s White House – POLITICO

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