Everybody's Got One
A blog. An opinion. An elimination orifice. A dream. An agenda. A past. A hidden talent. A conceptual filter. A cross. A charism (often the same). A task. A wound. A destiny. A lost love. A blind spot. A bad habit. A secret. A passion. A soul ... okay, maybe not everybody ...
Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sample spaces and overlapping populations  

Instapundit links to a Nielson press release that describes the party affiliations of the online population:
36.6 percent of U.S. adults online are Republicans, 30.8 percent are Democrats and 17.3 percent are Independents.
This seems about right to me. I spend a lot of time online, and get a large percentage of my news and sense of the world from it, and I have a sense that there is a legitimate (if slight) Republican majority in at least the part of the world that I inhabit. (Also that self-identified Independents, especially of the Libertarian persuasion, are over-represented here.)

My suspicion is that the same analysis of network news viewers would reverse the percentages. Combined, the somewhat overlapping groups may yield a 50/50 nation (which I think is an outdated snapshot of a moving trend, but what do I know?)

One question, of course, is how well either of these sample groups reflects the larger population. At least as well, I think, as the population of the polled - mostly those with landline phones, who answer questions - who are skewing increasingly Democratic this election cycle. There should be a reality check in a week or so.

Then again, those who actually vote in midterm elections are a pretty small sample of the whole, as well.

A larger question is that left/right, red/blue, however you want to identify the division, increasingly occupy different (and very separate) realities. One of the unacknowledged aspects of globalization is that it makes possible the existence of encapsulated communities within the larger, flatter structure.

Yugoslavia and Iraq show the difficulty of creating a multi-ethnic nation; what are the chances of surviving as a multi-reality nation?

posted by Kelly | 11:07 AM link
Friday, October 13, 2006

Christianity without the Eucharist  

The Asia Times' Spengler commented recently
Jihad is the precise equivalent of the Lord's Supper in Christianity and the Jewish Sabbath, the defining expression of sacrifice that opens the prospect of eternity to the mortal believer. To ask Islam to become moderate, to reform, to become a peaceful religion of personal conscience is the precise equivalent of asking Catholics to abolish Mass.
He may or may not be right about Islam (I have an increasingly sinking feeling that he is), but it is certainly possible to see Protestantism as a series of attempts to have Christianity without the Eucharist. Not that it meant to be that, of course, but things have a way of developing.

Fundamentalists deal with the absence of the sacrament by replacing it with bibliolotry; Pentecostals with the experience of the gifts of the Spirit; Evangelicals with personal piety. And what used to be called the mainline churches have, in the last hundred years, replaced it with social activism.

The question for the first three is whether this is, in the long term, sustainable; the issue for the last is that it appears not to be. Secular folk have discovered that they can be socially aware without all the God business, or the personal accountability, and so the mainline keeps hemmorhaging members.

Markos is a clever guy, but his notion of megachurches for the left is wrong on a number of levels. Just because something doesn't exist doesn't mean there's a niche waiting to be filled; recent history would indicate that these institutions have a way of turning themselves into microchurches all on their own.

posted by Kelly | 3:48 PM link
Saturday, September 30, 2006

Two narratives, not meshing  

I saw an absolutely fascinating Chevy ad today during the Fox Saturday afternoon baseball game. Part of the rollout of the new Silverado campaign, it features John Mellencamp's new song Our Country played under a montage of historical images that supposedly captures post-war America. (And I ask with Lileks: [W]hen will the concept of “postwar” stop making sense to most people, I wonder? Twenty years from now, you won’t hear it used much. As the boomers' parents die off, basically.)

The first image is GIs returning home, waving at the Statue of Liberty. Then a New York streetscape, with the old cars, cutting to an assembly line of new ones being made. (Can we talk about Fordist America in a Chevy ad?) Then a close-up of a record spinning, and a beach party featuring a bikini-ed girl dancing, and a hula hoop. Then Rosa Parks sitting on a bus. Then a fifties dad (looking a bit like Jerry Lee Lewis) holding a child on a vacation at the beach, and kids riding bikes in the suburbs.

Then Ali (or maybe Cassius Clay) knocking out a white guy. Then Vietnam, and hippies dancing, and crowds on the Washington mall, and MLK's speech, and protesters carrying a peace flag, and Nixon leaving office, and the moon landing (which happened earlier, but that would interrupt the narrative line).

We skip the 70's, 80's, 90's, and early 00's (nothing meaningful happened then, did it?) and go to the present day. There are multiple shots of devastated New Orleans, one of New York with the towers missing from the skyline - because Katrina was a far more significant event than 9/11 - and lots and lots of cowboy hats. And kids. And trucks.

I believe more and more in the truth behind Dr Sanity's Tale of Two Realities. We can call the competing realities left/right or blue/red - not especially appropriate or accurate, because the political differences are mostly a manifestation of deeper cultural (or psychological, or developmental, or epistemic or ontological) issues, but such are the terms we have. And I believe that some part of the increasing partisanship comes from voices raised in an attempt to be heard across an unbridgeable divide. (Some comes from the sense that those on the other side must be lying, stupid, or delusional, of course.) And I agree with Gagdad Bob that what distinguishes the two is the framing narrative, which determines both which facts are meaningful and how they are to be interpreted in the larger picture.

What makes the commercial so fascinating is that it was obviously designed by people with one narrative to appeal to those with another. People who work in ad agencies (or anywhere in the media complex, or other members of the New Class) don't buy trucks. (Or have kids, much.)

David Ogilvy said, The consumer is not an idiot; the consumer is your wife. But when the product is full-size pick-ups, blue-state wives are not your target market. Increasingly, neither are your neighbors. These days, the folks in blue states who buy trucks are mostly the contractors you hire to work on your house. (And see Dear Prudence for a competing-narrative take on that.)

So the America presented in the ad was tailored to appeal to the red narrative. (Which blues think means to white males.) At least, America in the present tense was. Lots of wide open spaces, and kids and cowboys and pick-ups. Rodeo and NASCAR. Loving, present fathers.

Who isn't present? Mothers, for one. For another, the only black faces are Muhammed Ali, Rosa Parks, MLK, and a contemporary guy standing outside a row of ruined houses in New Orleans (followed by images of white people gathering in a field somewhere to raise a house frame against the sky). The only people in uniform are draftees in 'Nam and firefighters posing in front of their truck, but I think that's more a failure of blue imagination than an intentional omission.

But the America of the past is firmly anchored in the blue narrative. It's as if people for whom the fifties are a golden time of new beginnings and the sixties are the hinge-point of the world (who currently control the media and the history books, remember) don't even recognize that there might be a revisionist narrative out there somewhere. Evoking the time when we were kids should serve to remind you how much you love your kids, right?

So is this thing going to sell trucks? Some, probably, because red-narrative people are patriotic no matter who tells the story. But enough to save Chevrolet from decades of bad decisions, when mileage is becoming a greater purchasing issue and smaller trucks are more popular (though less profitable)? Unlikely.

Would a more internally consistent narrative have made a better ad? Sure – but it wouldn't have been as interesting. Or revealing.

Update: The timestamp on this was completely fortuitous. Had I thought to choose, I might have selected 9:12 ... but that resolution is a ways off.

posted by Kelly | 9:11 PM link
Friday, August 18, 2006

SemiHard, SemiSoft  

Gerard Baker in the London Times Online:
Some will say that the US's ineffectiveness is a direct result of the loss of its "soft" power. Alienating the rest of the world has weakened its ability to achieve its objectives. Idiocies such as Abu Ghraib and the brief flirtation with torture as a legitimate instrument undoubtedly hurt America's image. But I don't truly see how the failings in the Middle East could have been avoided by Washington's being nicer to foreigners. What's been missing is resolute leadership.
Some call it lack of leadership. Some call it overwhelming force behaving underwhelmingly; others, failures of will or commitment. But it seems to me not an accident that failures of hard power and soft power are found together.

It isn't (I think) that the jihadis are simply better at fighting an information war than the West is - although they certainly are better organized. (See also fauxtography, Pallywood, and Iraqi stringers). At least they know there's a war on, and that this is a major battlespace.

Nor is it (entirely) that Soft America (where the experts in using soft power tend to live) appears to believe that their role in this fight is to restrain their compatriots' knuckle-dragging tendencies (or at minimum refuse to inflame them.)

Surely there is a dynamic interrelationship, an exchange and a balancing of energies, at work. If the shadow is kept from appearing too dark doesn't that mean the light must be dimmer? If one side of the body is weakened, the other doesn't tend to overreach in compensation, but limit its range of movements also.

It isn't just America. Hasn't Europe's vaunted soft power grown progressively less effective as its hard power continues to atrophy?

Baker again:
It is hard for me to recall a time when the world was such a scary place. No one should rejoice at America's weakness. The world is scarier still because of it.
Complacency may not be as offensive as rejoicing, but it leads to much the same outcome. Whether the semisoft call for better leadership, or the semihard for more will, the problem is other than either realizes, and greater than either can address alone.

The desired course is probably not to hang (or confront or submit) separately.

posted by Kelly | 2:25 PM link
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

At the Church of the Excluded Middle  

Today I went for Assumption mass to a parish I haven't attended in a while. Used to, when I was working nearby and it was convenient. It's still pretty convenient, but I don't much care for their notions of church. They have such a profoundly preferential option for the marginalized that there's a tendency to discount the interests and concerns of the relatively whole. Which I find rather unedifying; but what truly offends me is the way they screw around with the liturgy. And, evidently, with scripture.

The gospel text for the feast is the Magnificat, of course. I had not realized until this reading of it (and the homily following) that the only two meaningful verses are
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly
He has filled the hungry with good things; the rich he has sent away empty
The rest, apparently, is context and commentary on the Almighty's exaltation of those whom the world despises. But I had never heard this reading before:
As He promised our forebears, Abraham and Sarah and their children ...
Ah yes. In a misguided attempt at inclusiveness, these folk seem to have written the entire line of Ishmael, Abraham's first son via Sarah's maid Hagar, completely out of Mary's blessing.

Good thing Muslims don't take such things too seriously.

posted by Kelly | 2:50 PM link
Monday, August 14, 2006

For vs Against  

Gregory Rodriguez laments that the current divisiveness prevents the sort of national unity conducive to activist liberal governance (HT Michael Barone):
FDR's big idea, born in the Depression, was consolidated, nurtured and embraced in World War II - the Good War - which provided, as it happens, ideal conditions for American liberalism. Overwhelming public support for the war effort created national unity, collective responsibility and a willingness to sacrifice. Americans supported expanded government driven by taxes, which increased dramatically during the war. The Allied victory then ushered in a period of high expectations of what government could accomplish.

The ripple effect was so strong that no matter which political party occupied the White House for the next two decades, a liberal consensus held sway over the American body politic. It built federal highways, created student loans and enacted civil rights legislation.

Today, as liberals seek to rebuild that kind of agenda, they have nothing like a Good War to help them. In fact, what they are facing is a situation much more like the Vietnam War - in which the public was polarized and disillusioned - and its belief in what government could accomplish was demolished.
This is not the first time Rodriguez has addressed issues of Democratic disarray. But in this instance, he overlooks an obvious point. One of the characteristics of a "Good War" is a common enemy, easily acknowledged and universally opposed. (This has been one of the recurring complaints from the right about the "War on Terror"). The simple truth, often overlooked by Kumbaya Liberals, is that people are more easily and effectively united against than for. (Once united, they can be moved forward in various directions, but the union has to come first.)

Take a look at the successful movements in American politics in recent decades: Against the Axis. Against Communism. Against segregation. Against the war in Vietnam. Against Washington. (Rodriguez claims that the legacy of Vietnam is the "distrust and disunity [that] was the fertile ground from which anti-government conservatives made their late-century comeback." Well, maybe.)

Ross Perot was against deficits. It didn't work for him, but it defeated Bush 41 and elected a moderate Democrat. The Contract with America, for all its positive action plans, was against entrenched and unresponsive Congressional power - until Republicans took over, and ... um ... um ...

But it isn't enough to be against, as today's Democrats continue to demonstrate. The common enemy has to be universally (or at least largely) opposed. And since 1972, the Progressive wing of the party has been against things that have substantial, if not majority, support across the country. Anti-communism. Public religion. Traditional family structures and values. Assimilation to mainstream culture. Now, simply Republicans (and the Democrats who co-operate with them).

"[T]he national unity required to tackle liberalism's big ideas" (or any other kind) is generated when you focus on the far enemy; not on the near enemy here at home. Neither party seems to have fully grasped that.

posted by Kelly | 11:22 AM link
Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Another element in the disassembly of the Democratic majority  

The CW coalesces.

From Gregory Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times:
Some scholars point to the Democratic National Convention of 1972 as not only the moment Democrats edged toward secularism but the event that created the religious rift in American politics. Before 1972, both major parties were essentially indistinguishable in their approach to religion. The activist cores of both were dominated by members of mainstream religious groups: the GOP by mainline Protestants and the Democratic Party by Catholics and Jews.

But the Democratic delegation that nominated South Dakota Sen. George McGovern for president at the '72 convention represented a profound shift from what had been the cultural consensus in American politics. Whereas only 5% of Americans could be considered secular in 1972, fully 24% of first-time Democratic delegates that year were self-identified agnostics, atheists or people who rarely, if ever, set foot in a house of worship. This new activist base encouraged a growing number of Democratic politicians to tone down their appeal to religious voters and to seek a higher wall separating church and state. With little regard for the traditionalist sensitivities of religious people within or outside of the party, the Democrats also embraced progressive stances on feminism and homosexuality that the public had never openly debated.

Meanwhile, the Republican delegation — and by extension the party platform — remained unchanged, and the GOP essentially became the party of tradition and religion by default. 'The partisan differences that emerged in 1972,' writes University of Maryland political scientist Geoffrey Layman, 'were not caused by any sudden increase in the religious and cultural traditionalism of the Republican activists but by the pervasive secularism and cultural liberalism of the Democratic supporters of George McGovern.'

Over the next generation, the shift in the Democratic Party pushed many religious voters, including the traditionally Democratic bloc of Southern evangelicals, into the arms of the Republican Party. In the 1980s, a shrewd GOP leadership discovered that the newly politicized evangelical population could be the engine of a remarkable late-century political comeback. By 2004, pollsters found that voters considered the Republican Party 'more friendly' toward religion than the Democratic Party.
See also these posts.

Update: Ross Douhat of The American Scene in First Things:
The Republican party has become more religious because the Democrats became self-consciously secular, and the turning point wasn’t the 1992 or the 2000 elections but the putsch of 1972, when secularist delegates—to quote Phillips, quoting Layman—suddenly “constituted the largest ‘religious’ bloc among Democratic delegates.” Yet having noted this rather significant fact, Phillips sets it aside and returns blithely to his preferred narrative, which is the transformation of the GOP into America’s first “religious party.” But that’s not what happened at all—or rather, it’s the second half of the story, the Republican reaction against the Democrats’ decision to become the first major party in American history to pander to a sizable bloc of aggressively secular voters.

This was very much a strategic electoral move on their part. As Mark Stricherz pointed out last year in a Commonweal essay titled “Goodbye Catholics,” Democrats in the McGovern era were faced with the crack-up of the old New Deal coalition and made a conscious decision to jettison blue-collar voters in favor of what a 1969 memo called “a different political and social group with rising educational levels, affluence, and . . . greater cultural sophistication.” At the time, pursuing a coalition of younger voters, minorities, and affluent suburbanites seemed a better bet than trying to hang on to socially conservative voters, especially given that all the energy in the party seemed to be coming from the Left. But it required the Democrats to identify with a segment of the population—self-identified secularists and nonbelievers—that has grown rapidly over the past three decades and grown more assertive along the way. Which in turn has alienated the devout plurality of Americans and left the Democratic party stuck just shy of majority status for the better part of a generation.

So the rise of the Religious Right, and the growing “religion gap” that Phillips describes but fails to understand, aren’t new things in American history but a reaction to a new thing: to an old political party newly dependent on a bloc of voters who reject the role that religion has traditionally played in American political life. The hysteria over theocracy, in turn, represents an attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to suit these voters’ prejudices, by setting a year zero somewhere around 1970 and casting everything that’s happened since as a battle between progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark.
The Year Zero really was somewhere around 1970, but the successors to the Democratic Party haven't completely liquidated their entire inheritance yet, so they still have to pretend to some continuity.

Update 2: From Our secularist Democratic party by Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio (HT Rod Dreyer, reviewing Douthat):
Secularists first appeared as a political force within a major party at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Prior to then, neither party contained many secularists nor showed many signs of moral or cultural progressivism. Moreover, prior to the late 1960s, there was something of a tacit commitment among elites in both parties to the traditional Judeo-Christian teachings regarding authority, sexual mores, and the family. This consensus was shattered in 1972 when the Democratic party was captured by a faction whose cultural reform agenda was perceived by many (both inside and outside the convention) as antagonistic to traditional religious values.


The 1972 Democratic convention* set in motion a political dynamic that continues to the present. The ascendancy of secularists in the Democratic party had long-term consequences for the relative attractiveness of each party for members of different religious groups. The Democratic party became more appealing to secularists and religious modernists and less attractive to traditionalists. The secularist putsch in the Democratic party had the opposite effect on its rival, which over time came to be seen as more hospitable to religious traditionalists and less appealing to more secular Republicans. What was at first an intraparty culture war among Democratic elites became by the 1980s an interparty culture war.


60 percent of first-time white delegates at the [1992] Democratic convention in New York City either claimed no attachment to religion or displayed the minimal attachment by attending worship services "a few times a year" or less. About 5 percent of first-time delegates at the Republican convention in Houston identified themselves as secularists, a figure that had not budged for 20 years.
*Actually the McGovern committee delegate selection rules for the 1972 convention, but that's inside baseball. Not, however, sufficiently inside to justify both Douthat and Bolce and De Maio's use of the very loaded term putsch, even as a quoted reference. There was a takover by the insurgent wing, but it happened the old fashioned way: by manipulating the party rules to screw over their opponents.

The consistent thread is that the insurgents within the Democratic party replaced a larger population segment with a smaller one, hoping that passion (and the inevitable movement of history) would compensate for the lack of numbers.

Thus are majorities dismembered.

posted by Kelly | 2:28 AM link
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Yes, but compared to what?  

Noah Millman at Gideon's Blog:
There is something profoundly broken in Washington. This is not the first bill that has been produced in this decade that seems designed to be a disaster. The farm bill, highway bill and energy bills were hodge-podges designed to waste money and achieve little. Bush's tax bills had a few sensible core ideas but were also filled with anti-productive loopholes and loaded with gimmicks like automatic sunset provisions that no one could possibly favor on the merits; they were designed with public-relations in mind more than policy. The reorganization of the government that created the Homeland Security Department was barely thought-out and has proved a disaster; ditto for the reorganization of intelligence. And then we had the Medicare drug bill, an amalgam of the worst ideas of both parties. And now we have this immigration monstrosity.

This was not always the case. In the 1980s and 1990s, Congress was able to craft a variety of bills that basically did what they said. Reagan's 1981 tax cuts and 1986 tax reform each did basically what they were supposed to do. Welfare reform and farm-subsidies reform in the 1990s each did basically what they were supposed to do. The 1986 immigration bill, for all that it is much-criticized in retrospect, was sold as an amnesty; it failed, in large part because it was not enforced, but it was not designed to fail, nor was it structured and sold in a deceptive manner.

Something has gone very, very wrong in Washington. Occam's Razor would suggest that what has gone wrong is that the Bush Administration is completely indifferent to the legislative process. On some deep level, they don't care whether we have good laws. That is a very, very damning indictment, far more damning, in my view, than the charge that they are simply incompetent or that they are deceptive, saying one thing but intending another. It may also be an insufficient explanation; Congress, and the Senate in particular, seems almost eager to take mediocre bills and by heroic effort transform them into positively awful bills. But if the President cared about whether we have good laws, some of these laws would not be on the books. So presumably he doesn't care.

It would probably be best if no laws whatever were passed between now and January 2009. I simply no longer trust Washington to produce legislation on any topic whatever.
I don't go along with Gideon's razor – not because I disagree (I really don't), but because I'm uncomfortable with imputing motives where unnecessary. (And saying people simply don't care enough is too close to an adolescent whine in the face of imperfection.) Bush's diffidence about bad laws may have a lot to do with his history as a governor in Texas, where he could rely on the big dogs in the legislature to come up with something adequate for him to sign; clearly no longer the case.
And he may truly believe his job as Chief Executive is strictly to enforce the laws, not to help create them. (Or to come up with work-arounds for some of the garbage he gets sent and doesn't veto; hence the signing statements.) Remember, he actually expected SCOTUS to strike down McCain-Feingold. Not a good reason to sign it anyway, of course, but logically defensible to defer to their constitutional role, with an expectation of judicial support for the First Amerndment.

Then again, he may simply not care.

But also because I think Noah draws the problem too small. Yes, Congress is utterly, reprehensibly, dysfunctional. But can anyone name an institution in this country that currently is functioning adequately? Bueller? Anyone?

The executive branch doesn't seem to be working terribly well. Bush is hardly the incompetent boob he's caricatured as, but he's been a disaster at using the bully pulpit to inform and inspire. Which is a pretty significant part of the job, especially in wartime. He really is AWOL on this one.

The so-called system of so-called justice is no better, the occasional convictions of the blatantly guilty (Moussaoui, Lay and Skilling) notwithstanding. I'm heartened by consecutive rational rulings from the re-configured SCOTUS, but that only shows how low the bar has fallen of late.

The self-elected fourth branch of government? The media seems to be trying to make Congress look competent and above-board by comparison.

The CIA, INS, and FEMA were all dysfunctional before Congress waded in to make things much, much worse.

Education? Please.

Medicine? The inability to figure out payments and coverage is distracting attention from the far greater inability to work out treatments and allocations and ends.

Organized religion? Not Catholics (outside the papacy), not mainstream Protestants (hemorrhaging members), maybe not Evangelicals (discovering scalability issues).

What about the Democratic party? Yeah, right. Even less functional than the down-ticket GOP.

Big Labor? Hollywood? Publishing? Wall Street? The arts? Even baseball?

The only American institution that seems to be functioning competently these days is the military (and I'm not entirely sure that's true above the O-6 grade). And that's a scary thought on a great number of levels.

posted by Kelly | 8:34 PM link
Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ask a silly question  

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate:
[W]e still have no idea what really happened between Kobe Bryant and his accuser, between Michael Jackson and his accuser, between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. If these legal processes are intended to be searches for the truth, why is there never any truth at the conclusion?
Because they aren't so intended.

We tell ourselves that the Justice System(TM) somehow, through the mysterious workings of an invisible hand, reveals the Truth in the conflict of dueling narratives spun by hired guns around the supposed facts allowed as evidence. Ha.

What the System actually determines - in practice if not in theory - is accountability. Or not.

And as that concept grows less clear in our individual and collective lives, we look to high-profile court trials for certainties they can't provide.

Because juries are drawn from the voter pool, and the rules of due process don't map well to reality.

posted by Kelly | 7:14 PM link
Thursday, March 09, 2006

Public/Private Order/Chaos  

Two comments to yet another incisive post by Wretchard have sparked some thoughts for me. First a sample:
Anarchy is self-defending, as the failed United Nations relief mission to Somalia in 1990 discovered to its cost. It will appropriate relief supplies, money and aid workers themselves as gang property, the economic basis of its system. Anarchy absorbs violence just as it absorbs relief and even gains strength from it when weapons, designed to disrupt ordered societies, are unleashed on it. Countries like Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran are defended less by frontier fortifications than by the sheer toxicity of their societies.
RTWT, as always.

The first comment was from Shrinkwrapped (another always-informative daily visit):
[O]ne place the left-wing elites in the West intersect with the Islamists is in their (unconscious) support for anarchy. The elites typically support the free expression of instinctual drives (eg, there should be no controls on people's sexual behavior, "anything goes", revolutionary violence is admirable, etc.) When young men are raised without being civilized (learning restraint, frustration tolerance, delayed gratification) they become agents of anarchy, taking what they want when they want, as long as they are able.
And somewhat later in the thread, this from Wolfen:
What's not clear to me is where radical Islam fits into this anarchic scenario. Although the Islamist program might benefit from localized chaos in the short run, Islam itself is not chaotic or anarchic. Is Islam being used for criminal purposes, or are criminal gangs being used for Islamic purposes? If the latter, religious leaders must assume that they will be able to step in and restore order, once the damage has been done. I wonder.
What's missing here is the distinction between the public and the private spheres. Islam and socialism both flourish in conditions of public order and private chaos. (As do all forms of totalitarianism, come to think of it.) Public order, the 'peace' of the ummah, is maintained by the external power of the temporal ruler, while the specificity and complexity of sharia law indicates a certain interior lack of control. And the centrifugal path of the Soviet empire shows how little internal unity was developed under the blanket of strict social control.

What's the difference, after all, between the Soviet nomenklatura and the Saudi royal family except the size of their wallets and the toys they can buy? Saddam's Iraq was a stifling nightmare of order, but Uday and Qusay's private lives seemed even more chaotic than Dad's. On one level the masses are kept under control so that the rulers may frolic, but on another the rulers are the only ones with sufficient wealth and power for their internal chaos to become visible.

Wolfen is thinking about the establishment of totalitarian states, which does tend to involve public disorder and intensely focused private order, bordering on asceticism, on the part of the radical founders, whether Lenin or Mohammed or al-Saud's Bedouin Wahhabis. (See the attempts to depict Osama's spartan, spiritual lifestyle.)

It is the genius of liberal civilization that it doesn't split these realms, but has a mixture of order and chaos in both public and private spheres. A government of laws also allows the creative destruction of capitalism, and a free society requires self-governing members.

It may even be that a certain proportion of each is necessary, for a person or a society; as order increases in one place, chaos leaks out in another. Have Europe's Muslims taken on the role of chaos-sinks for an increasingly bureaucratized EU? (Or is this simply the internally chaotic nature of Islam acting out in the absence of externally-imposed public order?) As Europe grows more chaotic - and oh how it will - perhaps we shall find out.

posted by Kelly | 4:05 PM link
Monday, February 13, 2006

Psychohistory revisited  

After long years of not thinking about him at all, two items about Adlai Stevenson show up within a week. I wonder to what extent his "anti-leader's" urge to self-destruction had to do with this. It would certainly explain the diffident passivity in tough circumstances, the self-sabotage-by-omission that sometimes occurs when a long-guilty conscience hatches a sense of unworthiness.

And was there something similar in McCarthy's past, or is the urge to self-destruction driven by other forces than guilt alone?

And how does this illuminate Teddy Kennedy's politically-crippling 1980 interview with Roger Mudd? Or (like Adlai) his politics?


Update: The context is a bit OT, but I just saw this phrase in a comment by EssEm to a post entitled Liberal Dis-Armament at Shrinkwrapped:
Atonement by suicide (highminded moralism being the weapon of choice)

posted by Kelly | 10:17 AM link
Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Many-card Monte  

Nelson Ascher is blogging again (hat tip to Neo-neocon)

In a recent post he sees Iran's fingerprints on the cartoon kerfuffle.
[W]hat if the Cartoon Jihad were a remake of the Rushdie affair in more than one way? What if someone, say, in Iran already knew about those old cartoons, but left the whole thing untouched until the right moment when some noise was needed? Why now?
Wretchard concurs. The Religious Policeman, on the other hand, sees evidences of Saudi involvement, and Gateway Pundit fingers radical, probably Wahhabi-funded, European imams.

So is the noise needed to distract from the IEAA, or from another few hundred deaths due to Saudi mismanagement of the hajj?

Or is this yet another example of an ongoing struggle within Islam being played out on our soil, with Westerners used as props and pretexts, this time within the vitally important information front? The "moderates" remain silent because they're waiting to see which horse is stronger. We tried letting two enemies bleed each other dry during the Iran-Iraq war, and that didn't work out so wonderfully.

One nice thing about the Cold War was not only the clarity of the threat of universal destruction, but that each side was generally able to enforce some message and tactical discipline on its proxies. There are way too many players in this game, with far too many weapons and petro/narcodollars and not nearly enough accountability.

posted by Kelly | 5:24 PM link
Thursday, January 26, 2006

The political defenestration of the white working-class  

There are increasing indications that white ethnics may not have simply left the Democratic party, but also have been deliberately pushed.

Mark Stricherz wrote last fall in Commonweal, in a piece subtitled How One Man Reshaped the Democratic Party:
Fred Dutton['s] goal was nothing less than to end the New Deal coalition, the electoral alliance that had supported the party since 1932 around a broad working-class agenda. In its place, Dutton sought to build a "loose peace constituency," a collection of groups opposed to the Vietnam War and more generally the military-industrial complex. To this end, Dutton recognized that Democrats would need to appeal to three new constituencies-young people, college-educated suburbanites, and feminists-while ceasing to woo two old ones-Catholics and working-class whites. As it turned out, the McGovern Commission became Dutton’s unlikely vehicle for renovating the party’s coalition
In part this was an aspirational reconfiguration, but in part it was an attempt to make a revolutionary virtue of necessity in changing circumstances. As Dutton wrote in 1969,
[W]inning elections and giving expression to ... insurgent impulses reinforce each other in the better educated, more affluent, and activist society. That is especially true among younger voters, black citizens, and college-educated suburbanites-three constituencies on which the Democratic Party must build as the lower-middle-class, blue-collar vote erodes.
As the populists left the party, Progressives reached out to other groups – which accelerated their departure.
[I]n much the same way that blacks replaced Southern whites as a key Democratic constituency in the 1960s, feminists overtook Catholics in the 1970s.
But each of these base-group replacements was a demographic downsizing. Even in '68, there were fewer blacks than Southern whites, and (thanks in part to Roe), their numbers have grown at a lower rate since. Feminists turned out to be at best a subset of all women: largely the unmarried and/or childless ones, who despite ongoing assaults on the nuclear family norm remain outnumbered by their more traditional (and, increasingly, Republican-voting) sisters. And young people, who have the lowest voter participation of any age group, have an unanticipated tendency to grow older and get jobs and families and responsibilities and less-radical politics. (Except for the neutered, that is.)

Only one substitution was a demographic step-up -
college-educated whites have replaced working-class whites as a key Democratic constituency
but that too is problematic. College attendance numbers are up since the 60s (despite falling for men since the mid-80s), but Democrats don't show a voting advantage at any level below graduate school - and that may very well be skewed by a preponderance of education students.

So by following the lead of the Progressives and the McGovern Commission, Democrats have replaced a larger base with a smaller one, and elected two Presidents in almost forty years. Sometimes, the only place the vanguard leads is into an evolutionary dead-end.

Like so many other things that came out of the '60s, this seemed like such a good idea at the time.

posted by Kelly | 8:12 PM link
Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Prospect's New Map  

According to Garance Franke-Ruta's Remapping the Culture Debate (hat tip Ross Douthat at American Scene), some would-be Democratic strategists appear to be catching on to the notion that voters have a hierarchy of values.
[S]urveys repeatedly show that $50,000 seems to be a threshold income dividing the economically insecure from their more prosperous countrymen, and the average household income in America is now, despite years of stagnant wages, $56,644. People earning such wages are far from rich, but they are comfortable enough to look beyond their pocketbooks when they vote.
Well, yeah. Following Maslow, there's hierarchy of voter values, where one value becomes important when those below it on the scale are satisfied. Roughly,
  • Societal-Actualization
  • Status
  • Belonging/Cultural Values
  • Security
  • Survival
Notes (from the bottom up): Blacks continue to turn out for a Democratic party that disregards their values because they, like Jim Crow white Southerners, are convinced their racial survival demands it.
Security concerns can be economic, physical, military, or legal; antipoverty, law and order, national security, and abortion-rights voters fall here on the scale.
Cultural values can cut both ways, depending on whether you care about belonging to a red- or blue-state peer group, but the majority is red, and growing.
And societal-actualization, the shared value of the upper-class progressive and the missionary neo-con, only becomes important once personal status needs are met – which explains Hollywood and the trust-fund Left.

Now, this sounds like the beginning of understanding among Progressives, but there's a long way yet to travel. The surest indication is that The Prospect's New Map says at least as much about the ideology of the mapmakers as it does about the territory. Read this description of a values matrix, and carefully consider the choice of axis-labels:
The quadrants represent different worldviews. On the top lies authority, an orientation that values traditional family, religiosity, emotional control, and obedience. On the bottom, the individuality orientation encompasses risk-taking, “anomie-aimlessness,” and the acceptance of flexible families and personal choice. On the right side of the scale are values that celebrate fulfillment, such as civic engagement, ecological concern, and empathy. On the left, there’s a cluster of values representing the sense that life is a struggle for survival: acceptance of violence, a conviction that people get what they deserve in life, and civic apathy. These quadrants are not random: Shellenberger and Nordaus developed them based on an assessment of how likely it was that holders of certain values also held other values, or “self-clustered.”
No, not random at all. The top-down vs bottom-up implications of what could less (mis)leadingly be called the Social/Individual or Authority/Autonomy axis, and the implicit developmental time-line from Survival to Fulfullment along what looks rather like values from Michael Barone's Hard America to Soft America or across the Atlantic gulf between American Mars and European Venus, are telling indeed. The question is, how much do they have to do with the territory?

The lesson drawn from the success of Tim Kaine in Virginia seems to be that a pre-emptive assertion of moral values can “inoculate” a candidate against the usual Republican attacks, which risks mistaking tactics for substance. If this spin catches on, the Democrats may well go chasing after values voters, continuing to insist that progressives and the beleaguered middle class actually share common values, if only they were explained better (or slower), and ignore the hard economic issues.
For Democratic strategists, [these are] tough questions: What does it mean to be the party of the working class in an information-era economy where only eight percent of the private sector is in unions and 43 percent of the population work in office jobs? Who is still “working class” in a nation that has moved from having a labor force where half hadn’t even finished high school in 1960 to one, in 2003, where only 10 percent of workers lacked a diploma or GED and close to 60 percent had at least some college education? And what can be expected from an electorate where, as in 2004, more voters had incomes greater than $100,000 than less than $15,000? Most importantly: How does the Democratic Party, whose most essential economic ideas were forged in the crucibles of the worst of times, develop an agenda for a post-scarcity society?

Liberal labor economist Stephen Rose ... question[s] the truth of the Democratic argument that the party represents the needs of the middle and working classes. “We need to consider the alternative that the majority of people do not have basic economic interests to vote Democratic,” he wrote. (Emphasis in the original)
As I've said before, the first item on the Democratic party's agenda should be to update its bedrock economic policies from the very different world of the 1930's. Chasing after values voters may be seizing another opportunity to miss an opportunity.

posted by Kelly | 9:16 PM link
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Pot-luck Catholics  

The Catholic church in America is whatever sort of institution you want it to be: social, cultural, ethnic, political (social action/left or moralistic/right), hierarchical, community-based, mystical, apparitional, nostalgic, activist, charismatic, all-encompassing or undemanding; holidays-only, everyday, every Sunday, now-and-then. We are not cafeteria Catholics, but nibblers at a smorgasbord. With the aging priests and vanishing sisters no longer dictating the menu, with the laity now more involved than ever, we have a pot-luck religion.

Whatever you want the church to be for you, you can find it – if you look. (Even oppressive, repressive, patriarchal, heterosexist, and outdated; got that, too, in spades, if that's what you truly expect it to be.) That's what being catholic and universal means, we've decided. Something for everyone, and everyone takes their own preferred portion. The problem is, Who really knows what they really want? What fallen soul knows what we actually need?

And so we get a religion that confirms us – not one that changes us. We dine on what we bring to the table, perhaps sampling other things here and there; perhaps not.

Perhaps, in the process of practicing the faith we choose, we discover that it's more than we expected or bargained for – but perhaps not.

posted by Kelly | 10:14 PM link
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Stuck in old times  

In a previous post I mentioned in passing that Democratic foreign policy is stuck in the '70s. That's a bad thing because the policy is mostly bad, not necessarily because it's outdated. Almost all party policies are based in a previous time period, because they worked then, and people tend to keep doing things even after they don't until they're forced to change them, whether by circumstances or by continued failure. (Electoral failure, in this case, more than policy failure, which doesn't seem to have electoral consequences.)

Basically, Democratic economic policy is stuck in the 1930's, their social policy is from the '60s, and their foreign policy is from the '70s. Republican economic policy is from the 1980's, their social policy is from the '50s, and foreign policy is brand new, in the process of being worked out even now (which means that in twenty years it will be dated too, stuck in the '00s.)

The reason party policies get set in something resembling concrete is that they worked, once. They got developed to deal with specific situations and then lingered after circumstances changed because developing new ideas is such hard work. The New Deal really did get us out of the Depression (okay, it was mostly WWII, but FDR got us into that, too), and the party hasn't seen a reason to change its basic economic principles since. Running against Hoover every election is starting to show diminishing returns, but the pain hasn't gotten great enough yet to force a change.

LBJ's Great Society was supposed to be the crown on the New Deal, using the power of government to remake society itself. And it accomplished some wonderful things, especially in the areas of civil rights and in establishing anti-poverty programs (which may have become outdated, incredibly expensive, and self-defeating over the years, but at least they exist). The party imperative is not to rethink the Great Society but to fulfill it, to make sure that everyone gets medical care or food and shelter or a hand up or societal recognition and respect.

The foreign policy of the '70s was a great victory for the anti-war protesters. (For America, not so much.) Pulling out of Vietnam, pulling back from meddling in other people's business, emphasizing human rights, downsizing the military and tasking it with peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions, placing faith in treaties and arms control agreements and international organizations, not trusting in America's unexamined goodness ... When there's not a war on, as there wasn't in the '90s, and as many insist there really isn't today, this can be an attractive policy program.

Republican economic policy, on the other hand, is based in Reagan's small-government/lower-taxes model of the 1980s, which replaced the Wall Street/Main Street boosterism of the '20s (and which many Democrats still use to characterize the GOP. They would: their '30s model beats the '20s every time.) The small government part seems to have gotten lost, but the emphasis on tax cuts remains. And this model not only wins elections, it keeps the economy stimulated. Even with blips upward under Bush I and Clinton (corrected by Bush II), marginal rates have remained low enough to encourage entrepreneurial wealth-creation and significant productivity increases. There's certainly a threat of deficits if spending remains high, but in economic terms the policy works, in the short and medium term. It also works politically, consistently beating the other guy's Fordist '30s plan.

Republican social policy is still rooted in the 1950's. Often characterized as
conformist and stultifying (especially by Democrats with their updated '60s policy model), the '50s actually saw some major social changes, in which the GOP slowly embraced the fruits of New Deal policies. The creation of the suburbs, the new GOP base, began with VA housing for returning vets (and the Eisenhower interstate system). Likewise the shift from manufacturing to services, as GI Bill-educated men increasingly worked in offices rather than factories. Families were large and central to social life. If you were included, it wasn't a bad life – but not everybody was. Jim Crow still existed, although the black underclass didn't, yet. Nor did feminism, except in embryo.

Republican foreign policy is currently in the process of development. There are lots of ideas floating around, but it remains to be seen how things work out on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere. What works will stick, and most of what doesn't will (hopefully) be reworked or discarded. Right now the outlines seem to be a mobile military with a smaller footprint, aggressive intervention in failed or toxic states, widespread (if half-hearted) democracy-promotion, ad hoc coalitions with an Anglospheric bias, and diplomacy running parallel to military action rather than taking sequential turns. But it's actively engaged in the world of today, which makes the Democrats' thirty-year-old narrative sound out-of-touch and irrelevant.

What this means in practical terms is that parties try to emphasize the areas where their policies are more recent than the other guy's. Republicans have been running on economic policy and taxes since Reagan, because the Democratic alternative always presumes we're one business cycle away from another Depression. Similarly, Democrats who want to be in favor of something (rather than simply anti-Bush, or anti-Republican in general) tend to run on social policy and civil rights, because while their ideas may be forty years old, that's still better than the GOP's fifty.

What the Democrats need to do (assuming they wish to survive as the primary alternative in an electoral duopoly) is get some new ideas. They haven't upgraded any of their policies in over thirty years, and that last one was a bit of a kludge. (The GOP has updated 2 of 3 in that time.)

First up - since the oldest - should probably be economic policy. Things have changed a lot since 1933, and their economics should begin to reflect that. The Fordist model needs to be replaced by a globalized post-industrial perspective, where “shipping jobs overseas” often benefits consumers here at home and third-world sweatshops are usually a step up from subsistence farming, just as they once were here. Healthcare and pensions shouldn't be tied either to a job or a one-size-fits-all government program. Transit shouldn't be mass but customizable – and so should energy use and sources. The central figure in the new economy isn't the wage slave but the prosumer.

Social policy is the one category where Democrats have a competitive product, and even that's getting creaky. Affirmative action has hardened into an entitlement program for middle-class blacks and white women, while the underclass falls farther behind. The welfare reform Clinton campaigned on had to be passed almost entirely with votes from the right. Hispanics now outnumber blacks. Research indicates that children of single mothers (a major part of the party base) do less well in life. Major tweaking is in order.

Foreign policy is a very dicey situation, precisely because the '70s policy which is relatively unpopular with the electorate is self-defining for the boomer progressives who are an increasingly important part of the party base. It might be necessary to keep it in order to keep them, which makes updating the other two legs more critical. If not, the most voter-friendly solution might be the bipartisan Me-too stance that Republicans adopted in the '40s and '50s until someone figures out how to put a positive Democratic spin on the Bush doctrine.

What the Republicans need to do is update their social policy, the one area where Democrats are more nearly contemporary than they are. A good start might be Ross Douthat and Salam Reihan's Sam's Club Republicans. The focus should be inclusive and family-friendly, recognizing that parents need all the help and support they can get with medical care, work flexibility, education, and protecting their children (and their marriage) from popular culture. Bonus points if there's a way to reframe abortion and gay marriage as society-impacting family issues rather than as individual civil rights, or to replace the affirmative action spoils system with actual help for the disadvantaged, or to make conservation a conservative value again.

If the Republicans act first, the Democrats can get used to spending a long time as a minority party again, or even to their dissolution (intraparty fights grow more vicious as the stakes grow smaller). If the Democrats act first, the Republican majority may not solidify for another decade or two, if at all.

Ideas have consequences, long after their moment of currency. So does timing.

posted by Kelly | 8:40 PM link
Monday, January 09, 2006

The 30+ Years' War  

Spengler on thirty-year wars:
Conflicts of this sort often kill two [generations]. That, parenthetically, explains why so many great wars last for about 30 years, including the 27-year-long Peloponnesian War, the Thirty Years' War of 1618-48, and Europe's Great War of 1914-45. One first kills off the fathers, and then kills off the sons 15 or 20 years later - and then it ends.
The Cold War, lasting from Greece in 1947 (or Berlin in '48) to the Soviet dissolution in 1991 seems to be an exception, having lasted even longer – but 30 years is roughly how long the Democratic party was willing to fight it.

Democrats accepted the challenges of the cold war, and spearheaded its prosecution in the face of Republican isolationists, Wallace-ite fellow travelers, and a war-weary public. But partway through the third decade of the war, something changed, in the world and in the party. The combination of detente, the China opening, the loss in Vietnam, and the ascendancy of the McGovern wing brought many to believe that the best available outcome was not continued war but an uneasy truce, freezing the status quo. America was being bled by domestic unrest, gas prices, inflation, economic competition from Europe and Asia, and – after the abandonment of our former allies in '74 – doubt (or repressed guilt). Striving for victory seemed beyond America's grasp, so don't engage in direct combat, pull back from proxy wars, overcome the 'inordinate fear of communism,' and don't try to contain – coexeist.

At this point (not entirely coincidentally) the shift to a Republican majority began to take effect. Republicans responded to Soviet-proxy aggression in Central America and Africa, continued US support of the resistance in Afghanistan, and moved to counterbalance the Soviet theater nuclear advantage in Europe. As Democrats abandoned containment for co-existence, Republicans shifted the war strategy to rollback. We can't know when (or if) the Soviet system would have collapsed without the added stress of matching the Reagan arms buildup, but the cost in (largely non-American) lives would surely have been even higher. So had Cold War I ended in an unofficial armistice when the Democrats wanted it to after only 30 years, the final toll in blood and treasure would have been greater in the long(er) run.

As current Democrats try to establish their defense bona fides by arguing that they helped win the Cold war, it's important to remember that they only helped win the first half of it, with a different, pre-'68 party. All of which makes the fact that the Democrats' foreign policy seems to be stuck in the 70's deeply problematic.

Update: It occurs to me that perhaps the Republicans only fought the Cold War for two generations themselves; they might have skipped the beginning (as the Democrats largely skipped the end) only to join up in the middle and then finish strong. I know that the Taft Republicans were isolationist; not sure about the Dewey crowd. Also don't know if Ike's I will go to Korea during the '52 campaign was a statement on whether the war was worth fighting or a hands-on promise to change the way it was being fought.

All of this was before my time; I'll have to do some research. I do know that by the mid-50's the GOP was fully on board with containment, even though Democrats invented it. I also know that rollback was not bipartisan in the 80's, and that Scoop Jackson was already being marginalized within the party when he died in '83.

posted by Kelly | 6:25 PM link
Friday, January 06, 2006

Another ER shocker  

ER surprised me last night. I was expecting Abby Lockhart to be the first sympathetic primetime recurring character to actually choose to have an abortion. (Maude didn't qualify as sympathetic.) They had the whole situation set up: her career progress, her family history, the on-again/off-again relationship with Kovac, even his history with pregnant girlfriends. A perfect storm was brewing, for a consciously envelope-pushing show with a clear pro-choice bias to actually follow things through to their logical conclusion. But they, too, walked up to the edge and pulled back.

Even the subplot pointed that way: a frightened teenager, a virgin until raped, whose pregnancy was discovered in the course of diagnostic tests, with two strongly involved non-crazy Christian parents (constituting what fraction of a percent of actual abortions?), showing how “making it go away” is the only caring, humane outcome to such a situation. But that, it turns out, was only a sop to the pro-choice audience (and, perhaps, cast and production staff.) Abby, like every other main character on a popular TV show, and unlike one-fifth of pregnant American women in real life (and one-half of all pregnant single women), chose to keep her baby.

Why can't they pull the trigger? Are they truly afraid of an advertiser boycott by “right-wing extremists”? Or do they, on some level, suspect that the polls consistently showing a pro-choice majority are as reliable as movie-industry accounting practices? Is it just keeping their narrative options open? Since abortion, by definition, has no consequences, choosing to have one ends the storyline; but a pregnancy opens lots of future dramatic possibilities to exploit throughout an entire season (or longer). Is it that abortion, like many things, is a principle people can support unquestioningly in the abstract but get queasy about when it becomes personal and immediate? Or is it, at last, that the entertainment industry simply doesn't have the courage of what are less convictions than sentiments, assumed from their surroundings but unexamined like water by fish?

posted by Kelly | 10:02 AM link
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cliodynamics for the people  

I have been reading War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations by Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut (his publications webpage is here.) He proposes to found the study of Cliodymanics, a rather Hari Seldonesque endeavor (as he himself admits). But there are some very interesting things here.

The central thesis is that societies that find themselves on what he calls meta-ethnic frontiers (cheek-by-jowl with people from a very different language family/race/culture/civilization) are forced by their precarious situation to develop an oppositional sense of nationhood; those who also develop high levels of the social cohesion and co-operation that he terms abasiya (after Ibn Khaldun) not only survive but prevail over their neighbors, and begin the path that leads to expansion and empire. They then grow, reach a natural limit, and decay through recurring cycles of decline and recovery, population rise and fall, boom and bust, civil wars and restoration.

He traces how these dynamics play out in medieval Russia, in republican Rome, in colonial America, along the desert/cropland dividing line in western China, in post-Roman Europe (especially France). Much meat here. Also some chaff, for those already familiar with game theory or the arguments against a strictly-rational economic man or the great-man theory of history. And some bits of silliness: I'm not entirely sure how Roman commanders devoting themselves to Death and Discord by plunging directly into the center of the enemy battle line is “not at all similar” to Kamikaze pilots taking dead aim at warships but rather to jihadi shahids who blow themselves up in pizza parlors or wedding receptions or funeral processions. (Is it because Shinto isn't explicitly religious in a way Westerners can easily recognize?) But these are cavils about an intended popularization.

One issue he addresses only in passing: the Palestinians, who because of their UN-supported existence in refugee camps along the meta-ethnic frontier with Israel, have developed a strong sense of a national identity that didn't exist sixty years ago. Very true. But what follows from the cliodynamic principles described is that the Two-State solution is basically just a fond fantasy, or at best an unsustainable truce state, a hudna. The eventual outcome will be – must be – either Greater Israel or Greater Palestine.

I know which outcome I, as a member and beneficiary of Western civilization, would much rather see (Turchin is more neutral, and applauds Europeans for being even-handed, or even tilting toward the Palestinians); but I also know which way to bet, given demographics. The Israelis' very refusal to engage in ethnic cleansing increases the likelihood that the Palestinians, who have no such compunctions, will.

And what will happen, when the 21st century sees Tel Aviv destroyed and the Jews driven from the Middle East, as they were from Europe in the 20th? (Discuss)

I wish Turchin had devoted more time to the dynamics of decline and recovery. France from the 9th to 18th centuries makes a wonderful case study combining economics, population, and civil unrest, but I would like to know more about how the core of an empire dissipates abasiya, so that each later restoration is driven not from the core but by outsiders who have been brought in to support (or co-opt) the system (Germanic generals of imperial Roman legions who become emperors themselves, and their descendents Napoleon the Corsican and Hitler the Austrian); and ultimately exhausts it. Some societies develop ways of including and incorporating successive waves of new members; others do not. Southern Italy has never been a cohesive society since the empire; I suspect the same will be true of Castilian Spain. And Arabia. Perhaps in the next book.

Turchin believes that the EU is a legitimate successor to the Holy Roman Empire. I don't, any more than Mussolini's Italy was a legitimate successor to Rome. Not merely from demography or feckless approaches to hard vs soft power, but because the Franco-German core has decayed. The only hope for the EU to become an actual force in the world is for its leadership to come from the former edges, from England and Poland and even from Turkey. (A smaller, chastened rump Turkey left after the establishment of an independent Kurdistan might be far more acceptable to the Austrians and other Eastern Europeans, who have historically recent memories of Turkish threats.) But if the core continues to dominate, it will only spiral further downward.

The primary question I have is how this agriculture-based model will work out in a postindustrial world. Not because the economics have changed, or the means of production, but because internal demographics have. One of the underappreciated characteristics of globalization is encapsulation, the way that all developed and developing countries now have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd world enclaves co-existing symbiotically and relatively independently within them.
What do meta-ethnic frontiers consist of when there are scattered pockets of Chicanos in Southern California and Algerian cites outside Paris and Turkish villages in Bavaria, refugees from Hong Kong in Vancouver and Iraqis in Detroit? What does abasiya mean in an aggressively multicultural society where assimilation is a dirty word? Is symbiosis enough, when each community pulls apart after the day's work is done?
And how does such a civilization resist an expansionist totalitarian ideology?

Interesting times indeed.

posted by Kelly | 2:48 PM link
Thursday, December 15, 2005

Gimme a T, gimme an R, gimme ... uh ...  

I have been troubled of late by my reflexive, muttered reaction to some preposterous claim from the Left that no one with the sense God gave a goose could take seriously: Are you lying, or just stupid? Not because it's inaccurate, but because it's an exact reflection of the systematic attempts over four decades to delegitimize conservatives as stupid, evil, or crazy. To briefly recap:
  • Goldwater: crazed warmonger (daisy commercial, In your guts you know he's nuts)
  • Nixon: evil paranoid (Okay, give you that one)
  • Ford: out-of-his-depth stumblebum
  • Reagan: clueless actor, amiable dunce (personally thought ketchup was a vegetable and trees caused pollution)
  • Bush 41: out-of-touch patrician, Just doesn't get it
  • Quayle: moron, couldn't spell potatoe
  • Gingrich: spoiled brat (a tough one: clearly smarter than his detractors and personally honest; his overreaction to Clinton's blow-off on the flight back from the Rabin funeral was a godsend)
  • Dole: doddering grandpa
  • Bush 43: take your pick
Now, I'm as glad as the next guy to see what goes around come around, but the similarity disturbs me. It was shameful and dishonest when they (and I at the time) did it first, and we have a responsibility not to sink to that level again. It doesn't help that lately I've found Shrinkwrapped, Neo-neocon, Dr. Sanity, and Robert Goodwin to be spot-on political diagnosticians, so the dismissive trifecta is now complete. Maybe you can't actually argue with the Left, but it should be possible to dismiss their ideas without needing to dismiss them.

The other day I went to visit friends I hadn't seen in many years (since 9/11, I suspect). And, as it too often does, politics eventually came up. It's an important signaling device, especially when beliefs are bound up in self-image and personal worth. Now, I'm not going to argue with someone in their own home; it's tacky and rude, as well as a complete waste of time. No minds would be changed or eyes opened; the only outcome would be hard feelings. Fortunately I wasn't the only guest, so my refusal to engage wasn't too noticeable (I think). But I learned some things by listening and making polite, non-committal noises.

One thing that struck me was the urge to replay old grievances and elections and, of course, the War That Embodies All Wars. A comment in the course of familiar recitation was Kerry was hated because he came back from Vietnam and told the truth - a striking claim from someone who thinks that Bush Lied is a metaphysical certainty beyond any conceivable dispute. My demure I don't know about that was taken as disbelief in the hatred. Why, just look at the personal attacks by those lying swiftboat vets! (As I said, no teachable moments here.)

But this really does unpack some interesting questions. There's a spectrum of truth-telling between utter fabrication and the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but (which no one actually expects any more, in court or anywhere in public.) A rough listing :
  • Completely true
  • Testifiably true (no overt lies of commission)
  • Substantially true
  • Factually (sometimes technically) true
  • Mostly true (usually except about some degree of personal involvement)
  • Largely true
  • Half-truths (which are usually somewhat less than half)
  • Partially true (an even smaller proportion)
  • Possibly true
  • Whole cloth fabrication that doesn't contradict any known facts (this is what lawyers and spinners do for a living)
  • Mostly lies with a grain or kernel of truth
  • Utter BS
So the question is, Where do you draw the line? And is the line different depending on the situation? Or depending on the person?

Back to Kerry for a moment. Where does he fall on this spectrum? He didn't speak The truth, to power or to anyone else, but he did speak A truth. The anger and hatred (which I don't dispute) was and is a reaction to the attempt to make this partial truth stand for the whole truth, or at least be a defining part of it. But he falls too far down the spectrum for that to happen.

We know that some of the testimony at the Winter Soldier hearings (where Kerry got the bulk of his “truth”) involved what is technically known as “making s**t up.” Guys who weren't in the military or weren't incountry or weren't anywhere they could have seen or did the things they claimed to.

Now, guys have always lied about what they did in the war. By no means all, but enough to make “war stories” a synonym for “fish stories.” But where it traditionally revolved around how many Jerries or Japs they killed, now it includes how many civilians; not how much action they saw, but how many atrocities.

A strange new definition of martial heroism, indeed. How much of this is due to redefined models of masculinity, or a sense that real heroes fight not for king and country but for the right thing, against the military if need be, or an unexamined assumption that real soldiers, the ones who were really in it, necessarily did some horrible stuff because that's what the military does, is an interesting question, but that's for another time.

Just note that, while people always claimed to be Green Berets when they were in the motor pool, or active duty rather than deferred, now the false claims are used to give moral authority to being anti-war.

But I digress. We know that some of Kerry's “truth” contained deliberate falsehoods; how much does that invalidate the basic argument? And before you answer that, consider that Ahmed Chalabi and some of the other Iraqi exiles fed deliberate falsehoods about the WMD program to the CIA.

As the man said, What is truth?

posted by Kelly | 6:19 PM link
Monday, December 12, 2005

A 12/12 thought experiment  

GayPatriot has an anniversary post today about what he calls 12/12 Democrats, whose political movement crystallized with the Supreme Court decision stopping the Florida recount.
12/12 Democrats turned irrationally against the GOP and its standard bearer, George W. Bush, because they felt the Supreme Court’s decision that day amounted to stealing the election.

Since that date, with a brief interlude after the attacks of 9/11 ... snip ... these Democrats have stood primarily for opposition to President Bush.
It strikes me, reading this, that many Democrats have had the same process reaction to Bush v Gore as pro-life Republicans have to Roe v Wade: an outrageous intrusion by the Supreme Court into what is properly a political question, taking the decision out of the hands of those to whom it rightfully belongs.

(This is complicated by the unacknowledged reality that, in each case, the basic outcome of the court's unwelcome decision would have obtained eventually, whether by fully-recounted ballots or the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, or by gradual state-by-state liberalization. This gives an undercurrent of helplessness and futility to the sense of righteous indignation.)

I think I can now understand a little of how some people might feel about Florida 2000. So how many 12/12 Democrats are likely to experience the same empathy for pro-lifers?

posted by Kelly | 9:10 PM link
Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Not-Knows  

I've been thinking about what I call The Not-Knows: the things you have to not know to be a progressive. I've been able to identify four of them.
  • You have to Not Know anything about history
Or geography, or geopolitics, or any of what used to be called social studies back when it had academic non-PC content. As an alternative, you can know a little history, as long as you believe that what you know forms the template for all of it. So every war is Vietnam; every scandal is Watergate; every downturn in the business cycle is another Depression; every conservative is McCarthy (or Hitler); every dissenter is Thoreau; and every third world nationalist is a combination of Gandhi and Jefferson.
Or you can have a theory of history, as long as you don't allow actual events to discredit any part of it.
  • You have to Not Know anything about economics
Anything whatsoever. Not supply and demand, not the business cycle, not incentives, not consumer choice, not competitive advantage, not risk vs return, not the time value of money, not business development or capital formation or rates of return; not anything. At all.
  • You have to Not Know anything about human nature
Obviously, not knowing history helps here.
  • And it's not mandatory, but it really helps to Not Know anything about yourself
Especially your own motivations, or capacity for dishonesty, or selfishness, or folly, or unkindness, or violence. That way you can project all these failings onto the other guy, over there, and blame every policy failure on your opponents' bad motives.

Unfortunately, this is ignorance that must be jealously guarded. Once you start to allow facts to undermine any of your unsupported assumptions, it can all collapse overnight.

posted by Kelly | 12:14 AM link
Sunday, December 04, 2005

Criminal Intent  

I saw a disturbing and profoundly dishonest episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent tonight.

A psychologist, tormented by her participation in “torture” at Guantanamo - redefined to mean using psychological fears, awkward postures, noise, sleep and light deprivation, and various other forms of non-physical coercion - brainwashes a barely-functional techno-nerd into a murderous psychotic break through some sort of guilt-driven experimental therapy. (Don't worry if that makes no logical sense; it isn't supposed to. It's just a convoluted plot point to work up a narrative centered on the indisputable fact of Americans committing torture at Gitmo.)

You see, such psychological stresses are monstrous and inhuman. They violate the humanity of the subjects, who don't have lawyers and respect like criminal suspects do. They're unforgivable. They're evil. (All direct quotes from the sympathetic main characters.) And they turn those who practice them into felons, fit for handcuffing in the triumphant final shot.

And how do our detective heroes draw forth the confession that “breaks" the case? Through non-physical coercion. By persuading the suspect that her patient was undergoing light deprivation and noise and forced posture. He wasn't, except in her imagination – but the psychological effect on her was exactly as if it were actually happening. By playing on her compassion and sense of decency - making her think someone else was being abused away from her sight - they broke her will.

What's the lesson here? That actual “torture” is unspeakably evil, but if you can convince someone that torture is actually happening when it isn't, that's clever and admirable. As long as it never happens, you and Detectives Goren and Eaves and the preening knowledge class can wallow in a posture of moral superiority, vociferously condemning others for allegedly doing what you only pretend to.

It never has to really take place, as long as people think it is. Write enough "news" stories and editorials and NGO press releases and television scripts and you can get the same results without getting your hands dirty, and continue to sleep the sleep of the smug. Until the real torturers come.

As I say, profoundly and deeply dishonest. And disturbing. Some might call it evil.

posted by Kelly | 11:09 PM link
Friday, December 02, 2005

Bad cases make bad law, which makes more bad cases, which makes ...  

I watched enough news coverage of the Supreme Court arguments yesterday about the challenge to New Hampshire's parental notification law to hear Breyer's hypothetical, attempting to establish that the current law imposed an undue burden:
Suppose a fifteen-year-old shows up at the emergency room at two in the morning on a Saturday, pregnant and bleeding. The doctor examines her and decides that, without an abortion, she could have sterility or kidney damage or some other problems. No question, and no time for delay. But she doesn't want her parents to know she's pregnant. He goes to the phone to call a judge ... and he gets voice mail. What guidance does this law give him in that situation?
It could happen. Somewhere, sometime, someday. Maybe it already has, among the millions of cases.

Let's ignore the fact that medically necessary abortions are a tiny fraction of the total number, although they (like the even smaller fraction resulting from rape or incest) are regularly used in arguments opposing restrictions on any. Because the law has to apply to everyone equally, the exceptional instance has to carry as much weight as the commonplace, according to current theory, if not more. (Another theory says the law should clearly address the commonplace, and exceptional cases are precisely the only ones that should be adjudicated. But that means less work for lawyers and less influence for judges, so that's a non-starter. Besides, every client thinks their case is exceptional.) Which is another reason why courts should not be deciding public policy in a democratic society, but let's ignore that, too.

Let's look a bit deeper at Breyer's hypothetical. Doesn't the fact that this kid would rather risk serious (perhaps lifelong) medical consequences than let her parents know she's sexually active constitute prima facie evidence that she's not competent to make serious decisions like this? Doesn't the posited risk of sterility sufficiently outweigh the risk of being grounded or disciplined that no reasonable person could choose it, and so this can't be her choice to make?

And how, exactly, did a fifteen-year-old get to the emergency room in the first place? She's not old enough to drive. Did she hitchhike? Was she out with friends hours past midnight? (Hardly intelligent behavior for a pregnant youngster, supporting the incompetence argument.) Did her nineteen-year-old boyfriend (who by the way is guilty of statutory rape, and is a contributing party to this looming catastrophe) drive her? Or did her parents bring her?

Consider that last possibility. The parents are sitting in the next room, frantic about their child who's in serious medical difficulty, and the entire hospital staff is bound by law not to tell them what's going on with her. Sometimes the law is an ass; sometimes it's clinically insane.

posted by Kelly | 11:16 AM link
Thursday, December 01, 2005

An Advent gift  

The psalm for today was one I have read or sung hundreds of times (if not thousands), but I never noticed that the lines
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in mortals,
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes
were written in a time before we came to believe that princes are inherently even less trustworthy than ordinary mortals are. Which makes the emphasis through repetition and intensification, somewhat less so.

Never saw that before.

posted by Kelly | 10:26 AM link