Thursday, May 31, 2007

Button Men

When the boss says "push a button on a guy," I push a button.--Willie Cicci, explaining his role as a Corleone family soldier in The Godfather Part II.
How did I almost miss the Middle Tennessee spat over the comments of A.C. Kleinheider about the U.S. military? Kleinheider opined, in the most controversial paragraph thusly:
Soldiers are just that -- soldiers. They are spokes on a wheel. Many, many soldiers, save those at the very top of the pyramid, are pawns. They are button men for our civilian leadership. Is this an honorable profession? Certainly. But it is also, in the end, just that -- a profession. Soldiers should be proud of their service, maybe prouder than men of any other profession, but let’s not get out of control with it.
Nothing particularly outrageous here. Apparently, however, a Nashville radio host, and a host of Tennessee bloggers took offense. I'm guessing that Terry Frank's fury is representative:
Our soldiers are not pawns. They voluntary step foward, as Col. Will Merrill III who was just in studio with us did, knowing the cost and risks of being a soldier. Often they give up wealth and comforts . . . all knowingly. They work as part of team…a team that surpasses the challenges of any sports, political or work team. They literally function together, and on many occasions, risk life and limb for their brothers and sisters in arms.
Of course, to be a soldier is the very definition of a pawn. Unknowingly, she buttresses A.C.'s point on this by talking about how they function together, you know, like spokes in a wheel. I left a comment to that effect on her blog, to which she replied that I make her "sick" and my "arrogance is disgusting." In The Boys' Crusade literary critic and World War II vet, Paul Fussell reflected on the expendable, cog, or pawn-like nature of the infantry "replacement."
If a draftee was bright, one of the first blows to his morale upon arriving at a camp for basic training must have been the message delivered by the letters R.T.C., visible everywhere. He quickly learned that they stood for Replacement Training Center. Training was clear enough, and so was Center, but Replacement? why, he wondered, were so many hundreds of thousands of drafted boys needed as replacements? For whom or what? Was the army expecting that many deaths or incapacitating wounds?

A.C. also got in a little trouble for referring the military as the "button men for our civilian leadership," a phrase that admittedly caused me to do a double take when I first read it, but isn't really so far from the truth. At its core, the purpose of the military is to kill people. That doesn't make a soldier in the Army an exact parallel to being a soldier for Tony Soprano, but its not always that far off. Smedley Butler, a two-time Medal of Honor winning Marine Major General spoke of his own service in far harsher, and more explicit, terms than Kleinheider used:
I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National city Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of Racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1909–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested." . . . Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Unpatriotic Conservative Mind

I'll leave it to others more qualified, perhaps Scott Richert of Chronicles, to decide just where in the conservative canon Russell Kirk fits. But I will agree with Jonah Goldberg's correspondent:
For some time now I've wondered who, exactly, declared that Russell Kirk was a "founder" of modern American conservatism and put him in the pantheon of people who must be read by conservatives.
Kirk doesn't belong in the pantheon of the war-worshipping, centralizing, politics obsessed (one of the most appalling aspects of the Corner is the way that they immediately went from constantly posting about the '06 election to constantly posting about the '08 election) rightwing of today. I'm sure that if Kirk were still alive he would have nothing to that crowd and would have been denounced as an "Unpatriotic Conservative" by David Frum for opposing the war in Iraq. Anonymous continues:
As far as I can tell, the only reason Kirk gets much play is because ISI has a few devoted traditionalists there who like to fancy themselves devotees of an arcane conservatism that rejects modernity wholesale (a few, truth be told, are probably Catholic monarchists, or at least sympathetic to such ideas).
Catholic Monarchists at ISI! I've remarked before on the fuddie-duddies at ISI Books who insist on publishing people like Russell Kirk instead of Sean Hannity and John Bolton. I tried to talk to some ISI people about it at the conference I attended a couple of months back, but they wouldn' stop talking the Habsburgs.
UPDATE: John Miller at the Corner: "He's not in the conservative pantheon because a cabal of traditionalists at ISI somehow snuck him in when nobody was looking. He's there because conservatives of the Goldwater era put him there."

Supply and Demand

Glen Dean hits the nail on the head with his post about gas prices. I guess it's possible that consolidation of refineries may inflate the price, but the main reason that gasoline continues to go up is supply and demand. He notes some issues that lead to higher prices, including the difficulty of building new refineries. I'm not sure how he feels on the subject, but I'm glad that refineries are hard to build. They are eysores and they pollute. It is a worthwhile trade-off to have fewer refineries and higher prices.

Few issues illuminate the childish nature of American politics better than rising gas prices. Dean advises, "People stop bitching. If you don't want to pay high gas prices, drive less or buy a small car. Get over it." I would second that and add that we should consider, in exchange for cuts in payroll and income taxes, steeper taxes on gasoline. Our consumption of gasoline not only fuels global warming, at least according to crank "scientists"; it also funds dubious regimes from Venezuela to Saudi Arabia to Iran.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Axis of Idiocy

This column (via Daniel) must have been very difficult for Professor Bacevich to write:

Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.

Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.

This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging "the terrorists," opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops -- today's civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.

I'm so disgusted that I find it difficult to say anything constructive about the Iraq War these days. On a daily basis, American and Iraqi lives are sacrificed on the altar of George W. Bush's arrogant stupidity. I don't know what will happen after the U.S. leaves Iraq, but I can't imagine that our continued presence in that country improves its prospects in any way.

I don't blame the war's supporters generally for the cretins who wrote to Bacevich to call him a traitor after the death of his son, but you can bet that they were inspired by the Limbaugh-Malkin-Pajamas axis of idiocy.

UPDATE: "Oakleaf" at Polipundit, who seems to have turned decisively against the war in Iraq posted a link to the article. Among the classier comments is this: "He recently wrote 'I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty' which is extremely moving. The Oprahfication of America. Extremely moving!"

Friday, May 25, 2007

Stupid Anti-interventionists!

John Tabin, quotes a Jim Pinkerton column then blows his argument away:
"Blowback," as it's called, is a controversial thesis, but it does explain why Osama bin Laden goes after America and not, say, Switzerland.
This is a favorite rhetorical trope of anti-interventionists: If only we had a neutral foreign policy like Switzerland, terrorism would never have come to our shores. But it's simply not true that Switzerland has never suffered an attack by Middle Eastern terrorists. The Swiss were targeted twice in 1970 by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Everyone aboard Swissair Flight 330 was killed by a bomb in the cargo hold . . .

Granted, the PFLP is not quite the same as bin Laden; they are nominally a secular, Marxist organization, albeit one that is allied with Islamists in attacks on Israel. But the attacks on Swissair put paid to the naive notion that we can count on terrorists to leave us alone as long we leave them alone. (emphasis added)

That's tellin' 'em! Peaceful Switzerland was targeted 37 years ago by Marxist terrorists, so American policies basing troops in Saudi Arabia and maintaining an embargo on Iraq reputed to have killed hundreds of thousands have nothing to do with al Qaeda's attacks on the U.S. no matter what Osama bin Laden said about the subject. In fact, now that I think about it, some Swiss guy shot an arrow off of a kid's head a few years back--I bet the Islamofascists had something to do with that too!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Go Gamecocks!

Why can't sports writers stick with what they know? Glen Dean links to a columnist complaining about the Gamecock mascot of the University of South Carolina:
Which SEC school has the most offensive mascot? Is it Ole Miss, which still embraces its Rebel traditions, or is it Spurrier's own Gamecocks?

A gamecock is, by definition, "a rooster trained for cock fighting."

. . . Cocks possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species, which is amplified through training and conditioning. Wagers are often made on the outcome of the matches. While not all fights are to the death, they often may result in the death of both birds."
. . .
You don't have to be a radical member of PETA to know this kind of animal cruelty should not be glorified by an athlete, much less an institution of highest learning.
. . .
In other words, USC is endorsing animal cruelty by calling themselves Gamecocks. This is ridiculous. All sorts of sports mascots make allusions to unsavory activities--the Minnesota Vikings for example--without endorsing them.

I was unaware of the Thomas Sumter connection that Dean points out, but I wasn't surprised. The best sports mascots accomplish two things: 1 sound tough 2 have some local or regional significance. In the Southeastern Conference, the Gamecocks, the Tennessee Volunteers and the Florida Gators stand out. Some are not so lucky. The league has two Bulldogs and two Tigers. Dean follows the Alabama Crimson Tide, and I could never figure out what that means.

Decline and Fall

Why does anyone continue to take this man seriously; or have I just not been let in on the joke yet? The lastest column from Victor Davis Hanson would be unacceptable in remedial English 101. He purports to argue against American decline, but he doesn't make any arguments at all. Instead he chooses to string together non sequiturs:
The suicide murders and roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan sicken Americans. Soon-to-be nuclear Iran seems loonier than nuclear North Korea. American debt keeps piling up in China and Japan. And we think of angry Venezuela, the Middle East, and Russia every time we fill up -- if we can afford to fill up. Then listen to Al Gore on global warming. Or hear Jimmy Carter on the current president. The common denominator is American "decline."

Books by liberals assure us that our "empire" is kaput. Brace for the inevitable fate of Rome. Conservatives are just as glum. For them, we are also Romans -- but the more decadent variety, eaten away from the inside.

Anybody looking for evidence of the decline of America need only ask themselves: Would such an embarrassing column have been publishable fifty years ago, or even ten?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Arrogance of Power

"Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations--to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image. Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence." --J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Book Chat

I'm glad that I'm not the only one to notice a particularly ridiculous post from Kathryn Jean Lopez at the Corner:
I just did a quick flip through a Simon & Schuster catalog for the fall. Mary Matalin’s Threshold imprint looks to be really taking off. How can you not be excited by the upcoming John Bolton Surrender Is Not an Option (Amen!)? She’s also got a Lynne Cheney autobiography (our next First Lady!), What’s the Matter with California?, and a book by the Duke lacrosse coach — subtitled: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case and the Lives It Shattered One can’t help to be glad that she’s in the book business.

We all eagerly await the deep thoughts of Lynne Cheney and John Bolton, but I particularly note the title, Upstream: the Ascendance of American Conservatism by Al Regnery, which will be coming out when "American Conservatism" is moving downstream.

I rarely make predictions, but nobody will notice if I'm wrong, so here's one: Within a year Threshold Editions will fold and no other publishing house will snap up Mary Matalin as an editor.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

First They Came for Donny and Marie . . .

Daniel Larison catches Hugh Hewitt (once again) making an ass of himself. Hewitt whined because Peggy Noonan wrote that Fred Thompson is "sneak[ing] up from the creek and steal[ing] their underwear--boxers, briefs and temple garments . . ."

For Hewitt, who carries a torch for the Mormon Mitt Romney, this is an example of unacceptable bigotry: "If an orthodox Jew was in the running, would Peggy have added 'yarmulke?'"

I'll leave the serious analysis of Hewitt's latest idiocy and second his question: "Where on the body exactly does Hewitt think yarmulkes are worn?" On second thought, I don't want to know.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Heck of a Job, Zinsie!

The New Republic has an interesting article on Karl Zinsmeister, who would go from being the editor of the now defunct American Enterprise to being a domestic policy advisor to George W. Bush.

According to TNR, Zinsmeister ran TAE in a somewhat Bushian fashion, being both controlling and detached. He was also, it seems, a bit shady, using TAE to push his books, particularly Dawn Over Baghdad as subscription premiums, even when they didn't work very well.

At first, these mailings offered multiple options for subscribing, some of which included a Zinsmeister book, some of which did not. The magazine's then-business manager, Garth Cadiz, says that the offers without Zinsmeister's books invariably received better response rates. Yet, in June 2005, Zinsmeister eliminated the option to get a subscription through direct mail without buying one of his books as well. The move was a flop, according to Cadiz. Around that time, subscriptions, which had been climbing for years, began falling. . . . Zinsmeister also printed ads for his books free of charge in the magazine. In 2004, Zinsmeister wrote an e-mail to his editors concerning Dawn Over Baghdad: "I have promised Encounter [his publisher] we will run Dawn ads in TAE for the indefinite future in return for them paying for some of the media interview travel. . . . " According to a former AEI employee, it was widely known at the think tank that "Karl was in it for Karl," and his use of the magazine to promote his own books was "sort of like a running joke." The books were shipped to Zinsmeister's home in Cazenovia and mailed to subscribers from there. Over three years, according to an e-mail David Gerson would later send to Zinsmeister after he had announced his plans to step down, AEI purchased 13,700 Zinsmeister books at a cost of $131,000. And what a gift that proved to be for Zinsmeister, as AEI's purchases wound up accounting for 45 percent of the total sales of Dawn Over Baghdad's hardcover edition--and more than half its paperback sales.

I wrote for TAE several times, but never had any contact with Zinsmeister. My last review for them was killed although nobody ever told me why--I just received a kill fee in the mail. At about the same time, The American Conservative also killed one of my reviews but they had a good reason and they handled it in a classy fashion, unlike TAE.

Zinsmeister's style at TAE makes him a pretty good fit for Bush, as the TNR article notes,
"like the president he now serves, Zinsmeister long ago mastered the trick of railing against Washington while arrogating to himself as much of the city's power and privilege as he could grab."

Talkin' Bout Fred

So can one of you Fred Thompson lovers out there tell me how this comes out? I gagged on the first sentence--"So, I hear you all have been talking about me"--and couldn't continue. And while your at it, could someone explain the source of Thompson's appeal? He's genial enough and is a competent actor, but I still don't get it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Food For Thought

In an American Conservative article (not as of yet online) Imperial Hubris author Michael Scheuer blows away six years of Republican/rightwing War on Terror triumphalism:
The lack of an al-Qaeda attack inside the United States since 9/11 proves only that there has not been an al-Qaeda attack in the United States since 9/11. That fact is in no way proof that our war on al-Qaeda has destroyed its capacity to hit America at home. The most that should be claimed is that the CIA rendition program may have disrupted and delayed operational planning. Alternatively, bin Laden may have decided that a near-term attack would reunite Americans at a time when our own folly is already sufficient to make the U.S. the second superpower to be defeated by Allah's mujahedin.

Hewitt's Poodle

Perhaps I should stop frittering away my free time leaving comments at Glen Dean's blog and work on my own. But some times events are too overwhelming, like the whole Ron Paul debate business. Look at Hewitt's poodle, Dean Barnett. He argues that Ron Paul is a crank because Paul expects the Bush administration to " conjure up a Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify an invasion of Iran."

Isn't that official neocon policy? I'm sure that if I were to thoroughly research Paul's views, I might find reason to call him a crank. But the Bush adminstration's aggressive designs on Iran are common knowledge. Can Barnett really believe that it is outlandish to presume that the administration who rushed to war against Iraq because of the threat of "smoking guns" and "mushroom clouds" might conjure up a Gulf of Tonkin type incident to justify bombing Iran?

And another thing. If, as some rightwingers want; Ron Paul is kicked out of the debates but Rudy Giuliani is allowed to continue, can we finally drop the notion that the Republican party is in favor of "life"? War, torture and the worship of executive power are their motivating forces.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Save Book Reviews

I like book reviews. I enjoy reading them and it is a literary form that I am compentent at and I enjoy doing. Imagine--getting free books in the mail and being paid to read and write about them. What could be better? So It captured my attention when I discovered the campaign by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) to save newspaper book reviews. In a broader sense, concerns about newspaper book reviews are a part of concern about the decline of literacy, consolidation in the publishing industry and the supposedly disappearing midlist. Salon addressed the decline of stand alone review sections several years ago.

the NBCC's blog chronicles the campaign on a daily basis and has focused on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which recently canned its book review editor. They have started a petition to restore the position. I haven't signed it and I can't get too worked up over the doings of the Atlanta paper. If they want to make any headway in Atlanta, the NBCC should frame the campaign differently by appealing to the city's self esteem problem and point out that a paper in an important city would have, at the very least, a book review editor.

While I think more book reviews is preferable to fewer, the level of unacknowledged self-interest is a bit unseemly. It reminds me of when, about two decades ago, geography teachers were expressing alarm about students' lack of geography knowledge. I might be more upset if I wrote for newspapers, but I have never reviewed a book for a daily paper, and have done only one--of Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette--for Knoxville's alt-weekly, Metro Pulse.


More from the genius (registration):
I like Pepto-Bismol. There. I said it. When I have a gut full of battery acid and barbed-wire shards, I reach for the big pink bottle, and I glug it straight. You feel it descending on your stomach lining, like a curtain falling on a bad play. It never seems to cure anything, but it's a comfort; I always have a bottle in reserve, and it's Maximum Strength, too, baby. Sure, it's overkill, but once they admitted the existence of Maximum Strength, Regular was off the table. I think Maximum was like their private reserve, something they bottled for popes and astronauts. Now we all have access, and I'm not going back.

Surely, the Times, the Post, the Journal and the New Yorker will get into a bidding war for such talent. And to think that the Star-Trib expects a man of this talent and skill to go out and work for a living.
UPDATE: It had to happen, Day by Day has taken up Lileks' cause.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Bleat of Boredom

Conservatives do a lot of complaining about the "liberal media." Yet, when the Minneapolis Star Tribune decided to have columnist, James Lileks become a reporter, they complain. Hugh Hewitt whines, "Imagine The New Yorker asking E.B. White to manage the restaurant listings. Envision the Los Angeles Times dropping Jim Murray from Sports and sending him to cover county governemnt. Think about the San Francisco Chronicle assigning Herb Caen to the police blotter. It is that level stupid. (BTW: The Chron is still using Herb's stuff --it is the byline business.)"

I never cared much for Lileks and his self-absorbed prattle, but Hewitt, Glenn Reynolds and a few others seem to think that he is brilliant. Hewitt suggests that Time, the Wall Street Journal or some other big media institution is going to grab Lileks. I'm guessing, that since he doesn't seem to interested in being a reporter, that he will go to Pajamas.

UPDATE: Rod Dreher weighs in on the Lileks controversy and calls it the "world's stupidest newspaper decision." I have infinitely more respect for Dreher's views than I do for Hewitt's so I went back and read a few of his newspaper columns (my previous experience reading Lileks was with his blog) and they are lame. 300 words squibs about buying sunglasses and flavored taco shells:
Every so often we confront an innovation so blindingly, screamingly obvious that everyone else in the industry smites their forehead and shouts BUT OF COURSE. I'm not talking about minor tweaks to product lines, such as Pop-Tarts with printed pictures. (The first batch has Barbie illustrations, but they'll add more, I'm sure; by 2017 we will probably have video displayed on Pop-Tarts, so you can watch a cartoon while you eat it.) I'm talking about a new product I spied at the grocery store:

Nacho Taco Shells.

You read that correctly. Nacho Taco Shells. They have a BOLD Nacho taste, in case you're wondering whether they were using those timid, socially awkward nacho particles that have difficulty asserting themselves.

As short as his columns are, I find it difficult to read one all the way through. This is the great genius whose talent would be wasted as a reporter?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Drug of Ideology

"Ideology" does not mean political theory or principle, even though many journalists and some professors commonly employ the term in that sense. Ideology really means political fanaticism--and, more precisely, the belief that this world of ours may be converted into the Terrestrial Paradise through the operation of positive law and positive planning. The ideologue--Communist or Nazi or of whatever affiliation --maintains that human nature and society may be perfected by mundane, secular means, though these means ordinarily involve violent social revolution. The ideologue immanentizes religious symbols and inverts religious doctrines.

What religion promises to the believer in a realm beyond time and space, ideology promises to everyone--in society. Salvation becomes collective and political.--Russell Kirk

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Over the Rainbow

I was at least partially on board with Glen Dean's defense of Rush Limbaugh against leftist attacks, telling them "If you don't like his show, don't listen." I agree--I don't like his show and don't listen these days, although I used to. I lost respect for Limbaugh in 1992 when he mounted the stump in support of George "41" Bush, revealing himself as little more than a partisan shill.

Focusing on the comments of one idiot who wants censor Limbaugh, Dean writes "to them, the 'people' are stupid and they need a strong government to control what type of programming they are able to view or listen to, and certain words need to be banned." Amen, I say.

He loses me when he says:
You "conservatives" and "libertarians", who have aligned yourselves with these type of people due to a shared opposition to the war, disgust me. It's like you all have been duped into the notion that these people actually care about civil liberties. Get a clue. Liberals do not care one iota about liberty. They don't care one bit about the free market. All they care about is a large intrusive government that forces their collectivist ideals on the masses. They may say this and they may that, but wake up people. They are nothing but a bunch of Stalinists.

Hmm. I wonder who he is referring to? Although I find that I have common ground with many leftists and liberals these days, I don't know of anyone on the antiwar right who is making common cause with the EricBs of the world in order to censor Rush Limbaugh. The American Conservative, a premier publication of the antiwar right, just published an anti-Fairness Doctrine article by the idiosyncratic libertarian writer, Jesse Walker.

As for the "free market," etc. that he pines for--it is somewhere over the rainbow between Oz and Never-Never Land. It is further away after the six years of disasterous Republican rule that was rightly tossed on the ash heap of history by disgusted voters last fall.