October 22, 2011

McCain v. Buchanan

With John McCain issuing a vague death threat against Vladimir Putin following NATO's hit on Gadaffi, it's worth considering that McCain is an elder statesman of mainstream Republicanism, while Patrick J. Buchanan is a terrifying extremist. We similarly saw this back in August 2008, when little Georgia, then proposed for membership in NATO, invaded Russian-held territory. McCain responded with bellicose support for the aggressor, while Buchanan thought it was nuts for the U.S. to get militarily involved 600 miles south of Stalingrad.

As I mentioned in my review in VDARE of Buchanan's Suicide of a Superpower, Buchanan is one of the few people in Washington who took the end of the Cold War as a signal for anything other than self-congratulation. The struggle with the Soviets meant we had had to do many things that were painful, costly, dangerous, or distasteful; therefore, Buchanan reasoned in the early 1990s, let's now stop doing them. 

For example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had been an improvisation made necessary by superpower conflict. It had preserved the peace by heightening the stakes to a "balance of terror" via a mutual defense pact. It had done its job, so it was now time to wind it down. 
"As Russia had gone home, some of us urged back then, America should come home, cede NATO and all the U.S. bases in Europe to the Europeans, and become again what UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick called 'a normal country in a normal time.' Our foreign policy elites, however, could not accept that the play was closing after a forty-year run ..."

That heresy made Buchanan an outcast among the Serious Thinkers, to whom NATO wasn't an adventure, it was a job. (Brussels is lovely this time of year.) Their slogan became "NATO must go out of area or go out of business."

Hence, globalist leaders have gone looking far afield for wars, such as bombing Serbia and Libya, to keep NATO "relevant." The U.S., Buchanan points out, also repeatedly violated its pledge to Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO "one inch to the East," in return for which the last Soviet leader agreed to West Germany taking over East Germany. Moscow's resentment of NATO backstabbing was then cited as proof that Moscow has a Bad Attitude, which requires NATO to encroach even more upon their natural sphere of influence.  

But, as Buchanan points out in Suicide of a Superpower, this empire-building-on-autopilot has reached economic, political, and geographic limits. The U.S. spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined. And the strategic logic of expanding NATO to unstable and unimportant countries such as Georgia or Ukraine, as once planned, is derisible. 

There's the public history of modern Europe that lauds the expensive international institutions that keep bloodthirsty nations from starting new wars, and then there's the hidden history: Stalin's massive ethnic cleansing in 1945 of nearly all Germans from Eastern Europe left Europeans with relatively little to fight over (other than their domination by the extra-European superpowers, the Soviet Union and the U.S).

Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times last Sunday does a good job of summing up the Buchananite critique of Pinkerian optimism. (Although Douthat doesn't mention Buchanan, he does namecheck the Derb). Buchanan and Douthat both cite Jerry Z. Muller, who wrote in 2008:
"The creation of ethnonational states across Europe, a consequence of two world wars and ethnic cleansing, was a precondition of stability, unity, and peace. With no ethnic rivals inside their national homes, European peoples had what they had fought for, and were now prepared to live in peace with their neighbors."

To say that Buchanan is pessimistic about American foreign policy, however, is to miss the key point: there isn't much reason to fight. Sure, we should continue to promise to defend Taiwan with our Navy, but are the Chinese really going to try to conquer Taiwan? Both sides are making too much money doing business with each other to have time for a war. 

Or, imagine that a majority in Ukraine decide to reunite with Russia, while a minority rebel. Would the American public agree to fight the Russo-Ukrainian army fighting the rebels? Would we be willing to reimpose the draft to liberate West Ukraine?  (Buchanan helped out way back in 1967 with Richard Nixon's hugely popular decision to phase out conscription.) Buchanan thinks the idea of the U.S. going to war in the ex-Soviet Union is politically absurd. 

Thank God lunatics like Buchanan are marginalized while thoughtful statesmen like McCain are accorded the respect their wisdom has earned.

Thank God McCain lost

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other "dictators" should feel nervous after the death of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, U.S. Senator John McCain said. 
"I think dictators all over the world, including Bashar al-Assad, maybe even Mr. Putin, maybe some Chinese, maybe all of them, may be a little bit more nervous," McCain said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. late yesterday. "It's the spring, not just the Arab spring."

Maybe McCain really believes that Gadafi's demise was the result of the spontaneous uprising of democracy-loving Libyan citizens and that, in the big picture of things, the NATO death-from-above airstrike that blasted his escape convoy didn't have anything to do with Kaffaffee's lynching a few hours later. But Vladimir Putin didn't get where he is by being that deluded.

Putin is a bad man. I don't like him. But, when senior American politicians start issuing vague threats against Putin's life, allow me to point out pictorially a difference between Qazzafi and Putin. Above you see the kind of hardware that the Colonel had going for him: a statue of a giant fist crushing an American fighter-bomber. Below is a picture of the kind of hardware Putin has going for him:

Putin has about a dozen active boomers: nuclear powered submarines carrying nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. (Most of them not Hunt for Red October-style Typhoon Class leviathans, but still ...) As a general rule of diplomacy, it's a good idea to restrict making personal death threats to only those national leaders without boomers.

October 21, 2011

America as the Proposition Nation

"America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them; and every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American." 
George W. Bush 
"America is not only for the whites, but it is for all. Who is the American? The American is you, me and that. When we go to America we will become Americans and there is no a race or nationalism called America and the Americans are those Africans, Indians, Chinese, and Europeans and whoever goes to America will become American...American is for all of us and the whole world had made and created America. All the people all over the world had made America and it shall accordingly be for all of us. I will never feel ashamed when I claim for my right in America and it will not be strange when I raise my voice in America." 
Col. Moammar Gadhafi 

"The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" by Steven Pinker

In the November issue of The American Conservative, I have a lengthy review of Steven Pinker's new book. Subscribers can read my review online, or you can buy a paper copy of the magazine at a newsstand for money (a remarkable concept, I realize).

Here is a small excerpt:
Disorder is a dauntingly vast topic. So, we are lucky that Pinker, a Harvard cognitive scientist whose 2002 work The Blank Slate may have been the outstanding book of the last decade, has turned his abundant energy and intelligence to understanding violence. No reductionist, Pinker attributes what he sees as the slow retreat from violence to "six trends" interacting with "five inner demons," "four better angels," and "five historical forces."  
These 20 factors -- ranging from the rise of Leviathan to the expansion of empathy and rationality -- aren't really enough to explain trends in violence, but they're certainly a start. And I can't think of anybody who could have done a better job. Pinker's range is extraordinary. For instance, The Better Angels of Our Nature includes the best introduction to brain anatomy that I've read. (And Pinker isn't even all that terribly impressed by fashionable fMRI scans.) Yet, his touch is light. He sums up the research on why marriage makes men behave better with Johnny Cash's definitive explanatory couplet: "Because you're mine, I walk the line."  
(And, in case you are wondering, yes, Pinker eventually does quote Edwin Starr's 1970 Motown hit single: "War! Huh, yeah, what is it good for?" Being Pinker, he presents a long list of the pragmatic uses of war, while remaining in emotional harmony with Starr's sentiment: "Absolutely nothing!")

For the parts of my review where I critique Better Angels, well, you can read the review. 

A few points: the topic of violence is gigantic and Pinker's book is remarkably thorough. So, don't assume that Pinker hasn't considered, at length, the various counter-arguments. My galley copy is festooned with my notes to myself in the margin like: "A-ha! P. is ignoring X. That undermines his whole argument." But then, 400 pages later, Pinker writes something like, "You have probably noticed that so far I haven't mentioned X, which might seem to undermine my whole argument. But, I have seven responses to X." 

Second, even though my American Conservative review is about 3,000 words long, I wound up having to leave out lots of good stuff. Some of it then went into my new Taki's Magazine column comparing Pinker's book on violence to Pat Buchanan's Suicide of a Superpower in light of the violent homicide of Col. Kathafi.

Third, Graham H. Seibert has a good review of Pinker's book at Amazon.

Pinker v. Buchanan and the late Col. Kazzafi

From my column in Taki's Magazine:
The two big books of the moment are Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (which I reviewed in the November issue of The American Conservative) and Pat Buchanan’s Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? (which I reviewed in VDARE). Pinker argues that the future belongs increasingly to peaceful cosmopolitan globalism, while Buchanan claims that ethnonationalism’s universal appeal can ultimately lead to national stabilization.  
How do the two books’ contrasting forecasts look following the spectacularly violent homicide of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi?  
Pinker, the noted Harvard psychology professor, contends (among much else in his 832 pages) that there exists a civilizing process that makes people behave less violently over time. 
Granted, Kathafi’s end turned out to be not quite as Facebookish as the sort of National Defriending that promoters of the Arab Spring had implied. The whole NATO Highway of Death routine followed by militiamen (apparently) executing him point-blank seems a little pre-Twittery ...

Read the whole thing there.

October 20, 2011

Kazzafi is dead

Across Difficult Country has the details.

NYT: [Fill in the Blank] Rotting in Fields!

Timothy Egan opinionates in the NYT:
Migrants from Sanity 
With 14 million Americans out of work, you would think somebody could answer the desperation call from farmers offering to pay $150 to anyone willing to pick fruit in the orchards of Washington State. But no, the apples hang at peak ripeness, a near-record crop, and the jobs go begging, despite radio ads and an appeal by Governor Christine Gregoire to the other Washington for help. 
One thing the United States still does better than most countries is grow food. But one thing it now does worse than others is govern to solve problems. And so, the apples rot, businesses are crippled, and dreams of fresh life in a new country are dashed. This dystopian status quo exists because the simple-minded who control one of the major political parties have shut down all adult talk on the subject of immigration.

Almost every harvest season, we read stories in the New York Times about how some crop somewhere is rotting in the fields which proves that civilization will grind to a halt unless we import lots more illegal immigrant stoop laborers stat. Could it be, however, that NYT staffers are not quite as sophisticated in their understanding of farm labor economics as they think they are after spending a half hour on the phone with noted agriculture expert Tamar Jacoby?

Back during the Great California Pear Picker Shortage Crisis of October 2006, I enumerated in VDARE a handy seven point guide to the subject for clueless city slickers. 

Height! What is it good for?

Over at GNXP Discover, Razib Khan asks about selection for height genes.

I’m a little over 6’4″, and I find being tall pretty useless other than for seeing over other spectators at golf tournaments.  Personally, I think genes for height exist in part to fool other people into thinking you are from a wealthy family. We’re used to people using nurture to try to fool other people about their nature, but I think this is the mirror image: this is genes trying to fool others into assuming you have rich relations. The main advantage to being tall was that other people figured you must come from a well-to-do family, which has many Darwinian benefits. 

Height used to be a good clue to how well fed you were as a child. For example, the Tory cabinet that Prime Minister Salisbury formed in 1895 averaged six feet in height, maybe five inches higher than the British national male average at the time. This difference of a couple of standard deviations reflected in part how much better fed and how much healthier aristocrats were than the masses, but fortunately that indicator is becoming less meaningful.

Marco Rubio

The recently elected senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been talked up a lot as a VP nominee, because he's handsome (which appears to be GOP priority #1 these days), has a Spanish-surname, and got his start working for a Cuban-American Congresswoman who is half-Sephardic by ancestry so you know he's sound on the World's Most Important Issue: West Bank settlements. 

Putting a Cuban on the GOP ticket to win the growing Mexican vote makes about as much sense as when Newt Gingrich got the House to pass a statehood for Puerto Rico bill in 1998 to win the Mexican vote. 

The Last Reasonable Man in America

I review Pat Buchanan's Suicide of a Superpower in VDARE.

October 18, 2011

Africa Command

The news that the U.S. military is going to fight the Lord's Resistance Army in central African reminded me that the U.S. military has had, for a few years now, an organization entitled "Africa Command." For reasons that need not detain us here, the 2,000 personnel of Africa Command are actually based in Stuttgart*. But you have to admit that "Africa Command" is a pretty cool name. That sounds like a 1966 adventure show that would have come on right after "Johnny Quest" and right before "Daktari." If I were seven years old again, I would definitely watch "Africa Command."

* Ruling elites in Africa are jokingly referred to by less privileged Africans as members of the Wabenzi tribe, after their favorite brand of automobile, so perhaps Stuttgart was chosen for its extensive natural resources of Mercedes and Porsches?

Disparate Impact

From the NYT:
Latinos Said to Bear Weight of a Deportation Program 
A deportation program that is central to the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement strategy has led disproportionately to the removal of Latino immigrants ...

October 17, 2011

People with too much time on their hands

For about 15 years now, I've been reading articles about how Real Soon Now government officials, concerned citizens, environmental activists and others are going to get together the final version of a plan to restore the Los Angeles River back to its pristine natural state instead of being the big, ugly concrete ditch it has been since 1942, all for only a few billion bucks.

Finally, a reporter on one of these stories went and asked some guy who lives next to the L.A. River about all these plans to fix a flood control project that isn't broken:
"This works exactly how it needs to," he said of the concrete abutment next to his house, with fences to keep out visitors, as water poured into the L.A. River below a Canoga Park High School football practice. "It funnels all the excess water away from residents and businesses. 
"The last thing we want to do is to encourage people to get close to the L.A. River - let's all hold hands and smoke pixie dust and sing `Kumbaya."'

It's worth noting that the Army Corps of Engineers built a lot of the L.A. River concrete ditch in 1942, presumably because they had nothing better to do that year. L.A. had been hit badly by a 50-year flood in 1938: 9.4 inches of rain fell in one stretch. (We had two bigger rain events in 2005.) About two days per year, it's the river from hell, and every few decades it's worse than that. Up until 1825, the LA River used to reach the sea at what's now Marina Del Rey, north of LAX. Then, there was a huge flood and it changed course to what's now the Harbor, about 20 miles south. You really wouldn't want the LA River to change course again.

With hindsight, it's easy to see that they should have set up a huge system of parklands alongside the river to absorb floods, but, they were kind of busy and didn't have the money, what with the Depression and WWII, and so they didn't do that. It's too bad, because my father discovered in 1994 by plotting on a map all the buildings that had to be condemned after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake that about 80% of them were on the old streambeds, which were typically around a half-mile wide swath of sand. As the Bible says, a building built on sand ... So, knowing what we know now (and how many people know that), it would have been great if they'd lined the river with golf courses and parks, but they didn't.

And they aren't going to do that now, either. 

So, Don't Ditch the Ditch.

The Four-H Club

Back around 1982-83, a friend noted that victims of AIDS tended to belong to the Four H Club: homosexuals, heroin addicts, Haitians, and hemophiliacs. Later on, homosexuals seized control of the history of AIDS, so now the standard line has become that it was, somehow or other, the fault of Ronald Reagan and other homophobes. Not having gays in the military had something to do with it, too. 

The other H's don't have that kind of political muscle to rewrite history.

But here's a new scientific history of AIDS that explains the connections among the Four H's. The article spends a lot of time on the "paternalistic" French colonial doctors who went around innoculating Africans against diseases and occasionally, when the power went out, they could only boil their hypodermic needles instead of fully sterilize them. But, eventually, it gets to how AIDS became a massive disease, and, reading between the lines, you'll see that AIDS was more or less the disease of the "1960s on the March:" decolonialization, the UN, the Black Power Duvalier regime in Haiti, gay sex tourism, drugs, gay lib and so forth. 

Press coverage of protests

It seems like the one set of protests over the last decade that the mainstream media were most positive about -- the 2006 illegal alien marches -- were the ones where press coverage turned out most counterproductive. Photos of a half million illegal aliens waving giant Mexican flags in the heart of American cities were a major factor in keeping the Bush-Kennedy-McCain amnesty from passing in 2006 and 2007.

October 16, 2011

Edward Luttwak

I'd been seeing the name of national security expert Edward Luttwak for decades, but until I read David Samuels' interview with him in Tablet I had no idea what a fun interview he is. Luttwak conceives of himself as a cross between Henry Kissinger and Jack Bauer of 24: Talleyrand and Rambo, combined. He interrupts the interview for phone calls in fluent Italian and Korean. (How many people in the world speak Italian and Korean?) He would make a good supervillain in a big budget movie. The only thing that would make this interview better is if at the end, Luttwak shot somebody in the knee to make him talk.

David Samuels, by the way, is one of the most consistently interesting feature magazine journalists in the country. I hope he achieves a breakout into name recognition like Michael Lewis has.

Here's a segment on Israel that's very Peter Turchinish:
Q. Do you think the cost of the violence and other social ills that come out of the [Arab-Israeli] stalemate you are describing is something Israeli society can easily afford, or do you think there is any alternative to it? 
A. I’m not sure it’s a cost. 
Q. Because the strategic depth that it affords and the control over those borders is more important? 
A. Listen, ... Israel’s success as a state has been made possible by Arab threats of different kinds. Arab violence or threats of violence are part of the Israeli soup. There are certain levels of violence that are so high that they’re damaging, and there are also levels that are so low they are damaging. There is an optimum level of the Arab threat. I would say for about nine days of the 1973 war, the level of violence was much too high. Even when Israelis were successful, the level of violence was destroying the tissue of the state. Most of the time, the violence is positive. 
Q. When you say that the effects of Arab violence are positive, you mean that they generate social cohesion inside Israel? 
A. Lenin taught, “Power is mass multiplied by cohesion.” Arab violence generates Jewish cohesion. Cohesion turns mass into power. Israel has had very small mass, very high cohesion. If only the Palestinians understood that, they would have attacked the Jews with flowers.

But without Israel, there would be no Palestinian nation for Palestinian leaders to lead. So, it's all part of the Great Cycle of Life and everybody is happy (or at least the politicians have jobs).

My thought process on Occupy Wall Street

1. Don't these people have anything better to do?

2. [Checks photos] Eh ... probably not.

3. Okay, go for it!