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July 3, 2004 - June 26, 2004

Saturday, July 03, 2004


instapunk070304

Independence


AMERICA. Here's our offering for the Fourth of July -- a reminder that the best movie yet made about the original American spirit of independence is Last of the Mohicans. I first saw it on an Alitalia jet bound for Milan and disdained the offer of earphones because I was convinced that Hollywood would pervert Cooper's tale into a manifesto about colonial abuse of "Native American" victims. The conviction lasted until the first battle scene, when the gorgeous cinematography and graphic violence showed me, without sound, that I was missing a stunningly dramatic movie. The flight attendant, who was gorgeous in her own right, responded with alacrity to my demand for earphones and I spent two hours in colonial America at 30,000 feet rapturously in love with the land of my birth, sadly mindful that I was presently leaving it at the speed of 600 mph.

Upon my return home, I discovered that Last of the Mohicans enjoys a distinction few other movies can aspire to. It is simultaneously a riveting actioner for men AND a four-star chick flick. There's something about that final desperate race to save the women, backed by roiling Celtic music and punctuated by savage violence, that makes women go weak in the knees just as their men are soaring to an adrenalin peak which makes the fingers itch for one chance to swing Chingachkook's mighty rifle-ax at the murderous Magua. I bought it on laser disk and showed it to the local Episcopal rector and his wife, who dragged him out the door as soon as the credits started to roll for a purpose she didn't bother to disguise. The movie is that good.

An important caution: never watch the edited-for-TV versions. The editing of the violence is so so ham-handed as to amount to vandalism, destroying the rhythm and power of almost every important scene. So my recommendation is to rent it on DVD as a special July 4 treat. You may find that even if you've seen it before, you'll be taken by its resonance with recent events. The hero is an American who cares nothing for politics but who chooses to risk his life repeatedly to protect the woman he loves. The villain is a heathen fanatic bent on revenge for a past that has killed his soul. The conflict is complicated by the machinations of blockheaded Brits and treacherous French aristocrats. There is a scene where the mutilated bodies of friends must be left unburied and disgraced because survival means adopting the ruthless tactics of the enemy. But savage fighting does not transform civilized men into savages, because their hearts still break at the sacrifice of innocents. Love triumphs in the principal love story between Nathanael (Daniel Day Lewis) and Cora (Madeleine Stowe, who never looked lovelier, before or since), but it reverberates even more poetically in the beautifully subtle romance between Uncas and Alice. It is her face which haunts you long after the movie is over, framed against the spectacular North Carolina wilderness of our ancestral land.


Alice

And then there is the scene in which Nathanael explains his distinctively American love of kin and country...

Do yourself this favor -- celebrate your independence with Last of the Mohicans. You can thank me Monday when InstaPunk returns to duty.




Friday, July 02, 2004


Uh Oh.


PROPHECY FULFILLED (CLICK HERE). Bill Cosby made headlines when he chose the occasion of the NAACP's anniversary celebration of Brown vs the Board of Education to criticize black parenting. He has, predictably, drawn some criticsm himself. One black columnist characterized the reaction this way:

As expected, his words have triggered protests, and many have called him a wealthy elitist - despite his large donations to black causes, including $20 million to Spellman College.

This response, from the People's Weekly World, in an article titled ""Bill Cosby Attacks Poor African-Americans," probably expresses the sentiments of many of the protesters:

Bill Cosby’s castigating comments toward poor African Americans expose an internal pain. If we care about the African American people to any extent, we share the same pain on some level or another. Still, Cosby’s behavior in issuing such an account is as bad as that of the worst misguided Black youth whose stereotyped and caricatured behavior he universalizes.

Do we pay attention? The masses of Black children have been relegated to an inferior education by way of a system that is funded inequitably and, hence, is academically unequal. Poor Black students come from families that are poor. Have we not heard that the majority of African American youth struggle to graduate from high school, stay out of trouble, and are successful in their attempt? Are we so blinded by our own pain that we, too, will resort to the easy way out of blaming the downtrodden rather than searching for the systemic causes of the problems? No doubt too many of our youth do fall, but the question for responsible adults is, how can we strengthen the fight for a better quality of life for all of our children in every realm? Is it helpful to turn away from the faults of the system and blame instead those who are oppressed and exploited as a result of the system’s inherent problems?

Even august members of the black clergy feel obliged to lecture Cosby, despite acknowledging some merit in his charges. The Reverend Bernice Powell Johnson began her commentary by agreeing with key parts of Cosby's argument: Then she proceeded to the big "BUT" that always seems so necessary:

But, while many poor African Americans have made bad choices in life, many can never work hard enough or long enough to get out of poverty when the minimum wage has not been increased in seven years and many working families earning less than the poverty level must pay for child care, social security taxes and out of pocket medical expenses. Moreover, the dramatic rise of homeless Americans over the past two years is not necessarily because of their bad choices, but because of our nation’s bad choices not to build enough low-income housing, while providing tax cuts for the wealthiest and spending our tax dollars on war and defense. Even as I write this, the administration is trying to cut $1.5 billion from Section 8 subsidized housing for the poor. And, while we all agree that the senseless violence must stop, as Ted Shaw, the new president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., put it, an unarmed Amadou Diallo had not stolen a pound cake when he was killed by 41 bullets by New York City police officers.

The truth, I believe, is like a three legged stool. Poor African Americans must take responsibility for their families and their choices. Middle class and wealthy African Americans must do our part. Government and institutions must take responsibility for those who “are made poor” in the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who reminded us that there are systemic reasons for poverty in our world which only government can deal with.

Only if we see changes in all three segments will we see real changes in behavior and lives. Mr. Cosby, truth is more complex and responsibility is ours.

I confess I had thought Cosby would back off to some degree after being criticized, that he would assert the big "BUT" himself just to show that he was still a team player. He didn't. Yesterday he responded to his critics and expanded on his original remarks.

Bill Cosby went off on another tirade against the black community Thursday, telling a room full of activists that black children are running around not knowing how to read or write and "going nowhere."

He also had harsh words for struggling black men, telling them: "Stop beating up your women because you can't find a job."

Cosby made headlines in May when he upbraided some poor blacks for their grammar and accused them of squandering opportunities the civil rights movement gave them. He shot back Thursday, saying his detractors were trying in vain to hide the black community's "dirty laundry."

"Let me tell you something, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it's cursing and calling each other n------ as they're walking up and down the street," Cosby said during an appearance at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund's annual conference.

"They think they're hip," the entertainer said. "They can't read; they can't write. They're laughing and giggling, and they're going nowhere."

He castigated some blacks, saying that they cannot simply blame whites for problems such as teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates.

"For me there is a time ... when we have to turn the mirror around," he said. "Because for me it is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us. And it keeps a person frozen in their seat, it keeps you frozen in your hole you're sitting in."

Cosby lamented that the racial slurs once used by those who lynched blacks are now a favorite expression of black children. And he blamed parents.

"When you put on a record and that record is yelling `n----- this and n----- that' and you've got your little 6-year-old, 7-year-old sitting in the back seat of the car, those children hear that," he said.

He also condemned black men who missed out on opportunities and are now angry about their lives.

"You've got to stop beating up your women because you can't find a job, because you didn't want to get an education and now you're (earning) minimum wage," Cosby said. "You should have thought more of yourself when you were in high school, when you had an opportunity."

Surprisingly, he was flanked by Jesse Jackson, who defended him:

"Bill is saying let's fight the right fight, let's level the playing field," Jackson said. "Drunk people can't do that. Illiterate people can't do that."

Cosby also addressed the notion that such issues should not be discussed in public, but only behind closed doors::

[He}said he wasn't concerned that some whites took his comments and turned them "against our people."

"Let them talk," he said.

So Cosby has stood up to tell the truth as he sees it. He's not the first. Educators like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and John McWhorter have been similarly brave and direct in their willingness to raise such issues as political correctness, black anti-intellectualism, rampant hip-hop thuggery, fatherless households, and illegitimate births. And there is more support for Cosby's views than some of us would have expected. He received ovations at his two speaking engagements, and he has also received written endorsements, such as this one from Dr. Pius Kamau, a thoracic and general surgeon from Denver:

As black America persists in the morass of mediocrity, it should look at other communities, and realize they'll soon overtake it. No longer can slavery and its aftermath be the excuse they've been for so long. Jews used discrimination to their advantage: by cohesion, self-help and a zeal to excel in their struggle. Asians are managing amazingly well in America's jungles. Hispanic immigrants are on the road to accumulate more wealth and education and eventually wield more political power than blacks.

There are some among us whose work with black youth is as effective as Cosby's, even if their voices aren't as loud. Locally, the tireless anti-gang efforts of Rev. Leon Kelly and Brother Jeff, the tireless advocate for AIDS victims and children, come to mind. They possess the antidote to the malaise that's befallen black America - deeper vision and unselfish effort.

Honestly, though, we have too few such heroes. We need many more like them to raise a healthier black America.

What has been comparatively lacking is in-depth discussion of these issues outside the black community. Perhaps it is time more of us displayed the guts we've seen from Cosby, Sowell, Williams, McWhorter and company. The substance of the discussion should occur at two levels. First, we must acknowledge that the kinds of problems Cosby is talking about afflict affluent and middle class white Americans as well. Reading, writing and speaking skills have degenerated to an appalling degree in even the most fashionable and upscale suburbs. The alarming reports and news items (e.g., today's shocker) we encounter about young people's sexual mores are also a crisis that cuts across racial lines. Illegitimate births and single-mother households are increasing in middle America just as they are in the inner cities. We have an absolute obligation to confront the fact of decline in our culture and in our youth specifically. We must confront it not as a problem in other people's families, but in our own. It's no good hauling out the old lie that every generation is really like every other, and every older generation thinks the younger generation is going to the dogs. In this case, they really are. You can hear the barking out of 100-Watt stereos in cars on every street.

This brings us to the second level at which we must begin to hold fearlessly honest discussions. The kind of decay we are so determined not to see is like a contagion. Our kids can catch it from any number of sources -- from MTV and BET, from peer pressure, from the failure of parents to intercede, say, by preventing preteen daughters from leaving the house dressed like streetwalkers, from lazy, ignorant and standardless teachers who can't or won't mark up their students' tragic essays and who can't or won't insist on decorum in the classroom. There is, however, also a specific carrier for this contagion, a fashion-setting ethos that provides the content for MTV, juvenile slang, and fads in clothing, entertainment and dating rituals.

The carrier is the hip-hop culture. It arises from the worst of the black ghetto and has therefore been amazingly immune to the kind of ferocious criticism it deserves. Firebrands like Bill O'Reilly are willing to raise the issue, but even as rap's most vocal critic, O'Reilly fails to understand that it isn't just disadvantaged kids in the inner city who are being fatally poisoned by the booming trash talk about guns, ho's, drugs, and low-down anonymous sex. This crap is circulating, in one form or another, in most of the homes in America where teenagers live, and it influences all of them. If you haven't seen the signs, it's because you're not looking.

I have, for several years, made it a habit to insist that all the parents I meet take an hour or two to really look at MTV. I don't know any who have actually done it. They don't want to know how bad it is. But we all have to look, and we all have to recognize how pernicious hip-hop is. There has to be a way to confront it without descending into racial slurs. Both white and black are suffering from this eruption of hatred and nihilism that issues from the bottom tenth of the poorest and least civilized among us. No one, of any color, should be content with anything less than its eradication from the minds of our children.

There is an enormous amount to talk about. Why are so many so silent? Bill Cosby said, "Let them talk." He should have added, "If they've got the spine for it."

If it's necessary for this particular site to end every entry on a lighter note, here's the best we can do today. It's from the back room (i.e., banned material) of Moon Books in Shuteye Town, 1999.





Thursday, July 01, 2004


Salvation Via Hillary!

Is Hillary ready to give her all for Kerry and the Democratic Party?

BANDWAGON. The heavens (secularly speaking, of course) may be smiling on John Kerry if Drudge's weirdly written little 'insider' scoop is correct. (We could have sworn there's an apostrophe in 'wont' when it means 'will not,' but maybe that's just us.) We just love the breathlessness of the piece, as if it's all so exciting that the words are squeezed out between hyperventilating pants:

The insider continues: "The Democrats feel like health care is the domestic issue. But how to make it the dominant topic of conversation -- break through war and terrorism? Hillary Clinton. She catapults it out front with her commission. She tried to provide health care before and the Republicans in congress attacked her and her husband and used a bunch of scandals dirty tricks to stop it, we know they are scandals and dirty tricks because the former president book says so. So now you have the number two person on the ticket who is a 'health care expert' and what will Republicans do? Attack on health care pointing to her commission saying that it was government medicine. Her response -- it wasn't, and the Republicans are a bunch of dirty tricksters, "Liars and Crooks," as Kerry calls them, and its been too long and Democrats wont let the Republicans do it to them again. By the way, it puts prescription drugs on the back burner, the Republicans health care ace. You will have a fully engaged national debate on health care from now until the election."

We're excited too. It's a good bet that no one on the Internet has tracked Hillary more faithfully than we have, and we want you all to know that if this rumor materializes into reality, we are THE source for continuous obsequious adulation of our former First Lady. What's more, we can prove it.

We're the only ones who researched her lifelong love of the New York Yankees, which we did in Shuteye Nation, putting the lie to the charge that she was some kind of carpetbagger when she ran for senator of New York. (The link is only to a graphical summary of a far more in-depth piece that we'll reprint when the time comes.)

We were the first to predict -- again in Shuteye Nation -- that she'd make mincemeat of Rudy Giuliani in the Y2K senate race. To wit:

Rudy Giuliangri. The Mayor of Newyork City and prospective villain in mass media° coverage of Hillery’s campaign for the U.S. Senate°. Giuliangri is a tough guy. As a prosecutor°, he nailed John Goddi, the godfather of the Newyork mafia, and as a Republian° politician° he pulled off a near miracle in winning election to the mayor’s office. But there’s little chance that any of this has prepared him for the ordeal of running against the wife° of the Presdent. Win or lose, by the end of the campaign, Giuliangri is going to feel like he’s been processed by a junkyard car crusher. Is it worth it? Well, that probably depends on just how angry° he is... Stay tuned.

In the same venue, we sought to defend her from the unspeakable book about her by Peggy Noonan.

We did better than anyone else at capturing her unique appeal to the voters who propelled her into office.

We did all we could to publicize and promote her (first) brilliant book in Shuteye Town 1999.

And we'll be there for her every step of the way if she decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and accept the Number Two spot (Exploits.49.9-10 and 52.25-26) behind the piece of stolid statuary known as John F. Kerry.

Forgive us... we'll have to stop now... it's getting hard to inhale... we're so pumped... is there a brown paper bag in the house?... Come back soon... we'll calm down... we promise.




Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Precautionary Wisdom


HINDSIGHTING THE FUTURE. Sometimes you just have to take a wild chance and hope it works out somehow. That's the case with today's entry. Scanning some of the more recent titles at Arts and Letters Daily turned up a pair of titles (plus teaser copy) that seemed as if they might go together. Not a conviction, just an inkling. See if these two suggest anything to you:

Imperial amnesia: the U.S. invaded a distant country to install democracy. Then there was a bloody insurrection. Sound familiar? John Judis thinks so...

Safety first, but at what cost? The precautionary principle seems a good idea, but sometimes a little risk is a lot safer...

The first appeared to promise a precautionary tale from history relevant to the Iraq War. The second, well, you can discern the synapse that fired there. Will this make for an interesting essay? At this point, it's impossible to say. What's the downside? I could try and fail, wind up looking like a fool. If I want to look smart, I'd probably be better off staying away from the kind of abstract discussion that results from comparisons between theoretical speculation and factual argumentation. But if I always need to be sure of looking smart, I'd never have any fun. So here goes.

The theoretical speculation is the place to start. If there's a useful idea there, it will provide the angle of approach to the factual argumentation piece. The full title of the "precautionary principle" piece is More Sorry than Safe: Professor Sir Colin Berry talks to Brendan O'Neill. It opens with a quote from the professor:

'If everything we did had to be absolutely safe, risk-free, proven to have no adverse outcomes for anyone or anything, we'd never get anywhere. Buildings wouldn't go up, planes wouldn't get off the ground, medical breakthrough would come to a standstill, science would be stifled. Shall I go on?'

O'Neill then introduces us to Dr. Berry:

Professor Sir Colin Berry is not a big fan of the 'precautionary principle', the idea that scientists, medical researchers, technologists and just about everybody else these days should err on the side of caution lest they cause harm to human health or the environment. Berry is one of Britain's leading scientists; he has held some of the most prestigious posts in British medicine... Now he watches as his 'good profession' threatens to be undermined by what he says is an 'unscientific demand' to put precaution first.

There is a formal definition of the precautionary principle. It goes like this:

'When an activity raises threats of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures that prevent the possibility of harm shall be taken even if the causal link between the activity and the possible harm has not been proven or the causal link is weak and the harm is unlikely to occur.'

It sounds good, doesn't it? Thoughtful, prudent, safe. Yet according to Dr. Berry, it is unscientific.

Berry says it is in the nature of scientific and medical research that you start out before you have all the information to hand - indeed, almost all of the great scientific advancements of the past 200 years have been a process of 'learning as we went along'.

He offers a famous example to illustrate the point.

In the early twentieth century, Polish-born physicist and chemist [Marie] Curie devoted her working life to the study of radium, paving the way for nuclear physics and the treatment of cancer. It cost her her life - she died from leukaemia in 1934, almost blind, her fingers burned by radium. 'Curie's work caused her "irreversible harm"', says Berry. 'The precautionary principle would not have permitted her to take such risks, and the world would have been a worse place for it.'

Clearly, Berry believes there's not only room but need for heroic personal risk-taking on behalf of progress. Is that the main part of his objection to 'safety first'? No. He sees actual dangers associated with the precautionary principle.

It is sensible to do things that minimise risks to ourselves and to others. You shouldn't close your eyes when you cross the road; you should stub out your cigarette before going to sleep. 'But, says Berry, problems arise when precaution is transformed into an abstract principle that we're expected to live our lives by.' 'Safety is a description of an approach, rather than an absolute state', he says. 'We can never be absolutely safe and free from risk. Indeed, aspiring to such a state brings its own problems.'

We don't just lose Madame Curie, we risk hurting ourselves by seeking to take no risks. How does that work?

On a simple, everyday level, he cites the example of the choices we make about commuting. He says that those who opted to travel by road rather than rail following the Hatfield train crash of October 2000, which killed four passengers and injured 30, had in fact exposed themselves to an increased risk of injury or death. 'Road accidents kill more people than railway accidents do', he says. 'Yet because there is a perception that rail travel is unacceptably risky, some people opt to go by car instead. But the death rate on the road per billion person miles travelled is about 12 times that of the railways.'

The lesson? If we insist on the impossible condition of 'no risk,' we can talk ourselves into a greater risk that we don't recognize because it's so comfortingly familiar, seemingly more under our personal control. Driving is more dangerous than trains. More dangerous than commercial airlines too. Ever been spooked about flying by news of a plane crash? The actuarial fact is that you're safer in a commercial airliner than you are in your own kitchen. In the name of safety, we can court much greater danger than we'd face if we had a modicum of nerve.

There are also situations where we can't determine the relative risk of alternatives. What do we do then? We proceed on the basis of inadequate information, usually by trying to formulate useful analogies. But that can be tricky business as well.

Berry says that in the 1980s, the favoured precautionary measure to guard against the possibility of your baby falling victim to SIDS was to lay her on her side or front. 'We tended to consider babies and young infants as being rather like the unconscious patient', he says, 'where it is not clear that all the reflexes around the nose and mouth, for breathing and swallowing and so on, are finely tuned. So parents were told to put babies on their side or front, as you would do with an unconscious or stroke-troubled patient. It seemed like a reasonable, precautionary measure to take. Now we know that, in fact, it cost lives.'

Observations made in Australia and New Zealand, and a case-controlled study in Britain in the 1990s, showed that reversing this policy and putting babies to sleep on their backs instead reduced the death rate from SIDS. In the UK, it fell from about 1,300 to 1,400 a year to about 300 to 400, he says. 'With the best intentions the precautionary measure of putting babies on their sides or fronts caused misery; a great many precious baby lives were lost because of what seemed like a reasonable precaution. It was one of those things that just happened to be wrong. This shows that we need data - that being precautionary, taking safety measures without testing the evidence, is not enough.'

The frequent failure of our useful analogies has grave implications for planning and policy formulation. What seems a settled historical context may be counterproductive when it is projected monolithically or onto situations featuring variables that didn't exist in the original context. In short, the lessons of the past cannot be taken as absolute.

Berry points to the restrictions imposed on DDT - the pesticide used to get rid of malaria-carrying mosquitoes - as another example of how the 'application of precaution' can cause death and disease. In some third world countries where malaria had been all but eradicated over the past 20 years, there have been epidemics of the disease since DDT was restricted. Currently malaria is on the rise in all the tropical regions of the planet; in 2000, it killed more than one million and made 300 million seriously ill. 'Campaigners claimed that DDT was bad for the environment; they said that it caused harm to American birds of prey. I'm sorry, but why should people in the third world at risk from malaria care about American birds of prey? Decisions about these things should be based on local needs and on empirical evidence.'

The bottom line for Dr. Berry is this:

If your position is that you don't accept any incremental risk, you are in effect saying no to all new technologies, whether it be a better anaesthetic, a better car, a better aeroplane, a safer environment for children - in fact anything worth having.'

Is any of this going to help us with the next article? Can rail accidents and SIDS and DDT tell us anything about an historical argument in Foreign Policy magazine titled Imperial Amnesia? Feels risky to me, but let's proceed. Here's the lede:

The United States invaded a distant country to share the blessings of democracy. But after being welcomed as liberators, U.S. troops encountered a bloody insurrection. Sound familiar? Don’t think Iraq—think the Philippines and Mexico decades ago. U.S. President George W. Bush and his advisors have embarked on a historic mission to change the world. Too bad they ignored the lessons of history.

So we are definitely embarking on a precautionary tale. The author, John Judis, is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His Foreign Policy essay is adapted from his forthcoming book Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (New York: Scribners, 2004).

What's his premise? Pretty obviously the big caption is the truism, Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The specific application Judis has in mind is America's flirtation with imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He's particularly troubled by our history with the Philippines, which he cleverly insinuates into the Bush administration's current foreign policy by quoting from an October 2003 Bush speech in Manila.

Outside the Philippine House of Representatives, several thousand more demonstrators greeted Bush, and several Philippine legislators staged a walkout during his 20-minute address.

In that speech, Bush credited the United States for transforming the Philippines into a democracy. “America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people,” said Bush. “Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule.” He drew an analogy between the United States' attempt to create democracy in the Philippines and its effort to create a democratic Middle East through the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

But Judis is intent on proposing some analogies of his own:

Bush's rendition of Philippine-American history bore little relation to fact. True, the U.S. Navy ousted Spain from the Philippines in the Spanish-American War of 1898. But instead of creating a Philippine democracy, the McKinley administration, its confidence inflated by victory in that “splendid little war,” annexed the country and installed a colonial administrator. The United States then waged a brutal war against the same Philippine independence movement it encouraged to fight against Spain. The war dragged on for 14 years. Before it ended, about 120,000 U.S. troops were deployed, more than 4,000 were killed, and more than 200,000 Filipino civilians and soldiers were killed. Resentment lingered a century later during Bush's visit.

Now, of course, the way is clear is depict Paul Bremer as a "colonial administrator" and to imply that Bush's reference to Philippine history in his plea for democracy in Iraq is a kind of sinister Freudian slip that allows us to equate neocon strategy in the war on terror with the adolescent ambition of the Spanish-American War. The spare facts and figures of our military experience in the Philippines are also subtly pulling in the Vietnam quagmire -- many years, many troops deployed, (sort of) many troops killed, and lots and lots of collateral damage to the native population. We also are encouraged to infer that the protesters of Bush's visit were still steamed about the events of 107 years ago, as opposed to any of the turmoil they've experienced in the last 20 years or so. Whatever we do anywhere today is bound to ensure that we'll be hated in perpetuity.

I'm summarizing here, because I have no intention of conducting a line by line fisking of such a lengthy article. What we're looking for is some way in which Dr. Berry's ideas might help us navigate what is, after all, a pretty typical scholarly spanking of the Bush administration and the neocons.

I'll explain what I mean by typical. Mr. Judis (All right, let's get it out of the way now, because I can hear all you righties sniggering every time his name is mentioned. 'He said Judas.' Heh heh heh heh. Feel better?) As I was saying, Mr. Judis is making an academic historical case that the Bush administration should have left Iraq alone (i.e., continued the grisly dance of U.N. sanctions, inspections, Oil-for-Food corruption, and daily gunfire aimed at American planes over the no-fly zones.) The presumption is that action is risky and the status quo ante bellum is not. This is the same presumption that caused the experts to predict, in the runup to the war, 10,000 American battlefield deaths, meltdown of the entire mideast, and hundreds of thousands of refugees with attendant starvation and contagion. It's the same presumption that somehow conflates 500 American post-war casualties with the 60,000 dead in Vietnam (not to mention the 4,000 dead in 1910 Philippines) and cannot stomach the possibility that Iraq might have a chance to govern itself without collapsing into chaos. How can we better describe the thinking behind this presumption than with these words? "When an activity raises threats of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures that prevent the possibility of harm shall be taken even if the causal link between the activity and the possible harm has not been proven or the causal link is weak and the harm is unlikely to occur."

Courtesy of Dr. Berry, we also have several kinds of negative by-products of the Precautionary Principle to look for: 1) Denial of the value and/or necessity of heroic personal risk-taking (ref. Curie); 2) Irrational preference for easy or familiar risks that only seem lesser than the alternatives (ref. cars over trains); 3) Overreliance on 'useful analogies' in the absence of real data (ref. SIDS); 4) Absolutist applications of so-called lessons of the past that may be dead wrong in a contemporary context (ref. DDT). If we can detect these at work in Judis's essay, it's possible we can define a general strategy for critiquing this whole category of scholarship even if we cannot compete fact for fact with the learned authors. Let's take them one at a time.

Denial of the Value/Necessity of Personal Risk-Taking

This operates at two levels (at least) in Judis's presentation, one implied and one overt. The implied application of this notion lies in the characterization of battlefield deaths, which are singled out and enumerated whenever the numbers might add to the perception of outrageous cost. We are invited to visualize the dramatic spectre of soldiers and civilians falling to guns, tanks, and bombs, as if these represent deaths which do not have an opportunity cost; that is, a comparable casualty list associated with not going to war. Historians like Judis do not cite the 300,000 dead in mass graves or the 1 million-plus deaths attributable to Saddam's internal oppression and international adventurism. The idea that battlefield casualties might actually be worth their cost is not permitted to intrude. The heroic death of the soldier at arms is automatically made synonymous with waste. It's like telling the story of Madame Curie without mentioning the benefits of the field of radiology she pioneered. She died; ipso facto, her life is a tragedy.

The overt denial of personal risk-taking occurs in the treatment of leadership. George W. Bush would be blameless if he had only done nothing. Further tortures and murders in Iraq would not be his responsibility. Nor would future terror attacks on the U.S., even if they originated in Iraqi-Al Qaida ties, because he could rightly claim to have behaved prudently, in the context of the proven lessons of history. His crime therefore lies in his daring to take direct risks in the international arena. Judis drives this home by delineating the experience of American presidents who, like G. W. Bush, ventured to posit an ideal of American intervention that could produce moral results:

...Proponents of imperialism, including Protestant missionaries, also viewed overseas expansion through the prism of the country's evangelical tradition. Through annexation, they insisted, the United States would transform other nations into communities that shared America's political and social values and also its religious beliefs. “Territory sometimes comes to us when we go to war in a holy cause,” U.S. President William McKinley said of the Philippines in October 1900, “and whenever it does the banner of liberty will float over it and bring, I trust, the blessings and benefits to all people.” This conviction was echoed by a prominent historian who would soon become president of Princeton University. In 1901, Woodrow Wilson wrote in defense of the annexation of the Philippines: “The East is to be opened and transformed, whether we will or no; the standards of the West are to be imposed upon it; nations and peoples which have stood still the centuries through are to be quickened and to be made part of the universal world of commerce and of ideas which has so steadily been a-making by the advance of European power from age to age.”

Here, Judis is clearly setting G.W. Bush up for the fall. The mention of protestant missionaries is designed to evoke Bush's religiosity, even if there is little case to be made for the administration's foreign policy as an "evangelical" initiative. Never mind that this latest U.S. thrust toward a reshaped middle east is, in fact, a direct response to the very historical ills Judis decries, including the perpetuation throughout the Cold War of the usufruct of turn-of-the-century colonialism that created Iraq and other nations via the stroke of a pen on a map at the British foreign office. If Bush has the hubris to take any kind of action in the middle east, he is simply repeating the dunderhead errors of McKinley and the pre-enlightened incarnations of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. You see, Roosevelt and Wilson learned what Bush has forgotten:

The two presidents who discovered that the U.S. experiment with imperialism wasn't working were, ironically, Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had been an enthusiastic supporter of the U.S. takeover of the Spanish empire.... Yet, after Roosevelt became president in 1901, his enthusiasm for overseas expansion waned. Urged by imperialists to take over the Dominican Republic, he quipped, “As for annexing the island, I have about the same desire to annex it as a gorged boa constrictor might have to swallow a porcupine wrong-end-to.” Under Roosevelt, U.S. colonial holdings shrunk. And after the Russo-Japanese War in 1904–05, Roosevelt changed the United States' diplomatic posture from competitor with the other imperialist powers to mediator in their growing conflicts

Wilson learned the hard way that attempts to instill U.S.-style constitutional democracy and capitalism through force were destined to fail. Wilson drew even more dramatic conclusions about imperialism from the outbreak of the First World War. Like Roosevelt, and many European leaders, Wilson earnestly believed that the rapid spread of imperialism contributed to a higher, more pacific civilization by bringing not only capitalist industry but also higher standards of morality and education to formerly barbarous regions. Sadly, the opposite occurred: The struggle for colonies helped precipitate a savage war among the imperial powers. The only way to prevent future war, Wilson concluded, was to dismantle the colonial structure itself.

The idea seems to be that history is sufficient and complete unto itself, which means that one must obey the past and that anything we might describe as bold or innovative is automatically wrong. In short, there is no place for the heroic.

Irrational Preference for Easy or Familiar Risks

It's hard not to think of Dr. Berry's Hatfield train crash example when we read Judis's reference to "bloody insurgency" and his doom-filled predictions of post-war Iraq. Some bad things have happened. Some thousands of people are dead because the U.S. took action. This wouldn't have happened if Bush had gone about his job the old way. Judis offers us the much superior examples of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton viewed strictly through the lens of Woodrow Wilson:

With the Cold War over, U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had the chance to resume Wilson's attempt to dismantle the structure of imperialism that sparked two world wars, the Cold War, and wars of national liberation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As both presidents understood, the challenge concerned how the United States could actively exercise leadership—and further America's goals of a peaceful, democratic world—without reviving the perilous dialectic of imperialism and nationalism.

George H.W. Bush met this challenge when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. If he had acted unilaterally against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein—or solely with Britain, the other former colonial power in the region—the United States would have been regarded as an imperialist aggressor. But Bush wisely sought the support of the United Nations Security Council and created a genuine coalition that included Iraq's Arab neighbors.

Clinton followed a similar strategy. In the Balkans, where the collapse of the Soviet empire awakened centuries-old ethnic conflicts, Clinton intervened only as part of a NATO force.

These years represented a triumph of Wilsonianism. Yet, during this period, conservative Republicans challenged Wilson's legacy. The most vocal dissenters included the second and third generation of the neoconservatives who had helped shape U.S. President Ronald Reagan's domestic and foreign policy. They declared their admiration for the Theodore Roosevelt of the 1890s and the United States' first experiment with imperialism.

Ah yes. What might have been. Again, history mandates the process we should always use to deal with international crises. Bush 41 works through the United Nations, just like Wilson wanted to work through the League of Nations. (What's that, you say? The League of Nations failed, and Wilson's enlightened interference in the Treaty of Versailles led to the mega-million casualties of World War II? Yeah, but that led to the United Nations and NATO, which have worked out so darned well.)

There's lots of convenient omission and ellipsis going on here to cover the threadbare argument that the least risky strategy is to do things the way they have always been done before. Bush 41 worked through the United Nations. No mention is made of his callous abandonment of the Shia and Kurds who died because he observed the U.N.'s authorization of force to the letter. Clinton conspicuously did not work through the U.N; he cobbled together a figleaf multilateralism based on a novel interpetation of the charter of NATO, because the U.N. was its usual adamant self about wanting to do nothing.

Judis is, in effect, creating a sense of deep tradition about process that is simply untrue. He is, by this sleight of hand, fantasizing a familiar risk that seems preferable because it has been imbued with a veneer of -- what else? -- the familiar? And by recasting all American foreign policy as some kind of ongoing duality between Wilsonian multilateralism and early twentieth century American imperialism, he is compounding the sin. There is, he is insisting, a right way and a wrong way, and you can always tell the wrong way because it brings us back to the American adventure in the Philippines and its naive but sinister relation to protestantism, American delusions of superiority, and grandiose talk about democracy. Think I'm overstating the case? Try this one for size:

By the early 20th century, this vision of American empire had faded, as the United States proved barely capable of retaining its hold over the Philippines. Wilson didn't merely change U.S. foreign policy; he changed its underlying millennial framework. Like Beveridge, he believed the United States was destined to create the Kingdom of God on Earth by actively transforming the world. But Wilson didn't believe it could be done through a U.S. imperium. America's special role would consist in creating a community of power that would dismantle the structure of imperialism and lay the basis for a pacific, prosperous international system. Wilson's vision earned the support not only of Americans but of peoples around the world.

The Wilsonian way is the safe way. We're not supposed to remember that it wasn't safe in his day or in the aftermath of his presumed enlightenment. We're not supposed to ask whether the first large-scale attack on American civilians on American soil in almost 200 years might have altered the degree of risk entailed in the 'traditional' way. Judis is pointing a quivering finger at the Hatfield railway accident and exhorting us to get back in our cars for a comfortable commute to the past.

Overreliance on Useful Analogies

This is the heart and soul of Judis's approach to his subject. He is the doctor confidently advising us to keep the baby on its stomach, because even though no one can know the future or all the hidden variables that may affect the outcome, he has a useful analogy which seems to fit the facts better than anything else he can think of. In this case, the analogy is the Philippines. America made a mistake there more than a hundred years ago, and it looks very much like the mistake (Judis thinks) Bush is making right now in Iraq. We can tell that it's the same mistake because in both instances, there is talk of exporting American democracy to a country that isn't ready for it:

As for the Philippines' democracy, the United States can take little credit for what exists and some blame for what doesn't. The electoral machinery the United States designed in 1946 provided a democratic veneer beneath which a handful of families, allied to U.S. investors—and addicted to kickbacks—controlled the Philippine land, economy, and society. The tenuous system broke down in 1973 when Philippine politician Ferdinand Marcos had himself declared president for life. Marcos was finally overthrown in 1986, but even today Philippine democracy remains more dream than reality. Three months before Bush's visit, a group of soldiers staged a mutiny that raised fears of a military coup. With Islamic radicals and communists roaming the countryside, the Philippines is perhaps the least stable of Asian nations. If the analogy between the United States' “liberation” of the Philippines and of Iraq holds true, it will not be to the credit of the Bush administration, but to the skeptics who charged that the White House undertook the invasion of Baghdad with its eyes wide shut.

Here we are, a hundred years later, and there still isn't what we would call democracy in the Philippines. QED, it's going to be the same in Iraq. Now consider what all Judis has to overlook, reinvent, and blur into invisibility for this seemingly apt analogy to withstand serious scrutiny.

First, he has to quickly mention then entirely forget that America really did renounce imperialism after the brief but unhappy dalliances Judis is so focused on. Could this turning away from the hypothesis of divine mission have contributed to the subsequent messy history of the Philippines? No? Okay.

He has to gloss over a few major historical facts. American foreign adventures since the early twentieth century have been in large measure responses to the stated requests of allies under attack or in grievous danger. To recast all of the past hundred years of American history as a battle against recurrence of the mentality that initiated the Spanish-American War is to flat-out ignore the tornadoes of evil represented by Hitler and Soviet communism and instead employ them as props in a solipsistic American struggle with its own imperialistic roots. World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam are mere backdrops to McKinley's "will to power" in the far east. This is nonsensical on its face. If there is a deep divide in the American soul vis a vis foreign policy, it's between the Monroe doctrine and our Corleone-like curse of always being "drawn back in" to role of savior, policeman, and philanthropist to the world's stricken nations.

He has to subsume "Islamic radicals and communists roaming the countryside" in the Philippines into the original chaos we created by intervening there a century ago. There may be links, of course, but there are other causes and effects at work which have nothing to do the days before World War I. After all, if the oppressed filipinos are still carrying a grudge for that initial conquest, why did they fight so bravely with us against the Japanese in World War II? And by what stretch of the imagination is the rise of Al Qaida attributable to the folly of William McKinley?

He has to pretend that archaic rhetoric about exporting American-style democracy to other nations has never been supported by real-world events. Hence, we must not have midwived stable democratic governments in the wake of systemic collapse in Japan, South Korea, Germany, and (yes, sports fans) France.

Most of all, he has to talk his way around the single most remarkable plotline of the American story, which is that no nation in recorded history which possessed the military dominance enjoyed by the United States has so completely resisted the temptation to create a true empire. It can be argued that the United States conquered Europe twice in the twentieth century and walked away from the spoils both times, even though we have paid for their defense with American lives and dollars ever since.

Try to remember these points as Judis moves into his grandiloquent peroration on behalf of his insipid analogy:

Neoconservative intellectuals candidly acknowledge that the United States was on an imperial mission, but insist, in the words of neoconservative Stanley Kurtz, that imperialism is “a midwife of democratic self-rule.” Yet, in the Philippines in 1900, South Vietnam in 1961, or Iraq today, imperialism has not given birth to democracy, but war, and war conducted with a savagery that has belied the U.S. commitment to Christian civilization or democracy. Abu Ghraib was not the first time U.S. troops used torture on prisoners; it was rampant in the Philippines a century ago. Although nothing is inevitable, the imperial mindset sees the people it seeks to civilize or democratize as inferior and lends itself to inhumane practices. The British used poison gas in Iraq well before the idea ever occurred to Saddam Hussein.

We especially like his "imperialism has not given birth to democracy, but war, and war conducted with a savagery that has belied the U.S. commitment to Christian civilization or democracy." There's a lopsided equation for you. After one whole year of occupation, Iraq hasn't achieved democracy, and therefore never will, which makes it exactly like the Philippines. The "savagery" reference is a nice touch too. Gosh, the hundreds of Baathists we have killed, and we call ourselves Christians? Pooh. And then the final ridiculous stretch of the analogy that tears it limb from limb: the Abu Ghraib "torture" that reminds of nothing so much as -- God, aren't you getting tired of this? -- the Philippines.

Make sure you keep that baby on its tummy now. Doctor says so, and doctor knows.

Absolutist Applications of So-Called Lessons of the Past

We're about done commenting on all this. The absolutist nature of Judis's argument pervades everything we've already discussed. We'll offer a few more direct quotes from the article, which you might want to review for their repetitive rhetoric, their flagrant exaggerations, and their conspicuous omissions. If you feel the key points of our thesis have been adequately made, feel free to skip to the end of our essay. Otherwise, read on and perform the analysis for yourself. The pieces quoted are not necessarily contiguous or in order. Proceed at your own risk:

Al Qaeda and its terrorist network were latter-day products of the nationalist reaction to Western imperialism. These Islamic movements shared the same animus toward the West and Israel that older nationalist and Marxist movements did. They openly described the enemy as Western imperialism. Where they differed from the older movements was in their reactionary social outlook, particularly toward women, and in their ultimate aspiration to restore the older Muslim empire to world dominance. But after September 11, as Washington tried to understand what had happened, the neoconservatives insisted that these movements were simply the products of a deranged Islam, inflamed by irrational resentment of —in the words of historian Bernard Lewis—“America's freedom and plenty.”

For his part, Bush declared during an April 2004 press conference that, in invading and occupying Iraq, the United States had not acted as “an imperial power,” but as a “liberating power.” To be sure, the United States has not attempted to make Iraq part of a new, formal U.S. empire. But the invasion and occupation conformed perfectly to the variant of imperialism pioneered by the United States in Cuba and by the British in the Middle East. Instead of permanently annexing the countries they conquered, after a period of suzerainty, they would retain control by vetoing unfriendly governments and dominating the country's economy.

Predictably, these policies provoked a nationalist backlash. By the spring of 2004, the Bush administration was engaged in a fierce war of urban repression—raining bombs and artillery shells on heavily populated cities—to defend its hold over the country. The president tried to blame opposition to the occupation entirely on foreign terrorists or on high-level loyalists from the old regime, but it is clear that the Iraqi resistance includes people who opposed and even suffered under Hussein's regime.

As the 21st century dawned, the neoconservatives adopted Wilson's vision of global democracy, but they sought to achieve it through the unilateral means associated with Beveridge. They saw the United States as an imperial power that could transform the world single-handedly. But the neoconservatives and George W. Bush are likely to learn the same lesson in the early 21st century that Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson learned in the early 20th century. Acting on its own, the United States' ability to dominate and transform remains limited, as the ill-fated mission in Iraq and the reemergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan already suggest. When the United States goes out alone in search of monsters to destroy—venturing in terrain upon which imperial powers have already trod—it can itself become the monster.

Well, was this a risk worth taking? Do I look stupid? Oh dear. I suppose I won't ever do this again. Not until the next time I feel like it anyway.




Tuesday, June 29, 2004


instapunk062904

Mysteries


PSAYINGS.5Q.48. Mostly, the news rushes by us in a blur. We hear and read snippets of information, then read or watch chunks of commentary. The same faces pop up again and again, but the things they've said or written or done slide away into the opaque past. We may occasionally experience a moment of puzzlement, a sense that's something's out of whack, but the cause of such feelings is usually gone before they even have a chance to register. Sometimes it's possible to get lucky though, and catch absurdity in the act of flashing us before it ducks behind the curtain. We offer, for your consideration, a few examples.

The first one we're calling Real Clear Goofiness because it came to view at RealClearPolitics.com, which publishes links to relevant columns and articles by pundits, politicians, and journalists. Yesterday, one of the articles on the list was Andrew Sullivan's latest effort for the Times. It's called Kerry Bores Upward and illustrates Sullivan's ongoing attempt to build a bridge over the deeps of common sense so that he can move from his long documented Bush support to a (to him) more emotionally appealing position at the side of socially liberal (i.e., gay advocate) Kerry. He wants us to see him kicking and screaming as he goes, but he is definitely going, as the article's many easy slams at Bush will attest. However, that's not what concerns us about the piece. Here's what does:

For weeks, Kerry has been all but non-existent on the American stage. And the less you see of him, the better he does. His major advertising campaign has touted his Vietnam record - about the only faintly interesting part of his biography, and one long in the distant past, when Kerry was the same bore, but better looking and with a funnier, plummier accent. Of his two decades of spectacularly undistinguished service in the U.S. Senate, his campaign speaks sparsely, as well it might. Only the Bush campaign has focused on this record, making Kerry out to be somewhat to the left of Michael Moore in a tough series of often-deceptive ads in swing states. And, indeed, the ad buy did drive Kerry's unfavorables up - but not disastrously, and not yet to the levels of the president.

And so Kerry now has a lead of between four and eight percent, depending on who's counting. More striking is the fact that, in the latest polls, Bush's positive ratings on Iraq and terrorism have actually increased on a month ago - but the gap between him and Kerry hasn't narrowed. Moreover, almost all of Bush's recent gains have been among wavering conservatives and Republicans. The "persuadables" in swing states haven't budged an inch.

What's the mystery? Well, RCP also keeps track of the presidential polls on its main page as a regular feature. Here's what's posted there now:


How could he possibly have ignored every single poll but the one which shows Kerry ahead? He's even wrong about the trends. It's a MYSTERY. We have already noted that Sullivan can't think anymore. Now it seems he can't even read anymore. What's next? Columns written in kindergarten blocks?

We call our next entry What He Said. The story begins with Drudge, who linked to a report that Dick Cheney had used the F-Word on Senator Patrick Leahy. (oohs and aahs and gasps all around, please...). Those who are familiar with the little congressional tempest that resulted are probably getting ahead of yourselves here, presuming that the mystery is why Cheney would have stepped over the line and said such a thing. That's not it. He explained his conduct quite clearly and convincingly.

Vice President Cheney on Friday vigorously defended his vulgarity directed at a prominent Democratic senator earlier this week in the Senate chamber.

Cheney said he "probably" used an obscenity in an argument Tuesday on the Senate floor with Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and added that he had no regrets. "I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it," Cheney told Neil Cavuto of Fox News. The vice president said those who heard the putdown agreed with him. "I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue"...

...Cheney said yesterday he was in no mood to exchange pleasantries with Leahy because Leahy had "challenged my integrity" by making charges of cronyism between Cheney and his former firm, Halliburton Co. Leahy on Monday had a conference call to kick off the Democratic National Committee's "Halliburton Week" focusing on Cheney, the company, "and the millions of dollars they've cost taxpayers," the party said.

"I didn't like the fact that after he had done so, then he wanted to act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream," Cheney said. "And I informed him of my view of his conduct in no uncertain terms. And as I say, I felt better afterwards."

Seems perfectly reasonable to us. And don't forget that Leahy enjoys other unique distinctions. For example, we found him being honored at another website with something called the Bald Barbara Lee Award. The citation read:

Patrick Leahy. The self-appointed gatekeeper of the American judiciary, Patrick Leahy, runs the Senate Judiciary Committee like a Democratic Party social club. With nearly 90 vacancies on federal courts -- including 30 on the U.S. Circuit Court -- Leahy's determination to "Bork" every judicial nominee to come before his committee has resulted in an ongoing deterioration of the nation's justice system at a time of war. Legislators, lawyers, former US attorneys-general and even the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court have asked Leahy to stop playing politics with the judiciary and help to avoid what one former US Attorney-General has called a "judicial emergency". Leahy, who has already been removed from one Senate committee for leaking national security information in order to try to gain partisan advantage, has so far refused. One recent victim: Charles Pickering. Pickering was supported by the liberal ABA -- but, unfortunately for him, he was nominated by a Republican president. For Leahy, that's all it takes to obstruct justice.

The mystery? Why in the hell has it taken so very long for someone to drop the F-Word on this M_____F_____?

There's a related question at stake in Mystery No. 3, What He Didn't Say. President Bush has lots of recent face time with Jacques Chirac, which has resulted in -- you guessed it -- more friction and more heavily accented gibberish from the Number One Frog.

US President George W. Bush repeated a call on Tuesday for the European Union to admit Turkey, ignoring criticism by France that he was interfering in EU affairs.

But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan brushed aside suggestions that a spat between Bush and French President Jacques Chirac had marred a two-day NATO summit here, saying "it should not be cause of discomfort"...

[Bush's] remarks drew an exasperated rebuke a day later from French President Jacques Chirac, who said they were "like me telling the United States how to run its affairs with Mexico."

"Not only did he go too far, he ventured into territory which is not his concern," Chirac told a news conference on the sidelines of the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Excuse us, Jacques. There is no territory which is not the concern of the President of the United States. Now here's the MYSTERY we can't solve. If Bush and Cheney are as close as everyone says they are, why hasn't Bush done the sensible thing and dropped the F-Bomb on Chirac the way his best bud did on Leahy? We all know there are words Bush doesn't know, but is this one of them? We can't think that it is, but... Frankly, we're stumped.

Our fourth and last item is A Small Thing, far from earthshaking. It's that it's so darned MYSTERIOUS. On Friday, Yahoo reported:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to repeal a state law that requires animal shelters to hold stray dogs and cats for up to six days before killing them.

Instead, there would be a three-day requirement for strays. Other animals, including birds, hamsters, potbellied pigs, rabbits, snakes and turtles, could be killed immediately.

Schwarzenegger has told the state Legislature that the changes could save local governments that operate shelters up to $14 million.

An estimated 600,000 dogs and cats are put to death each year in California, including 34,000 in Los Angeles alone.

Then, just a couple days later, came this inevitable update.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed a money-saving move late last week that would have allowed animal shelters to euthanize animals within 72 hours instead of the current six business days.

The proposal, buried in Schwarzenegger's $103 billion state budget since December, only came to light this week, drawing howls of protest from animal lovers.

"There was a mistake that I made," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference. "Animals will be kept in animal shelters for six days and so everything will stay exactly the same."

This time the MYSTERY has to be obvious. Schwarzenegger is surrounded by dozens of hotshot political professionals. How on earth could someone's inane impulse have gotten so far down the pipeline as to become a statement of policy? Which of those pros couldn't have visualized Doris Day's hand streaking for the telephone the moment the guv handed down his death sentence on all those dogs and cats and rabbits and gerbils? There is absolutely no way to imagine the meeting in which this incredibly stupid decision was made. Maybe Rod Serling could explain it somehow, but he's no longer with us. Anyone else care to give it a try?

Thanks for joining us on our excursion through the Twilight Zone.




Monday, June 28, 2004


instapunk062804

Next Step: Saudi Arabia

For final victory, Americans are going to have to suck it up and buy more SUVs.

THE AMERICAN WAY. Now that we've handed over power in Iraq to the transition government, the first domino has fallen in the target list of oppressive Arab states. A new ideal has been manifested: impotent self rule in the heart of the Islamofascist empire. The question we must all start answering today is, how can we keep a good thing going? We have a suggestion, dramatic perhaps, but simple in its essence: Use up all the oil.

Saudi Arabia is the colossus of Araby, standing astride the middle east on towering legs made of billions of petrodollars. For too long, we have seen our leaders forced to compromise with, if not kowtow to, double-dealing sheiks who live double lives at our expense, at home they parade around in their barbarian robes dispensing cash to terrorists and the terrorist incubators called madrassas; abroad, they slip into silky western suits and shop for Bentleys, Beverly Hills mansions, and unscrupulous bankers. Everyone knows we have to break their economic stranglehold on the world economy. But most delude themselves with the folly that this can be accomplished by conservation and farsighted investment in new energy technologies. This scenario just isn't going to happen. Energy companies aren't going to get serious about developing alternative energy sources until they absolutely have to; that's capitalism. American consumers aren't interested in tightening their belts for the sake of some long-term objective that none of the rich and powerful are seriously pursuing. And why should they tighten their belts? The American Way is to do what we want to do, regardless of what anyone else thinks. It usually works out for the best, and it will this time, too.

Our national objective should be to consume all that Arab oil as quickly as possible. At the moment, the U.S. acquires a measly 15 percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia. We can do much much better than that. Shut down domestic oil production. Buy more SUVs. Build more oil-fired power plants. Switch home heating systems away from electric and gas to oil. In short, put the hammer down and suck the oil out of the middle east until the wells are as dry as the sand above them, and then see what happens to the two-faced princes of Saud. Yes, they'll have some cash on hand for a while, but they'll be like American sports stars or rap sensations, hooked on absurd spending habits long after their ability to produce income has vanished. OPEC will become the equivalent of a London men's club, irrelevant refuge for the artifacts of defunct empire.

Meanwhile, the energy companies will be doing what they always do when the long-term crisis has landed with a thump on their short-term plates. They'll find new kinds of energy for us to use. We don't really have to worry about the what and how right now. When they can't make money any other way, they'll figure out how to generate billions of GigaWatts by burning water or some damn thing. It's possible there will be a few difficult years of transition, but hey, that's in the future, and in the meantime think of the fun we'll have, kicking the great American shopping machine into high gear. We need more plastic stuff, of course, because plastic is made from oil. LOTS more plastic stuff. The automotive giants of Detroit should experience a tremendous windfall, provided they can respond to the short-term challenge. We need SUVs twice the size of the Lincoln Navigator, capable of fuel inefficiencies in the two-to-three mpg range.We need snowmobiles as big as tanks, motorcycles with six-liter V-8 engines, gas-powered carving knives, blenders, and toasters. And we've got to make a much larger national commitment to RV'ing and speedboating. The federal and state governments will have to help out us loyal consumers, of course, by eliminating gas taxes, but that will be a far easier policy to sell than Kerry's old plan of doubling taxes on fuel.

Best of all, we the people will have the satisfaction of practicing our favorite pursuits, buying and wasting stuff, while knowing that in doing so we are behaving in the most patriotic possible manner. Why try to defeat the enemy with sacrifice when it can be done so much more easily and effectively with our in-born talent for self-indulgence?

And just imagine the day when all the western troops and trucks and fancy high-tech equipment can be packed up and brought home from the plague lands of the middle east. The Arabs will be able to get down to the serious business of killing each other for nothing, and we can ignore it all completely, confident that whatever they choose to teach their spawn in the madrassas, none of the little bastards will be able to afford a plane ticket out of hell.

We'll leave it to the brainy types to work out the details. Our job is the 'Vision Thing.'


As usual, Shuteye Town 1999 contains a glimpse of the delightful future that awaits us.





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