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Monthly Archives: November 2008

ET, Call the White House

November 30th, 2008 - 12:49 pm

Good news!  Obama’s inner circle includes at least two UFO afficionados:  John Podesta and Bill Richardson.  Richardson thinks there’s been a coverup, and Podesta has already weighed in to declassify documents during the Clinton years.  Both are being lobbied by the Extraterrestrial Political Action Committee to come clean and tell us about all those flying saucers, and, of course, the key question of our age:  what is hidden under the sands in Roswell, New Mexico, anyway?

The London Telegraph’s Tim Shipman tell us

The group wants the incoming president to insist on a “full briefing from your military services and intelligence agencies regarding what they know” and to open congressional hearings “to take testimony from scores of government witnesses who have already come forward with extraordinary evidence and are prepared to testify under oath.”

The campaigners, who resent their common portrayal as nuts and conspiracy theorists, have high hopes of success due to their inside track with Mr Obama.

Maybe Obama will talk about it on Inauguration Day?  Now THAT would really be something.

Accepting Responsibility

November 30th, 2008 - 8:33 am

I read in the Times of India the following brief and very encouraging story:

NEW DELHI: Home minister Shivraj Patil resigned on Sunday, saying he felt obliged to take “moral responsibility” for the brutal Islamist attacks in Mumbai, an official government source said.

Patil, who has been widely criticised in the media for failing to ensure India’s domestic security, sent his resignation letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “owning moral responsibility” for the attacks, the source in the home ministry said.

All praise to Mr. Patil, who has done the honorable thing.  Would that this practice took hold in the United States.  We could have been rid of George Tenet on the 12th of September, 2001.  Make that should have been.  And quite a number of others, not one of whom “owned moral responsibility,” and looked for less challenging work.
Of course, if you don’t have responsible officials, the commander in chief is supposed to fire them.  But he didn’t.

Women Bite Dogs in Iraq

November 26th, 2008 - 7:51 pm

Here is one of the biggest stories to come out of the Middle East in quite some time.  You probably can’t find it in the New York Slimes or the Washington Compost  (copyright, Mark Levin), but rather on the exceptionally useful web site of our military Voila’:

TIKRIT, Iraq – Eighteen females in northern Iraq who were associated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq suicide bombing cells turned themselves into Coalition forces on Nov. 26.

The females were persuaded by their mullahs and fathers to cease their training in suicide operations and reconcile.

Today, these women took the first step in reconciliation by turning themselves in and signing a reconciliation pledge.

Individuals who turn themselves into CF and want to demonstrate their willingness to cease attacks against the Government of Iraq, Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Security Forces and CF can enter the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process. Eligible petitioners provide weapons and information on insurgent groups and sign a pledge to cease attacks and declare their support for the GoI.

Let’s start with the dateline:  Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town.  How good is that?  Then comes the really good part:  these women were talked out of terrorism by their fathers and by their mullahs.  So we’re talking about Shi’ites, and the menfolk in their town, whether religious or “just dads,” got wind of their daughters’ intentions and talked them out of it.

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We are approaching Thanksgiving, but Ukrainians are remembering Holodomor, the terrible famine of 1932-1933, when Stalin’s policies led to the starvation of millions of poor Ukrainians at the incredible rate of twenty-five thousand peasants per day.  The European Parliament has proclaimed it a crime against humanity, and 14 countries have branded it a genocide.

As Robert Conquest, the great historian of the Soviet Terror, has noted, the deliberate and systematic decimation of the Ukrainians (and many other ‘nationalities’ in the Soviet Empire) had two terrible effects:  over the next decade or so, more than ten million peasants died.  At the same time, as Bukharin bitterly remarked, the Communists who oversaw the mass murder were transformed into brutal bureaucrats for whom terror was an acceptable, normal method of carrying out “the revolution.”  Brutalization at the top, murder at the bottom.

And, in another leitmotif of the modern world, there was a strenuous effort to deny what was going on, just as with the Holocaust.  The most celebrated case is the New York Times’ man in Moscow, the infamous Walter Duranty, who told his readers that there was no evidence for the genocidal famine, but informed the British Charge’ in Moscow that he believed ten million peasants had been killed.  To this day, the Times refuses to give back the Pulitzer Prize Duranty was awarded for his pro-Stalin “reporting” during those dark years.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus believes that someday all will recognize that Nazis and Communists were equally guilty of crimes against humanity.  Speaking at a commemoration of the terrible famine, Adamkus warned against blaming individual nations or peoples for these horrors.  Rather, we must put the blame on totalitarianism.  Communism and Nazism were two variations on a single genocidal theme, and it’s time to stop making artificial distinctions between them.

“It is the last indispensable precondition for Europe’s moral and spiritual unity on the road towards mutual openness and genuine solidarity among the nations”, Adamkus said.

Fine words indeed.  But they would be even more convincing if Lithuania took stronger action against the worrisome revival of antisemitism directed against the country’s miniscule Jewish population (95% of the country’s Jews were wiped out in the Holocaust).  Indeed, Adamkus is right to put the Nazis and Communists on the same moral plane, but many Lithuanians have been saying and writing that Jews were in cahoots with the Soviets during the war, and were themselves guilty of genocide.  This is a fantastic libel (the Lithuanian Jews were prime victims of Stalin’s killing sprees), and its clear intent is to whitewash Lithuanian collaborators with the SS mobile killing centers.

Those of us who have spent the better part of our adult lives studying the evils of totalitarian regimes know that it’s very hard to find good guys in the fascist/communist era, and for the most part, those few were killed.  But the very worst thing that journalists and scholars can do is to start blaming the victims for the crimes they endured.

Herod, Augustus, and Us

November 23rd, 2008 - 7:48 am

It seems that Israeli archeologists have found Herod’s tomb.  It was quite something, some 75 feet high, adorned with all manner of frescos, worthy of an emperor.  As well it should have been;  Herod presided over a Middle Eastern empire, and, like other emperors, caused the creation of an amazingly modern infrastructure from roads and water systems to monuments and temples.  Anyone who visits Rome, whence I have just returned, must be amazed at the fabulous combination of engineering and artistic talent that made Rome the center of the world for many centuries.  Did you know that Augustus’ wife had a villa on top of what is now the Forum, in which she had steam heat?  And did you know that the principal roads, which began on the Capitoline Hill (now the site of the city hall, in Michelangelo’s magnificent piazza at the center of which stands a copy of the golden equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius–the original standing inside the museum that borders the piazza)?

So, if only for the magnificence of Herod’s world, the discovery is important and exciting, and no doubt the Israelis will restore it.  I can’t wait to see it.  And it gets me thinking about the fascination of the monuments of antiquity, and the ebb and flow of creativity.  In many ways, Roman technology was totally modern, by today’s standards.  Barbara and I lived in the center of Rome for many years, and we were always struck by the incredible efficiency of the ancient water system.  Our neighborhood’s water came through the original aquaducts, which carried water by gravity from the hills outside the city into the center.  All the palaces (we lived on the fifth floor of a 15th-century building, next to the prison, with no heat, no elevator, and electrical wires running on the outside of the walls) had that terrific water, aqua marcia, which is extraordinarily health-giving and was probably sent by the Almighty to make perfect pasta.  That system always worked, while the newer neighborhoods–those built mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries–had periodic breakdowns, and people used to come into our neighborhoods with plastic containers which they filled from the fountains.  And it prompted me to think of the significance of one of my favorite Roman legends:  that the statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline had a magic significance.  Romans believed that if that statue were ever to fall, the world would end.

In a sense that remains true today.  For the Romans bequeathed a lot to us, from their incredible engineering to their elaborate legal system, much of which remains at the heart of the modern concept of law and order.

Which brings me to one of the great failures of modern education:  the politically correct notion that all cultures are morally equivalent.  That is false and dangerous.  I do not believe that history is the story of human progress, not at all.  When ancient Rome was sacked by barbarians, it was a huge setback for mankind, and it took a very long time before we got back to the notion of law and order, as it took a very long time for us to recover the technological skills that Herod and his contemporaries had mastered.

The famous wall around the gardens that bordered Solomon’s Temple remains mysterious to this day.  It was constructed with enormous marble stones which were fitted together with tongue-and-groove methods (much as the Mormons built their Tabernacle and other public buildings in Salt Lake City;  but that was done with wood, not stone, which is much easier).  The stones of that wall fit together so tightly that you cannot put a narrow blade between them.  How could they have been cut with such precision?  And we’re talking about stone blocks of many tons.

That culture was, and remains, one of the great achievements of mankind.  It is superior to most other cultures, and it should not be dumbed down by a theory of false equivalence.  If we’re going to work our way through our current time of troubles, we have to appreciate superior men, and the cultures they created.

Harvard used to brag that it was devoted to excellence, excelsior.  That is the true purpose of education, and I’m afraid that those who still advocate it are too often dismissed as bigoted elitists.   The PC critics need a refesher course.  Badly.

Obama’s World

November 14th, 2008 - 8:59 pm

Now he’s had his first real intelligence briefing, and it was probably an eye-opener, because it’s quite a scene out there.  I hope he’s got someone close to him with the wit and the nerve to tell the president-elect that the intelligence community is also a mess, and that he can be morally certain the real world is even worse than the one he’s just been briefed about.

The real world is so frightening that I can’t imagine Hillary Clinton will be foolish enough to accept the job of secretary of state;  anyone who takes that job is almost certain to fail.  How can anyone believe that he or she has a good chance of dealing with:

–the expanding anti-American alliance, now including Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador, China, North Korea and Syria (remember that the “Axis of Evil” had only three charter members);

–the global financial/economic crisis, which is almost surely in a relatively early stage;

–allies wimping out all over.  No one seems to have the stomach (and none has the wherewithal) to mount a more aggressive campaign in Afghanistan, which Obama has promised to do.

And that’s only the top of the list.  The Iranian nuclear project is still there, simmering away, as the mullahs almost daily threaten the destruction of Israel and the United States.  Iran claims to have tested yet another (long-range) missile, and shown us photographs.  The State Department, as always, clicked its tongue, but since so many of these proclamations have proven false in the past, there’s no reason I know of to take this one any more seriously than the earlier hoaxes.

What IS clear about Iran could and should be good news for Obama and his team (whoever they are):  the regime shows every sign of being in a paranoid panic over the hatred the Iranian people feel for the mullahs.  Hence we have recently seen a huge drill in the major cities, wherein tens of thousands of security forces rehearse their actions in the event of an insurrection;  new repression against major non-Persian ethnic groups, including a ban against the use of the Azeri language;  and a mounting tempo of executions.

Yet so far as I can tell, neither Bush nor Obama has the slightest intention of supporting democratic revolution in Iran, which is the key ingredient to any successful American policy in the region.  Both Bush and Obama insist on seeing Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan as separate policy matters, a failure of strategic vision that lies at the heart of our failed war plan for Iraq in the first place, and which deflected our attention from Afghanistan long enough to permit the Taliban and its Iranian supporters to rebuild their forces.

Until our policy makers finally come to terms with the hard truth that we are in a regional war, and that it has to be waged on a regional scale, we will fail to win the overall struggle.  Yes, Iraq looks good today, and although there is still a curious unwillingness to say it in Washington, we defeated al Qaeda in Iraq.  But it can all come apart quite quickly if we “declare victory and go home,” because the Iranians and the Syrians will step up the terror war in Iraq.

It will be interesting to see who Obama picks to “manage” the Iranian time bomb.  My guess is that he will take people who have been wrong from the beginning.  I’m betting that he will find people from the Carter years, the ones who favored the fall of the shah and rather liked the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Any takers?

The Man With No Legs

November 10th, 2008 - 10:14 am

Washington loves the Marines and so, on the latest celebration of Marines’ Birthday, the town is bubbling with parties and reunions.  I say “bubbling” literally, since Marines have always been good for the beer business.  Appropriately enough, since they were founded (invented?  created?) in a bar in Philadelphia in 1775, and they’ve been drinking enthusiastically ever since.

(Capt) Gabriel and I were invited to a reunion of a Marine Company that fought in Vietnam, now median age about sixty, I would say.  They were in good spirits (again, literally), having just returned from a visit to the Marine Corps Museum down in Quantico (40 minutes on a good day, much much longer on a typical day), so far as I know the only museum in America where you can drink beer.   (Ooooorah!)

Terrific guys, running the gamut from “Hippy” (hair down to his waist, moustache that Jerry Colonna would envy) to Navy corpsmen–now medical doctors–who were responsible for several of the vets being alive.  It’s hard and painful to realize that these warriors were shunned and spat upon when they came back to America.  Those who think that our current political atmosphere is uniquely viral have either forgotten or are fortunate enough not to have lived through that culturally disgusting era.

The returning Marines paid a terrible psychological price, twice over:  they were pariahs in their own towns, and the government itself did not provide the sort of help–especially counseling for what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder–that our troops are given nowadays.  We talked to some of these old Marines who have only been able to talk to a professional counselor in the past few years, and they are very grateful for it.  They are only now holding reunions, and they are clearly very happy about it.

But these Marines are adamant that they were not “victims,” and they get very angry if anyone tries to treat them that way.  “Honor the sacrifice,” they say, “but don’t treat us like victims,” which echoes the sentiments of just about every vet I have known.  And they’re right.  They deserve honor, much more than American society is generally inclined to give them.  And they are still fighters, and we still need them.

One of the corpsmen–I’ll call him “Doc”–told me his favorite war story, and it had to do with another guy there, named “Pete.”  Pete was getting ready to go home, when a new guy showed up, with the latest body armor, and the guy offered to swap with Pete for Pete’s tee shirt and lightweight jacket.  Pete didn’t want to do it–they didn’t like the added weight of the protective plates and the high neck in the jungle climate–but finally did.  Just a few hours later he hit a trap, and was blown up.  “Doc” and two others worked frantically to try to save him, and put him on a helicopter back to Danang (I think).  As usual, “Doc” called the main medical facility a couple of days later to ask about Pete’s condition, and was saddened to hear that Pete had died.

Now fast forward about twenty-five years.  Doc is at a reunion when all of a sudden a guy in a wheelchair comes steaming up to him.  “I want to kiss you,” the guy says, “you saved my life.”  It was Pete.  He’d lost both legs, and as a result got involved in amputees’ programs at the University of Arizona, which has since become one of the two or three best in the country.  And a couple of years ago he got a call from Walter Reed Hospital, to tell him that they had a brand-new pair of the latest high tech legs for him, if he could make it to Washington.  “So I threw a couple of tee shirts and some jeans into a bag and came down here (from Western Pennsylvania),” he told me.  And he’s still here.

Turns out there’s nothing better for amputees than seeing a sixty-year old Marine who has been through it, and prevailed.  Pete does everything, from sports to, ahem, an active social life, and when the wounded kids meet him it gives them energy.  Hell, if this old fart can do it, I sure can.

And they can.  And do.  I am still waiting for some ambitious writer to tell the amazing story of the medical technology that has emerged from this war, and the incredible generation of wounded vets now inspiring thousands of others–military and civilian–to throw themselves full bore into American life, and not take the soft option and withdraw.

Happy Birthday, Marines.  Thanks again.

Genocide

November 9th, 2008 - 12:49 pm

This is the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night when the Nazis unleashed a wave of physical violence against German Jews and their enterprises.  The name comes from the shattered glass that filled the streets of Jewish neighborhoods, and it made it crystal clear that Hitler fully intended to annihilate the Jews of Germany, and, eventually, everywhere else that he could reach.  Even the New York Times, which had a very mixed record on reporting the events of the Holocaust, described it on their front page in terms that left no doubt what was going on:

A wave of destruction, looting and incendiarism unparalleled in Germany since the Thirty Years War and in Europe generally since the Bolshevist Revolution swept over Great Germany today as National Socialist cohorts took vengeance on Jewish shops, offices…

Thus began the destruction of the European Jews, and the Second World War.  Nobody did much of anything to challenge the Nazis until their time came, with the exception, paradoxically, of Mussolini, who deployed the Italian Army to block Hitler’s first attempt at Anschluss with Austria.  Thereafter, the whole nightmare played out as we know.

After the war, the “international community” vowed it would not permit such things to happen again, and passed all manner of resolutions that seemed to promise forceful action against anyone who attempted to destroy an entire people.  “Genocide” –a word invented to describe Nazi actions against the Jews– in particular would not be tolerated.

And yet, genocide has been repeatedly tolerated.  Take the by now well known case of Rwanda in the mid-nineties.  Everybody knew that the Hutus were planning to massacre the Tutsis.  The title of Philip Gourevitch’s fine book, taken from a letter written by seven Rwandan bishops to their spiritual leader tells it all:  “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.”  Yet nobody did anything to prevent it, and when the genocide got going, nobody did anything to stop it.  The UN Security Council couldn’t even bring itself to pass a resolution containing the word “genocide,” and the American Government danced all around the issue in order to avoid using the word.  Under the guidance of UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright (from a Czech Jewish refugee family), the Clinton Administration did nothing.  Later on, Albright and Clinton himself apologized, but a million Tutsis had been slaughtered.

So feeble was the “International community” that they didn’t even protect their own troops.

On the morning of April 7, 1994, ten Belgian Blue Berets were taken prisoner by members of the presidential guard and then beaten and murdered.  The UN forces made no attempt to free them.  The Belgian contingent was recalled by its government.  Before leaving, several Belgian soldiers tore up their United Nations badges and spat on the blue flag.  (From Gil Courtemanche, a sunday at the pool in kigali New York:  Random House, 2003, pg 224)

As Gourevitch bitterly remarks, “If Rwanda’s experience could be said to carry any lessons for the world, it was that endangered peoples who depend on the international community for physical protection stand defenseless.”

Which is why the anniversary of Kristallnacht is so important for us;  in many ways it defined the modern world.  Genocide is tolerated, victims are not defended (ask the million and a half victims in Darfur today), nobody does anything unless he is directly attacked.  Somehow I think that the “rule of law” has not helped at all, because the lawyers are forever telling governments why they cannot intervene, or, as in very many cases, why they cannot offer asylum to criminal dictators, thereby leaving the governments with a Hobson’s Choice:  do nothing, or attack.

In Africa recently I was told a story that rings true to me:  a rebel leader who is currently in the crosshairs of the World Court was offered a deal if he would stop fighting.  He agreed, with one proviso:  the World Court had to promise not to prosecute.  The World Court refused.  And the fighting continues.  Phil Howard wrote a masterpiece a few years back called The Death of Common Sense, and he was so right.  These are not, it seems to me, the sorts of issues that would challenge Solomon.  But we can’t seem to think our way out of the complicated webs we’ve woven for ourselves.

Why did the Markets Crash after the Election?

November 5th, 2008 - 8:26 pm

I don’t buy the explanation that the stock markets were spooked by Obama’s election;  such things are discounted in advance, and virtually all of the polls predicted the outcome.  So why, then?

Well, the Russians announced they were deploying short-range missiles along NATO’s northern border, which is certainly disconcerting to investors desperately looking for stability…

Don’t you think?

Blog Rules

November 5th, 2008 - 7:27 pm

Please try to keep comments substantive.  When I can, I try to throw out comments that are basically rants, and direct insults at other folks who have taken the time to post.

I should do it more often, but a) I have a day job and b) I’m crashing on a book.

For the most part I let stand nasty remarks about me, provided there is at least some substance to them.