View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, May 30, 2004

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines 

I'm not such a big racing fan. The only way to tell the cars apart is by color, and there are only so many colors. Plus, while it may be exciting in person, there's not a whole lot of payoff in watching guys go around in a circle.

Fox has gotten pretty inventive in its NASCAR coverage (I'm one of the few who liked the glowing puck), but ABC is still pretty much stuck in the Jackie Stewart era when it comes to race technology. But their announcers do a great job explaining what's going on.

Still, I love the Indy 500. I'm old enough to remember when it was on Memorial Day itself, and was broadcast tape delay in the evening, so the network wasn't at risk for all the time lost to the spring rains. Now, they do it on Sunday and they show it live.

Friday, May 21, 2004

More Oil 

Charles Krauthammer today shows why he's much better writing on foreign policy than on economics. He proposes a gas consumption tax to create a $3 at-the-pump floor, in order to spur consumption. To keep it revenue-neutral, any money collected would be refunded through payroll or income tax refunds. I've been thinking this over, and I can't see any way that this does anyone any good.

First of all, promising to refund the amount of this tax is like promising to put Social Security in a lockbox. What you're really doing is giving the government a chance to create some complicated refund formula that I guarantee will leave it holding more of my money.

But let's say the government tries to play fair. Think about who's going to do the most to conserve. It's going to be the middle class, in particular, the well-educated middle class who always responds better to these incentives, and who has the means to buy a new Prius even if they didn't really plan on it for another 5 years or so. The guys as the very top don't care. The guys at the bottom couldn't scrape together enough to replace that 1973 Malibu anyway, which is why they're still repairing it, and this tax isn't helping them to save the money to do it.

You can't link the savings to income tax. That wouldn't be fair since the wealthly would get all that money back and they don't drive any more than I do. Also, the guys at the bottom end would get slaughted by this thing, and they may not pay any income tax to begin with. You can't link it to payroll tax. If I'm upper-middle, or even middle-class, much of my income isn't covered by payroll tax, but I'm probably doing the most to conserve.

There's another problem with one of Krauthammer's assumptions. Suppose I'm a Saudi prince. Now, I'm Jewish, so I'm a Saudi prince who can't get a visa to visit him home country, but bear with me. Why on earth should I not restrict output to force the price up to $3 a gallon? Well, you say, that may not be the optimal supply-demand curve for you. No, it may not be, but while I'm producing at $2 a gallon, gas is being consumed at $3 a gallon. I'm not reducing consumption by raising the price, because the US Government has already done that for me. All I'm doing is making sure I don't leave anything on the table for it or the oil comapnies to take.

Which goes to Krauthammer's last point. The money won't be recycled through the American economy, anyway. Even if it were, why should we believe that the government can cycle it better than or more wisely than consumers can, in the long run?

In fact, the first couple of paragraphs provide the solution to the problem, and we've been there before:

In the mid-1970s, the twilight of America's oil innocence, the average new American car was a monster weighing 4,000 pounds. The oil shocks induced belated rationality into American oil habits. By 1981 the average car was down to 3,202 pounds.

By the mid-'80s, rational consumer reaction to high prices -- home insulation, fuel-efficient appliances and lighter cars -- had actually solved the energy crisis. We had OPEC on the run. In July 1986 oil plunged to $7 a barrel.

We've solved this problem before. Why not again?

Nixon Redux 

Trunk over at Powerline believes that we're reliving the Nixon Era, and compares Wallowing in Watergate to Wallowing in Abu Ghraib. Evidently, the Washington Post's Executive Editor, Leonard Downie, Jr., agrees. From today's online chat about the Post's coverage of Abuse Ghraib:

Arlington, Va.: Looks like trial by media to me. I don't intend to make light of what happened in Iraq, but don't you think that The Post is just feeding a lynch mob? It would be better to wait for a court to establish what happened, and go from there.

Leonard Downie Jr.: It is our First Amendment responsibility to inform the public as fully as possible regardless of what happens in courts or, in this case, inside the military justice system. To cite just one example, that is what we did with Watergate.

The Economy Feels Worse? 

Hindrocket, over at Powerline, finds the idea that large numbers of people claim that the economy is worse for them personally to be perplexing. I think it comes down to gas prices.

First of all, gas prices really putting a crimp in people's budgets. If a family has two cars that get, say, 25 mpg each, and both parents work, they could easily end up spending another $1 a day in gas. Which doesn't seem like much until you compare it to their other monthly bills. Cable. Phone. Electricity.

Then, on top of that, gas prices are ubiquitous. We may not know how much a gallon of milk costs, but you see the price of gas roughly 437 times on the way into work. Big, black and white letters that used to start with a "1", and not so long ago started with "0", now start with "2".

Some of use are old enough to remember when prices shot up through $0.55 a gallon. One gas station in my neighborhood was caught so off-guard, they didn't have any "5"'s to put up, and had to turn the "2"'s backwards. Fortunately for them, prices quickly went to 60 cents, so the embarassment was short-lived.

People remember the last time this happened, and it wasn't pretty. Yes, cars may get better mileage. Sure, oil may be a much smaller part of our economy. I know, it's absolutely a smaller part of the family budget. Thank Greenspan, the Fed knows that printing money probably isn't the best way to control inflation.

But prices are still more likely to go up than down for now. There's a sense that this is going to get worse before it gets better. "Jobs" are proxy for these fear. "Jobs" are a proxy for a "tight job market" which promise a relatively easy answer for the average worker. Now that comfort is gone, and the unease, not yet turned to fear, is strong again.

So, by the way, is the apparently ingrained American resistance to arithmetic. I heard an NPR story this morning that mentioned a woman from Kansas who had put herself on a budget to afford a trip out to California to see her sons. Now, at $2 a gallon, plus 2 cheap motel stops each way, and meals, and she's looking at almost $500. If you want to count wear-and-tear on the car, the extra 3000-mile oil change, the sand-blasting to get the bugs off the windshield (I've driven through Kansas in the summer, folks), and she might want to think about this little thing called an "airplane ticket."

She's so convinced that driving is cheaper than flying, that's she'll put herself on a budget to spend two nights each way in the Bates Motel, super-sizing herself to save money, and paying extra for the AAA gold plan so when the car breaks down 100 miles from the nearest exit she doesn't have to pay an extra $1 a mile for towing.

This woman isn't stupid. Maybe she just likes driving. I do. But I think it's more likely that the local paper, or even the regional one, hasn't bothered to tell her that the reason millions of people will take off their shoes and put their computers in a separate tub this summer is that it costs less.

They're too busy with Abu Ghraib.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Jewish Vote 

When even the American Prospect is worried about President Bush making inroads into the Jewish vote, you know there's something to it. Then Ken Baer goes and proposes a strategy for Kerry to hold onto that vote:

He can make inroads with the pro-Israel community by continuing to emphasize his personal connection to the country as well as his personal conviction in doing anything necessary to win the war on terrorism. In addition, Kerry needs to stay out of the weeds -- especially detailing the role he wants the United Nations and the international community to play in Iraq and in fighting terrorists (no matter how necessary both may be) -- and use tough language that makes it clear that the same man who did not hesitate 35 years ago to kill America’s enemies in a war that he didn’t believe in will not hesitate to kill terrorists in a war that he does.

Ken Baer is a former speechwriter for Al Gore, so I guess it makes sense that his first instincts would be for the candidate to deny his true self. Barring a drastic Bush reversal on Israel, leading Jews to ask if Kerry can be any worse, is anyone really going to buy this?

Jews will still vote mostly for Kerry, because Jews aren't single-issue voters until someone's burning crosses in their front yards. President Bush could move the embassy to Jerusalem, send the 101st Airborne to secure Rafah, and personally buy the concrete to build a fence 100ft above and below the ground, and it still wouldn't be enough for some people out here. (That picture, by the way, is about 20 years old. Vanity, thy name is....) If Kerry has a Jewish strategy, it has to lie not in trying to persuade people that his name in the Old Country was Herzl, but in trying to persuade them that it doesn't matter.

B-School Blues XXI 

By now, pretty much anyone who's read this space for any length of time knows that my b-school ethics professor is an old-time Democrat, who once headed the party up in this state. Yesterday, it was our turn to talk about the environment.

For some reason, the question was framed as "Green by Conviction," or "Green When It's Profitable." For some reason, "Green Only When the Government Makes You Scream in Pain," didn't make the list. He actually went so far as to tolerate, without comment, a slide arguing in favor of Malthusian population dynamics, which nobody believes any more. Evidently, the environmental question, at least in this class, isn't played between the 40-yard-lines, but well within the Left's field goal range.

With most cases, there's some sort of flanking maneuver available. Not with this case. The only option left was to tunnel underneath and explode a mine from below. So of course, I had to ask about the quality of the research, and the tendency of environmental advocacy groups to do science by press conference rather than in peer-reviewed journals.

There are a million answers to this, many of them covered by my friend Ronald "Beetle" Bailey, here, in today's WSJ. Arguments for which he has no answers, but which appear to have no perceptible effect on his opinion, or on the range of debate allowable in class.

He's also an ex-Presbyterian minister, who still claims to love the sinner (capitalism) while despising all the mayhem it works throughout the world. Now, he seems to have transmitted his religious fervor to the environment.

Julian Simon once asked an audience of his whether or not there was any data, any data at all, that he could present to make them question their opinions. When met with silence, he apologized for not being dressed for church.

I'm not happy having to come to class dressed for church.

On The Fritz 

Maybe this is why South Carolina kept Fritz Hollings as its junior senator for decades.

Every president since 1947 has made a futile attempt to help Israel negotiate peace. But no leadership has surfaced amongst the Palestinians that can make a binding agreement. President Bush realized his chances at negotiation were no better. He came to office imbued with one thought -- re-election. Bush felt tax cuts would hold his crowd together and spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats.

Nurse, I know it's hard to get the Senator to take his meds, but you see what happens when you don't...

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Whose Fault? 

Does anyone wonder why Ms. Bryant hasn't been called to testify? Time to recycle this oldie but goodie.

No matter how dumb he was, officialdom was always dumber

Mark Steyn

National Post

When last in this space, 10 days ago, I was writing about whether political correctness kills. This was apropos the 9/11 nutters: "Everything they did stuck out. But it didn't matter. Because the more they stuck out, the more everyone who mattered was trained to look the other way."

I didn't know the half of it. The other day, Johnelle Bryant, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gave an interview to ABC News in which she revealed that Mohammed Atta and three other September 11th terrorists had visited her Florida office seeking government loans. America, it seems, came this close to having the World Trade Center incinerated at the taxpayers' expense.

Mr. Atta swung by in May, 2000, and Ms. Bryant remembers quite a bit about it. "At first," she says, "he refused to speak with me," on the grounds that she was, in his words, "but a female." After he'd reiterated the point, she pulled rank: "I told him that if he was interested in getting a farm-service agency loan in my servicing area, then he would need to deal with me." Throughout the hour-long interview, he continued to dismiss her as "but a female."

Ms. Bryant says the applicant was asking for $650,000 to start a crop-dusting business. His plan was to buy a six-seater twin-prop and then remove the seats. "He wanted to build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting."


When she explained that his application would have to be processed, Mr. Atta became "very agitated." He'd apparently been expecting to leave the office with cash in hand. "He asked me," recalls Ms. Bryant, "what would prevent him from going behind my desk and cutting my throat and making off with the millions of dollars in that safe." Try this with your Royal Bank loan officer -- I find it works every time. But Ms. Bryant replied politely that there was no money in the safe because loans are never given in cash, and also that she was trained in karate.

His fiendish plan stymied at every turn, Mr. Atta then spotted an aerial view of Washington hanging on the wall behind her. He told her he particularly liked the way it got all the famous landmarks of the city in one convenient picture, pointing specifically to the Pentagon and the White House. "He pulled out a wad of cash," says Ms. Bryant, "and started throwing money on my desk. He wanted that picture really bad."

She told him it wasn't for sale, but he only tossed more dough at her. "His look on his face became very bitter at that point," Ms. Bryant remembers. "He said, 'How would America like it if another country destroyed that city and some of the monuments in it,' like the cities in his country had been destroyed?"


Mr. Atta then moved on to other prominent landmarks in other American cities, and enquired about security at the World Trade Center. Ms. Bryant had a Dallas Cowboys souvenir on her desk, and he asked her about their spectacular stadium and, specifically, the "hole in the roof."

At that point, the chit-chat turned to Mr. Atta's own country, which he claimed was Afghanistan. "He mentioned Osama bin Laden," she says. "He could have been a character on Star Wars for all I knew." So Mr. Atta helpfully explained that this bin Laden guy "would someday be known as the world's greatest leader."

Alas, the interview ended badly from the terrorists' point of view when Ms. Bryant informed her visitor that the loan program is for farm-based projects and a crop-dusting business did not qualify.

A few weeks later, another September 11th killer showed up, Marwan al-Shehhi, seeking half-a-million bucks supposedly to buy a sugar-cane farm. Accompanying him was Mr. Atta, but he was cunningly disguised with a pair of glasses and claiming to be someone else entirely, attending in his capacity as Mr. al-Shehhi's accountant. Sportingly, Ms. Bryant went along with the wheeze. I'm reminded of the time my sister tried to wangle her boyfriend a day off work. She called up the receptionist and, adopting a fake accent, told her that she was the dentist's secretary and he needed to come in immediately for critical dental work. "My God, that's terrible," said the receptionist. "I'll tell him at once." She then buzzed through to the boyfriend: "Stewart, Karen just called pretending to be the dentist's secretary. Do you think she needs to see a doctor?"

But Ms. Bryant didn't think Mr. Atta was sick. The safe-breaking, the throat-slitting, the fake specs ... why, he was just being charmingly multicultural! "I felt that he was trying to make the cultural leap from the country that he came from," she says. "I was attempting, in every manner I could, to help him make his relocation into our country as easy for him as I could." Unfortunately, his imaginative business plan for a crop-duster capable of crop-dusting Texas was frustrated by the unduly onerous restrictions and bureaucratic torpor of the USDA program. By late summer, Mr. Atta and his chums had concluded the government was never going to buy them their own twin-props and they'd have to make do with the aircraft that were already up there. So they switched their flight training courses from small planes to large jet simulators, and told their instructors to skip all that takeoff and landing stuff.

Ms. Bryant has come forward now because she thinks "it's very vital that the Americans realize that when these people come to the United States, they don't have a big 'T' on their forehead." No, indeed. In some cases, they have a big "T-E-R-R-O-R-I-S-T" flashing in neon off the end of their nose. Ten days ago, I pointed out that these fellows made virtually no effort to blend in. They weren't in "deep cover," they were barely covered at all. Atta was the brains of the operation, and he did a marginally better job of it than Leslie Nielsen would have. His one great insight into Western culture was his assumption that he could get a government grant to take out the Pentagon. Yet no matter how dumb he was, officialdom was always dumber.

"If they watch this interview and they see the type of questions that Atta asked me," Ms. Bryant told ABC News, "then perhaps they will recognize a terrorist, and make the call that I didn't make." Meanwhile, here are some signs to look for:

1) He threatens to cut your throat.

2) He talks about the destruction of prominent landmarks.

3) He enquires about security at said landmarks.

4) He hails Osama bin Laden as a great leader.

There'll be more of these stories, tales of men virtually screaming their intentions but up against a culture sensitivity-trained into a coma. A stump-toothed Appalachian mountain man would get slung out on his ear if he was that misogynist and abusive in a government office. In a Hollywood movie, the guy refusing to deal with the little lady and demanding to see the real boss would be a sexist Republican Congressman. In the new motion-picture blockbuster The Sum Of All Fears, the Islamic terrorists of Tom Clancy's novel have been replaced with neo-Nazis -- a safe villain that won't offend our delicate multicultural sensibilities.

The good news is we're up against idiots. The bad news is we're also up against the suppler idiocies of current Western orthodoxy. Thus, the U.S. government's new plans to photograph and fingerprint visitors from countries "believed to harbour terrorists" have already been attacked by Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights honcho who's never met an Arab dictator she didn't like. Islamists want to kill us in the name of Islam. Regrettable, but there it is. If we pretend otherwise, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Canadian Islamic Congress and the Islamic Society of Britain might be nice to us. But, speaking personally, I can't say I care. If Islamic lobby groups throughout the Western world really want to hitch their star to a bunch of psychopathic morons, good luck to them. It's a free country. Hey, we'll even give you a government grant to tell us how racist we are.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

UNSCAM (or, UN Resolution WD-40) 

Thomas Lifson over at American Thinker suggests that the administration is trying to control the UN Oil-for-Food scandal so that it can use any potential revelations as leverage over our friends the French, Germans, Russian, and the UN bureaucracy itself. When we need their help, in whatever capacity we choose, we'll be able to get it at a relatively low cost.

While I consider American Thinker to be one of the best "thinker" blogs around, I'm afraid that Mr. Lifson may be praising the administration for purchasing a tactical victory at strategic cost. Consider the possibility that only Iraqis, who don't matter to the UN, and conservative Americans actually care that half of the civilized world, and virtually all of the self-appointed arbiters of the international order, were on Saddam's payroll. Why on earth would we want to do anything to bolster the credibility of this organization?

Note that this support comes at the mere price of blackmail. We don't demand organizational reform. We don't demand fairer rules, better accounting, or even the heads on a platter of the people who were busily stealing from the Iraqi people they profess to love so much. We don't even demand the elimination of the insidious bloc system, which implies that neighborhoods are more powerful than values, permanently and progressively locks out Israel from meaningful participation, and promotes the illusion of pan-Arabism that helped put us in Iraq in the first place.

We don't demand any sort of permanent change, because the system is essentially unfixable. It's even an open question as to whether blackmail, which requires some level of shame, can work on people who clearly have none.

No, what we're liable to be left with is a rehabilitation of the Sick Man of Turtle Bay. The UN was shown to be irrelevant, unwilling to enforce its own dicta, because it was so thoroughly corrupted by the very countries it was supposed to be watching. We should keep the UN on the sidelines, where is barely belongs, and certainly not risk investing it with moral authority it so clearly doesn't deserve.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Election Markets 

For years now, the University of Iowa business school has been running an electronic market where you can buy shares of a candidate. The shares come in two flavors: chance of winning, and percentage of vote total. This market has been among the most accurate of "polls" in the last few elections. For some time now, the Bush/Kerry race, despite the ups and downs in the polls, has been pretty steady, at Bush 52%, Kerry 47%. The last week or so, though, has seen the Kerry numbers climb up from about 46% to 48%. Here's the graph.

A couple of points. The movement is small, and it hasn't broken through the previous high, so it may not be significant. Also, Bush's numbers haven't deteriorated at all. Finally, sometimes it take a while for people to believe that a candidate really is vulnerable, and then the deterioration happens quickly. This happened to Bush pere in 1992, and should serve as a warning.

At the same time, Tradesports, which did a nice job with the California recall election, only has a winner-take-all proposition. The numbers there show Bush's chances settling in at about 55%, after peaking just after Saddam's capture. They're basically moving sideways at this point.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Alan King 

Just to show you how far my head has been into my books this last week, it was through the Intermountain Jewish News that I found out that Alan King had died. He was relatively young, 76. King got his start in the Catskills, but was part of the great stand-up era of the 60s and 70s. He had been talking about comedy as much as actually doing it in recent years, but was still one of the funniest guys around.

I remember seeing him debate, in 1986, at the Oxford Union, the question: "Resolved: the British are Funnier than the Americans." He and Steve Allen showed up for the Americans; Jasper Carrot and John Wells defended the Brits.

For some bizarre reason, PBS chose Bud Collins to do the superfluous color commentary. It must have been his association with Wimbledon. Both Oxford and Wimbledon are British and snooty, and Collins had had plenty of practice saying nothing in-between the real action, so he was the obvious choice.

Steve Allen strolled out, and did about 10 minutes of the dry humor, his best, that had the Brits in paroxysms of chuckles. But King stole the show. Not only did explain the difference between "funny" and "witty," he demonstrated it brilliantly. When he said, "funny," emphasizing the "f" and holding his hands out, you knew the American humor was something visceral rather than intellectual. You also knew you were in for 10-15 minutes of the funniest stuff you'd ever heard, and that you'd find out just how well the Brits could laugh at themselves. (Not well enough; the proposition carried handily.)

I hadn't laughed so hard in years. King said (among many other things), "The British are not only not funny, they're carriers. Because Canada isn't funny, Australia isn't funny, and South Africa certainly isn't funny."

From the New York Times, from the days when it wouldn't reflexively have taken the other side:

Mr. King's best example of the English lack of a sense of humor was an incident that he said truly happened when he met the Queen, and she said, ''How do you do, Mr. King?'' Mr. King, of course, replied: ''Fine. How do you do, Mrs. Queen?'' She did not laugh, and the English are not funny, he declared resolutely, waving an unlit cigar at the crowd as though it were stick.

''Other nations are not funny, like England, but they don't sit around like this all night making an issue of it,'' he continued.

King tried to do serious stuff now and again, and had the face to pull it off, as in Casino, but that wasn't really his style.

We've been losing a lot of these guys in the last few years. Enjoy them while they're around.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Water Woes 

This, from Denver Water:

The Citizen’s Advisory Committee will host a public meeting to inform and collect comments from the public on the proposed service charge increase.

In response to the Board’s April 14, 2004 declaration of a Stage II drought and associated drought restrictions, staff has conducted a preliminary analysis to calculate potential revenue shortfalls that may result from compliance with the Board’s mandatory drought restrictions. This analysis showed that potential shortfalls would range between $8-$32 million.

The analysis also revealed that Denver Water’s cost structure is primarily fixed costs (95%), when compared to its variable costs (5%). Conversely Denver Water’s rate structure recovers 5% of its revenue through its fixed service charge, and 95% of its revenue through its variable consumption charge.

Translation: You people have done such a good job conserving water that we'll have to raise your rates. Gee. Thanks, guys.

Ministry of Truth 

The Trunk over at Powerline asks why Kerry would prefer to have us believe that he only began opposing the war in 1969, when the Harvard Crimson reports that he began opposing it in 1966.

I think the answer is obvious. Volunteering to serve and then coming back a changed man is a compelling story. But we know that Kerry used his opposition to the war to launch his political career. If he held these opinions prior to volunteering, it takes more than a little shine off that narrative. I doubt that he volunteered solely to bolster his anti-war credibility. But even some of that makes him look less noble and more calculating.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Nicholas Berg Memorial 

In response to the vicious slaughter of American Nick Berg, the assasination of four little girls and their pregnant mother in Israel, the continued killing of American soldiers in Iraq, the dismembering of Israeli soldiers in Gaza, and the general barbarity of the enemies of civilization and the Jewish people, Americans Against Terrorism, Rocky Mountain Rabbinic Council, Allied Jewish Federation, Faith Bible Chapel, Action Israel, American Jewish Committee, and Anti-Defamation League will be sponsoring a memorial meeting Sunday evening, from 7:00PM to 7:30PM at the BMH-BJ Congregation, 560 So. Monaco Parkway, in Denver.

If you're in the area, please stop by.

Media Blogroll 

View From a Height has made the Blogroll over at the Denver Post's Bloghouse. It's over on the righthand side of the page. Considering the amount of abuse the Post takes in this space, that's rather sporting of them. Won't buy them any leniency, but still rather sporting.

Welcome... visitors from Powerline and Polipundit. When you get bored, about 2 1/2 paragraphs into Kerry's peroration, take a look around, and please visit other members of the Rocky Mountain Alliance, listed over there on the right.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Where Has All the Dark Hair Gone? 

Here's a familiar face, having acquired the shape, if not yet the coloring, of a beefsteak tomato:

To the right, we see a future presidential aspirant. To the left, we see the back of Ramsay Clark, evidently an early role model:

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

For The Record 

Here is then-ex-officer-Kerry's closing essay in his book, The New Soldier. It is presented here as a public service. Honestly, I don't hold this against him now. But anyone running for President, who's trying so hard to rewrite his own personal history, while using that personal history as the basis for a campaign, doesn't get to pick and choose what's part of the record, no matter how poorly edited, or how juvenile the punctuation.

If you make it to the end, note how tired you are just reading it, and think about the suspension of mental activity necessary to transcribe it.

   And so a New Soldier has returned to America, to a nation torn apart by the killing we are asked to do. But, unlike veterans of other wars and some of this one, the New Soldier does not accept the old myths.

   We will not quickly join those who march on Veterans' Day waving small flags, calling to memory those thousands who died for the "greater glory of the United States." We will not accept the rhetoric. We will not readily join the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars - in fact, we will find it hard to join anything at all and when we do, we will demand relevancy such as other organizations have recently been unable to provide. We will not take solace from the creation of monuments or the naming of parks after a select few of the thousands of dead Americans and Vietnamese. We will not uphold traditions which decorously memorialize that which was base and grim.

   It is from these things that the New Soldier is asking America to turn. We are asking America to turn from false glory, hollow victory, fabricated foreign threats, fear which threatens us as a nation, shallow pride which feeds off fear, and mostly from the promises which have proven so deceiving these past ten years.

   For many of us there is little to remember but the promises and, most poignantly, the loss of the symbols of those promises - of John and Robert Kennedy, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of Medgar Evers, of Fred Hampton and Malcolm X, of Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer, Jeffrey Miller, and William Schroeder of Kent State and Philip Gibbs and James Green from Jackson State; the loss, too, of friends, of Richard Pershing, Peter Johnson, Johnny White, Don Droz, and the other 53,000 Americans who have lost their lives in this degrading and immoral war. The promises of peace candidates who were not peacemakers; of civil rights laws which were not enforced; of educational and medical aid which was downgraded in priority below bombs and guns; of equal opportunity while Mexican-Americans and blacks were drafted in numbers disproportionate to their representation in this country and then made up casualties in even greater disproportion.

   I think that, more than anything, the New Soldier is trying to point out how there are two Americas - the one the speeches are about and the one we really are. Rhetoric has blinded us so much that we are unable to see the realities which exist in this country.

   We were sent to Vietnam to kill Communism. But we found instead that we were killing women and children. We knew the saying "War is hell" and we knew also that wars take their toll in civilian casualties. In Vietnam, though, the "greatest soldiers in the world," better armed and better equipped than the opposition, unleashed the power of the greatest technology in the world against thatch huts and mud paths. In the process we created a nation of refugees, bomb craters, amputees, orphans, widows, and prostitutes, and we gave new meaning to the words of the Roman historian Tacitus: "Where they made a desert they called it peace."

   The New Soldier has come back determined to make changes without making the world more unjust in the effort to make it just. We have come back determined that human will can control technology and that there is greater dignity and power in human spirit than we have yet been willing to grant ourselves. In Vietnam we made it particularly easy to deny that spirit. We extended an indifference which has too often been a part of this country's history and made it easy for men to deal in abstractions. "Oriental human beings" - "gooks" - "body count" - "Nape" - "Waste 'em" - "free-fire zone" - "If they're dead, they're VC" - the abstractions took command from the commanders themselves and we realized too late that we were the prisoners of our own neglect and callowness.

   By discussing crimes committed in war, the New Soldier is trying to break through the callowness and end the neglect. Regardless of whether crimes have been committed in other wars or even by the other side in this one, America must understand how our paticipation in Vietnam and the methods and motives used by American fighting men are part of a continuing national moral standard. As New Soldiers we are seeking to elevate that standard as well as to demonstrate when it has been part of a significant illusion. Individuals are trying, by denying themselves the luxury of forgetting about their acts, to spare other the agony of having to commit them at some time in the future.

   This is not tosay that all soldiers have departed Vietnam with the same feelings about their military service. Certainly not all veterans of this war are New Soldiers. Not all want to be or even understand what many of their veteran contemporaries are trying to say.

   Even among the New Soldiers, in our hatred for the war and our drive for change, there is a wide divergence on approaches to change, or, for that matter, on what causes the need for change. I know that my own views do not necessarily represent the feelings of some Vietnam Veterans Against the War. But among all there is an intense and deep-rooted agreement that America has lost sight, hopefully only temporarily, of much that we knew as our greatness.

   The New Soldier does not have all the answers. We do not even pretend to. Unquestionably we lack some of the depth of experience from which to provide guidelines for many policy questions. We are aware also of all the traditional arguments - that those in power have access to information, that America can do no wrong, that America has particular interests which it must safeguard, and so on. In reality, however, there is a big difference between these arguments and what happens to the people involved. In the end the abstractions never convey the reality of human life.

   To be sure, those who make the decisions experience special interest pressures which others, not directly involved in the decisionmaking process, will not feel. Consequently, those on the outside of the power spectrum find it easier to prescribe solutions for the myriad problems we confront today. In their simplicity these solutions sometimes ignore reality. But more often they cut to the quick of the problem and those on the outside of the power structure show in the absoluteness of their criticisms and demands more wisdom, more moral strength, more compassion, and far more willingness to consider what effect the prescribed solution will have on people - not the people whose security and social welfare is already guaranteed, but the thousands whole are literally and figuratively "in the street.".

   I myself went into the service with very little awareness of the people in the streets. I accepted then and still accept the idea of service to one's country. But because of all that I saw in Vietnam, the treatment of civilians, the ravaging of their countryside, the needless, useless deaths, the deception and duplicity of our policy, I changed. Traditional assumptions and expectations simply were not enough. I still want to serve my country. I am still willing to pick up arms and defend it - die for it, if necessary. Now, however, I will not go blindly because my government says that I must go. I will not go unless we can make real our promises of self-determination and justice at home. I will not go unless the threat is a real one and we all know it to be so. I will not go unless the people of this country decide for themselves that we must all of us go.

Monday, May 10, 2004

"My Day at the Protest" 

While Hindrocket gets Hawaii and Washington's Crossing, I get to slog through John Kerry's intellectual masterpiece, The New Soldier. Ah, the burdens of public service.

Kerry has pretty much suppressed republication of the book; the few available copies cost more than I'm prepared to spend, and library copies are all checked out. Fortunately, the academic and public libraries of Colorado share their catalogs via something called Prospector:

Somehow, despite the picturesque imagery recalling Colorado's past, I'm not sure this is really the visual they want. I mean, I'm supposed to associate myself with this guy? Sure, I'm tired of looking for this book (which it nothing compared to how I feel after having read it), but still. If there's a trace of hope left on his face, I can't find it. He probably got paid more for holding this pose for 2 hours than he got for whatever gold he found that day.

It's a completely appropriate symbol for The New Soldier. The old man probably had a better chance of uncovering the Denver Nugget than one would have of finding wisdom buried in the pages of this book.

Talk about not judging a book by its cover. I had seen pictures , but only face-on. I was looking for something shaped like Diplomacy, or even No More Vietnams. Instead, it's like a coffee-table book for people who only drink free-range coffee. It's over-sized, over-photoed, under-worded. "My Day at the Protest," by John Kerry.

It opens with the Senate testimony that's copiously available elsewhere on the web. In-between, testimony about the Hell of War, most of which sounds like Bill Mauldin on downers. There's a gripping day-by-day account of the protest on the Mall, including that anxious, crisis moment when the 800+ "vets" voted to sleep there. As though there were any hotels within three hours' march that would both admit them and that they could afford. The vote was apparently 480-400 to stay, later revised to "unanimous." That's accounting that even Global Crossing could be proud of.

The only part of the book that's not part of the public record is the closing statement by Kerry himself. He wasn't so nuanced then.

So here we are, like the old prospector. Seduced by avaricious outfitters and led by guides who know better, to believe that there's actually gold in them thar hills. If Kerry would just admit his "youthful indiscretions," we'd be done with it. As Lileks has said, I don't care what he did 33 years ago; his record since then is bad enough. But since he chose to run on his Vietnam service, as his only conceivable foreign policy credential, he has to revise history constantly to make himself look better.

It's the perfect distillation of Kerry himself. The only possible reason he's worked to keep this book out of the limelight, because intellectually and politically, it's as lightweight as it looks.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Walk For Israel 

This Sunday is Mother's Day. It's also Allied Jewish Federation's Walk for Israel. You don't have to pre-register, you certainly don't have to be Jewish. You just have to pay your $5 for police protection, and show up at the Denver Academy of Torah, on Alameda just east of Monaco, by 2:30 PM on Sunday. For some unfathomable reason, they've banned dogs, though.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Don't Underrate Symbolism 

This morning was the first time I had heard the idea that we should demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a symbolic gesture. So far, I have heard both Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity dismiss the idea as "mere symbolism." Well, don't underrate symbolism. Symbolism matters. On September 11, I remember seeing a flag on the television. It was probably the most beautiful thing I could have imagined at that moment, and not just because it was color after a day of nothing of drab gray skyscrapers and their remnants. Green probably wouldn't have done it for me just then.

So maybe the symbolism of demolishing the prison would have worked, just like pulling down Saddam's statue last year, or Lenin's or Dzerzhinsky's last decade. It's probably too late for that now. But some post-courts-martial pictures of the offending soldiers, doing a little hard time of their own, that might help.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Welcome... all HonestReporting readers. Hope you like what you see.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Washington Post's Experts 

In the last couple of weeks, the Washington Post's Molly Moore has firmly established herself as a babe in the woods of Middle East and Israeli politics. Last week, Ms. Moore tried to build a case that the targeted killings of Hamas leaders actually would make that genocidal organization more dangerous. Yes, and bombing the train tracks leading to Auschwitz would have made the Nazis more vindictive, too.

In today's paper, she concentrates on Israel's uncertain political situation, resulting from Likud's defeat of Sharon's Gaza pullout plan. I'll focus on the biases of the analysis in another post, but for now, I'd like to look at her sources.

In the Hamas article, Ms. Moore says:

"The worst thing is a headless Hamas," said Eyad Sarraj, a prominent Palestinian psychiatrist and human rights advocate who has closely monitored the role of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. "A headless Hamas means too many heads, too many agendas. Then you can't control exactly what happens."

You can bet that if a "prominent Palestinian psychiatrist" is also described as a "human rights advocate," it's not the human rights of suicide bomb victims he's worried about. Indeed, Mr. Sarraj is the author of this apologia in Time magazine. It's probably one of the most dishonest things Time has every published since the death of Henry Luce. A justification of murder that can only come from a violent distortion of history, its publication condemns both Time for its publication, and the Post for the uncritical acceptance of its author as a neutral authority.

"The new generation of leaders thinks in only one way -- the military wings," said Imad Falouji, a Palestinian legislator and former Hamas member who has authored a book about the organization. "The new policy is more dangerous for Israel than ever before. Now there is only a military policy; there is nothing political now."

No mention of what party he's from. Imad Falouji is the famous legislator who remarked that the second Intifada had been meticulously planned during the Summer of 2000, and was in no way a spontaneous popular reaction to Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.

Here are the citations from today's article. See which one doesn't fit:

  • Asher Arian, a senior fellow with the Israel Democracy Institute
  • Shimon Peres, a former prime minister and leader of the opposition Labor Party
  • Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, spokesman and political secretary of the Yesha Council, Israel's primary settler organization
  • Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat
  • Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian political analyst

    Harmless enough, a Palestinian political analyst. Except that Mr. Barghouti is the brother of Marwan Barghouti, jailed leader of Fatah's Tanzim, and lead organizer of the current intifada. Mustafa himself is a popular speaker both in the territories and abroad, and tightly connected to the International Solidarity Movement.

    In short, the Post is now in the habit of quoting Palestinian terrorists and terrorist sympathizers without disclosing these connections. If Ms. Moore is aware of them, she has no business omitting them. If she wasn't aware, well, her sloppiness has now been corrected.

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