I’ve harshed Hesiod and Sullywatch over language and tone, and while I’ve been impressed at the work Charles at LGF does in bringing Middle Eastern news to light, I’ve got issues with his comments section; the omnipresent tone of Arab-bashing and chest-beating, at a time when we need to proceed with determination, care, and seriousness is part of what led to my ‘thought experiment’ below (and which I’ll follow up on as time allows today).
Then this charming set of comments over at Aaron’s ‘Uppity Negro’ blog was pointed out to me:

[sorry, crabby] I feel a collecting-spree coming on, & I’m afraid Armed Liberal’s blinky, doe-eyes are looking mighty fine. Can I have’em, Aaron? Can I?
Posted by: Neogrammarian on September 16, 2002 05:21 PM
As long as I can have the ears.
Those necklaces of them look quite fetching.
Posted by: Aaron on September 16, 2002 05:41 PM

So, trying to figure out how to comment on them, I can only think of one response…molon labe, kids, molon labe.
[a few folks wanted to know what ‘molon labe’ meant…I added a link]


We’re back, after a snap 3-day camping and kayaking trip to Catalina with the Littlest Guy and two other couples with similar-aged kind. You wouldn’t _believe_ how much [stuff] you have to take when you’re wrangling kids…beautiful, beautiful weekend. I’ll get caught up and comment on the comments and events later, along with an explanation of the intent of the ‘thought experiment’ below.


So Kevin Reybauld led me to Jeanne d’Arc, who also was interviewed here. Her post, was about

My problems with the engineering students had to do with their arrogance and shallowness. Those were universal traits in the students I got from the engineering department (and I’ll throw business majors into that category, too), and I think when I read Armey’s remarks, he reminded me so much of my old students that I had to lash out. I had quite a few pre-med students as well, and a lot of them shared that arrogance (the extreme shallowness was less of a problem with potential doctors), but there were exceptions.


My other problem with engineer wannabes was their shallow thinking. To put it in the bluntest terms, not one of them had ever read a challenging novel, essay, poem or play. They had reached their late teens without ever having thought a serious thought, without ever having challenged their own immediate perceptions in any way. Their understanding of human behavior was straight out of sitcoms and the cheapest, most exploitational movies. Black and white. Them and us. Good and evil. Unless they have aged better than I expect, I don’t think any of them would be capable today of understanding that there was anything odd about the notion of a “war” on “evil.”

started me thinking, and, as happens sometimes, a light went on in my head.
I went back to Dawn’s post on parenting, which said

When I look back at those first months of Lily’s life all I can remember are just snapshots of moments. I was so exhausted and overwhelmed. I feared sundown for the first month because I knew I would be tired and in need of sleep, but Lily would be wide-awake. We spent many nights in the rocking chair, her looking up at me out of the corner of her eye, nestled at my breast, me reading every child care manual I had – over and over.
Lily grew, as all children do and soon she will be three. We don’t see eye to eye on most things and she tests my boundaries every chance she gets. She is frenetic, stubborn, ornery, devilish, smart, sweet, manipulative, interesting and thoughtful. Sometimes I think she hates me, sometimes I think I am the only person she loves. Sometimes I want to tape her mouth closed, sometimes I want to cry because she is so insightful and bright.

which led to Devra’s reply where she said:

But I wonder if they weigh the mistakes they’ve made against the positives & find they’re somehow lacking. I can’t imagine that a loving parent would say they ‘regret’ having children, but I wonder if there isn’t a small voice inside asking “Are you sure you made the right decision?”
If you’re a parent, are you allowed to wonder if you’re the last person in the world who should be trying to raise children? If you’re a parent, are you allowed to doubt yourself? How do you get past that terror? How do you get through each day without thinking you’re fucking it all up?
And what do you do when you do fuck it all up?

Now, I admire the hell out of both Dawn and Devra (except for the whole Dawn stalking me thing, but she’s accepted the restraining order with a certain grace that bespeaks experience…), but there’s a thread here I want to try and follow, and to bring out for your consideration.
It’s about self-doubt, and self-criticism, and a perception that maybe traps us an endless loop of self-criticism and self-doubt. Look. Doubt, and a willingness to change are critical to any kind of progress. Some measure of introspection and self-questioning are a part of any adult. But when they become the dominant strain in one’s philosophy or spirituality, I think there are consequences, both personal and political, that are serious and negative.
Jeanne’s post centers on the difference between someone she considers ‘literate’ and ‘deep’ (Dick Armey’s words, not hers, but they fit here), and someone who deliberately isn’t.
Now, I’ve got a foot in each world. Many of my friends here in L.A. are poets, writers, and artists, many are engineers and businessman (the artists have better parties). Maybe that’s part of what makes me so weird. But one thing that I do see is that the relentlessly self-critical attitude (and yes, I do mean to tie this in both to ‘critical theory’ and to Maoist ‘self-criticism’) is one that brings with it a certain set of bags, and a certain philosophical worldview…and hence, I’ll argue, a certain politics.
That politics is based on an inherent doubt and distrust…of authority, of the future, of our fellow citizens…and it results in an increasing bureaucratization of risk, the paralysis of over-analysis and a worship of a perpetual, inclusive process over result.
But inside…where it counts…we are left insecure, unconfident, anxious.
And part of what I see in today’s society – and part what I am sure drives people toward religious fundamentalism – is the corrosive self-doubt that has become the reflexive position of a modern thinker. This doubt cuts to the core issues deepest in our lives.
Dawn doubts if she can be a good enough mother.
Devra doubts if she should be a mother at all.
And in reaction to that pervasive doubt, some people choose a mad kind of certainty.
I’ll turn to John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction for a response.

The language of critics, and of artists of the kind who pay attention to critics, has become exceedingly odd: not talk about feelings or intellectual affirmations – not talk about moving and surprising twists of plot or wonderful characters and ideas – but sentences full of large words like hermaneutic, heuristic, structuralism, formalism, or opaque language, and full of fine distinctions – for instance those between modernist and post-modernist — that would make even an intelligent cow suspicious. Though more difficult than ever to read, criticism has become trivial.
In a world where nearly everything that passes for art is tinny and commercial and often, hollow and academic, I argue – by reason and by banging the table – for an old-fashioned view of what art is and does and what the fundamental business of critics ought therefore to be. Not that I want the joy taken out of the arts; but even frothy entertainment is not harmed by a touch of moral responsibility, at least by an evasion of the too fashionable simplifications. My basic message throughout this book is as old as the hills, drawn from Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Dante, and the rest, and standard in Western civilization down through the eighteenth century; one would think that all critics and artists should be thoroughly familiar with it, and perhaps many are. But my experience is that in university lecture halls, or in kitchen at midnight, after parties, the traditional view of art strikes most people as strange news.
The traditional view is that true art is moral: it seeks to improve life, not debase it. It seeks to hold off, at least for a while, the twilight of the gods and us. I do not deny that art, like criticism, may legitimately celebrate the trifling. It may joke, or mock, or while away the time. But trivial art has no meaning or value except in the shadow of more serious art, the kind of art that beats back the monsters and, if you will, makes the world safe for triviality. That art which tends toward destruction, the art of nihilists, cynics, and merdistes, is not properly art at all. Art is essentially serious and beneficial, a game played against chaos and death, against entropy. It is a tragic game, for those who have the wit to take it seriously, because our side must lose; a comic game – or so a troll might say – because only a clown with sawdust brains would take out side and eagerly join in.

And some of those people with sawdust brains walk up the stairs of burning buildings into tragedy, because they choose life over death, and hope over doubt. They aren’t all engineers, some of them are poets.


Barbra Streisand faxes Dick ‘Gebhart’ (Adobe Acrobat required). Look, she’s as entitled to her opinions as anyone else…in this era, more so since she can raise $10 million in a night easily if she wanted to…it’s the majestic tone of the memo that just makes me giggle. Her political assistant writes:

As you know, Barbra Streisand is busy in rehearsals for the performance she’s giving on Sunday for the DCCC, so she asked me convey to you her feeling that it is time for the Democrats to get off the defensive and go on the offensive.

If you want to know where the Democrats hear their master’s (or mistresses’) voice…
SkyBox all the way.


The L.A. Weekly is the more successful of the two alternative weeklies in Los Angeles (the other is the Jill Stewart-blessed New Times); it tears vigorously at the ankles of the local establishment with a variety of generically progressive reportage, blended with feet and feet of ads for sexual vigor, plastic surgery, clothes, furniture, dates and escorts – which make it a cash cow for its owner, Village Voice publications.
Occasionally, they will pull off a great article, like this leftist critique of the anti-war movement. But like much of the Los Angeles progressive (as opposed to Progressive) community, the paper has satisfied its yearning for political stance by supporting Mumia, opposing the LAPD, talking Eastside while selling Westside, and vigorously supporting union organization.
Until it came home to roost.
In today’s Times, the Empire gets a chance to strike back.

Last May, members of the paper’s advertising staff–concerned about escalating sales targets, post-Sept. 11 layoffs and other job security issues–petitioned to join their colleagues’ local.
Given the Weekly’s unwavering editorial stance as a reportorial champion and unapologetic political ally of organized labor, employees were stunned when the paper’s recently appointed publisher, Beth Sestanovich, and her aides deployed every means at their disposal to try to defeat the organizing campaign.
As a consequence, this Friday’s representational election is deemed too close to call.
[publisher] Sestanovich said, “We believe that when you look at the highly individual and entrepreneurial work of advertising salespeople, union representation just isn’t in the interest of those employees. We coexist with our existing union without friction, and I know that it has surprised many of its members that we would contest extension of their union. But I feel strongly that every employee has a right to make a free and informed choice about this.”

Now, I’ve talked about SkyBox liberalism before.
And I can’t think of a better example of it than a paper which aggressively supports unions…for everyone else.


(campaign dig on Grover Cleveland, alleging that he had an illegitimate son)
Hardball campaigning isn’t a new feature in American politics (or in politics in general…), and my comments below on the tone of debate in the Blogosphere isn’t meant to compare it with the tone of electoral politics (although I also think that the tone there is depressing); it’s meant to talk about the tone of the politics of governance, which in my mind ought to be totally different than electoral politics (I know, I know, the campaign never ends, and in today’s politics every utterance is aimed directly at the heart of the next election…to me, that expresses the problem rather neatly).
Blogs…the prominent blogs…are meant to shape discourse, to launch memes, and to try and steer opinion ever so slightly. When I criticized Sullywatch and Hesiod, it wasn’t because my thin skin was unable to take the sharp words they launched; I’ve read worse, hell, I’ve said worse; they’ve never criticized me, and to be honest, I’m indifferent as to whether they do. It is because I’m a liberal too, and this kind of cheap rhetoric is great at whipping up your existing base, and not so terrific at building it. They’re tearing down what I want to see built.
And as a part of my thoughts on combat, I’m getting to the point of ‘honorableness’ in combat, which goes to the fact that combat may end, and that you may have to negotiate with your opponent. And if you have shown trustworthiness, humanity, and honor in the small ways that you can during battle, then there is a door open to greater displays of trustworthiness, humanity, and honorable dealings during peacetime.
The Israelis know this, the Palestinians don’t. And, sadly, neither do the rabid bloggers of the left and right. My criticism applies equally well to both sides; it just happens, as a partisan, that I feel responsible for only one. And that matters, because you have to remember the reply to the slur in the title. It was “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.”
[Update: Eugene Volokh weighs in on name-calling in lieu of argument.]

Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace 1940 – 1950

(from Blogcritics)
I have been a huge fan of Kevin Starr’s boosterish histories of California since I read the first book, Americans and the California Dream. His work is the perfect anodyne to Mike Davis’ self-flagellating critique of California and modernity, City of Quartz.
Compare Starr:

So too in the popular entertainment of 1940, so much of it originating in California, did the desire for amusement, fantasy, humor, and escape resist the dawning recognition that the United States would soon be entering the conflict.

To Davis:

Such relations of ‘pure capitalism’, of course, are seen as invariable destructive of the identity of ‘true’ intellectuals, still self-defined as artisans or rentiers of their own unique mental productions. Snared in the nets of Hollywood, or entrapped by the Strangelovian logic of the missile industry, ‘seduced’ talents are ‘wasted’, ‘prostituted’, ‘trivialized’, or ‘destroyed’. To move to Lotusland is to sever connection with national reality, to lose historical and experiential footing, to surrender critical distance, to submerge oneself in spectacle and fraud.

Embattled Dreams is the sixth book in Starr’s series, and in some ways the key one, because the roots of modern California were planted in World War II. There were older Californias, and we still can see their traces, but the California in which I live, and the California which serves as a bellwether for modernity, was laid out and built during and immediately after the war.
In it he details the cultural and human impact of the war, and then touches on the rise of Republican Progressivism which has defined much of the postwar era. He talks at length about Earl Warren, the Republican prosecutor turned Progressive Governor turned liberal Supreme Court Justice.
He also, I believe, tries to answer Davis and the critical challengers of the left by emphasizing the pernicious racism of the era, manifested by the anti-Japanese agitation that culminated in the relocation camps, and by the challenges of wartime integration.
Where the book fails, I believe is in integrating both of those histories…of the hopeful, optimistic Folks (as he calls the Midwestern immigrants) with the hope and optimism that led the Japanese, Hispanic, and African-American immigrants to also settle in California – and what happened when their dreams and the fears of the Folks clashed.
He concludes the book with the opening chapter of California red-baiting (which will figure prominently in his next book, I assume), and

The ensuing decade would witness Earl Warren emerge as one of the most influential – and liberal – Chief Justices in American history. Calm, majestic, Warren seemed destined for the marble corridors of the Supreme Court. Now, as Chief Justice, the other side of Warren’s nature – the liberal side of the California duality – was free to emerge. Historians would later describe Warren as reversing his philosophies and values after being appointed to the Court and turning liberal, even going soft, did not know the full complexity of Warren’s California Progressive sensibility with its admixture of conservative and liberal values.

I wish that the book had dug deeper into California Progressivism; I think it hold the key to understanding how we can reclaim the territory abandoned by the culture warriors of the right and left.
Starr needs no defense against Davis; California itself is his defense.


Read this Boston Globe Online op-ed, and understand that the principles of 4th Generation defense are beginning to percolate upward to mass consciousness.

When the plane that hit the Pentagon and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania are looked at side by side, they reveal two different conceptions of national defense: one model is authoritarian, centralized, top down; the other is distributed and egalitarian and accords with what the Framers of the Constitution expected of the citizenry.

More later.
(link via Instapundit)


The concept of a ‘non-combatant’ is one that really did not arise until feudal times in Europe and Japan (I don’t know enough about Chinese, African, or MesoAmerican history to comment on their history). Before that, wars had most likely looked Homeric, as community fought community and alliance fought alliance. The able-bodied men of one community fought the able-bodied men of another, with their lives, the freedom of their women and children (this was in times when they spoke of ‘their’ women) and all the assets of the community at stake.
(I haven’t unboxed the Homer and Hesiod yet, so can’t provide a quote; but I’m sure there are a number of them about the ‘sad-eyed women being led away from the burning city’, etc. etc.)
The increasing depth of the economies (partly driven by consolidation due to conquest) began to generate larger and larger surpluses…both of labor, so that a class of landowners and retainers began to grow up whose daily labor was not needed…and of technology and wealth so that more elaborate fortifications, larger food surpluses to feed armies for longer periods of time, and most of all, more sophisticated weapons and armor were available.
Using these weapons and defeating the more-sophisticated defenses required more and more training, which consumed the time of the landowners and their retainers, and began to define them as a military class, distinct from the agrarian and mercantile classes.
Eventually, laws were passed (both in Europe and Japan) prohibiting non-members of these classes from owning weapons, or being trained in their use. (Of course there were substantial exceptions; in England, young men were required to train in the use of the longbow…)
The styles of warfighting changed as well; from the melee to the set battle and the siege, and as the practice of fighting began to become formalized, so too grew up riles designed both to define ‘honorable’ military practice, which meant both defining how to behave toward other combatants, and toward this new class of people who were to be left alone…in part because devastating a large economy meant that the wealth necessary to support armies would be destroyed.
This professionalization progressed in both cases through the Industrial Age.
It was the American Civil War which showed the impact of industrialization on warfighting. The North may have been outgeneraled, but it outmanufactured and outtransported the South. And as industrialization and the economy that supported it became the key to Northern success, their efforts to weaken the Southern economy…first through blockades, then as Sherman headed to Atlanta, through devastation of the local economies…were a key part of their military effort. Note that Sherman evacuated Atlanta before he burned it, and his orders were not to slaughter the farmers whose corn he burned and whose livestock he slaughtered. His goal was economic devastation and collapse, not massacre. And, to a large extent, it worked. It was strategic warfare…war fought against the strategic (economic) assets of the enemy, rather than the tactical (military) assets. Note that this wasn’t the first time this had been done; just one of the more successful.
The industrialization of warfare meant both that it was integrated backwards into the economy in some unprecedented ways (i.e. the factories that made the weapons and the railroads that shipped them were a part of the ‘weapons system’), and that warfighting itself was changed, as the industrial skill of Krupp and the Germans made the difference in the second Franco-Prussian war, and the invention of accurate, transportable, rapid-firing artillery, the rapid-firing infantry rifle and then the self-loading machine gun changed the way in which war itself was fought.
World War I was the last purely ‘tactical’ (as I’m defining it…meaning a war defined by maneuver and tactics addressing the opposing forces) major war.
After this war, the English led the way in refocusing their efforts on strategic warfare, as they refocused production on large bombers. Trenchard led the effort to arm the UK with a fleet of heavy bombers, with the deliberate intent of attacking an enemy’s economy, thereby collapsing the industrial supply train that supported their army.
When World War II began, the UK attacked German cities with night bombing; the techniques of precision daylight bombing would have to await the Norden bombsight. But until the German defenses were degraded, the level of losses remained unacceptable high, so the allies continued high-altitude bombing aimed at generally weakening the German economy…by destroying it’s infrastructure, killing its participants, and straining its resources (forcing them to deal with the damage done through bombing).
In effect, we had returned to the tribal warfare of Homer; the women and children of the combatants on the front lines were now directly hostage to the fortunes of the war.
And with Hiroshima, and the ensuing decades in which we concentrated on ‘strategic warfare’…meaning the demolition of enemy civilian infrastructure and the associated civilians, it sure looks like we have returned to the notion of tribal, ‘total’ warfare.
So, in effect, it looks like we have effectively blurred the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in today’s warfare.
Ironically, as that distinction has been blurred by the emphasis on strategic warfare at the top and on terrorism and intergroup violence (former Yugoslavia, Rwanda) at the bottom, we have worked diligently to bureaucratize and formalize the conduct of war, creating ever more complex rules of engagement, and using modern communications to have military attorneys review orders in real time.
So if we have passed the traditional values which separate legitimate targets (opposing military) from illegitimate targets (opposing civilians), how do we judge the appropriateness of attacks in which civilians are killed?
And to take it further, as warfare becomes increasingly economic, how do we judge the appropriateness of attacks in which civilians are indirectly killed, through famine, disease, or other indirect effect?
These questions cut to the heart of not only the Israel/ Palestinian conflict, but to the conduct of the United States in the near future as we try and deal with the aftermath of 9/11. It is obvious to me that there both is and must be some appropriate basis for judgement. It is equally obvious that different interest groups – supporters of Israel or Palestine, of immediate invasion and normalization of relationships – most likely are applying different grounds for judgement.
Next, some suggestions on sorting this mess out.


William Burton does it again, with a personal, accurate, and serious explanation of why our drug laws are stupid.
I think it was William Burroghs who pointed out that being a rich junkie wasn’t such a big problem.
And as far as Mr. Burton is concerned – just go there every day before you come here. I can’t think of anything more reasonable to do. Someday he may write something I disagree with, or that isn’t damn smart.
And it may snow here in L.A., too.