It’s Not a ‘Schtick,’ Kevin

Calpundit challenges Roger Simon for saying:

…here’s why I think they’re dangerous—they’re acting like we’re still in Vietnam when we’re in a real war of civilizations.

and says in reply:

Look, guys: if you think we ought to use military force to fight terrorism, I’m with you. But if you think we ought to use that same military force as part of a war of civilizations, count me out. Way, way out. That’s not any kind of liberalism I’m familiar with.

First, Kevin (and Matt) it’s not a schtick, it’s a movement. And the fact that the Democratic leadership, like you, doesn’t see that is why I won’t be booking big bets against Bush in 04.

That’s not the only place where Kevin and I part company.

I don’t think we are in a war of civilizations…yet. I don’t doubt that the other side thinks and hopes that we are, and that our response to them, over the last few decades, has been mistaken on a number of fronts.

A real war of civilizations, as I have pointed out over and over again, only has one result. We’ll be here, they won’t.

I believe there is still time to avert that war, through a balance of force, diplomacy, self-sacrifice in a number of arenas, and careful consideration of our relationships with the Islamic and Arab world.I’m not thrilled with a lot of what GWB has done on the front of diplomacy, self-sacrifice, and careful consideration. I think he has done the right thing in making it clear that we are serious and that we are willing to use force; up until now our response to the threats and acts of the Islamists was best summed up as “Isn’t that cute!!”

No more.

Sadly, I don’t yet see a better plan from the Democrats – one that would lead me to choose one of them over GWB. I’m not endorsing Bush (that would be hard for me to do) – but I’m certainly going to push the Dems to come up with something better.

Here’s a couple of off-the-cuff suggestions:

First, we’re not going anywhere in Afghanistan or Iraq until we’re done. Afghanistan will not turn into Vermont any time soon, but we will make sure that the power of the warlords is checked, and that it doesn’t collapse again. Iraq could be the leader of the Middle east, and we intend to help build it into that;

Second, we’re too dependent on ME oil. We’re going to do something about it, both by pushing conservation, expanding alternative energy, and expanding exploration. We’re going to build the damn windmills off of Cape Cod;

Third, we’re going to stop Israel from building new settlements and push them to dismantle existing illegal ones;

Fourth, we’re going to work to expand the ground-fighting capabilities of our military by adding at least one division to the Army, and looking carefully at the allocation of all our assets to make sure that we have the resources to deal with the kind of wars that we are going to realistically face;

Fifth, we’re going to sit with the Arab countries we are supporting and make it clear that they cannot buy internal stability by fomenting hate against Jews and the West and still expect our financial and military support. We will also talk about what kinds of support would be forthcoming if they did stop;

Sixth, we’re going to develop security mechanisms based on the theory that fine-grained systems that bring information and communications to the existing public safety community, as well as the public at large are better than huge, centralized bureaucratic solutions;

That’d be a start…


* Roger L. Simon responds to Calpundit’s challenge as well.

* Matthew Yglesias joins a respectful cross-blog debate in a way that’s less than respectful. He gets this return volley, plus a proposed bet. Wonder if he’ll take it?

Luskin v. Atrios: WTF??

Calpundit links over to Atrios – who has received a lawyer-letter from an attorney representing Donald Luskin. The claim is that by claiming that Luskin ‘stalked’ Krugman, and by allowing commenters who then spun off of that theme, that Mr. Luskin was libeled.

God knows, I’m not a fan of Atrios, who I think is part of the Jackie Goldberg/ suicidal-lemming wing of the Democratic Party.

But this is just embarrassing.
Luskin – who, as far as I know, is a grown-up, writes with pretty sharp elbows himself:

Paul Krugman began his Tuesday column for the New York Times – inevitably, about the blackout – with one of the few truthful statements I can ever recall him uttering: “We still don’t know what started the chain reaction on Thursday.”

And it seems like pots should be careful about calling kettles black, no matter that the pot has been careful to tread – barely – on the side of the line which divides actionable from exceptionable behavior.

And pundits who use slings ought to be able to take a stone or two, and the fact that Mr Luskin can’t – the fact assuming that the letter Atrios posted was genuine (and the lawyer’s name does check out on the firm website) – certainly drops him a few kilometers below credible in my view.

Free speech – even hurtful speech – is something the folks at NRO (and others) have championed for some time. It appears that they neglected to mention that it only matters when someone else’s ox is being gored.

Personally, I’m hoping it’s some kind of prank. In that case, I’ll personally email Mr. Luskin an apology. Watching and waiting…


Joe talks about nuclear proliferation in the context of mathematical progression below, and expresses his anxiety that we aren’t solving the problem fast enough. I want to suggest something slightly different, and that is the notion of a ‘threshold’. Sadly, it will make him even more anxious – but hey, why should I be here by myself?

I took his post to suggest that the odds of a Nuclear Bad Thing happening increase in parallel with the dispersion of nuclear capability. Actually, it’s worse than that. There’s a threshold – probably a low one – past which it really doesn’t matter much.

I’ll use the example of drinking water.

Water that is 10-6 parts sewage is drinking water. Water that is 10 -5 parts sewage is sewage (note that these are rhetorical rather than exact concentrations, etc.).
It doesn’t matter once the concentration goes up past some threshold level level.

Similarly, as we look at gun ownership in the U.S., one of my arguments with the supporters of strict limitations on gun ownership is that once we have, say, five or six million guns in the U.S., it doesn’t matter how many more we have (we currently have something like 300 million), we won’t see a meaningful change in the violence people commit with guns.

Similarly, once the possession of nuclear technology went past the core five countries, it doesn’t much matter how many more have it, it is going to be essentially impossible to control with the level of absolute certainty that is required.

So we have to find ways to adapt.

First, we have to adapt strategically.

One of the key things that frightens me is that the keystone to preserving a virtually fallout-free 20th Century – Mutually Assured Destruction – doesn’t map well to people who believe that blowing themselves up in a paroxysm of fury and hate is actually a good thing to do.

Next, we have to adapt tactically.

We have to harden our cities, and we have to start now. The good news is that it already looks as though we already have.

And, to some extent, we need to harden our hearts.

Joe and others have posted frequently about the madness that is at the heart of the Islamist movement. It is madness that must be turned and blunted – or must be stopped. I’m not yet at the point of arguing that we must stop it. I believe it can be turned, and that other voices can be found. But we must move to weaken the forces of hate and strengthen the forces that oppose them – all over the world.

That’s a burden, and we have to carry it – alone if needful, although I think that it doesn’t have to be.

Because the alternative will be even worse.

Flypaper, Indeed

Somehow this has been briefly commented on, but not given a lot of play in the blogs I’ve seen. This story about the suicide bomber who was foiled yesterday is on page A6 of this morning’s L.A. Times (requires registration, use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’) – which itself is positive news. And if true, suggests that the war in Iraq is in fact a lot more complex than those who suggest that it is the “natural resistance” of the Iraqi population to foreign invaders. Here’s the story:

The suicide bomber had packed his 1982 Toyota Land Cruiser well in preparation for his journey Monday to martyrdom. He had taken out the back seat and piled explosives and rockets from floor to roof. He lined the door panels with dynamite.

Police would later say his lethal load weighed more than 2 tons – enough to blow up the police station, the primary school next door, the crowded outdoor market on the corner and most of the neighborhood as well.

Sounds pretty serious. Now for the money quote.

The driver of the white Land Cruiser was Syrian, Iraqi authorities later said, and at 10:15 a.m. he drove slowly through the police station’s back gate. There he was blocked by a barricade of sand-filled barrels and a $120-a-month policeman who ordered him to retreat.

Now, I’m sure that $120 a month is an OK salary in Iraq right now, but what matters here is that the Iraqi police officer did what he was supposed to do. He was attentive, and he reacted – he defended himself and his police station against an attack by a foreigner – not an American military attack, but a terrorist attack by a foreign Arab.

The vehicle hit the outer wall of the police station with a grinding thud. Then there was the briefest moment of silence. No explosion. No gallant martyrdom. The Syrian jumped from the vehicle and hurled a grenade at Arshad as a bullet tore into the would-be bomber’s stomach.

Before he passed out, he managed to shout: “Arabs are cowards! Iraqis are traitors! I am an Arab, you cowards! Allahu akbar [God is great]!”

Police officers said they found a Syrian passport in the pocket of his blue, robe-like dishdasha. On the passenger’s seat was a police shirt and police armband that might have enabled him to pass through checkpoints.

I don’t know. If Syrian Islamists are the drivers in this round of suicide attacks, and if Iraqis are starting to successfully defend against them, I’ll take that as a) some measure of proof that the ‘flypaper’ theory might not be completely specious, and b) as proof that something significantly good is happening over there.

I’ve said in the past that the two keys to winning this war are an iron butt – the simple willingness to sit it out – and the adaptability to learn from our mistakes and the opponent’s tactics. We may be showing both.

I’ll add Instapundit’s great comment here, and second it:

Because if the White House — by which, in this case, I mean George W. Bush — decides to drop the ball on this, I’ll probably vote Democratic, even if Kucinich is the nominee. A half-hearted war is the very, very worst kind. I think that Bush understands that. He’d better.

L.A: Red Sun Rising

I get up early, and the windows in our dining room face almost due East, and this morning the sun rose slowly, shrouded in haze, and an angry red. Our neighborhood cars are covered in fine white ash, and while the smell of smoke isn’t as strong as it was yesterday afternoon, it’s still strong.

I live nowhere near the fires; the closest one is probably 60 miles upwind from me, across the entire urbanized Los Angeles basin.

But it’s a reminder that Los Angeles, like almost all cities, is a made place (Doty in his great poem “Two Cities” talks about the “made world’s angled assault on heaven“), dependent on managing Nature as best we can to allow us to live here.
John McPhee talks a bit about it in his book ‘The Control of Nature’. The lengths we have to go to preserve our habitable bubble – the web of infrastructure that keeps the harsher forces of nature away from my house – against storm, fire, and the assaults of nature which would manifest entropy by wiping our homes down to sand and rubble.

Now, particularly in Los Angeles, we have a problem in that we do three things:

# We build outward along the city margin, which means we are in increasingly inhospitable terrain (the hospitable terrain having been developed decades ago). We do this for two reasons; because people seem to want semi-rural homes, and because they don’t want denser cities. They want the experience of looking out their yard at a wild canyon, covered with chaparral, and seeing a coyote or a bobcat. They just get upset when the canyon burns, taking their home with it, or the coyote views Fluffy the cat as an appetizer. They don’t want to increase the density within cities, because the congestion will be worse and the character – the suburban, detached home nature of much of Los Angeles, changes to an urban one as the density passes certain thresholds. And part of why they came to Los Angeles was to get away from an urban environment.

# We don’t spend money on the infrastructure that would make building out into the margins safer. Here we have an unholy alliance between the Left – the environmentalists who want to minimize the footprint of humankind on the wild places as we build them out, and the Right – who don’t want to burden developers with expensive improvements.

# We have starved the core public services – fire, police, emergency medical response – to feed the other, more politically rewarding parts of local government. And we’ve especially starved the preventative public services – like the folks who monitor brush clearance, or the public health and mosquito abatement folks – because they’re unglamorous and don’t ‘show well’ at budget time.

And so we burn.

If I had to characterize myself right now, I’d say I’m a ‘Pat Brown’ liberal. This state has twice as many people as it was designed to hold – as the man-made infrastructure that supports our habitable bubbles was designed for – and that can’t last.

While his era was one of pouring massive concrete infrastructure from one end of the state to the other, this era will be about sensors, electronic control systems, and small-grain solutions to the problems that could be solved in the 60’s by the liberal application of concrete.

But if we don’t invest in our infrastructure – if we don’t act to protect the bubble that we all live within – we’d better get used to camping in stadiums.

A.L.’s Favorite Movies

Well, Roger Simon started it, and while he actually knows something about movies, lack of subject-matter knowledge has never stopped bloggers in the past. So here are my 20-or-so favorites.

  1. Providence (Alain Resnais). John Gielgud, Dirk Bogarde, and Ellyn Burstein in the best move ever made about writing and artistic imagination. A fevered night in the imagination of a novelist, and a bright morning in his life.

  2. Samurai Trilogy (Kurosawa Inagaki). The story of Miyamoto Musashi – essentially the Japanese version of ‘Gone With The Wind’, with Mifune in the title role of the samurai, philosopher, and artist.

  3. Decalog (Kieslowski). Ten loosely liked stories set in a Polish apartment block and based on the Commandments. Episodes 1 and 2 are so powerful that I can’t watch them too often, and yet have to.
  1. Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (Girard). An ephemeral set of vignettes that still serves as the most definitive film biography of anyone that I’ve seen. I happen to be a huge Gould fan, but friends who aren’t love this as well.

  2. Choose Me (Rudolph). The most romantic move I’ve ever seen, and one that captures L.A. in the early 80’s (Ed Ruscha is in it!) better than any history book you’re likely to read.

  3. Singin’ In The Rain (Donen/Kelley). I mean, ‘Singin In The Rain.’ What else do you need to know? Gene Kelley, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, Comden and Green, “Moses Supposes”,”Dignity”, and “Singin In The Rain.

  4. Henry V (Branagh). “No King of England if not King of France,” and St. Crispin’s Day. Sadly, Branagh’s best to date, but I still have hopes for him.

  5. Oklahoma (Zinneman). The American experience in the American musical.

  6. Godfather II (Coppola). The look on Pacino’s face at the end of the film is the payoff; the film itself is a riveting counterpoint to ‘Oklahoma!”.

  7. Yankee Doodle Dandy (Curtiz). A joy to watch, and something that let Cagney express the warm heart under the hard edge.

  8. Young Frankenstein (Brooks). Hard to figure out which Brooks to pick, but this is the one we watch the most often.

  9. Chinatown (Polanski). Perfect surfaces, sullen, soiled woman, and John Huston as the appetite that built a city. I see echoes of this film everywhere I go; in Catalina last month, I sat in one of the yacht clubs and looked around…

  10. Winchester ’73 (Mann). James Stewart moves away from ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and shows what the hardness in his eyes means. A valued gun is stolen, and Stewart goes to get it back.

  11. Blade Runner (Scott). The future. Where William Gibson got all his ideas.

  12. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks). Grant, Hepburn, and the definition of effortless attraction based on brains and sharp wit.

  13. White Hunter, Black Heart (Eastwood). Clint Eastwood plays John Houston in Africa. Eastwood, beaten in body and spirit, being driven away and waving with malice to the local gentry.

  14. Don’t Look Now (Roeg). Roeg also made ‘Performance’ which almost made the list, but this is the scariest, sexiest movie I think I’ve ever seen. It’s the only movie I know that has caused me to lose sleep; I can’t reccomend it enough.

  15. King of New York (Ferera). Over-the-top 90’s gangster movie, worth watching for Christopher Walken’s definitive portrait of the master criminal out for one last score and for Lawrence Fishburne’s mindblowing hip-hop gangster, Jimmy Jump.

  16. M.A.S.H. (Altman). Dude, the 70’s were largely defined by the attitudes in this movie. And not only is it a historical artifact, but it’s damn funny and one of the last Altman films in which he actually cares about his characters.

  17. Shakespeare In Love (Madden). A much better than OK movie, but it has one magical quality – it makes you imagine what it must have been like to see a Shakespeare play for the first time.

  18. The Long Goodbye (Altman). Phillip Marlowe trying to live in 1970’s Los Angeles. Honor? What does that mean?

OK, that’ll get us started…

Hey, Atrios

Hey, dude – a quick primer. Ugly domestic politics != (geek for Does Not Equal) Gulags. The fact that you think they do – and that for much of the radical left they do – is the core of the moral blindness that’s going to keep you out of power for the next decade, and hand the keys to the country to the Right.

Unless people like Michael Totten and Marc Brazeau can manage to take control of the Democratic Party.

JK: What Duranty covered up wasn’t just Gulags – it was Stalin’s genocide of 4-10 million people. For more on real Gulgas today, meanwhile, see P.’s North Korea post. Oddly, Atrios doesn’t seem too worked up about that. Or about Duranty, for that matter. I’m sure his link to a Communist magazine as his preferred source today is just a coincidence….

Stuff I Should Have Blogged

I’m bidding three new projects (rates are almost back to where they were in 1997!!), and neck-deep in a charity project (fun, because it’s going to work out and I’ve managed to rope some Really Big People in to help bail the boat), which means that blogging has been kinda ad hoc.

But there are 3 things in the blog queue that refer to other people’s blogs, and I don’t want these excellent posts from Porphy, Blogonaut, and Demosophia to go stale(er). So here we go…First, Porphy a while ago did a thoughtful series of posts decrying the Academy and suggesting that it’s the seat of Bad Philosophy, and that it’s not looking good for our team over there. I think his arguments are good and interesting, but – partly because I’m an innate optimist (hey, I’m going to get married for the third time!) – I don’t have his level of anxiety about this.

It’s a serious issue, but let me hold this out as a counterpoint:

A new nationwide poll, released yesterday by Harvard University’s Institute Of Politics, finds she is far from alone: Of the 1,200 student respondents, 31 percent identified themselves as Republicans, compared with 27 percent who said they are Democrats. The largest number, 38 percent, called themselves Independent, or unaffiliated.

The Academy doesn’t live in a dewar; it is refreshed every year with new students who come in, go through it, are changed and change it in turn. Eventually, they will run departments…and it won’t be in geologic or even historic time. Porphy and I’ll be around to see it.

Plus I owe him a response to his funny “You Know You’re a Liberal” post.

Next, Marc Brazeau, in Portland Oregon (Michael Totten, have you had dinner with him yet?) has a damn interesting set of policy prescriptions for the Democratic Party in the next few years. It’s a long list, I agree with some but not all, but it sets out an interesting place to start talking about liberal strategy. My alltime favorite:

Democrats should be striking a bargain between business and the organized constituencies that act as countervailing forces. The bargain is this: Less regulation – More enforcement. Simpler, less nitpicky laws in exchange for bigger budgets for enforcement and real penalties for non-compliance – ball busting fines and in appropriate cases: jail time.

Ties in nicely with this, doesn’t it? I’ll dig in, but I’m also shamed; I need to stop doing cute op-eds and start being prescriptive.

Scott Talkington has a cool blog called Demosophia; what got my attention there was a damn good post on “Totalitarianism 3.0” Here’s a sample:

But it seems that, ironically, the most virulent and world-threatening forms of the malady have coincided with the rise and spread of liberal democracy. I would almost suspect that the mere presence of a system seeking to institutionalize the optimization of liberty gives rise to an opposing ideal that seeks to control every thought and act through terror. And the first manifestation of this ancient rivalry may have been in the epic Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta.

Go hang out and learn something from these folks; you may not agree, but I can guarantee you won’t be bored.

Sometime soon I’ll dig in and complement and criticize in detail – I promise!!

(corrected deeply embarassing misspelling of Scott’s blog; thanks to Mitch for the correction)

The Memo & The Reaction

I briefly commented earlier on the Rumsfeld memo, and the related Parameters article attempting to evaluate the intellectual and philosophical grounding of the leadership of our military.

As was predictable, certain folks have seized on this as one that “emphasizes how the grim picture painted in it is at odds with Rumsfeld’s public ‘Shiny Happy Iraqi People’ public pronouncements.” Daschle said:

“Secretary Rumsfeld’s comments are an illustration of the concern that they have about the failure of their policies in Iraq so far. There can be no other description of those words than that.”

Personally, I was damn happy to see it.I am and have been critical of the Administration for doing the right thing – taking the Islamist threat seriously and responding – yet lacking (or at least not sharing) a clear vision of what we were doing, and downplaying the seriousness and difficulty of the conflict we have been handed.

This memo – and article – are glimmers of hope to me. First, they suggest that the Administration, which I have been convinced has pursued a somewhat closed-minded approach in the leadup to the war is willing to look at alternate paths. Next, and most critically important, it means they are asking the right core question – how do we know when we’re winning? How do we define ‘victory’ in this murky conflict?

I said, in talking about the economic success of the U.S.:

The success of the American economic model is built largely on failure.

It is built on our willingness as a people to try things and to risk failing; built on the fact that we accept failure as part of the price of ultimate success; and ultimately on our willingness to accept displacement and change as a natural part of our social and economic lives.

Our military success is founded on the incredible logistical and technological advantages that our economy has given us – and also on our willingness to apply the same principles to our warfighting; to learn, to adapt, to change.

If Rumsfeld hasn’t written this memo, he should have been fired, and I hope to God that the fact that so many Democrats are seizing on it is so much political spin, rather than sheer naive stupidity – which is what it is if they aren’t spinning.

Competence & Rumsfeld’s Memo

Just in time for Rumsfeld’s famous memo to hit the press, Parameters, the magazine of the US Army War college, publishes this article – “Strategic Leader Readiness and Competencies for Asymmetric Warfare.” (pdf, requires free Acrobat reader)

I’m still absorbing it, but let me toss out a few quotes to get the discussion started:

Both current and past senior civilian defense officials reportedly have grown increasingly frustrated with the conventional mindset of many strategic level military officers. In their view, too many senior leaders are too cautious, lacking the “fresh thinking, creativity, and ingenuity” to engage in the “out-of-the-box” thinking required to fully understand the new asymmetric threats and challenges posed by the global war on terrorism.


This article seeks to identify the adaptive linkages that exist between strategic leader competencies and the mental readiness for asymmetric and more conventional warfare. Fortunately, the writings of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz seem to offer a framework to help guide the needed adaptation in strategic leader thinking with regard to asymmetric approaches to warfare. An identification of these characteristics in the writings of both Sun Tzu and Clausewitz offers the opportunity to adapt their concepts to the present and anticipated challenges of asymmetric approaches to warfare. However, it is also important to recognize that while “asymmetry is important to strategy . . . not everything is asymmetry.”

Take a look, as I think I’ll be commenting on this and the Rumsfeld memo in more depth in the next little while.

To get a glimpse of how I feel about this, go read this old post on risk.