Saturday, August 27, 2005


The draft Iraqi constitution is going before the National Assembly either Saturday or Sunday, with or without the Sunni backing.

Some good discussions of Iraqi constitutional issues (prior to latest developments):

Iraq the Model
offers some thoughts from inside the cauldron.

Don Surber reminds us that the United States did not get everything right straight away - nor very quickly and painlessly.

Publius Pundit has a good essay about all the things federal.


Shock poll: dissent will not be silenced (or necessarily listened to) 

No great surprises here:
Nearly three weeks after a grieving California mother named Cindy Sheehan started her anti-war protest near President George W. Bush's Texas ranch, nine of 10 people surveyed in an AP-Ipsos poll say it is OK for war opponents to publicly share their concerns about the conflict...

Overall attitudes about the war - while negative - haven't changed dramatically in recent weeks and a solid majority, 60 percent, want US troops to stick it out until Iraq is stable.

The poll found that most people disapprove of the Bush administration's conduct of the war and think the war was a mistake. Half believe it has increased the threat of terrorism. Democrats overwhelmingly question the president's policies, while Republicans overwhelmingly support them...

Support for Bush's handling of the war was stronger among those who know someone who has served in Iraq - almost half - compared with about a quarter of those who don't know someone who served in Iraq.
More on this last point here. It's clear that the families back home are receiving different information out of Iraq than an average American gets out of his or her newspaper and TV station - sad, though, that a grapevine is a better source of news that the news. As for the other results, a very American position: I disagree with what you say, but you have every right to say it. Some news editors are probably scratching their heads right now that the red state Jesusland bigots do not have any intention of burning Mother Sheehan at the stake.

Yet despite opinion polls like this one, many are increasingly deluding themselves that the voice crying out in the Crawford wilderness somehow cries for us all. Take for example another grief-stricken parent, Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose son Jesus was killed in Iraq in 2003. Fernando has recently penned an open letter to President Bush, including this hyperbole:
Cindy Sheehan is all of us. She is our representative but across the United States there are more than 1800 faces like hers who wait to meet you and receive your apology and your heartfelt explanation.
Never mind that President Bush has already met with some 900 family members of almost 300 fallen servicemembers (including the Sheehans), and never mind that a lot more of the 1800 parents seem to proud of their sons' and daughters' service and support the President rather than blaming him for soldiers' deaths.

Del Solar has previously traveled to an anti-American hate fest of the Anti-imperialist Tribunal of the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students in Caracas, Venezuela, to accuse George Bush of killing his son. It seems that the loopy left is once again making a mistake of overestimating their reach and appeal, stuck as they are in their own echo-chamber, ably amplified by the media.


Friday, August 26, 2005

Too clever by half 

Half the population will dismiss this story - but a new study claims the cleverest people are far more likely to be male than female.

Men are more intelligent than women by about five IQ points on average, making them better suited for tasks of high complexity, according to the authors of a paper due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology.

Genetic differences in intelligence between the sexes helped explain why many more men than women won Nobel Prizes or became chess grandmasters, the study by Paul Irwing and Richard Lynn concludes.

They showed that men outnumbered women in increasing numbers as intelligence levels rose. There were twice as many with IQ scores of 125, typical for people with first-class degrees.

When scores rose to 155, associated with genius, there were 5.5 men for every woman.
I don't think I'm even going to touch this one - and Paul Irwing and Richard Lynn, right or wrong, will have enough feminists on their hands to deal with for the next few years.


Intellectualizing theft 

European police are attempting to halt the spread of a guerrilla shoplifting network, seizing computer equipment connected to the cause.

Yomango calls on anti-consumerism activists to "liberate" goods from stores in an effort to spread the ideals of brand-free living.

The movement started in 2002 in Spain, where thrifty followers staged choreographed shopping-mall stunts like looting clothes from one store and returning them to another or wearing them back for flash fashion shows.

Actions carried out in the name of Yomango -- Spanish slang for "I steal" -- are coordinated and celebrated online. Thanks to a website that publishes accounts and videos of looting pranks, "franchises" of the movement have recently sprung up in countries including Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Germany, prompting a new wave of show-thefts.

"Yomango is a brand name whose principal objective ... is not the selling of things," according to the movement's manifesto, "but the ... promoting of shoplifting as a form of disobedience and direct action against multinational corporations. Buying is an action based on obedience; (we are) taking to the extreme the free circulation of goods."
And in a proud Mad Left tradition, Yomango, far from damaging the multinationals or big shopping chains, actually ends up screwing the average customer, since the costs of shoplifting are merely passed on by retailers in higher prices for everyone. But that doesn't matter, does it? After all, consumers are as guilty as the big bad capitalists, since they willingly participate in "the system", even if it is just a case of false consciousness. Kind of reminds me of Islamofascists, for whom there is no distinction between the military and civilians, or between Jewish soldiers and Jewish children (because, well, they all do grow up to be Jewish soldiers, don't they?). And who can forget Ward Churchill and his "little Eichmanns"?

I'm also reminded of the last para of a great piece by Robert J. Avrech, Hollywood screenwriter who just came out as a conservative Republican:
These Hollywood liberals spend their lives negotiating. They believe that when the time comes they will sit down with Osama bin Laden and cut a deal. Imagine how surprised they'’ll be when the cold blade hits their necks. Imagine their shock when they realize there is no negotiating with barbarians; that Osama makes no distinctions between Democrats and Republicans, between observant Jew and Buddhist chanting Jew. I hope it never comes to that, but imagine such a story line. Actually, it would make a pretty good movie. I should try and pitch it.
(hat tip: California Conservative)


Economics of scarcity, Hawaii-style 

Hawaii has become the first state in the nation to set limits on gasoline prices.

The state Public Utilities Commission is setting the wholesale price ceiling for gasoline in Honolulu at just under $2.16 a gallon.

With taxes, the wholesale price would be $2.74. If wholesalers charge that price and retailers keep their typical 12-cent markup, then the price of a gallon of regular unleaded in Honolulu could rise to $2.86 per gallon.

The caps apply as of next week, when a new law goes into effect allowing Hawaii to set a maximum wholesale price at which gasoline can be sold. The limit is based on the weekly average of spot prices in Los Angeles and New York, and on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Something tells me there might be a tiny problem in the future, should the actual, "real world" wholesale price of gas increase above $2.74. We all know that gas wholesalers are generous souls that would continue selling gas to retailers for less than they paid for it to refineries. Well, at least they would in fairy tales. But we can't count on such generosity forever, can we?

When I came to live in Australia in 1988, the price of gas (or petrol, as we call it down under) hovered just above 50 cents, and the Australian dollar around 90 US cents. A few years ago, it reversed. Now, our dollar is around 75 US cents, and gas in Queensland around 1.15 - and that's still the cheapest in Australia.

I'm somewhat mystified whether the "war for oil" was meant to secure the Iraqi oil for American companies or to ensure that oil prices stay low. If it was the latter, America should have bombed China instead. Or maybe it was to drive up the price of oil, in order to increase profits for American oil companies. The beauty of a crap conspiracy theory (or, for so many, conspiracy fact) like this one is that no matter what happens, you're always right.


Media reports on the results of own work 

Americans are more interested in military and national security issues, but feel the media and the military are doing an insufficient job in keeping them as informed on those topics as they were six years ago, according to a new McCormick Tribune Foundation/Gallup Poll.

Fifty-four (54) percent of Americans say they feel the military keeps them well informed, down from 77 percent of those surveyed in 1999. The news media also saw a decline, with 61 percent of Americans feeling the media keeps them well informed on military and national security issues, compared to 79 percent in the earlier survey.
The first prize for the spin goes to Al Reuters for this delicious take:
Americans sometimes feel misled by military - poll

Americans have become considerably less confident in the information they receive from the military, a sign the Iraq war has heightened public scepticism, the sponsors of a poll released on Wednesday said.

Seventy-seven percent of Americans polled believe the military occasionally misleads the media and 60 percent said they feel they have received too little information to make informed decisions about military matters, according to the McCormick Tribune Foundation/Gallup Poll.
This alludes to one of the other findings, namely that 77 per cent of Americans feel the military occasionally gives the media false or inaccurate information. Note, however, that the Reuters story focuses on the criticism of the military in its opening paragraph, and only mentions the correspondingly falling approval of the media in the seventh paragraph.

If more people today feel that the military is not keeping them well informed, maybe we shouldn't look as far as Pentagon for answers. The military, of course, does not communicate with the public directly, unless one takes the initiative to visit their websites and read the press releases and news stories. Instead, it has to rely on the media to spread the message. Unfortunately, the media is not a glass pane but a prism. Which makes it not unusual to see stories like this one, where "The New York Times" has managed to turn a good news military story from Iraq into a complete bad news. You didn't think it was possible? Well read on.

Overall, I think that part of the drop in satisfaction can be ascribed to the fact that, unlike in the run-up to the 1999 poll, military matters are constantly in the spotlight, and in the most controversial of circumstances. It's easy enough to be satisfied with the level of information when the country is largely at peace, its armed forces out of the news, and the public, frankly, neither interested nor attentive. At the time of war, which has so divided the nation, the current results are not surprising. It is a challenge to Pentagon, though, to try to keep on constantly improving its PR machine to stay ahead of the curve. The propaganda war has to be waged not just abroad against the enemies and for the hearts and minds of the international silent majority, but also at home. In fact, the domestic war is arguably even more important, at least in the short term.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Will you still love me in the morning? 

When Tashkent announced on July 29 that it had officially asked the United States to remove its forces from the Khanabad airbase in southern Uzbekistan - where they had been deployed for the past few years - the move came as no surprise given the growing friction between both countries following the May 13 events in Andijan. Still, this decision represents a major U-turn in Uzbek foreign policy, and will have long term consequences for Uzbekistan and the entire Central Asian region...

Tashkent is now turning towards its old historical ally - Moscow - that is only to happy to renew strong ties. China, which is a new player in the region, is also strengthening relations with Uzbekistan, providing crucial new economic partnership.

Neither Moscow nor Beijing supports calls for an international investigation into Andijan, nor are they likely to demand reforms within Uzbekistan – a factor that will be welcomed by Tashkent.
The question - will the left care anymore about human rights abuses in Uzbekistan now that it is no longer an American ally?


Those constitutions 

It reminds me of the current controversy about the Iraqi constitution. Publius Pundit has commented about the similarities between the Afghan and the proposed Iraqi constitution, and Alenda Lux has looked at the different reactions the two documents have engendered at "The New York Times" - enthusiastic approval in one case, and almost hysterical condemnation in the other. I'll let you guess which one was which.

The Afghan war has traditionally been a "good war", in a sense that it enjoyed general support and it had been difficult to find decent arguments against retaliating against those directly responsible for September 11 attacks. Not that the far left nevertheless hasn't tried, but the media has generally behaved sensibly. Iraq, by contrast, has always been "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time" to use John Kerry's formulation. And the wronger the conflict in Iraq, the better the one in Afghanistan. The reporting from both theaters is generally negative, but whereas in case of Iraq it is used to argue that we shouldn't be there in the first place, in case of Afghanistan it is used to argue that we are not doing enough.

Now the cry call of "Iranian-style Shia theocracy", ringing everywhere from Kos to "The New York Times", has almost managed to overshadow all the other favorites like Vietnam, quagmire, or civil war. After two and a half years of cliches, my advice is, hold your horses on the latest one.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Guest blogger: Mesopotamia redeemed, part 9 

As this blog slowly makes its way towards the end, it's also time to conclude our long-running series "Mesopotamia Redeemed", by Dan Foty. And so, we come the full circle.

Mesopotamia Redeemed – Part IX

As described in Part VIII, after centuries of light the rule of law waned in Mesopotamia, and finally disappeared completely. This may seem to be a sad end; however, had all of these things really been “forgotten” completely? The connections between many of today’s ideas and concepts in society and law seem too strong to be merely coincidental. And that is the final question to be considered. Was there direct cultural transmission? Was there indirect cultural transmission? Or are all of these similarities indeed merely coincidental?

Any attempt to sort out these questions in a concrete fashion is rather frustrating; the pieces and parts are incomplete and tantalizing, making it tempting to draw direct conclusions which may not be justified. As Samuel Kramer put it so nicely,

“Admittedly, the Sumerian origin of the modern offshoot can no longer be traced with directness or certainty: The ways of cultural diffusion are manifold, intricate, and complex, and its magic touch is subtle and evanescent.”

This is a problem which thus must be approached with considerable caution. However, it seems likely that to some degree all three possibilities have been involved. There was likely direct cultural transmission simply due to the importance, success, and long duration of Sumerian civilization. For the same reasons, there was also likely a great deal of indirect cultural transmission, which would have spread widely due to extensive contacts and trade networks. And there is also likely a great deal of “coincidental transmission” – for the simple reason that the great and fundamental problems of a civilized society are basically constant with time.

Each of these will now be considered in turn.

Direct cultural transmission – where the Sumerians actually expanded to other places, assumed political control, and imposed their laws and legal system – seems to have been of limited importance. For the most part, the Sumerians were neither empire-builders nor conquerors; like the Greek city-states of the classical period, the Sumerian city-states were for the most part very competitive with each other, but that competition was confined locally, within Sumer. There were no far-flung Sumerian conquests in which Sumerian law could be imposed.

The only “exception” during the Sumerian era actually isn’t one. The only real empire built during this period was not due to a Sumerian city or ruler, but belonged to Sargon the Great of Akkad. Sargon’s empire encompassed all of Mesopotamia, and there are even tantalizing hints that it may have extended as far afield as India, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Despite its power, Sargon’s empire didn’t long survive him; also, Sargon was not Sumerian, and the records provide no indications that Sargon either adopted Sumerian law or “exported” it widely in his conquests.

However, there is considerable evidence of very important indirect cultural transmission from Sumerian society throughout the ancient Near East – and even more widely. Sumer was obviously a very advanced and very successful society, and this was well-known in other societies. When an outsider such as Sargon become ruler over Sumer, he was very proud to call himself “King of Sumer and Akkad” – for an outsider to proclaim his kingship over Sumer was clearly an honorific of great pride. Knowledge of the high cultural achievements of the Sumerians doubtless spread far and wide, and visitors to Sumer doubtless carefully studied what they saw and heard - and no doubt realized on their own (and were told by the Sumerians) that the success, prosperity, and civilization of Sumer were in large measure due to its laws and legal system. Visitors returning to less civilized, less orderly places would certainly have brought back knowledge of this startling aspect of Sumerian society to their homelands.

Furthermore, the basic economic nature of Sumer and the Near East was very conducive to indirect cultural transmission. The main productive economic activity of Sumer – indeed, the activity which provided the impetus for the Sumerians to invent civilization itself – was agriculture. With fertile soil, their intricate systems of irrigation, and accumulated detailed knowledge of agricultural methods, the Sumerians were able to produce tremendous quantities of grain and other produce – in amounts considerably in excess of their own needs. At the same time, Mesopotamia was (and is) nearly devoid of metals, stone, and wood. The simplest and most direct method of obtaining these non-local commodities would have been to conquer the regions which produced them. However, as noted above, the Sumerians were not empire-builders - and as any conqueror usually finds out, there are always lands further beyond the last conquest, with trade networks extending even further away.

There was thus tremendous impetus for the Sumerians to develop commercial activities, and to trade their surplus agricultural products for the materials which they could not obtain locally. This was obviously the case; the Mesopotamia law codes dealt extensively with the regulation of commercial activities - showing not only that this activity existed, but that it was recognized as being essential to the health of Mesopotamian society. The existence of trade networks pre-dates recorded history; commercial activities are a fundamental aspect of human existence. In addition to the exchange of goods, commerce is one of the best methods for the communication and distribution of ideas over a wide range – far wider than the region of their origins. The commercial networks sent Sumerian merchants far beyond Mesopotamia, where, like all business travelers, they met and mingled with local people and with other merchants from other places. A simple question posed to a Sumerian merchant, “How is it that Sumer is so rich in grain?” would likely have produced an interesting discourse that went far beyond simply the details of Sumerian agricultural practices. And, as described above, these same trade networks would have brought other merchants and traders to Sumer, where they would have come into direct contact with the fundamental aspects of Sumerian society.

Commerce and the concomitant commercial networks served as the primary reasons for contacts between various societies – and provided the network for the transmission of Sumerian culture and society to other peoples and places. However, these “networks” could also carry other information as well. While agriculture and commerce were clearly the fundamental activities of Sumerian society, that society was not concerned solely with the practical and the mundane. The high state of Sumerian society allowed for the development of literature – the level of which was very advanced even by “modern” standards.

The entire body of Sumerian literature was basically adopted “as-is” by the Babylonians and the Assyrians; in fact, much of Sumerian literature had originally been attributed to these societies, before Sumerian society had been “re-discovered.” Much of that literature has also been found in translation in other contemporary societies of the Near East, such as the literature of the Hittites and the Canaanites. Sumerian literature would have served to transmit both tangible aspects of Sumerian society (such as laws and practices) and the more subtle and intangible aspects (such as values and beliefs). It is these less tangible aspects of a society which are often best transmitted through literary (rather than practical) vehicles. Sumerian literature also clearly influenced Hebrew literature, and may even have had direct effects on Greek literature.

Indeed, it is the connection between ancient Hebrew culture and Sumerian culture which provides some of the most interesting possibilities for the direct propagation and continuance of “Sumerian” values to this day. As noted above, the Canaanites, who preceded the ancient Israelites in the Levant, were familiar with Sumerian literature and had translated much of it into their own language – thus, this material was already in existence “on the ground” at the time.

However, there are more tangible aspects to consider. When Hammurabi’s code was first recovered, it was immediately recognized that there were numerous parallels between that code and the laws of the Old Testament – as Samuel Kramer puts it, “in context, terminology, and even arrangement.” At the time, this presented a problem; as best as could be ascertained, the patriarch Abraham had lived several centuries before Hammurabi’s code. Abraham had left Mesopotamia, eventually reaching the Levant – which would have provided a perfect way for Mesopotamian concepts of law and society to have been taken to the Levant. However, as Hammurabi’s code antedated Abraham by some 300 or 400 years, this wasn’t possible.

Of course, it is now known that Hammurabi’s code was based directly on older Sumerian laws and law codes; these preceded Hammurabi’s code by several centuries. It is almost certain that it was these Sumerian codes which are the true taproot of all the law codes which appeared through the ancient Near East.

And indeed, there are many striking parallels between Sumerian literature and the Old Testament. Sumerian literature tells of a “Garden of Eden,” known to the Sumerians as “Dilmun” – a green, fruitful, divine garden, and a perfect world in which pain, disease, and death were unknown. As Samuel Kramer has noted, there is even an interesting possible connection to the story of the creation of Eve; “Eve” in Hebrew means “to make live,” while in Sumerian the word “ti” can mean either “to make live,” or “rib.” Most spectacularly, Sumerian literature contains a story of the catastrophic flood, complete with a “Noah” (“Ziusudra” to the Sumerians and “Utnapishtim” to the Babylonians) and the construction of the ark; this flood story was first recovered during the discovery and translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh during the late 19th century - and caused quite a popular stir, while providing the most famous popular recognition of the Epic of Gilgamesh and Sumerian literature. Finally, in the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel berates the women of Jerusalem for still conducting rites lamenting the sad fate of the shepherd-king Dumuzi. The sad story of Dumuzi is a myth of Sumerian origin and pre-dates the time of Ezekiel by more than a millennium. It is remarkable that this story and its rites persisted for that long in another place. It is also noteworthy that Ezekiel is clearly upset that this “pagan” and foreign religious festival is being celebrated as an infringement upon the native Hebrew beliefs; this clearly marks the Dumuzi story as an “imported” rather than “indigenous” one. Dumuzi was known to the ancient Hebrews as “Tammuz,” and despite Ezekiel’s admonition, this name survives to this very day in the name of the Hebrew month of “Tamuz.”

Most importantly, the “re-discovery” of the Sumerians solves the “Abraham problem.” Abraham originally lived in Ur, sometime around 2300 B.C. – more than 300 years before the creation of Hammurabi’s code. However, the older Sumerian laws and legal system were already in existence and functioning at this time; when Abraham left Ur, he doubtless took this knowledge with him. The roots of the three great monotheistic religious – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – can be traced to Sumer and Sumerian culture.

Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that there were many vehicles for the indirect transmission of Sumerian (and Mesopotamian) concepts of the rule of law and of civil society, and that many of these concepts exist today as direct descendants of their Sumerian predecessors.

Finally, a few words must be devoted to “coincidental” transmission. To some degree, it should not be a surprise to see the Sumerian concepts and ideas in later times – and even today. The Sumerians were obviously a practical people, and developed their ideas and their society for very practical reasons. That society was extremely successful, persisting as a distinct entity for some three millennia. That success alone indicates that the Sumerians were able to successfully meet the challenges which they faced. Thus, it is not unexpected that later peoples, faced with similar challenges yet unaware of the culture of the Sumerians, would have reached similar conclusions. The concept of “the rule of law” as a central organizing principle is so obvious that its continual “re-discovery” is to be expected.

Taken as a whole, the pieces all fit together. Even though specific knowledge of Sumerian society had been lost, its cultural essence survived and was passed down through a number of paths and cultures. It is not at all surprising, then, that in more recent situations – such as Thomas Jefferson penning the Declaration of Independence, or the Philadelphia Convention drafting the Constitution of the United States, or others – those who were heirs to those cultures (known and unknown) and faced the same problems would have reached similar conclusions and penned similar words – words which would be instantly recognizable to any educated Sumerian.

And that is the ultimately legacy of Sumer. The underpinnings of modern civilization can be traced back to the Sumerians and the sandy soil of Mesopotamia. And today, the intellectual descendants of the Sumerians are endeavoring to return to Mesopotamia, after an absence of nearly 4,000 years, the legacy which was the gift of the Sumerians to the entire world.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

An altar of sacrifice 

An open letter to Cindy Sheehan from bestselling author Stephen Mansfield ("The Faith of George W Bush" and "The Faith of the American Soldier"):

Dear Mrs. Sheehan,

You are in a firestorm of grief and what must be a disorienting swirl of world attention. For that reason, I will be as brief in my remarks as I hope to be compassionate.

I will not insult you by presuming to know your sorrow. The loss of a son in armed conflict abroad must be among the most soul-wrenching experiences possible. You are surely right to rage against the horrors of war, right to demand answers and right to reach for those of like mind.

I fear, though, that what began as a mourning mother's righteous cry for meaning is becoming something that threatens to dishonor Casey's heroism. Though I mean no disrespect, it is clear you are becoming swept up in a cynical drama that is far afield from the meaning of the war and your son's sacrifice. From your daily blogging on Michael Moore's web site to the pronouncements you feel obligated to make on Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip, you risk abandoning the moral high ground of a grieving mother and are in danger of becoming just another fleeting voice on the American pop culture landscape.

The central issue here is not whether George W. Bush meets with you for a second time or whether your self-styled "peaceful occupation" of Crawford, Texas ever wins the explanations you seek. The central issue is that when your son volunteered for military service, he placed himself upon an altar of sacrifice. Sadly, the ultimate sacrifice was indeed required. Yet he gave himself willingly, as all our soldiers do in this generation, and his death is therefore the noble death of a hero and not the needlessly tragic death of one accidentally or foolishly taken

What we must understand is that a pledge to military service is a surrender of rights, a surrender of comforts and, potentially, a surrender of life if the nation calls. What leaves us so stunned at the death of a soldier, beyond our grief for a life snuffed out and our personal loss, is often our failure to understand the noble calling of the profession of arms and the warrior code that gives this calling meaning. When your son, and the thousands like him serving today, pledged himself to military service, he did not just "join the army." He offered himself to his God and his nation in an act of devotion that has been repeated for centuries. He entered the fellowship of those who offer their lives willingly in service to others. His death, though a horror, was a horror with meaning, willingly engaged.

I cannot know your sorrow. I can urge you, though, not to taint your son's offering on what Lincoln called "the altar of freedom" by tethering it to the passing parade of trendy causes. I can also urge you to live now in the knowledge that your son's passing ennobles our nation, just as I trust it will now ennoble you.

With deepest sympathies for your loss,

Stephen Mansfield


Confessions of a geo-con 

I have a confession to make: in the past, I used to be a lot more interested in economic and social policy, but after September 11 I have become pretty much a geo-con. Not that I don't believe that having robust growth or strong families is not important - I do - but unless we can successfully face the enemies of liberal democracy on the international stage, all the domestic concerns will become somewhat abstract (at this point I'll pre-empt - no pun intended - some commenters and acknowledge that having a healthy economy and a healthy society will in turn help you pursue a strong foreign policy).

In this context, there has been an interesting debate going on the pages of the British "Spectator" (I won't bother with links, since most of the content is now available only via registration or subscription).

It all started when a Conservative MP John Hayes published an article in the August 6 issue, titled "Muslims are right about Britain". In it, Hayes essentially agreed with the socially conservative Muslim critique of the British society as decadent and failing to provide young generation with clear rules and good examples. Hayes' stance has been supported by five newly elected Conservative MPs in the current issue of the magazine.

Overall, it was a much milder and more reasoned contribution that Jerry Fallwell's stupid post 9/11 remark that the terror attacks were a quasi-divine punishment for tolerating homosexuals and abortionists. It's interesting how rare such outbursts actually have been. Quite the opposite - as Ron Liddle writes elsewhere in the current issue of "The Spectator":
Those people who share with the mullahs a distaste for the spiritual decadence of the West - for homosexuality, feminism, godlessness, a lack of respect for one'’s elders, the false idolatry of television celebrities and general sexual licentiousness and drunkenness -– are the very people who have been most vocal in questioning the basic tenets of Islam.
What Liddle is saying is that - counter intuitively, from his point of view - it has been the conservatives, including of course social conservatives, who have been the strongest critics of radical Islam. Counter intuitively, because according to Liddle there is much agreement between Christian conservatives and Muslim conservatives about the state of our society. Liddle doesn't mention this, but I recall very well the close cooperation engineered by Vatican in the pre-9/11 world between Catholic and Muslim states to thwart some of the progressive agendas of many a United Nations conference.

But the apparent post-9/11 split between Western and Islamic conservatives is only surprising if one truly ascribes to the view of domestic religious right as being no more and no less than just the American (or British) Taliban. Contra leftists caricatures, Western social conservatives do not want to introduce Sharia. The opposition to gay marriage does not equal the support for stoning homosexuals to death. Arguing against the excesses of modern feminism does not make one a proponent of segregated swimming pools and burquas for all.

Secondly, there is more to life than just the social issues, and I would venture a guess that most conservatives, while not enamoured with the current state of our Western society and culture, do appreciate that other aspects of the West, all also to various extent despised by Islamic radicals - such as democracy, pluralism, openness, liberty, equality, human right, free markets - are just as important and worth fighting for.

As an aside, it's the hard left, rather than hard (socially conservative) right, that the radical Islam is finding itself increasingly in alliance with. As Douglas Davis wrote recently (again in "The Spectator", though free link here):
Points of potential disagreement between the hard Left and radical Islam -— democracy, human rights, xenophobia, free-expression, feminism, homosexuality, abortion, among many others -— would seem to pose insuperable barriers to the union. Not so. The hurdles have been neatly vaulted in the interest of mutual hatreds: America, Israel, globalisation, capitalism and imperialism. Anti-Semitism is never far from the surface.
Which, I guess, shows that just as for the conservatives social issues will not be as important in the overall scheme of things, so it won't be for the leftists.
One of the "Speccie" readers called John Hayes' article "a prime example of the half-baked authoritarianism that characterises the statist Right." Hayes, the reader opined, "talks of the need for a 'moral and cultural renaissance', yet does not have the courage to spell out how it would be implemented. Would he ban homosexuality, screenings of 'Big Brother', and all the other things he - subjectively - finds so abhorrent?"
A few weeks ago I commented on David Brooks' piece in which he commented on the unexpected - and largely unheralded - improvement in most social indicators over the past 10 or 15 years. These positive changes have been taken place largely in spite of progressive cultural and education establishments, and can only partly be explained by helpful legislative initiatives. So, at the risk of sounding like a member of the "authoritarian" "statist Right", I don't discount the possibility that in certain circumstances one can successfully legislate morality, but I believe there is a lot more to it than just making laws. I believe in people, and I also believe in freedom, and that particular combination cannot be underestimated as a force for social good.


When democracy becomes infectious 

Seems like the democratic bug is really catching on across Iraq. It doesn't take much to get the Kurds and most Shias to the polling stations, but judging by the recent frenzy, there will be crowds going to the constitutional referendum right across the country. The recalcitrant Sunnis have been doing most of the leg work to catch up:
Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidaie, of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, told worshippers at Baghdad's Umm al-Qura mosque to register for the upcoming votes because "we are in need to your voice to say 'yes' for the constitution or 'no.'
According to another report:
The general conference of Sunnis in Iraq, which includes "the Sunni Mortmain", "the Association of Muslim Scholars", "the Iraqi Islamic Party", and a group of Sunni parties and organizations, was held in Baghdad and has urged all Arab Sunnis to participate in the coming elections.

In his speech before hundreds of attendees, Ahmed Abdel Ghafur Al Samera'i said, "Participating in the plebiscite on the constitution is a prescribed duty for all Sunnis."

He added, "I swear to Allah that the greatest privilege, through which you gain the love of Allah, is your efforts in participating in the coming elections and gathering the Sunnis, hoping that Allah would alleviate their suffering."

Alaa Maki, member of the political bureau in the "Iraqi Islamic Party", has confirmed, "The party has suggested the provision of cities of Sunni majority with additional lists, so that everyone would be able to register their information in the electors and plebiscite on the permanent constitution records."
One of the interesting aspects of the new "no Sunni left behind" campaign is its overtly religious trappings. At Iraq the Model you can check out the flier being distributed by the Islamic Party, convincing Sunnis that voting is a religious duty, supported by Koran and religious tradition. What a difference a few months can make.

Even the dreaded Fallujah is catching on:
Falluja's clerics council advised the Imams of the mosques and the people not to miss this historical chance and to take part in it through the four centers opened there. Community leaders and clerics organized lectures to educate the people about the importance of their participation and that the constitution is for the interests of all Iraqis, which will decide their identities."
As this report explains:
In Fallujah, considered one of the major hotbed of Iraqi insurgency, clerics of mosques called on the residents in the city to participate in the constitution referendum scheduled to be held in mid October.

They urged the residents through loudspeakers to participate and say "no" to those who want to isolate them from the political process.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party, also distributed handouts calling on the people to participate the referendum. Many of the residents showed support and desire to participate.
Four registration centers have now been open in Fallujah, and apparently they're doing great business.

Most bizarrely, both the main Sunni insurgent group, Ansar Al Sunna, as well as Shia radical Muqtada al Sadr, have been calling on supporters to register to vote in the constitution referendum:
[One] statement issued by six of the seven Ansar groups promised that there will not be attacks against Americans on the day of the referendum, 'to protect those who go to vote.' 'Voting is a jihad of words and is no different from the jihad of the sword,' the statement said. 'There are no objections to participation in the referendum to show the world our strength and to defeat federalism'.
Just about the only person who doesn't want to vote in the coming referendum is Al Zarqawi - which is just as well, because as a Jordanian citizen he wouldn't be eligible to.

"Jihad of words" - I like it. If the insurgent morons have thought about it two years ago it's quite likely that Iraq would have a stable government by now and the Coalition forces would have been in the middle of withdrawal.

The big test, of course, will not be what happens on the voting day, but afterwards - that is, whether everyone will accept the results and move in a peaceful manner. It's been said often enough that democracy is a process, not an event (one of Glenn Reynolds' favorite phrases). There are no guarantees that the unhappy will not revert to violence after the poll, but so far, at least, the signs are encouraging.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, while the Taliban will not be voting in the parliamentary election, the movement has announced that they will not be targeting polling stations. Killing civilians exercising their democratic right just doesn't seem so popular anymore.


Monday, August 22, 2005

The continental divide 

Nicholas Eberstadt and Barbara Boyle Torrey:
Twenty-five years ago the population profiles of Canada and the United States were similar. Both were younger than their European allies, and their societies were more heterogeneous. In 1980 their populations had almost the same median age, fertility rates, and immigration rates. In the years since then, small changes in demographic variables have accumulated, ultimately creating two very different countries in North America by the end of the twentieth century.

Canadians now have half a child fewer than Americans during their lifetimes--their fertility level is roughly 25 percent lower than that of their neighbors south of the border--and they are living two years longer. Both populations are growing at about the same rate, but the components of growth have diverged. Immigration is relatively more important in Canada’s growth rate, and fertility is more important in the United States.

Canadians marry later and less often than Americans. They enter common-law unions more often and their children are increasingly likely to be born out of wedlock. Canadians and Americans have similar labor force participation rates, but Americans work more hours per year. They have higher incomes but less leisure. And even though Canada’s birth rate is now substantially lower than America’s, the Canadian government provides more child services and benefits than the U.S. government.
Whence Canada? A part of the Anglosphere but looking more like a European country every day.


Turning off, tuning out 

It really looks like people are turning off the mainstream media and entertainment. Newspaper circulation keeps falling. Summer box office is down by 12 per cent. And now the disappointing summer TV viewing figures:
With three weeks left to go, the broadcast nets are down a collective 10% among adults 18-49 vs. last summer -- and 15% in viewers 18-34. ABC is the only net up over last year, while Fox is flat; other four nets are down sharply.
The reasons are a legion. More and more consumers are not getting what they want. Too much unoriginal reality TV on the small screen. Crap movies on the big screen (in the words of John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, "Here's what we know about 2005: The movies are not as good. They're not terrible; they're just not as good."). As for the newspapers, perhaps too much bias and negativity.

But there's also increased competition from other forms of entertainment and information - DVDs are starting to affect cinemas, internet the printed word (blogs are still small fish in the cyber-ocean).

Personally, I haven't seen a movie in months, and I haven't been watching TV, either. Somehow, I'm surviving. I'm sure I'm not alone.

It will be fascinating to watch over the next few years the fierce battle between the old and the new for the huge media and entertainment market.



"My soul and my existence is to be sacrificed for our precious Palestine and our beloved, patient and suffering Iraq."
That's the latest whine from the ever-melodramatic Saddam Hussein. It's good to know that Cindy Sheehan is not the only one making linkages between Iraq and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.


Life imitates Chrenkoff 

Pentagon starts putting out its weekly summaries of positive developments in Iraq:
Officials in Iraq Report on Past Week's Successes
Do I claim credit? No, but it's good to see these things finally happening.

Rest assured that fruitful talks are taking place at the moment regarding the continuation of the "Good news" enterprise after I retire from blogging, but in the meantime, here's the latest compilation from All Things Conservative - and remember that my second last "Good News from Iraq" is coming up next Monday.

In related news, read this worthwhile and very long piece by Rosemary Goudreau, editorial page editor of "The Tampa Tribune", who a few weeks ago started some soul searching in the mainstream media about the coverage of Iraq. You might not agree with some of Goudreau's conclusions, but she comprehensively covers all sides' arguments in this very important debate. And yours truly gets a cameo appearance.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

San Francisco goes to war... 

... against war:
The USS Iowa joined in battles from World War II to Korea to the Persian Gulf. It carried President Franklin Roosevelt home from the Teheran conference of allied leaders, and four decades later, suffered one of the nation's most deadly military accidents.

Veterans groups and history buffs had hoped that tourists in San Francisco could walk the same teak decks where sailors dodged Japanese machine-gun fire and fired 16-inch guns that helped win battles across the South Pacific.

Instead, it appears that the retired battleship is headed about 80 miles inland, to Stockton, a gritty agricultural port town on the San Joaquin River and home of California's annual asparagus festival.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a former San Francisco mayor, helped secure $3 million to tow the Iowa from Rhode Island to the Bay Area in 2001 in hopes of making touristy Fisherman's Wharf its new home.

But city supervisors voted 8-3 last month to oppose taking in the ship, citing local opposition to the Iraq war and the military's stance on gays, among other things.

"If I was going to commit any kind of money in recognition of war, then it should be toward peace, given what our war is in Iraq right now," Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said.
Senator Feinstein, that well known hawk, called it a "very petty decision" and opined that "This isn't the San Francisco that I've known and loved and grew up in and was born in." Well, that's probably taking a bit too far. Not for nothing, after all, did Jeanne Kirkpatrick way back in 1984 distilled everything that was wrong about the Democratic Party's approach to foreign policy in these three words: "San Francisco Democrats". True, the Dems merely happened to hold their convention in SF that year, so it's not all fault of the local Dems, but the fact that the party did so at that particular point in time is also quite indicative.

In the meantime, feel free to offer city supervisors some ideas on how to recognize war in a peaceful sort of way. Try sinking the USS Iowa to make it a defeated sort of an attraction, perhaps. Or maybe invest in a giant white flag to be flown over the city hall.


You're never unarmed with sparkplugs 

My favorite soft news story of the day:
Scientists use wits to ward off polar bears: Unarmed Poles start fire with spark plugs, hang on for rescue
Could be a start of another TV show, a cross between Survivor and Lost - with a Polish angle. Hey, we were stuck between Russia and Germany for a millennium, so what's a couple of polar bears?


And in the local news... 

My home state of Queensland has for quite some time been politically schizophrenic. Federally, we are arguably the most conservative state, consistently delivering some of the highest votes for John Howard's Liberal/National Coalition government. Currently, Labor Party holds only 6 of 28 Queensland seats, and at the last election Queensland made the Australian political history by electing four conservative Senators (three Liberal and one National Party) out of six spots up for grabs (quasi-proportional representation electoral system in the Senate makes that an almost impossible task).

Yet for quite some time now, the state government level has been dismal for the Liberals. At the last election we only managed to win 5 out of 90 seats, and that was up from 3 at the 2001 state election. Labor Party has a huge majority at the moment, with the main opposition being provided by the National Party, who were historically always very strong in Queensland. So, many Queenslanders practice split ticket voting, a phenomenon not unfamiliar to many of my American readers.

But yesterday, I think we might have seen the beginning of the political resurrection of the Liberal Party in Queensland. Two mid-term retirements forced the Labor government to have two by-elections in traditionally strong Labor seats. Redcliffe, on the northern outskirts of greater Brisbane needed 7 per cent swing to change parties; Chatsworth in eastern suburbs almost 13 per cent. We won both seats - in case of Chatsworth, for the first time in 27 years.

After a Saturday morning full of bloggy goodness (working on the next two "good news" round-ups and Sheehan-blogging) I made my way down to Chatsworth and handed out "how to vote cards" for our Liberal candidate, Michael Caltabiano, the very popular local councilor who resigned his seat to contest the election. Thirteen per cent was always a big ask, but he and his team did it. Coincidentally, I was on the same polling station as a fellow Brisbane blogger Marty Kidd.


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