Monday, December 03, 2007

Teddy Bear Containment: The end of the beginning?

By Mark Dorroh

The odd but symbolically important furor over the case of a foreign national teacher, working in Sudan, who allowed her class to name a teddy bear "Mohammed" has begun the slow process of yanking a great world religion back to its righteous roots.

To resolve the dustup, wise Muslims holding venerated positions in their own communities assisted a couple of British upper-house MPs in reducing the teacher’s brief prison sentence to a simple expulsion order classifying her persona non gratis. These mainstream Moslems bucked the lynch mobs and gave Islamically correct forgiveness to the unintentional offender ... even as street demonstrations called for the teacher's execution by firing squad.

Thus begins rational Islam's part in a policy of containment which will eventually defeat Islamofascism. Consider; just as it used to be dangerous for a mainstream Christian to speak out against the Ku Klux Klan in some neighborhoods, so it is dangerous today for a Muslim of conscience to tell the Whabbists that their emperor is buck naked, blind as a bat, deaf as a post and apparently somewhat malign in regard to his motives and means.

There will be more and more of this sort of speaking up as time goes on, both because mainstream Muslims will get sick of being represented by the slack-jawed KKK types among them and because it will become gradually less dangerous for them to speak the truth.

Just as it is OK today for me, living in the capitol of the confederacy, to say unkind things about Jefferson Davis and the whole rotten "way of life" defended by the C.S.A., so it will become progressively more acceptable for your Muslim Man in the Street to say unkind things about Osama bin Laden, the Ba'ath Party and the mullahs of Iran.

Sure, when I rank out on Prexy Davis, a few troglodyte Lincoln-haters will try to yank my chain, and I'm sure the afore-mentioned Men in the Street will catch some flak from the members of their own hometown loony fringe. Who cares? Like the poor, sthe angry idiots are among us always. The good news is, the core human qualities of love and reason tend to win out in the long run, else we would all still be ruled by half-bright hereditary monarchs.

These beginnings among the faithful of public outcry in defense of common humanity will continue, growing ever more dominant until Islamofascists are as rare and carefully concealed as are American Nazis and members of the legally-defunct KKK. The homicidal nutcases will still be there, but there won't be enough of them to stir up more than an occasional fuss. Decent people won't be scared to speak out against them.

Containment is the strategy that kept Leninist Marxism within acceptable boundaries until the USSR could collapse of its own internal contradictions. There's no obvious reason it wouldn't work in today's circumstances. Already terrorist alliances are falling to bits, with well-publicized infighting, fratracide, name-calling and spitting.

The Islamofascist movement is like most others. It will produce its own Trotskys and Stalins, Robespierres and Marats. Because of a tendency to get shirty with one another when jockeying for power and divvying up the plunder, there is no honor among thieves nor among most revolutionaries.

The longer the conflict continues, the more weak and fragmented the Islamofascist cause will become.

Meanwhile we will, hopefully, continue to play rope-a-dope. We will, offensively, take the fight to the enemy. The enemy may attack Americans who are self-selected from among our best and brightest, superbly trained, heavily armed and fully capable of shooting back. But no more 9/11s, please.

Defensively, odious provisions of the PATRIOT Act will continue to put the pressure on those among us intent on killing civilians. Unlike in the decades before 9/11, the enemy no longer has the uninhibited run of our country. A lot of very clever people are working 7/24 to ferret him out and take take down.

I’m not thrilled at some of the anti-terrorism methods and practices we’ve been employing, but in historical context, they are mild. Abraham Lincoln suspended haveus corpus for the duration of the Civil War, as did Jefferson Davis. It's reasonable to contend that the conflict into which we've been thrust is just as important as preserving the Union was in 1861.

Parenthetically, we should note that some leading lights in the international scientific community estimate that within the next 20 - 50 years, advances in nanotechnology will allow us to create very efficient, very cheap solar cells. Gouts of petrodollars will abate. The terrorists who are left will be poor ones.

That said, this war is going to be a long slog. At least decades; that's how long it took to dismantle communism.

Today is " … not the end, nor even the beginning of the end. But it may be the end of the beginning."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Taking Candy from Babies - A Reasoned Response to the Borowitz Report

Dems Non-Negotiable Demand: “More candy for babies!”

Washington (AP) - In a move that surprised no one, Congressional Democrats delivered their rebuttal to President Bush, following his recent veto of legislation which would have greatly expanded the SCHIP program. The rebuttal took the form of the new “More Candy For Babies - Won’t Someone Please Think of the Children?! Act.”

Veteran US Senator Edward Kennedy, who introduced the bill in committee, claims the issue is clear-cut. “Either there’s more candy for babies or there is not. This is an irreducible truth, and the Administration is on the wrong side of this issue.”

Following his remarks to reporters, Senator Kennedy lay on the floor, drummed his heels, and, weeping copiously, held his breath until he turned purple and passed out. His press secretary then took over the news conference and explained that the Senator had thusly demonstrated the depth of his commitment to the “More Candy for Babies - Won’t Someone Please Think of the Children?! Act.”

“This commitment is absolute,” said the secretary, “regardless of the fiscal, medical or familial consequences of its eventual implementation.”

The American Dental Association, a notoriously conservative lobbying force to be reckoned with on K Street, promptly denounced the Act as a plot to destroy the teeth of infants, even as they grew in. “This is nuts,” stated Spokesman Fred Ansburger. “Are they trying to kill the kid, or just rot his teeth? It’s kinda hard to tell.”

The ADA statement inspired a New York Times editorial in defense of the Act. The piece took to task the ADA, declaring, “Never have we seen such craven service to professional self-interest. The equation is simple: no baby teeth, no expensive baby teeth care, so letting them ‘rot’ even as they grow in may be translated to ‘No more baby teeth care for us to overcharge hardworking American families for.

“The ADA should be ashamed of itself for putting profit and greed ahead of the overwhelming interests of American babies,” concluded the piece.

Families polled on the issue seemed confused. “Can we like, sell the candy and buy formula with it?” asked Mrs. G. Hollingsworth Elderbridge of Roanoke, VA. A close reading of the bill’s language indicates not. In fact, a subsection of the bill implies that selling free government candy for one’s infant child in order to purchase any other nutritional need could result in fines, probation and community service.

“Look, we’re saying more candy for babies is a good thing, and these parents have to just wise up and shut up,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Who knows better what’s good for a child, its semi-literate mother or members of Congress, many of whom are clever lawyers and other well-educated professionals?”

Representatives of the American Candy and Treats Association have been keeping mum on the subject, but industry insiders say many factories are preparing to gear up for the anticipated production increases.

“We figure sometime after 2009, this bill is gonna get momentum that will be pretty much unstoppable,” said one source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Besides, who does this president think he is, taking candy from babies?!? What’s wrong with someone who would do such a thing? I mean, for heaven’s sake, won’t someone please think of the children?!?”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Write In Praise of Robert Reich, A Rare Thing!

I'm no big admirer of former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich, but I've gotta admit, he's hit a home run with his remedy for the worst depredations of the campaign finance system. Reich suggests a blind trust be set up for corporate, union and other interest group donations to PACs and other campaign finance instruments.

This is brilliant! In this way, the right to put your money where your political beliefs are is not infringed, and there's absolutely no way to tell which group gave how much and to whom!

All incentives for quid pro quo deals vanish under this splendidly common-sense solution (although there would have to be strict non-disclosure regulations,* to prevent back-stairs information on "who is Uncle Gotbucks this week?" from getting to candidates), while avoiding the very real constitutional problem of inhibiting political speech.

Well done, Mr. Secretary! Now, if you'd just get it through your extremely clever head that your much despised "tax breaks for the rich" translate, in real-world economics, into "lower interest rates on everything consumers finance from homes and cars to college loans and car insurance," we'd be agreeing nearly all the time!

* A word from the Department of Redundant Irony Department: This plan's obverse twin, the unfortunately Delay-Doolittle Bill, would have had equally strict disclosure requirements, by making the source of every single donation a matter of public record. These days, with the Internet running full throttle, this plan would work like a charm: I don't care how much money the candidate spends, I just want to know if Ayran Nation or Louis Farrahkan donated any of it ... Of course, Delay-Doolittle died in the mid 1990s, in committee if memory serves. Oh well, I'll take its evil twin, the Reich Solution, and be glad of the similar result.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Godzilla, global warming and the confederacy of the easily-freaked

Editor's note: This column was initially published in 2006. I have resurrected the puppy because I think the global warming debate is essentially over so we need to start thinking about real-world solutions instead of charging off in all directions to excoriate The Usual Suspects.

Just one ignorant, chicken-sucking Libertarian's opinion, but that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Last year, a couple of features on NPR celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Godzilla movie. Godzilla was just one of a number of movie monsters created by, awakened by or empowered by atomic energy, usually in the form of an explosive device.

There’s a significant cultural coefficient factor attendant upon the mindset that produced those silly, cheesy flicks, and the NPR features were great fun to listen to. But I didn’t hear anyone mention the real-world downside to the Godzilla myth; the (pardon the expression) fallout of fear in the public imagination having to do with all things nuclear.

Those dratted, unpredictable, mutation-causing atoms! They were, in 1950s pop culture, the hack screenwriter’s catalyst of choice for creation of the new generation of Dr. Frankenstein’s monsters.

And that is unfortunate. Today, with world oil production nearing capacity, world petroleum resources undeniably finite, and formerly-slumbering giants like China and India waking up thirsty, there can be no rational doubt a bridge of fission-powered energy is the only sane way to get to our geothermal, solar and biomass-fueled energy future.

But public perception of nuclear energy has a lot of otherwise reasonable adults freaked out beyond all reason. As a result, no new nuclear power plant has been built in this country in decades.

Let’s talk facts: Coal mining has killed many thousands of times more workers than nuclear power facilities, even after figuring in the deaths from Chernobyl. And that disaster happened on a type of reactor not used in the U.S. … and only after its operators deliberately shut down a large number of built-in safety systems as part of an ill-advised drill.

Chernobyl also occurred in the absence of a free press and under a totalitarian government which didn’t care much about the lives or health of its citizens but was obsessed with catching up to the West at any cost.

In the worst U.S. incident, Three Mile Island, not a single death was recorded. And after all these years, I’ve never heard of any clustering of radiation-linked diseases in or around the areas where the vented, radioactive steam from the damaged reactor drifted. Compared to fatalities over the centuries due to coal mine cave-ins, explosions and the myriad of slow, awful deaths caused by black lung disease, nuclear power is incredibly safe.

The reason Three Mile Island was so scary was, for a couple of days, scientists thought a red-hot radioactive “bubble” was brewing, a bubble which could not be reduced and which might eventually cause an explosion. In the end it turned out their math was flawed; the bubble never existed.

But human memory is selective; no matter how objective we try to be, most of us don’t remember the few minutes of relief so much as the two days of terror that preceded them.

Accordingly, in the wake of the Three Mile Island incident, some highly-principled people staged a number of confrontational rallies aimed at stopping construction and/or startup of every new or proposed nuclear power plant in the country. When power companies decided it wasn't worth the bad publicity to even attempt to build any new ones, victory was complete for a hyperventilating confederacy of the easily-spooked.

Can we blame corporate America for deciding to build, instead of nuclear power plants, coal-fired plants? It’s too bad, since despite all the expensive and highly-effective upgrades in pollution control, worldwide burning of coal still spews tons of toxic heavy metal vapors into the atmosphere annually. Whether or not coal contributes to global warming, the official public record proudly proclaims each medium-sized plant is within state and federal compliance limits as it adds to the air over a dozen pounds of mercury each year. Then there's the lead, the cadmium, the nickel ...

Still, the decision-makers at the energy companies probably figure the coal-fired plants are not really safer, but people perceive them as safer. And who needs a lot of concerned citizens camping out next to a multi-billion dollar construction site, raising Cain in the media? If perception is reality, it must be safer to build and operate the much more harmful coal-fired plants. Of course perception and reality often have gaping, daylight filled gaps between them. But those who buy into the flawed perception/reality diad know what they think and choose to not be confused with facts.

It’s time for America to learn the facts about all the different energy alternatives, hire some French companies to safely dispose of nuclear waste (no fooling, they’re wizards at it, and have been for decades), and get back on the Sane Train.

All the facts on global warming aren't in yet, but if we wait until they are, it could be a little late to fix it. Let’s lay Godzilla and his imaginary friends to rest and turn our collective genius to dealing with the very real possibility of global warming. Godzilla only stomps on little-bitty special-effects buildings; a few dozen continuous years of El Nino would actually kill a lot of people while screwing up large portions of the planet we're trying to save.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Risks, rewards and reality

By Mark Dorroh

Editor's note: This essay was posted May 5th and re-edited for style May 18th.

In Anne Applebaum's column of May 4, 2007, she identifies a principle of human conduct which has been poorly served by the Social Democracies of Old Europe. Her column's main focus is the upcoming French national election in which a center-right candidate is saying the unsayable: that Britain is attracting hundreds and thousands of Frenchmen and -women, many of them the best and brightest, to live and work in the UK.

These born-and-bred Gallic cousins have become frustrated with their nation's removal of much of the risk-reward relationship from career choices, and they are voting with their feet and their pocketbooks.

Applebaum, writing for the Washington Post, notes that during Candidate Nicolas Sarkozy's recent visit to London, he called that ancient capital "one of the great French cities." He did so not just because of the military events of 1066, but also because so many modern French citizens, liberated by the economic consolidation of Europe, now choose to live somewhere other than France. They live instead in a nation where rewards are more commensurate with risk.

They have moved to the U.K. specifically, according to Sarkozy, because "they are risk-takers and risk is a bad word in France."

This is significant. It indicates that even the strongest and most stable of governments can be blinkered beyond all reason regarding the essential nature of the human animal. To pretend that risk and reward have no significant relationship is to ignore the entirety of human history. All great military, economic and political systems have been based on risking much to seek great rewards.

For specific instance: The U.S. Constitution, created by many of the greatest minds of the Age of Reason, was a huge gamble. Expecting a population of farmers and mechanics, many of them illiterate, to be capable of responsibly choosing their own leaders was an expectation which flew in the face of everything our European forebears believed. In place of the Divine Right of Kings, Americans believed the common man was every bit as able as ancient councils of elders and church bigwigs to discern leadership abilities.

The gamble paid off, and we're still reaping the rewards 15 and 20 generations later.

In the same spirit Americans believed that economic choice is as important as political choice. Thus was born the purest form ever of a government's acquiescence to and endorsement of Adam Smith's doctrine of the Invisible Hand of the Market.

The Framers' theory of economic liberty was based in the notion that a mostly unrestricted relationship between risk and reward should be protected as one of the chief duties of any responsible government. The wording of the Declaration of Independence which referenced "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was originally "life, liberty and property." Thomas Jefferson was talked into editing in the more felicitous and poetic phrasing - which meant much the same thing - by delegate consensus at the 1776 Continental Congress.*

By way of contrast, Eurasian civilization in the 20th century went out of its way to select the alternative economic model. In place of risk and property protections, economic security funded by income redistribution became the highest national mission.

The results are manifest and not particularly good: France and Germany have frozen levels of unemployment between 7 and 9 percent, at least partly because employers are loath, for economic reasons, to hire more than the absolute bare minimum of workforce laborers, while their counterparts in this nation - and to a lesser extent in the UK - can risk hiring proportionally more employees in anticipation of growth. The deal is, for every franc or deutschmark paid out by an employer for labor and management, another franc or deutschmark must be paid to the welfare state. That money is them spent to minimize all conceivable risks to all workers.

By way of comparison, in the U.S., employers are required to pay about an additional 1/3 wages in matching payroll taxes. Curiously, our system seems to manage the security of workers rather well, although not at the extreme level of European worker protections.

Instead of 80 - 90 percent of working guaranteed pay upon dismissal, our employers pay about half. Human nature being what it is, the American worker, living on half-wages during a layoff, is more interested in getting back to his/her working rate of pay than the average Social Democracy worker.

This well-intentioned, draconian level of risk removal, coupled with the sky-high payroll taxes, has contributed to a barely sustainable level of unemployment for many of the Social Democracies. Having 1/11 to 1/13 of a nation's workforce on the dole is not a situation any government would see as salubrious, so nearly all the old-line Social Democracies are trying, against enraged popular opposition, to trim back the unintended consequences of their economic model.

Will the entrepreneurial class of Frenchmen ever return to France? Perhaps, but not with the French economy configured as it is now. Opinion polls tell the tale. In Applebaum's column, she quotes results of a poll taken by the French company TFN Sofres in which 93 percent of the two million-plus French expatriates say they are very satisfied with their lives abroad … and 25 percent of them believe their will never return to live in France.

As with the law of supply and demand, governments may seek to impose their will on the relationship between risk and reward. But such ignorance comes at a price, as those most likely to take risks will find places to live and work where such willful ignorance of natural principles is not enshrined in state code.

* The Framers also chose the alloidal system of property ownership, while most of Europe and Asia kept their feudal model. The difference is, in an alloidal system, property is owned by individuals and voluntary collectives such as corporations. In the feudal system, all property is owned by the sovereign, and all citizens reside upon it at the sufference of the sovereign. The alloidal system was enshrined in the original wording, "life, liberty and property" and remains in use, as a legal principle, today.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Racism For Dummies, Chapters "1" and "B"

Chapter One: "And everybody hates the Jews"

Racism, often thought of as a complex and multilayered thing, is actually easy to understand, even by someone as scatterbrained as I.

Forget the twisted rhetoric of David Duke, Louis Farrakhan, Elijah Muhammad and Strom Thurmond for a minute, and let's get down to cases.

People who have nothing else to recommend them invariably resort to the good people-bad people paradigm for a reason, essentially personal insecurity and feelings of helplessness and victimization. They are the good guys, easily identifiable by a bundle of characteristics topped by something ephemeral as skin color, gender, language, religion (or the lack thereof) and/or ethnicity.

So, in the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, "All the Protestants hate the Catholics and the Catholics hate the Protestants and the Hindus hate the Moslems and everybody hates the Jews."

Chapter Two: "White People Are Corny And Whack"

To further break it down, let's consider one prime racist personality type, which I shall label "Type One" and "Type B." We shall conduct our analysis with imagined, but not unimaginable, quotes.

Type One: "I may be a strung-out redneck who spends all my time tweaking on homemade meth, beating my old lady because she doesn't give me - in a timely fashion - her food stamps and cash from the tricks she turns in our trailer, beating my girlfriends because they get on my nerves, beating my kid for much the same reason and dealing tweak at a rate that has caused a localized cluster in the national health abstract of suicides, homicides and fatal overdoses in three counties … but at least I'm not a nigger."

Type B: "I may be a thugged-out pimp (for whom life is hard) who spends all my time snorting blow and smoking crack, beating my old lady because she doesn't give me - in a timely fashion - her food stamps and cash from the tricks she turns in our trailer, beating my girlfriends because they get on my nerves, beating my kid for much the same reason and dealing crack at a rate that has caused a localized cluster in the national health abstract of HIV, crack babies and turf-related drive-by killings in three cities … but at least I'm not a cracker."

The assumption in each case is that no matter how much another person might appear to be superior, the racist easily identifies that person as inferior if his/her skin is not pigmented in the same shade as one's own.

Ayn Rand correctly identified racism in the 1970s as "barnyard collectivism." It removes the necessity of having to consider each person on his/her objective merit and makes visual identification and classification the sole criteria of worth.

"It was impossible to distinguish man from pig, pig from man" indeed!*

Of course, there are the secondary characteristics of racist thought, and they do delve in to some complicated cultural and economic matters. A graffito I recently spotted on a men's room stall declares, "White people are corny and whack. The sooner we start killing them, the better."

Well, as a guy who not only is white but has been for a great number of years, I could only congratulate the young man on his perspicacity. Rather too many of us are corny and whack and he's got our number, fer sure.

But so what? We're also very creative and productive, and (unless we go nuts, as we periodically do, and start killing everyone in sight) on the whole, pretty good folks. We try to rear our children gently, leave them a better world than the one we inherited, care for the poor, the halt, the lame, the blind, and not cause too much of a fuss doing it.

Conversely, some soft-expectations pseudo-Liberal might gloatingly note that there are more young black men behind bars than in college. This (numerically accurate) observation fuels two inner needs: the need to feel superior and the need to blame somebody else for the misfortunes to which flesh is heir.

It's also great grist for a pity-party which combines both inner needs into a single strangled cry of anguish and rage. This process makes one feel even better about one's own precious little super-righteous self.

But how do these persons propose to improve on this thoroughly sick state of affairs? Are these Concerned Citizens out there tutoring young persons of color, teaching them to read for fun so that alternative career paths will not be barred to them?

Those of us who react to the pity-party in such a constructive way are the only ones with any moral authority to ever open our mouths on the subject. The rest are analogous to hypocrites who eat bacon for breakfast, a burger for lunch and a steak for dinner, then chastise hunters for killing little furry critters.

In the old days, it was the no-expectations pseudo-Conservative who thought this way. They cleverly constructed disincentives to all areas of personal improvement, up to and including blowing off your family's front porch some night to remind you that your "place" was not at the voting booth. Softer measures included rigged literacy tests, in which the white voter would be required to spell "cat" and get most of the letters right while a black voter would be expected to explain Newtonian physics, them compare and contrast them to Einstein's theories of special and general relativity. When the black voter failed the test, they said, "See? They're not bright enough to vote."

It was a snide, vicious little game, and it's no wonder so many black people think we're corny and whack. And since we killed barrels full of them when we had it all our own way, I can't really argue with the justice of killing as many of us as possible if and when this young man and his pals take over.

Sauce for the gander, you know.

* Many thanks to Eric Blair.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

David Halberstam, R.I.P.

By Mark Dorroh

There have been rather a lot of people of my age and slightly older dying off lately, but the one I'll miss the most is David Halberstam.

He, William Manchester and a few other "pop historians" taught me new ways to look at complex stories, to find the precise angles of attack, the approaches to gathering and distributing information which are most logical, which serve the narrative best … and which are unquestionably the most fun to read.

As coincidence would have it, I had just finished re-reading (and passing along to a motorhead friend) "The Reckoning," chronicling the parallel fortunes of Nissan, Ford and other Japanese and American auto manufacturers beginning in the immediate postwar years and going through the mid-80s.

"The Reckoning" is as good a book as any for analyzing the author's strengths and savvy. Halberstam was able to take a number of years to gather the information and write it, and it shows. The depth and girth of the information provided (along with some very clever understandings of how people in different cultures handle similar problems) makes those years of (no doubt enjoyable) toil well worth the candle.

"The Reckoning" is a sprawling nonfiction saga of the sort, as Tom Wolfe warned so many years ago, which used to be the exclusive preserve of novelists.

Halberstam was not a New Journalist, but his narrative skills, coupled with his superb reportorial sensibility, made his work every bit as crisp and page-turningly readable as Gay Talese or Hunter Thompson. His characters said and did amazing things, things with a dramatic quality one would like to see employed in works of fiction, but which, as Wolfe famously observed, had been left out of so much of the navel-gazing fiction of the 1960s and -70s. Halberstam's use of natural drama and the telling detail indeed rivals Wolfe's own.

We'll not see his like again any time soon.

David Halberstam, rest in well-earned peace.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nukes and National Prestige: The Lessons of History

By Mark Dorroh

Anyone who believes the US, UN or any other governmental body can or should prevent Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons is misinterpreting that nation's motive.

Justifiably, we are concerned that a nation run by militant religious fanatics could use those weapons for aggression, not defense. Already Iran's president has declared his intention to destroy Israel, a politically motivated promise analogous to the late Egyptian politico Gamal Nasser's mid-century promise to "throw all the Jews into the sea."

The Arab and Persian states of the Middle East have spent the last half-century trying to do precisely that, so why would we take less seriously Iran's similar declared intention?

First, there is the matter of politics. Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, like Nasser before him, is telling his people what they want to hear. Whether the stated goal was rational or achievable has little to do with the reasons he identified it.

Consider: The US politicians of old, before radio and television made instant communication possible, would shape their message to whatever crowd they sought to impress. In states with wet and dry counties, such as Kentucky, it was not unusual for a candidate to make a prohibition speech in a dry county and an anti-prohibition speech in a wet one.

Secondly, for all his bloviating and saber rattling, Ahmadinejad knows full well that were Iran to actually attack with nuclear weapons Israel or any other nation, within an hour there would be massive retaliation from most if not all other nuclear nations.

So why bother to incur the levels of international outrage over Iran's incipient membership in the Nuclear Club? Why manufacture weapons you know you'll never dare use?

The answer has to do with prestige. Once again, turning to history, we see time and again that nations have engaged in undertakings which did them little if any actual good, but which identified them as big time players in global affairs.

The history of European colonization in Africa and Asia has been judged by historical economists, in some famous cases, as incurring net losses to the colonialists. But during the modern era, colonies were identified with visions of empire, regardless of their monetary value to the empire.

British possessions were the main example of colonies which actually paid for themselves and returned profits to the exchequer. The Dutch made smaller profits on smaller colonies, and the Spanish looted the precious metals of the New World to finance its endless wars, but on balance, these nations were the exceptions, not the rule.

The more usual case of European colonies was that of Italy, which colonized Ethiopia, especially Eritrea. The colony was a drain on the financial resources of Italians for the entire length of their stay in the Horn of Africa. But, under the Fascists especially, colonies were prestige possessions, holdings which said to the world that Italy had dreams of a recaptured Roman empire. The costs of garrisoning the colony, building public works (especially roads) and subjugating a proud and ancient people seemed worth it based not on actual return on investment, but rather upon the prestige conferred by colonial possessions.

Why do nations make such apparently irrational sacrifices? Perhaps for the same reason individuals buy bigger houses and cars than they actually need, spend more money on clothing and country club memberships than what they can truly afford, and send their children off to pricy, prestiege universities when their state schools would be not only cheaper, but often more appropriate to their kids' educational needs.

When the doctrine of "keeping up with the Joneses" goes nuclear, or subjects Third-World nations to the oppression of colonial rule, it is a sad thing.

But it is also human nature. In regard to Iran, the international community should keep the pressure on, since that nation is a well-known sponsor of state terrorism.

But worrying about a nuclear Iran daring to actually employ their nukes for anything but defense is wasted worry.

Suicide is not painless, and it is not what President Ahmadinejad seeks from his nuclear program. Noisy and demagogic he may be; nuts he is not.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Lawyers, Gang-Bangers and My Household Goddess

By Mark Dorroh

As some of you may know, my Better Half is an attorney who practices in the Richmond and Hopewell Juvenile & Domestic Relations courts.

Before you start in with the lawyer jokes (Q: "How many people refuse to hire a lawyer when their own hide is on the line?" A: "Who knows, but don't hold your breath waiting for one to turn up in court."), allow me to stipulate that lawyers, in the public mind, are remarkably analogous to member of Congress. Everybody considers everybody else's lawyer or legislator to be a shyster or a porkmeister, but one's own is the secular saint who brings home the bacon (or saves one's bacon) when the chips are down. Think about that for a minute. I can wait.

Okay, we hope you availed yourselves of that opportunity to grab a smoke, do a little Tai-Chi, say a short prayer or all three. Let us now resume the mainstream of today's symposium.

This week my wee, wise spouse was doing her Guardian Ad Litem thing, acting as the legal representative of a minor child in a very rowdy Richmond neighborhood. I'm always a little apprehensive about the 'hoods she frequents in the the performance of her duties, but neither sleet nor gale nor urban blight will deter her from her appointed rounds. The thing is, the girl is absolutely fearless. She'd better be, living with a loose cannon like me.

On this particular occasion her consultation with the family was finished and she was just taking her leave when small-arms fire, rather a lot of it, erupted in the side yard. Although several bullets struck the house, investigators are not sure whether the multiple shooters were actively targeting the house and its inhabitants or just doing a little free-form gang banging at a randomly determined location. In any event, The Light of My Life immediately hit the deck, in her own colorful parlance, "like a sack of hammers."

For a young lady gently reared and with no combat training, that act alone demonstrated a felicitious clarity of cognition some don't associate with Members of the Bar. A lot of other professionals, journalists and college professors for instance, oftentimes do not seem to know enough to come in out of the rain, but at least one lawyer in the Commonwealth of Virginia has enough sense to seek a lower elevation in the presence of flying projectiles.

But wait, there's more! While communing with the carpet, my Little Dove Pie had enough sense to crawl rapidly toward the kitchen, where she reasoned the windows were high and few, while a number of steel-and-insulation clad appliances could be conveniently placed between her and a stray round.

So much for the dumb lawyer jokes.

Now, about the crooked lawyer jokes ("Two lawyers are sitting on a park bench when an attractive woman happens by. The young lawyer says, 'Boy, I'd sure like to diddle her!' The old lawyer inquires, 'Out of what?'"), allow me to state that more than once I have overheard My Petite Sugar Plum on the phone advising a potential client that he doesn't need a lawyer. Rather than taking the job and billing him for services rendered, she'll walk him through the steps of what he can do to address the problem all by himself, saving costly legal fees which he may then lavish upon fripperies such as food, rent, heat, light, insurance etc.

Considering the fact My Household Goddess paid taxes last year on significantly less income than what a fresh-out-of-college first year teacher makes in Hopewell City Schools, it seems obvious the Good Lord left all traces of sneaky acquisitiveness out of the manufacture of this particular Esquire.

Okay, so she's not yet supporting me in the style to which I would (very much) like to become accustomed. She's still a stone babe and she's still my bestest pal ever. Part of that extreme attraction is no doubt due to my preference, romantically speaking, for extraordinarily smart women. Not to put too fine a point on it, my "List" (women with whom I'm provisionally allowed to cheat on her) is limited to Paula Poundstone, Hillary Clinton, Judy Tenuta and Condi Rice. Plus, of course, a couple of "Emeritus" slots reserved for Margaret Sanger and Ayn Rand, both of whom have been dead for a number of years.

And when I say my lady love is "extraordinarily smart," I don't just mean book smart. I mean street smart. Lawyer or no, I'd go with her into any potentially deadly situation in full confidence that if I spaz out and start running around in small, confused circles, yipping like an agitated terrier - as is my wont - she'll trip me, knock me down and drag me to the safest place she can identify.

Sure, she scribbles briefs for a living, but the girl's got her head screwed on straight. She also has excellent taste in just about everything ... with the possible exception of her taste in the selection of husbands.

All the votes aren't in on that one yet, but we'll get back to you.

Missions Accomplished, Civil Wars, Declaring Victory and Coming Home

Mark Dorroh

Back in 2003, I wrote a column which suggested that by 2005, America should begin seriously considering the option of withdrawing troops from Iraq through a simple, rhetorical expedient. My proposed end game to our nation's involvement in the conflict is borrowed from a 35-year-old remark made by US senator whose name I cannot recall (although I believe it was either Senator Fulbright or Senator Proxmire), on the subject of ending our involvement in the Vietnam War. That worthy legislator's suggestion was that we declare victory and bring our troops home.

His solution was not employed, or even taken very seriously at the time, but the military circumstances in Vietnam in 1970 and Iraq in 2006 are remarkably similar. Then, as now, a righteous effort to help facilitate freedom and self-determination in a small, divided nation gradually became a desperate - and failing - attempt to stop a civil war. The Iraqi civil war has already begun, and evidence on the ground suggests the world may be powerless to end it before the warring tribes exhaust themselves in slaughter.

Moreover, now that Saddam is deposed and on trial for his life, a new Iraqi constitution has been promulgated, a government formed and all Saddam's hidden WMD programs have been eliminated, is there any other realistic mission for America to attempt to accomplish in Iraq? I think not.

"Mission Accomplished?"

Whether or not some of us choose to believe it, the 2003 Coalition of the Willing's mission to Iraq has been accomplished.

That mission, to finally get weapons inspectors beyond the dozens of locked doors of suspected WMD sites - doors kept shut by the mad dictator in violation of the terms of his 1991 armistice and 17 UN Security Council resolutions - was accomplished none too soon.

The evidence of Saddam's continued treachery was plain to see in the news stories coming out of Iraq in late 2002. For instance, in the final months preceding the invasion (four years after WMD inspectors were unceremoniously tossed out of Iraq), the new round of inspections delivered to the UN Security Council the information that in one visit to a suspected WMD research and development lab, the "scientists" interviewed by Hans Blix's inspectors turned out to be security police wearing lab coats.

We now know, according to reports published by the Associated Press and Newsweek Magazine, that Saddam did indeed have good reason to keep those doors locked, those scientists on ice.*

Specifically, Saddam's researchers were actively engaged in programs seeking to employ dual-use technology and materials to create biological and chemical weapons. The reports I recall reading in Newsweek estimated that with the research and development substantially done, Saddam could have begun producing WMD stockpiles within a matter of months or even weeks. Thank heaven Hans Blix's advice to hang fire was disregarded by the Coalition of the Willing ...

This level of Iraqi readiness to begin manufacturing WMD should come as no surprise to anyone who takes the time to consider these facts: anthrax pathogens are readily available in the soil anywhere animals die of that infection, while the nerve gas Ricin is derived from the common castor bean. With the agents themselves easily produced, the primary goals of Saddam's WMD research were to weaponize the biological and nerve gas agents, figure out how to ramp up production on a large scale, then beg, borrow or steal delivery systems. His possession of ballistic missiles with ranges in excess of armistice limitations suggest he was well on his way to achieving those goals.

Mission Creep?

Among those insufficiently acquainted with the history of the 20th century, comparisons are frequently made between 1960 Vietnam and 2003 Iraq. Yet even though America's logical end game - declaring victory and coming home - applies to both conflicts, Iraq does not replicate the political circumstances of 1960 Vietnam so much as those of 1990 Yugoslavia.

Like Yugoslavia, Iraq has never been a real nation. It is a faux nation - a forced amalgamation of tribes who had never lived together in peace - cobbled together after WW I by Winston Churchill, the king-hell colonialist of his day. Like Yugoslavia under the dictatorship of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, Iraq is riven with religious and ethnic vendettas going back hundreds of years. And like Yugoslavia, in the absence of a "strong man" dictator, those conflicts will inevitably surface and play themselves out.

Like Yugoslavia, Iraq is on track to descend into a bloodbath which will only end when the indigenous ethnic tribes liberate themselves from the strictures imposed by Churchill's handiwork.

No number of coalition forces will prevent this from occuring; the best we can do is try to keep the killing down for the nonce ... and this modest goal may only be achieved through the continued sacrifice of blood and treasure by coalition nations.

Ergo, history suggests that we are left with one essential question: Is our nation's continued military presence in Iraq a classic case of the "mission creep" which needlessly cost American lives and sent us packing from Somolia? I believe it is.

I also believe that it is now, sadly, time for coalition forces to leave Iraq to her bloody, tragic, post-Saddam fate.

Will there ever again be a role for the international community to play in Iraq? Perhaps. After a few years of ethnic cleansing and genocide have been sufficiently well-documented, those non-coalition European nations who have evinced such tender concern for Iraqi civilians killed in the fog of a legal and utterly justified war will finally realize that they have a humanitarian duty, now that the initial heavy lifting has been done by member nations of the coalition, to replace those withdrawn forces and commit their own troops to be the new peacekeepers, ala NATO involvement in the former Yugoslavia.

It's a bitter pill to swallow, and we Americans will no doubt be blamed for the terror and murder to come. But it must be noted that the history of Iraq indicates the death toll from the 2003 invasion and Iraqi civil war combined will probably not exceed that inflicted by Saddam and his 30-year reign of terror. In those 30 years, Saddam involved Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s - a genuine quagmire which went on twice as long as Operation Iraqi Freedom and which resulted in an estimated 1,000,000 Muslim casualties on both sides. Then, of course, there was Saddam's ill-advised invasion of Kuwait during which another 200,000 -300,000 Iraqi casualties were sustained, along with thousands of Kuwaitis killed, tortured, raped and looted.

Add those needless deaths to the evidence in post-invasion Iraq of mass graves, the exhaustively documented political terror and genocide perpetrated on dissenters and the non-Sunni Iraqi populations, and it would be hard to imagine that the costs of an all-out Iraqi Civil War could have worse human consequences than than those of Saddam's record of domestic terror and wars of aggression. One supposes it's possible, expecially with Syria and Iran playing puppetmasters and the Islamofascist revolution in full hue and cry. But the sad fact remains that, human nature being what it is, those bent on vendetta are seldom stopped by anything but the final judgment of their own people. Chances are good that when the colonial creation of the faux "nation" of Iraq morphs into three independent nations (possibly in some sort of mutual-defense, oil-revenue sharing federation) in the probable post-civil war resolution, the Iraqis will themselves call a halt to the killing.

To paraphrase the late, great Golda Mier, the Iraqi civil war will end when the tribes prosecuting it decide they love their children more than they hate each other.

*In fact, in Hans Blix's post-invasion report to the UN Security Council, based on his inspectors' final pre-invasion findings, the first few paragraphs contain the information that Saddam was still not obeying the mandates crafted by the UN in the aftermath of his invasion of Kuwait.

Also, tellingly, the 11,000 page "final report" submitted by the Iraqi government in 2002 still lacked comprehensive documentation of the destruction of the WMD stockpiles in his possession since 1991. It was, according the Blix's own experts, merely a rehash of documentation already submitted and found wanting.