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.

Friction vs. Failure: "Wasteful Competition" and the Lessons of History

In an essay about the myth of oil corporation "price gouging" I wrote last year,* I alluded to the fact that the law of supply and demand is a lot like the law of gravity: Both laws will function with or without our recognition or approval; either law is ignored at one's own peril.

To that axiom might be added the observation that there are two models upon which a civilization may build its economic and political institutions. One is competitive with a bare minimum of authoritarian regulation, the other is authoritarian with a bare minimum of competition.

The thoroughly tragic history of the late U.S.S.R. demonstrates what happens to a modern society which adheres to the latter model. In absence of healthy competition between providers of goods and services (and providers of ideas), a nation is left with the unhealthy competition of warring cliques, each seeking power at any cost, each manifesting a singular disregard for the fortunes of the populations theoretically in their care.

Ayn Rand had an interesting take on this dynamic: She said in the absence of the "aristocracy of money" one could only be left with "the aristocracy of pull." As usual, her terms were carefully chosen and as usual her logic was unassailable.

Consider: In a post-feudal world, the "aristocracy of money" is founded upon creativity and productivity and thrives on competition.

The "aristocracy of pull" is founded on whom one knows, which favors may be called in - leveraged through bribery or blackmail - and whose backside it is advantageous to kiss on a quid pro quo basis. The "aristocracy of pull" rejects competition as "wasteful," then proceeds to squander the wealth of nations in eternal power struggles while the interests of the people languish, indeed, disappear altogether in the fog of perpetual wars between dueling oligarchies.

The result of years of national life under the aristocracy of pull is near-universal repression, barbarity, institutional cruelty on an unimaginable scale and, eventually, economic collapse followed closely by political collapse. So it was with the U.S.S.R.; So it will always be in those societies which assume competition is "wasteful" while overreaching governmental authority is "in everyone's best interests," even if "everyone" is unaware of the validity of that spurious supposition.

What does history say about government-protected private competition vs. top-down, command-and-control economic/political systems?

The answer is to be found in Paul Kennedy's landmark work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Kennedy, who took a First in History at Oxford in his youth, has gone on to claim other signal honors. In 1983, he became Yale's J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History, a position in which he has been able to focus his extreme discernment of the nature of history upon modern strategic and international affairs. He published The Rise and Fall in 1987, and it immediately shot to the top of every nonfiction best-sellers' list in the English-speaking world.

It also provoked a huge debate among those who had an interest in preserving the status quo of intellectual conventional wisdom.

Those intellectuals had good reason to dispute Professor Kennedy's claims. For within The Rise and Fall are many heretical notions, not the least of which is that at least one reason the great powers of Europe shot ahead of Asian civilizations which were older and, at the beginning of the modern era (1500 A.D.) in many ways more advanced, was that the geography of Europe forced competition upon those nations.

Kennedy posits that the great Mogul Empire of South Central Asia (including most of the Indian subcontinent) and the dynasties ruling China had employed government power to unify their diverse nations and thereby achieve a high degree of civilization while Europe was mired in the Dark Ages. Those great Asian civilizations had accordingly created better institutions with, on the whole, less internal warfare and greater degrees of progress and societal health.

The future great powers of Europe never had that option. Following the fall of Rome, there was no powerful unifying state to prevent constant competition between the warring kingdoms and principalities. Under those bloody, create-or-die circumstances, each language group and amalgamation of small powers was constrained to compete in military conflicts, and, logically, in the invention and creation of economic/political systems which would foster a maximum of arms-related research and development.

During the beginnings of the modern era, it became matter of brute fact that whichever coalition had the best armaments in a given conflict would have an advantage which, often as not, could not be overcome by substantially larger numbers of warriors fielded by its foe. From the English longbows of Agincourt to the Krupp Works cannon employed in the French-German war of 1870 and the American atomic bombs which ended the war in the Pacific Theater in 1945, superior firepower has had a huge influence over the winners and losers in any given conflict.

Moreover, economic systems which allowed more or less free investment opportunities, plus low tax burdens upon the investor classes (especially in England and in the Low Countries), helped foster the invention of the next generation of more powerful weapons systems.

Thus, even though the Chinese possessed gunpowder and primitive cannon long before, say, England, by the time of the great 18th and 19th century European colonial expansions into Asia, the conquerors possessed armament of far greater firepower and destructiveness.

In short, India and China, for all their superb civil and military organization, despite the gigantic armies they could field, never stood a chance against European warships, rifle and musket companies and artillery brigades. In both great Asian civilizations, the overreaching authority of the state had stifled the creation of new and better weapons by constraining the intellectual and scientific curiosity- and concomitant investment opportunities - which led to their invention.

Modern parallels?

My own observation, working from Kennedy's historical findings, is that a 20th century parallel to the success of the European "gunpowder empires" over older, better organized Asian empires might easily be identified in the history of Germany's National Socialism and the Communism of the U.S.S.R.

In the case of the Nazis, freethinking scientists and inventors, especially those of despised classes - including but not limited to the Jews of Central Europe - were actively discouraged from engaging in their life's work, indeed, they were persecuted and forced to flee to the West, especially America, where they were essential to the undertaking of creating the first controlled nuclear chain reaction … and the first atomic bombs.

The military research-and-development blunders of the U.S.S.R. were similar, but telling in their differences. Let's look at the U.S.S.R. at the beginning of the Cold War. At that time the victorious Red Army toted back to Stalin, as war trophies, a number of the V-2 rockets invented by Werner von Braun. As it happened, Stalin had on staff a brilliant scientist, one Sergei Korolev, whose understanding of rocketry was considerably more advanced than von Braun's, and this scientist begged Stalin to allow him to make improvements upon the V-2 template. Stalin, being Stalin, refused, and demanded the entire thrust of Soviet rocket science be focused upon making lots and lots of V-2s, exactly the way von Braun had designed them.**

It was not until the post-Stalin years of the mid-late 1950s that Soviet scientists and engineers, freed by Khrushchev from Stalin's artificial constraints upon their research options, were finally able to unleash their genius. Sputnik soon followed, and the Western powers were forced to play catch-up.

Which the Western powers did, and with a vengeance. And once again the principles of healthy competition of ideas, investments and workplace skills led to the downfall of the authoritarian model's ability to keep up with a capitalist democratic republic.

Even under Khrushchev's relatively benign rule, and certainly under the neo-Stalinist dictatorships of his successors, the inherent weaknesses of an anti-competitive system of economics, plus the state's repression of intellectual freedom, once again demonstrated the superiority of Western systems of "wasteful competition." When America put men on the moon in 1969 (using rocket, computer and other necessary components which were 100% designed and created by private companies which competed in the bidding process and were then required to perform to expectation)the proof was there for all to see … although too many otherwise perfectly intelligent professional thinkers ignored it.

Conventional Wisdom and the March of the Whorish Intellectuals

History shows, time and again, in century after century, civilization after civilization, that there is nothing wasteful about competition.

To the precise contrary, it is the super-regulatory state which impairs not only advances in societal health via new medicines, labor-saving machines and better understandings of the human condition in the humanities, but which also habitually presents obstacles to a nation-state's essential security and ability to defend itself from outside aggression.

For instance, Stalin's destruction of the upper echelons of his own officer corps during the paranoia-fueled purges of the 1930s was, in the opinion of many military historians, one of the primary reasons it took the Red Army as long as it did to prevail against the Nazi invaders.

And since warfare is, in many ways, an illustrative microcosm of all other collective undertakings of a given nation-state, it is reasonable to believe that while a certain amount of government regulation is necessary to discourage theft, fraud, unfair trade practices and the myriad of similar depredations of economic liberty which twisted, predatory minds may dream up, the proposition that competition, by creatively harnessing the profit motive, is essential to the survival (or at least the autonomy) of any nation-state is undeniable.

In the face of all this historical evidence, the fact that there are still Western intellectuals who defend authoritarian economic and political systems (including today's repressive theocracies of the Middle East) as being somehow equal to capitalism and republican democracy illustrates two important principles.

One is that in a culture of intellectual freedom, it is the inherent right of any person to believe any damn fool thing he wants to. I will defend to the death that right, because it's not for me (or the almighty state) to say what constitutes foolishness and what does not. Only the healthy competition of ideas and the measured outcomes of those competing ideas' execution can determine which are realistic and which are foolish.

The other thing proven here is that there are a great number of Western intellectuals who will, if given the chance, revere postmodern conventional wisdom ("capitalism is inherently evil," "competition is wasteful," "individuals cannot be expected to serve the greater good by being allowed to pursue their own goals for personal profit," etc.) the way a seasoned prostitute reveres her pimp.

Her pimp may inhibit her freedom, take away most of her money and periodically beat her senseless, but the co-dependant relationship between victim and victimizer is so emotionally important to both that they will tend to remain locked in their mutually-destructive death spiral until one or both shuffle off his/her mortal coil.

Lenin, for all his serial denial of objective reality and human nature, said a very true thing when he coined his famously pithy term for such whorish intellectuals. He called them "useful idiots."

* See Windfall profits, price gouging and wounded minnows (May 5, 2006).

** Stalin applied this anti-logic to other, non-military matters. For instance, he put in charge of the Soviet ministries of agriculture a committed Leninist from a politically correct family, one Trofim Denisovich Lysenko. This clever fellow believed Mendel was a charlatan and the science of genetics was "a bourgeois pseudoscience. Accordingly, Soviet agricultural yields were held at artificially low levels for many decades. In view of the fact that the West sold grain to Russia at bargain-basement prices for most of those decades, it is arguable that without the surpluses provided by wasteful competition between agricultural concerns in other countries, the U.S.S.R. would have been starved into collapse long before 1993.

Useful idiots, indeed.