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My Up and Coming Internet Nirvana

One of my local alt-weeklies Willamette Week tells us why if you’re a tech geek (or a blogger who makes his living as a telecommuting writer who relies on constant Internet access) there are some serious bennies to living in a thirdwave-anarcho-libertarian-semipinko-antiestablishmentarian place like Portland: Free wi-fi for everyone, baby. And it doesn’t look to me like there’s jack the big corporate boys can do about it, though that won’t stop ‘em from trying.

And I don’t mean it’s going to be some “free” taxpayer-funded government-run deal, I mean it in the sense that it’s free to listen to the radio if you already own a radio. That kinda free.

Sign me up!

Actually, I don’t have to sign up, all I have to do is wait. Excellent.

Anti-Semitism Watch (Updated)

Here is a picture of a modern skinhead.

smash-the-jewish-state.jpg

Okay, maybe the guy isn’t technically a skinhead. He might have hair under that hat.

Why is it that when anti-war protests make the news, people like him are almost always edited out? This isn’t a photo from the media, it’s from an LGF reader who goes by the handle Zombie.

I’m selective about which photos I choose to publish, just as newspapers are. In a sense I do what they do, only the opposite. I don’t include photos of the nice church people who show up to protest.

The difference is I don’t pretend the nice church people don’t exist. Besides, this is an opinion site with no claim whatever to being comprehesive or objective. I’m not trying to keep a record of everything here. That’s more than a one-man job.

Also, I don’t feel the need to mention the nice people at protests because I don’t have that much to say to or about them except when I’m arguing about foreign policy generally. Plenty of nice people attend peace rallies, I know that very well. I think they’re a bit naïve, but they mean well. They’re decent people. And because they’re decent and well-meaning people I’d like to see them kick the guy in the picture out of their parade. I bet they would do just that if he put a sheet over his head, and he might as well.

PS – I don’t attend “pro-war” rallies. If I did and I saw a guy with a sign that said “Smash Muslim States,” I’d call him out on it. And if that guy wasn’t being challenged by the rest of those in attendance, that would be the last time I hung around that crowd. I’m not asking anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.

UPDATE: Oberon in the comments points to a comment on this Indymedia post.

These are lies.

I am an anti-war leftist fed up with the anti-semitism in the anti-war movement. I had the sign “pro-israel, pro-palestine, pro-peace.” I marched with SF Voice for Israel (NOT with Protest Warriors, who I deplore).

I was there until 3pm. Nobody on our side started shit. There were people from the pro-palestinian side shoving us, coming into our space and shouting “I hope they push you fucking assholes into the sea!”

STOP LYING ABOUT THE PROTEST.

Smash The Jewish State IS RACIST.

I am AGAINST the occupation. But there WERE anti-semetic signs at the protest and that’s why SF Voice For Israel exists. MANY people on the SF Voice for Israel side were fellow leftists who feel alienated by the anti-war movement because nobody speaks out against the anti-semitism within.

STOP THE LIES.

That’s what I’m looking for. Too bad this person is in the minority among the activists, but I’m glad at least someone inside that group is getting fed up with this crap.

Need a Reagan Fix?

The news right now is all-Reagan-all-the-time. I was going to write more about him, but why ape the media? It’s time for me to move on. If you do want your Reagan fix, though, here’s an intense personal reaction by my friend Karrie Higgins who didn’t like Reagan at all but still feels sad at his passing.

Now it’s time for me to change the channel.

The Film-Watching Habits of Josef Stalin

Josef Stalin’s personal papers were recently made available to the public. It’s already well-known that Uncle Joe loved the movies, even those made in the decadent bourgeois West. Now the Daily Telegraph tells us Stalin sent hit squads out to assasinate John Wayne, and Kruschev (softie that he was) rescinded the order.

They poked around in his papers and found all sorts of details about his film-watching habits and the “advice” he liked to give to the people who made them.

As if often the case with Stalin, the small and subtle details are somehow the most interesting and revealing. The guy was about as funny as Hitler (ie, not much) but there’s some real black comedy here.

“What will Comrade Bolshakov show us today?” Stalin would ask. His terrified cinema minister, Ivan Bolshakov, had to gauge Stalin’s mood. If it was good, Bolshakov could risk a new Soviet movie.

[...]

At a typical movie night with Stalin, when the showing was over, he would often ask: “Where have we seen that actor before?” He frequently asked actors who were playing him in films over for dinner: once he asked the best “Stalin”, “How will you play Stalin?” “As the people see him,” replied the clever actor. “The right answer,” said Stalin, presenting him with a bottle of brandy.

[...]

Bolshakov once authorised a movie for national release without asking Stalin, who was on holiday. At the next showing, Stalin asked him: “On whose authority did you release the movie?”

Bolshakov froze: “I consulted and decided.” “You consulted and decided, you decided and consulted,” intoned Stalin. “You decided.” He then left the room in a doomladen silence. Eventually, his head popped round the door: “You decided right.”

[...]

None the less, all the time, this homicidal movie-buff insisted on pretending that he was merely giving “advice” to his filmmakers. “You’re a free man,” he liked to say. “You don’t have to listen to me. This is just a suggestion from an ordinary viewer. Take it or leave it.” Of course, they always took it.

See the wonderful Australian film Children of the Revolution if you’re up for two hours of this sort of thing.

UPDATE: Gary Farber collected some Maoist movie reviews.

A Liberal Empire?

I hate the word empire when used to describe the United States. If the US is an empire, it sure is empire-lite. We are not expanding the borders. It’s hard to have colonies when you don’t have any colonists. Aside from Iraq for the next three and a half weeks, we do not administer foreign countries.

But if someone wants to use the e-word to describe America, I’ll let them get away with it as long as they define it in a way that describes the world as it really is.

British historian Niall Ferguson is one of only two people I know of (the other is Robert D. Kaplan) who can talk about an “American Empire” in such a way that doesn’t make me dismiss them as paranoid fantasists. And like Robert Kaplan, Ferguson says America’s empire is both liberal and good.

Frank Bures interviewed him for the Atlantic Monthly. I want to excerpt this at length because I think it’s the single most important issue Americans need to work out.

You say America is an empire, but an empire with no administrators, no settlers, no direct rule, and with no imperialists. What kind of Empire is that?

It’s an empire that has all the functions of military empire, if you like. It has the capacity to project itself in terms of force over vast geographical distances. It’s an empire that is remarkably adept at spreading its culture globally. In that sense, it’s an empire with almost unrivaled military and cultural power. But when it comes to what might be called imperial governance, it is an empire which, precisely because it doesn’t recognize its own existence, consistently underperforms.

This term you use, “liberal empire,” seems sort of oxymoronic. Can you explain the contradiction?

Well, it certainly didn’t seem oxymoronic a hundred years ago when there were self-proclaimed liberal imperialists in Britain, liberals who saw the British Empire as a means of spreading liberal values in terms of free markets, the rule of law, and ultimately representative government. There was an important and influential faction within the Liberal Party who saw empire as an instrument for globalizing the British liberal model.

Globalizing Britain?

To these people, globalizing the British model was synonymous with globalizing liberalism. They looked around and said, Well, not many people have our combination of institutions. What we need to do is plant the seed of this system in as many places as we can and make the world suitably Anglicized. It’s only a contradiction in terms if you define “liberal” in a rather early-twenty-first-century American way, meaning that you like to hug trees, or you have a fit if somebody fires a gun in anger. My sense of liberal is the classical sense. Liberalism stands for creating the institutions of political, economic, and social freedom. And it’s very obvious that in a dozen or more countries in the world, there is absolutely no chance of those institutions developing autonomously. These countries are either so under tyranny, or so completely anarchic, that it’s never going to happen.

So far so good.

Foreign intervention is an awfully dicey business, though. I may seem gung-ho about intervening abroad now, but I wasn’t always and I don’t regret it.

Take, for example, Guatemala. It would be a whitewash to say in the early 1980s General Efrain Rios Montt ruled that country with an iron fist. Rios Montt was a bloodthirsty monster. Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile as a Swedish social democrat by comparison.

Last year Randy Paul published a graph of the number of killings per year during the Guatemalan civil war, and the death toll spiked exponentially when Rios Montt was in power.

It wasn’t an accident, nor was it the fault of the guerillas. Rios Montt waged a “scorched earth” campaign in the countryside to utterly annihilate places where he thought guerillas were hiding. (And that’s to say nothing of the rampaging White Hand and ESA death squads.) If that man were in charge of the American campaign in Iraq he would have carpet bombed or even nuked Fallujah.

He still casts his shadow over Guatemala. I was there last November when he was running for president. His own political party held power. His face was plastered on billboards all over the countryside. Violent mobs of his supporters had recently convulsed Guatemala City. White hands in the clenched fascist fist were painted on cliff faces. Thank heaven he lost.

Ronald Reagan supported this creep in the early 1980s and called him a “a man of great personal integrity” who got “a bum rap on human rights.”

This is not a snapshot of the American empire at its most liberal or finest.

Now let’s get back to Mr. Ferguson.

One of your arguments is that for an empire to be successful, it has to pay dividends to both ruler and ruled. What dividends were paid to countries like Nicaragua under Somoza, or Guatemala under the generals, or Iran under the Shah, or other countries that could be considered colonies of the American Empire?

I think the truth of the matter is, not much. One of the problems with America’s Central American adventures, along with its Caribbean adventures, was precisely that they failed to establish very obvious collaborative frameworks, other than with military elites. Those frameworks that they did establish quickly morphed into dictatorships when the Americans held a traditional election and went home. And I think that does help explain the very, very dismal showing of America’s Central American policy. The irony that the country that has performed best in the region is the one where the Americans never went—Costa Rica—speaks for itself. I mean, the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary turned out to be a recipe for chronic instability in Central America. You have to feel that the British would have done it better. But the United states from a very early stage staked out a monopoly position south of the Rio Grande—with wholeheartedly dismal results, I’m afraid. I think that reflects the fact that the model of empire that the United States has followed has been defective. It was almost as defective in the days of Theodore Roosevelt as it is today.

So what if the goal, then, is first and foremost to just get rid of the governments that are unfriendly, and there’s not much thought given to what happens after that?

Well, I think that became the model when the Cold War set in. Indeed, it had been the model even before the Cold War, in the days of Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt—the “Our Son of a Bitch” model. And when you look at what happened in countries from Chile to Iran, I think it’s obvious that the cost of that approach probably outweighed the benefits. The legitimacy of American foreign policy suffered serious long-term damage because support was given rather uncritically to some pretty lousy regimes. Indirect rule through petty dictators has the defect that you really have a problem controlling the bastards that you are notionally sponsoring.

Mr. Ferguson gets it. Because he’s in favor of a liberal American “empire” and because he understands what went wrong in Latin America, I just ordered his book Colossus from Amazon. He may be one of the very few people who can write at length about our “imperialism” past, present, and future without making me cringe.

The Death of Ronald Reagan (Updated)

Ronald Reagan is dead.

I am not a member of his fan club.

I’ve said plenty of things about him that I don’t regret, but I would choose not to say them in front of his family or in public on the day that he died.

I did not and do not hate him, though. Hatred is such an utterly wasted emotion, especially in politics.

There are things to admire about the man no matter what your political leanings. He gave real hope to millions of suffering people when he spoke these words at Brandenberg Gate in West Berlin.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I’ve felt sorry for Reagan for years. He was one of the two most powerful men in the world, and during his final years he couldn’t remember what he had done. To be so successful in life and then to have the entire experience cruelly erased is just another form of dying.

I don’t want the man’s picture on my money or his head on Mt. Rushmore. But he did some good in this world and for that I thank him.

Kindest regards and best wishes for his family.

UPDATE: Matt Welch:

And so it was that when the old fella said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I laughed at his blustery naivete, as I did whenever he uttered the phrase “Evil Empire.” Needless to say, I was wrong about that, and he was right, and I’m still ashamed about it.

Yes, I can say the same and I should have. He was right and I was wrong. Thing is, I knew he was right when he said it. Of course I knew the Soviet Union was an evil thing. I never went through a communist or socialist phase, I was just afraid he was egging them on. What I didn’t understand, because I was just a kid, was that most people who lived in the Soviet Union agreed with him. I’m sure I’m wrong about some things now and I’ll be wrong again in the future. But I’m not making that mistake again.

Columnist Fisks Self

Check it out. Jim Washburn literally fisks himself in his own Orange County Weekly article.

I am about to offend some of you by using the N word. I know it is a word so laden with emotion and historical horror that it should not be used lightly. But sometimes no other word gets the point across.

Nazi.

That’s right, I’m adding my voice to the other hysterical-seeming Americans who are likening the current White House administration to Germany’s grim men in gray.

[...]

Bush would have to go a ways to even begin approximating the horrors of Saddam Hussein, let alone Hitler.

Just in case the self-fisking isn’t totally obvious, let’s just turn it around and see what happens.

I am about to offend some of you by using the C word. I know it is a word so laden with emotion and historical horror that it should not be used lightly. But sometimes no other word gets the point across.

Communist.

That’s right, I’m adding my voice to the other hysterical-seeming Americans who are likening the Clinton administration to Russia’s grim men in red.

[...]

Clinton would have to go a ways to even begin approximating the horrors of Fidel Castro, let alone Stalin.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Tenet “Quits”

So George Tenet was fired.

WASHINGTON – CIA Director George Tenet, buffeted by controversies over intelligence lapses about suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has resigned. President Bush said Thursday that Tenet was leaving for personal reasons and “I will miss him.”

Okay, so I don’t know if he was actually fired. They always just “quit” for “personal reasons.”

Maybe Tenet really did quit for personal reasons. Of course that’s possible. Maybe he’s just rich and old and wants to hang out at the house and in the Bahamas. Who could blame him?

Here’s some free advice, though, for the Bush Administration and every other adminstration that follows: When you fire someone who’s embattled in controversy, just say that you fired him. It might not be nice, but it will earn you some points as well as protect the reputations of people who really do quit for personal reasons.

Interview with Roger L. Simon

Roger L. Simon is one of my favorite bloggers. One reason is because he’s a friend, and another is because he probably agrees with me more than anyone else. So okay, I’m biased. But there you have it.

He says he’s the only American writer he knows of to be written about favorably by both Mother Jones and National Review. Could very well be. Here’s his profile and interview on NR. Everyone who reads my blog ought to be reading his. He’s like a more famous older brother.

My Other Roommates

Okay, I’ve finally given in after a year and a half. It’s pet blogging time. (With apologies to dog people.)

Miloblueroom.jpg

Here is our cat Milo. He doesn’t have a job, so all he really does is lay around and complain. Good thing for him that he’s cute.

Backyardpond.jpg

And here in the pond behind the house is where our four little fishes live, two koi and two goldfish. They don’t care too much for our two cats.

This yard, by the way, was only a sad-looking patch of grass when we bought the house. Since then my wife turned it into her largest-ever art project.

Tilting at Science

Michael Crowly writes in The New Republic about how America is rapidly falling behind the curve in a key sector of biotechnology.

Last month, The Boston Globe published a science article, datelined from far away Brno, Czech Republic, that carried political implications for the Bush administration much closer to home. Surveying research laboratories around the world–including one in tiny Brno–the Globe found that embryonic stem cell research has blazed ahead in foreign countries since George W. Bush cut off federal funding for such efforts in the U.S nearly three years ago. According to the Globe, foreign scientists have developed nearly 100 new embryonic stem cell lines since Bush announced his policy in August 2001. That confirms one warning Bush’s critics issued at the time: that embryonic stem cell research would continue rapidly with or without U.S. sanction, and that Bush’s policy would make America–which has already been losing its scientific hegemony in other areas–a bystander in a vanguard field.

America most likely will benefit from the “wicked” stem cell research in the Czech Republic. In the era of globalization, there will be no keeping out biotech products unless religious conservatives somehow manage to pull a European-style freakout and ban them outright.

Virginia Postrel wrote about this phenomenon in The Future and Its Enemies. She divided people into two groups — dynamists and stasists. Dynamists are classically liberal, open, and tolerant. Most important, they aren’t control freaks. They let others do as they will, permitting creativity and innovation to flourish. Dynamic societies are vastly more successful than closed static societies. (You could say, although she did not because her book is too old, that the Terror War is an epic confrontation between dynamism and stasism.)

There are two kinds of stasists: technocrats and reactionaries. Communists are the ultimate technocrats. They are progressive rather than reactionary, but they insist on managing every last aspect of progress in the most controlling way possible. The Taliban were their evil opposite twins, resisting any and every sort of progress whatsoever.

This isn’t a partisan thing. There are right-wing technocrats, too. You could say Chile’s Augusto Pinochet was one of those. Left-wing reactionaries aren’t too hard to find. Look no further than Europe’s hysterical fear of genetically-modified food.

As far as the religious conservative objection to funding stem cell research, there might be a moral justification for it, but that doesn’t make it any less reactionary. The United States is arguably the most dynamic society on earth. Banning or restricting research and development of anything that isn’t unquestionably harmful goes against the American grain. We became great by unleashing freedom and creativity, not by restricting it, and not by sponging off the labor of more dynamic foreigners.

American conservatives can tilt at the supposed immorality of stem cell research if they really feel like they must, but it won’t change much from any perspective they care about. They can’t stop it, not really. It only means the Czechs or someone else will lead the way and export the results of their labor to us. America will benefit from the research and the products one way or another, at least in a strictly consumerist sense, but the Czechs will benefit more if we hand them that industry. The Bush Administration’s position amounts to little more than moralistic posturing and should be rescinded at once.

A Glass Half Full

Tonight (Tuesday) is one of those evenings where I don’t have time to write much, but I would like to highlight this from Andrew Sullivan.

If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no WMDs had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out… well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success.

I don’t want to pretend there aren’t any problems. There were always going to be problems in Iraq no matter what we did, whether we invaded or not, whether we invaded and occupied differently or not. But the fact that there are problems (which, again, was inevitable) doesn’t mean the project flopped. Imperfection isn’t evidence of failure, and it never has been.

Iraq is a better place this year than it was last year. If Iraq is better off next year than it is right now, it will be nice if the media notice. Anyway, if they won’t I will.

Matching Donations

One of my readers who goes by the handle spc67 offered to match donations (up to a maximum of 1,000 dollars) from others on this site who donate to the Spirit of America to help the people of Iraq. (See the next post down.) C.O.O. Marc Danziger says he’ll let me know how much money this site raises. So pitch in. Your contribution will be doubled.

I just donated 50 dollars. If anyone donates 100 dollars, let me know and I’ll pitch in another 50.

UPDATE: I’m not sure if the logistics for keeping track of this are in place yet. So if you donate, at least for now, please note the amount in the comments. Thanks all.

SECOND UPDATE: This site has already raised 3,000 dollars. See the comments. Wow. THANK YOU.

Spirit of America

Winds of Change blogger Armed Liberal finally came out of psuedoanonymity – his real name is Marc Danziger – because he’s the new C.O.O. of Sprit of America.

I’m teaming up with Marc, Jeff Jarvis, Roger L. Simon, and some others in a drive to give Spirit of America a boost.

Jim Hake, who started SofA, has already raised one and a half million dollars to help Iraqis out. Help give him (and them) another cool million and a half. Some people died to put Saddam Hussein in that cage and clear the way for projects like this one. I think you can spare 20 bucks.

For those of us who pushed for an invasion of Iraq to help transform the Middle East, it’s time to put our money where our mouths have been.

The Poem of Force

While we’re on the subject of movies, Victor Davis Hanson pens a review of Wolfgang Peterson’s new movie The Iliad – er Troy – on his blog. I read The Iliad, but only once and long ago in my college daze. Victor Davis Hanson, as you probably already know, is a military historian and a Classics professor. He is far more competent than I to comment.

(I do suggest bookmarking his blog while you’re over there.)

UPDATE: It looks like Honora Howell Chapman was the one who wrote that piece, not VDH. But it’s on his site, and no less worth reading. She, too, is a classicist at California State University-Fresno, where Hanson teaches.

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