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Jay Currie

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1/24/2004

Nukes

Libya's quest for atomic weapons was aided by a sophisticated nuclear black market that offered weapons designs, real-time technical advice and thousands of sensitive parts -- some of them apparently manufactured in secret factories, according to diplomats and experts familiar with the probe of Libya's weapons program.

The scale of the black-market operation -- described by one expert as an "international supermarket" for nuclear parts -- exceeds anything seen before, and it was undetected by Western intelligence agencies until recent months, the officials said. The same operation also is believed to have aided Iran, they said. washington post
For those who are convinced that the fact David Kay was unable to find WMDs in Iraq means there are and were none the ability of Libya to acquire the technology required to make nukes should serve as a bit of a wake up. Intent married to ability leads to the possiblity of millions of people. By taking out Saddam the intent was divorced from the ability. By cutting a deal with Gaddafi, another potential threat was eliminated. Which leaves lots of work left to do: Iran, Korea, Pakistan. But it represents a start.

It is vital to note that the trail of the Libyan bomb leads, more or less directly, back to Pakistan.
The identities of the people behind the smuggling operation have not been revealed, but investigators say the centrifuges provided to Libya are of the same design as machines used in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. In recent weeks, Pakistan's government has begun investigating whether its nuclear scientists sold sensitive information to Iran and possibly others.
washington post
For whatever reason, and the fundamentalist Islamic beliefs of some of the Pakistani nuclear establishmentmight beat greed here, there has been a traffic in nuclear secrets and the machinery needed to make bombs for at least the past ten years.

Where that knowledge and technology ended up is a critical question right now and likely for the next decade.
(hattip Debbye.)

Deanie Baby....Wahhh

Five days after his damaging third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Howard Dean said Saturday that the state should regulate discussion inside caucus rooms or lose its premier status in the presidential nomination process.

"I like the Iowa caucuses a lot and I think they should be first, but they have to have a process that is good for democracy," Dr. Dean said on his campaign bus as he headed to Dover, N.H., to knock on the doors of undecided voters. "The kind of stuff that's going on with the phone calls and all that under the table is not particularly good for democracy, and I didn't know it went on inside the caucuses. And if it does it should not be permitted."
nyt
Oh do lets regulate what people are allowed to say within a political meeting. Good idea there Howie. No, really, not nearly as nuts as the scream. Perhaps there could be a "niceness" advisor for each caucus. Or, perhaps, a chap with a stick sent from the Iowa Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Supression of Vice.

Helmut Newton dead

Newton died driving. Which is fitting. I reviewed his autobiography for the Ottawa Citizen late last year. (It hasn't run yet and I'll post it later.) Along with beautiful women and a fascination with the dance of light, Newton loved cars. Broke in Australia after the war he bought himself a huge, fast car.

Newton defined fashion photography in a way it had not been thought of before he began to shoot. He acknowledged that clothes were sexual in quite forbidden ways. And he did it in the early sixties when it was a hugely controversial thing to say. He also created a genre of photography referred to as Porno Chic in which he used the production values of fashion photography to shoot and capture darker subjects. In the process he brought sexually explicit, high grade photography out from under the counter and with it paved the way for the mainstreaming of sexual imagery.

Update: Peter Conrad at the Guardian gets Newton about right:
Newton relished his reputation for decadence, but - like his taut, permatanned skin - it was a mask. Beneath the clothes there is flesh, and under that a skull grins. For this sour moralist, the models sashaying down the catwalk were performing a dance of death.

A note on Adsense

By the terms of the Google agreement I am officially not allowed to disclose just how many pennies a day my Adsense ads bring in. But I have noticed that Jim Elve has them at his site and James Bow does at his. Here's what I am sure they would like to ask you to do, but by the terms....Just make a practice of hitting the top ad as you enter the site and the second from the top as you leave. Do it at every blog you like when you see Adsense. If they were not prohibited by the terms....I bet they'd both say thank you.

Election Fever

I think I am going to have to hotkey "the invaluable Jim Elves"....Over at Blogs Canada Jim has set up BlogsCanada : E-Group Blogging Canada's 2004 Federal Elections . (Can't we come up with something just a tad less in keeping with Jim's wonderful spoof of a bureaucratic website? I'm terrible at naming things...I founded a magazine called two chairs for Heaven's sake...but something.) While I am pretty sure I am going to have to lobby for a few more of my rightie homies to be included, it looks like a great crew with lots of diversity. It will be up on the blogroll shortly so check it out. (The future I tell you, the future!)

Insular blogs

Putting blogs in perspective in light of the Dean debacle in Iowa, James Bow observes:
The number of blogs on the net has increased dramatically over the past four years. A community has developed that's remarkably cohesive, and remarkably closed. Just like the rise of the Internet just eight years before, many blog readers and blog writers from half the world away know each other more intimately than they know their neighbours across the street. And as with all closed and active communities, the opinions expressed within become highly amplified.
james bow et seq.
That's sobering; but this might be depressing:
I think it's safe to say that, as a percentage of the world's population, the number of people within the active blogosphere rounds to zero.
I am inclined to think that Bow is certainly right on his numbers; but I don't think that is any reason to doubt the efficacy of the blog, politically and otherwise. Because I think Bow is more more right when he says,
Come 2008, the Internet's influence will only have grown, and any political candidate that truly harnesses its potential could well be unstoppable. The internet is becoming as much a part of civil society as the telephone.
By that point blogging will have become sufficiently mainstream that I suspect more than a few group blogs will look more like newspapers and the smarter newspapers - the ones which are not charging admission - will have bloggers as a main component of their online presence. As someone pointed out, oh yeah, it was Colby,
The Best Magazine Weblog of 2003 is clearly Hit and Run, such a vital daily stop that it has come to somewhat overshadow the many fine individual websites in the "Libertarian" category on the left here. I rely much on The Corner and the New Republic's many sub-weblogs. In fact, let's give TNR a Thousand Flowers Blooming prize: between Lizza, the Dean-o-phobe, Scheiber, and Easterblogg, who's left over there to put out an actual magazine?

I am pretty certain that Bow is right about the present blogging situation; I am also sure this is very much the beginning of a new form of opinion journalism.

1/23/2004

Conrad strikes back

the dissident minority shareholders at Lord Black's US company had not really counted their ducks when they sued Conrad and put the assets of Hollinger International up for sale. Their problem is that Black's Canadian company, Hollinger, controls 70 plus percent of the votes at the US company. Which Black used to rewrite the bylaws of the company to prohibit the sale of any asset of the company without the unanimous approval of the board of directors. As Conrad sits on that board, that approval is not going to happen. Reuters carries a piece on the ins and outs of the fight.

The corporate and legal issues interest me in a technical sort of way; but the real story is watching Lord Black fight his way out of a corner. I have never figured out if I liked or hated the guy and it doesn't matter because his sheer force of character is so fascinating. It has taken the Asper children to demonstrate what a brilliant newspaper proprietor Black was. (Latest brain wave, on the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen, and I suspect the rest of the stable, the internet edition is going subscription only for many of the articles. Hello...That will be the last time I bother to link to the Post or the Citizen or, for that matter, read them online. And, so long as the Globe and Mail sticks with little papers like the New York Times and Washington Post and offers free access, that's there I am going to be going.) As I wrote earlier, the dissident shareholders would have rather less than the 1.8 billion in assets had it not been for Black's abilities. But what seems to annoy them is that Black could not have cared less about the quarter over quarter share price - which would have been OK if he had not also supported a rather more than lavish personal life style with assorted rather doubtful payouts. Black likes his fun and he sees no reason why his businesses should not provide him with the funds to enjoy it.

Now Black is far too sophisticated not to know the difference between a public and a private company and the duties the officer of a public company owes to his shareholders. He is also, however, enough of a buccaneer to be aware of the limits on the rights of dissident minority shareholders. It is going to be great fun watching to see how Lord Black avoids the headsman's axe in an America which seems incapable of distinguishing between the pre-meditated fraud of Erron and the minor breach of Martha Stewart. Don't expect Lord Black to do the perp walk anytime soon: at the moment the shareholders are revolting but his lordship has prepared a defence in depth.

Starbucks in Paris

More trouble for the beleaguered French. With more than a thousand Macdonalds locations in France, the American ground assault on cafe culture has begun. Starbucks is opening on Avenue de l'Opéra. Emilie Boyer King writes an entertaining piece at Tech Central Station.

Belinda mania

It says more about how terribly bored Canadians are with Steve Harper than about Belinda Stronach experience when her popularity requires organizers to get a bigger hall in Calgary. At the same time, she manages to go wrong pretty easily on the decriminalization issue,
"I think it's a bigger issue than we're willing to admit if we were to decriminalize marijuana," she told JACK-FM on the popular morning Larry and Willy show.

"If we were to decriminalize marijuana I think our great neighbour to the south would have a lot of problems with that and I think it would very much affect the Canadian economy."
globe and mail
This is wrong for two reasons: the first is that it equates the harm done by arresting, charging and jailing people for a petty offence with possible economic and trade issues. By doing that Stronach simply ignores the human cost of the present law in favour of business concerns. The second error is a bit more political. It is unwise for a political candidate to suggest that Canada's laws will be made in response to pressure from the US, direct or indirect. In principle - albeit not always in practice - Canadian political conversation tends to want to come to a 'made in Canada" solution first and then look at how to deal with the international consequences. What Stronach did by making the purely Canadian question of what to do about pot an international issue from the go will provide a bit of fodder for the nationalist pundits.

These are not fatal errors. And they are probably forgivable simply because Stronach clearly was telling what she sees as the truth. It is a refreshing trait.

Sounds like my computer

The Mars rover Spirit resumed sending some data to Earth on Friday, allaying some fears it had failed after two days of garbled communications and periods of intermittent silence, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.
reuters
Surely NASA didn't use Microsoft software....

Sweetheart Deal

Hollinger International, in an attempt to stop former chief Conrad Black from selling his controlling interest in the company to Frederick and David Barclay, has started a formal auction process for some of its top properties.

Hollinger owns the Chicago Sun-Times, the London Daily Telegraph and the Jerusalem Post. Possible bidders, especially for the Telegraph, are The Washington Post, the Daily Mail of London and U.K. newspaper baron Richard Desmond. The New York Post quoted published reports saying that the Telegraph could fetch as much as $900 million, while the entire company could be worth more than $1.8 billion.
editor and publisher
What I think is interesting about this is that a) Lord Black was willing to sell the company which, in principle, controls these assets for less than a quarter of this value. Second, that the fact the Hollinger International board believes it can get this much for the assets suggests that Black and Daviid Radler were extremely good at their jobs. This sort of price would suggest that a few million here and there in the form of non-compete payments - which Lord Blkack argues were approved by the board in any event - were a quite reasonable way to compensate people who were critical to the success of the company. Which is not to say that Black has not been an arrogant git. But my sense is he is being attacked by midgits who could never, on their own, built anything like a 1.8 billion dollar empire.

Jack Straw

Jay Nordlinger paraphases UK foreign Secretarty Jack Staw at Davos:
Straw (in paraphrase): "People will take positions, 'twas ever thus. But when Saddam Hussein was in power, people could not take positions, lest they be killed. True, we've found fewer WMD than expected, but we've found more mass graves. And now, people don't get shot for expressing their opinion."
nro

SARS?

Yeah, right. 3.6 million Americans are not going to Toronto according to the National Post. Now, having lived in Toronto for four years it amazes me that anyone would go there for a vacation - it's duller than Cleveland; but what do I know? Debbye, who I stole this from, is not buying the SARS argument completely. Perhaps, and I am just speculating you understand, Americans stayed away from Toronto for the same reason they stayed away from France. You don't go and spend your money where you feel unwelcome. Ding a ling: not sending half a dozen snipers to Iraq may have made Canadians Kofi Annan's best friend and our ex-Prime Minister Chriac's BitchTM but it didn't win us any friends down South.

Dream Team:Syria

Belmont Club who I cannot help but read daily, is connecting the dots for an American sortie into the Bekka Valley in Syria. Of the lawless territories of the world, the Hizbullah controlled Bekka Valley near Lebanon, is one in which everything from suicide bombers to Saddam's WMD's may be hidden. Better still, it would put huge pressure on the current Syrian regime:
The Jerusalem Post article rightly suggests that any US special forces deployment would inevitably bring then into direct conflict with the Syrian occupiers of Lebanon and the sponsors the Hezbollah. Their use would perforce be accompanied by the organization and training of indigenous Lebanese auxiliaries, a feature of all US special forces campaigns from Indochina to Afghanistan. The special forces would be supported by air units and fire support, plus light infantry to prevent a repetition of the "Blackhawk Down" scenario. Units could draw on equipment already prepositioned in Israel, located in the mysterious Sites 51, 53 and 54. All in all, it would create a strategic nightmare for Damascus. With Americans in the Bekka 40 km west of downtown Damascus -- less than a marathon run, the Israeli army on the Golan Heights a mere 60 km south of the capital and American forces on the Iraqi border 300 km to the east and Turkey on the northern border, the Assad regime would be literally encircled.
belmont club
While I can hear the Fat Bastard and the Deanie Babies screaming that this is to Iraq as Cambodia was to Viet Nam, I doubt Rummy will care. Assad the Younger is pretty clearly implicated in holding Saddam's loot, possibly his WMDs and certainly aiding foreign insurgents in their infiltration of Iraq. Hizbollah is implicated in suicide attacks in Israel, supplying fighters in post Saddam Iraq and in the continued troubles in Lebanon.

Belmont Club points out that a deployment to the Valley would maintain the "operational tempo" of the campaign against Middle Eastern dictatorships. It would also reduce by one an area in which terrorist of every sort have been able to operate with impunity. With the fighting strength of American forces in Iraq becoming less and critical to the policing function in Iraq, the ability to strike in the Bekka increases daily.

Perhaps the best part of a Bekka foray is that it would directly attack the Hizbollah which would indirectly attack Hizbollah's main sponsors in Iran. Strategically it is an open question whether Saudi or Iran poses the greater threat to the West. But, operationally, it would make a good deal of sense to rid Syria and Lebanon of Hizbollah and would send a rather clear message to the mullahs that America has had enough. Hizbollah and the Syrian Baathists: Belmont Club's take:
Will it happen? Wait and see. Can it happen. Yes it can.

1/22/2004

Best Blogs

Colby Cosh has been fiddling with his blogroll and in the process nominating a few blogs for best Canadian, best expatriate Canadian and so on. Everyone of his nominees is a winner and it is intriguing to see a veteran blogger's take. My own list is much less extensive and not nearly as newsy. I tend to pay attention to blogs which make me laugh, angry, better informed and generally amused.

For sheer spleen and much eccentric amusement it is nearly impossible to beat Paul Jané. He is so rude that one of my other favorite bloggers, Darren Barefoot, has emailed him twice to announce that he was never, ever coming back to Frozen in Montreal. Which probably demonstrates the sheer futility of picking other People's blogs and saying, hey, go there. The two could not be more different and yet, and yet....both are tech guys, both come at politics edge on, happy to point out the foibles of their own as well as the opposition, both are completely random when it comes to topics. And both are great reads....You will, however, laugh more at Paul's.

I read Debbye and Kathy in Toronto. I am neither that big a conservative nor anything more than a High Anglican (on a good day, with a tail wind) but both writers find out stuff which seems to matter. And they both have a sense of humour and proportion. (Kathy on being corrected vis a vis the Jews having built the Pyramids:
Come for the factually incorrect talking points, stay for the vitriol!
)

The other two blogs I read religiously are also by women, one Catholic, one rather decidedly not. I've been reading Mirabillis for about a year and a half. Largely as a break from politics. Christine has this rather odd and pleasing set of obsessions: archeology, language, religion and WiFi. Her blog defines simple, clear design. Design as elegant as her writing. Socar at Ratty's Ghost is as good a writer as you are going to find on the web or in the bookstore. No, really, I review books professionally and she is that good. A smart publisher would march down to the apartment across the street from the brothel and sign her. We're talking Anne Michaels crossed with Jane Urquhart but who has actually lived a life. It doesn't matter a bit what Socar is writing about, she is worth reading.

Last but not least on this wee tour - and if you've been left out I will probably catch you next month - are four blogs which often inspire and inform what appears here. First Bree. There is something plain appealing about how open Bree is to learning more about the world. But there is also a knowingness that, despite her often lefty inclinations, keeps her wondering if it could all really be that simple. Jim Elve, at BlogsCanada
simply infuriates me. Everyday. Which is healthy and worthwhile. It is much too easy to read no one but the people you agree with. Fortunately there is virtually nothing which Jim and I agree about - if I am looking to find out what I am against, I can pop over to Jim's and there it is. Well, I lie, there is one thing, we both believe very deeply that there is a necessary civility to disagreement.

Joe Katzman's Winds of Change is very close to what I suspect the future of media actually is. Intelligent, in depth and very popular. Most of the posts are an astute combination of information and opinion and it is an essential for my reading day. Finally, of all the Americans I read, and I read a lot, Steve den Bestemost consistently changes my mind. Or suggests I think about something I have not thought about den Beste is notorious for being long. Very long. But complicated ideas usually take more than a paragraph to express.

Right, enough of this...I'm off to Socars to find out what else she found on her hardrive and CDRs.

Deficits

I am thinking about deficit spending at the moment and ran across this piece by James aded over at Tech Central Station. Glassman, famous for having written a book in which he predicted the Dow going to 36,000, is not too worried about the deficit:
It's not that deficits don't matter -- just not at these levels, or at any level that's truly feasible. Our government debt, at about 50 percent of GDP, is far lower than that of Europe and Japan. Unless deficits truly get out of hand (and we're far from that), other things, like taxes, matter much more. President Bush said that tax cuts would leave more money in the pockets of Americans, who would spend and invest to lift the economy. That's happened. As the economy gets better, revenues will rise, and the deficit will shrink.
tech central station
I commented:
Running a small deficit, while not ideal generally, may be necessary in certain circumstances.

At the moment there is virtually no inflation in the American economy. A gradual recovery is underway and the growth rate is nothing short of spectacular.

All is not perfect however. The American dollar is only now finding an appropriate value relative to its trading partners' currencies. Employment is not growing as quickly as would be ideal. And, in the background, is the real possiblity of deflation.

While a good deal of the spending which is currently being proposed is wasteful at best and simply pork at worst, the reality is the gentle stimulus of a deficit is likely necessary to avoid deflation.

With interest rates as low as they are, deficits are relatively painless and will help foster the growth in the economy which will make a 36,000 Dow look rather less optimistic.
The real concern in the American economy is to ensure that the striking growth of the last decade is sustained in this decade. To a degree, the capacity to sustain that growth has shifted from the Federal Reserve to the Administration and Congress. Neither of which will be nearly as acute as the Fed; but they should be able to get the direction right.

Potentially the biggest issue facing the American and thus the world economy is that as the Boomers age they are going to be buying less stuff: fewer televisions, DVD players, washing machines, cars and clothes, toys and computers. In the short run this is not terribly serious, but longer term it will tend to reduce overall demand in the economy. Which, in turn, will reduce growth. While Glassman, correctly in my view, points out
It's the private sector that is responsible for prosperity. Don't forget it.
That private sector is sensitive to the macro economic decisions made by the government.

A rigorous policy of deficit reduction would likely have the paradoxical effect of slowing growth and reducing the tax revenues needed to finance the deficit. And that really would be a problem.

1/21/2004

Iran 9/11 link

Der Spiegel is reporting that a new witness in the trial of a Moroccan suspected of being the logistics expert behind 9/11. The witness claims to have been a senior Iranian intelligence agent.
The federal prosecutors got hold of a man who claims to have been a high-ranking member of the Iranian secret service for many years. In this function he says to have learned about the planning of 9/11 before it happened, seen several al-Qaida bosses in Iran and known some of the death pilots from Germany by name.
translation at rantburg
Critical and extremely damaging to Iran. If the dots can be connected it would provide more than ample grounds to facilitate regime change which, is long overdue and very likely to have significant popular support.

Belinda's got Blog

Bree pointed to Belinda Stonach kicked off her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party by putting up a blog. With comments! One good one from Joe Katzman of Winds of Change should be read before it disappears.
All I can tell you is what has worked for us, and helped us reach a point where Winds of Change.NET has been rated the #1 most read/most influential Canadian blog. I'll stick to 5 key things - pick which ones work for you:

[1] Tell stories. This is even more important for a politican than it is for us. Want to talk about gay marriage? See the post by my L.A. colleague Armed Liberal, whose personal story drove his point home and sparked some very interesting discussions ( http://windsofchange.net/archives/004291.html ). Don't just tell these stories to readers, either - use the blog to collect them.

[2] Offer briefings. Don't know if this will work for you, but it has been fantastic for us. Have people with expertise assigned to put bullet-point reports together on key subjects, and link to good material elsewhere in the media and blogosphere. This does 3 things: It projects real depth, it calls expertise out of the woodwork, and it helps bring readers' own level of expertise up. Our "Winds of War" War on Terror briefings and Regional Briefings ("Eyes on Korea" coming this Friday, for instance) have become very popular. You might consider doing something like that for key issues you plan to focus on: the military, marriage & the family, regional briefings, etc. Politician's Downside: be prepared to be questioned on what's in the briefings, and have your opinion asked. Which can even be welcome, if you're really clear on your position and ready to answer.

[3] Remember that the blog only works if it's bringing other blogs into the buzz, and mentioning them when you see good work you agree with. That's why Dean's blogs have worked for him, and why Bob Graham's added nothing. Were Dean's supporter blogs enough? Not yet - but he's much farther ahead than he'd be without them. We've done this at Winds of Change.NET by having supportive bloggers run features and briefings directly on site - you might prefer a more federated or even a quasi-outsourced approach.

[4] Tell positive stories too. They aren't covered by the media, but profiling success stories and new discoveries is a great way to restore optimism to a reactive medium, and also to make a larger set of points. We make a point of doing this every Saturday. This idea may even be more useful to you, as it becomes a way of recognizing both Canadians and campaign members who are going "above and beyond" in their own ways. [

5] Cultivate your commenters. There are good materials available online re: fostering virtual communities. Have someone on staff or in the volunteer network who understands that art, and who posts in the comments section to set the tone. Deletion is a necessarily a blunt instrument. Example is a finer one. Each has its uses. Good luck!
joe katzman
All excellent point and all things for Belinda and her team of remarkably talented hired guns to pay attention to.

No Sports

I never write about sports but I love amazing excellence. 25 greatest sportmen (well two women). Well, one and a half.

STOU Instapundit

His take on Bush's many domestic initiatives (steroid testing? opposition to gay marriage?) is pretty much mine: unimpressed: "On domestic policy, Bush is the Republican Bill Clinton. No issue is too small to get his attention, if he can throw a few million dollars at it and claim 'progress.'" I guess you have to do some of this if you're President. But I don't have to like it. I like the Social Security privatization, though.
(like he needs the link) instapundit
I didn't watch the speech largely because I cannot imagine anything less interesting than a very boring, but successful, President talking for an hour. Blame Clinton if you must. the predicable, poll driven nature of the beast kept me away from the screen. At the same time recognize talent when you see it. Bush appears to have hit every one of his core constituencies' buttons without being interesting enough to piss anyone off. Compare and contrast with Howie scaring the children. Bush does not need to win in 2004, he just has to avoid losing.

Andy Wobbly on W

Andrew Sullivan, uber blogger, war blogger and and all round gay, Republican apologist had been going a bit wobbly on George Bush. He is not at all impressed with the seeming profligacy of the Bushies...Hey, what's a billion here and there...he is none too pleased with Bush's State of the Union Speech and he is getting a little sick of the questions which keep coming up in Iraq.

All valid criticisms of an Administration which had not so much lost its way as failed to really set a course towards an actual goal. Watching Bremmer grovel towards Kofi was a sad sight. So is Bush's apparent indifference towards the pork laden deficit.

Sullivan is at his best defending gay marriage. Which, while important at a philosophical level, is essentially a sideshow to the question of how best the West can defend defending itself against its enemies. As Lytton Strachey is alledged to have said to his draft board, "But I am the civilisation you are fighting to protect."

Bush is a klutz. It is not impossible to know that and still support him. He is tragically inept at domestic policy and as unsubtle as the French think he is at foreign policy. Which doesn't mean a thing. Because Bush, at root, understands what is at stake. He is not fighting for the next election, he may lose the next election. The key thing for Bush, as it must be for any American President, is defending the homeland. People may think him a pea brain; but he gets the single big thing right.

Andrew can be snarky. It isn't, after all, very tough. But so long as Bush can get the single greatest challenge of his administration right he'll keep the support of the American people. As he should.

(A question: is the threat of terror, at home and against American interests abroad, a challenge greater or lesser than the challenges faced by LBJ/RMN in Viet Nam? And how does it compare to FDR's issues before and after Pearl Harbour?)



Bob Tarantino comments
Gary Cruse comments

1/20/2004

Hubble Redux

Now this makes a whole lot more sense than building a 300 million dollar rocket to assist in the crach landing of the Hubble.

Saudi Arabia delenda est

Wretchard, along with some truely revolting drinking stories, cuts to the chase on the war on terror:
To date, we've used our military assets to hit out at Al Qaeda terrorists, safe houses, training camps, etc. just like the USN submarines used to chase Japanese destroyers, carriers and cruisers. One day we will realize that it is the infrastructure of terror we must hit: the madrassas, the Saudi funding, the jihadi websites. The Japanese knew World War 2 was as good as lost when they didn't have enough fuel to train their pilots. Someday, the Islamists will know that the jig is up when they can't pay the rent for their factories of hate, the ones they style religious schools, and can't offer any money for impoverished suicide moms to trade their lives for a few thousand dollars.
belmont club
Which means Saudi. As I wrote below, all roads to Islamic militantism and terrorism pass through Saudi. So long as the state religion is an enforced verion of Wahhabism, the danger to the West will not end.

The destruction of the websites and the maddrassas are, in fact, secondary to the elimination of the funds. The problem is how. While it would be lovely for the Americans to park their SUVs, drive hybrids and buy Iraqi oil, the fact is the rest of the world will rush in to buy the surplus Saudi product. A straight invasion is not on the cards unless the competition between reform and tradition gets nasty and there is a need for intervention. Not out of the question; but not likely. About the only clean way of doing it would be to back the reformers and seek to hobble the traditionalists. However, that is tricky especially as this is a royal family not an electorate.

1/19/2004

Allies

Steve Den Beste has two interesting, and for Den Beste, short, posts up on the nature of allies. The first details the French trying to back into some sort of position in Iraq:
Anyway, the French are once again making noises about maybe helping out in Iraq. They don't want to make such an offer openly and unambiguously, since they'd look (even more) like fools if it were rejected, so instead they're dangling the possibility like a fishing lure in a pond, hoping for a strike. For example, they're talking about the possibility of helping to train Iraqi policemen. (After all, French police are world-renowned for their efficiency and effectiveness at fighting crime.)

And they might be willing to send troops to Iraq (as part of a UN peacekeeping force authorized by a UNSC resolution, and only after the US fully transfers sovereignty to an Iraqi government). Maybe not, though. See, the idea is to give the impression that they could be talked around, without openly making any offers that could be refused. It's something a French hooker would understand: making an offer without really offering; leaving it all subtle and implied, so that if it is turned down you can pretend there was never really an offer in the first place. It's all about sophisticated nuances.
den beste
Here Den Beste sees through the fog of French rhetoric to the motives. Those motives are basically that the French foreign policy in the last two years has been driven by an ignorant anti-Americanism which has not worked. The Americans know it, the French know it and most of the world knows it. But the French simply cannot admit that they were wrong and the US right. They can't because the trained seals in the French press and political elite are far too heavily invested in humbling the superpower and restoring, again, the glory of France as a world power.

The only fig leaf the French can reverse policy behind is the UN. Sadly the Americans seem willing to let the UN come back into Iraq. The problem with bringing the UN back into Iraq is that the UN is not at all committed to the wholesale regime change that the United States and Great Britain and Australia fought to create. Democracy building has never been the UN's strong suit. (And why would it be, there are not that many democracies which are members of the UN.) But, for the French, the only way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves is, as Den Beste points out, for the Americans to see the error of their ways and let a multi-national organization take over from here.

Den Beste then turns his attention to the Japanese.
I think that one of our allies in this war hasn't gotten the recognition it deserves. I know that I have neglected it, and I wanted to correct that oversight. Japan has been a steadfast supporter of the US from the very beginning, and deserves credit for that, and considerable gratitude.
Den Beste
Now the Japanese are shipping out 1000 troops to Iraq for non-combatant duties. Den Beste cannot help but notice that France, an ostensible ally in WWII and liberated by the Americans and British cannot bring itself to fight along side with the West, whereas Japan, a deadly enemy, has been onside from the outset. The irony is striking.

Along the way Den Beste notes that the English have, at best, been a conflicted ally with many on the left refusing to have any part in a war which, however justified, they saw as an extension of American power which had to be opposed. He is too polite to mention Canada's remarkably lily livered refusal to support America in Iraq.

His general point seems to be that
Treaties and organizations do not create alliances; at best they recognize alliances that effectively already exist. And when conditions change so that one ally sees more value in the other ally being hurt than in cooperating with the other for mutual benefit, then treaties and organizations become useless and empty and may even become a liability.

When circumstances change so that the disagreements between allies are seen as more important than mutual interest they may share, then the alliance no longer exists as a practical matter. It may continue in name and in public posturing, but it is false and empty and may even be used by one "ally" as a means of screwing over the other.
den beste
I think this is right as far as it goes; but I think the underlying causes of the shifts in America's allies is worth thinking about carefully.

For France, Germany and to a lesser degree England, the years since the Second World War have been years of decline in terms of military and economic strength and, with that decline, centrality to the world's affairs. For nations for whom Great Power politics were second nature and whose Wars became world wars, this decline in influence and importance is galling and inexplicable. How can America, which is filled with reckless, unsubtle cowboys who remain fixated on guns and war while really civilized people have moved on, be the sole superpower? How can an idiot like Ronald Regan have actually outspent the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe into capitulation? Worse, how can America have developed a world class popular culture and have taken over highbrow, high culture all at the same time. These are not questions which Old Europe expected to have to face as a result of WWII. It was not that the Europeans thought everything would carry on as before, it was that they simply could not imagine that America would ever attain and then surpass Great power status. Nor could they imagine that the epicenters of art, fashion, music, literature, science, medicine and education would so quickly skip across the Atlantic.

Moreover, in France, and to a lesser degree England, the traditional elites are under seige. The French political class is far too well educated to believe for an instant that the current French economy is sustainable for more than the next decade. But they are powerless to act given that government by strike is often far more effective than government by legislation. As well, in both France and England, there are now significant unassimilated Muslim minorities whose presence and politics constrain the politicians' ability to act.

For Japan, defeat in WWII was far more complete. It was not just that the Japanese Army lost, rather it was that several hundred years of tradition was summarily dismissed as Douglas Macarthur set out to rebuild Japan from the paddy up. In the course of that rebuilding the Japanese became very adept at a modified form of American Capitalism which, in the 1980's, looked as though it might work even better than the template it was derived from. The Japanese make things -- cars, stereos, digital cameras -- which people all over the world want. Their major businesses and banks, while they have been having a rough time lately, are internationally competitive.

Culturally, Japan is sufficiently different from America that it can both enjoy and embrace American culture - the non-Christian Japanese love Christmas for no reason other than its fun - while retaining their own cultural identity. An identity which they are utterly comfortable with and confident about.

Alliances are about comfort, trust and converging goals. If you see a potential ally as culturally threatening the alliance is unlikely to succeed. For France, America is simply too successful, too big, too omnivorous to be embraced with any real affection. The French elites understand - even if they don't accept - the fragility of French culture and identity. They understand the uncompetitiveness of the French economy and its "workers". And they have no idea what to do about it. Their own self confidence has collapsed to the point where they are unable to tolerate even mild dissent from the press.

The Japanese, long since over the humiliation of their defeat in WWII, are supremely confident in the nature of being Japanese. They know their economy is troubled but they also know it is able to compete with the Americans and win on occasion. Japan has a real and expanding sphere of economic influence (in contrast to the French who can, occasionally, if they pay the airfare, host a conference of bankrupt African nations and Canada and call it Le Francophonie). Most of all, the Japanese realize that Walt Disney, Micky D's, the Internet and WalMart are economic realities rather than cultural issues.

Japan seems to have gone past yearning for the good old days before the War when the beastly Americans knew their place. France and the loony Left in England never have. Which is why Japan is an ally and France an envious enemy.

Iowa interesting: Children's Crusade at end?

The resounding victory of John Kerry and the strong showing by John Edwards are overshadowed from a pure spin perspective by the flailings of the Deanie Babies. Early results have Dean with a mere 18% of the vote, Edwards at 32 and Kerry edging up on 40. For Dean this is a significant setback if only because the expectations were so much higher. Live by the Big Mo, Die by the No Mo. Dean still has enough money to plow on; but the Iowa results likely reflect his actual strength amongst Democratic voters rather than activists. To look like a contender Dean needed to be in a top three rather than distantly trailing the top two.

1/18/2004

On Mel Gibson's The Passion

Oddly enough I ran across this blog tracking down a silly script which gives the Scrabble score for your name. Jason was invited to a pre-screening of Mel Gibson's The Passion
. Afterwards he met other members of his Church:
We Christians remember the cross and use words like victorious, saviour, lamb of God... these are clean words. These are inspiring and beautiful words. These were clean, inspiring, even beautiful people. But what of the gore? What of the disgusting? Did we forget already?

We pre-planned to meet with other staff from our church at a food court nearby. As I walked up to them, the obvious question was asked. "What did you think?!" I enthused.

Scowls. "Ask a specific question." "That's too general." They were obviously troubled about the movie. One person almost fainted from the blood. Another person thought they could never recommend it to their non-Christian friends.

I was really shaken-- as I write this now, I realise it's taken me four days to even process it. I just thought everyone would feel as positive about the movie as I did.

Positive? About wanton violence and glorious gore?

We've done this story up like a birthday cake with chocolate icing. The whole point of Jesus' life was to die for our sins and to suffer on our behalf-- in our stead! But the suffer part is forgotten and we remember only plastic crosses and Easter lilies. Of course it's gruesome! It was one of the most cruel ways to murder another human being, and we all swung the hammer-- so to speak. I think we MUST look without blinking, and we must know. We need to be aware of what was done-- even if we don't believe.
crooked bush.com
Looking without blinking is, in a sense, the beginning of the mystical experience of the Cross. If Gibson has been able to bring that to the screen he will have done a shocking and rather extraordinary thing.

Going down Swinging

There has not been an occasion for many months when I got on our plane without wondering whether it was really affordable. But I'm not prepared to re-enact the French Revolutionary renunciation of the rights of nobility. We are proprietors, after all, beleaguered though we may be
Email from Lord Black to former Hollinger International executive Peter Atkinson, August 5, 2002 (Disclosed in this weekend's Hollinger International lawsuit)
the guardian
Earlier I asked if Black was Aitkin or Maxwell, the Marie Antoinette possibility had not occurred to me.

Art and Politics

Reflecting a deepening rift with Europe, Israel's ambassador to Sweden received strong support here on Sunday after vandalizing a Stockholm art exhibit he saw as glorifying Palestinian suicide bombers.

Zvi Mazel's outburst -- captured on security camera before he was escorted from Sweden's Museum of National Antiquities -- added fuel to a debate over artistic freedom and Europe's views about Israel. But Mazel said those were minor issues compared with what he described as a tide of European anti-Semitism that reminded him of the eve of World War II.
sfgate
In an odd sort of way what this really reflects is just how stodgy and pc the art world has become. The artist and the government of Sweden could not comprehend why a painting which depicted a homicide bomber in a favourable light might call for something a little stronger than a comment on the tonalitys of the paint:
Per Nuder, Sweden's minister for policy coordination, said the ambassador's behavior was inexcusable. "You may have different opinions on works of art, but the way in which he expressed his opinion is not acceptable,"
There is no difference of opinion as to the quality of the art: the ambassador was reflecting his outrage at art which depicts a mass murderer in a favourable light.
"We are in the 1930s now: That is the feeling of many of us who know history," said Mazel, referring to the decade that saw the Nazi takeover in Germany and led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews. "There is a feeling among many people, including me, of a tragedy that could be coming."
I don't believe it has gone this far yet; but I think there are enough warning signs that the ambassador's view is a reasonable interpretation of the climate he is seeing.

Sheila gets something right

Over at Trudeaupia
"It is rather Kafkaesque. Just imagine how many Liberals across the country are trying to raise money for their campaigns. The party itself is in debt and to be raising money to pay off the leadership debt of another party is absurd"

This, in response to finding out the Liberal party was going to pay off Scott Brison's debt for his leadership bid for the PC party.
Bought and paid for.

Conrad on the Ropes?

The SEC is looking at charges, the special committee of the board of Hollinger International is suing him for 224 million dollars and he may be selling Ravelston which controls Hollinger Inc which controls - but not really - Hollinger International. The New York Times calls him a British media baron which, since he renounced his Canadian citizenship to become a peer of the realm, Conrad Black is; but now - is he Maxwell or is he Aitkin?

Lord Black of Crossharbour certainly valued his services and those of his fellow officers of the various companies he controls at what looks like a bit of a premium over market. But here is the critical question - without his Lordship's insights into the newspaper biz would there have been any Hollinger International to sue him? His defence will always be that the value he added to the companies he controlled was always greater than that he paid out to himself and others. While this may not please the minority shareholders it is certainly a defence which would hold up in virtually any jurisdiction but the United States.

It is the classic entrepreneur dilemma; should the founder cash out before the shareholders he has sold a portion of his company to? Black seemed to think, as he sold the Post and the Southam papers to Izzy for several times what they were worth if you discounted the "convergence" factor that he was entitled to a hundred or so million dollars for a job well done. I am inclined to agree in principle if not in quantum. Getting the better of Izzy may well be a one off in Canadian business.

The Special Committee of his board in the US may well feel that it has no choice but to sue the founder;but it would be a travesty if they won. Without his lordship there would be no plaintiff.