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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 25

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

I consider, therefore, the prime mission of the ideal American commonwealth to be the perfection of the Aryan genius for political civilization, upon the basis of a predominantly Teutonic nationality[.] If such, in truth, be the transcendent mission of the American commonwealth, . . . what folly, on the part of the ignorant, what wickedness, on the part of the intelligent, are involved in the attempts, on the one side to sectionalize the nation, or on the other, to pollute it with non-Aryan elements. Both have tried, and both, thanks to an all-wise Providence, have failed; for both were sins against American civilization, and both were sins of the highest order.

— John Burgess, “The Ideal of the American Commonwealth”
Political Science Quarterly (1895)

Lou Dobbs turns 62 today.

The life of Lou Dobbs is a familiar rags-to-shithead fable. After growing up in small towns in Texas and Idaho, Dobbs managed to earn admission and a full scholarship to Harvard. During his sophomore year, he found himself “mesmerized” during a debate between Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman at MIT, and — inspired by the evangelical, free-market warbles of the latter — he soon chose a major in economics. By the mid-1970s, a series of meanders led Dobbs to journalism, and he eventually found himself with a job at CNN. Having toiled away the next two decades as a sycophantic financial correspondent, Dobbs — like all fake populists — eventually found glory by persuading himself that the republic faced coequal perils. In an era of Bush capitalism, Dobbs saw the nation’s vitality sapped by venal, corporate aristocrats and their government abettors; at the same time, his viscera trembled as he watched a subproletarian army of gardeners, dishwashers and day laborers spill forth from Mexico and all points south.

These days, the ample jowls of Lou Dobbs can be seen every night of the week, undulating like two sacks of warm, curdled cheese as he charts the alien menace infiltrating our southern border. Dobbs, who once described the Minutemen as a “terrific group of concerned, caring Americans,” decided over two years ago to turn his show into a karaoke machine for nativist misinformation and vigilantism; since then, he has addressed the subject of immigration with an angry, masturbatory zeal, warning his viewers of the economic rot, cultural disarray and biological pestilence that will presumably result from the endless, unthwarted flow of “illegals” to the United States. To lend “perspective” on these issues, Dobbs routinely offers air time to race-baiting trogs like Glenn Spencer of the American Patrol, Chris Simcox of the Minutemen, and Barbara Coe of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. In one of Dobbs’ finer moments of racist demagoguery, he actually ran a map sourced to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that promotes the baseless rumor that Chicanos wish to recapture “Aztlan,” the Mexican territory lost to the US in 1848. To be sure, adherents to such beliefs are not difficult to find — and even less so now that Fightin’ Lou has offered their ressentiment a higher amplitude and an undeserved aura of legitimacy.

Nice work, Lou.

Don’t See Why You Don’t Stay a Little Longer…

[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

Palate cleanser, as they say:


[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

Alex at Yorkshire Ranter has a fantastic post on the MRAP. A taste:

Essentially, they are six-wheeled buses surrounded by huge amounts of armour protection of various kinds, intended to be safer for the occupants than the Humvees and trucks they have so far been using. But the enemy is already countering them, by the simple and cheap means of building bigger bombs, or organising attacks with multiple bombs. Given the insane quantities of money it has cost to field what are basically armoured buses, this is not the road to success.

Of course, if you’re a tom in Iraq, you’d rather travel in one of these than in a Humvee. But what mission are they meant to conduct? Building really heavily armoured patrol vehicles implies that you’re going to be driving around in small groups of vehicles full of soldiers a lot, in an environment where you’re under constant IED threat. They’re not suited to use on an active battlefield, and they’re so big they aren’t very airportable. Every artefact is an ideology made manifest; this one manifests the idea that it’s possible to fight this kind of war without contact with your environment. What are the soldiers in the back doing? They can’t see much out of the vehicle; they can’t hear what goes on outside for engine noise; probably no-one in the vehicle would understand what the people are saying anyway.

And we’ve decided to accept this state of affairs, and build a mobile wall to keep it out.

In re Acuna

[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

I’ve been remiss in not writing about the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Acuna last week, in which the court held that a doctor “has no legal duty” to tell a woman seeking an abortion that she is “killing an existing human being.” One would think this would be a no brainer. The case was a clear attempt by the antis to get a test case on its way up to the Supreme Court (which it still may be — Acuna has “instructed” her attorney to file a cert petition). And I think it’s a joke to say that such a statement could ever be necessary to informed consent. Talk about condescending to women. Anyway, Lynn Paltrow puts it in perspective for us in a NYT Letter:

The New Jersey Supreme Court correctly ruled in the Acuna decision that doctors should not be forced to tell a woman considering an abortion that she is “killing an existing human being.”

The case itself, which stems from strategic anti-choice efforts to create the illusion that women seeking abortions are not adequately informed, distracts attention from those situations where this really is the case.

For example, women who go to term are not informed that 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage or stillbirth.. They don’t usually know their providers’ C-section rate (among providers this number routinely exceeds evidence-based medical recommendations). Or that many hospitals prohibit vaginal births after C-sections, denying women the opportunity to have a trial of labor and avoid unnecessary surgery.

Indeed, there is little evidence that women seeking abortions are under-informed, but a lot to indicate that women going to term could be better served.

A Bit Of Calm

[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

I think I 80% agree with the Editors in re: Belichick. My disagreement is that (unlike, say, Barry Bonds) Belichick actually cheated, repeatedly breaking a clear rule he was repeatedly told not to break, and hence he’s in no position to complain about nay punishment. On the other hand, some of the hysteria is a bit much. In terms of winning or losing, videotaping the public signals of a coach form the sidelines rather than the stands is trivial. Call me crazy, but I think the Partiots’s success rests more on such factors as “having excellent players well-coached” and “not being dumb enough to fire Marty Schottenheimer to hire Norv “6-10″ Turner.” (I suspect like the other teams that have fired Schottenheimer, the Chargers are about to find out that losing several wins certainly solves your “being upset in the playoffs” problem…)

Reconciliation as the Path to Peace

[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

So yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. During the afternoon break between the morning prayer service and Neilah, the concluding service, I attended a panel discussion (also at the synagogue). Led by Phyllis Rodriguez, whose son was killed on September 11th and who has since become active in the Forgiveness Project, and including Robi Damelin and Ali (whose last name I don’t remember — I was fasting, people) of the Parents’ Circle – Families Forum, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization that promotes and works toward reconciliation between those who have lost loved ones in the conflict, and that works toward peace.

In all the bloviating (guilty) about Israel and the Palestinian territories, about policy decisions, and about who has done what right and what wrong, the actual, personal, on-the-ground experiences and ramifications can tend to get a little lost. Yesterday, on the day on which Jews ask for forgiveness from those they have wronged (not to mention from God), Robi, Phyllis, and Ali helped us understand that forgiveness can be world-changing.

Robi’s son was killed by a Palestinian sniper when he was in the Israeli military. Ali’s brother was killed by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint. Ali said that at that moment the pain he felt at living behind a barbed-wire fence and having to pass a checkpoint every day turned into hate. And understandably. But now, through his work with the Parents Circle, he goes into schools with Robi and works with kids of Israeli and Palestinian students to teach nonviolence and the power of forgiveness. I’m not doing Ali or Robi — or Phyllis — justice. They all spoke so movingly about their loss and about the moment when they each chose between hate and reconciliation.

There’s no great point here, no in-depth analysis, no pithy line with which I’ll end this post. Phyllis Rodriguez said yesterday that she doesn’t think we are stuck with the human instinct to anger and violence, though the media may make us think that’s the only way. That instinct is there, but it has a twin — the desire for reconciliation, for taking a tragedy and doing something good for the world. Robi, Ali and Phyllis have chosen the latter; Phyllis advocates against the death penalty and the war in Iraq, and Ali and Robi work toward a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. Desmond Tutu wrote in a 2004 letter to the Parents Circle that vulnerability is a prerequisite to peace. Maybe that’s part of our problem as a country — we’ve got this pathology that says we can never be vulnerable. But it also means we’re a long way from peace.

That’s Genius, Glenn

[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

Shorter Instapundit: I’m guessing that Iranians are almost as stupid as my regular readers.

UPDATE: Yes, Glenn; I understand that it was an attempt at a joke.

Confusion Reigns

[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

I really don’t know what to think about the airstrike on Syria at this point. The allegations regarding Syria’s nuclear program seem to be getting increasingly detailed. Peter at Duck has some links, including a summary of the latest Times of London article on an Israeli commando incursion into Syria. As Josh Landis notes, if the account is true, then Assad needs to fire everyone associated with operational security now:

ISRAELI commandos from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit – almost certainly dressed in Syrian uniforms – made their way stealthily towards a secret military compound near Dayr az-Zawr in northern Syria. They were looking for proof that Syria and North Korea were collaborating on a nuclear programme.

Israel was determined not to take any chances with its neighbour. Following the example set by its raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak 1981, it drew up plans to bomb the Syrian compound. But Washington was not satisfied. It demanded clear evidence of nuclear-related activities before giving the operation its blessing. The task of the commandos was to provide it.

Today the site near Dayr az-Zawr lies in ruins after it was pounded by Israeli F15Is on September 6. Before the Israelis issued the order to strike, the commandos had secretly seized samples of nuclear material and taken them back into Israel for examination by scientists, the sources say. A laboratory confirmed that the unspecified material was North Korean in origin. America approved an attack.

But there are still a lot of things that don’t make sense to me. What exactly were the North Koreans selling? Given what we know about the state of the Syrian nuclear program, I doubt very much that they could have done anything with any material other than enriched uranium, at least in the short term. Syria is extremely unlikely to have had the capacity to construct a plutonium device, especially not one that could fit on the top of a Scud. That North Korea might have been supplying general support for the Syrian nuclear program makes a little bit more sense. It seems like a strange time for North Korea to be actively proliferating, but North Korea is a strange country, so whatever. The notion (floating around in some circles) that North Korea was sending stuff to Syria so that nuclear inspectors won’t find it is abjectly silly; there are plenty of places to hid stuff in North Korea that would be more secure than the project of loading equipment into a ship, unloading it at destination, etc. I also have to wonder about Washington’s “demand for clear evidence.” Since when has Israel waited for American permission to launch an airstrike? And since when has the Bush administration cared about the strength of such evidentiary claims?

The timing of the release of info also seems strange. The Israelis are, officially, being rather tight-lipped about this, but someone familiar with the operations is obviously talking, and giving a lot of detail. Journalists don’t get info of the above detail unless the leakers have a political purpose, and someone in Israel is clearly trying to control the story. This doesn’t mean that the Israeli info is false, and the fact that the above account includes a lot of detail should probably count in its favor, but it’s still too early to give it full credence, especially when we don’t yet have a full account or understanding of what Syria and North Korea might have been doing.

A piece of advice for North Korea: If indeed North Korean engineers and scientists were killed doing something illicit in Syria, it probably wasn’t a terrific idea to get publicly indignant.


[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

This reminds me of the fact that Reynolds used to think that if the Euro fell it was evidence that the European economic model didn’t work. Oddly, the currency market metric seems less important to Reynolds now; I wonder why?

Justified Hatchet Jobs of the Day

[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

Usually, when a self-evident piece of shit comes down the pike the Times will assign one of their bench critics to the task of panning it. But every once in while they’ll let Scott or Dargis loose on one, and the results can almost justify the release of the film. Cf. Scott on Dane Cook and Good Luck Chuck:

I’ve occasionally heard Dane Cook, one of the stars of “Good Luck Chuck,” described as a comedian. I find this confusing, since my understanding is that comedians are people who say and do things that are funny. Perhaps Mr. Cook is some new kind of conceptual satirist whose shtick is to behave in the manner of a person attempting to be funny without actually being, you know, funny. Or maybe he answered an ad in the back of a magazine and sent away for a mail-order license to practice comedy.

Indeed. It continues:

Whether Jessica Alba, his co-star, acquired her acting credentials by similar means is an issue that will be addressed if she ever tries to act. To be fair (but why?) she does expend a little effort in “Good Luck Chuck,” pretending to be goofy and clumsy, doing stuff like running into a metal pole, catching her skirt in a car door and upending a tray of dentist’s instruments.

But the main audience for this dim little sex comedy has no particular interest in seeing Ms. Alba act. They want to see her in her underwear and also to confront one of the central cultural questions of our time: will she take her top off?

No spoilers here! In the meantime plenty of less famous women do take their tops off, which will make “Good Luck Chuck” a must-see for young men with a subscription to Maxim but no access to the Internet.

Alas, between that Robin Williams priest thing and the Elisha Cuthbert torture porn thing this seems unlikely to be the very worst movie of the year, but a valiant effort!

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House of Zogu

[ 0 ] September 23, 2007 |

The area that is now Albania fell to Ottoman rule in the late 15th century. At some point in the 16th century, the head of a Kosovar family named Zogolli traveled to Albania, and was named hereditary governor of the small district of Mat. The Zogolli family would retain control of the district into the twentieth century, even as Ottoman power receded. In 1912, as a result of the Second Balkan War, the Turks were forced from Albanian by a coalition of Balkan countries. Fearing Serbian power, Italy and Austria-Hungary forbade the division and annexation of Albania by Serbia and Greece, and instead created an independent principality. A principality requires a prince, of course, and the Great Powers set about finding one. They settled on William of House Wied (nephew of the Queen of Romania), but William was notably reluctant to take up the throne and move to Albania. Eventually, the Austrians convinced William to accept the throne, and he arrived in Albania in February 1914.

Forces internal and external to Albania immediately began to work for William’s overthrow. Essad Toptani, head of a prominent Albanian family and minister to William, sought to undermine William’s rule, and was charged with treason. Italy, unhappy with the selection of a Prince beholden to the Austrians, supported anti-William elements. The Greeks occupied much of the southern half of the country. By September 1914 William had had enough. He fled to Italy, thence to Germany, where he joined the German Army. He died in April 1945, but never renounced his claim to the Albanian throne.

Albania went through a decade of turmoil following the exile of Prince William. Ahmet Zogolli, the young governor of Mat, emerged as a prominent figure during and after the war. Ahmet became President of Albania in 1925 amidst much intrigue, changing the family named to Zogu along the way. In 1928, he had himself crowned King Zog I, and embarked on a campaign of reform and modernization. Zog was famous for his smoking habit (200 cigarettes a day), and for his penchant for surviving assassination attempts; due to the political intrigue and Albania’s tradition of blood feud, fully 55 unsuccessful attempts were made on his life. The modernization campaign had only limited effect, and helped make Albania deeply dependent on Italy, as only Italian loans were available. Italian influence steadily grew, and in 1939 Mussolini decided to the end the increasingly thin fiction of Albanian independence, and invade.

Zog fled in order to continue the fight for Albanian independence abroad. Living variously in Egypt, Britain, and elsewhere, he eventually settled in France. Some royalist resistance existed in occupied Albania, but communist partisan forces were much stronger, and eventually carried the day. Zog died in 1961, leaving the throne to his son Leka, who became King of the Albanians. Leka had been born two days before Zog was forced to flee, and was educated in Egypt, England, and Switzerland. Along the way Leka befriended Ronald Reagan, presenting the latter with an elephant in 1967. Leka also had good relations with Richard Nixon, to whom he is a distant cousin. In the 1970s he was thrown out of Spain on suspicion of arms dealing, later settling in South Africa. Leka denied participation in the arms trade, insisting that agents of the Albanian government were out to get him. Given the nature of the Albanian state, this may well have been true. In 1993, Leka’s Royal Court-in-exile printed an Albanian passport which listed Leka’s occupation as “King”. The post-communist Albanian government recognized the passport, and allowed Leka to enter the country.

Leka displayed a clear interest in assuming the throne, but insisted that he would accept the results of a referendum on the monarchy. When the monarchy was defeated by a 2/3rds margin in a 1997 vote, Leka denounced the procedure and again fled into exile. He was convicted of sedition in absentia and sentenced to three years in prison. Happily, in 2002 this conviction was pardoned by the Albanian parliament. Prospects for a return to the throne are uncertain. Leka is backed by a political party, but this party has not been overwhelmingly successful, and Leka has kept parliamentary democracy at arms length. Leka’s son, Leka II, is active in Albanian life and politics, and recently joined the Albanian Foreign Ministry. Leka and Leka II currently reside in Tirana.

Trivia: What monarch became head of government fifty-five years after ceasing to be head of state?

Wow. Maybe Louisville Really Does Suck…

[ 0 ] September 22, 2007 |

Coming off a loss at Kentucky last week, Louisville managed to lose to Syracuse today, at home. Way to end that national championship speculation quick, guys.

…Notre Dame next faces 4-0 Purdue, then travels to UCLA, then plays Boston College and USC. They’ll be lucky not to go 0-8.

…I don’t know how to feel about the Ducks; they were outscored by Stanford 28-3 in the 2nd quarter, but punished the Cardinal 52-3 in the other three quarters. When they were on, they made Stanford look like a high school football team. When they weren’t, they looked just awful.

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