Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Libtards are "Punters" and Vice Versa

THEODORE DALRYMPLE continues to be one of the most perceptive and damning observers of the modern world, especially the failed workers' paradise formerly called Merrie Olde England.

MURDER MOST ACADEMIC is the title of his latest contribution to the City Journal, wherein he begins by telling the sordid mess of one Stephen Griffiths
Sometimes reality is far in advance of satire when it comes to absurdity. The results, however, are not always funny. If a satirist had come up with the idea of a violent criminal who had spent time in an asylum being admitted by a university to its doctoral program in “homicide studies,” thereafter turning into a serial killer, that satirist would have been denounced for poor taste. But this is precisely what a British university did recently. A man with a long history of criminal violence became a serial killer while working on a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Bradford, the subject of his thesis being the methods of homicide used in the city during the nineteenth century. He himself used methods more reminiscent of the fourteenth.

Stephen Griffiths is 40. He has never worked and has always lived at taxpayers’ expense. At 17, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for cutting the throat (not fatally) of a supermarket security guard who tried to arrest him for shoplifting. In prison, doctors reported, Griffiths had a “preoccupation with murder—particularly multiple murder.” They diagnosed him as a violent psychopath; that is, he had an intractable personality development that made him likely to commit new violent offenses.

The doctors were right. Shortly after his release from prison, Griffiths committed more violent acts, including holding a knife to a woman’s throat, and wound up imprisoned once more. He was then sent from prison to Rampton, a high-security mental hospital; but again, the doctors diagnosed him as a psychopath for whom they could do nothing, and after two months they returned him to prison, from which he was soon—much too soon, as it turned out—released.

You thought this only happened in California and that Clint Eastwood AKA Callahan would take care of trash like Griffiths?
Read on to discover just how far down the ladder of evolution the bureaucratic hangers-on have clambered. But Dalrymple hits full stride in describing how the Guardian represents all that is wrong with libtard punters.
One problem of liberal social thought is that it consigns a larger and larger proportion of the human race to the category of people driven into trouble. But there are other difficulties, too. Precisely because it is impossible to think of human life in consistently mechanistic terms, the liberal is soon led into contradictions. Moral evaluations are inseparable from thought about human existence, even if the metaphysical foundations of such judgments remain contentious; so it is not surprising that the article about Griffiths’s victims fairly oozes with morality, albeit of a saccharine and self-regarding kind, while at the same time pretending to avoid judgment.

For example, it refuses to use the word “prostitute,” replacing it with “sex worker” and “street worker.” The reason is clear enough: “prostitute” has negative moral connotations. The word “prostitution” suffers the same fate: it becomes “sex work.” This seems to have the corollary that both the work and the worker are perfectly respectable, the work having a social status, perhaps, somewhere between supermarket-shelf-stacking and neurosurgery. But if sex work is work like any other, are those who patronize sex workers “customers” or “clients” who ought to have the same protections that other consumers enjoy (such as “money back if not satisfied”)? Alas for them, no; the article refers to them as “punters,” a term in British English with connotations of vulgarity, dishonesty, and moral turpitude. But can a service be respectable whose clientele are scoundrels merely by the fact of availing themselves of it?

One of the three victims was 43-year-old Susan Rushworth. Her “marriage had imploded as a result of domestic violence and she became addicted to heroin,” the article said. “Her 21-year-old daughter began working the streets at 18 due to her crack cocaine and heroin addictions. . . . They eventually worked together, looking for punters.” The article ended with the moral reflections of a friend of another victim—reflections that, given their position in the article and the complete absence of irony in it heretofore, one may assume that the newspaper more or less endorses: “These women don’t deserve to die. They’re all somebody’s daughter, yet they’re described as prostitutes and it makes it so sleazy.”

No one, outside perhaps the Islamic Republic of Iran, would suggest that these women did deserve to die, of course. The friend’s statement also seems, astonishingly, to imply that it would be all right—that is, not “sleazy”—for women to sell sex to strangers on the streets of Bradford to pay for heroin, provided they were not called “prostitutes.” It is the naming that is the shaming. Change the name, and you change the thing, or at any rate the moral significance of the thing. Language is a powerful instrument, but not as powerful as that.

What lies behind these mental contortions? It is a form of sentimentality, a mask for a deeper indifference, according to which people who suffer or have led unhappy lives must be transformed into blameless victims so that we can pity them. It is as if, were they to have contributed in any way to their own situation, all sympathy for them would have to be withdrawn or abandoned. And since the liberal wants to be seen, particularly by his peers, as a man superior in compassion to everyone else, he uses all his powers of rationalization, generally increased by many years of education, to establish that such and such a group of people is without blame and thus suitably—indeed, necessarily—an object of his moral generosity. If, in the process, he comes to conclusions repugnant to common sense, so much the worse for common sense.

I'm sure the Islamic Republic of Iran would have a fulminating ayatollah sentencing mere et fille Rushworth to the nearest cherry-picker for instant hanging in public, so the writhng hookers' bodies would serve as a warning to young men itching to slake their lust on....ooops, sorta goin' Stephen Griffiths of a sudden. Dalrymple uses his medical history to sanitize the situation with a dose of reality:
For myself, I never had much difficulty in recognizing bad behavior for what it was without withdrawing my sympathy from the person who, I thought, had behaved badly. During my medical career, I had many prostitutes among my patients (incidentally, they never described themselves as anything but prostitutes, though they would sometimes say that they were “on the game”). It never occurred to me that they did not lead sordid lives, even those of the professional elite. One, for example, was a dominatrix with a website who, when not flying around the world humiliating judges and captains of industry for large sums of money, lived in a prosperous middle-class neighborhood. She did not tell her neighbors what she did for a living, and not only because she feared disapproval. She was not proud of it, even though we could laugh about it together.

In fact, I found prostitutes far more intellectually honest than the writers of such articles as the one I have quoted. I recall a former prostitute who during her period of prostitution had struggled to raise her daughter well. She had succeeded, and her daughter now had a good job and a steady boyfriend. I could not help but recognize her struggle as heroic, even if she had created the need for such heroism in the first place. Neither she nor any other prostitute whom I met claimed to have been driven onto the streets by anything other than their own mistakes and cupidity. It is true that the cupidity of prostitutes was sometimes occasioned by a desire for drugs, but they did not attribute that desire for drugs to anything other than their desire for immediate gratification. As far as they were concerned, their behavior was always explained by decisions that they had made.

The secular liberal, however, would like to convert them—religiously, as it were—to his own view of the matter: to convince them that it is (for example) the hopelessness of their addiction that accounts for their choices. Only in that way can the desire of the secular liberal for a providential role in the world be justified, though of course never fulfilled, which is just as well: for its fulfillment would destroy its justification.

I'm sure that any common sense person with the slightest amount of intelligence [phronesis] understands better than the self-appointed tribunes at the Guardian, the name itself makes one gag at its pretensions, concerning adult behavior. The sleaziest prostitute knows right and wrong much better than the Pinch Sulzbergers and Kellers infesting British journalism at the Guardian.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Lamestream Media Jughead Commissars Lament "Unexpected" Economic Bad News

Barry Obungler's "unexpectedly" long honeymoon with the Mainstream Lamestream collection of Managing Editors and other specimens of so-called "journalism" might soon become aware of a statute of limitations on expectations:
As megablogger Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, has noted with amusement, the word "unexpectedly" or variants thereon keep cropping up in mainstream media stories about the economy.

"New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed," reported CNBC.com May 25.

"Personal consumption fell," Business Insider reported the same day, "when it was expected to rise."

"Durable goods declined 3.6 percent last month," Reuters reported May 25, "worse than economists' expectations."

"Previously owned home sales unexpectedly fall," headlined Bloomberg News May 19.

"U.S. home construction fell unexpectedly in April," wrote the Wall Street Journal May 18.

Those examples are all from the last two weeks. Reynolds has been linking to similar items since October 2009.

Mainstream media may finally be catching up. "The latest economic numbers have not been good," David Leonhardt wrote in the May 26 New York Times. "Another report showed that economic growth at the start of the year was no faster than the Commerce Department initially reported -- 'a real surprise,' said Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics."

Of course, the throats of the DNC trusted cadre like Pinch Sulzberger and a guy named Keller at the NYT are practically bottomless, but less disingenuous [or is it just plain dishonest?] media outlets are beginning to see that the light at the end of the recession tunnel may be on a locomotive speeding towards us at high speed:
Mainstream media may finally be catching up. "The latest economic numbers have not been good," David Leonhardt wrote in the May 26 New York Times. "Another report showed that economic growth at the start of the year was no faster than the Commerce Department initially reported -- 'a real surprise,' said Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics."

Which raises some questions. As Instapundit reader Gordon Stewart, quoted by Reynolds on May 17, put it, "How many times in a row can something happen unexpectedly before the experts start to, you know, expect it? At some point, shouldn't they be required to state the foundation for their expectations?"

One answer is that many in the mainstream media have been cheerleading for Barack Obama. They and he both naturally hope for a strong economic recovery. After all, Obama can't keep blaming the economic doldrums on George W. Bush forever.

Who wouldda thunkit?!? Cheerleading for a president who wants to play Robin Hood eluding the High Sheriffs of fiscal probity and monetary sanity?!?
Obama's first Council of Economics Advisers chairman, Christina Romer, whose scholarly work is widely respected, famously predicted that the February 2009 stimulus package would hold unemployment below 8 percent. She undoubtedly believed that at the time; she is too smart to have made a prediction whose failure to come true would prove politically embarrassing.

But unemployment zoomed to 10 percent instead and is still at 9 percent. Political pundits sympathetic to the administration have been speculating whether the president can win re-election if it stays above the 8 percent mark it was never supposed to reach.

Administration economists are now making the point that it takes longer to recover from a recession caused by a financial crisis than from a recession that occurs in the more or less ordinary operation of the business cycle. There's some basis in history for this claim.

But it comes a little late in the game. Obama and his policymakers told the country that we would recover from the deep recession by vastly increasing government spending and borrowing. We did that with the stimulus package, with the budget passed in 2009 back when congressional Democrats actually voted on budgets, and with the vast increases scheduled to come (despite the administration's gaming of the Congressional Budget Office scoring process) from Obamacare.

All of this has inspired something like a hiring strike among entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Employers aren't creating any more jobs than they were during the darkest days of the recession; unemployment has dropped slowly because they just aren't laying off as many employees as they did then.

In the meantime, many potential job seekers have left the labor market. If they re-enter and look for jobs, the unemployment rate will stay steady or ebb only slowly.

We tend to hire presidents who we think can foresee the future effect of their policies. No one does so perfectly. But if the best sympathetic observers can say about the results is that they are "unexpected," voters may decide someone else can do better.

The fact that the Demonrat Party is trying desperately to dumb down the dialogue on the economy, or rather avoid it altogether by resorting to class warfare cliches right out of the Paris Commune, shows that there'll be no change there for the seemingly endless patience of Michael Barone.

We're coming up on two and a half years of "unexpected" delays in recovery and the Administration keeps switching excuses or fingerpointing at GWB. Even if we acknowledge that about 25% of the US population is now so far sunk into moral turpitude or indefference to the common good, how long are the presumably cogent majority of the American people going to allow this tomfoolery and outright BS to continue?

As the Republican state legislatures make sure the massive vote frauds of the early 21st century are unable to be replicated, the Dems inability to get convicted felons and other yellow-dog Demonrats into polling booths in November 2012 without any voter ID will hopefully keep the RICO activities of the DNC to a minimum of effectiveness.

Martin Wolf at FT on the Rapid Rise of the PRC

Martin Wolf is perhaps the best analyst of overall economic, political and social phenomena in the daily media, with more gravamen and perspective than silly frauds like Tom Friedman at the NYT will ever summon up with his limited mental capabilities. Here's an abrupt summary in the middle of Wolf's summary of China:
....we have to recognise what the rise of China does obviously mean.

First, we are seeing the end not only of the brief period of the US vision of itself as the “sole superpower”, but, more broadly, of centuries of western domination. The rise of India, though closer the west, as the world’s largest democracy, reinforces this transition. Over the next few decades a west in relative decline will be forced to co-operate with the rest of the world. This is a good thing. But it will create huge challenges.

Second, China is not only non-Western, but has a distinct history, culture and political system. The latter may be the most important point. It is hard to sustain trusting relations with a country whose government mistrusts its own people. It is no less difficult to enter into binding agreements with a government that cannot accept the fundamental principle of the rule of law – that the law binds the state to the people as much as the people to the state.

Third, we have to recognise that transitions of power always create huge frictions, with the incumbents trying to protect what they see as the “natural” order of things and the insurgents resentful of always delayed recognition of their rising power and status.

Wolf's entire article is in the form of a question, and he invites questions from FT readers over the following scenarios:
...how might this end? I envisage three possible outcomes.

First, the “positive sum” view wins out. Awareness of the absence of any deep ideological conflict, of mutual economic dependence, of a shared planetary destiny and of the impossibility of war in a nuclear age force adequate levels of global co-operation. For this to happen there must also be a profound commitment to co-operation, not much evident recently in such areas as climate change or global imbalances.

Second, the “negative sum” view wins out. Power is relative. The incumbent and the rising powers compete for dominance. Resources, similarly, are finite. In this world, economic disarray and the struggle for scarce resources lead to a retreat from globalisation, while balance of power politics dominate international relations. We may see the emergence of a balancing coalition against China, consisting, at the least, of the US, Europe, India and Japan, possibly joined by other powers.

Third, we muddle through, with a mixture of the above two approaches: globalisation and a degree of economic co-operation survive, but classic balance of power politics become more significant, as China, in turn, becomes more assertive of its rank in the world system. This, roughly speaking, was the world before the first world war – not an encouraging precedent.

While the US's status as the world's paramount economic power since 1890 will be rapidly overtaken by China, the great advantages in technology and productivity will keep the US in a per capita position as the best place to live and work for decades to come, absent a catastrophic turn of events. Size matters, but China readily admits that its economic power is nowhere near the political and military power of the US. How long this state of affairs can last is the subject for debate.

In the meantime, the US economy appears headed towards a statist end-game of no-growth entropy and redistribution of income---a division of a pie constrained by entitlements to remain in long-term stasis rather than an expanding pie of economic and other sorts of growth. The only thing we can say for sure is: "The future lies ahead."

Was World War II Really "The Good War?"

Adam Kirsch is not one of my favorite writers, coming from the New Republic wing of the Democratic Party's intelligentsia. However, his post in the NYT about two recent books, Norman Davies No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945, [2007] and Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin [2010] makes the assertion that the combined sense of the two recent chefs d'oeuvres is that both Hitler and Stalin caused by far the highest number of casualties and that basically, the European Theater was a clash of two Evil Titans, with the Americans, British, and other allies in the West as merely sideshows. To sum up Kirsch:
...if the main show was a war between Hitler and Stalin, [Davies] wonders, wasn’t World War II a clash of nearly equivalent evils? “Anyone genuinely committed to freedom, justice and democracy is duty-bound to condemn both of the great totalitarian systems without fear or favor,” he concludes. As a historian of Poland, Davies is especially aware of what few Americans remember: that World War II began with a joint Nazi-Soviet invasion of that country. For the first two years of the war, Hitler and Stalin were allies; the fact that they then turned against each other, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, doesn’t change the moral equation. “If one finds two gangsters fighting each other, it is no valid approach at all to round on one and to lay off the other. The only valid test is whether or not they deserve the label of gangsters.”

And with that line of reasoning, Kirsch also says that
[Snyder] spotlights Eastern Europe — in particular the region comprising the Baltics, Ukraine, Belarus, Western Russia and Poland that Snyder calls “the bloodlands,” because they were the greatest killing field of the Second World War. This was the site of the titanic battles between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army: it was also the scene of 14 million noncombatant deaths between 1933 and 1945. This figure encompasses 10 million civilians and prisoners of war killed by the Nazis — including six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust—and four million civilians and P.O.W.’s killed by the Soviets.

By grouping German and Soviet casualties together, Snyder is making an implicit point. The Soviet Union was America’s ally, Germany our enemy; but both regimes were guilty of killing millions of people for ideological reasons. Weren’t the three million Ukrainians starved by Stalin in 1932-33 deliberate victims of state aggression and ideological terror, no less than the three million Soviet P.O.W.’s starved by Hitler in 1941-42? “Only an unabashed acceptance of the similarities between the Nazi and Soviet systems permits an understanding of their differences,” Snyder maintains.

But just when an objective reader might think that Kirsch has found some sort of rough equivalence between Hitler and Stalin and thus assumed the mantle of Clio, Kirsch reverts a bit to his New Republic agitprop commissar genome.

Churchill is the target, perhaps because this leonine hero was the single Brit with backbone at the end of W.H.Auden's "lpw dishonest decade," proclaiming like Cato did about Carthage that Hitler must be opposed and crushed---all the while the appeasers thought that just one or two more slices might slake the insane juvenile delinquent's apparent hunger for territory.

But Hitler was out for revenge. He had spent four years in the trenches, won two or three Iron Crosses and then seen his generation betrayed by the successors to the Kaiser dressed in morning coats at Versailles. Churchill, the only other ex-soldier among the "statesmen" of the twenties and thirties [albeit in his frenzied youth in colonial South Africa and the Punjab] and sensed this while the limp-wristed striped-pants starched shirts in Whitehall and 10 Downing St. Or the Quai d'Orsay and Elysee Palace, for that matter.
If Stalin stands in our memory as a tyrant equal to Hitler, Winston Churchill is possibly the foreign statesman most beloved by Americans. For this very reason, however, Churchill has been the subject of some of the most impassioned attempts to revise our understanding of the Second World War. The subtext of this debate, and perhaps the main reason for its vehemence, has to do with the outsize symbolic role Churchill came to play in American foreign-policy debates after Sept. 11. When President Bush alluded to Churchill’s wartime rhetoric in his address to Congress after the attacks, Norman Podhoretz wrote in “World War IV” (2007) that he “unmistakably and unambiguously placed the war against the ‘global terrorist network’ in the direct succession to World War II.” It was widely reported that Bush kept a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office — and that Obama had it removed.

It is not surprising, then, that historians would start to view Churchill, for good or ill, through the prism of current politics. The conservative historian Paul Johnson, to take one example, wrote a short biography, “Churchill” (2009), whose premise is that “of all the towering figures of the 20th century, both good and evil, Winston Churchill was the most valuable to humanity.” At the same time, highly critical accounts of Churchill have proliferated: “Churchill’s Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq”(2004), “Blood, Sweat and Arrogance: And the Myths of Churchill’s War” (2006). Nonhistorians with political agendas also piled on. The novelist Nicholson Baker wrote a revisionist account of World War II, “Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization” (2008), in which Churchill comes across as rather more responsible for the war than Hitler. Meanwhile, Pat Buchanan wrote “Churchill, Hitler, and ‘The Unnecessary War’: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World” (2008), blaming Churchill for taking Britain to war against Germany in the first place. This isolationist lesson was directed, Buchanan explicitly said, at “the Churchill cult” that convinced Bush, “an untutored president,” that liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein was akin to liberating Europe from Hitler.

Of course, Buchanan's own copybook has been stained with anti-Semitic comments in the past and he was probably clueless about GWB's autodidactic readings on history during his White House sojourn, guided by Yale's eminent William Lewis Gaddis and whose "book reports" to Gaddis each month were presented to Gaddis's students as a mystery docent. And Obama's abrupt return of the Churchill bust to the UK without a thank you symbolized the American left's disdain for the great hero of the twentieth century as well as his own bad manners. And it seemed in synch with his ghosted "autobiographies" that critiqued the colonial past of Britain in Kenya, the homeland of his hit-and-run daddy.
In a period that saw historians like Niall Ferguson recommend the British Empire as a model for the exercise of American power abroad, the connection between Churchill’s imperialism and his racial prejudice became another major problem. It was most thoroughly addressed by Richard Toye in “Churchill’s Empire” (2010), which fair-mindedly explored the reasons Churchill’s “humanitarianism did not imply a belief in racial equality.” Toye often writes admiringly of Churchill, but does not shy away from the ugliness of some of his views — like his confession that “I hate people with slit-eyes and pig-tails,” or his nostalgia for the empire’s “jolly little wars against barbarous peoples.” [ed's note: these might be the product of Sir Winston's epicene battles with the bottle chronicled frequently by the Cliveden Set, who ratted out his unPC nasties unmercifully].

More serious than racist remarks is the charge leveled at Churchill in a book by Madhusree Mukerjee, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II (Basic Books, $28.95). Mukerjee lays responsibility for the Bengal famine of 1943, which resulted in the deaths of some three million people, right at Churchill’s doorstep. She sharpens her point by drawing provocative analogies between the English and the Nazis. At the height of the famine, she writes, some relief kitchens in Bengal were offering the dying just 400 calories’ worth of rice a day, “at the low end of the scale on which, at much the same time, inmates at Buchenwald were being fed.”

Critics have challenged Mukerjee’s conclusions about the relative shares of culpability for the famine borne by the British, the threat of Japanese invasion, bad weather in Bengal, and hoarding. But “Churchill’s Secret War” is convincing on one fundamental point. Churchill refused to divert resources from feeding Britain to feeding India because, true to the logic of imperialism, he placed a far higher value on British lives than on Indian ones. The number of Bengalis who died in 1943 rivals the number of Ukrainians who, as Timothy Snyder shows, were deliberately starved by Stalin in 1932-33. Does this mean that a comparable atrocity must be placed against the moral account of Britain and its Allies in World War II?

Of course, an amateur in history could tell the difference between the "destruction of the kulaks as a class" and the Holodomor, both deliberately directed from the Kremlin to force rapid political and social change by ukases more drastic than any czars, with the contingencies of weather, supply disruptions, and other accidental causes of the Bengal famine, even if Ms. Mukerjee cannot. Stalin directed the mass murders in the Ukraine and in Russia and Byelorussia deliberately; Churchill never ordered the deaths of tens of thousands of Bengalis or anyone else like the brutal savage Stalin did in his purges durng the thirties. Or Hitler with his "Endlosung" directions during the course of World War II. Also, it should be noted inferentially that in Tim Snyder's book, the number of Soviet citizens whose deaths were caused by Stalin's direct orders or indirect incompetence were in multiples of ten compared to Hitler's murder or incompetence causing German deaths. Almost 50 million Soviet citizens died from the mid-twenties until Stalin's demise in 1953 [as he was preparing another purge of Russian Jews in his paranoid world populated by his personal enemies]. Hitler may have caused between six and ten million deaths of Germans one way or another, but rarely for policy reasons, except for his Jewish German citizens [until Krystallnacht in 1938 deprived Jews of their German citizenship].

And the Americans more than anyone else led the way with Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and John Hershey in questioning aspects of the allied guilt in bombing civilians, it must be remembered. I can remember in the '70s in the National Portrait Gallery listening to a bunch of brownsshoe docents lecturing the hoi polloi visiting an exhibition on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on just how unconscionable dropping these bombs on "innocent" civilians was. These girly-men in bow ties evidently did not have relatives serving in the South Pacific who may have been lost in a conventional attack on Kyushu as planned had the Emperor not ordered the surrender after the two bombs. It appeared that these prettyboys had a much better aesthetic appreciation for the world about than any political or moral sense of its intricate and intractable contradictions.
What makes new writing about the bombing of Germany especially significant is that it has been driven by the memories of those on the receiving end. In a landmark essay, “Air War and Literature” (published in English in 2003 as a part of “On the Natural History of Destruction”), the German novelist W. G. Sebald wondered why the Allied bombing — which killed half a million civilians and devastated most German cities — “seems to have left scarcely a trace of pain behind in the collective consciousness.” A few years later, as if in response, the German historian Jörg Friedrich published “The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945” (2006). Friedrich describes the kinds of scenes that took place on German streets in the aftermath of bombing raids: for instance, “a man dragging a sack with five or six bulges in it as if he were carrying heads of cabbage. It was the heads of his family, a whole family, that he had found in the cellar.”

Friedrich was accused, in Germany and abroad, of using language that implicitly equated Allied bombing with Nazi war crimes. But his conclusion about the lesson of the Second World War — “civilians do not show mercy to civilians. . . . Total war consumes the people totally, and their sense of humanity is the first thing to go” — challenges the Anglo-American memory of the war in ways that are impossible to ignore. In “Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan” (2006), the English philosopher A. C. Grayling extends that challenge, asking: “What should we, the descendants of the Allies who won the victory in the Second World War, reply to the moral challenge of the descendants of those whose cities were targeted by Allied bombers?”

Grayling is clear that he, like almost everyone in England and America (and in today’s Germany, too), regards World War II as “a just war against morally criminal enemies.” Still, he concludes that the practice of area bombing — in which the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, in particular, indiscriminately bombed urban areas, in the hope of inflicting damage on Germany’s economy and morale — was “a moral crime”: “What is the moral difference between bombing women and children and shooting them with a pistol? . . . The anonymity of the act of killing from 20,000 feet?” In the end, Grayling is carried by the force of his own argument to an outrageous verdict: “There comes to seem very little difference in principle between the R.A.F.’s Operation Gomorrah, or the U.S.A.A.F.’s atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York by terrorists. . . . All these terrorist attacks are atrocities.”

The Allies as Al Qaeda: is this the conclusion to which a re-evaluation of the Second World War must lead us? If so, it’s no wonder that some historians are growing impatient with the whole project. The title of the English historian Michael Burleigh’s Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II (Harper/HarperCollins, $29.99), which was published last month, summarizes its response to the doubters: yes, this really was a moral combat. In his introduction, Burleigh is at least willing to grant that there were moral ambiguities involved, even saying that he does not “seek to excuse Allied war crimes.” Yet when he discusses Allied bombing, it is under the chapter heading “The King’s Thunderbolts Are Righteous” — the motto of the R.A.F.’s 44th Bomber Squadron. And while Burleigh acknowledges that Arthur Harris, the head of Bomber Command, was “obsessed with wrecking German cities,” he is far more angered by those who would second-guess Harris after the fact. With an eye on Grayling, perhaps, Burleigh fulminates, “Wars are not conducted according to the desiccated deliberations of a philosophy seminar full of purse-lipped old maids.”

Friedrich reminds me of my colleague at Amoco whose mother lived in Germany during World War II and could never understand why no one upbraided the British for their ruthless bombing of German cities. She was simply unaware of the terror-bombing of Warsaw in September, 1939, fully as gruesome as that of Dresden and totally unprovoked by comparison [Tim Snyder says it was the single worst terror-bombing in the war.] Subsequent to Warsaw, Rotterdam, Coventry, London and other examples of Schrecklichkeit that Hitler and his colleagues took into the Second War as if it were okay for Germany to ride roughshod over the normal customs and laws of warfare.

And while the comment by Burleigh about Grayling's "purse-lipped old maids" is a bit harsh, Grayling and Friedrich do have valid points as far as they go, especially on how civilians can be as bloodyminded as military men and sometimes more so.
After all, the present is always lived in ambiguity. To those who fought World War II, it was plain enough that Allied bombs were killing huge numbers of German civilians, that Churchill was fighting to preserve imperialism as well as democracy, and that the bulk of the dying in Europe was being done by the Red Army at the service of Stalin. It is only in retrospect that we begin to simplify experience into myth — because we need stories to live by, because we want to honor our ancestors and our country instead of doubting them. In this way, a necessary but terrible war is simplified into a “good war,” and we start to feel shy or guilty at any reminder of the moral compromises and outright betrayals that are inseparable from every combat.

The best history writing reverses this process, restoring complexity to our sense of the past. Indeed, its most important lesson may be that the awareness of ambiguity must not lead to detachment and paralysis — or to pacifism and isolationism, as Nicholson Baker and Pat Buchanan would have it. On the contrary, the more we learn about the history of World War II, the stronger the case becomes that it was the irresolution and military weakness of the democracies that allowed Nazi Germany to provoke a world war, with all the ensuing horrors and moral compromises that these recent books expose. The fact that we can still be instructed by the war, that we are still proud of our forefathers’ virtues and pained by their sufferings and sins, is the best proof that World War II is still living history — just as the Civil War is still alive, long after the last veteran was laid to rest.

I will always pick Churchill over Stalin [yes, Sir Winston was fighting to preserve an empire while Stalin was fighting to procure one---moral equivalent to an extent] and FDR over Hirohito. Blood and language and common history are awesome bonds cementing the victors together, even if Obama is an outlier in this particular comparison.

During my early youth, I read everything I could abouut the Second World War and much about the First, which was the overture and preamble to the Second in every historical way possible. It's clear that I was a child of the Cold War, a young dude preparing himself in the fifties to fight for his country and values against the Communist menace. When my politics changed in grad school in the late sixties, my values remained bedrock underneath and my strong sense that America still is the world's "last best hope" survived the last thirty yearsof the 20th and first decade of the 21st.

But the moral enigmas of the collapse of Europe in the twentieth century into a pile of historical rubble compared to its earlier glory continue to fascinate me, and the capture last week of Gen. Ratko Mladevic reminds me that the wounds of both the First and Second World Wars continue to underlie almost every country in europe.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

John C. Waldron, Richard Best and The Miracle of Midway

Midway is one of the most, if not THE MOST, important sea battles in the history of mankind for a number of reasons---chiefly because of its improbability and the sheer damned luck and intelligence that showed American mastery over a number of contingent variables. Call it karma.

LCDR John C. Waldron's leadership of the 8th Torpedo Squadron was key to the finding of the Japanese carriers after Nimitz and Spruance and other higher-ups had brilliantly ascertained that the main Japanese carrier group was aiming an attack at the lonely island outpost manned by an undersized detachment of American naval and other units serving as a mid-Pacific monitoring airfield and fueling station.

Waldron's immediate superiors ordered his squadron in a direction off-course from the latest signal heard from the Jap fleet, but according to the squadron's sole survivor, George Gay, Waldron's Indian intuition made him change the squadron's course straight to the Japanese carrier group "like a plumb line."

Of all the heroics on both sides that day, including those of Richard Best, who personally dropped bombs on two different carriers that sank them, Waldron's was the most effective and the most suicidal. His brilliant instincts and brave singlemindedness slowed the carriers while the murderous Zeros shot down his entire contingent of planes without one torpedo hit.

The final aftermath of the Battle of Midway was revenge within SIX MONTHS on the carrier group that had carried out the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7th, 1941. All the Japanese airmen, brave and highly-trained, who had participated in the deadlyand unwarranted attack, found their home carriers aflame and sinking, with the result that Midway avenged Pearl Harbor completely as the fighter and bomber pilots had to ditch at sea. Japan's air and sea power was virtually castrated on June 4th, 1942 and Yamamoto, the chief Japanese naval genius [who had studied in the USA and opposed Pearl Harbor, knew that effectively, from then on, the Pacific War was all over except the mopping up.

Ensign Gay lived and floated on his life preserver as the entire battle took place around him. He had been in terrible pain, but his cheering and laughter at the japanese slaughter made the pain disappear and he served as a living memorial to the heroism of Waldron and the other members of Torpedo Squadron 8.
All fifteen planes in the squadron that flew from the Hornet were shot down. Of the thirty pilots and crewmen, only Ensign Gay survived. Although none of his torpedo planes scored a hit, Waldron and his squadron helped to buy the precious battle time that allowed dive bombers from the Enterprise and Yorktown to attack unhindered by Japanese fighters and sink four Japanese carriers in what became known as the “Miracle at Midway.” None of the other forty-four other planes flying in the Hornet Air Group found the Japanese fleet.

LCDR Richard Halsey Best was the miracle man on the two separate attacks from the Enterprise that sank all four carriers.
Enterprise and Hornet left Pearl Harbor on May 28, the hastily repaired Yorktown two days later to take part in what became known as Battle of Midway, from 4 to June 6, 1942.[6]
After contact reports of Midway-based PBY Catalina patrol aircraft on the morning of June 4, 1942, Enterprise started to launch her air group starting on 07:06h. Under the overall command of the air group commander (CEAG) Lt.Cdr. Wade McClusky were 14 TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers of Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6), 34 SBDs of VB-6, the CEAG section, and VS-6, and ten F4F-4 Wildcat fighters of Fighting Squadron 6 (VF-6). However, the squadrons became separated and reached the Japanese independently. Only the dive bombers stayed together and reached the enemy by 09:55h. At about 10:22h the Enterprise dive bombers started to attack two Japanese carriers, which proved to be the Kaga, and the Akagi.
Then again, the attack became confused, as all 34 Dauntlesses started to attack Kaga, and none the Akagi. Obviously, Best expected to attack according to the U.S. dive bomber doctrine. This was that VB-6 would attack the nearer carrier (in that case Kaga) and VS-6 the one further away (here Akagi). The three-plane CEAG section was expected to attack last, as their planes were equipped with cameras to later assess the damage. However, evidently McClusky was not aware of this, having until becoming CEAG been a fighter pilot. Therefore McClusky began his dive on Kaga, being followed by VS-6, and Best's VB-6 was also attacking Kaga according to doctrine. Lieutenant Best noticed the error and broke off with his two wingmen to attack the Akagi.[7]

The flight deck of USS Enterprise on May 15, 1942: The first SBD is either Best's ("B-1") or that of the CO of VS-6 ("S-1").
On 10:26h Best's three SBDs attacked the Akagi. The first bomb, dropped by Lt.(jg) Edwin John Kroeger, missed. The second bomb, aimed by Ens. Frederic Thomas Weber, landed in the water, near the stern. The force wave of that hit jammed the Akagi's rudder.[8] The last bomb, dropped by Richard Best, punched though the flight deck and exploded in the upper hangar, in the middle of 18 Nakajima B5N2 planes, parked there. That hit doomed the Akagi.[9] Later that day, Lieutenant Best participated in the attack on the last remaining Japanese carrier - the Hiryu, maybe scoring one of the four hits.[10] After the battle, Best was awarded the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Here is Best's first-person narrative account of his heroics on that fateful day of June 4, 1942.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"Unsustainable" Demonstrates Paul Ryan's Thesis

Peggy Noonan notices that the Manhattan elites in the milieux that she frequents are beginning to comprehend in their dull fashion the underlying reality that the US & by extension the World is going to hell in a handbasket:
We're at a funny place. The American establishment has finally come around, in unison, to admitting that America is in crisis, that our debt actually threatens our ability to endure, that if we don't make progress on this, we are going to near our endpoint as a nation. I am struck very recently by the number of leaders in American business, politics and journalism who now get a certain faraway look at the end of an evening or a meal and say, "It's worse than people think, you know." The debt crisis in Europe is not easing but worsening, the U.S. bond markets could bail tomorrow, the culture of Washington will kill any serious attempts at reform . . .

The American establishment, on both sides of the political divide, is admitting as never before that we are in an existential challenge. And this is progress. It was not always so! It wasn't so two years ago.

That's one takeaway from this week's Peterson Foundation fiscal summit in Washington. Bill Clinton spoke of "permanent structural deficits" and warned that "arithmetic still matters." We must focus on entitlement spending, he said, "for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: That's where the money is." Virginia's Democratic Sen. Mark Warner: "Congress is Thelma and Louise in that car headed for the cliff." Obama administration economic adviser Gene Sperling—more on him in a minute—called for "serious discussion" of the specifics of a debt-reducing plan.

Republicans were on the same page. No one said, "We can grow our way out of this thing," or "The negative effects of chronic debt are exaggerated, let's look at the positive side." They would have been laughed out of the room.

Then Peggy admits what no member of the lamestream media on the Left would ever summon up the gumption or fortitude or balls to admit:
The people, of course, saw the crisis coming before most politicians did, and every elected official in Washington is now quick to preface interviews with, "The people were ahead of us on this." They say this with an air of discovery, the little Sherlocks. The people were ahead of them. Public concern began to deepen in the polls after the introduction of the new spending bills that followed the crash of 2008. Voter concern was made vivid in the 2009 and 2010 elections, when centrists voted like old-style Republicans who worried about red ink.

Elected officials began to get the message. Now they've got it. Our spending and debt are—and it is interesting that this is the first great buzzword of the new decade—"unsustainable."

Paul Ryan AKA Revere has been riding through the night while being pelted by brickbats and rotten tomatoes by the class warfare types warning us all of the Thelma & Louise metaphor---broadly speaking, of course. We're all gonna die and whether we fight back like men or writhe and squirm like Greek worms waving placards is up to our political class.
But here's how we're in a funny place. The great question now is whether the people who alerted the establishment to the crisis will trust that establishment to deal with it. The people have been like Paul Revere riding through the night warning, "The bankruptcy is coming!" It's unclear whether they'll now trust the politicians to take the right action.

There are many reasons the public might resist Washington's prescriptions, and we know what they are. There are data demonstrating that people like government programs but not government costs. Many people feel they've personally played by all the rules and will reject any specific cuts or taxes that will put new burdens on them.

There's also this. The very politicians who are trying to get us out of the mess are the politicians who got us into the mess. Why would anyone trust them? As Alan Simpson admitted, for generations politicians "were told to go to Washington and bring home the bacon. Go get the money!" Now they must change: "You can't bring home the bacon anymore, because the pig is dead."

Or rather that Golden Goose that the extraordinary conditions prevailing worldwide in an expanding economy promoted and sustained by international institutions in DC like the World Bank and the IMF are now disappeared or disappearing and the Golden Goose just can't crank out them golden eggs any more because there are too many people in the USA mortgaged and leveraged way BEYOND the hilt---ditto for Europe and Latin America and everywhere save the Tigers in East Asia---and their forest habitat is shrinking faster than we can imagine. But the Dr. Pangloss of political gurus in the US have simply blown their own credibility to shreds:
Some of the politicians talking about how to stop the spending crisis are the same politicians who, for many years, said there was no crisis. They're like forest creatures who denied there was a fire when everyone else could smell the smoke and hear the crackle. Then the flames roar in, and the politicians say, "Follow me, I know the path out of the blaze!" It will be hard for them to win the trust that will get the American people to back a path out and through.

Bill Clinton, whose administration was forced by a Republican House & Senate to abandon welfare 'as we know it.,' is one of these politicians with slightly more street cred than most. The GOP under GWB blew its credibility with a guns & butter agenda during the post-9/11 crisis---GWB couldn't say no as it went against his cheerleading gene so carefully nurtured and fostered at Yale---he was a Chairman of the Board type who nodded sagely while Dick Cheney was the busybody CEO. Back to the Debt Summit:
Rep. Paul Ryan was at the summit, soldiering on. His main problem on Medicare is that people fear the complexities and demands of a new delivery system.

People who draw up legislation, people capable of mastering the facts of the huge and complicated federal budget, often think other people are just like them. It's almost sweet. But normal people don't wear green eyeshades. Republicans think people will say, when presented with new options for coverage, "Oh good, another way to express my freedom! I can study health insurance now and get a policy that will benefit not only me but our long-term solvency!" But normal people are more likely to sit slouched at the kitchen table with their head in their hands. "Oh no, another big decision, another headache, 50 calls to an insurance company, another go-round with the passive-aggressive phone answerer who, even though she's never met me, calls me Freddy as she puts me on hold."

I had several of those conversations Wednesday and yesterday with a couple of health providers who kept calling me Ma'am even though my voice sounds rather low in the vocal register when I discuss medical problems on the phone. Noonan then starts to make some profound observations:
Republicans believe government gives insufficient respect to the ability of people to decide things for themselves, and that's true. But it's also true that normal humans don't relish making informed decisions about things they're not sure of, and that carry big personal implications.

But in my "declining years," why do I want to be bothered with paperwork and long sessions on the phone trying to decipher what an ESL with a double-digit IQ is trying to tell me about complex health and insurance options?
Here's the great thing about Medicare: You turn 65 and it's there. They give you a card and the nurse takes it.
Supporters of Mr. Ryan's Medicare plan must talk very specifically about how this would all work, and why it would make your life better, not worse. They also have to make two things clearer. One is that if nothing is done to change Medicare, the system will collapse. You'll give the card to the nurse and she'll laugh: "We don't take that anymore." This already happens in doctors offices. Without reform it will happen more often.

One of my daughter's former boyfriends is thinking of going to med school, but wonders how he's going to pay for his education after the horrendous gauntlet of med school, residency, etc. until you get to be the junior dude in a practice. He's joining the Special Forces and may get a scholarship with five years in the army at the other end---but he's an exceptional young man. What about the sponsors of the layabouts and slackers and immigrants and below-average moral morons?
Democrats, on the other hand, should be forced to answer a question. If you oppose the highly specific Ryan plan, fine, but tell us your specific proposal. How will you save Medicare? Will you let it die?

If Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling's presentation at the summit was indicative of White House strategy, then we're in trouble. Because that strategy comes down to windy and manipulative statements about how "we're all in this together" but GOP proposals "will lead to millions of children . . . losing their coverage." He added: "We are not criticizing their plan, we are explaining it."

Sperling is a superficial spurious artful dodger unable to grasp any nettle or even give a response to the Ryan challenge. Better to run ads of a Ryan-like man pushing Grandma over a cliff and have a clowder of hyenas on the blogosphere disdainly dismiss Ryan and anyone else trying to avoid the disaster down the road. Like his blase blythe bogus boss, Sperling just wants this whole thing to go away, and to blame the GOP:
It is a long time since I've seen such transparent demagoguery, such determined dodging. It's obvious the White House political plan for 2012 is this: The Democrats will call for fiscal discipline and offer no specifics or good-faith starting points. They will leave the Republicans to be specific, and then let them be hanged with their candor. Democrats will speak not of what they'll do but only of what they would never do, such as throw grandma out in the snow. In honeyed tones, Mr. Sperling said both parties should "hold hands and jump together," like Butch and Sundance. But it was clear Sundance was going to stop at the edge of the cliff and hope Butch gets broken on the rocks.

Moral lepers on the Left who are cowards and artful dodgers---can the average American spot the con man like Sperling or will he be suckered into blaming Paul Ryan as the Messenger of Doom?

That's why Ryan should drop his plans for a quiet life and grasp the ultimate nettle---running for the biggest prize in politics---the unshirted hell of the White House.

Three Minutes for Eternity

Time for a little out-of-body---out-of-mind comeback? Sure, why not now!

Eric Windhorst of ESPN has the description of the Heat's victory celebration in their locker room suddenly interrupted when the channel replayed the frenetic fantastic phenomenal final minutes of last night's game.
It wasn't that they wanted to see their own highlights from the mystical final three minutes of their stupefying 83-80 comeback victory over the Chicago Bulls. They needed to see them. They had no idea what happened.

As the plays cycled through, from the gritty defensive stops to the astonishing barrage of 3-pointers from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, players exchanged looks and laughter as if it wasn't even them on the screen from just a couple minutes before.

It was the completion of a collective out-of-body experience that carried the Heat to The Finals after their fourth consecutive win over the Bulls.

"We don't even know what happened," Wade said. "I'm not going to lie to you and say we do. I can't remember all the plays."

There will be time enough for that. The Heat's furious finish will eventually carve itself into memories. For Wade and James especially, this is one they'll talk about for the rest of their lives. They scored 22 consecutive points for the Heat in the fourth quarter -- a number they couldn't even believe when they were informed -- as they led a 12-point comeback in the final three-plus minutes.

"Man, that was maybe the three best minutes of my life," James said to Wade as they rehashed the finish. "At least so far."

At twelve points behind, I'd switched off the sound and then during a break, went to the Daily Show where Jon Stewart was off on a repeat talking about Osama bin Laden's porn horde under the title: "Dead Man Wanking." Then a Daily Show commercial & back for a tiny look-see on ESPN---Wade had just hit a four point play while I was gone & I saw LeBron hit a three-banger & the Heat were behind TWO---then a quick steal by LeBron & a 20-foot two-pointer & it was TIED with 1:01 left. Even though Stewart had promised to explore DSK's sexual mores & Arnold's shameful adultery, I decided, like Whittaker Chambers and the Cleveland Cavs motto to be a WITNESS!

Remembering that I'd seen and gaped at Dallas's two awesome comebacks in the last three days, once from 15 in the last FOUR minutes and from 7 back in the last TWO minutes against Durant's Thunder, this was even richer, because this was in the MadHouse on Madison in Chicago where I used to be a Bulls fan when I could score a ticket. My newly adopted Heat [from around 1999] were now in a mano-a-mano struggle to wrap up the series in five and keep pace with the miraculous Mavs---whose amazing loss to the Heat in '06 had me dancing and peeing on Mark Cuban's metaphorical grave. Heeeere's more about the runup before the explosive pyrotechnics began in the last 3:27 in regulation:
Just a couple of minutes before, the Heat looked done for and those boxes of hats and shirts were about to be clandestinely slipped out of the United Center and shipped to Miami for Game 6. Down 12 points with less than four minutes to go, the Heat shuffled into a timeout.

They'd scored 64 points in the game's 44 minutes, well on their way to their worst offensive game of the 105 they've played this season. Yes, including the preseason.

Wade had nine turnovers, dubiously tying the franchise playoff record, and was giving off body language that screamed fatigue and frustration. He'd missed a breakaway layup a few moments before that was as bizarre as his missed dunks in Games 3 and 4. He was 3-of-10 shooting for the game and playing oddly unassertive, passing up open looks.

At one point late in the third quarter, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called timeout so he could take Wade out of the game.

Meanwhile, James didn't make a field goal for more than 30 minutes of game time, barely keeping the Heat within miracle distance by hitting free throws as the Bulls punished his attempts to get to the basket with physical fouls.

Then things get a little fuzzy.

"I just remember the timeout," Wade said. "And coach just looked at us and said "We've done this before. We've been in games where we've gone on a 12-0 run or a 14-0 run. Just believe."

Spoelstra was doing what coaches do, trying to keep his team in it. But there was no way it could work. Everything pointed to Game 6. Maybe Wade and James could do it on their best day if they both caught fire. But this was far from their best day, it was shaping up like their worst.

"We just reminded them there's a lifetime left in the game," Spoelstra said. "We've done it before."

As the huddle broke James walked to the scorers table, rubbing his feet over the stick pad to clean the bottom of his shoes. He looked up and made eye contact with several Nike officials who were sitting there and gave them a little smile.

He and Wade were about to make a commercial that was beyond even the most creative script.

Then Dywane & LeBron went into their shared collective out-of-body experience.
In three minutes and 27 seconds they each made three baskets, converted free throws and got steals. They did it with haymakers like a heavyweight punching out of the corner to a knockout. Wade got things serious by stepping in front of Rose pass that ignited a fast break. There were no dead legs on this play.

James hit a 3-pointer, his first basket in 34 minutes, when the Bulls inexplicably forgot to cover him in transition.

Then another 3, this time by Wade on a step-back over Rose. James had the ball with a chance to fire up another jumper -- the time was right for a trademark heat check -- but went to Wade in a play that unexpectedly changed Wade's outlook.

Wade caught the ball and shot it with remarkable confidence for a guy who was having a bad night and hadn't made a 3-pointer in six games.

"When LeBron threw me back the ball, after me struggling so much, I was like, 'Well, I have to make something happen,'" Wade said. "D-Rose hit me on the elbow and that's where the momentum started to shift a little bit."

A little bit is reverse hyperbole. The 4-point play after Wade made the shot as Rose hit his elbow turned it from a three-possession game to a one-possession game with 1:30 left. All of a sudden the Heat looked as if they were favorites to win, even as they were down ten 90 seconds earlier. [ed's note: Here's where I returned from the Daily Show advert to catch the sound of all the air going out of the Bulls' tires and decided to listen to the play-by-play]

When James buried another long 3-pointer coming off a screen, his left heel within inches of the Bulls' sideline and coach Tom Thibodeau's dress shoes, the historians were running to their computers.

Now, it seemed like destiny. And so it was when James stole the ball from Rose as he smothered the Bulls' point guard on a pass attempt. James confidently strode to the other end and faked left, stepped back and hit a 20-footer over Ronnie Brewer, who was helpless to stop it.

"I've been working on that (move) for years," James said. "I've been working on this and waiting for this for eight years."

It wasn't over yet. Rose had a couple more letdowns in the face of the James and Wade onslaught. Rose missed a free throw that would've tied the game with 26.7 seconds left and had a 3-pointer at the buzzer blocked by James.

I called my daughter's boyfriend up in New Jersey [my spouse & daughter were moving out of the Miami condo & were already asleep in Coral Gables] and we rejoiced for a minute or two---he had been in the crowd at the American Airlines Arena on Sunday night after the game receiving double birds over Charles Barkley's shoulders, an event he'd caught on his cell-phone video! I watched the replays and listened to Chuck The Stupid explain how Dallas has the Heat outmatched in the finals.

Now the NBA Finals shuttles between the two American Airlines Arenas in Dallas and Miami---presumably the faltering airline will make special commercials to commemorate this incredible series ending in its two named NBA facilities. Last year, I wasn't able to catch the Laker/Celtic finals because I was in Ireland and Scotland, two celtic countries, as it happens.

This year, I'm hoping that I'll be in Miami for one of the great moments in NBA history.

Now we can hopefully begin to spell out once again the word D-Y-N-A-S-T-Y---this time on the blue Atlantic.

UPDATE: Sporting News's Greg Couch has a different attempt to describe the indescribable:
CHICAGO—They don’t even remember what happened. They don’t remember what they just did. It was so fast and furious, and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had elevated so high that it was almost an out-of-body, out-of-mind experience.

“For the first time, my mind was free,” Wade said.

“We want to watch the last four minutes of that game (again),” James said.

What happened? They happened. The Decision happened. The Miami Heat happened. They beat the Chicago Bulls to advance to the NBA Finals with an incredible finish, giving the ultimate example, and reminder, of what superstardom is in the NBA.

It was a process, a long and painful road of teaching defense and teamwork, of learning from the highs and lows of a season. That’s what Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Funny, because to me it looked like James and Wade looking at each other with 3:14 left, trailing Chicago by 12, and deciding: OK. Now.

LeBron James and the Miami Heat are going to The NBA Finals after a late rally to close out the series and take Game 5 from the CHicago Bulls, 83-80. (AP Photo)
And then, well, wow. The Heat went on an 18-3 run, with eight points each from James and Wade. The Bulls’ star, Derrick Rose, kept missing, throwing the ball away, fouling. In one 60 1/2-second stretch, Wade had a four-point play and a rebound while James scored five points and had a steal, an assist, a rebound.

Before that, Wade had been awful the whole night. James struggled in crunch time throughout the regular season.

“(Wade) has got something different, a different makeup inside of him that he’s able to rise to the occasion regardless of what’s happening during the course of the game,” Spoelstra said. “And he’s proven that so many times, where he may have struggled for a game or even parts of a game, but when it’s winning time, there’s really not many players that are better.”

If you are still hoping for The Decision to fail, time is running out.

The Heat open The Finals against Dallas at home on Tuesday.

But James, Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t assemble a team just to reach the NBA Finals. Still, on Thursday, they combined to score all but 14 of the Heat’s points.

Spoelstra is right to some extent. At the start of the year, these guys couldn’t figure out how to play together.

But it all worked out eventually. It was a process. We have seen groups of NBA stars fail together in the Olympics.

That said, we just got another lesson that in the NBA, the team with the most and best stars wins. Miami has more stars than Dallas, too.

“Sometimes, you have to will it,’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s a hustle play here, a hustle play there. That’s the difference.”

No. The Bulls hustled all they could. These final three minutes took me back to April in Houston, where Connecticut, with the stars, beat Butler, with teamwork, defense and hustle, in the NCAA national title game.

The Bulls missed about as many shots at Butler did.

I overstated that. This game was played 50 levels higher than the college one. But in the end, the message was the same: In basketball, the little engine really can’t.

I’ll never make the mistake again of thinking the little guy can win. This will be hard for Chicago, the city, to understand. It is used to Michael Jordan making the final shot, Patrick Kane scoring the winning goal. James said that people remember your failures more than your successes, but I disagree. It’s hard to remember Jordan failing at all.

But in Game 4 of this series, Rose had a chance to win at the end of regulation, isolating on James, and couldn’t score. And now on Thursday, Rose fell apart with the rest of the Bulls in that final 3:14. He even missed a free throw with 26.7 seconds left that would have tied the game. The result of carrying a team all year?

“I wasn’t tired,” Rose said. “Just making dumb decisions. I’m going to get better; I’m not worried about that. If anything, this is going to make me hungry.”

I believe it. Rose already was the league’s MVP this year for the regular season. But in the playoffs, he still has (had?) a bit of a learning curve to go. He still is not a superstar at the level of James and Wade.

In fact, James and Wade provided him a class. Superstar 101.

“We honestly don’t know what happened,” James said. “We know some big plays happened and we know we won the game. It went so fast.”

They can’t remember. Chicago will never forget.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

US Public Souring Slowly on ObamaCare

We're here to help...!?!

Karl Rove has an article on the Tuesday race in upstate NY which the lamestream media has stridently proclaimed as a huge defeat for the Ryan Budget Plan to make Medicare a safely-funded healthcare mechanism. Rove points out that Corwin ran a poorly-planned and funded race which turned off a lot of voters because of a highly-publicized confrontation in a parking lot between Corwin's campaign chief and the mentally-disturbed and mendacious "Tea Party candidate" who had previously run THREE TIMES AS A DEMOCRAT in this CD. Rove's own polling outfit found that Hochul's eventually victorious campaign had made much traction with totally dishonest and prevaricating ads that Corwin had voted against Medicare in the past and that the Ryan budget was out to destroy the government health plan, but the election was characterized by indifferent GOP voters accustomed to winning and a DNC-funded high turnout by Dem diehards.

The subsequent brouhaha stems from the DNC's desire to stigmatize the Ryan budget as so unpopular in the grassroot hinterlands that the Republicans will be beaten in 2012 due to attrition by scared independents and elderly worried about their declining years' healthcare programs. But let's look more closely at the grassroot trend toward ObamaCare's loss of support over the last year:

Gallup shows the following trend lines on ObamaCare:

PRINCETON, NJ -- One year after President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, Americans are divided on its passage, with 46% saying it was a good thing and 44% saying it was a bad thing. Most Americans are skeptical that the law will improve medical care in the U.S. or their own personal medical care.

The current level of support for the bill, based on a Gallup poll conducted March 18-19, 2011, generally mirrors what Gallup found in polling conducted a year ago, just before President Obama signed the bill into law. At that point, in response to a slightly different question, 49% said the law was a good thing, while 40% said it was a bad thing. Other updates asked over the last year show a similar divide. [ed's note: Almost the same number a year later say that ObamaCare is a bad thing as say it is "good," a marked CHANGE from the 49"good"-40% "bad" of a year ago.]

More Americans See the Law Making Things "Worse" Rather Than "Better"

Well less than half of Americans believe the law will make medical care better either for the United States as a whole, or for them personally. In both regards, more believe the law will make things worse rather than better.

Opinions on the impact of the healthcare law on medical care in the U.S. are divided in similar fashion to Americans' overall reactions to the bill: 39% say it will improve medical care in the United States, while 44% say it will make it worse. Small percentages say the law won't change anything or offer no opinion. These responses are roughly similar to attitudes seen in July 2009, as the outlines of the law were just coming into place.

Americans are less positive about the impact of the healthcare reform law on their own medical care. Twenty-five percent say the law will improve their medical care, 39% say it will worsen it, and 31% say it will not make any difference. These results are also similar to those found in July 2009.
Politics Shapes Views of Healthcare Law
Democrats and Republicans have totally different views of the healthcare law, as has consistently been the case since Gallup began measuring attitudes toward it. The law was proposed by a Democratic president, and passed by a Democratic-controlled House and Senate over the vehement objections of most Republicans in Congress. Republicans have also continued to criticize the bill since its passage, and Republican leaders in Congress are now pursuing efforts to prevent many of the bill's provisions from taking effect.

Almost 8 in 10 Democrats say the law's passage was a good thing, while more than 7 in 10 Republicans say its passage was a bad thing. Independents tilt toward saying passage was a bad thing. Reactions to the impact of the law on medical care in the U.S. are similarly divided.

Yesterday's Senate Vote on the Ryan Plan & ObamaCare illustrates that 47 more senators like the Ryan Plan than the Obama Budget!!!

Another 2011 Gallup Poll
notes that 46% favor repealing the ObamaCare Law while 40% want it retained. The Gallup headline dishonestly reads:
"Americans do not strongly endorse the new Republican House majority's efforts to repeal the landmark healthcare legislation passed last year."

This is usual for the highly-partisan Democratic-leaning Gallup Organization, which misrepresents and badly characterizes any poll result that seems to favor the GOP.
UPDATE Charlie Cook has the last word on this election in upstate NY:
This last week has seen a potpourri of interesting political developments on the presidential, senatorial, and congressional election front.
In my not-so-humble opinion, the least important were several polls showing that next Tuesday’s three-way special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District was becoming very competitive, with multiple entities for each major party spending freely. To be honest, I take a perverse pleasure in watching a multitude of well-intentioned political observers weigh in on the “great significance” of this upstate House race to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of GOP Rep. Chris Lee.
In addition to other things, I have heard them talk about what it portends for the Medicare issue and the 2012 elections for the House nationwide.
It’s all nonsense.
For those who live outside the boundaries of the 26th District, the significance is this: If Democrats capture the seat, they will need a net gain of 24 seats to capture a majority and if Republicans hold the seat, Democrats will still need 25 seats. That’s it. Any grander conclusions are specious.
The vast majority of congressional elections are effectively fought between one Democrat, one Republican and perhaps a mishmash of unknown independent and third-party candidates that rarely make a difference in the outcome of the election.
In this Republican-leaning 26th District fight, there is one Democrat, one Republican and, oh, yes, a wealthy, abortion-rights, economic protectionist, former Republican, former Democrat, current tea partier, who ran for Congress in 2004, 2006 and 2008—spending a total of $5.2 million of his own money—and has already spent at least another $1.7 million in this race for Congress.
If anyone can find a race next year with a similar configuration, be my guest and apply the “lessons learned” from this race to that one. But implying that the outcome of this race portends anything about any conventional race next year amounts to cheap spin and drive-by “analysis” of the most superficial kind, which is sadly becoming all too prevalent in Washington. There are a lot of folks in D.C. who would be well-served switching to decaf.

Another observer noted that the upstate race last year in NY23 had also been touted as a harbinger of impending GOP doom when a skanky RINO skated by & finally a Demonrat prevailed---but 63 House seats were gained & so much for that mess of porridge. Ditto for the Djou race in Hawaii, another meaningless bellwether.

North Korea Using Starvation as Bargaining Chip

The Economist has an article on North Korea that include the name of Stephen Bosworth, whom I had lunch with in Lyon, France where I was Vice Consul and he was the Economics Minister in the Paris Embassy back in the seventies. Bosworth is trying to get South Korea to cease demanding an apology for the attacks last year that killed almost fifty S. Korean citizens on S. Korean territory, as well as the sinking of a S. Korean naval ship a bit earlier. As I recall, Bosworth is the limp-wristed pantywaist type quite suited to sucking up on behalf of a terrorist failed-state.

However, Jimmy Carter should get a Nobel Peace Prize for fatuous sniffing of his own farts for this observation:
"“to deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people because of political or military issues not related is really indeed a human rights violation” and he accused both the US and S. Korea of this violation.

To give Hillary Clinton credit, Carter and his delegation of comsymps returned from N. Korea and tried to get an appointment with the SecState to present their unsolicited "findings" and she was reported to have ostentatiously said "To hell with him...." and dismissed the emissary from the peanut-brain immediately and without fanfare.

I'll bet that little anti-Semite is now revelling in the fact that his soon-to-be-one-termer successor Obungler is calling for a retreat to the pre-'67 borders between Israel & Palestine. The only disagreement that paraphiliac Jimmy would have with Obama would be that Carter wants Israel to go back to the UN borders before the '48 War of Liberation where the Israelis crushed the Arab cowards after the Arabs disagreed with the UN. Israel agreed with the UN, to its chagrin as the Hall of
Flatulence has since repaid Israel with contempt and hate.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Syria Lurches into Functional Anarchy

As an Entry Strategy Exec in the mid-level Amoco hierarchy, I recall travelling to Syria via Jordan in the mid-nineties at the border crossing near Deraa. I had already crossed the Allenby Bridge from Israel and found myself going from a near-21st century country to a place fifty years behind in Amman. But the transition to the nineteenth century was complete when I reached Syria and found that decades of Baathist socialism had reduced the country to a husk of former greatness. Back then, I was unaware that Deraa was near Djebel Druse and proceeded to Damascus after visiting Krak des Chevaliers Crusader Fortress, a site that awed me into admiration for that 11th century will-o-the-wisp enterprise that I was unaware would soon again beset the region, sparked by the atrocity of 9/11.

While the odious Liar-in-Chief now proclaims that Israel is the chief culprit in the region, the Israelis themselves are torn when it comes to Syria, and the Labor Party chief Ehud Barak has convinced himself that he understands the Syrians' true desire to escape the deadly embrace of the mad Mullahs of Teheran---near the Iranian redoubt where the Old Man of the Mountain would send his assassins out in a megabuzz of hashish to kill his political foes. Here's the NYReviewofBooks article:
As The New York Times pointed out in an editorial, the UN Security Council “hasn’t even been able to muster a press statement. Russia and China, as ever, are determined to protect autocrats.” Israel has been watching and waiting with alarm as the outcome of the unrest in Syria becomes more and more uncertain. Despite his alliance with Iran and refusal to recognize the Jewish state, Assad is the devil it knows best. Prolonged instability or a Salafist regime could only make matters worse.

Behind the chaos seething just below the surface in Syria lies the complexities of a civilization as old as Damascus, or Shams {The Sun] where the claim that it is the oldest continuously-settled city in the world is disputed only by Sanaa, the southern tip of the axis of Shamaal-Yamiin---the left-right of the ancient pre-Islamic sun worshippers of five millenia ago. [Damascus on the left, Yemen on the right---the rising sun is bowed to every dawn by the ancient Semites pre-Abraham]. Here's more of the incredible syncretistic nature of the Syrian populace:
The Alawis of Syria, who make up only 12 percent of its population, split from the main branch of Shiism more than a thousand years ago. Before the twentieth century they were usually referred to as Nusayris, after their eponymous founder Ibn Nusayr, who lived in Iraq during the ninth century. Taking refuge in the mountains above the port of Latakia, on the coastal strip between modern Lebanon and Turkey, they evolved a highly secretive syncretistic theology containing an amalgam of Neoplatonic, Gnostic, Christian, Muslim, and Zoroastrian elements. Their leading theologian, Abdullah al-Khasibi, who died in 957, proclaimed the divinity of Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, whom other Shiites revere but do not worship. Like many Shiites influenced by ancient Gnostic teachings that predate Islam, they believe that the way to salvation and knowledge lies through a succession of divine emanations. Acknowledging a line of prophets or avatars beginning with Adam and culminating in Christ and Muhammad, they include several figures from classical antiquity in their list, such as Socrates, Plato, Galen, and some of the pre-Islamic Persian masters.

Nusayrism could be described as a folk religion that absorbed many of the spiritual and intellectual currents of late antiquity and early Islam, packaged into a body of teachings that placed its followers beyond the boundaries of orthodoxy. Mainstream Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, regarded them as ghulta, “exaggerators.” Like other sectarian groups they protected their tradition by a strategy known as taqiyya—the right to hide one’s true beliefs from outsiders in order to avoid persecution. Taqiyya makes a perfect qualification for membership in the mukhabarat—the ubiquitous intelligence/security apparatus that has dominated Syria’s government for more than four decades.

When I was in the Syrian Oil Minister's office in Damascus fifteen years ago, he told me [after turning up the TV so the listening devices couldn't pick up our conversation] that Syria's five functioning intelligence agencies were so ubiquitous that one could distinguish them by the license plates on the cars---cars are few and far between in a country that had reverted to the native American travois after forgetting the use of the wheel in late Ottoman times---so he scratched out the license number variations and the acronyms for the five services which might be tailing me during my weeklong stay in Syria.
Secrecy was also observed by means of a complex system of initiation, in which insiders recognized each other by using special phrases or passwords and neophytes underwent a form of spiritual marriage with the naqibs, or spiritual guides. At this ceremony three superior dignitaries represent a kind of holy trinity of the figures who feature in other Nusayri rituals, namely Ali, Muhammad, and Salman al-Farisi (the Persian companion of Muhammad who in several Islamic traditions forms a link between the Arabs and the wisdom of ancient Persia). Nusayri rituals, performed in private homes or out-of-the-way places, include a ceremony known as Qurban—almost identical to the mass—where wine is consecrated and imbibed in the Christian manner. As Matti Moosa, a leading scholar of the Nusayris, states in his seminal study Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects (1988):
"The Christian elements in the Nusayri religion are unmistakable. They include the concept of trinity; the celebration of Christmas, the consecration of the Qurban, that is, the sacrament of the flesh and blood which Christ offered to His disciples, and, most important, the celebration of the Quddas [a lengthy prayer proclaiming the divine attributes of Ali and the personification of all the biblical patriarchs from Adam to Simon Peter, founder of the Church, who is seen, paradoxically, as the embodiment of true Islam]
The eyes roll and the mind reels. But we're not even halfway there yet.
Moosa suggests that like other schismatic groups residing in Syria, such as the Druzes and Ismailis, the Nusayris do not take their beliefs literally, but understand them as allegorical ways of reaching out to the divine. While this may be true of the educated naqibs, or spiritual elders, such belief systems may have different ramifications for semiliterate peasants, reinforcing a contempt or disdain for outsiders who do not share these beliefs. Like the Druzes and some Ismailis, Nusayris believe in metempsychosis or transmigration. The souls of the wicked pass into unclean animals such as dogs and pigs, while the souls of the righteous enter human bodies more perfect than their present ones. The howls of jackals that can be heard at night are the souls of Sunni Muslims calling their misguided co-religionists to prayer.

It does not take much imagination to see how such beliefs, programmed into the community’s values for more than a millennium, and reinforced by customs such as endogamous marriage—according to which the children of unions between Nusayris and non-Nusayris cannot be initiated into the sect—create very strong notions of apartness and disdain for the “Other.”

The great Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun, who died in 1406, elaborated the concept of ‘asabiyya—variously translated as clannism or group solidarity—that provides a more adequate explanation of the political systems operating in many Arab countries than notions based on imported ideologies such as communism, nationalism, and socialism. Ibn Khaldun’s analysis was based on his native North Africa, but it can be adapted to the conditions of the Mashreq, or Levant—where similar historical conditions prevailed. As Albert Hourani explained in his magisterial History of the Arab Peoples (1991), ‘asabiyya is a force that informs the patriarchal family order that still underpins the structure of power in many Arab societies.

In the past, as Hourani pointed out, a ruler with ‘asabiyya was well placed to found a dynasty, since the merchant classes of the cities, untrained in the military arts and without powerful corporate structures, tended to lack this quality. Moreover, when dynastic rule achieved in this way was stable and prosperous, city life flourished. But in Ibn Khaldun’s time every dynasty bore within itself the seeds of decline, as rulers degenerated into tyrants or became corrupted by luxurious living. In due course power would pass to a new group of hardy rulers from the margins after a period of turbulence often described as fitna, or disorder (a term with overtones of sexual disharmony, for in the family context, fitna is seen as the outcome of sexual misconduct).

Hence the historical basis for "honor killings" lies in fitna, the desire to sustain the prosperity of the patriarchal clan or tribal subgroup by felicitous marriage contracts whereby a compact of flesh binds the family tightly in a limb of the Islamic Leviathan.
The rise and possible fall of the Assad dynasty would provide a perfect illustration of the Khaldunian paradigm under recent postcolonial conditions. Under Ottoman rule the Nusayris were impoverished outsiders struggling on the social margins. In addition to feuding among themselves, they were fierce rivals of the Ismailis, whom they expelled from their highland refuges and castles, forcing them to settle in the more arid lands east of Homs. The Ottoman governors regarded them as nonbelievers and tools of the Shiite Persians: they were not even accorded the dignity of a millet, or recognized religious community.

When the French took over Greater Syria after World War I (including modern Lebanon and parts of modern Turkey), they flirted briefly with the idea of creating a highland Alawi state of 300,000 people separate from the cities of the plains—Homs, Hama, Damascus, and Aleppo—with their dominant Sunni majorities. The French rightly believed that the Sunni majority would be most resistant to their rule. Like other minorities the Alawis, as they preferred to be called, saw the French as protectors. In 1936, six Alawi notables sent a memorandum to Leon Blum, head of France’s Popular Front government, expressing their loyalty to France and their concern at negotiations leading to independence in a parliamentary system dominated by the Sunni majority. The memorandum includes the following points:

• The Alawi people, who have preserved their independence year after year with great zeal and sacrifices, are different from the Sunni Muslims. They were never subject to the authority of the cities of the interior.
• The Alawis refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria because in Syria the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam the Alawis are considered infidels.
• The granting of independence to Syria…constitutes a good example of the socialist principles in Syria…. [But] as to the presence of a parliament and a constitutional government, that does not represent individual freedom. This parliamentary rule is no more than false appearances without any value. In truth, it covers up a regime dominated by religious fanaticism against the minorities. Do French leaders want the Muslims to have control over the Alawi people in order to throw them into misery?
• We can sense today how the Muslim citizens of Damascus force the Jews who live among them to sign a document pledging that they will not send provisions to their ill-fated brethren in Palestine. The condition of the Jews in Palestine is the strongest and most explicit evidence of the militancy of the Islamic issue vis-à-vis those who do not belong to Islam. These good Jews contributed to the Arabs with civilization and peace, scattered gold, and established prosperity in Palestine without harming anyone or taking anything by force, yet the Muslims declare holy war against them and never hesitated in slaughtering their women and children, despite the presence of England in Palestine and France in Syria. Therefore a dark fate awaits the Jews and other minorities in case the Mandate is abolished and Muslim Syria is united with Muslim Palestine…the ultimate goal of the Muslim Arabs.

One of the signatories to this document was Sulayman al-Assad, a minor chief of the Kalbiya clan and father of Hafez al-Assad.

Divide et Impera reinserted the old Mediterranean roman polity back into the Islamic fracture zones of Syria. The French ruled Syria roughly and kept their own protectorate of Lebanon, wrenched from Greater Syria in the 1860s, as a DMZ for minorities and relatively free of the medieval tribal and clan division---though obviously still a cult and sect-ridden society.
The ‘asabiyya of the Alawis was carefully exploited by the French, who polished the Khaldunian model by giving them military training as members of the Troupes Spéciales du Levant. In the turbulent years that followed full independence in 1946, their military know-how proved valuable. Bright members of the sect such as Hafez al-Assad, whose families could not afford to send them to university, joined the armed forces and were drawn to secular parties, such as the Baath (renaissance) party jointly founded by two intellectuals, Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din Bitar, with an agenda explicitly aimed at overcoming sectarian divisions.

It would be wrong to suppose that the Alawis deliberately sought to subvert or take over the Baath or the armed forces. Their primary impulse was their own security. After independence the Syrian parliament abolished the separate representation for minorities instituted by the French, along with certain judicial rights. Nusayri sheikhs and notables encouraged young men to join the Baath because they believed its secular outlook would protect them from Sunni hegemony and persecution. Other minorities, including Christians, Druzes, and Ismailis, tended to join the Baath (or in some cases the Communist Party and Syrian Socialist National Party) for similar reasons. The eventual dominance achieved by the Alawis may be attributed to their highland military background and the default logic by which ‘asabiyya tends to assert itself in the absence of other, more durable structures.

The "Cities of the Plains" evokes a Proustian decadence which could be the objective correlative of sunni fanaticism/decay in the face of Alawite military and engineering prowess. Hafez Al-Assad was famously number one in his class in the Syrian Military Academy and was the youngish head of the Syrian Air Force and took over the government when the Sunni military leaders were about to support the Black September insurrection in Jordan in 1970. Ruthven is more precise:
The first three military coups that followed Syrian independence were engineered by Sunni officers. This was followed by the disastrous union with Nasser’s Egypt in 1958 when Baath party leaders, following their pan-Arabist nationalist logic, merged their country’s identity into that of their more powerful Sunni neighbor. After Syria formally united with Egypt, Nusayri officers who had joined the Baath party became increasingly alarmed that Arab nationalism, for all its secular rhetoric, was really a veil concealing Arab Sunni supremacy. They formed a clandestine military committee led by Salah Jadid, an Alawi, which took power in a military coup in 1963. Hafez al-Assad, trained as a fighter pilot, became air force commander. Some seven hundred officers were purged, and most of their positions were filled with Nusayris. A further coup against the Baathist old guard brought Assad into the cabinet as defense minister in 1966, a position he cleverly exploited after Syria’s defeat by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967, after which it was alleged that the regime had had secret dealings with the Jewish state. A “palace coup” inside the leadership brought Assad to power as president in 1970.

Assad's support of Arafat was hilariously feeble, and he threw the Palestinian terrorist in jail more than once when Abu Ammar fell into his hands. Kissinger and Assad used to joke in shuttle diplomacy days for hours about the duplicity of the Israelis and the stupidity of the Arabs---with unexpectedly Henry siding against the Israelis and Hafez against the Arabs. Kissinger would often repeat his fervent belief that Assad was the Middle East's most intelligent and dependable leader. His brother Rifaat was a terrorist, however, whose house in McLean, VA was burned to the ground "accidentally" after a run-in with the Israelis:
Thereafter the power of the state was firmly concentrated in Alawi hands. Of the officers commanding the 47th Syrian Tank Brigade, which was responsible for suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood’s rebellion in the city of Hama in 1982 at a cost of some 20,000 lives, 70 percent are reported to have been Alawis. When Hafez al-Assad died in June 2000, the constitutional niceties were rapidly dispensed with to ensure the succession of his son Bashar, who had studied ophthalmology in England. Fearful that Hafez’s exiled younger brother Rifaat al-Assad, who had commanded the Hama operation, would try to take over, a hastily convened session of the People’s Assembly voted to lower the minimum age for a president from forty to thirty-four, the exact age of Bashar al-Assad.

The reason that even Israel doesn't want to upset the Alawi applecart is basic:
In the welter of violence now accompanying the regime’s determined efforts to suppress the demonstrations, its achievements should not be forgotten or ignored. While its massacre in Hama was horrendous and it has an abysmal record on human rights, engaging in torture and severe political repression, it had a good, even excellent one when it came to protecting the pluralism of the religious culture that is one of Syria’s most enduring and attractive qualities. Some of these virtues are captured in Brooke Allen’s engaging account of her travels in Syria, The Other Side of the Mirror, where she meets ordinary people from different backgrounds and rejoices in the natural friendliness of Syria’s people and the extraordinary richness of its past. Instead of the Soviet-style grayness she expected to find from accounts in the US media, she discovers a sophisticated cosmopolitan society where life is being lived in many different styles and varieties, “totally unselfconsciously, just as it has been for thousands of years.”

In Aleppo, a jewel among cities, with its commanding citadel and labyrinthine, covered souk, she sees fully veiled ladies, exotic bedouin women displaying bright spots of color, and wealthy Gulf Arabs wearing white robes rubbing shoulders with men riding donkeys and mixing with “trophy girlfriends” in miniskirts teetering perilously on the ultra-high-heeled shoes that Aleppans evidently consider to be the height of fashion.

Having been in Aleppo recently, I can vouch for the accuracy of her descriptions. Visiting several mosques, churches, and shrines, she provides impressive testimony of the country’s religious diversity and the regime’s commitment to religious freedom. It would be tragic if the pursuit of democracy led to the shredding of this bright human canopy, where religious and cultural differences seem to have flourished under the iron grip of a minority sectarian regime.

I found the contradictory mixture of friendliness in Damascus and suspicion elsewhere stimulating, and despite the nasty nature of the Bashar Assad regime, much to remember that I enjoyed --- especially the Syrian cuisine, renowned as by far the most delicious in the entire Arab world and second [or third] to French and [Chinese?] cooking among my travels to far-flung places in the world.