Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Oh please oh please oh please...!

"Christian Conservatives Consider Third-Party Effort"

Alarmed at the chance that the Republican party might pick Rudolph Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate in an attempt to stop him.

The group making the threat, which came together Saturday in Salt Lake City during a break-away gathering during a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, includes Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps the most influential of the group, as well as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council...


Friday, September 28, 2007

Update on Same Sex Marriage in Iowa

Hi Everyone,

Iowa's major paper (the Des Moines Register) is reporting that a group of pastors from various conservative congregations around Des Moines and central Iowa are pushing for an amendment to the state constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. They are planning to hold a demonstration in support of this effort in late October. You can read the story here. The main spokesman is a pastor from one of the shiny "mega churches" with thousands of members and a highly politicized message.

Iowa is a swing state so look for the Republicans to make this a HUGE deal in 2008. The Democrats will want it to just go away. One sneaky thing the Democrats (who control both branches of the state government) could do, is put something about this on the ballot around primary time. It is not commonly talked about but Iowa does have a primary in addition to its caucus. The primary (to be held on June 3rd, 2008) is mainly for state level candidates. If the Democrats were clever, they could let the Republicans have their little gay bashing ballot initiative but put it on the ballot in June instead of November. If it lost in June, the Bigots For Jesus movement would only have a couple of months to get their act together in time to meeting the filing deadlines for the November election (I believe - I haven't done anything more than a cursory look at the Secretary of State's election schedule). And of course if it lost, the momentum would be against the Bigots for Jesus crowd.


Thursday, September 27, 2007


Free Speech must make sense.

I you are going to exercise your right to free speech, you have to put together a message that makes sense. NPR reported this morning that the editor and chief of "The Rocky Mountain Collegian" may be disciplined because he ran an editorial in the paper that read simply, "Taser This . . . F--- Bush."

The free speech issue aside. I object to this editorial simply because it makes no sense. What does that mean exactly? I understand what first part means in isolation. I understand what the last line means in isolation. Together they make no sense. I'd fire the editor-and-chief simply for being a poor speaker of English.

This seems to be a trend in Free Speech advocates under the age of 30. Make messages that are inherently random. "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" comes to mind. What the hell does that mean? Are bong hits some sort of sentient beings that have volition to be "for" something? Obviously those who use bong hits think so. The rest of us are stuck wondering . . . wha?


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hip Hop Hearings

I am not kidding. Apparently, the House Energy and Commerce committee is holding hearings about bad words in music. Shades of Tipper Gore. This is not what the Democratic majority was elected to do. Printable words of my own are hard to find.


In the Navy

It was brought to my attention that a little-remarked news story shows that Bush's military is still experiencing a mismatch of policies and resources. This is basic. Not enough food. Here's another version. That's right. New rules designed to be more "hardass"(read: conservative) now require midshipmen at the naval academy to eat many more meals on campu. But they did not have enough food to go around! We're talking meals like breakfast with gravy, but no biscuits, and one slice of pizza for dinner, or having to share a chicken breast. It took weeks to fix this problem.

This ought to be a political issue (note the supposedly liberal press ignores it). First, not giving enough food to these guys and girls is totally shameful. You go down to the Costco if you have to, but you don't just say "whoops, not enough in the budget" and see if anyone complains. Second, it shows again one of the most basic problems with the Bush administration: they issue these policy directives with no thought to providing the resources to implement them. It's like the passport processing problem. Or the trouble with Iraq altogether. No planning, no forethought, no follow-through. We need a return of basic competency, and the GOP obviously is not up to the job.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Thank you, Columbia

In 1990, I had the privilege of hearing a talk by Gorbachev's press spokesman (or whatever his title was) when I was at college. The Berlin wall had been down for just a few weeks, and there was struggle in Georgia and Lithuania over independence. Glasnost and Perestroika were just starting to become reality. It was a great learning experience for me, and this was not even the real world leader himself talking. At the end of his remarks, Gorbachev's spokesman expressed his genuine delight at what he called the American public's unbelievable capacity to forgive. How much more amazing would this encounter have been if the cold war had been ongoing! On another occasion in 2002, I got the chance to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, eager to westernize and willing to chide about Kosovo. He was assassinated a couple of years later.

It is hard to remember now with my 1990 encounter, but just two years before, this was the Evil Empire, and its spokesman would have been drowned by a sea of protest dwarfing that meted out to Ahmadinejad today. When I visited East Berlin in the summer of 1989, the end of the Cold War seemed impossible. A man had been shot just days before my visit trying to escape. A shame he didn't wait four more months.

I have no idea if or when rapprochement with Iran will ever come, but I think it is terrific that students at Columbia have had the opportunity to see what a world leader is like. Think of it as a zoo exhibit, if nothing else. Seriously. Congratulations to the faculty at Columbia for giving their students the chance to see a world leader up close. Up close, the media image goes away. The fangs recede. They get to see a liar and a clod with few PR skills. A man of very limited experience. A sleazy salesman who wants to put his finger on a nuclear trigger so he can feel like a big man. You know Ahmadinejad looked around New York City and realized, perhaps for the first time, how fourth-rate Tehran is.

The Columbia students also got to see a rather pathetic side of their own compatriots. The braying of politically correct protestors who obsess over what oozes out of Ahmadinejad's mouth.

But most of all, the Columbia students are going to get to learn over the coming days that the news coverage of the event and all the punditry won't match up at all with what they saw. Because it never does. What a great civics lesson. So thank you, Columbia.


Who told you about that?

Quote of the day:

"In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you that we have it."
--Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 9/24/2007, Columbia University
Ah... but then, one wonders why Iran would write such an extensive criminal code to deal with something that does not occur. One wonders on what basis dozens (some sources say hundreds) of Iranians have been tried and executed under these laws (including minors) if this "phenomenon" does not exist.

In addition to Mr. Ahmadinejad's status as a Holocaust Denier, he is now an official Homosexual Denier. He is also a member of an even more exclusive club: that of Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program Deniers.


There's Stupid and then there's Bush

CNN is reporting this morning that a new book that interviews Bush extensively quotes Bush as predicting that the Republicans will win in 2008. That's probably wrong but at least possible if the Democrats screw up badly enough - and Bush would be expert on benefiting from that phenomenon (well that and election fraud).

But what really struck me was that Bush says that Obama is "intellectually lazy and condecending to voters" - Wow! I've heard of the pot calling the kettle black but this is a case of the pot calling a polar bear black. Dude!

There are some people who are not very bright but who at least recognize intelligence in others. Then there are people like Bush who are not very smart but think they are and can't recognize genuine intelligence when they see it.

I think LTG has relatives who met Obama in law school. A friend of mine's mother was Obama's teacher in elementary school. My friend said that his mother said Barack was an exceptional little kid.

Obama is a graduate of Columbia (BA in political science) and Harvard Law. And unlike Bush whose Ivy League education served mainly to introduce him to the folks who would later bail out his repeated failures in business, Obama's education got him a job as a lecturer in Constitutional Law at one of the nations top law schools. At the same time he was a State Legislator in the Illinois assembly. During this period, Bush was watching a lot of baseball - and making some really dumb decisions for the Rangers there too (I'll leave it to LTG to comment on both the law and baseball - Bell Curve what is your assessment of Bush as a baseball team owner?).

Intellectually lazy??? You have got to be kidding me!


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mister Money Himself

I have not read Alan Greenspan's latest missive, nor do I intend to. However, I have been hearing interviews and reading news articles. And I find myself saying over and over, "What? That is either far-fetched or terribly eccentric thinking." I am not the only one. Here is one sample of a critic.

Take for instance his musings on the results of the fall of communism in a recent WSJ article.I quote:

He attributes the housing boom to the end of communism, which he says unleashed hundreds of millions of workers on global markets, putting downward pressure on wages and prices, and thus on long-term interest rates.
That is the first time I have ever heard such a thing.

Then I hear him in an interview recently saying that the current Administration is fiscally irresponsible and overly political with economic policy. But if I recall, it was he who supported Bush's tax cuts. He says that this was contingent on a Pay-go-system. I don't recall that part of his congressional testimony back in 2001.

In an NPR interview on Sept 19 he was suddenly expressing great concern over the Baby Boom retirement and the stress it will place on benefit programs. WHOOA! Now that Mister-let's-cut-rates-to-1% is in retirement, he is suddenly worried about our medicare shortfall? Remember the "lock box" that was forgotten not long after Al Gore's orange make-up and exasperated sighs?

He is also concerned with the increasing income gap, which he says may lead to an erosion of cultural ties in the country and then to violence. Well, gee, ya think? But his "libertarian-Republican", Ayn-Rand loving self makes him fear a populist Congress more than a conservative Congress. Yet it was populism that built a solid middle class in this country and conservativism that has tore that down. So,I don't get his logic.

In the NPR interview, he went on to say that our actual deficits are - wait for it- small. He supported tax cuts because at the time, our surpluses were- wait for it- too large. But the seriously ironic part of all of this is that he said he was afraid of what the Administration would do with the surplus.

He then said that unfortunately the surpluses dried up much more quickly than anticipated. This is why we are now in trouble. Well, Mister Money, "Your unwarranted exuberance nearly destroyed the world. And "until you pay back the ten trillion dollars this operation cost me, you're married to it!"


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Law Enforcement Around the World

On our previous post, we discussed the militarization of the police. So I tried to find picture of different types of police around the world just for fun. My results are below. Finding good pictures isn't as easy as you think. And I am hopefully respecting all copyrights by posting links to their original sources (you also uncover wack job sites as a result of such searches).

In general, it seems that the major law enforcement agencies in Europe and Canada have a military component that is usually tied to the army. Also, looking at the pictures, it appears that many police forces are more armed than they used to be, or than I remember them being when I saw them in person back in the 1990s. Riot police, no matter where they are from, are the most intimidating with street patrol people the least frightening.

I dug up some photos of Danish and French riot police who are as scary looking as our own. I also noticed that regionally, police seem to dress alike. So Swedish police and Norwegian police seemed similar from their photos.

In bigger cities the police always seem more protected than those in smaller towns. So in some way, my casual, unscientific study seems to show that as the "dangers" multiply, so does the militarization of the once civilian forces. It is an unfortunate evolution. See below.

Here is a picture from Prison Planet of U.S. police in Florida. These guys look like crowd control. These are our riot police.

Here is the average foot patrolman from San Francisco. I found this at ZPub . Now, let's compare this to what we see other places.

Here is Florence, Italy from Wikipedia:
Here are the French CRS police taken from Rantings of an Okiesite. He was making fun of how many police it took to round up the terrorist on the bike.

And here is their really scary street patrolman (he's having a challenging day)from Street Style and the really intimidating French police cars from Wikipedia.

United Kingdom: From Reform

Here is a nice Danish sample.

And finally the Germans. They get to drive in style with Mercedes. They are changing their uniforms from puke yellow and green to blue in order to comply with EU standards.
This was taken from the Baden Wuerttemberg Police Site which has other pics and info if you are interested.

And here is a Norwegian Policeman from Kjetil Ree at Wikicommons


Friday, September 21, 2007

What do Nomination Polls Tell Us?

It is worth looking at polls from this time in the 2004 primary nominating cycle:

This is typical from 11/03
____________(Ipsos/Cook) ___ (Gallup)

Howard Dean 20 17
Wesley Clark 16 17
Gephardt 14 13
Joe Lieberman 12 13
John Kerry 10 9
John Edwards 5 6
Dennis Kucinich 4 2
Al Sharpton 3 5

Polls show these numbers were relatively steady, but with Dean rising throughout this period, right up until just before the Iowa caucuses in 1/04.

I'm not sure I buy the conventional wisdom that HRC is the nominee based on today's polls. The electorate is just not tuned in yet.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Taser, 9/11, the 2d Amendment, and Posse Comitatus

Last year, we saw UCLA police officers use a taser to punish a student who was not obeying their orders - not as an emergency nonlethal measure to subdue a dangerous person. Now it has happened again at another college campus. Here

My first reflection was to remark (again) about the militarization of police forces in this country. I think that many police departments think of themselves as paramilitary groups whose job is to keep order - rather than to "protect and serve" as their badges say. It's sort of a military envy, reinforced by giving themselves military-style titles, having parades, 21-gun salutes for the dead, and so forth. The police do not celebrate their civilian-ness.

My second reflection is to comment on the Second Amendment. At the beginning of the republic there were no police forces. The "posse comitatus" was the phrase used to describe the force that can be used to enforce law (sort of means "county power"). The posse comitatus consisted of a sheriff and/or a justice of the peace, and a governor with the power to call out the militia. The first police departments were in NY and Boston set up to "deal with" Irish immigrants in the 1830s or so. The army could not to be used as the posse comitatus.

The British government after 1764 used a standing army instead of local militias as the posse comitatus, which was hated by the colonials. They even ordered local militias disbanded. Hence the 2nd amendment. So they insisted that "well-regulated" state militias be permitted. The constitution puts the militias under the control of state authorities but also makes them subject to being federalized. The constitution was designed by people who hated standing armies as law enforcement. The constitution forbids multi-year appropriations for the army (Check it out, Article I, Sec. 8), although not for the navy (Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers to counter those who complained about the mulit-year naval budgets that "there has never been such a thing as a naval dictatorship"). Note that the 2d amendment was not about individual self-defense. That is a modern interpretation popular not only with the gun lobby, but also by those who no longer understand the inherently civilian nature of American law enforcement.

The first major change afte the introduction of police was during the civil war. During the civil war, the army was brought north to quell draft riots. After the Civil War, the US Army was installed as law enforcement in the South. The posse comitatus act ended reconstruction and forbade the standing army from being used in this way again. The standing army was quickly dissolved to a token force to deal with Indians.

The Militia Act of 1903 reorganized state militias into the "national guard." There were fewer than 60,000 soldiers in the US army right before WWI. And there was no large standing army in this country until after WWII, when we did not demobilize them, for the first time ever, and kept a draft in peacetime.

After 9/11, you know, Republicans have called for repeals of the posse comitatus act, permitting the army to be used as the posse comitatus, i.e., as law enforcement. They have created the "Central Command" in the army, directed to governing US soil. And in 2006, HR 5122 expanded the President's power to use the national guard and the army without the consent of state governors. Senator Leahy has introduced legislation to repeal the law.

To sum up, we are in a time where the traditional constraints on military power and the relationship of state and federal law enforcement is under great strain. We have lost much of our history in this process. The Second Amendment, which stands for this history, has been trampled. The Second Amendment should be properly viewed as a constitutional protection against the military being used as law enforcement, a constitutional right of civilian control of law enforcement, i.e., of civilian rule itself, concomitant with the guarantee of a republican form of government to each state.

Here again is the text (as written): "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

It means that congress shall not disarm state militias, substituting a federal standing army for local law enforcement. Notice how it slides directly into the third amendment, prohibiting quartering of troops in private homes. I can go on about the use of the phrase "the people" and so forth. The fact that state militias are no longer used for law enforcement does not change the principle. It is terrible that this has been lost.



Just days after the Iraqi government temporarily revoked the license of Blackwater, the largest private security contractor in Iraq, the U.S. embassy has told all personnel to stay inside the Green Zone. LA Times quotes unhappy U.S. diplomats describing the blow to their work. "There is no point of having a diplomatic mission," in Iraq, one diplomat said, if they cannot even leave the heavily fortified Green Zone.

The Iraqi government is considering revoking immunity from all foreign private security contractors--a law put in place by the U.S. during the formal occupation. All of this is bad news for the Bush Administration, which may no longer be able to outsource the war to America's mercenaries, whose casualties do not show up on Department of Defense lists. And it speaks volumes that the Bush administration, so recently touting the improved security in Baghdad, now cautions its own personnel not to travel outside the U.S. compound.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Can't Wait to See Him on the Daily Show

For those who feared Fred Thompson's candidacy would finally knock the unfunded nutters out of the Republican field, there is welcome news today: perennial candidate Alan Keyes has once again thrown his carpetbag into the Presidential race. The pundit whose greatest political accomplishment to date has been to lose the Illinois Senate race to newbie Barack Obama by a margin of 43 percentage points is back again. Will we hear more gems like this one?

"Christ would not vote for Barack Obama."
We can only hope. Although these days, it seems a Presidential run is just the modern-day equivalent of a book tour. Frankly, I thought his best performance was in Borat.


Blood for Oil? You bet!

Alan Greenspan speaks in his recent published memoir:

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.
And in a subsequent interview with the Wall Street Journal, he describes discussions he had with Cheney and Rumsfeld:
My view of the second Gulf War was that getting Saddam out of there was very important, but had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, it had to do with oil. My view of Saddam over the 20 years was that he was very critically moving towards control of the Strait of Hormuz and as a consequence of that, control of the oil market. His purpose would be very much similar to Chavez’s actions and I think it would be very dangerous for us. So getting him out, to me, seemed a very important priority.

At least one prominent Republican now publicly acknowledges what the rest of us knew. Of course, by holding his tongue for five years and only making his pronouncements now that he is retired and the war is deeply unpopular, Mr. Greenspan shows he knows a thing or two about political convenience. For years, Greenspan showed overt and tacit support for Bush's tax cuts and economic policies, even while the President ballooned the deficit and expanded entitlement programs--both of which Greenspan now, conveniently, complains about.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said acidly on ABC News that Mr. Greenspan's book was just, "Georgetown cocktail party analysis." I wonder how Mr. Greenspan, so used to having the White House parse every word of his as though it were a divine utterance, will feel about them dismissing 500 precious pages? Welcome to the other end of the Republican attack machine, Mr. Greenspan. (As ye sow, so shall ye reap.)


"You bleep me, you really bleep me!"

Tom O'Neil, writing for LA Times' feature "The Envelope" described nicely what was probably the only interesting event in last night's Emmy awards show:

Producers of Sunday's Emmy telecast bleeped best drama actress winner Sally Field in the midst of a controversial acceptance speech attacking U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn't be any god -" she said when the sound went dead and the camera suddenly turned away from the stage so viewers would be distracted. Chopped off were the words "god-damned wars in the first place." (The phrase was not censored in the Canadian telecast.)

...Technically, Field's censored words are not profane. A 2004 FCC ruling specifically stated no objection to the use of "god damn" on TV when making a judgment on the uproar over Bono swearing at the Golden Globes in 2003 where he used more colorful language.
To see how the conservative propaganda machine that is FOX news defended their mother network, you may read how they FOX News characterized the evening's events:
Accepting her Emmy, Field stumbled halfway through, lost her train of thought, screeched at the audience to stop applauding so she could finish talking -- and then was bleeped by Fox censors as she stammered through an anti-war rant.
Note how the LA Times listed the actual news event up front, while Fox buried the censorship bit at the end. For an account of the events as most of America saw it, Alessandra Stanley, a reporter writing for the New York Times who apparently saw the show on television like the rest of us, described the incident thus:
Sally Field of "Brothers & Sisters," who won best actress in a drama, seemed to be on the brink of speaking out against the Iraq war, perhaps with some profanity, but it was hard to know because Fox pulled the camera away and tuned out the sound.
Yet to me, more troubling even than FOX's description of Sally Field's acceptance speech (really, "screeching?") was how Sally Field defended her own remarks. Ms. Field explained indignantly that she was merely attempting to speak about motherhood and, "didn't have a political agenda."

It is bad enough that Ms. Field is backing down and playing innocent. It is worse that she would lie about her intentions. But worst of all, it would seem she finds it reasonable for a conservative television network, acting in the public interest, to censor politically meaningful speech. So it's the pap and pablum that needs protection? Since when did "controversial" become a synonym for "inappropriate"? If Ms. Field's intended remarks evinced a similar depth of political insight, perhaps the cause of freedom was advanced further by the brouhaha surrounding her ill treatment than by anything she might have said.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

How does "car bomb" turn into V.B.I.E.D.?

Dr. Strangelove and U.S. West have frequent contacts with military people. Perhaps they can explain something that has got me scratching my head this week. Why do military people seem to prone to inventing needlessly complicated jargon to describe things for which there are already perfectly cromulent words?

PS: V.B.I.E.D. apparently stands for "vehicle born improvised explosive device" and was used without any attempt at humor or irony by a Lt. Colonel being interviewed on NPR yesterday during their story on women in combat.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Petraeus and Crocker

So the long-awaited September "report" to Congress is here. It's pretty dismal. Things are marginally better in Anbar province where the military has switched from being the arm of a Shi'ite national government to arming local Sunnis (read: militias) ostensibly for their struggle against Al Qaeda. Of course, they are really arming them for their potential struggle with the Shi'ite national government when the USA finally leaves, but they seem to think that isn't what's going on. Will the Sunni and Shi'ite groups agree to work out their differences at the ballot box rather than through armed conflict? Unlikely. The Shi'ites have too much to gain and the Sunni too much to lose. They can read the US media as well as we can. They know that within 2 years, US military presence will substantially diminish.

The testimony was awful. Petraeus answered Biden's question about whether the war was making the USA safer with an almost unbelievable response, "I haven't really thought about it." There was no confidence expressed in the Maliki regime at all by Crocker or Petraeus. The plan apparently is to end the surge by next summer, returning us to the halcyon days of 2006. I felt almost sorry for them, being asked to defend the administration's policies. As a general, Petraeus is not in the professional habit of saying "it can't be done." But his statement that he cannot really see past next summer speaks volumes. They think they can prevent Iraq from unraveling, but only at a continued cost of American lives. Progress, in terms of creating a stable political future, may be "attainable" as Crocker said, but nobody knows how to attain it. To sum up: Give War a Chance. As if we haven't been giving it a chance for 4 1/2 years.

The biggest asshole, predictably, was Lieberman. He asked Petraeus a leading question: was it time, he asked, for the Congress to give Petraeus the authority to pursue Iranian special forces (this Quds brigade thing) into Iranian territory? Petraeus visibly winced. He then responded carefully that this was something for Central Command to consider, not his forces in Iraq. In other words, we can't take on another war in Iran with our current configuration.

I am increasingly optimistic that Republicans will begin to defect from Bush and insist on some sort of legislative sunset to the war. The cost of the Iraq war in lives and money already dwarfs the cost of 9/11.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


There was a certain eloquence in the days that followed.

On September 11, 2001, NATO's governing North Atlantic Council issued a brief, two-paragraph statement. Its final lines broke from staid diplomatic condemnation and instead spoke straight from the heart.

"Our message to the people of the United States is that we are with you. Our message to those who perpetrated these unspeakable crimes is equally clear: you will not get away with it."
Le Monde's front page editorial on September 13, 2001 was also unforgettable:
"Nous sommes tous Américains" (We are all Americans).
Even the United Nations General Assembly, meeting in New York City just 24 hours later, managed to restrain itself and issue a concentrated, four-line condemnation of the attacks that expressed, "solidarity with the people and Government of the United States of America." The final sentence anticipated the future "war on terror": the nations of the world called "urgently" for the eradication of all terrorism, stressing that those "harbouring" terrorists would also be held to account. It just made sense to everyone.

In the days that followed, 100,000 marched in Ottawa bearing American and Canadian flags. Thousands marched also in the streets of Germany. Candlelight vigils were held across the world. Flowers were heaped outside U.S. embassies from Moscow to Sydney. People left us messages of solidarity everywhere.

As we remember the events of September 11th, let us also remember the events of September 12th. That spirit of solidarity can still be rekindled, and that gives me much hope.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Ring of Endless Light

My favorite author of books for young adults, Madeleine L'Engle, died yesterday. Her books inspired me as much as any teacher. This is my blog equivalent of a moment of silence.

"I wrote because I wanted to know what everything was about. My father, before I was born, had been gassed in the first World War, and I wanted to know why there were wars, why people hurt each other, why we couldn't get along together, and what made people tick. That's why I started to write stories."
--Madeleine L'Engle (1918 - 2007)


News Item: Hu Meets Rudd

New elections have not even been scheduled yet, but the oddsmakers are predicting Australian PM John Howard won't survive the next round, and apparently the Chinese have been taking note.

In Sydney for the upcoming APEC summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with opposition leader Kevin Rudd (Labour Party) for half an hour today. During the warm and friendly exchange, Mr. Rudd presented President Hu with a pair of opal cufflinks, and Hu invited Rudd and his family to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. An article in Melbourne's The Age offered this intriguing detail:

During a 30-minute conversation conducted entirely in Mandarin, Mr Hu complimented Mr Rudd on his fluency and thanked him for his commitment to developing the Australia-China relationship.[My Italics]
Rudd, a former diplomat to China who spent several years there with his family, also addressed Hu in Chinese during the official welcoming luncheon. The Sydney Morning Herald observed appreciatively of Rudd's speech,
To anyone versed in Chinese culture, as is Rudd, these sentiments of family, children, cultural links and even the homework were right on the money for such an occasion. John Howard and [Foreign Minister] Alexander Downer could only look on and grimace.
It also appears that the U.S. is reading from the same playbook as China. Despite his vocal support for John Howard, President George W. Bush's own 10-minute meeting with Rudd (in English) ran more than half an hour overtime, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointedly refused to criticize Rudd's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq (as she had condemned those of the previous Labour leader) saying instead only that, "I would just hope that any Australian prime minister would make the decision on Australia's defense commitment based on what it would take to get the job done."

As for Hu's rather extraordinary personal invitation to attend the Beijing Olympics. The Age noted, "Prime Minister John Howard met Mr Hu yesterday, but it was not immediately clear if he had received a similar offer."


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Meanwhile back in Pakistan...

Arrests in Germany this week point to Pakistan, rather than Iraq (again), as the main center of Al Qaeda training and planning. Three men, two German converts and a Turk, were arrested in Germany supposedly just before they launched a bomb attack on a US Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany. Check out the story here.

I think this will be good for Obama. He was recently dragged over the coals for suggesting that the US hunt for Al Qaeda leaders should not be overly concerned about the sovereignty claims of Pakistani leaders. His argument was that since we are pretty sure that Bin Ladin and other Al Qaeda big shots are in Pakistan, we should just go in a get them and stop letting the Pakistani government protect them.

Bush will also take this opportunity to crow about "the terrist threat" etc. He will of course not remind us that his argument in favor of the war in Iraq is that we are fighting them there so we don't have fight them here. Well, Germany's a long way from Iraq.

What do you all think?

PS: It's also worth noting, give our recent debate about the relevance of observed cultural differences, that two of the three arrested bomb plotters were ethnic German converts not Arabs. Granted, when dealing with individual actions it is best to rely on psychology rather than either political economy or anthropology.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Understanding Culture with Hofstede

One of the things that I spent a great deal of time studying in grad school was Cross-cultural communications. I knew I would be working in an international environment and I thought it would be important for me to study this. It is knowledge that has served me well. I can't remember if I have discussed this before of not. So forgive me if I have posted on this at some point in the past. A little repetition never hurts.

Cross Cultural communications is one of those fringe interdisciplinary topics that you can find in business studies as well as the social sciences. I never encountered it as a topic until I studied international business. It was present to a degree in anthropology and to some degree in sociology but it is not widely considered in the political sciences and RBR will probably agree that most hard core political scientist would laugh at the mere mention of it. And they would be right because there isn't a whole lot to know; it isn't terribly hard to understand once it is explained, and it makes you seem smart and entertaining at cocktail parties and Rotary Club meetings, which is sort of irritating. But I am not hard core, and I am entertaining at cocktail parties in general (that dancing on the table thing I do goes over big- just kidding.), so I don't mind bringing it up in response to some of Dr.S's questions in the posting about Iraq.

The "father" of this topic (It isn't really a field and shouldn't be considered as one) was a Dutchman named Geert Hofsteade. He proposed that there are core cultural values that effect social organization and interaction. The five values are: power distance (i.e. the level of acceptance in a society of inequality), Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity (the distribution of roles within a society and to what extent "male" values such as competition dominate over "female" values such as cooperation), Uncertainty Avoidance (i.e. and its ramification on decision making), Time Orientation (long term vs. short term planning.)

He then tested his theory by studying IBM employees throughout the world. At the time, the late 1970's early 1980's, IBM was the largest transnational around with a presence in some 64 countries. What he found was that these core values are not only prevalent, but consistent over time. Now, the Hofstede Model should not be taken too literally. It was applied to societies not individuals and I do not believe the statistical models have been updated. As RBR points out, culture changes over time. But then, so does everything else including political economy and government. And generalizations must always be questioned.

If you map out the cultural dimensions (as the link above does) you will see some very interesting patterns emerge. For instance, the countries with the least power distance tend to be the wealthiest. Low power distance correlates with high individualism and that usually correlates with high masculinity. And you start to get a picture of the U.S. Because highly masculine cultures value competition and aggressiveness, they tend to have a short-term orientation and more tolerant of ambiguity.

On the other end of spectrum, you get collective cultures, which tend to be present in developing nations. They tend to have more power distance, high femininity, which corresponds with a long-term orientation.

Now that doesn't mean that the U.S. only values competition and aggressiveness. We do value team work and cooperation. But when you index it statistically, you see that those characteristics associated with men are more significant than the others. every society values everything to a certain extent. Nothing is mutually exclusive.

In addition to this, there is a difference between high context and low context cultures. In a high context culture, behavior and communication is largely dictated by the context and a shared understanding of the situation. In other words, a great deal of things are left unsaid, but presumed. Germany is a high context culture as is Japan and most other Asian nations. The U.S. and the U.K. are low context cultures. We don't have a huge difference in behavior or communication dependent much less on a shared understanding of the situation. We explain everything.

All of this had a much larger influence on my thinking than even I realize at times. When you mention Iraq to me, I immediately begin the sorting process. "High context, big power distance, great tolerance for Ambiguity, collective, medium on the masculinity index". And RBR is correct that if I were to stop there, then I would be lazy and possibly prone to stereotypes. But I am neither of those things. So if I use Hofestede as a starting point, I can begin making sense of things such as, "Why didn't they overthrow Saddam on their own?" Then I start thinking about their history. And then it all makes more sense to me. From there, I consider their geopolitical situation, and I cross reference that with what Iraqis have told me, and perhaps I read a few things written by knowledgeable people, and on and on it goes. A picture starts to emerge. For me, I want to understand why they are where they are so that I can figure out where they are headed. Not everyone thinks this way, nor should they. But it is my starting point and I figured it would be a good opportunity to explain it.


Primary Madness Continues

This morning, Governor Granholm of Michigan signed a law moving her state's primary election to January 15th, a week ahead of New Hampshire and 1 day after the Iowa caucuses. New Hampshire and Iowa have yet to respond, but are expected to do so. NH law requires the primary be first in the country. Iowa law requires it to set its caucus 8 days before the first primary.

Now Wyoming Republicans announced on 9/1 they are moving their caucuses to January 5th. It is hard to see how we avoid December elections now.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

We were better off with Saddam

The sad lesson of Bush's disaster in Iraq is that sometimes the solution is worse than the problem. Before Bush's war, the threat Iraq posed to the U.S. was contained and minimal. Al-Qaeda had no quarter in Iraq. Saddam Hussein served to check Iranian ambition. The number of people harmed by Hussein's brutal dictatorship was comparatively small and the situation was stable. The vast majority of Iraqis enjoyed safety and employment. And Hussein was an old man anyhow: with his death there would have been a chance for a new era in Iraq.

Now Al-Qaeda has become entrenched in Iraq, and there is no check on Iranian aggression. Thirty thousand Americans have been wounded or killed; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been wounded or killed. Civil order has given way to civil war. Torture is more widespread than under Hussein. Thanks to our initial "shock and awe" tactics, many Iraqis remain without adequate water or electricity. The ensuing health and refugee crisis may have claimed hundreds of thousands more lives even than the violence. Unemployment is rampant. The Green Zone government is stuck in an impasse, unable to govern itself, let alone the nation. People can't even leave their houses anymore for fear.

Bush has broken the Iraqi state, emboldened Iran, and given safe-haven to our enemies. And perhaps the greatest irony of all is that the end result of Bush's war may very well be the emergence of yet another brutal dictator in Iraq, just like Saddam Hussein. The hope of freedom and prosperity for the Iraqi people will have been lost for another generation.