Friday, May 23, 2008

Nothing Serious by Justine Levy

I just had to read Nothing Serious when heard that Carla Bruni--wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy--was one of the characters depicted by Justine Levy in fictional form. I finally had a chance, thanks to the kindness of Melville House publishing chief Dennis Loy Johnson, who sent me a review copy--which, by the way, has a beautiful paperback binding, with helpful end flaps that can be used as bookmarks, real class...

As for the novel, of the confessional genre, I can report that it is really not too bad, especially for a 20-something. Better than the "girls of Knopf" sort of memoirs-cum-novels that appeared a few years ago. Not great literature, but worth reading if one's expectations are not too high.

Nothing Serious is not actually much about Carla Bruni, although she does appear as a Wicked Witch of the West-type husband-stealing predator who pops up episodically throughout the story. The main storyline, however, is a coming-of-age tale for a young French woman coming to terms with the death of her grandmother. It is a journey of self-discovery, complete with tales of infidelity and drug and alcohol abuse that ends in a French rehab center (where apparently the French health system allows stays of up to one year). Included in this roman-a-clef are vignettes of famous French philosophers like the author's father, Bernard Henry-Levy.

While not great literature, and geared more towards female "chick-lit" audiences than male readers, it does give a sense of what has happened to Europe, culturally. Blue jeans, drugs, sex, rock and roll seem to have replaced philosophical discussions about the meaning of life, more "Sex and the City" than "The Second Sex," although Levy gives philosophy a shot in the end, when she reveals the moral of her story:
Life is a rough draft, in the end. Every story is a rough draft of the next one, you cross out, you cross out, and when it's almost right and without any misprints, it's over, all that's left is to leave, that's why life is long. Nothing serious.
It would be nice to see Levy expand upon this concept in future. She may have something serious to say, but she hasn't said it yet. In a sense, Nothing Serious is a rough draft, holding out the promise of perhaps more serious work to come...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire

I came across Alex Abella's fascinating book Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire in the LAX airport newsstand, moments before boarding my $230 Virgin America flight to Washington. After Kevin's disturbing RAND conference room memorial service, I simply had to read it cover-to-cover on the flight. It took me until somewhere over Ohio. I really could not put the book down. The desire to reduce all questions to a matter of numbers was one I had come across last week in my late father's 1941 diary. It turned out we had moved into a home of one of the the founders of RAND--J. Richard Goldstein--when we arrived in Santa Monica.

Coincidentally, a high school friend had been the son of RAND researcher Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame. The cousin of someone I know worked for RAND after leaving the CIA. The girlfriend of another cousin of someone I know worked at RAND while on leave from the State Department. When I saw the book in the bookstore, I realized that I had known practically nothing about the "mother of all think-tanks." From the book I found out that the Hudson Institute was a bastard child of RAND, set up after Herman Kahn left the mother ship. The Albert Wohlstetter room at AEI is named after a RAND guru. And almost everyone who is anyone in Washington these days--especially the architects of America's Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires--seem to have some sort of RAND connection. And I had stumbled across Zalmay Khalilzad's (once dean of RAND's graduate school) and Ian Lesser's futurological scenarios in my own research on the failures of American foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia, Central Asia, and NGOs.

Yet so far as I know, there had been no book about RAND, until this. It explained a great deal, and I recommend it highly. It is about the possibilities--and limits--of operations research and systems analysis. Reading Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire helped me better understand the sudden and tragic death of my friend...

Must reading for anyone interested in the ways of Washington, or what President Eisenhower (apparently with RAND in mind) called "the military-industrial establishment."

You can read an excerpt here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kevin N. Lewis, 1955-2008

While in Santa Monica for my father's funeral, I learned that my boyhood friend Kevin N. Lewis--the most brilliant person I ever knew--had died suddenly. I attended his memorial service at the RAND Corporation. It was very sad. He died too young. Here's an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry:
Kevin Lewis (1955-2008), a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, was also widely regarded as a brilliant modern political satirist, though this was largely unknown outside defense analysis and Pentagon circles.

His lost classic work, "The Tumescent Threat", was vanished by RAND around 1980. Reportedly, thousands of copies made their way to DoD fans and libraries around the world, so we are hopeful someone will locate it and link here.

Here is a recent news story where Kevin's original tumescent concept is cleaned up and expanded. [1]

Commentary - G. Murphy Donovan: Iraq Study Group will follow a predictable path
WASHINGTON (, Nov. 29 2006) - Another advisory group, this one chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, promises a “no-holds-barred” look at the Iraq conflict. Before we expect too much, we should review other bureaucratic post-mortems, including the recent 9/11 Commission Report. These ad hoc groups have one thing in common: They are a vote of “no confidence” in the official structure. But membership is drawn from the usual suspects, who keep turning up like bad pennies. The outcomes from such groups are predictable: platitudes, a deck chair shuffle and some variation of “bigger is better!” During the Cold War, the Rand Corp.’s Kevin Lewis christened all such arguments as the Tumescent Threat.

Professionally, Kevin was compared to his Ph.D. advisor, William Kaufman, of MIT, as one of the most perceptive modern defense thinkers, able to understand the complex interrelationships between military services and systems. In one of his best printable utterances, Kevin said, "Freedom is like night baseball. Technology makes it possible."

He was the author of many influential publications on defense topics, highly respected inside the Pentagon, and by his colleagues. His RAND publication list is here.[2]

[A biography] Kevin graduated from Yale and went to MIT, obtaining a doctorate in political science. During the summers of graduate school, Kevin interned at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, CA. One of his fellow interns was Condi Rice. He has been with RAND in Santa Monica ever since (with a brief stint at RAND's Washington DC office in the early 80's). Kevin worked on national defense policy. In addition to numerous studies throughout his career, he published, soon after joining RAND, a fascinating article in Scientific American about the effects of nuclear war. His professional career spanned the Cold War, "Star Wars," the military downsizing that followed, and the response to global terrorism.

As many of us know, Kevin was interested in just about everything, and could speak with authority about literature, music, history, politics, science, medicine, psychology, and pop culture.
One other RAND spoof report from Kevin was apparently called "The Glide-Tank" and had to be recalled because people took the satire seriously (it was about a modified Abrams tank dropped from a C-5A that would sprout wings and fly the ground before shooting its target). According to one of the memorial speakers, Kevin believe the perfect specifications for a new weapons system would be: (1) Expensive, (2) Stupid, and (3) Piss everybody off. The "Glide-Tank" was designed to do exactly that...apparently no one got the joke.

Online memorial at

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Murray Elias Jarvik, 1923-2008

UPDATE: Here's a photo of my father and my mother that I took in April, 2008:

My father passed away this evening, so I will be offline for a while...
His papers are at Vanderbilt University, for those readers who would like to learn more about him:
Papers of Murray E. Jarvik, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the University of California, Los Angeles. Research interests include effects of drugs upon learning and retention, neurophysiological basis of learning, localization of drug effects in the central nervous system, psychopharmacology, primate behavior, smoking behavior and nicotine addiction.
Among his many scientific discoveries is the nicotine patch used to treat smoking addiction. From UCLA Magazine:
16. Under Your Skin

What: The Nicotine Patch

Who: Scientists Murray E. Jarvik M.A. '45 and Jed Rose

Impact: Jarvik and Rose (then a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA) were curious about "green tobacco illness," a malady striking tobacco farmhands harvesting the crop in the South. That led to research on the potential positive implications of absorbing tobacco through the skin, which resulted in the creation of the transdermal patch that delivers nicotine directly into the body. The patch was first available in the U.S. by prescription in 1992. Four years later, it was approved for over-the-counter sale. Research shows that tools such as the patch can double smokers' chances of quitting successfully. Jarvik, now 83 and retired, posits that California was a likely place from which this invention would spring, "because people here walk around with so much skin exposed."

Eureka moment: When the researchers could not get approval to run experiments on any subjects, they tested their idea on themselves. "We put the tobacco on our skin and waited to see what would happen," Jarvik recalls. "Our heart rates increased, adrenaline began pumping, all the things that happen to smokers."
— Kristine Breese '86
UCLA obituary here.
LA Times obituary here:

JARVIK, Murray E.
Died peacefully May 8, 2008 at his Santa Monica home. Born June 1, 1923 in New York City. Son of Jacob and Minnie (Haas) Jarvik. Survived by his beloved wife of 53 years, Lissy; sons, Laurence (Nancy); Jeffrey (Gail); and grandchildren, Ella, Leah, and Ethan. A scientist and inventor with a number of patents, best known for the nicotine patch, he was emeritus professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at UCLA and former chief of psychopharmacology at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. He was an alumnus of George Washington High School, where he won first prize in the Westinghouse Science Fair for a wooden working model of an iron lung exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History. He graduated from City College of New York, where he was research assistant for psychologist Kenneth Clark and worked with Nobel-prize laureates at Rockefeller University. He became interested in experimental psychology while working for his MA at UCLA, and concentrated on learning, memory and probability for his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley as a student of Edward Chace Tolman. He received his MD from UC San Francisco. He conducted behavioral research on one-trial learning in primates at Yerkes Laboratory, and pioneering LSD research as a Fellow in Psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital (NY), and later became one of the originators of the field of psychopharmacology. He was a founding member of the faculty at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where he rose to the rank of full professor of pharmacology and psychiatry, and taught monkeys to smoke, before moving to UCLA. He was a founding member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and active in numerous other scientific and professional organizations. His family remembers him as a professor, scientist, inventor, friend, and loving husband, father, and grandfather. Funeral services will be held at noon Monday, May 12th, at Eden Memorial Park, 11500 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills, CA, 818-361-7161. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, B'nai Brith, the American Lung Association, and Planned Parenthood.

NY Times obituary here. NOTE: The NY Times got my father's birthplace wrong--Murray E. Jarvik was born on June 1, 1924 at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital in Manhattan, not in the Bronx (as obituary writer Bruce Weber stated).
A former employee's remembrance here.
An LA Times article here
UCLA Daily Bruin article here
The Independent (UK) obituary here
Times of London obituary here
Agence France Presse story here:
Le père du patch à la nicotine n'est plus

L'un des pionniers américains de la lutte contre le tabagisme, co-inventeur du patch à la nicotine, Murray Jarvik, est décédé jeudi à l'âge de 84 ans, à son domicile de Santa Monica, en Californie.
C'est ce que l'on pouvait lire sur le site internet de l'Université de Californie à Los Angeles où il était professeur émérite. Murray Jarvik, qui enseignait la psychiatrie et la pharmacologie à UCLA, souffrait de problèmes cardiaques depuis plusieurs années, selon l'université.
Né à New York en 1923, il a été l'un des pionniers de la psychopharmacologie et a été l'un des premiers à étudier les effets du LSD et d'autres drogues sur la mémoire et l'addiction.
En vente libre
Dans les années 1990, il a inventé avec l'un de ses collègues de UCLA Jed Rose, devenu depuis directeur du Centre de recherches sur la nicotine et l'arrêt du tabac à l'Université Duke, en Caroline du Nord, le patch à la nicotine.

Ce procédé diffuse la substance directement à travers l'épiderme et permet aux fumeurs de moins ressentir les effets du manque. Les patchs à la nicotine ont été rendus disponibles sur ordonnance aux Etats-Unis à partir de 1992, et en vente libre quatre ans plus tard.

Algo en Espanol, por R.J. Nieto, aqui, y desde El Pais, aqui

Leon Aron on Putinism

With the transfer of presidential power in Moscow from Vladimir Putin to Dimitry Medvedev, Leon Aron explains the legacy of Putinism in AEI's Russian Outlook:
Putin's ability to forge a political system stable enough to be bequeathed to a successor merits affixing his name to it as a distinct authoritarian regime. While exhibiting many familiar traits, which include select but resolute repression, Putinism displays a number of features that distinguish it from classic authoritarianism. Some--such as the emphasis on lost glory and imperial nostalgia, the "besieged fortress" outlook, spymania, and a foreign policy shaped by retribution and resurgence and serving as the principal basis of the regime's legitimacy and the key factor of political stability--hew rather dangerously to fascistic polities. Others, such as corporatism and sultanism, are reminiscent of traditional authoritarian economic policies.

An analysis of these and other features of Putinism yields important clues about the regime's performance and longevity and Russia's behavior in the world. In the short run, the state's control of politics and the economy appears to be strengthened by the lack of competing political institutions, the "sultanistic" grip on the economy, truculence in foreign affairs, and the additional legitimacy stemming from the unchallenged view of a country with enemies at home and abroad. In the longer term, the same policies can also reliably be shown to lead to economic stagnation, political destabilization, and a dangerous deterioration of the country's external relations.

As a student of Marxist "dialectical materialism"--a required course at Leningrad State University, as it was in all other colleges and universities of the Soviet Union--Putin must be aware of such an evolution. As a successful authoritarian ruler, he no doubt will ignore this knowledge.

Daniel Pipes on Israel's 60th Anniversary of Indpendence

Two religiously-identified new states emerged from the shards of the British empire in the aftermath of World War II. Israel, of course, was one; the other was Pakistan.

They make an interesting, if infrequently-compared pair. Pakistan's experience with widespread poverty, near-constant internal turmoil, and external tensions, culminating in its current status as near-rogue state, suggests the perils that Israel avoided, with its stable, liberal political culture, dynamic economy, cutting-edge high-tech sector, lively culture, and impressive social cohesion.

But for all its achievements, the Jewish state lives under a curse that Pakistan and most other polities never face: the threat of elimination. Its remarkable progress over the decades has not liberated it from a multi-pronged peril that includes nearly every means imaginable: weapons of mass destruction, conventional military attack, terrorism, internal subversion, economic blockade, demographic assault, and ideological undermining. No other contemporary state faces such an array of threats; indeed, probably none in history ever has.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Farmgirl Fare

Someone I know just came back from a trip and went straight to this blog, her favorite. It's got lots of pictures of cute animals, stories of farm life, plus recipes: Farmgirl Fare. Here's the author's bio:
Nearly everyone dreams of moving to the country, but few people are crazy enough to actually do it. I'm one of those few. In 1994, at 26, I sold my little bakery cafe, packed up 200 boxes of books & antiques, & waved goodbye to my native California. Armed with a basic knowledge of gardening, an overenthusiastic sense of adventure & lots of naivete, I ended up on a 280-acre, 140-year-old farm in the middle of nowhere. I became cook, gardener, shepherd, farmhand, vet, surrogate mom, wildlife expert, midwife & undertaker. My prep school education & graphic design background were useless. I went from attending restaurant openings & gallery receptions to working the rural fire dept's BBQ booth at the crafts fair & munching fried pies at country auctions. Seven years ago I moved to an even more remote 240-acre farm which I share with sheep, chickens, 2 dogs, 7 cats, 4 very entertaining donkeys & one really well fed farmguy. My life revolves around food. I write food & garden articles & have taught cooking classes & contributed to cookbooks. I'm a passionate bread baker, and we're slowly building a small wholesale artisan bread bakery here on the farm.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Russian Israelis Celebrate Two Holidays This Weekend

According to Haaretz, Israeli Independence Day on May 8th and Russian Victory Day on May 9th:
Based on the medals, he was not only an outstanding soldier but also an outstanding communist and worker in the huge tank plant where he was transferred after his injury. Later on, he was a stellar scientist at the drug plant where he developed a secret formula. Thanks to this effort, he has a certificate signed by Joseph Stalin. "I worked in the plant from morning until evening," he says. "We sent the drugs to Africa and Asia. I worked to achieve a better world. I wanted to change the world."

But the big change actually happened in Kozlents' personal life. In 1979 his son Mark managed to get to Israel. The price was high. Kozlents the outstanding communist was thrown out of the party. In retrospect, he says he didn't care, because he had been thinking for a long time about immigrating to Israel.

But this goal turned out to be not simple. His secret formula became an obstacle or an excuse to deny his repeated requests to leave. Kozlents went from being an outstanding communist to an outstanding dissident and an active refusenik. He fought alone and went to demonstrations that became part of Soviet Jewry's struggle.

Once, he recalls, a kibbutznik arrived at their home posing as a visitor from Canada. The kibbutznik learned the details of Kozlents' story and went to London; this man apparently had great connections. Kozlents' story made it all the way to Britain's prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She approached Mikhail Gorbachev and suddenly the exit permit arrived.

"Thanks to the kibbutznik, thanks to Thatcher," says Kozlents, summarizing his story in halting Hebrew. That's how he arrived in Israel, bringing in his own form of Marxism. "In Russia, the communists weren't real communists," he says, "certainly not the counterfeits of Lenin and certainly not Stalin. I'm a real communist. Marx wasn't a Bolshevik."

But unlike Kozlents, Marx was not a member of Likud, the party that Kozlents joined immediately after his immigration. How does that mesh? Kozlents doesn't understand the question. "Read this," he says, pointing to one of the volumes of "Das Kapital." "The rules written here are Marx's economy. Bibi understands these rules. More or less." A remark that Bibi is a capitalist does not sway him. "So was Marx," he claims, without showing any confusion.

This week Kozlents will celebrate two holidays. The 60th anniversary of Israel's independence and the victory over the Nazis, which falls on May 9. For him, the two days complement each other. "Without our victory over the Nazis, there wouldn't have been a state," he declares proudly. "Everything is connected."

Mildred Loving, 68

Patricia Sullivan published an outstanding article in today's Washington Post about the woman whose 1967 Supreme Court case put an end to anti-miscegenation laws in the US:
Loving later said she didn't realize that it was illegal for a black woman and a white man to wed, although her husband might have. "I think he thought [if] we were married, they couldn't bother us," she said.

Nevertheless, when they returned to Central Point, Va., between Richmond and Spotsylvania, to set up their home, someone called the law.

Caroline County Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks rousted them from their bed at 2 a.m. in July 1958 and told them the District's marriage certificate was no good in Virginia. He took them to jail and charged them with unlawful cohabitation. They pleaded guilty, and Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced them to a year's imprisonment, to be suspended if they left the state for the next 25 years.

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix," Bazile ruled.

The Lovings moved to Washington in 1959 and lived with one of her cousins on Neale Street NE. They didn't like urban life and yearned to return to their rural roots.

Five years later, while visiting her mother, they were arrested again for traveling together. Loving, who had been following the 1964 civil rights legislation, wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to find out if the new law would allow the couple to travel freely. The couple was referred to the American Civil Liberties Union and assigned an attorney, Bernard S. Cohen. "It was a terrible time in America," said Cohen, who was at Loving's home when she died. "Racism was ripe and this was the last de jure vestige of racism -- there was a lot of de facto racism, but this law was . . . the last on-the-books manifestation of slavery in America."

With fellow attorney Philip J. Hirschkop, Cohen took the case to the high court. Cohen said the couple didn't understand the importance of the case to anyone other than themselves. "When I told them I thought the case was going all the way to the Supreme Court, [Richard Loving's] jaw dropped. He didn't understand why I didn't go to Judge Bazile and tell him they loved each other and they should be allowed to live where they wished," said Cohen, now a retired state delegate from Alexandria.
More on Loving v VA on Wikipedia.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Post-It Note Animation from Russia


More Post-It animation on the Scary Dolls website.

Save the European Reading Room at the Library of Congress

Here's a controversy that came as news to me: Researchers are fighting plans to move them from the main builiding in the Library of Congress. I found out about the protests from this article in Roll Call, in which one of the scholars warned that the powers-that-be seem to be intent on turning the Library into a tourist attraction, "another Disneyland."

Viva Cinco de Mayo!

The 5th of May is not Mexican Independence Day, but it should be! And Cinco de Mayo is not an American holiday, but it should be. Mexico declared its independence from mother Spain on midnight, the 15th of September, 1810. And it took 11 years before the first Spanish soldiers were told and forced to leave Mexico.

So, why Cinco de Mayo? And why should Americans savor this day as well? Because 4,000 Mexican soldiers smashed the French and traitor Mexican army of 8,000 at Puebla, Mexico, 100 miles east of Mexico City on the morning of May 5, 1862.

The French had landed in Mexico (along with Spanish and English troops) five months earlier on the pretext of collecting Mexican debts from the newly elected government of democratic President (and Indian) Benito Juarez. The English and Spanish quickly made deals and left. The French, however, had different ideas.

Under Emperor Napoleon III, who detested the United States, the French came to stay. They brought a Hapsburg prince with them to rule the new Mexican empire. His name was Maximilian; his wife, Carolota. Napoleon's French Army had not been defeated in 50 years, and it invaded Mexico with the finest modern equipment and with a newly reconstituted Foreign Legion. The French were not afraid of anyone, especially since the United States was embroiled in its own Civil War.

The French Army left the port of Vera Cruz to attack Mexico City to the west, as the French assumed that the Mexicans would give up should their capital fall to the enemy -- as European countries traditionally did.

Under the command of Texas-born General Zaragosa, (and the cavalry under the command of Colonel Porfirio Diaz, later to be Mexico's president and dictator), the Mexicans awaited. Brightly dressed French Dragoons led the enemy columns. The Mexican Army was less stylish.

General Zaragosa ordered Colonel Diaz to take his cavalry, the best in the world, out to the French flanks. In response, the French did a most stupid thing; they sent their cavalry off to chase Diaz and his men, who proceeded to butcher them. The remaining French infantrymen charged the Mexican defenders through sloppy mud from a thunderstorm and through hundreds of head of stampeding cattle stirred up by Indians armed only with machetes.

When the battle was over, many French were killed or wounded and their cavalry was being chased by Diaz' superb horsemen miles away. The Mexicans had won a great victory that kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for another year, allowing the United States to build the greatest army the world had ever seen. This grand army smashed the Confederates at Gettysburg just 14 months after the battle of Puebla, essentially ending the Civil War.

Union forces were then rushed to the Texas/Mexican border under General Phil Sheridan, who made sure that the Mexicans got all the weapons and ammunition they needed to expel the French. American soldiers were discharged with their uniforms and rifles if they promised to join the Mexican Army to fight the French. The American Legion of Honor marched in the Victory Parade in Mexico, City.

It might be a historical stretch to credit the survival of the United States to those brave 4,000 Mexicans who faced an army twice as large in 1862. But who knows?

In gratitude, thousands of Mexicans crossed the border after Pearl Harbor to join the U.S. Armed Forces. As recently as the Persian Gulf War, Mexicans flooded American consulates with phone calls, trying to join up and fight another war for America.

Mexicans, you see, never forget who their friends are, and neither do Americans. That's why Cinco de Mayo is such a party -- A party that celebrates freedom and liberty. There are two ideals which Mexicans and Americans have fought shoulder to shoulder to protect, ever since the 5th of May, 1862. VIVA! el CINCO DE MAYO!!
More on Cinco de Mayo from the Nevada Observer.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ann Althouse on the Kentucky Derby Drama

Here, reflecting on Eight Belles, Althouse quotes Montaigne:
"At the stumbling of a horse, at the falling of a tile,... let us... say to ourselves, 'Well, and what if it had been death itself?'"

Boris Johnson Bans London Tube Boozing

From The Sun (UK):
Alcohol will be made illegal in a bid to curb crime and yobs on the Underground network – as Boris promised Sun readers in his campaign to become Mayor.

Any under16s caught misbehaving on Tubes or buses will have free travel passes seized. They will have to do unpaid community work to get them back.

Boris will also put 440 community support officers on buses to tackle antisocial behaviour.

The Tory, who is celebrating his first official day as Mayor today, said yesterday: “I have instructed members of my team to crack on with implementing our manifesto pledges. It is now time to get down to business.”

Saturday, May 03, 2008

"Happy 60th Birthday, Israel: Well Done For Surviving"

While reading about Boris Johnson's victory in London in his house organ, I saw this cover story by Melanie Phillips, which is worth reading in its entirety on The Spectator (UK) website::
What would Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion have said if, on the day that he declared the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, he had known that six decades thence Israel would be encircled by its enemies, hopelessly outnumbered and fighting for its existence? He would surely have said: so what’s new?

Next week, on 8 May, Israel celebrates the 60th anniversary of that declaration. With every decade that it clocks up, people ask the same question: will Israel still be there for the next one? It is indeed astonishing that it has not only survived but is flourishing. Its situation as a permanently embattled nation is unique. On the day after Ben-Gurion declared its independence, six Arab armies invaded and tried to wipe it out. With the current exception of Egypt and Jordan, the Arab and Muslim world has been trying ever since.
If Boris Johnson becomes British Prime Minister someday, perhaps he'll name Melanie Phillips as his Foreign Minister...

What US Elections Really Mean

In Cousin Lucy's Spoon: The American Election Campaign: choose your family or choose your century?, my cousin has an interesting perspective to share. She says the current campaign is really about choosing one's family and century:
Having spent my life looking for patterns, I'm ashamed of how long it took me to see these two. The first one hit me only yesterday. Americans (including me) will be voting for the member of a nuclear "family" they want to lead them: Dad (McCain, the protector), Mom (Hillary, the ambitious hard-worker), or Son (Obama, the futurist)?

Alternatively, today it occurred to me that we're also choosing our favorite century: 19th (McCain), 20th (Hillary), or 21st (Obama).

Looking at it either way, you can see why I haven't decided yet. If I'm in a pessimistic or fearful mood, I like McCain, pragmatic - Hillary, optimistic - Obama.

Please discuss.
You can't post comments here, but you can post them on Cousin Lucy's Spoon...

Charles Moore on Boris Johnson's London Mayoral Victory

From the Telegraph (UK):
The change of mood is the most striking thing. When I approached my London polling station early on Thursday morning, I noticed the happy bustle. Far more people were voting than is usual in local contests, and they seemed keen to do so.

Friends who were in different parts of the capital in the course of the day told the same story. The extra people voting were those who had been written out of the script of Ken Livingstone's "world city". Mainly white, mainly middle-class, mainly in work, mainly with families, they were the sort of people who instinctively describe themselves as English without trying to make a political or racial point.

For them, there was never a crock of gold at the end of Ken's rainbow coalition. They did not have their parents' suspicion of gay liberation or new ethnicities. They were genuinely tolerant. But they were fed up with being told to "celebrate diversity" in their "vibrant" city when their actual experience was of schools where speaking English was a struggle, hospitals without enough beds, and streets and parks and buses not safe for their children. No, they didn't think that all Muslims were terrorists, but they were annoyed at being assured, despite the evidence of several court cases, that no Muslims were.

For such people, it was not a good thing that London drifted away from the country whose capital it is. This "post-national" stuff might be fine for the international bankers whom Ken encouraged to run up skyscrapers, for religious leaders like Yusuf Qaradawi whom Ken honoured though he advocates suicide bombing, for the assorted ideologues on Ken's payroll; but for a normal, modern Londoner, there was a growing sense of dislocation. In 2005, multi-cultural London literally blew up in their faces.

Boris Johnson has reached these voters, not by complaining and growling, but by cheering them up. He represents qualities which they like – an amused, relaxed, unjingoistic Englishness, anti-bureaucratic, politically incorrect but not right-wing. He is like something out of the novels of Charles Dickens - a national archetype whose character flourishes in the London air.
Here's Boris Johnson's victory speech on YouTube (ht The Spectator [UK]):

Friday, May 02, 2008

Winner: Boris Johnson Elected Mayor of London

EDITOR MATTHEW D'ANCONA congratulates a contributor to The Spectator (UK):
Greetings to all CoffeeHousers from the 29th Floor of Millbank Tower, where the faithful have gathered to toast our new Mayor - who, poor fellow, is stuck at the count waiting for official public confirmation of the triumph that Downing Street conceded hours ago, the bookies have already accepted, and the Evening Standard has announced in a special late edition.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to congratulate Boris on his victory - as his successor at the Spectator, his friend and (above all) a Londoner. Be in no doubt: this is a sensational achievement. Ken Livingstone has dominated London politics for a quarter century and presided over a coalition of formidable strength. In 2000, he ran rings around the New Labour machine at its mightiest. To dislodge him is a historic act of giant-killing and a remarkable moment in the capital's political history.

Labour will insist that this is a London story with no national consequence. The opposite, of course, is the case: for the first time since the general election of 1992, the Tory Party has won a major contest. The victorious candidate has captured the imagination of the whole country. His election dramatises and personifies the Conservative revival more vividly than any policy announcement or mini-manifesto could ever do. Tomorrow morning the whole country will be talking about the Boris Effect and wondering what comes next.

So: well done, my friend. You deserved this victory for which you fought and fought and fought against a veteran opponent. The torch has indeed been passed. All the best from your friends at the Spec: enjoy tonight, and then - to work!
Here's a link to Boris Johnson's entry on Wikipedia that contains this quotation:
Islam and Muslims

Johnson made the following comments about Islam in his Spectator column shortly after the July 7 bombings in 2005:

"It is time to reassert British values…That means disposing of the first taboo, and accepting that the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem. To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions. The trouble with this disgusting arrogance and condescension is that it is widely supported in Koranic texts, and we look in vain for the enlightened Islamic teachers and preachers who will begin the process of reform. What is going on in these mosques and madrasas? "When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s mediaeval ass?"
Another tidbit from Wikipedia:
On his father's side Johnson is great-grandson of Ali Kemal Bey, a liberal Turkish journalist and interior minister in the government of Damat Ferid Pasha, Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire who was murdered during the Turkish War of Independence. During World War I Boris's grandfather and great aunt were recognised as British subjects and took their grandmother's maiden name of Johnson.
BBC profile here.Curiously, Johnson's socialite first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, appears to teach at a madrassah:
Minhaj-ul-Quran Madrasah
292-296 Romford Road, Forest Gate, E7
Newham Mosque Workshops
From July 2005, artist Allegra Mostyn-Owen has been running after school art workshops in Minhaj-ul-Quran Mosque in Forest Gate. Allegra’s inspiring work with 5-14 year old boys and girls has earned her a special achievement award from the current Imam, Sadiq Qureshi and a great deal of local support.
Offscreen are now trying to support Allegra through their resources and artists in schools programme.
May 2006
Contact teacher: Allegra Mostyn-Owen, freelance artist/educator


Diana West's column about the Hudson Institute's recent panel discussion of Douglas Feith's new book, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism today is headlined The Big Lie in Iraq.

I think her point may have been a little more subtle than her headline writer's. For West noticed a telling phenomenon taking place among the panelists at the event, an inability of supposedly intelligent men to answer obvious questions:
The classic clueless moment, however, came later in an answer to a question from the floor: Did the administration ever tell Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia to bar combatants from crossing their borders into Iraq or else? And if not ("not" is clearly the answer since these borders have been Grand Central Station for jihadists), why not? Mr. Wolfowitz owned up that the U.S. had said something or other at some point but overall, the consensus on the dais came down to a big, shrugging non-answer.

I got one of those answers myself, at least from Mr. Feith. I asked: What did these gentlemen think the U.S. would ultimately get out of Iraq in exchange for our massive investment of blood and treasure? And had they learned anything to make them doubt the president's often repeated promise that Iraq would become an "ally" in the "war on terror?" Shrug. Not interested in answering.
This type of shrugging response is not actually a Big Lie, it is a sigh of resignation, an admission of defeat, that signals to the listener, "there is no point in even trying to explain..." Gloria Emerson wrote about the US government losing Vietnam in Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from a Long War. Now--whatever he says to the contrary--his performance at the Hudson Institute makes it clear that Douglas Feith has published a first-person account of losing Iraq. He clearly feels guilty about his role, which must be why Feith says he is donating proceeds to a charity for wounded veterans. If he wanted to spare the Administration embarrassment, he would have slipped quietly away. Instead, like a Shi'ite celebrating the martyrdom of Ali, he flagellated himself in full view of an audience, live and on C-Span.

Russians believe suffering purifies the soul. And certainly, the panel of experts who discussed Feith's book helped make some things perfectly clear. They provided a valuable look inside the "bubble" of the American foreign-policy establishment. Admitting they were "clueless" about the insurgency, the panelists demonstrated a striking lack of curiosity. For as West pointed out, they didn't deal with any larger issues:
They had assembled at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. for a discussion of Mr. Feith's new book "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism," but what they were drawn to discuss was went wrong with the war in Iraq.

It is a rather large topic. Would it cover, perhaps, such grand themes as the multicultural Big Lie that insists Western ways may be grafted — presto! onto Islamic cultures? Or maybe the difficulties inherent in the Western-style, humane projection of power against 7th-century terrorist barbarians? No.

As it happened, I sat a couple of rows in front of West, next to the man who asked the question about why the US didn't scare off Iraq's neighbors, Ali Alyami, of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Saudi Arabia. I saw a lot of familiar faces in the room, Bushies and Reaganites who had crossed my path since coming to Washington. I don't know how it came across on C-Span, but the feeling in the room was akin to visiting a family sitting shiva.

Only Dan Senor seemed to have a reasonable perspective on events. He impressed Diana West, and he impressed me. He pointed out that the Iraq war is not a hypothetical academic or bureaucratic excercise, but a real war affecting real people. He stated that the Americans can go home, but the Iraqis must live with the consequences.

Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Peter Rodman, on the other hand, looked like broken men. At one point someone in the audience passed around a note to the effect that this panel makes one despair of American leadership. The body language, the silences, the glances, the sighs, the shrugs all added up to a sense of loss, pathetic rather than tragic, for there was no greatness to it.

Hudson deserves great credit for hosting this panel discussion.

The Blogger Who Brought Down Al Franken

His name is Michael Brodkorb, and his website is Minnesota Democrats Exposed. Today, his exposure of Franken's tax problems made the AP wires...

Russia Investing in Iraq

Lukoil CEO Vagit Alekeprov said that Russia is back in business in Iraq:
Russia Today: The geography of your business outside Russia is really impressive. What countries or regions are the most important for you and are you starting any new projects?

Vagit Alekeprov: The priority for us is Iraq, with its unique West Kurna 2 project. My latest trip to Baghdad gives me confidence that this project will be a success. We feel that the top leaders of the country are interested in creating an investment climate in Iraq so that huge amounts of money - which will be billions and billions of dollars - will be invested to develop their unique fields.
More details on the partnership with Conoco-Phillips from the Rebuild Iraq website. Background to this deal in an August 2007 Kommersant article. You can read a biography of Vagit Alekperov on Wikipedia.

John LeBoutillier on How Democrats Can Win in 2008

The former Republican Congressman has a suggestion for the Democrats:
Obama is faltering. He has not won a primary since February 22.

How can these Super-Delegates not see what is so plain to us all: Obama cannot win a national election. He is easy pickings for the GOP - even when the Republican candidate seems out-of-it half the time and engenders no conservative enthusiasm at all - and even in a year that is tailor-made for the Democratic Party.

It is obvious that these career politicians know Hillary and can’t stand her. OK, fine. Then they ought to do what this space suggested last week: nominate Al Gore and make Obama the Veep candidate. That ticket - Gore/Obama - would win this November. They would screw the Clintons - something they both want to do - and they would keep the Democratic base together and happy.
Boy, that would also show up Bush...

Why Haven't We Heard More About This?

Video from

Here's an analysis of North Carolina politics that mentions Hillary''s acceptance of Governor Easley's remark in passing, from John Hood's article on National Review Online:
The next day, Hillary Clinton stood next to Gov. Mike Easley at N.C. State’s McKimmon Center. It’s a continuing-education center where thousands of North Carolinians have come for such programs as teacher training, crop-science presentations, and state 4-H Congress. Clinton had just come from touring a nearby bio-manufacturing institute on campus. Standing before a small crowd and a gaggle of reporters, she accepted the endorsement of a folksy two-term governor with a NASCAR following and a populist style (his most-newsworthy comment was that Hillary “made Rocky Balboa look like a pansy.”)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day!

Today is a holiday all over the world--except the USA, where it started, according to Wikipedia:
May Day can refer to various labour celebrations conducted on May 1 that commemorate the fight for the eight hour day. May Day in this regard is called International Workers' Day, or Labour Day. The choice of May 1st was a commemoration by the Second International for the people involved in the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, Illinois. As the culmination of three days of labor unrest in the United States, the Haymarket incident was a source of outrage and admiration from people around the globe. In countries other than the United States and Canada, residents sought to make May Day an official holiday and their efforts largely succeeded.
For this reason, in most of the world today, May Day has become an international celebration of the social and economic achievements of the labour movement. Although May Day received its inspiration from the United States, the U.S. Congress designated May 1 as Loyalty Day in 1958 due to the day's appropriation by the Soviet Union.[4] Alternatively Labor Day traditionally occurs sometime in September in the United States. Some view this as an effort to isolate American workers from the worldwide community.[5]
UPDATE: Received this email from Agustin Blazquez, the Cuban-American documentary filmmaker:
Today is May 1st, the international day communists celebrate "the workers redemption from exploitation." But in reality it should be known and called as "The International Day of Slave Workers Under Communism." And people all over should demand the end of communism slavery.

My best,

Here's a link to a preview of his latest film, about the use of Cuban slave labor in Curacao: