Politics, culture, business, and technology

I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.


Selected Posts:
Sleeping with the Enemy
Dancing for the Boa Constrictor
Koestler on Nuance
A Look into the Abyss
Hospital Automation
Made in America
Politicians Behaving Badly
Critics and Doers
Foundations of Bigotry?
Bonhoeffer and Iraq
Misvaluing Manufacturing
Journalism's Nuremberg?
No Steak for You!
An Academic Bubble?
Repent Now
Enemies of Civilization
Molly & the Media
Misquantifying Terrorism
Education or Indoctrination?
Dark Satanic Mills
Political Violence Superheated 'steem
PC and Pearl Harbor
Veterans' Day Musings
Arming Airline Pilots
Pups for Peace
Baghdad on the Rhine

Book Reviews:
Forging a Rebel
The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America
On the Rails: A Woman's Journey

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005  

A couple of weeks ago, certain House Democrats held a mock "impeachment" of President Bush. (See Washington Post report.) During the hearing, one of the "witnesses" declared that the United States went to war in Iraq for oil, Israel and military bases craved by administration "neocons" so "the United States and Israel could dominate that part of the world." He said that Israel should not be considered an ally and that Bush was doing the bidding of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

According to the Post article, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) prompted the question by wondering whether the true war motive was Iraq's threat to Israel. Moran thanked McGovern for his "candid answer." Also: At Democratic headquarters, where an overflow crowd watched the hearing on television, activists handed out documents repeating two accusations -- that an Israeli company had warning of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that there was an "insider trading scam" on 9/11 -- that previously has been used to suggest Israel was behind the attacks.

Writing in The American Thinker, Richard Baehr has this to say:

So the Democrats in Congress are now giving voice and credibility to the view that Israel was responsible for the Iraq war. And other Democrats, watching the hearing at the DNC, are hosting anti-Semites who argue that Israel had advance warning of the 9/11 attacks and is therefore responsible for allowing the attacks to occur. And even deeper into familiar anti-Semitic tropes: that Israelis withheld the information so as to benefit financially.

This sounds exactly like classic anti-Semitism. These messages were not being conveyed on anti-Semitic web sites, or on Palestinian TV and radio on Thursday, but at a Democratic function from a meeting room in Congress, with more than 10% of the Democrats in Congress in attendance, and at Democratic National Headquarters.

Howard Dean released a statement disavowing the literature and condemning the allegations contained therein. That's good. However:

In September, 2003, Howard Dean himself stated that the U.S. should not "take sides" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Now, that's not on the same level as some of the things said at the recent "hearing," and I don't mean to suggest that it is. But it seems to me that Dean's comment tended to establish a kind of moral equivalence between people who blow up pizza parlors and people who try to keep them from being blown up. And by doing so, he helped make the Democratic Party a welcoming place for the kind of people who were in evidence at the "hearing."

I'm also disturbed by recent comments made by another Democrat, Charles Rangel, about ADL leader Abraham Foxman. I'm not a Foxman fan, but the press release sent out by Rangel on June 8 is way over the top.

2:23 PM


USNews reports that a coalition of European leftist groups is collecting money for the enemy in Iraq.

The groups are an odd collection, made up largely of Marxists and Maoists, sprinkled with an array of Arab emigres and aging, old-school fascists, according to Lorenzo Vidino, an analyst on European terrorism based at The Investigative Project in Washington, D.C. "It's the old anticapitalist, anti-U.S., anti-Israel crowd," says Vidino, who has been to their gatherings, where he saw activists from Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Italy. "The glue that binds them together is anti-Americanism." The groups are working on an October conference to further support "the Iraqi Resistance." A key goal is to expand backing for the insurgents from the fringe left to the broader antiwar and antiglobalization movements.

7:24 AM

Sunday, June 26, 2005  

Forbes (6/20) has an interesting article about International Development Enterprises, a non-profit that develops and markets low-cost irrigation devices. Paul Polak, the group's founder, believes that the basic problem of rural poverty in the developing world boils down to what happens on quarter-acre plots. Of the 1.1 billion people in the world who exist on $1 a day or less, he says, 75% live in rural areas and half eke out fragile livings cultivating small plots of land. Marginally boost their income, and power plants, clinics and schools will follow.

IDE's first successful product was a treadle pump, which works like a StairMaster and sells for $25. Farmers use their legs to pump shallow groundwater onto their crops. Development experts were skeptical. "Human energy is the most expensive energy on Earth," says David Seckler, at the time the head of the International Water Management Institute, funded in part by the World Bank. "We always thought small diesel pumps would be the future."

Well, yeah, all things being equal, I'd rather let a diesel engine irrigate my crops than spend several hours a day doing it with my legs. But all things aren't equal. The diesel pump costs money ($500 when IDE introduced its treadle pump; $200 even now). Diesels require regular supplies of fuel and lubricants...and when they break, it's unlikely that they can be fixed by a village blacksmith. The selection of an appropriate technology involves more than just a comparison of thermodynamic efficiences.

The treadle pump is made by a network of metalworkers, and sold with the help of troubadours, who are hired to travel to villages singing the pump's praises. There is even a Bollywood-style movie where a family's fortunes are turned around by the pump. 1.5 million of these devices have been sold in Bangladesh along with another 1 million in other developing countries. Farmers using the pump net on average an additional $100 a year from their crops, says Polak, some as much as $500.

For more arid regions, IDE has developed a drip-irrigation system. Indian machine shops make the tubing, using a simple plastic extruder, and they are sold through village merchants--200,000 drip systems so far. One customer is Manek Raut, who owns a 3.5-acre farm in western India. Until recently Raut's field lay barren from lack of water, forcing his brother to leave home and Raut to labor for a pittance on a nearby farm to support his seven-member family. His employer's farm flourished using a drip irrigation system: a motorized pump connected to rows of tubes that snake through the crops and drip just enough water onto the roots. Widely used for decades, these commercial systems are far too expensive for farmers like Raut.

But now, Raut has his own drip system, an IDE model that he purhcased for $125 (which he had to borrow from friends). He is now growing okra and beans and expects to earn $300 this season from a cotton crop. He says he can recover his $125 investment from eggplants his mother sells door-to-door. "Without this drip, this would have remained barren land," says Raut.

Polak thinks there should be a lot more efforts like those being undertaken by IDE. "So much development work is focused on macroeconomics and increasing GDP per capita." These large-scale government aid programs are doomed to failure because of corruption, bureaucratic sloth and, ultimately, the dependency they breed among recipients, says Polak: "Until the development community realizes that the solution to poverty lies in increasing the wealth of small-plot farmers, it will continue to fail."

IDE is getting help from David Kelley, founder of the IDEO design shop and now head of Stanford University's new design institute. Graduate business and engineering students enrolled in the school's Design for Extreme Affordability class are working to come up with ideas that may be useable in impoverished countries.

I was sorry that the article didn't also mention Amy Smith. She is an MIT mechanical engineer who specializes in the invention of products for the very poor. Her results thus far have included innovations in grain mills and water purification devices.

Obviously, technologies such as those being pursued by Paul Polak and Amy Smith don't represent the entire solution to world poverty. But they do have an important part to play, and indeed are likely to make more of a real difference than many of the "glamor" projects long favored by the international development establishment.

I hope Paul Wolfowitz will find time in his schedule to meet with Polak and Smith, in the near future. A few million dollars directed toward their work is likely to have more impact than a few billion elsewhere.

9:29 AM

Saturday, June 25, 2005  

One ninth-grader read at the third-grade level. A few struggled to multiply or divide. One girl's father had been slain. Another student was homeless.

When these students entered high school, their prospects looked bleak. Most of them never expected to get into college. Some simply did not want to try.

But now, 19 out of the 20 original students in the class have graduated and been admitted to four-year colleges. The 20th student still needs to complete some coursework but will graduate in August and already has a scholarship.

Read the article.

Via Katie.

11:39 AM


My high-speed Internet (Comcast) service has been so flaky as to be virtually unsuable for the last several days. If cable companies want to be serious long-term players in Internet and voice, they're going to have to do better than this.

So, I called Verizon to find out more about their recently-accounced fiber-to-the-premises service. I called the Verizon number in the phone book, and after I got a person, I told him what I wanted and he transferred me to some specialized group. The person who answered at that group, though, couldn't answer any questions about the service; he had to transfer me yet again, to a sub-specialty group that handled the fiber service. When I finally got to the right person, he was quite knowledgeable and helpful.

The fiber service is apparently an important strategic initiative for Verizon. Why in the world wouldn't they put procedures in place so that people who call in to ask about it are transferred direcly to the right people in the first place? This should really be marketing & sales 101 stuff.

Diseconomies of scale strike again.

11:27 AM

Wednesday, June 22, 2005  

There have been several stories in the business media recently about Chinese firms interested in purchasing American companies with strong brands. Comes now Haier Group, a Chinese manufacturing company, leading a consortium of investors with a $1.3B offer for Maytag. This offer represents a premium to the $1.13B offered by a private equity group (and accepted by Maytag) a month ago.

I've previously written about Maytag and Haier. Note that Haier is already doing final assembly in the US, at least for some of its products.

Also, an interesting article about global manufacturing strategy at Whirlpool.

9:39 AM

Monday, June 20, 2005  

Thomas Klocek was an (untenured) professor at DePaul University in Chicago. Last September, he passed a student activities table at which some statements strongly critical of Israel were being made, and stopped by to debate with the students. Klocek was particularly bothered by the claim that Israeli treatment of Palestinians is as bad as the way Hitler treated the Jews. The argument grew heated, and now Klocek is out of a job.

On June 14, Klocek filed a defamation lawsuit against DePaul.

I am sure there are multiple versions of exactly what transpired during the heated debate at the activities table. But regardless of what these specfics turn out to be, the university's handling of this matter is deeply troubling.

In March, DePaul's President made a statement which included the following: "Because this is a personnel matter and privacy rights must prevail, and also because this instructor is threatening legal action unless the university pays him a great deal of money, I am not able to respond in full detail." After that disclaimer, he goes on to say "However, this issue is not about academic freedom. It is about inappropriate and threatening behavior" and further "Last September, while students were passing out literature at a table in the cafeteria, Mr. Klocek confronted them in a belligerent and menacing manner. He raised his voice, threw pamphlets at students, pointed his finger near their faces and displayed a gesture interpreted as obscene. This continued for some time before other students in thecrowded cafeteria summoned staff help to intervene" and also "DePaul offered to give Mr. Klocek a spring quarter class assignment if he met with the students to apologize for his behavior and if the program director could drop by his class to ensure that the health issues that affected his teaching were resolved. He refused."

I find these to be rather remarkable statements from someone who cites "a personnel matter" and "privacy rights." (Also, Klocek states that he did not throw any papers--see the link on the lawsuit.) And what one earth does "a gesture interpreted as obscene" mean? Klocek says he made an Italian gesture that means "I'm done with this conversation." Are DePaul professors to be at the mercy of someone else's interpretation of their body language?

Particularly disturbing to me are remarks made by DePaul's Dean Susanne Dumbleton. In a letter to the school's newspaper, she wrote: “No students anywhere should ever have to be concerned they will be verbally attacked for their religious belief or their ethnicity...No one should ever use the role of teacher to demean the ideas of others or insist on the absoluteness of an opinion, much less press erroneous assertions.” Given the context, one could easily assume that Dumbleton, speaking for the university, is asserting that Klocek's beliefs about the Middle East are "erroneous." What precisely does DePaul believe is erroneous about Klocek's position, and what are the bounds of permissible expression on this matter at DePaul? And why is it "demeaning the ideas" of an individual to disagree with him, even vehemently? And what is this about professors never insisting on "the absoluteness of an opinion?" Are physics professors at DePaul still allowed to state that the derivative of velocity is acceleration, or must that statement now be hedged about with qualifying language?

Dumbleton also told Klocek that the students were "hurt and crushed" by his remarks and that he used his title as a professor and his power over them to force them to accept his remarks as true. She also said in a letter to the newspaper that "the students' perspective was dishonored and their freedom demeaned." Again, does it "dishonor" someone's perspective to disagree with them? Are DePaul professors now expected to pay obseisance to any idea whatsover that is asserted by a student?

Many academics leapt to the defense of Ward Churchill, and the Churchill case received heavy coverage in the media. There has been much less attention to the case of Thomas Klocek.

A good source for continuing coverage of this case is Marathon Pundit.

3:06 PM

Saturday, June 18, 2005  

If you know anything about hybrid-car battery technology, and especially about the energy costs of manufacturing the battery, please hop on over to ChicagoBoyz. Thanks!

2:10 PM

Friday, June 17, 2005  

Not knowing history is worse than ignorance of math, literature or almost anything else. Ignorance of history is undermining Western society's ability to talk straight and think straight. Parents must attack the problem by teaching their own children the facts. Only fools would rely on the schools.

Read the whole thing.

8:16 AM

Thursday, June 16, 2005  

A virtual feast awaits you, courtesy of Margaret and Sheila.

7:52 PM


Joy of Knitting was out of action for a while due to house renovations, but she's now back and blogging.

8:49 AM

Wednesday, June 15, 2005  

Historian Paul Johnson has an important essay about The Anti-Semitic Disease. Sample:

But if anti-Semitism is a variety of racism, it is a most peculiar variety, with many unique characteristics. In my view as a historian, it is so peculiar that it deserves to be placed in a quite different category. I would call it an intellectual disease, a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive. It is a disease to which both human individuals and entire human societies are prone.


Asked to explain why they hate Jews, anti-Semites contradict themselves. Jews are always showing off; they are hermetic and secretive. They will not assimilate; they assimilate only too well. They are too religious; they are too materialistic, and a threat to religion. They are uncultured; they have too much culture. They avoid manual work; they work too hard. They are miserly; they are ostentatious spenders. They are inveterate capitalists; they are born Communists. And so on. In all its myriad manifestations, the language of anti-Semitism through the ages is a dictionary of non-sequiturs and antonyms, a thesaurus of illogic and inconsistency.

Johnson shows how anti-Semitism harms any nation that cultivates it, and demonstrates the linkages between anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.

(via Betsy's Page)

9:14 AM

Tuesday, June 14, 2005  

Roger L Simon posts new information on the oil-for-food scandal, here...and also has some observations on the way The New York Times has covered this story.

ChicagoBoyz reports on the effort of some Republican House members to withhold UN dues if certain reforms are not accomplished in an expedited manner. Some former ambassadors to the UN ("UN groupies," in demimasque's words) are objecting, and have produced a letter containing the following remarkable statement:

"The fact is reforms cost money and withholding dues impair the U.N.'s ability to make the changes needed."

So, it's only lack of money that is causing the UN to put dictators in charge of human rights panels, conduct an unremitting propaganda war against Israel, and allow corruption and horrendous bureaucracy in its own operations?

This is spookily reminiscent of the Democratic Party's approach to public education--just give the establishment however much money they demand, and don't offend them by asking for any kind of accountability.

4:06 PM

Monday, June 13, 2005  

Is it hot where you are? Glad you have air conditioning?

6:43 AM

Sunday, June 12, 2005  

Michael Mandel, the chief economist of BusinessWeek, offers an interesting analysis of the value of a college degree:

For the last 20 years, a college degree has been the rarest of anomalies--a low-risk, high-return asset, College grads have enjoyed low-risk work lives, because low unemployment rates mean that they are rarely out of work. And with their wages rising much faster than inflation, returns have been high as well.

However, as a general rule, high-return, low-risk investments are ephemeral. It is rare for them to last, because such an attractive investment would draw a flood of new money. It would be like the stock market always going up, without any risk of a downturn--and as we have seen over the last few years, that situation can't last forever.

In fact, the supply of college-educated labor has been rising, both at home and globally.

(From his book, Rational Exuberance)

7:28 AM

Friday, June 10, 2005  

For high school graduation in Charles County (MD), the dress code for boys is dark dress pants with white dress shirts and ties. Thomas Benya, an American Indian, wore a black bolo tie with a silver and onyx clasp. Administrators refused to allow him to graduate, claiming that the tie was not acceptable--that it was "too skinny," in the words of The Washington Post. Bolo ties are common among American Indians; go to the Post story to see what one looks like if you're not familiar with them.

Unbelievably, school administrators are defending their decision. "The First Amendment protects religion, and we do everything possible to honor that," said a school district spokeswoman. "There is nothing that requires us to follow everyone's different cultures."

What an amazing statement...and a revealing one. Executives and professionals, of course, don't only do things that they are required to do. A person who only does things that he is required to do is a clerk...and not a very good one at that. Taking responsibility means exercising judgment. It seems to me that in this case the administrators either refused to exercise judgment--attempting to replace their mental facilities with reliance on an all-encompassing rulebook--or they exercised judgment and did a very poor job of it.

How long are Americans going to put up with this kind of petty tyranny and robot-like behavior from those who run our public schools?

8:00 PM


ADL conducted a major poll on attitudes toward Jews in 12 European countries, and the results are deeply disturbing. In Hungary, for example, 55% agreed with the statement "Jews have too much power in international financial markets." The number was 54% for Spain and 43% for Poland. Even for France, Germany, Holland, and the UK, the numbers were 24%, 24%, 19%, and 16%, respectively. ("Agreed" means that the respondent said that the statement was "probably true.")

Results for the other survey questions are also worrisome. And the sample size is too large--6000 total, stratified as 500 per country--for the data to be disregarded as sampling error. (Margin of error is stated as + or - 4.5% with a 95% level of confidence.)

Read the whole thing. These results make it pretty clear--if it were not already obvious--that much of the vitriol directed at Israel is motivated by something other than objective concerns about the policies of the Israeli government.

And I wonder...among those who think Jews have too much power in international financial markets....how many of them have even the vaguest idea what "international financial markets" actually are, or how they operate?

9:32 AM


Michael Yon writes about his visit to a Yezedi village (the Yezidi are often considered to be Kurds, but, according to Yon, they say they are not.) Interesting and moving, with excellent photos.

And here's a report alleging the complicity of a French oil company in Saddam's destruction of the marshes of southern Iraq.

UPDATE: Michael Fumento has been with the troops in Iraq.

6:28 AM

Thursday, June 09, 2005  

Scott Kirwin provides some perspective.

12:19 PM

Wednesday, June 08, 2005  

In just about every issue of Investors Business Daily, there is a profile of some particular mutual fund. In yesterday's paper (6/7), the profile is of the Neuberger Berman Socially Responsible Fund. The fund does not invest in firms involved in areas such as "tobacco, alcohol, gambling, nuclear power, and weapons." It also emphasizes good corporate govenance and financial transparency.

The headline of the IBD article is Fund Prefers Good Corporate Citizens, and the subtitle is Sense of Ethics a Must.

I don't think there's anything socially responsible about refusing to invest in defense contractors--quite the contrary. To apply the old test, "What if everyone did it?" Unless you are an absolute pacifist--and few people are--you must agree that the United States needs to maintain some sort of military. It would be unbelievably callous to ask soldiers to serve in this military without being supplied with effective weapons.

Rather than being "socially responsible investing," this kind of investment policy seems to me to represent a kind of individual fastidiousness, exercised without much concern for the actual well-being of society as a whole.

And I'm really disappointed that IBD chose to title the article the way it did, rather than making clear that this represents only one view of being a "good corporate citizen" with a "sense of ethics." I've seen this kind of thing before in other business publications, but didn't expect it in IBD.

3:42 PM

Tuesday, June 07, 2005  

Donald Sensing reminds us of the stakes.

11:22 AM

Monday, June 06, 2005  

Almost everyone has at least some knowledge about the invasion of Normandy which took place on June 6, 1944...but relatively few are aware that there was an earlier amphibious assault on occupied Europe. The attack on the French port of Dieppe took place on August 19, 1942. The objectives were twofold. First, the attack was intended as kind of a "feasibility test" for the large-scale invasion which was to take place later. As stated by General Sir Alan Brooke, "If it was ever intended to invade France it was essential to launch a preliminary offensive on a divisional scale." Second, the attack was intended to convince Hitler that an invasion was more imminent than it in fact was, thereby leading to the diversion of German forces from other areas.

The troops assigned to Dieppe were mostly Canadians--5000 of them. There were also British commandos and a small number of American Rangers. Eight destroyers were assigned to the operation, along with 74 Allied air squadrons.

The attack was a disastrous failure. In the words of military historian John Keegan: "When the badly shocked survivors of that terrible morning were got home and heads counted, only 2,110 of the 4.963 Canadians who had set sail the day before could be found. It became known later that 1,874 were prisoners, but of these 568 were wounded and 72 were to die of their wounds, while 378 of those returning were also wounded. Sixty-five percent of the Canadians engaged had therefore become casualties, almost all of them from the six assaulting infantry battalions, a toll which compared with that of July 1st, 1916, first day of the Battle of the Somme and blackest in the British army's history. The 2nd Canadian Division had, for practical purposes, been destroyed...Strategic as well as human criteria applied in measuring the scale of the disaster. All the tanks which had been landed had been lost...lost also were 5 of the 10 precious Landing Craft Tank. And, auguring worst of all for the future, the damage had been done not by hastily summoned reinforcements, but by the forces already present; the 3 Canadian battalions which had stormed the central beach had been opposed by a singe German company--at odds, that is, of 12 to 1..." If one defending unit could stop an attacking force with 12 times the numbers, a successful invasion would be impossible. Keegan: "(the disparity between the power of the attack and the defense) clearly could not be overcome merely by increasing the numbers of those embarked for the assault. that would be to repeat the mistakes of the First World War, when the solution of greater numbers resulted arithmetically in greater casualties for no territorial gains."

Captain (later Vice-Admiral) John Hughes-Hallett summarized the lessons of the failure in a report written shortly afer the fact. To quote Keegan once again: "'The lesson of Greatest Importance,' his report capitalized and italicized, "Is the need for overwhelming fire support, including close support, during the initial stages of the attack,' It should be provided by 'heavy and medium Naval bombardment, by air action, by special vessels or craft' (which would have to be developed) 'working close inshore, and by using the firepower of the assaulting troops while still seaborne.'"

The lessons of Dieppe were taken seriously. Keegan goes on to describe the naval firepower assigned to the actual D-day landings carried out by Canadians at Juno Beach: "Heaviest and furthest out were the two battleships Ramillies and Warspite...They both mounted four 15-inch guns and there were two more in Roberts, their accompanying monitor. Their chief task was to engage the large-calibre shore bateries between the Orne and the mouth of the Seine, but so great was their range--over eighteen miles--that they could in emergency be talked in on any target in the British bridgeheads...Immedeiately port and starboard of the lowering position was disposed a line of twelve cruisers, the smallest, like Diadem, mounting eight 5.25 inch guns, the largest, like Belfast, twelve 6-inch. Both were covering the Canadian beaches...In front of the Canadian lowering position manoeuvred the supporting destroyers, eleven for the Juno sector...And immediately in ahead of the assault-wave infantry was deployed a small fleet of support landing-craft: eight Landing Craft Gun, a sort of small monitor mounting two 4.7 inch guns; four Landiing Craft Support, bristling with automatic cannon; eight Landing Craft tank (Rocket), on each of which were racked the tubes of 1,100 5-inch rockets, to be discharged in a single salvo; and eighteen Landing Craft Assault (Hedgerow), which were to fire their loads of twnety-four 60-lb bombs into the beach obstacles and so explode as many as possible of the mines attached to them."

In addition to the need for very heavy naval firepower, the D-day planners learned another lesson from Dieppe: rather than immediately seizing a port, or landing in close proximity to one, they avoided ports altogether, landing supplies initially over an open beach and leaving the capture of a port for a later phase in the operation.

Here is a remembrance of Dieppe from the perspective of one soldier who fought there.

Keegan quotes are from his book, Six Armies in Normandy.

7:02 AM

Sunday, June 05, 2005  
JUNE 4, 1989

Tiananmen Square at a blog called Cake Eater Chronicles.

7:59 AM

Saturday, June 04, 2005  
JUNE 4, 1942

The Battle of Midway

(via Betsy's Page)

UPDATE: David Gelernter has more about Midway.

7:39 PM

Friday, June 03, 2005  

If you are, perchance, a venture capitalist negotiating with a potential senior executive for one of your portfolio companies, then you need to read this post.

And if you are not a venture capitalist negotiating with a senior executive--but you are involved in negotiations of any type--then you should probably still read it.

See also my related post, here.

7:19 PM


The very limited mental world of many New York Times denizens becomes ever more apparent. See the post below for one example--here's another:

For a certain segment of the population, Nascar's raid on American culture -- its logo festoons everything from cellphones to honey jars to post office walls to panties; race coverage, it can seem, has bumped everything else off television; and, most piercingly, Nascar dads now get to pick our presidents -- triggers the kind of fearful trembling the citizens of Gaul felt as the Huns came thundering over the hills. To these people, stock-car racing represents all that's unsavory about red-state America: fossil-fuel bingeing; lust for violence; racial segregation; run-away Republicanism; anti-intellectualism (how much brain matter is required to go fast and turn left, ad infinitum?); the corn-pone memes of God and guns and guts; crass corporatization; Toby Keith anthems; and, of course, exquisitely bad fashion sense. What's more, they simply don't get it. What's the appeal of watching . . . traffic? It's as if ''Hee Haw'' reruns were dominating prime time, and the Republic was slapping its collective knee at Grandpa Jones's ''What's for supper?'' routine.

...and more along the same lines.

Now, I'm not personally a NASCAR fan, or a fan of auto racing in general. But that's merely a matter of taste. It doesn't automatically make me a better human being than those individuals who do enjoy auto racing. Why do so many writers of the NYT stamp attempts to turn personal taste into a proxy for general goodness?

And I wonder...would the NYT make the same kind of comments about Ascot? It should be equally easy to write an article with sneering lines like "how much brain matter is required to make a horse go fast?" and to make fun of the peculiar costumes (top hats, for example). Somehow, I doubt it...because the NYT writers probably think of the attendees at Ascot as people of "our class" (or of the class to which they aspire).

But if the "cool kids" were to decide that NASCAR racing was the hot thing of the moment--then I bet the NYT writers would quickly discover hiterto-unsuspected depths in the activity.

UPDATE: A professor from Australia has this to say: As John Carey, Merton professor of English at Oxford, demonstrates in his book The Intellectuals and the Masses, all this undergoes a further permutation in the age of popular culture, with the intelligentsia increasingly defining itself against the masses.

Indeed, many of the commens of today's "progressives" would lead one to believe that they just don't like many of the American people (or the Australian people, as the case may be) very much. I suspect that this dislike is often more the cause than the effect of their specific policy beliefs.

For a contrast, here's a leftist--indeed, a socialis--of an earlier era. George Orwell, on England and it's people:

When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning - all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

In these words, Orwell's genuine affection for his countrymen shines through. However strong his disagreements with Britain's government and social structure, he liked the place and the people, and he felt at home there.

Very different from many of today's "progressives" in America, (apparently) Australia, and (I'll bet) Britain.

2:23 PM

Thursday, June 02, 2005  

A New York Times writer was asked about a comment made by Glenn Reynolds, and answered "I am reluctant to respond to people who call themselves by names like Instapundit."

To which Glenn said "YEAH, I READ THIS, and I thought about posting something to the effect that I couldn't take seriously a newspaper published by guys named Pinch' and 'Punch.' But then I thought ah, what the hell."

3:04 PM

Wednesday, June 01, 2005  

Iran has successfully tested a solid fuel engine for its Shahab-3 ballistic missile.

See also my post Noose, Bomb, and Rocket.

3:14 PM

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