State of the Union

Israel in a Post-American Era

In 1918, the United States proved militarily decisive in the defeat of the Kaiser’s Germany and emerged as first power on earth.

World War II, ending in 1945, produced two truly victorious nations, the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin and the America of Harry Truman.

Out of the Cold War that lasted from Truman to the disintegration of the Soviet Empire and breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of Ronald Reagan’s term came a lone victor: the last superpower, the United States.

Who emerged triumphant from the post-Cold War era, 1991-2011? Read More…

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Newt Gingrich Is Not a Conservative

When Newt Gingrich criticized Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan and repeated his support for individual healthcare mandates this week, many conservatives expressed outrage and shock. Conservatives were right to be outraged. But they shouldn’t have been shocked.

Simply put, Newt Gingrich has never been a conservative.

Perhaps a quick primer in perception versus reality is in order. The reason most presidential candidates are considered frontrunners is because enough people keep saying they are frontrunners. For example, candidates like former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels are considered frontrunners despite having less name recognition, lesser poll numbers and less fundraising ability than some of the other supposed second or third tier candidates. Still, their perception as such continues to dictate the current reality. Read More…

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Pitchfork Mike

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg belies his elitist image, boldly demonstrating his contempt for due process will not be overawed by wealth and status:

“I think it is humiliating, but if you don’t want to do the perp walk, don’t do the crime. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for that.”

And if you expect the mayor to prove your presumed crimes, consider staying out of New York. Perhaps it’s an optical illusion, but when I take a step back this “elitist” becomes a petty provincial. Mike Bloomberg in the role of redneck sheriff–and killing it! Lord, I’m ready.

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Turning Libya Into Somalia

In mid-April, I was asked to participate in a “Libya Workshop” in Brussels for the EU foreign ministry. Knowing what such meetings are like, I declined, but sent them the following paper:

From the perspective of Fourth Generation war theory, NATO’s most important objective in Libya ought to be the preservation of the Libyan state. That should override all short-term considerations, including “human rights,” “democracy,” and the safety of Libyan civilians. If the Libyan state disintegrates and is replaced with stateless disorder, the Libyan people will suffer far more than they have or will under Mr. Gaddafi or any other tyrant, while Europe enjoys the return of the Barbary pirates.

NATO’s military intervention in the Libyan civil war represents another (predictable) failure of air power. Historically, air power has seldom been decisive in land warfare. The few exceptions occurred when aircraft were thoroughly integrated with the maneuver of high-quality ground forces; the German campaign in France in 1940 is an example. This is not an option in Libya, because the high-quality ground forces do not exist. In their absence, continued NATO air strikes on Libyan government forces are unlikely to bring about a rebel victory. Read More…

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Demagogy, American Style

“You don’t have to fake DNA — you issue a press release”.
Spartan, David Mamet

Some of the French are angry about Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s “perp walk”:

Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry denounced “degrading images” and said France was lucky to have a law on the presumption of innocence that bars media from showing defendants in handcuffs before they are convicted.

When you’re right, you’re right. It’s time for the walk to go the way of the stocks. The practice degrades the accused (even prisoners of war are protected from this) and unfairly incriminates him in the eyes of the public–poisoning the well of his peers from which his jury is drawn. Yet we encourage it, because it’s used on high-profile suspects and for high-profile crimes. Also, human nature being what it is, we tend to presume fire where there is smoke. Legal protections for the accused are there to clear the smoke so that we can verify the fire with our own eyes. The perp walk is a fog machine, smoking up the concert stage.

And staged it is. While it gives police and prosecutors a weapon of intimidation against the accused–play ball or we’ll publicly humiliate and ruin you–this can’t explain their enthusiasm. They do it, of course, to further their careers (it doesn’t help that prosecutors and judges are elected in New York). DSK thus required the supervision of four high-ranking officers for his parading; apparently the logistics of marching a suspect some 50 feet are that great (must be the confusion of so much flash photography). In a photo I saw one appeared to be straining to maintain his tough-cop expression (adapted from television and film, no doubt) and stay in the frame at the same time.

Here they had the ultimate Great White Defendant, handcuffed behind his back (readers of Bonfire of the Vanities will recall the debate between lawyers and cops before perp-walking Sherman McCoy–did he warrant the extra humiliation of cuffing behind-the-back?), and standing in for all those never-to-be-convicted criminal bankers, for the whole of our decadent and incompetent elite. But he’s being thrown into the volcano of popular scorn by that same elite. We should throw him back.

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Rethinking Christian Rock

Christianity Today is running a short, entertaining essay on the history of Christian rock and roll, and it’s well worth reading. The author, Joel Heng Hartse, argues that Christian rock often wasn’t as far from the mainstream as most people think:

Rock and roll is supposed to be the rebellion, and Christianity the establishment, and these assumptions have led many a lazy rock critic to write reviews and essays about Christian rock in which the thesis is, essentially, “Bwuh?!” The problem is, of course, that the rebellion and the establishment are never so well defined. Look at Larry Norman, whose 1969 debut album is sometimes called the first Christian rock record. Norman was a Jesus hippie, and neither the Christian establishment nor the music industry really knew what to do with him. His first record with the band People was originally titled We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus and a Whole Lot Less of Rock and Roll. The record company retitled the album Love and the band fell apart. Norman went on to make solo records for decades, none of them particularly successful, but when he passed away in 2008, he was widely eulogized as “The Father of Christian Rock.” At the time of this death, Norman was working on an album with Frank Black of the Pixies and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. This certainly suggests that his influence was wide, but more importantly, if this album is ever released, the world will explode because it will be so weird and awesome.

I used to that I’d had to wait most of my life for an artist like Sufjan Stevens to come along and show that popular music influenced by the Christian faith didn’t have to be motivated by money or keeping up appearances or following mainstream trends in order to win converts—all of which are sins that “Christian music” as an industry has been guilty of at one time or another—but it’s comforting to know that there were people mingling Jesus with rock and roll before I was even born, and not just Larry Norman. Other obscure 60s and 70s artists like Judee Sill, Silmaril, The Trees Community, and many other bands you’ve never heard of made compelling pop/rock music with an undeniably Christian bent even before Christian record labels existed.

This is all true, but I think Hartse is still understating the level to which Christianity influenced rock and roll in the 1960s and ’70s. For instance, Tommy James and the Shondells were rocketed to fame primarily by sexual songs like “Hanky Panky,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Mony Mony,” and “Crimson and Clover,” but their later hit “Sweet Cherry Wine” was a protest against the Vietnam War with the claim that “Only God has the right/to decide who’s to live and die.” After the band broke up, Tommy James embarked on a solo career, and his second album was entitled Christian of the World and dealt heavily with religious themes.

Other musicians of the era that featured Christian themes in their work include Jackson Browne,Van Morrison, and (of course) Bob Dylan, but the most explicit (and most unexpected) was Black Sabbath, the original heavy metal band fronted by Ozzy Osbourne. The legendary rock critic Lester Bangs made the same observation in a 1972 article when he wrote that Sabbath was “probably the first truly Catholic rock group, or the first group to completely immerse themselves in the Fall and Redemption: the traditional Christian dualism which asserts that if you don’t walk in the light of the Lord then Satan is certainly pulling your strings, and a bad end can be expected, is even imminent.”

This is most evident on their 1971 album Master of Reality, which with the exception of the pro-marijuana opener “Sweet Leaf,” could have been one of the first Christian albums. The second track, “After Forever,” is a sludge metal hymn to Jesus:

Have you ever thought about your soul – can it be saved?
Or perhaps you think that when you’re dead you just stay in your grave
Is God just a thought within your head or is he a part of you?
Is Christ just a name that you read in a book when you were in school?

[...]

Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say
If they knew you believe in God above?
They should realize before they criticize
that God is the only way to love.

Is your mind so small that you have to fall
In with the pack wherever they run
Will you still sneer when death is near
And say they may as well worship the sun.

Of course, most people did not think of Black Sabbath as a Christian band and justifiably so. Nevertheless, the band wrote far better Christian rock than most self-described practitioners of the genre.

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Conservatism’s For Closers Only . . .

The Weekly Standard has a profile of David Mamet, focusing on his new found identity as a conservative. Mamet announced in the Village Voice three years ago that he was no longer a “brain-dead liberal.” Now he has a book coming called The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture— in which according to the the publicity material provided to Amazon.com—Mamet will  “take on all the key political issues of our times, from religion to political correctness to global warming.” That sounds distressingly like the sort of right-wing tract published several times a year by conservative talk radio hosts, politicians and teenagers.

Mamet’s liberalism, as he characterized in in the Voice indeed sounds brain dead. “I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.” His conservatism doesn’t sound particularly compelling either. Andrew Ferguson quotes from a Mamet lecture at Stanford, in the Weekly Standard profile:

Higher ed, he said, was an elaborate scheme to deprive young people of their freedom of thought. He compared four years of college to a lab experiment in which a rat is trained to pull a lever for a pellet of food. A student recites some bit of received and unexamined wisdom—“Thomas Jefferson: slave owner, adulterer, pull the lever”—and is rewarded with his pellet: a grade, a degree, and ultimately a lifelong membership in a tribe of people educated to see the world in the same way.

I can’t imagine that the major problem with higher education these days is an excess of Dead White Male Bashing, and Mamet’s assertion makes him sound as if his conservatism is only caught up through the early 1990s when countering Political Correctness was all the rage. Give him a few months and he may be talking about Paula Jones and Whitewater. Toward the end of his profile, Ferguson notes how well thought out Mamet’s political views are.

The conversion is complete: This is not a book by the same man who told Charlie Rose he didn’t want to impose his political views on anybody. At some moments—as when he blithely announces that the earth is cooling not warming, QED—you wonder whether maybe he isn’t in danger of exchanging one herd for another. He told me he doesn’t read political blogs or magazines. “I drive around and listen to the talk show guys,” he said. “Beck, Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved.”

In other words, Mamet is imbibing the lowest of talk radio dreck and then hectoring Standfordites for their groupthink. Mamet’s Liberalism may be in remission, but the brain-death still lingers.

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The Dirty Old Man and the IMF

Saturday was a bad day for the New World Order.

New York police boarded the first-class cabin of an Air France jet bound for Paris to collar Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, a Grand Master of the Universe and the Socialist Party’s hope to defeat President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012.

Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he is known, was hauled back to New York and identified in a police lineup by an African maid at the Sofitel hotel as the man who emerged stark naked from the bathroom of his $3,000-a-night suite and tried to rape her.

DSK’s political allies are howling entrapment. Yet his rap sheet is long. Called the Great Seducer, he was charged with the sexual harassment of a co-worker at the IMF and accused by a young French novelist of behaving like a “rutting chimpanzee” and trying to rape her when she contacted him about a book she was writing in 2002. Read More…

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Pollard Again

There is some buzz in intelligence circles about recent Justice Department inquiries both at CIA and also at the Pentagon about the damage done by Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, suggesting to some that (a) Obama will release him and may even announce it when he addresses AIPAC on the weekend or (b) Obama knows Netanyahu will again ask that Pollard be released during their talk next week and is briefing himself up on why he has to stay in jail. Inevitably, most think it will be choice (a) and that Obama is thinking of shoring up his re-election prospects for 2012 by courting a key constituency.

The Lobby has been active lately in the lead-up to the AIPAC conference.  A letter calling on Obama to free Pollard has been circulating since January and has attracted a number of endorsements including George Shultz. Last week 36 congressmen signed on to a letter originated by Rep. Steve Israel (no irony intended) calling on the Turkish government to stop the next aid flotilla planned for Gaza, which will likely depart next month. The letter implies that there will be dire consequences, and rightly so, if the ships are allowed to sail. Today the White House press secretary all but commended Israel for killing twenty protesters along the Syrian and Lebanese borders during demonstrations on Sunday, praising the “restraint” and noting that it was a proper remedy for “unauthorized border crossing.” Part of the border in question is Israeli-occupied Syrian territory in any event but one wonders if the Obama Administration is planning a similar remedy for Mexicans trying to enter the United States.

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The Academy Is Still Divided — But Not the Way You Think

Two friends of mine, one of whom was my colleague for several years, Matthew Woosner and April Kelly-Woosner, have published an exhaustively researched book, The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power, Politics, and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education, and several thoughtful essays on higher education. Although it is impossible for me to present their detailed work in a few short paragraphs, I would like to mention some of their findings that may be of general interest. Note their documentation comes from an extensive North American Academic Survey Study, covering 4,000 respondents, 1,600 of them students. The study was conducted by their now deceased collaborator, Stanley Rothman, along with Everett Ladd and Seymour Martin Lipset. The database for this work therefore came from three of America’s most respected sociological researchers, and the Woosners’ conclusions are so heavily documented that it would be hard to refute them.

One, most incoming college students have already well formed political opinions, thanks to the media, public education, peer pressure and (perhaps to a lesser degree) parental influence. The power of the faculty to sway these students is therefore extremely limited. Although most academics stand well to the left of the general population, their effect on the young is relatively insignificant. The one issue on which students will eventually become more conservative than their professors is their right to make money without having to hand over most of it to the government. Free-market arguments play better with students about to enter the workforce than traditional social values, which most of them couldn’t care less about.

Two, Republican professors feel less bullied by their colleagues than Republican critics of academic intolerance would have us believe. Most of the Republican academics who were polled express positive feelings about their work situation. But certain additional factors must be considered. Republican professors generally hold more or less the same social views as their colleagues and students. They are also clustered in the hard sciences and business and rarely found in the liberal arts. Moreover, like most Republicans, these professors are willing to go along with those in authority. These are the faculty members who are least likely to make waves. And those are my impressions of almost all Republicans I have known in higher education over the last forty years. Feisty would be the last word that comes to mind in describing them, especially the ones who begin conversations with the phrase: “The (Wall Street) Journal said this morning.” Libertarians and real right-wingers are another story. Read More…

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