The New Terrapin Gazette
Number 194 27 March, 2011
The owl of Minerva begins her flight only upon the arrival of dusk.
SEIU Stares Death In The Face. Picket That!
Is RICO about to be used on SEIU? Well, if so, it’s about time!
The story unfolds here, and, as the article says, “…complex stories take time to research and write.” Correct; and then, who wants to read them?
The bombing of Libya is hard to understand. If it were an attempt to capture the oil fields or kill all Arabs, it would be easily comprehensible. If rational explanations were to be made for the assault, one might be able to believe or disbelieve them. But as things stand, there are either no answers or answers that utterly lack credibility. What follows is, therefore, necessarily somewhat speculative. Until the farce plays itself out and there is some measure of candor from people who know the real reasons for the bombing, commentary on events can amount to little more than the observation that several nations are in the hands of amateurs.
The dictator’s name will, in deference to what appears to be an informed orthographic standard, be rendered here “Gaddafi,” rather than “Qaddafi.”
Just before this number of The New Terrapin received its final editing, the press reported Al Qaeda’s involvement in the attempt to remove Gaddafi. The US role in the hostilities is changing almost by the hour. The entire spectacle is a disaster that is deteriorating to a catastrophe, and historians will be attempting to make sense of it fifty years from today.
The “Wingnut” Critique
It was to be expected: having been savaged by the “progressives” and their allies for supporting G. W. Bush’s Iraq policy, the right reacted gleefully when Obama and Hillary tried to pull off a clandestine adoption of the Bush world view. Team Obama seems to have assumed naively that nobody would notice.
This response from the right is reasonably typical. A sample quote:
…our military is preparing options for Obama. Which raises the question: Why? I mean assuming we don’t have Americans being taken hostages or anything like that, then, why? Would some liberal who claimed that it was wrong to intervene in Iraq explain why this is different? Why is it wrong to intervene to topple a dictator in Iraq, but okay in Libya? And what about the phrase, “no blood for oil?” Ring any bells?
Then there’s this from a libertarian/conservative law prof:
Watching the people who savaged Bush and called his supporters warmongers and so on now faced with watching the Lightbringer doing basically the same thing, only less competently, is too good a pleasure to forego. Sorry. I hope that things will go well, but I agree with Niall Ferguson that Obama’s dithering has cost us. If we had elected a more competent President, we’d have fewer worries. But people got excited about Obama, and, well, this is what you get when you elect an inexperienced guy with no great interest — or any experience — in international relations.
UPDATE: A musician-reader emails, asking anonymity:
I’ve really been enjoying your take on things since the bombing in Libya started this weekend, even more than I normally do. For eight long years, well-meaning people on the right have been accused of all manner of hate, dishonesty, stupidity, and wickedness, from a bunch of people who believe their own neighbors are the primary cause of suffering in the world. So I say, don’t hold back. Keep on rubbing it in. I might enjoy it even more than I already do If the whole situation weren’t so pathetic.
Since the bombing started, I’ve made a mental note to keep my eye out for my Facebook friends to chime in about Libya. I know they’re not bashful about political subjects; every five minutes they post another link to another story about the plight of those poor teachers’ unions in Wisconsin, or poor, poor NPR and the threat from those GOP meanies. So far, since the bombing started on Saturday, I’ve counted a grand total of one post about Libya, and even it was on the subject of missing journalists.
I can barely contain my disgust.
On The Left: Some Steamed Democrats, And Disarray
Obama’s critics within the Obama camp don’t get angrier than Dennis Kucinich. Get his “this is unconstitutional” rant here, and realize that he means every word.
All right, Dennis, fair enough. But…what do you think of that second amendment? The facts expose you as just another “I love the constitution” blowhard who hates one-tenth of the Bill of Rights. Should you be trusted to say what the president or Congress may or may not do under the constitution? Not in this newsletter’s view. And…
…where in the constitution do you see the “civil right” of health care? Or does the constitution not inspire and inform your political views?
Of course Kucinich could be correct. But he is not a consistent and even-handed interpreter of the constitution. Obama has his defenders, and there are precedents for what he is doing. At this point the debate gets technical and complex, for whether those precedents are themselves constitutional is another question (which some answer in the affirmative).
Others on the left seem disarmed, even stunned, by developments. Consider Mike Kinsley, a renowned collectivist guru who has been dismantled by this newsletter in the past. Now he’s back for more, with a rambling, vague piece on Libya that leaves one wondering where Obama and Hillary have led the “progressive” faithful. Well, his commentary is just flawed enough in spots to arouse skepticism about the whole: MK claims that “…what we did for eastern Europe that helped bring victory in the Cold War (was to provide) verbal support and financial support for dissidents and democrats.” Yes, it probably did help, but in fact two things won the Cold War for the West: first, the inevitable failure of collectivist economics in the USSR, and second, Reagan’s refusal to junk “Star Wars” technology. Absent either Soviet economic ineptitude or Ronnie’s foreign policy, the Cold War would probably still be under way. Mike can’t admit those facts, of course. And that should make you wonder what he can’t admit about the current mess.
In sum, Obama has shocked the “progressives” and their allies with his foreign policy. That man who made promises about Guantanamo and trials for jihadis has broken his word; now the multiculturalist who “reached out” to the Muslim world is slinging high explosives around. The domestic result has been wide-eyed amazement, anger, puzzlement, babble from wanna-be constitutional scholars and a scramble to dodge “wingnut” brickbats.
Here’s The New Terrapin’s rating of some major assertions in the USA’s latest adventure:
1. It’s a humanitarian effort; the West learned from its mistakes in what was once Yugoslavia, and is taking action in a timely fashion.
Rating: dubious. The bombing of Libya probably has more to do with the price of oil than humanitarian sentiments. The real reasons for Anglo-French action and the USA’s cooperation will be debated for decades.
2. The Free World cannot allow the slaughter of Libyans.
Rating: absurd. The Free World routinely allows Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba and who knows how many other nations outside Africa to be as brutal as they please; within Africa, the West has an even worse record. Humanitarian sentiments are clearly not the instrumental motives behind the USA’s policy.
3. Libya must have a chance to become democratic.
Rating: risible. Libyans know nothing about democracy, and no one, least of all the French and Britons, will be willing to remain in Libya for some years as midwives assisting the birth of a functional democratic republic. The attempt to portray the West’s intervention as humanitarian is obvious, shameless deceit.
4. The no-fly zone will be effective.
Rating: moronic. At most, it might make a stalemate possible between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces. It cannot decide the outcome of the fighting, and it might prolong it, resulting in more death and misery. Only infantry, ideally supported by armor and artillery, can bring victory to either side, and that would involve massive slaughter.
5. The West is not trying to kill Gaddafi.
Rating: dishonest. Gaddafi will, unless captured or killed, be a combatant as long as he has an opponent. Until he is out of the picture, things will go badly. Everybody knows that. But no one has the courage and honesty to say, “We must go in, get Gaddafi, put him on trial, and dispense justice — or see him die resisting arrest.”
Is US Policy Hillary’s Creation, Or Obama’s? It’s Impossible To Say, But….
The US decision to intervene in Libya looks like Hillary’s work. The New Terrapin could be wrong, but the policy does not seem to have Obama’s fingerprints on it. The hypothesis is, therefore, that Hillary talked The One into signing off on her ideas.
For some astonishing reason, Hillary has been tacitly described as an expert in foreign policy. She is portrayed as sagacious and experienced. Those problematic qualifications have been marvelously well hidden. An objective look at her life so far fails to support the claim that she is more than a lawyer with a flexible code of ethics.
Begin with her principles. Recall the bribe she took when her husband was the governor of Arkansas. Then do you remember her links to corrupt campaign financing, her blatant falsehoods during the Rose Law Firm stink, and how she abused her position as wife of the president in the travel scandal?
Next, qualifications. She has no formal education in foreign relations and no legislative experience in dealing with it (when a federal senator, she was on committees dealing with the budget; the armed services; environment and public works; health, education, labor and pensions; and aging). She lied about having been fired on by snipers in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1996, and even if that tall tale were true, the experience of running from a rifleman would not have added to her qualifications in diplomacy. Under her direction, US relations with Great Britain and Israel have been eroded by gratuitous insults. Her undiplomatic babble as Secretary of State has been ridiculed in this publication, and with good reason: she’s ignorant and incompetent.
At this point one might note that what Hillary is trying to do is rather like what George W. Bush did, namely, give some Arabs a chance to evolve a democracy. Perhaps Hillary looked at today’s Iraq and decided that if Baghdad can do it, Tripoli can, as well.
If that’s what happened, then Hillary is even more unintelligent than this newsletter suspects.
The fact that there are no significant parallels between Iraq and Libya could be disputed, just as some might say that two and two are not four. Too, whether current US policy is the result of a power struggle between The One and Hillary, or whether Hillary nagged Obama into going along with France, is a state secret that may never be revealed. A rational analysis relies on the facts, however, and enough is known to allow some solid conclusions.
The truth is depressing. No one has a viable, ethical plan for Libya. The power of tribal politics remains dominant in that primitive region. Libya has always been too close to Europe, too dangerous to be ignored, and too alien to be understood or instructed. None of those facts are going to be changed by the Palin Doctrine or by Hillary. It’s a mess created some sixty-five years ago when a nation was foolishly created out of nothing, and the principles on which the UN was founded were mocked.
At some point historians will note that the folly of nation-building in Libya collapsed because the people and their values were inadequate. A good government begins with good people, and a democratic government has fundamental requirements. G. W. Bush felt that Iraq was just possibly ready to take a step toward maturity; he was probably correct, as Iraq may have demonstrated by now (though things could still go off the rails there). Iran is another nation that might benefit, and grow, if its leadership were eradicated. Both of those Islamic nations have long had a measure of diversity and experience that Libya utterly lacks.
“We have to prevent the massive loss of life.” “We can’t let this madman kill his own people.” Those bleats make little sense because they are based on idiotic unstated assumptions. The list of bitter comments they inspire is long, and at the top of it is this: “Left to themselves to build a democracy or engage in endless tribal warfare, the Libyans can be trusted not to do the right thing.”
At this point, the biggest mistake the West could make would be to accept Libyan refugees. Beyond that, the simple truth is that things are going to get very unpleasant indeed. That’s because nobody knows how to craft an effective humanitarian policy toward Libya. Trusting Hillary and Obama to do the proper thing requires a willing suspension of disbelief. They literally do not know what they are doing.
As a result, Obama is trying to hand Libya off to NATO. The effort is pathetically transparent. One wonders how NATO, a defensive alliance that has lost its reason for being, will rise to a challenge utterly outside its former area of expertise. Passing the buck hardly reflects well on the USA, now does it?
What Is The Goal? What Do The Europeans And Their New Junior Partner Want To Do With Libya?
Nobody who knows will say.
Do the French and British plan regime change, and are they ready to take the ignorant, tribal Libyans by the hand and lead them into the nineteenth century? No one knows. So what prompted this intervention?
When the cause is hidden, one can suspect that the leaders are themselves led…by parties whose motives and goals are so reprehensible that they cannot tolerate the light of day.
Future historians will always wonder whether Obama was his own man.
A comparison of Bush (W) and Obama is instructive. Bush began with an understanding of the unique geographical, historical and international circumstances that made Iraq central to the region. Removing Saddam was essential to US policy, in the president’s view, and there is a strong case to be made for that opinion.
Note that W set things up before striking; he had a vision of Iraq as an independent, more modern and more democratic nation, free of dictatorship and able to chart its course rationally. He planned to lead, push, cajole, threaten and support Iraq as needed. That meant nation-building.
There were failures along the way. US mistakes include abandoning the Marsh Arabs, disbanding the Iraqi army, not securing the nation against guerrilla bands and other rascals, and not immediately sealing the borders with Iran and Syria.
This was followed by W’s brilliant insight that the surge could work — and that it would work only if he ordered his unimaginative generals to put tens of thousands more men into battle than the Pentagon wished.
Overall, W was right more than he was wrong. Iraq was the ideal target in more ways than one. What is most important to understand today, however, is that W bequeathed Obama and Hillary a trove of information and wisdom. The chronicle of his successes and lapses constitutes a definitive text on how to fight and win under hugely difficult circumstances.
As the Obama administration has insisted that no foot soldiers will go to Libya, it appears that The One is determined to avoid copying what W did right as well as make some novel mistakes. This is a team that behaves both ignorantly and stupidly. If W was the teacher, O is the student who never went to class.
And Then There Is The Fourth Estate
Sooner or later, some of the brighter students of current events will ask the biggest question of all: can the news media ever explain how it is that O is praised for doing badly what W did well, while W is reviled as a moron and homicidal freak?
The public is going to catch on. When it happens, it will mean declining revenues for the papers and declining numbers of viewers for the TV networks, except maybe for some “wingnut” outlet, and, and…oh…yeah…by golly, it has started already, hasn’t it? Gosh, who’s going to tell Katie Couric? Wait, got it: Charlie Sheen! He’s ideal…it’s a great chance to kill two birds with one…oh, never mind.
(The above paragraph was written before Couric was told to make sure her broom is in good working order. No, the staff of this newsletter is not clairvoyant, and no, CBS is hardly suffering a sudden ethical epiphany.)
So This Is What The Adventurism Of Those Crazy Europeans Has Accomplished
It’s a warrior’s nightmare in which aircraft and missiles are expected to protect poorly-armed and untrained civilians from a sociopathic dictator’s army and mercenaries. It cannot possibly succeed, and practical men know that. A bodyguard cannot do his job from an airplane overhead — he must be with the people he is trying to protect.
This mission is not just military lunacy; no one except Gaddafi has any concept of what the fate of Libya should be when the shooting has stopped. No one except Gaddafi can stop it. Deprived of his air force, he has other lethal options, and can fight on virtually as long as he wishes.
The degree to which each Western power remains involved in this absurdity depends on a totally unpredictable mix of domestic, diplomatic, military, economic and public relations factors. Events are being selectively reported by a press notorious for bias, distortion, and censorship — which means that the various electorates are poorly informed about a mad policy they literally cannot bring under political control.
Meanwhile the people who oppose the dictator have poor communications with each other and no way of knowing how much help they might get from anybody. They have no notions above the sophistication of a second-grader regarding the nuances and requirements of democracy. They can only depend on a world view shaped by atavistic tribalism, superstition, and the intellectual constraints of an unevolved faith. Islam knows only submission to a deity who is more demanding and less rational than Gaddafi.
The future is a formless, roiling miasma. Some politicians talk in terms of turning Libya over to The Arab League; it’s all very vague. And breathtakingly stupid.
Libya is not Iraq. If Obama and Hillary had understood all the ramifications of that truth, the USA would never have become involved, and would never have had to try the lame handoff to NATO.
Perhaps the most pathetic aspect of the Libyan tragedy is that the West can offer no moral justification for its intervention that does not also justify the invasion of several nations whose tyrannical ruling cliques should be executed en masse.
Then there is the gut-wrenching hypocrisy of the Libyan misadventure. It is a military action taken to prevent people from being killed by a man whom the world has known as a lunatic murderer for more than a generation.
1. The “wingnuts” mock Obama for his hypocrisy, pointing out gleefully that when reality intruded, The One turned into a W clone. That’s small beer. If they want to win in 2012, they are going to have to do a lot better. Coming up with an imaginative, intelligent, practical plan for Libya’s future would be a good start. Whether the right can manage it is doubtful, but now is the time to look to John Bolton.
2. The left damns Obama as a neocolonialist and turncoat. If they want to win in 2012, they don’t show any sign of it, for their carping has just validated the claim that Team Obama is an amateur club that has no business playing in a pro league.
3. Once again, the weakness of the UN is on display. If this organization were what FDR and Churchill planned, the world would be a much better place.
4. The real problem is the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the international community, which is in turn caused by the decline of the West. The cure: a rejection of Utopian ideology, multiculturalism, self-hatred and collectivist social/economic policy. The West must understand the full implications of its unique value system. That implies the adoption of an exceptionalist view that is not tolerated by the current ruling elite.
Is There Hope For Change?
Yes, of course. One can hope that the unpredictable Gaddafi will call a halt to the slaughter and blow his brains out. Then the aftermath of today’s disaster might be eased somewhat by international charities. That’s the best possible outcome. All else is self-deceitful fantasy.
What To Do About Obama?
As this newsletter has pointed out, this president is holding the southwestern border of the nation hostage, trying to coerce the passage of legislation that he believes will favor his political party in the next presidential election. For deliberately tolerating the presence on US soil of an irregular alien army the activities of which include numerous crimes against US citizens and residents, the president should be impeached by the House, tried in the Senate, convicted of violating his oath to defend the constitution, and removed from office.
Politically Incorrect Thoughts From The New Terrapin’s Department Of Sarcastic Invective
It is a relief to learn that the Obama administration believes that evil politicians must not be allowed to brutalize people, and that military force will be used to protect those who protest the outrages committed by the ruling elite. This commitment to justice and honor does the White House proud. This publication awaits the many corrective actions that must inevitably result. Men of good faith will rejoice when the entire British elite that handed the Lockerbie bomber back to Gaddafi is collected up and dragged away in chains, and it will be a joy to know that Kofi Anan languishes in a tiger cage in some fetid, inaccessible locale. Long live justice!
In Defense Of Correct English And The Authorities That Mandate It
Phenomenon The First. — It was unforgettable. The gaunt, haunted-looking female looked up into the objective of the video camera, and said with a quiet pride, “I teaches English.” A New Yorker, a public employee…paid to educate and thereby improve the young, she was exhausted by the sloth of her charges and proud of her concession.
Phenomenon The Second. — A fellow student and friend from high school days, now majoring in English, waxed passionate on an aspect of his intended profession: the folly of “prescriptive grammarians.”
Phenomenon The Third. — A recent issue of Time magazine proclaims in the first paragraph of an “above-the-fold” report, “Gone were the throngs of protesters who had occupied its marble floors like it were a summer campground.”
The shocks just keep coming. Lexical and grammatical outrages are among the eternal annoyances that remind mankind that life is unsatisfactory, imperfectable and the very embodiment of suffering. The complaints may seem trivial to some, but it is important to note that the militant ignorance of the semi-literate is a dominant force in every stratum of each English-speaking society. The rejection of correct composition is a malignancy growing on Western culture.
Indeed, there can be no doubt that the “grammar Nazis” are in confused retreat. Errors are no longer simply overlooked — they are defended as somehow not incorrect. Smug proclamations that “We don’t talk like Chaucer any more” suggest that no one can enforce the rules of usage. Moreover, anyone can violate the guidelines and strictures, amend them, and participate in the continual creation of language.
The folly of trying to stand athwart language change is obvious. Old and Middle English are dead, and the culture needs new words as well as new meanings for old ones. That said, this publication refuses to bend its knee to changes that proceed from ignorance.
The fundamental reason for that doctrinaire stance is that knowledge is to be preferred over its absence.
All pleas for the acceptance of non-standard grammar and vocabulary necessarily dispute that principle. The sophistry invoked in defense of error can be complex, and, to those who have no clear vision of the value of education, convincing.
The basic idea seems to be that communication of meaning is all that matters. Rules that do not deal with meaning are, therefore, useless, and may be disregarded. Further, in the evolution of language, meanings may shift over time.
There are two fundamental problems with this view: first, human language is not simply for communication. In fact its primary function and character are unrelated to a purely utilitarian need to exchange vital information. Language’s symbolic nature is linked to belief, faith, ethics, philosophy and science, all of which are unavailable to animals that communicate very efficiently (and, in the context of adaptation/differential reproduction/evolution, adequately). Humans alone possess language; all infra-human creatures possess signaling systems.
Second, if meanings shift, the communicative function of language is easily hindered. If, for example, you are informed that “The policy is problematic,” you may believe that you have been told that a plan is troublesome. The real meaning of that sentence is, “The policy is proposed (or claimed to exist), and not in effect.” Oops!
If language existed simply to facilitate communication, it would be nothing like what it is. In fact, when pure, accurate and unambiguous communication is desired — as in military activities — acronyms are widely employed to bring utterances up to a higher standard of efficiency and eliminate misunderstandings.
The argument that users properly define the meanings of words even when they speak ignorantly is fallacious. Anyone who has ever tried to instruct others in a foreign language realizes the folly of suggesting that words can mean whatever the speaker wants them to. “Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blueh’n?” will not get you directions to the men’s room in Hamburg.
Perhaps few arguments for regularized use of language are more mocked than the contention that good English is a useful indicator of elevated educational and cultural status. One can be accused of “putting on airs” if one argues that it is unhelpful to be identified as ill-educated.
Of course hissy-fits over social class are as old as civilization, and will never be ended by the demonizing and ostracism of prescriptive grammarians. The advantages of speaking ignorantly, if there are any, are always available to the well-educated, who can ignore correct usage at will. The unlettered have no such luxury. If there is anything at all to be said for education, it surely must be that it gives its recipients options. That alone should render all arguments in favor of ignorance irrelevant.
The staff of this newsletter values correct English usage, and strives to make as few errors as possible. Of course all are ignorant to some degree, and even authoritative references can err. What matters is the commitment to excellence and the vigor with which it is observed.
Those who wish to add to their knowledge of English would do well to consider this advice: choose your library carefully. There are two types of dictionaries, for example, and knowing the difference is important. Some are chronicles of usage, while others are references. A chronicle tells one how people actually speak, and does not distinguish error from correct usage. A reference is a guide to proper language. Before you buy a dictionary, see whether it informs you fully about a word such as “enormity.” Does it note that modern usage is often distinct from the original meaning of the word? If so, that is helpful. It would be better if it listed “large size” as a non-standard meaning for “enormity,” but that is perhaps too much to ask.
Does that dictionary you might purchase tell you that “octopodes” is the plural of “octopus,” and that “dove” is not a form of a verb? If it does not at the very least alert you to those contentions, it should remain in the shop. See whether it defines “plethora” as a large amount, and leaves it at that; check its definition of “nemesis” to see whether it is simply “enemy.” If you don’t learn what those two words actually mean, put that book back on the shelf.
When it comes to correct usage, consider Fowler (modern editor Burchfield), and generally depend more on references that come from Oxford than those that come from Cambridge. (Cambridge permits “alright,” while Burchfield greets the monstrosity with appropriate horror and loathing.)
If you wish to speak and write incorrectly, or you do not care, then by all means carry on. Your actions will mock the very notion of knowledge itself. Those crimes cannot be committed with impunity, though you may be unaware of how they handicap you. That’s why some say that ignorance is bliss.
A Brit speculates on what it means to be attacked by a B-2 stealth bomber. It’s clear he would find the experience unsettling. What’s not at all clear is how a primitive would react.
The staff of this newsletter now follows these directions. They could help you, too.
There are people who want to control what you hear and see in political advertising. They have only your best interests at heart, of course. These censorious fascists should be taken out and…er, lectured on the freedoms of speech and press.
Having lost in Iraq, Iran is terrified of losing in Syria. Meanwhile Syrians are acting in such surprising ways that it seems as if the international news media just can’t believe — and report — the full story. So Iran has sent some of its military/paramilitary units to Syria. And in Gaza, the attacks on Israel have been underway for some time; what a pity the Israelis did not act more definitively the last time they invaded. The Israeli military should go back in, shoot some people, and then flood the Hamas underground bunkers with sea water.
The nuclear breakdown in Japan in perspective.
Are you overweight? If so, or if you have a family member or friend who needs to reduce, consider this quote: “…while it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.” The entire article is here.
A tale of the Soviet space program. The account is disputed, and its veracity is uncertain.
Why is it that, when considering how Al Qaeda operates and how to combat it, US authorities so often ignore the purely religious aspects of the organization? That refusal to deal with politically incorrect fundamentals is a huge mistake. In this case, it led to what can only be called a mix of libel and error.
Here’s one for Californians: when you get off to a bad start, reform is never easy. You always have to take that bone from the dog….
The Dean of the Washington press corps, eh? Well, that means it was all downhill from there, then. That explains a lot.
This article says that “China faces rising public dissatisfaction over inflation, official corruption, and growing income disparities — similar to the mix of problems contributing to the Arab unrest.” Yes. China is a lot less stable than most people realize.
The masthead includes a quote from the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
The staff of The New Terrapin Gazette expresses its sincere gratitude to the many people who have gifted the world with Arch Linux, Emacs, Screen, and Chromium.
Publisher: The Eagle Wing Palace of The Queen Chinee