Scraps (August 2003)
August 31, 2003 Tim Blair has found a superb slide show compiled by the father of a Marine who took part in the Iraqi campaign. It records the experiences of the men of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment. [To comment, click here.]
August 31, 2003 Augmenting the post below, here are the announced Guests of Honor for the 2006 Worldcon and the 2005 NASFiC:
L.A.Con IV, Anaheim, California, August 23-27, 2006
Connie Willis, Author Guest of Honor
James Gurney, Artist Guest of Honor
Howard DeVore, Fan Guest of Honor
Special Guest: Frankie Thomas (the original "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet")
Fred Saberhagen, Author Guest of Honor
Liz Danforth, Artist Guest of Honor
Toni Weisskopf, Editor Guest of Honor
Kevin Standlee, Fan Guest of Honor
The big Worldcon news was from the WSFS business meeting, which gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment reducing Worldcon site selection from three years to two years in advance. If the amendment is approved by next year's business meeting, there will be no site selection vote in 2005, and the 2006 Worldcon will choose the 2008, rather than the 2009 site. For many reasons, soon to be expatiated in my Science Fiction section, this is a wretched idea. Its nickname/slogan is "Back to the Future", but it is back to the wrong future. The vote was close: 90 for, 83 against. Perhaps next year's business meeting will be more rational.
One immediate effect is that the chairman of the nascent bid for the next Chicago Worldcon has announced that, regardless of what happens to the amendment, the bid will be for 2008 instead of the widely expected 2009. [To comment, click here.]
August 31, 2003 For those of you who care more about the Hugo Awards than Saddam Hussein, here are election results from this year's World Science Fiction Convention:
Site selection balloting: Los Angeles defeated Kansas City for the right to host the 2006 Worldcon. The margin of victory was surprisingly small: only about 75 votes out of c. 1,500 cast. The race for the 2005 NASFiC was even narrower, with Seattle besting Charlotte by a margin of 204 to 198 on the third round of vote counting.
Hugo Award results: Best Novel: Hominids by Robert Sawyer; Best Novella: Coraline by Neil Gaiman; Best Novelette: "Slow Life" by Michael Swanwick; Best Short Story: "Falling onto Mars" by Geoffrey Landis; Best Related Book: Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril by Emily Pohl-Weary (Judith Merril's daughter); Best Dramatic Presentaton: The Two Towers (smallest surprise of an unsurprising evening); Best Short Form Dramatic Presentation: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Conversations with Dead People"; Best Professional Editor: Gardner Dozois; Best Professional Artist: Bob Eggleton; Best Semiprozine: Locus; Best Fanzine: Mimosa (in its last year - editors Richard and Nikki Lynch have announced that they are retiring the zine after 21 years of publication); Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford (who accepted in person - the first time that he has done so at a North American Worldcon); Best Fan Artist: Sue Mason; John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Wen Spencer [To comment, click here.]
August 29, 2003 Having been at the World Science Fiction Convention (in Toronto this year) for the past couple of days, I've been ignoring the wider world (easy to do if one has only Canadian newspapers to read). For those who try to gauge foreign attitudes toward the U.S., here is a datum: The hot dog truck parked in front of the Toronto convention center - excellent pork sausages, grilled over an open flame - sports an American flag decal.
Another, less cheery datum: One of the convention's big problems has been getting things across the U.S.-Canadian border. Membership badges and some publications were late owing to customs delays. Protectionists apparently have less reason to revile NAFTA than they know. At least, it doesn't seem to have sped the flow of anything except terrorists.
Free Advertising: Well-heeled Tolkien fans may be interested in a Middle Earth Tour of New Zealand scheduled for January 7-25, 2004, which will visit all of the principal film settings. I'm told that ten places remain at the negligible cost of $5,288 (per person, double occupancy, air fare from Los Angeles included).
Here are a few non-SF thoughts:
The dynamics of the California gubernatorial quasi-election confirm my opinion that the Republican Party shouldn't have fielded any candidates. With no Republicans in the race, either (i) Gray Davis would be the sole issue and would probably have support in single digits by now or (ii) several Democrats would be competing for the decisive bloc of conservative votes. As it is, three serious GOP contenders are squabbling over the conservatives while both Governor Davis and the lone serious Democrat alternative move further and further left to woo hard-line radicals. Lt. Gov. Bustamante's praise of the violently racist Hispanic group MEChA, whose motto "Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada" needs only a German translation to serve as a Nazi shibboleth, would be inconceivable if victory depended on fashioning an appeal to non-demented voters.
On the other hand, Daniel Henninger has been reading Census Bureau reports and offers the hopeful thought that California and similar socialist bastions may simply evaporate. Between 1995 and 2000, the Golden State had net emigration of over 750,000. Other big Algore states with negative net migration were New York (875,000), Illinois (325,000), New Jersey (180,000) and Pennsylvania (130,000).
News about the increasingly dire North Korean threat reached even the front page of today's Globe and Mail. What to do about the problem I don't know, but it would be greatly satisfying if discredit could be properly and officially assigned. Impeach Bill Clinton!
And a quote too good to leave unquoted, from Fr. George W. Rutler: "Vegetables have reactive impulses. Were we to confine our diet to creatures that lacked sense and do not even respond to light, we could only eat liturgists and liberal Democrats."
August 25, 2003 I'm always a sucker for a good, solid, reactionary quote, particularly on my parents' 58th wedding anniversary. So here is one from James Bowman's review of the movie Thirteen:
Nobody wants to be "repressed" after all. We wouldn’t even know how to be repressed anymore. The idea is just a haunting image of deprivation from the past, like starving Dickensian chimney-sweeps, but it doesn’t otherwise touch our own lives.
Yet assuming that we could re-imagine repression as our grandparents once knew it, could it be any worse than the world that its absence has created — the world of hip, cool, thin, sexy and ready-for-anything thirteen year-olds?
August 24, 2003 Very much worth reading is Ralph Peters' "Behind the Bombing". Somehow this heroism remains unsung in the mainstream media:
Repeatedly stymied by prejudice and inertia, the U.N. security chief - a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer with a wealth of prior experience - nonetheless managed to cajole his superiors into letting him build a wall around the hotel. That wall was made of reinforced concrete, almost 17 feet high and a foot thick. But U.N. officials refused to let the security officer push the wall very far out from the hotel. They didn't want to annoy anyone by limiting access to a public alley. Still, the security officer inched the wall as far out as he could. The truck-bomber could not get inside the compound - the security measures in place at least prevented that. But the truck was able to speed toward the wall's exterior, using the alley that "had" to be kept open. . . . [W]ithout that wall and the security measures for which one American veteran fought, the hotel would have been leveled, with a death toll in the hundreds. The wall absorbed the initial force of three separate bombs packed into the truck. And there is some justice in the world: Although his office disintegrated around him, the security officer walked out of the wreckage uninjured.
August 24, 2003 Do we need more troops on the ground in Iraq? Is it time for the "overstretched" American-led coalition to turn to the United Nations for help? In bien pensant circles, the consensus has already taken hold, spurred by last week's truck bombing of the U.N.'s Baghdad offices: In the words of New York Times man Bob Herbert (thoroughly fisked by Right Wing News), "As quickly as possible, we should turn the country over to a genuine international coalition, headed by the U.N. and supported in good faith by the U.S. The idea would be to mount a massive international effort to secure Iraq, develop a legitimate sovereign government and work cooperatively with the Iraqi people to rebuild the nation."
On the Right, there is of course no enthusiasm for a larger U.N. role, but many conservatives have picked up the cry that the occupation force should be augmented, usually as a preliminary to the perfectly sensible contention (which doesn't need this prop) that we need a bigger Army for the next stages of the War on Terror.
These cures naturally presuppose the existence of a disease, namely, widespread guerrilla and terrorist resistance to the emerging Iraqi government. There are conflicting reports about the situation on the ground, and it is hard to evaluate it from the other side of the world. Nonetheless, it is a conspicuous fact that the commentators who now tell us that a large proportion of Iraqis support violent action against the Coalition and that their number is steadily growing told us yesterday that Anglo-American forces were bogged down on the road to Baghdad and the day before that driving the Taliban from power in Afghanistan would take many months and heavy casualties, if it could be done at all. They could be right this time, but the record suggests that their perceptions are systematically unreliable. If somebody keeps insisting that red objects are blue, the logical conclusion is that he is color blind. As observers of the American military, Bob Herbert and his ilk suffer from a parallel perceptual flaw: All success looks to them like a different shade of defeat.
Still, let's suppose that pessimism is warranted. Would either importing more soldiers or ceding greater authority to the U.N. do anything to improve the picture?
If our strategy is to post round-the-clock guards at every vulnerable spot in a California-sized country, then we indeed do not have enough troops in Iraq - and we never will. The largest imaginable U.S. Army would be too small to undertake a long-term passive defense of that magnitude. If, on the other hand, we actively seek out the enemy (which seems to be what we are doing), our current margin of superiority, on the order of ten or fifteen to one, really should suffice.
As for letting the U.N. take the lead, there could scarcely be a more counterproductive step. Defeating the Ba'athist bitter-enders requires, at the very least, a conviction that they ought to be defeated. The U.N. bureaucracy's ineptitude in protecting its own personnel, particularly its incredible decision to hire known Ba'athist secret policemen as security guards, is strong evidence that it has neither the ability nor the desire to stamp out the remnants of the old regime. That's no surprise: The UNocrats didn't want to depose it in the first place. Putting Kofi Annan in charge of reconstructing Iraq makes as much sense as asking the German-American Bund to administer post-war Nazi Germany. The Annan idea of how to "work cooperatively with the Iraqi people to rebuild the nation" doubtless includes restoring a large measure of power to Ba'athist gangsters. (I don't even want to think about what Jacques Chirac, who would inevitably be a big player in any U.N.-led administration, would like to do!)
Both of these demands - for more troops and for more U.N. involvement - are ultimately attempts to find a magic solution to a threat that can be defeated only with patience and fortitude. Mark Steyn puts it exactly right:
The terrorists watch CNN and the BBC and, understandably, they figure that in Iraq America, Britain, the UN and all the rest will do what most people do when they run up against someone deranged: back out of the room slowly. They're wrong. There's no choice. You kill it here, or the next generation of suicide bombers will be on buses in Rotterdam, Manchester, Lyons, and blowing up the UN building in Manhattan. This is the battlefield.
Happily, it is a one-sided battle that we can lose only if we lose confidence in ourselves. [To comment, click here.]
August 24, 2003 One of the key, but often overlooked, fronts in the War on Terror is our enemies' campaign to stymie the government's ability to prevent attacks while they are still in the preparatory stages. Turning the entire United States into a terrorist sanctuary would guarantee that Islamofascism could never be defeated and could hope one day to wear down Americans' endurance. The principal target at present is the Patriot Act, which is widely reviled, not only by open enemy supporters like CAIR but also by well-intentioned libertarians of Left and Right, as a greater threat to our rights than al-Qaeda could ever be. Heather MacDonald offers a good summary of the controversy and defense of the Act's fundamental conformity to Constitutional principles in the Summer issue of City Journal ("Straight Talk on Homeland Security").
When the War on Terror’s opponents intone, “We need not trade liberty for security,” they are right—but not in the way they think. Contrary to their slogan’s assumption, there is no zero-sum relationship between liberty and security. The government may expand its powers to detect terrorism without diminishing civil liberties one iota, as long as those powers remain subject to traditional restraints: statutory prerequisites for investigative action, judicial review, and political accountability. So far, these conditions have been met.
But the larger fallacy at the heart of the elites’ liberty-versus-security formula is its blindness to all threats to freedom that do not emanate from the White House. Nothing the Bush administration has done comes close to causing the loss of freedom that Americans experienced after 9/11, when air travel shut down for days, and fear kept hundreds of thousands shut up in their homes. Should al-Qaida strike again, fear will once again paralyze the country far beyond the effects of any possible government restriction on civil rights. And that is what the government is trying to forestall, in the knowledge that preserving security is essential to preserving freedom.
The one point that I would add is that nothing will do greater harm to liberty than a strategy of passive defense that leaves the initiative entirely to the terrorists. Oddly (or maybe not), many of those who object to the Patriot Act also object to virtually every action taken by the government to take the war to the enemy. Do they imagine that freedom will continue under a steady barrage of atrocities? At some point, the spirit of Salus populi suprema lex will take over, and the Patriot Act will then seem like a Bill of Rights by comparison. [To comment, click here.]
August 21, 2003 A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail asking what I thought about a recent federal district court decision that declared cash balance pension plans to be illegal. It's taken a while to write a piece on the subject that will (I hope) be comprehensible to readers other than my fellow pension lawyers. I've now posted it in Ephemerides, explaining why the particular decision (Cooper v. IBM Personal Pension Plan) was wrong and why the campaign to abolish cash balance plans is misconceived. [To comment, click here.]
August 20, 2003 New discoveries of Shakespeareana are exceedingly rare, but one has come to light this year: just a few words written in the margin of a book, but they offer some evidence that William Shakespeare may have been more famous as an actor than we customarily suppose. At least, a contemporary, seeking one celebrated figure for comparison, chose a player rather than a playwright or poet. For a discussion, see Querulous Notes. [To comment, click here.]
August 19, 2003 Lord Hutton's inquiry into the suicide of Dr. David Kelly and, more broadly, the way in which Tony Blair's government prepared the British public for war has revealed much about the dishonesty and bias of the BBC (as deftly summarized by Josh Chafetz). Along the way, it has also furnished glimpses into how great a challenge Mr. Blair faced in getting his own colleagues, nurtured in the grand tradition of Labourite anti-Americanism, to go along with the notion of using force to overthrow an anti-American tyrant. The Daily Telegraph reports on a e-mail written by Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff and long-time confidant, complaining about the government's dossier summarizing the reasons for joining the American-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. Opined Mr. Powell: "The document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam. In other words it shows he has the means but it does not demonstrate he has the motive to attack his neighbours, let alone the West."
Ponder for a minute the multiple blindnesses underlying that statement. Saddam Hussein subsidizes Palestinian suicide bombers, regularly tries to shoot down American and British planes enforcing the Iraqi no-fly zone, loudly praises al-Qaeda and the September 11th atrocities, provides a safe haven for terrorist groups, deploys chemical weapons to put down revolts against his tyranny, and "has the means" to attack other countries (including, of course, the means to slip chemical or biological weapons into the hands of Islamofascist jihadists). Yet this representative of the British working classes cannot fathom why he might have a motive to harm anyone.
There are echoes here of the Left's "see no evil" attitude during the Cold War. I haven't looked it up, but I would confidently wager that Mr. Powell sneered when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and condemned defense expenditure as a waste of money intended only to prop up the tottering capitalist superstructure. Old mental habits die hard.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn once asked those who perceived no threat from the USSR how they would react if a man moved in next door, isolated himself from the world, beat his wife and children, issued death threats against his neighbors and armed himself to the teeth. Jonathan Powell would probably send the police around to make sure that the neighbors weren't violating the gun control laws. [To comment, click here.]
August 18, 2003 While I think that legalizing marijuana "for medicinal purposes only" is a bad idea - in the real world, there will be a dram of medical use to a gallon of non-medical abuse - I'd taken it for granted that the federal government's effort to override California's medical marijuana law rested on shaky Constitutional ground. Until I read a post by Randy Barnett, a libertarian law professor who is working for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed to thwart the federal action. According to Professor Barnett, there are three Constitutional questions at issue:
1. Has the government exceeded its powers under the Commerce Clause by trying to prohibit the wholly intrastate acquisition, use, and distribution of medical cannabis that is lawful under California state law-- without any showing that this class substantially affects interstate commerce?
2. Does the injunction in OCBC improperly interfere with the police power of the State of California to protect the health and safety of its citizens--a power that the national government lacks. The police power includes the power to say YES as well as NO, with respect to activities that take place wholly within its borders and that do not interfere with interstate commerce?
3. Does the injunction violate the fundamental rights of the OCBC members to ameliorate unnecessary pain and suffering and to consult and follow the recommendations of their physicians?
Is that all there is? Wholeheartedly as I sympathize with the libertarians on the first point, the minimalist view of what affects interstate commerce has been moribund for about 65 years. It won't be difficult for the Justice Department to make the case that, by the standards of Supreme Court jurisprudence, increasing the supply and ease of distribution of a product in one state has an impact everywhere else. Once that point is lost, as it will be in any court that isn't willing to make up special principles to be applied only to favored countercultural causes, the second falls immediately. The states' police power doesn't prevail over federal legislation enacted under the Commerce Clause; if it did, the states could easily reduce federal supremacy over commerce to a nullity. Finally, whence come these "fundamental rights of the OCBC members to ameliorate unnecessary pain and suffering and to consult and follow the recommendations of their physicians"? My copy of the Constitution doesn't have a clause dealing with physicians' autonomy. If libertarians think that they are doing their cause any favor by encouraging judges to conjure yet another "right" out of the famous emanations and penumbras, their short-sightedness is appalling. The rights invention racket has invariably been inimical to liberty, a fact that libertarians can usually recognize. Something about drug policy, however, fogs their minds. [To comment, click here.]
August 14, 2003 Now I perceive that mini-controversies are starting about, on the one hand, whether the news media were over-obsessed with the Blackout, and, on the other, whether federal officials were too detached. (Here is an example.) Perhaps a comparison with the 1965 Blackout will be illuminating. I was living in Cleveland at the time and thus wasn't directly affected (just as I'm not this time, in Chicago). My recollection is that (i) the media gave the story tremendous play, though the immense changes in the news business over the past decades make comparisons with today's coverage dubious and (ii) nobody thought that it was President Johnson's responsibility to give personal attention to the troubles. There was a problem; there were people whose job it was to fix it; they did their job without White House either second guessing them or trying to steal their credit. President Bush and Energy Secretary Abraham seem to have inherited that attitude, but it seems quite aberrant and uncaring in these sensitive times. OTOH, an Instapundit reader, e-mailing about conditions on Long Island, suggests that the old-fashioned spirit of quiet confidence, however lost to the media, isn't dead at the popular level:
Everything was very orderly, there were police at every important intersection, traffic in Brooklyn and Queens was moving very smoothly. During the afternoon we were listening to the NYC Fire Department transmissions and everything was going very well. The dispatchers do a wonderful job keeping in touch with all the fire companies. The most interesting thing we heard was that a woman on the Long Island Railroad train was having a baby and they dispatched a tower truck to the site. I think the train was on an overpass and they had to bring her out in the bucket.
August 14, 2003 I'll be traveling until Tuesday and probably won't get around to posting from the road. To do so, I'll have to be energetic enough to install software on my new laptop (on which I have bestowed the auspicious name of "786,432 Beneficent Pixels") and lucky enough to escape the backwash of the portended MSBlaster attack on Microsoft. Incidentally, isn't the Internet, traversible by all and owned by none, yet another example of the Tragedy of the Commons? If some cybernetic D. D. Harriman had set up the whole elaborate structure and were amassing wealth beyond the dreams of avarice by charging all of us a fraction of a penny for each megabyte transmitted, he would be the object of hatred and envy dwarfing any that Bill Gates can attract, but he would doubtless keep his property free of worms and other pests. [To comment, click here.]
August 14, 2003 Today's Second Great Northeast Blackout has an obvious moral that I haven't yet seen drawn. It goes like this: Modern society is highly resilient in the face of natural disaster. While the disruption is highly unpleasant for the millions of people affected, no one is going to bewail it as marking the downfall of America. Within a week, it will already be fading into history, as did its predecessor in November 1965. Yet, if the same calamity were clearly the result of terrorism, the panic and recriminations would resonate for months. Similarly, every pinprick attack by Ba'athist bitter-enders in Iraq is treated as a substantial defeat for American policy. There is a tendency - not surprising, I suppose - to react to terrorist incidents by feeling vulnerable and afraid, instead of by sneering at the trivial harm that our enemies have been able to inflict. It is vital to defeat them, because we dare not risk allowing Islamofascism to wax into a genuine threat, but it is also important to appraise the struggle realistically. Al-Qaeda and all of its jackal sympathizers are not, in the end, even as dangerous as an overstrained power grid on a hot summer day. [To comment, click here.]
Though maybe I shouldn't be too blithe about hot summer days. While Tim Blair and Best of the Web have already questioned it, the claim that the current French heat wave has caused 3,000 or more deaths gets a credulous airing in the normally sensible Daily Telegraph. Let's suppose that this facially absurd number is accurate; what does it tell us? These "sweltering" temperatures à la Français have yet to reach 100F. Days in the 90's are, of course, commonplace during American summers and are responsible for only a handful of fatalities, almost all among people already seriously weakened by age or disease. If the French are succumbing at such a fantastically higher rate, that fact suggests that ill health is far more widespread in their country than in America. Another reason, perhaps, why we do well to steer clear of the European model of medical care. [To comment, click here.]
August 14, 2003 The long-rumored Next Chicago Worldcon Bid has a Web site. The design is unusual and attractive. Content is understandably limited: bid committee members, a schedule of upcoming bid parties, a form for buying presupports, a list of Midwestern conventions, an interesting article on Chicago hot dogs, and links to Chicago tourist information. The kickoff bid party is set for Saturday night at Torcon. The year for which the committee is bidding hasn't been officially announced. The tentative choice in 2009, but the restrictions of the WSFS Constitution will force a switch to 2008 or 2010 if Kansas City wins the race against Los Angeles for the 2006 convention. [Information about Chicon 2000, the last World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago] [To comment, click here.]
August 13, 2003 After a delay so long that one began to fear that it would never appear, Alan H. Nelson's biography of the 17th Earl of Oxenford, Monstrous Adversary, has rolled off the press. Professor Nelson is a long-time student of this particularly popular and implausible contender for the honor of being the "real" William Shakespeare and maintains a Web site with much fascinating Oxenfordian material. His book, published by Liverpool University Press, is available in North America from International Specialized Book Services. I'll be reviewing it in the near future (though I'll read it first). [More on Shakespeare Authorship] [To comment, click here.]
August 13, 2003 Gerald Seib, the Wall Street Journal's not-too-conservative "Capital Journal" columnist, reports that the Democratic Party's high command hopes to portray the California gubernatorial recall vote as another step in a Republican conspiracy to "to use strong-arm legal tactics to seize political power they failed to win at the ballot box". Oddly, though, all of the concrete acts cited in furtherance of this conspiracy employ democratic, Constitutional processes and show more deference to the will of the people than do Democratic complaints. I discuss this oddity in today's Ephemerides. [To comment, click here.]
August 13, 2003 Today should be Remember the Cold War Day, for it calls to mind John F. Kennedy's two great foreign policy failures that very likely delayed the collapse of the Soviet Union by 20 years and thus inflicted a vast amount of misery on the world. It is the 32nd anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall and also Fidel Castro's birthday. The Wall, we now know, was intended by the Kremlin as a test of the new U.S. President's will. He flunked. At a time when American power was nearly as overwhelming as it is today, Kennedy backed down in the face of communist aggression. He was similarly weak in dealing with Castro's Cuba, whose survival was due to his feckless handling of the Bay of Pigs landing. Those victories convinced the Kremlin that it would ultimately win its struggle with the leading capitalist nation. It wasn't until the Soviet rulers lost their confidence in the face of Ronald Reagan's anticommunist vigor that their power crumbled. JFK could have dealt them a pair of Reagan-like psychological blows in 1961. The rest of the Cold War is the story of what happened when he didn't. [To comment, click here.]
August 13, 2003 Today, as it nears its second birthday, Stromata is getting a new look, at least on its home page. Upon reflection, it seems to me that a more blog-like format may make it easier for visitors to find their way around. Short comments on whatever odds and ends occur to me will from now on show up here, sometimes with links to longer discussions, sometimes not. A corollary is that I won't continue updating "Scraps", which the home page will effectively replace. We'll see how it works out. If it doesn't - well, I'll think of something else. [To comment, click here.]