Sunday, June 25, 2006

My hope is that those who read the book and see the film will begin to feel, as I have for a long time, that global warming is not just about science and that it is not just a political issue. It is really a moral issue.
--from the introduction to An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It by Al Gore, Rodale Press, 2006.

Mr Gore said global warming was a "challenge to our moral imagination to understand it and then to respond to it urgently"....He stressed the problem was moral, not political, and said he hoped the current US government would re-think its environmental strategy and sign up to the successor to the Kyoto treaty.
--Al Gore, quoted at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival

"I'm a grandfather and he [George W. Bush] is a father and this should not be a political issue."--Al Gore, quoted by CNN, 5/23/06

[Springsteen] called politics "an organic part of what I’m doing. ... It’s called common sense. I don’t even see it as politics at this point."--Bruce Springsteen quoted in Editor and Publisher magazine.

I'm seeing more and more of this. Last year during the Katrina mess left-wing bloggers were screaming that that situation was "no longer a political but a moral crisis" blah blah blah. The argument is specious, as George F. Will points out in a recent column titled "Gore in the Balance": "Any large policy issue is a political issue and it is large because it is morally significant." Exactly.

But the greater issue is why lefties insist that their political points of view aren't political but "moral." And I think the answer is related to the point that Ann Coulter makes in her much-hated new book: Coulter's thesis (and I agree with it) is that the Left doesn't want to debate issues. It never wants to debate issues. So in lieu of debate it brings forth spokepeople whose "moral authority is absolute" (to quote Maureen Dowd again), like the 9/11 "Jersey Girl" widows, or Cindy Sheehan, or this or that Iraq war veteran: People who cannot be debated with because of their "moral authority." Democrats embraced John Kerry less for his policy positions than for all his medals, which would in theory contrast to the records of the cowardly Bush and Cheney to their shame (I recall reading an essay by Democrat Underground founder William Rivers Pitt during the 2004 primaries that made exactly this point).

And the new "this is no longer political, this is moral" meme is exactly in line with Coulter's thesis. What it boils down to is that the Left insists: Our positions are beyond simple politics, you rube. How dare you not agree! Why, debating us, even disagreeing with us at all--it's immoral!

Josef Stalin would have loved this argument.

Friday, June 23, 2006


I try to avoid ordinary day-to-day politics in the blog, because there are so many more important things to write about, but I really have to write about what a travesty the modern Democratic Party has become. Here's an exchange from the dog-and-pony show that Larry King had with the nine Democratic women in the Senate the other day, featuring the brilliant Debbie Stabenow:

Her answer to the question--remember, she represents Michigan, the only non-Katrina state in the nation that actually lost jobs last year--is a series of mindless focus-group slogans ("race to the top, not the bottom"' "export products, not jobs") and Bush-bashing. What little she says about actual policy--you enforce trade laws, you deal with healthcare and energy costs, and then you protect pensions and you race like crazy around education and innovation--none of this would actually do a thing to keep jobs in America.

"Enforce trade laws" means what? You cannot force another country to take your products without retaliatory trade practices that protect certain industries at the expense of others, and raises overall prices on food and other basic consumer products. Thiw works out fine if you're in one of those industries lucky enough to be subsidized by the government with "most favored industry" status. Otherwise, enjoy the $10 burgers and $5 a gallon gas. This is exactly what is wrong with Europe, with its permanent 10-15 percent unemployment, and to which I say, no thanks.

"You deal with healthcare and energy costs"--presumably by using heavy government subsidies, backed by increased taxes. I don't want to be France.

"and then you protect pensions" "Protecting pensions" sounds great and all, but it doesn't add or protect a single job. GM is imploding precisely because their pension liabilities are so ridiculously high.

"Race like crazy around education and innovation." I confess to having absolutely no idea what this means. If I can take a stab at it, I think of it as another reflection of the lefty obsession with solving problems with all-nighters, after the manner of the Clinton Administration's all-night pizza brainstorming sessions. This of course reflects the Left's eternal adolescence: There is no problem that can't be solved by putting a bunch of smart people in a room until you have a solution., especially if you can make it into a late night dorm party. This is something that would occur to a child. But it has no basis in reality, because the truth is even simpler: If you leave people alone and don't confiscate their money, they'll create jobs and innovate on their own. Hold the pizza.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Latest column:


But I can see through it all, see into their very souls, and see there nothing but the souls of beasts.
--H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau

One of my favorite stories—if the meaning of the term “favorite” can be extended to include items so freakish and bizarre that they refuse to leave the memory—of 2005 was the report that, during the 1920s, Soviet scientists were actually working to create human-ape hybrids for use in the Red Army. "I want a new invincible human being,” Stalin is quoted commanding the scientists, “insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

Details of the program were few, but it was of course a complete failure: None of the (thank goodness) artificial inseminations of human sperm into female chimpanzees produced any fertilizations. To this day, no one has ever been able to successfully hybridize humans and apes: The Wikipedia entry on “Chumans,” or chimpanzee-human hybrids, is pretty definitive here. Nevertheless, I want to speculate a bit—because I can’t resist—on what it would mean, both in real-world and gaming/simulation terms, if the experiments were successful, and if the Red Army was able to deploy ape-man forces in World War Two. I’d add the additional speculation that they could somehow be bred in militarily significant numbers by then.

One would imagine that such units, in spite of Stalin’s insistence, would be of very low quality. (I keep thinking of the Wells novel, where the human-animal hybrids are always threatening to devolve back into animals). The prime virtue of such troops is less their hardiness than their disposability—essentially the same reason the American military is employing more and more robots these days. Very little would be required of ape-man soldiers, one would think, beyond absolute obedience, total ruthlessness, and rudimentary weapons skills. The presumed cruelty and animal viciousness of such creatures would no doubt have appealed to Stalin.

Arguably, the Soviet ape-man program was an outside-the-box response to the near-total failure of strategic and tactical imagination that was World War One (The Germans’ Blitzkrieg doctrine was an infinitely better response to the same problem.) The context for all warplanners in the 1920s was always The Great War, and in that conflict warfare meant nothing but the static meatgrinder of attriting trench warfare. Massive losses of manpower in the war were painful militarily, painful for morale, and even painful demographically. The creation of a military caste of subhumans would solve this problem instantly. It would be the famous Robert Minor Daily Worker cartoon come to life: Two generals admire a massive and muscular but headless figure standing before them while the caption reads: “At last, the perfect soldier!” (Ironically, the cartoon was intended as satiric criticism of capitalist warmongering)

Simulation counters for ape-man units would be, I contend, of similar low quality. Divisions would be the equivalent of 1/1 creatures in Magic the Gathering: Something to throw at your opponent to overwhelm him with quantity. Stalin’s famous quote—“Quantity has a quality all its own”—applies here. That other famous quote attributed to Stalin, “How many divisions has the Pope?” explains the psychology. Divisions were all that mattered to Stalin.

Large numbers or not, I would contend that morale would be even more of a problem, not less as Stalin hoped. Instinct, especially territoriality, would be an obstacle. You can’t breed instinct out of animals in only a few generations.

At any rate, these would be fearsome-looking soldiers, and not particularly small, either: “Movie” chimps are almost always babies: Adult male chimpanzees can reach five feet tall and 200 pounds. Hybridized with humans, they’d be slightly shorter than men, heavily built, and of course grotesquely, terrifyingly ugly: I could easily imagine negative morale effects on units facing these creatures for the first time. And this of course only applies to human/chimpanzee hybrids: Human/gorilla hybrids would only be more massive and more horrible.

But ultimately, the ape-men would be poor fighters in most WW2 environments. Based on established Soviet doctrine, the Red Army would use them primarily in large human-wave (or aemi-human wave, I should say) assaults, And we know how those work: Well-commanded and entrenched units would simply wipe them out. I think they would do very well individually as suicide-bomber tank-killers, in the same way that the Red Army used bomb-bearing dogs against German panzers. Suicide-bombing as a policy—I note in passing—is always a symptom of dehumanization. But overall, I think the ape-man units would constitute a fringe of cannon-fodder that wouldn’t be missed, and would be easily replaced.

That’s the funny thing about it: The Red Army’s standard use of many of its ordinary, regular, 100% human troops in the actual Second World War differed little from most of the hypothetical ways they would have used ape-men: The suicidal human-wave attacks, the insistence on cruelty and mercilessness, even the infamous Ilya Ehrenburg radio broadcasts in 1945 inciting the rape of German women as a policy: This is what you use animal troops for, not men. In the final analysis, the ape-man experiments are both a compelling metaphor, and a valuable insight into the psychology of totalitarianism:

The human-ape hybrids as envisioned by Stalin are in many ways the ideal citizens of the authoritarian state: “…insensitive to pain…indifferent about the quality of food they eat." Complaining is a symptom of freedom; even jailed prisoners complain. During the Stalin era, complaining about even the simplest things—the quality of government-supplied food, for example—was a criminal, often a capital, offence. It makes sense that Stalin would envision, with apparent great relish, a citizenry whose only needs were animal ones and which never, ever complained.

And if I can digress one more time, I’m also thinking that Stalin would have really, really hated simulation gaming. He would have considered it an indirect rebuke—a complaint, if you will—against the military and the government: So you’re saying that you could have commanded the army better than Comrade Stalin? Is that what you’re saying?

The ape-man, in short, is the totalitarian state’s criticism of the rest of us. It is very fortunate for us, all of us, that he never existed.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Really, nothing in the news in the last several years has infuriated me as much as the "Haditha massacre" story now dancing its way through the media. It's not that I don't believe that Marines could have done such a thing--it's the eagerness of the media and left-wing politicians the world over to believe it with only the dubious "confirmation" of apparent insurgent sympathizers.. In one sense the story is highly revealing, because it exposes the "We hate the war but we don't hate the troops" mantra from the Left as a lie: If you are ready to believe the most horrible stories about someone with only the flimsiest of evidence, then don't tell me you're not predisposed to hate them.

I have a problem with the whole massacre meme primarily because the accusers can't seem to get their story straight.

VERSION # 1: Bush's Fault. This is the one used by most Democratic politicians like John Murtha who don't want to be seen as obviously hostile to the troops. As the version goes, the Marines simply snapped and went crazy after the multiple deployments forced on them by the evil Bush administration:

"I feel that the tremendous pressure and the redeployment over and over again is a big part of this.

"These guys are under tremendous strain, more strain than I can conceive of. And this strain has caused them to crack in situations like this"

VERSION # 2: "Execution." Eagerly picked up on by the insurgents and their sympathizers: The Iraqi civilians were killed "execution-style" in "cold blood". This is the version preferred by the international Left, which doesn't need to pretend that it cares about American troops. In this version, the heartless Marines calmly went around shooting Iraqi civilians "execution-style".

VERSION # 3: The bound prisoners.The ridiculous June 1st story ("Massacre Marines Blinded by Hate") in the London Times--devastated by Michelle Malkin so thoroughly that it got an almost immediate apology from the editor-- featured a photo--captioned "Victims at al-Haditha"--of dead Iraqis lying on the ground against a wall, hands tied, clearly having been shot. Even someone with the most minimal knowledge of the story would notice that these couldn't possibly be the alleged November 2005 Haditha victims. There would be absolutely no point in the middle of a "massacre" for the Marines to stop and tie people up before shooting them. Clearly--one would think that it would be obvious to a child--these were people who had been imprisoned and were taken out to be shot.

The Times editor, Gerard Baker, admitted that they had used an AP photograph from a 2004 execution by Sunni insurgents in Haditha of 19 Shia fishermen.

The problem with all of these versions is that they are EXTREMELY hard to reconcile with each other. So I want to know: Which story do they want to stick with?

Thursday, June 01, 2006


I went to a library sale today that was very annoying in a particular way that library sales can be annoying. It was advertised as "14,000" books, but I wouldn't be surprised if the actual number was a fifth of that. This didn't really bother me, I'm used to that sort of hype. What bothered me was the way the "Friends of the Library" busybodies had micromanaged the entire sale. A very high percentage of the books in the sale were "special" books that were all ridiculously overpriced, to the tune of $30 to $40 each in some cases. And of course, (as is typical) almost none of the market values of the books justified these prices. There was one book about the Potomac River that they wanted $30 for that turned out to be worth it; market value is $80-200.

But I wouldn't get it, on principle, just cause they irritated me so much with all their damn specials. They were sitting around the checkout table congratulating themselves with how wonderful they were at getting all the prices right, how they were on top of things, how they were telling other library Friends groups "how it should be done," how those silly lesser sales would put books in boxes on tables, can you imagine such a thing, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It was irritating on many levels because the best and most attractive library sales are precisely the ones with all the books in boxes on tables; That's the appealing part of the process. If I want to go to a bookstore, I'll go to a damn bookstore.

So I was already in full irritation mode when I asked them if they were having a half-price or a bag-day sale on the last day of the sale. Irritation or no, I'd definitely grab the Potomac book for $15 if I could. "Oh yes," said the head busybody, "but only with THOSE books." And she pointed to the lesser-book area in the hallway, filled with beat-up childrens' books and worthless Readers Digest condensed books, all of which were already selling for a quarter to fifty cents each. "We WON'T be putting our main book room on sale," she said proudly. She was positively beaming. It was like she couldn't bear to be parted with it. We could buy our hearts' content of the worthless garbage, but their pride and joy, the main book room, was absolutely out of the question, you foolish commoner.

So now the irritation meter was up to eleven, so I went digging in the 25 cent junk room to see what I could see. And just like that, bing bing bing, I found three of the rarest Isaac Asimov history titles published by Houghton Mifflin in the 1960s and never reprinted: The Egyptians (market value $26-80), The Roman Republic (market value 50-200), and The Roman Empire (market value $70-250).

So I bought 'em for a quarter each, handed them a five. Now, normally, I (as those of you who know me personally know) like to keep my mouth shut. I'll buy books and just smile and thank them and be on my way.


"You know," I said, pointing to the Roman Republic book, "I've sold two of these on ebay in the last six months for $70 each." (which is perfectly true by the way--I'd gotten them both at different auctions). I wish I could have photographed her expression. It was like I had told her that her best friend had just been eaten by wolves. So then, I smiled and thanked them and took my change--she had to count it twice, she was so flustered--and was on my way.

A good day.

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