Tuesday, November 30, 2004

TIA Daily Headlines: New Cox & Forkum Cartoon Book

Our friends at Cox & Forkum have produced a new collection of cartoons that also features the covers they have created for The Intellectual Activist

Top News Stories

Red Cross Fakes Guantanamo Torture
• A Palestinian Strategic Retreat
Poland's "Solidarity" with Ukraine
• Burt Rutan Conquers the World, Again
• Commentary: A Foolish Delay
• Commentary: Palestinian Regime Has Not Changed

• Human Achievements: London Eye
• Things of Beauty: London Eye

• New Cox & Forkum Cartoon Book

Letter to the Editor
• A Day in the Life of Socialism

Red Cross Fakes Guantanamo Torture

A "confidential" Red Cross report has been "accidentally" leaked to the New York Times, which led with a front-page story on allegations of torture at Guantanamo—allegations so trumped-up, overblown, and terrorist-coddling that they explain why the International Committee of the Red Cross, like the UN, no longer has any credibility with the American people.

"Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantanamo," Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, November 30

"The people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison facility, said that one regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels. Some accounts of techniques at Guantánamo have been easy to dismiss because they seemed so implausible. The most striking of the accusations, which have come mainly from a group of detainees released to their native Britain, has been that the military used prostitutes who made coarse comments and come-ons to taunt some prisoners who are Muslims. But the Red Cross report hints strongly at an explanation of some of those accusations by stating that there were frequent complaints by prisoners in 2003 that some of the female interrogators baited their subjects with sexual overtures."

Poland's "Solidarity" with Ukraine

This is a fascinating piece about the Polish involvement in the Ukrainian crisis. The Poles see this as a replay of their own struggle for liberation against the Soviets (of which the Poles are justly proud), and as the creation of a crucial European buffer against Putin's "Stalin-lite" authoritarianism. This is also an example of the important role of "New Europe" as a force for freedom against the East.

"Ukraine Pushing Poland's Buttons," Jeffrey Fleishman, LA Times, November 30

" 'I don't think we've yet to realize how important what's going on in Ukraine is,' said Maciej Czumaj, a university student. 'Ukraine is the last European country before Asia. They're our neighbors, and whatever happens
economically and politically in Kiev affects Poland. This was a sleeping problem now awakening. Ukraine needs a Walesa,' he added. 'Maybe Yushchenko will be the new Walesa.' A retired Polish military officer, who gave his name only as Tadeusz, said, 'This reminds me of the Solidarity times. Ukraine wants to go west, but we know what Putin wants. He's tough. Ukraine has to know they have to do this change on their own. If you do it on your own, with no interference from the outside, then it's stronger. But if a shot is fired, there will be tragedy.'
Kwasniewski and other Polish politicians have been prominent in efforts to diffuse the standoff. It is another indication that Poland, which joined the European Union in May, may be a strategic diplomatic player as Europe
expands toward an uneasy Russia."

Monday, November 29, 2004

TIA Daily Sample Issue

TIA Daily -- November 29, 2004

A Day in the Life of Capitalism

A single day's news stories demonstrate how capitalism unleashes human ingenuity, encouraging and rewarding human achievement on a day-by-day basis.

Top News Stories

1. The "Orange Revolution"
2. Iran's Gambit
3. Chirac Rejected?
4. Bush's New Economic Team
5. Commentary: The Virtue of a Unified Executive
6. Commentary: Europe and Iran vs. the US

7. Human Achievements: Newton and Modern Culture
8. Things of Beauty: Sandstead Photo

Feature Article
9. A Day in the Life of Capitalism, by Robert Tracinski

Capitalism Is an Engine of Human Achievement


Top News Stories

1. The "Orange Revolution"

Nearly every Eastern European nation--Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, even Russia--had a moment in the late 1980s or early 1990s when its people stood up and rejected dictatorship. Ukraine never had that moment; Communism fell apart around them, without the need for them to act. But the necessity for action in the defense of freedom can never be avoided, so Ukraine is now fighting--successfully, it seems--its own version of the "Velvet Revolution." (For a sense-of-life report on the protests, see a moving piece from NRO's Andrew Stuttaford at http://tinyurl.com/6lyfb .)

"Departing Ukrainian President Would Support New Elections," Steven Lee Myers and C.J. Chivers, New York Times, November 29

"'If we really want to preserve peace and consensus and build this just democratic society,' Mr. Kuchma said in a statement, 'let us have new elections.' His words were echoed in part by the man who has been declared the
winner of the Nov. 21 vote, Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich, who said he would agree to hold a new vote in the country's two eastern regions if mass fraud were proven to have taken place, as charged by the opposition."

2. Iran's Gambit

The problem with issuing diplomatic ultimatums to a dictatorship is that they might comply--complying, that is, with the superficial details of Western demands, while they secretly violate the agreement. That is exactly what Iran is now doing, with the aid and abetment of Britain, France, and Germany. The only demand we ought to be issuing to Iran's mullahs is a demand for unconditional surrender.

"Iran Backs away from a Demand on A-Bomb Fuel," Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, November 29

"Iran on Sunday backed off a demand to operate uranium enrichment equipment that could be used either for energy purposes or in a nuclear bomb-making project, European and Iranian officials said. The Iranian retreat appeared to salvage a nuclear agreement reached Nov. 15 between Iran and France, Britain, and Germany
to freeze all of Iran's uranium enrichment, conversion and reprocessing activities. It also paves the way for the 35 countries that make up the ruling board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based United Nations nuclear monitoring body, to pass a resolution that will be only mildly critical
of Iran's nuclear program. Such a resolution, expected to be passed Monday, is certain to disappoint the Bush administration, which is convinced that despite Iran's denials, it has a covert program to build nuclear bombs, not simply to produce energy."

3. Chirac Rejected?

Three of the four leaders who backed the Iraq War are or likely will be re-elected (Australia's Howard, America's Bush, and Britain's Blair). But what about the Axis of Weasels? Jacques Chirac is facing an increasing challenge from Nicholas Sarkozy, who is more friendly to free markets--and, as a self-made man who rose from outside the French establishment, is considered more "American" in his outlook.

"Sarkozy to Lead France's Ruling Party," Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, November 29

"In his acceptance speech Sunday, Sarkozy showed no reluctance to embrace contentious positions. Among other things, he proposed a "profound reform" of France's 35-hour workweek, a centerpiece of the last Socialist government's economic policy. It is popular with workers, but businesses have decried it as too costly. 'I am ready to carry your energy, I am ready to embody your hopes,' Sarkozy said. 'I am ready because I know that deep inside, France no longer fears change, but is ready for it.' Sarkozy's rise to the top of France's largest political machine--a party begun, under another name, by Chirac nearly 30 years ago--is an unlikely success story for France, where most politicians come from the same elite social class and the same school, the Ecole Nationale
d'Administration. Sarkozy is the son of a Hungarian immigrant father and a French mother with Jewish roots. Sarkozy also is a lawyer, not a professional administrator from the prestigious school. His popularity soare! d after he became Chirac's interior minister in 2002 and he launched a crackdown on crime
by borrowing from New York City's 'zero tolerance' policy. He also earned plaudits from French Jews for being among the first to speak out forcefully against anti-Semitic attacks in France."

4. Bush's New Economic Team

Bush's replacement of cabinet officers on his "economic team" is a good sign, because it shows that Bush is once again taking his domestic agenda seriously and is looking for cabinet members who can effectively back his plan for Social Security semi-privatization. This article also indicates the likely order and timetable of Bush's domestic legislative agenda.

"Bush to Change Economic Team," Mike Allen, Washington Post, November 29

"Republican officials said Bush's economic team has been weaker than his national security advisers, and that the president believes he needs aides who can relate better to Congress and the markets. A more skilled team is essential, the aides said, because of the complex and politically challenging agenda of overhauling Social Security to add private investment accounts and simplifying the tax code. 'The president knows that he doesn't have the strength in that stable, and he's going to another corral to find it,' said a member of Bush's political team.... Bush aides, who have been debating what parts of his legislative package to send to Capitol Hill first, will start with measures to restrict medical malpractice claims and other lawsuits. Bush will then try to
advance his initiative on Social Security, after which will come proposed changes in the tax laws. In the next month or two, Bush plans to name a commission to make recommendations on the tax code that could eliminate some loopholes and even replace the income tax with a sales tax or value-added tax."

5. Commentary: The Virtue of a Unified Executive

This is a nice "political science" piece addressing the complaint that Bush is appointing "yes men" to the cabinet. Stephens makes a good point about this: that it is better to have the president who is in harmony with his cabinet and relies on them as real policy makers--rather than having him in conflict with his cabinet and working around them through the unofficial advisors of a "Kitchen Cabinet."

"What Is a Cabinet For?" Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, November 29

"It's easy to dismiss these complaints as high-toned versions of the usual partisan griping--which, in fact, is what they are. It's also easy to dismiss the suggestion that loyalty is no virtue in a cabinet officer: Should a president seriously consider appointing secretaries he knows will frequently be at odds with, and reluctant administrators of, his policies? But there is also a serious case being made here, which is that the primary purpose of a cabinet is to act as a kind of Senate within the executive. And this case needs to be addressed. The Constitution itself is vague on the subject of the cabinet: It says only that the president 'may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject
relating to the Duties of their respective Offices.' But in Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton specifically rebuts the idea of government by what he calls 'executive council.' 'No favorable circumstances palliate or atone for the disadvantages of dissension in the executive department,' he writes. 'They serve to embarrass and weaken the execution of the plan or measure to which they relate.... They constantly counteract those qualities in the Executive which are the most necessary ingredients in its composition, vigor and expedition.' "

6. Commentary: Europe and Iran vs. the US

Michael Ledeen offers a very insightful comparison between European negotiations with Iran and the Palestinian "peace process." Just as the "peace process" is intended to restrain Israel, not the Palestinian terrorists--so the European negotiation with Iran are intended, not to stop Iran's nuclear program, but to restrain the US from taking action to defend itself (and Europe) from Iranian nukes.

"Europe's Ritual Dance," Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, November 29

"I think [the Europeans] expect Iran to 'go nuclear' in the near future, at which point they will tell President Bush that there is no option but to accept the brutal facts--the world's leading sponsor of terrorism in possession of
atomic bombs and the missiles needed to deliver them on regional and European targets--and 'come to terms' with the mullahcracy. In other words, as the editorialists at the Wall Street Journal have wryly commented, the real goal of
the negotiations is to restrain the United States, which, left to its own devices, might actually do something serious. If President Bush found a way to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic bombs, it might well wreck the Europeans'
grand appeasement strategy. There is certainly no risk that the United Nations will do anything serious, which is why the Europeans keep insisting that it is the only 'legitimate' forum for any discussion of the Iranian nuclear menace."


7. Human Achievements

Newton and Modern Culture

I recently did a quick walk-through of the "Newtonian Moment: Science and the Making of Modern Culture" exhibit at the New York Public Library (running through February 5th).

I was impressed by the ambitious goal of the exhibit--to demonstrate the transmission of Newton's ideas through the culture. While I doubt that the exhibit actually achieves that lofty goal, the large collection of rare books on display showing the diffusion of Newton's ideas in the culture over the centuries, the collection of Newton's own manuscripts and notebooks, and the death mask of Newton once owned by Thomas Jefferson are well worth a visit if you are in town.

To learn more visit the exhibit website.

"This exhibition tells the story of the conception and diffusion of Newton's ideas, and the tensions and often public clashes they engendered. Notwithstanding these burgeoning controversies, or perhaps because of them, for
friends and foes alike Newton became an icon to be emulated or rejected, revered or excoriated--but always there to contend with. Hence, the era of Enlightenment and Revolution may be viewed as the Newtonian Moment."

Thanks to TIA Daily readers Robert Begley and Blair Schofield for recommending this exhibit.

Send your recommendations for the Human Achievements column to editor@TIADaily.com.

-- Shrikant Rangnekar

8. Things of Beauty

Photo: Sunrise over NYC, by Lee Sandstead

Lee Sandstead has taken many beautiful photos for the back covers of the print edition of TIA, but this photo of a sunrise over New York City is one of my favorites of his photos. I love the way the city is mostly picked out in dark shapes with just a few of the city's lights on. (When you see nighttime shots of NYC, there are many more lit windows.) Mr. Sandstead has captured the city just as it is beginning to wake--and he's caught the sun at the same moment, just as it is beginning to rise. I also love the way the dark blue clouds contrast with the vibrant orange glow of the sunrise, and how the orange color is picked up in many of the lights around the city. Notice also the contrast between the soft, downy shapes of the clouds and the sharp, angular shapes of the buildings. This beautiful photo, as well as many of Lee Sandstead's other photos, are now available for purchase through his website, or you can get to this particular image by clicking here.

-- Sherri Tracinski


TIA Daily Feature Article

9. A Day in the Life of Capitalism

Capitalism Is an Engine of Human Achievementby Robert TracinskiOur regular "Human Achievements" feature often highlights the business achievements of entrepreneurs and industrialists, past and present. But sometimes we are reminded that what we cover is just a small percentage of the outpouring of human ingenuity that a capitalist society encourages and rewards on a daily basis.

Three stories in today's newspapers provide just such a reminder. They are three stories, from a single day, that highlight the impact of three innovative business ideas.

Today's Washington Post has a story, at http://tinyurl.com/6582y, about the rise of XM Radio, a company that has pioneered the new medium of satellite radio--radio stations that can be listened to nationwide, from one's car and now from a small, "wearable" receiver. The idea is that you no longer have to search the dial to find what happens to be offered in a particularly city (only to discover, say, seven country & western stations and nothing that offers classical music).

The beginning of this piece establishes a pattern that recurs in stories of this kind: a story of the leadership, intelligence, and energy of a single individual.

"Hugh Panero has never had much patience for naysayers. As a young man, after being turned down for a job reporting on the cable industry for a trade journal, Panero created his own version of the publication, complete with original stories and a mock cover. He sent it in and was hired, said Doug Panero, one of three younger brothers.

"As one of the early pioneers in pay-per-view TV, Panero overcame doubts that consumers would ever pick pay-per-view over the video store.

"Six and a half years ago, he believed in subscription radio service when few others did. Secure in that belief, Panero turned a staff of fewer than a dozen working out of a windowless basement office in downtown Washington into the leading satellite radio service, with more than 500 employees and 2.5 million subscribers. Its only direct competitor, Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. of New York, has 800,000 subscribers."

One of the amusing aspects of this story is the cheerful feistiness that XM shows toward its competitor, as when Panero reacted to the appointment of an executive from a giant media firm as Sirius's new CEO. Panero takes credit for pionerring the new medium, then concludes, "I'm glad we could provide Mr. Karmazin with gainful employment."

In a culture whose intellectuals cling to the Marxist dogma that businessmen are exploiters, this piece is largely written as a tribute to, and reminder of, the virtues of character required for business success.

"Back in 2001, when the attacks of Sept. 11 looked as if they would sink XM's scheduled launch, Panero never betrayed any doubt in the company's prospects, recalled Gary Hahn, XM's vice president for advertising and creative services. Hahn worked with Panero at his previous employer, Request Television Inc., a pay-per-view company in Denver. 'He led by that day-in and day-out relentless pursuit of goals. You tend to look at a leader if you have second thoughts. He had none,' Hahn said."

Later, Panero indicates that he is not done with this relentless quest: "In this kind of business, what you did today is forgotten quickly. We have to find new and innovative ways to reach people."

Our culture will make an enormous stride forward when it realizes that this--the "day-in and day-out relentless pursuit of goals" and the commitment to always keep doing more and better--is the essence of human morality.

This is also the theme of an article in the New York Times, at http://tinyurl.com/43vyf, about another startup company offering high-speed satellite internet connections for businesses in big cities.

"Jeff Thompson may be afraid of heights, but he appears to be at home on the 81st-floor terrace of the Empire State Building.

"Overlooking the 1,000-foot drop, Mr. Thompson said he saw the entire New York metropolitan area as the battleground where his company, TowerStream, will challenge phone companies for high-speed Internet business customers by delivering fast, cheap service without digging up streets to install cables.

"Next to him, a TowerStream antenna, perched on the parapet, beamed high-powered wireless Internet connections to companies several miles away. This kind of aerial system, many technology experts say, could uncork the most nettlesome bottleneck in the telecommunications industry: the phone companies' control of the 'last mile' of wire that travels from their switching stations to homes and offices.

" 'We're competing against the Bells,' Mr. Thompson said, 'so we have to work quickly.' Waving his arm toward the blaze of buildings and potential customers below, he said with a laugh, 'This is when I get excited by heights.' "

This story also highlights how such entrepreneurs help to overcome the limitations of old technology--as well as the artificial barriers created by government regulation and special favors to factions such as labor unions, as in the example of a New York City grocery business that is one of TowerStream's customers:

"Mr. Trachtenberg heard about TowerStream, which began service in New York in June 2003, through a friend, then learned he could get a WiMax connection set up in less than a week. By contrast, ordering a fixed wire line can turn into a logistical nightmare, Mr. Trachtenberg said. While phone companies say they typically install data lines within a few weeks, it can take months if Internet service providers, phone companies, and union workers who handle the installation have to coordinate schedules."

Still, government doesn't just get in the way. It is also needed to establish and protect property rights--something today's leaders do not regard as a priority. Thus:

"[T]here are limits to WiMax's expansion. Because it uses public airwaves rather than a licensed spectrum, signals are vulnerable to interference if providers overload a frequency in a market. (TowerStream says that it has acquired the right to force latecomers who install antennas near theirs to move if interference is created. The company also says that its connections are encrypted and not vulnerable to eavesdroppers.)"

Nevertheless, the main challenge faced by startups like this one is competition--a challenge that only spurs innovation forward more quickly. For example, this report indicates, "Mobile phone companies, which are investing billions of dollars in third-generation cellular networks, may also increase the speeds of their data connections to compete with WiMax."

Finally, a report in the LA Times, at http://tinyurl.com/6tj2u, indicates that capitalism encourages more than just technological innovation. It can also break open a greater market for innovative art and entertainment. That's the case with Netflix, a company that lets its members rent DVDs that are reserved online and delivered by mail. The customer pays only a fixed monthly fee. I've been using Netflix for about a year now, and it has many advantages over movie rentals (such as no worries about late fees), but the greatest benefit is that Netflix offers a far wider variety of DVDs than you can find in your local Blockbuster, including documentaries, educational series, and slightly obscure old television series (e.g., the BBC adaptations of P.G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves &Wooster" stories).

The LA Times reports that Netflix is seeking to capitalize on this by establishing itself as a distributor of smaller "independent films" that do not have major distributors.

"Seeking to broaden its hold on folks who want to watch art-house films in the comfort of their own homes, Netflix Inc. has forged an unusual alliance with a group representing thousands of independent filmmakers hungry for wider exposure.

"Under an agreement expected to be made public today , the largest online purveyor of DVD rentals would partner with the nonprofit Independent Feature Project/Los Angeles, making available to its [IFP's] 9,000 members all movies nominated for the Independent Spirit Awards, the offbeat alternative to the Oscars....

" 'A disproportionate number of our members are independent film fans,' said Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, explaining why Netflix sought to partner with IFP."

I'm not writing this just to boost any particular company covered in these stories. I don't know which of them will ultimately survive and prosper. And that's another continuing theme from all of these stories appears in this article. No innovator can rest on his laurels. Any successful new idea will immediate face competition from rivals who seek to take that idea and implement it in a larger, cheaper, faster, or better way. Thus:

"With more than 2 million subscribers, [Netflix] has struggled to compete with large retail chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co., which sell DVDs for discounted prices. In recent months, Netflix's stock has plunged 41%, in part because of speculation that Amazon.com Inc. would enter the rental business. To better compete with the rental industry leader, Blockbuster Inc., Netflix recently reduced its monthly fee to $17.99."

This is just a "day in the life" of capitalism. And these stories highlight all of the virtues of a free market economy. It is a system that rewards purposeful, creative, hard-working innovators, allows no one to rest on his laurels--and produces a dynamic society characterized by relentless progress.

This is the big truth being reported every day on the business pages of the nation's newspapers. When will this story make it onto the editorial pages? When will our intellectuals, commentators, and politicians accept, understand, and embrace the virtues of a capitalist society?


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Chirac Rejected?

Three of the four leaders who backed the Iraq War are or likely will be re-elected (Australia's Howard, America's Bush, and Britain's Blair). But what about the Axis of Weasels? Jacques Chirac is facing an increasing challenge from Nicholas Sarkozy, who is more friendly to free markets--and, as a self-made man who rose from outside the French establishment, is considered more "American" in his outlook.

"Sarkozy to Lead France's Ruling Party," Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, November 29

"In his acceptance speech Sunday, Sarkozy showed no reluctance to embrace contentious positions. Among other things, he proposed a "profound reform" of France's 35-hour workweek, a centerpiece of the last Socialist government's economic policy. It is popular with workers, but businesses have decried it as too costly. 'I am ready to carry your energy, I am ready to embody your hopes,' Sarkozy said. 'I am ready because I know that deep inside, France no longer fears change, but is ready for it.' Sarkozy's rise to the top of France's largest political machine--a party begun, under another name, by Chirac nearly 30 years ago--is an unlikely success story for France, where most politicians come from the same elite social class and the same school, the Ecole Nationale
d'Administration. Sarkozy is the son of a Hungarian immigrant father and a French mother with Jewish roots. Sarkozy also is a lawyer, not a professional administrator from the prestigious school. His popularity soare! d after he became Chirac's interior minister in 2002 and he launched a crackdown on crime
by borrowing from New York City's 'zero tolerance' policy. He also earned plaudits from French Jews for being among the first to speak out forcefully against anti-Semitic attacks in France."

Sunday, November 21, 2004

South Carolina Seceding from Public Education?

In South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford and the house leadership have been pushing for the "Put Parents in Charge" act--one of the largest "school choice" measures in the country that is based on educational tax credits.

It appears that the measure has sufficient support to pass the house when the legislature reconvenes in January and the proponents of school choice are engaged in a pitched battle against the teachers unions to sway public opinion and the senate between now and then.

If South Carolina does begin secede from the public education system--through the individual choices of one parent at a time--what impact would that have on other states?

Click here for an overview of the "Put Parents in Charge" proposal.

Click here for the statement of Governor Mark Sanford.

" 'This proposal is a significant step forward on the education front for two reasons,' Gov. Sanford said. 'First, it's giving parents more choices to determine for themselves what's in the best interests of their own kids. Second, it brings a real market pressure to bear on the current system--something that's been proven to help improve performance at public schools where similar choice measures have been implemented. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone out there who doesn't believe that a parent engaging in their kid's education is a central component in producing better results in the classroom. We're all about giving parents in South Carolina both the opportunity and the financial incentive to do just that--and to make what's ultimately a much more important investment in the lives of their kids.'

" 'We are standing up for the rights of parents to make choices based on the individual needs of their children and refuting the long-held belief in education that one size fits all,' said Rep. Lewis Vaughn. 'Parents in South Carolina deserve the right to seek out alternatives when their children's needs aren't being met by the current system.' "

If any TIA Daily readers, especially those from South Carolina, have any more information or comments about this issue please write to editor@TIADaily.com.

-- Shrikant Rangnekar

Friday, November 19, 2004

Where Are the War Heroes?

The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger asks an excellent question: "There must have been hundreds of acts of bravery and valor in Fallujah. Where will history record their stories?" TIA Daily has an answer: send us links and information about stories of our soldiers' courage and competence under fire, and we will post the best stories.

"We Won't Have a Draft," Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal, November 19

"The amazing, perhaps historic, battle of Fallujah has come and gone, and the
biggest soldier story to come out of it is the alleged Marine shooting. There must have been hundreds of acts of bravery and valor in Fallujah. Where will history record their stories? Maybe it's just a function of an age in which TV
fears that attention spans die faster than caddis flies, and surfing the Web means ingesting information like a participant in a hot dog eating contest. By contrast, Michael Ware of Time magazine has a terrific account this week of one
platoon led by Staff Sgt. David Bellavia ('We're not going to die!'), fighting its way through the snipers and booby traps of Fallujah: 'A young sergeant went down, shrapnel or a bullet fragment lodging in his cheek. After checking
himself, he went back to returning fire.' Amid mostly glimpses this week of telegenic bullet flight paths and soldiers backed against walls, I wanted more stories like this. More information about who these gu! ys are and what they were doing and how they were doing it. The commanders in Iraq praise them profusely, and by now maybe that's all these young US soldiers need--praise from peers. But the American people, many of them, have been desperate for some vehicle that would let them actively lend support to the troops, or their families back in the States."

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Strange Doings in the Hermit Kingdom

It's hard to tell what to make of news that Kim Jong Il has ordered the removal of many of his official portraits and seems to be toning down the propaganda which gives him "divine" status. But in a repressive dictatorship, change is usually bad for the rulers--and this may be the first beginnings of a instability within the North Korean regime.

"North Korea May Be Reducing Reverence for Leader," Anthony Faiola and Sachiko Sakamaki, Washington Post, November 18

"Analysts said it is unlikely that the current shift signals an upheaval in the North Korean power structure, as such changes would almost certainly have been made on Kim's own orders. Experts caution that it is also too early to tell how far the campaign may actually go. But for a man who North Koreans are taught was born on a mountaintop, with his entry to the world heralded by a double rainbow, even the embryonic stage of an image change is significant. Analysts say Kim may be attempting to portray himself as a more serious political leader to the outside world, where his deified status at home has earned him a reputation as one of the globe's more bizarre rulers. But he may also be succumbing to pressure on several fronts to overhaul his secretive country's peculiar form of communist leadership. North
Korean refugees who have escaped their homeland in recent years say that an increasing number of their countrymen are no longer buying into the Kim cult, and the moves now may represent a pragmatic recognition by Kim of his people's growing skepticism."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Hinge of the World

How Saudi Oil and Western Ideas Connect Two Opposite Civilizations

By Robert Tracinski

The recent terror attacks on Westerners in Saudi Arabia reveal a crucial reason why a deadly clash between Islam and the West is unavoidable in the 21st century--and why only one of those civilizations can survive the clash.

The conflict between Islam and the West would be inevitable in any case, but there is one factor that makes the clash particularly urgent. The brute facts of geography do not, in the long run, determine the fate of the world, but one such fact is of unusual importance: the presence of an enormous portion of the world's oil reserves beneath the Arabian peninsula.

This geographical accident connects the heart of Western Civilization--the need for man-made power to drive our industrial civilization--to the heart of Islamic Civilization: the holy city of Mecca and the traditionalist Arab-Muslim societies of Arabia.

Like fratricidal Siamese twins, two opposing civilizations have been joined at the heart.

The negative effect for the West is clear. Oil is what allows the primitive religious tribalists of Arabia--who, on their own efforts, could menace us with nothing more powerful than camels and bolt-action rifles--to be infused with a flood of material wealth siphoned from the fountainhead of industrial civilization. That is the result of our failure to prevent the nationalization of Arabian oil reserves discovered and tapped by American, British, and French companies.

But the dependency goes both ways. We are dependent on Arabian oil--but they are dependent on Western economic development and on Western scientific and technological expertise. That is the ominous implication--ominous for the Saudis--of the recent terror attacks in Arabia. These attacks are an attempt to drive out the Western businessmen, scientists, and engineers who keep the supply of wealth flowing into the Arab and Muslim world. While our dependence is physical--we need their raw materials--their dependence is mental: they need our brain power.

And that is how this purely material factor--the geography of world oil reserves--connects to the deeper reason for the clash of civilizations: the West's mental invasion of the Muslim world.

I began by saying that the heart of Western civilization is oil, while the heart of Islamic civilization is their religion.

On a deeper level, however, the relationship is exactly reversed. It might seem as if the focus of our civilization is material: industrial production, fueled by oil--while the focus of theirs in spiritual: the 14-century-old Muslim faith centered in the Saudi city of Mecca. In fact, the Arab world's only real strength is its oil wealth--while our strength, a force which the Arabs both depend on and fear, is our ideas.

The Saudis are dependent on Western scientific and technological expertise to keep their oil pumping. That's what allows their universities to keep turning out graduates in Islamic theocracy, who are then sent around the world to promote the fanatical Wahhabi Muslim orthodoxy, rather than turning out graduates in geology or engineering. If they could maintain that neat separation, allowing Western experts into Arabia to keep the black gold flowing--but keeping them safely quarantined from Arab society--the connection between the two civilizations might not be fatal.

But this has proved impossible--and that is why Arabian oil is not the deepest reason for the deadly clash between our civilizations. Arabian oil makes the clash more urgent for the West--but it is already urgent and inescapable for the Muslims, for reasons that have little to do with oil.

Islamic civilization is founded on a fanatical religious fundamentalism. The idea that God is everything--that he holds first claim on the believer's mind and values--is central to Islam. This allows no compromise with any secular influence coming from the scientific, individualistic societies of the West.

The invasion of such secular influences was limited, in previous centuries, by the Islamic world's ability to insulate itself from Western ideas. The cost the Muslim world paid for its insularity, of course, was centuries of stagnation--while the West harnessed the power of its new secular ideas to achieve a sweeping Renaissance and a powerful Industrial Revolution.

The growth of Western technology has brought our secular civilization increasingly in conflict with Muslim civilization, but the most recent achievement of the West has brought the conflict to a crisis: the development of the modern Western media.

For centuries, Arabs and Muslims have looked with dismay on the growth of the West's power, and they have feared its expansion into their territory. But in the last decades of the 20th century, and at the beginning of the 21st, the Muslims are threatened with a Western invasion carried directly into the hearts of their societies, in a form that is faster and more irresistible precisely because it is non-material. It is an invasion of foreign ideas and entertainment, carried by satellite TV signals, music CDs, magazines, DVDs, and the Internet--the whole fearsome armada of Western telecommunications.

It is an invasion that promises a liberation grasped by every young person who encounters it: a liberation of the young Muslim's mind from the stultifying conformity of religious dogma and of his values from the hopeless stagnation of the primitive tribal and religious morality imposed on him by his elders.

Hence the great Arab and Muslim dilemma of our era. Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharaff, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, recently described his vision for "Enlightened Moderation," an article that echoed the same themes as former Malaysian strongman Mahathir Mohammed. The theme of these Islamic "reformers" is this: that the Muslim world needs the economic and technological development that is only possible if they import the education and technical knowledge offered by the West--studying our ideas, adopting our mental habits, and opening the Muslim world up to Western intellectual influence. But both Musharaff and Mahathir are desperately trying to find a way to do the impossible: to open their societies to the benefits of our civilization's science, while maintaining their civilization's traditional religious dogmas.

That is the Arab and Muslim dilemma. Our scientific, technological, industrial civilization is the very thing that makes their Arab oil valuable, and it is our science and technology that the Muslims need to harness to avoid becoming a politically, militarily, and economically irrelevant backwater. But this is also the influence that will destroy their civilization.

There is no way out of this dilemma. And that is why I keep reminding my readers that, as I put it, "the enemy has problems of his own"--problems far worse than we face. No matter what setbacks we suffer in this clash of civilizations, and no matter what material terrors they may succeed in visiting on us in the short term, the dusty dictates of Islam are no match for the intellectual and spiritual power of our civilization.

Western ideas are the hinge of the world. That hinge is closing in upon them, and they cannot stop it.

The Empire of the Pursuit of Happiness

The right to the pursuit of happiness is an idea that has captured the imagination of the rest of the world.

by Jack Wakeland

Mankind's liberty was established here, for the first time, in the United States of America. It was established at the height of the Age of Reason, following centuries of intellectual struggle to understand the nature and necessity of liberty and after ten years of political turmoil, six years of war, and eight more years of political re-organization.

Since our nation's founding, our government has strayed from its original mission of acting solely to secure individual rights. The mind can catalog the collapse of so many of the intellectual underpinnings of liberty and can count so many broken principles of proper government, it is easy to ignore the principle that still operates the best: the right to the pursuit of happiness.

The moral commitment to individual achievement, the need to be an independent self-sustaining entity, the idea that one's work ethic is a fundamental character trait, the virtue of making money and the need to turn a profit - along with the conviction that one can control the course of one's life, take pleasure in the pursuit of one's goals, rationally expect that one's focused productive efforts will meet success, and that life will be _fun_ - these are all hallmarks of egoism, the moral foundation of this right.

In the traditional, pre-industrial societies of the world, a businessman must ask the permission of all neighbors - especially his competitors - before undertaking a new venture. As a leader, maintaining the existing order of society is his fundamental duty. The status quo is a hard shell that economic and technological innovation must penetrate. There is little growth or change.

For the common man, traditional society is even more oppressive. Social relations are frozen. It is the function of those on the bottom of the social ladder to remain in their places and serve those over them. It is the fate of the sons of fishermen, cobblers, tenant farmers, and bakers to live their father's and grandfather's lives. It is the fate of the daughters to be sold into neighboring families to breed children, the cement that binds families into clans.

In advanced societies that have retrograded back towards the traditional collectivist order, businessmen step off of jets and ride elevators and meet in richly paneled boardrooms studded with the latest communications technology...and figure out how to push the company profits out of the management hierarchy, down to the workers, and out to the customers. Profits can go anywhere as long they don't return to the owners of the business.

In these retrograde societies it is not nice to let it show that one has accomplished more than one's neighbors. Modesty is one's place.

But in America - especially after the stockholder's rebellion of the '80s - business leaders do not regulate company profits to 'socialize welfare.' They seek the highest stakes for themselves and the greatest profits for their companies. For them, nothing is ever good enough. They push for constant improvement. Theirs is a society of change, upheaval, and $100-million executive bonuses.

In the middle levels of achievement, Americans work long hours and stockpile every article of luxury possible to themselves. They enjoy their luxuries and aren't shy about having them. They're mobile, changing jobs and cities as circumstances suit them. They move to warm sunny places. They find companions and make families for their own pleasure. Some are adaptable in their goals and some are not, but all know that they control the course of their own lives. In American, every man can be his own king, a successful, independent, happy king. That's the American Dream.

Because it's all around, we often don't stop to notice. Outside America, however, it is noticed.

There are several countries in Europe and a number of other small, beautiful places in the world that are as prosperous as the United States. There are many countries that have great prospects for rapid advancement and success, but nearly all of them are still poor, semi-traditional societies.

There is no where else on earth that quite has the 'feel' of America. The idea that it is okay to make money and to go out and get what you want - the acceptance of egoism - runs deeper here than anywhere on earth. The consequence - a feeling shared by a majority of people that life is open to them, that anything is possible, and that they're in the middle of getting where they want to go - is unique to America.

This feeling - an emotion some people call 'freedom,' but is actually happiness - has captured the imagination of the rest of the world. Because they can see that there is a way to reach it, people throughout the world want to have it, too.

In the brief span of sixty years this way of looking at the world has built an empire. It is the youngest, greatest, fastest growing empire in the history of man: the empire of the pursuit of happiness.

It is an empire unlike any that has ever existed. The empire does not acknowledge its influence by changing the political borders of the world, but by making the old borders irrelevant. The Army has been used to protect it, but the empire does not advance by force. Business and investment have pushed it forward, but the empire's "globalizing" business invasion is always just behind the advancing edge. It is spreading a common language, but English follows the advancing frontier.

The frontier of the American Empire is in the mind of every man and every woman in every country, who wants a better life, here, on this earth. The best among them look to our nation as proof that it is possible. America is taking over the countries of the world from the inside, one mind at a time.

America is a supernova. As it becomes hollow at its core, here in the United States, the empire expands like a shock wave moving across the surface of the earth. It moves with the speed of the imagination - an imagination captivated by the vision of a people exercising their right to the pursuit of happiness.

-- Jack Wakeland is an engineer in Chicago and frequent contributor to The Intellectual Activist and to TIA Daily.

Human Achievements: Bose Suspension System

"This year, the renowned acoustics innovators at the Bose Corporation unveiled the product of an intensive 24-year research effort code-named Project Sound: an outrageously inventive car suspension system."

Popular Science Magazine website has a detailed article on the new suspension system.

"Supplanting almost 100 years of traditional spring-and-shock-absorber suspension systems, this new system from Bose--a company best known for its stereo speakers--uses electromagnetic motors in place of traditional shocks. Mounted on each wheel, the motors use input from sensors throughout the vehicle to react to bumps and potholes instantaneously, exerting downward force to extend the wheel into potholes while keeping the car level and you comfy. As the wheel pops back up onto the road, the suspension recaptures nearly all the
energy expended; it uses only one third the amount of power your AC does. And beyond smoothing out bumpy roads, the system improves handling, virtually eliminating body roll in tight turns and minimizing pitching motion during braking and acceleration"

-- selection and editing by Shrikant Rangnekar

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Chinese Jihad

The threat of Islamic fundamentalism is being felt everywhere--including, now, in China, where a once-peaceful Islamic minority is being radicalized.

"Muslim Conflict Now Hits China as 148 Die in Ethnic Violence," Damien McElroy, Daily Telegraph, November 14

"Unlike China's other sizeable Muslim minority, the Uighurs of western Xinjiang, the Hui have never been involved in separatist violence. Now, however, they are becoming increasingly militant in asserting their Islamic identity - partly to prevent their assimilation into the rest of the population, 93 per cent of whom are Han.... Perhaps ominously, the mosque leaders appear sympathetic to the insurgents in Iraq. The mosque's Ramadan letter declares: 'In our Muslim world, our brothers are suffering a great disaster. Their actions in self-defence have been judged to be extremist terrorism, but they are struggling in an imperialist war that is killing people and rotting modern civilisation.' The defiant mood in Iraq is apparently shared by mosque elders, a foretaste of further problems
ahead for the Chinese authorities. 'If our brothers are being attacked,' said one elder, Lao Mai, 'it is a duty in our religion to join them in the fight.' "

"A Real Invasion"

Why the Muslim World is Afraid of American Television

by Robert Tracinski

The enemy has problems of his own.

I keep reminding my readers of this fact, because it is a crucially important context for today's events. It is easy to become discouraged as we watch our leaders dither over Iraq, and as we watch the press and the political opposition try to conjure up a new wave of Vietnam-era American self-loathing. But it is important to remember that the enemy has problems of his own--problems much worse than anything we face. Indeed, the Islamic world's desire to lash out at the West stems from the fact that it regards us as a mortal danger that will destroy Islam.

The New York Times' Nicholas Kristoff's recently published some fascinating cultural travelogues from Iran, a country he found to be dominated by pro-American young people who chafe at the regime's theocratic restrictions. These are well-written and observant pieces, despite being written by a New York Times columnist, and they indicate that Iran's theocracy will not long be able to maintain its grip on power.

Another piece that recently came across my desk highlights this issue.

A May 6 update from the Middle East Media Research Institute(www.MEMRI.org)describes how "reality TV" has come to Bahrain.

"The Saudi station MBC began to broadcast an Arab version of the popular 'Big Brother' reality-TV program that has previously aired in 24 Western countries. In the Arab version, dozens of cameras record the actions of 12 participants from various Arab countries who share an apartment."

This is the typical "reality TV" approach, which is to put a group of young people together and film whatever "drama" (usually of a petty nature) arises from their interaction.

Here is the reaction the show has received:

"Conservative circles organized mass demonstrations demanding that the broadcasts be immediately halted because of their damage to Islamic values. In contrast, liberal circles and Bahraini businessmen supported the broadcasts because of their contribution to Bahrain's economy."

Let's put aside the pragmatic defense of the putative Bahraini liberals. Let's look at what one of the "conservatives"--i.e., the Islamists--had to say:

"Recently, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and a leading authority in Sunni Islam, discussed reality-TV programs, saying: 'The aim of these programs is to mislead the [Muslim] nation and to keep it from its own reality, so that it will live [in the reality of] these lesser things. Anyone to whom the nation is important must rise up against these deviant trends. There is no doubt that [our] youth are human riches, and represent the future of the nation. We must not abandon these riches or waste them with these imported television programs that do not reflect the character of the nation, do not represent its true image, and are a real invasion.' "

He is right. This is the real American invasion of the Islamic world--an invasion spearheaded, not by Bradleys and B-1s, but by "Baywatch" and "Big Brother."

Continuing from the MEMRI dispatch, here is what the Islamists are afraid of:

"[T]he program's detractors insisted that it was against Islamic values. They pointed at the mingling of the sexes, the unveiled faces of the female participants, and the inappropriate behavior of some male participants--such as one boy who kissed a girl on the cheek."

And the threat to Islam is even worse:

"The mingling [of the sexes] in Bahrain is not limited to the 'Big Brother' program. It is everywhere, in the private schools and in the universities...."

Why are the Muslims so concerned--and especially so obsessed with the positive portrayal of sexuality?

The Islamists are afraid of anything that causes their young people to pursue the enjoyment of life in this world. That is the meaning of the sheikh's complaint that "Big Brother" will cause young Muslims to "live in the reality of these lesser things"--the "lesser things" being the joys of this world.

That message--which America radiates unconsciously, without deliberate intent or plan--is the most powerful weapon we have against the Islamic world. We don't know it, but the Islamists do--and in fact, they think that it _is_ a deliberate American strategy.

Bahraini columnist Faziyya Rashid puts it this way:

"It is completely obvious, and no secret...that the American intention is to take over the Middle East.... The plans to begin the occupation [of the Middle East]--whether directly via military occupation, as happened in Iraq,or indirectly via the occupation of the hearts and minds of the people--will come about in the framework of the American cultural, media, and political program aimed at changing [the face of] the Middle East, on the pretext of democratization and liberation. This will be done in the framework of a cold war [aimed at] infiltrating the minds [of the Arabs], and particularly the minds of the young adults who, according to recent statistics, make up 70% of the Arab homeland...."

The American goal: "to instill ideological, emotional, and spiritual change--that is, to infiltrate to within the individual and conquer his mind."

I see no evidence that there is a deliberate American effort to achieve this kind of cultural "invasion"--but there should be. As I wrote in the December 2001 issue of my magazine, The Intellectual Activist:

"We already broadcast to the oppressed peoples of the Middle East the Western message of liberty, prosperity, and happiness, in forms as low-brow as 'Baywatch' and as sophisticated as the Declaration of Independence. This is the 'imperialism' that terrifies Islamic fundamentalists--who should be terrified, because they grasp that their values cannot win in open competition."

"But we dare not leave the Americanization of the world to the haphazard forces of 'Baywatch' and the other, less benevolent products of popular culture. We must begin a campaign of education designed to export Western values to the barbarous East--a campaign that must be spearheaded by our intellectuals, not denounced by them. This war must be fought with televisions, radios, books, and movies--and by our political and intellectual leaders' intransigent defense of Western Civilization and its ideals of liberty and secularism."