Friday, May 24, 2002

ZoNotes: They Were Angels in Waiting...

5 Days Until Ernesto's Graduation
8 Days Until Livy&Sharlene's Wedding

The Sick Men Assemble
Europe has two identities. The first is that of cradle of modern western civilization, home to cultural renaissance, pluralism, rights of man, religious diversity, and a home for freedom. Remember, upon the RAF's wings our century as we know it was saved in 1940. Our European allies have offered small but important military units in Afghanistan. Our NATO partners invoke Article 5, a symbolic gesture, but a crucial one nonetheless. However, there is another side of Europe -- arrogant, defeatist, appeasement-minded, xenophobic, repressive, and autocratic. It is this strain that Europe seems to be following, down the thorny path of enlightened despotism. Faceless commissioners micromanage everything from the volume of music to the labeling of cheese. On a more higher level, Europe lacks truly decisive power projection capability, content to whine, bicker, and oppose its closest ally, the U.S. The Israelis see this more clearly than even our own commentariat. In the UK, the assessment is even more damning. It is an odd development -- just as we conclude a hopefully progressive arms treaty with the Russians -- our western allies bang their proverbial shoes on the table. It is not so much that we have abandoned Europe -- our troops sit in Germany protecting it from an enemy that disappeared in 1991, our garrisons patrol the perpetual hot zone in the Balkans. Rather, it is Europe that has abandoned us and its sincere dedication to freedom. It is reverting to its shameful 1930s role, where few realized the danger and even less did anything. The continent's leaders have not completely lost their way -- there is still time to halt this deterioration in willpower and strength. The question is whether or not the wise men of the old country realize it.

The Sand People
Once I finish Alan Moorehead's The Desert War I'll write up a review for the blog. It is a fascinating read, full of bravery, tragedy, and excitement. The vast North African theatre was a desolate place in between battles and a furious arena of unrestrained violence during the fighting. There was the pristine oasis of Cairo and the shellshocked wreckage of Benghazi. Great generals were rendered impotent, others made famous, and yet others died before they ever had a chance to lead fighting men into the lonely expanse of war.

""I didn't fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian!" - Anonymous

Thursday, May 23, 2002

ZoNotes: There's a Difference in Living and Living Well...

6 Days Until Ernesto's Graduation
9 Days Until Livy&Sharlene's Wedding

All Roads Lead to Rock Creek Park
The discovery of Chandra Levy's remains yesterday triggered the most incessant news coverage last night. Amidst terrorist threats, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and President Bush's trip to Europe, this was the buzz on the alphabet soup cable news networks. The entire night had a nostalgic 10 September ring to it, in a sick and depraved way. The familiar cast of characters involved in this sad, wretched affair -- the Levys, their lawyer Billy "Dee Williams" Martin, Congressman Gary Condit (D-CA) and the ubiquitous punditocracy -- returned. So what now? Well, as a "death" investigation, nobody official is ruling it a homicide. Well, there is the exception of MSNBC legal expert Dan Abrams, who asserts that Metro was always treating this as a homicide case. Rep. Condit is also in a new position -- the body's been found, but that doesn't clear up the clouds that surrounded him last summer when this story was all the rage. The evidence is sparse, but what happens if Metro can put all the pieces together?

Heard last night after Detroit beat the Avs 2-1 in OT: "$%(#((!)@(@(!!@#)$$!"

Meanwhile, In Berlin
The President's European swing began in Germany, where Bush met with Chancellor Schroeder. Visiting Europe nowadays for a major American leader must be an ornery task. The European allies do not hesitate to declare their hesitation for action against Iraq. However, I suppose the reassuring thing is that this trip highlights the successes with Moscow on nuclear arms and the war on terror in Afghanistan. It is of course still a process of "trust, but verify," but bilateral relations between the Bear and the Eagle are better than one could have imagined merely 10 years ago.

More on India-Pakistan
I'll really be worried about an armed conflagration between India and Pakistan when Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee shuts up and actually orders the tactical nuke-capable fighters to hit Pakistani targets. The more he talks, the more likely it is that he won't do anything, especially with American forces conducting raids in parts of Pakistan and fully on the ground in Afghanistan. Vajpayee would have to be insane to deploy nuclear weapons in the same theatre of operations where any American personnel are stationed. The artillery shellings are one thing. Vajpayee is considering striking Pakistani-backed Islamic militants on their side of the Line of Control in response to terrorist attacks in India. President Musharraf of Pakistan is also in a thin line. The introduction of nuclear arms in a conflict like this will do more to hurt Pakistan than it would India. At least India is a modern, functioning democracy. Without Musharraf, would Pakistan become the next Afghanistan? Again, wars have started over less.

"The distance between chaos and civilization is measured in minutes."

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

ZoNotes: Wild Horses, Keep Dragging Me Away....

7 Days Until Ernesto's Graduation
10 Days Until Livy&Sharlene's Wedding

Shoot The Dog
The series of intensifying warnings by the Administration regarding the prospect of another major terrorist attack strikes one as overcautious, right? Well, suppose the Administration had issued similar warnings in August 2001 or in the opening days of September. Would not the critics, the very same critics that argue that the President should have "done something" before 9.11 then utter criticism that the Administration was "wagging the dog?" Indeed, a mere week after the "revelations," the great learned are now advising the White House to tone it down. As we can see, the balance is tenuous in such circumstances, where we have to acknowledge danger without causing mass panic. So, a month after we in the public snicker at the color-coded warnings, we now want advance clairvoyance over every single possible events. Our elected representatives, hoping to avoid the rancorous wrath of the body politic, then issues the most general, vague, and hyperbolic warnings. And then, if you do get specific, what do you say? Sean Mullaney (B'00) sent me this commentary by Bob Novak. It shows you how head-crushing all of this can be.

The Baseball War: A Fielder's Choice
ZoNoter and San Diego litigator Gil Cabrera offers his take on the Cuban situation:
"First, while the Canadians and Europeans spend money in Cuba you and I both know there is nothing like American tourists and industry to truly change a country. Do you really think that Castro would be able to keep things the way they are if Americans (and Cuban-Americans in particular) are flooding into Cuba. Who would he blame for the problems once the embargo is lifted? Now all it does is provide Castro with a scapegoat. McDonald's diplomacy my friend, it works.

While your China example is interesting (albeit overused by most), I think a lot of good things are happening in China -- particularly on the Eastern coast which feels more like a western country in parts than anywhere else. Is there more to go in China, sure, but the real serious economic progress did not start in China until recently (last decade or so). I do believe that eventually, things will change for the better there because the more American influence the Chinese people experience the more the people will want greater freedoms. It will go slower simply because of the historical reality of China. There are a billion people most of which have never experienced anything outside of peasantdome -- they do not have a history of freedom -- it is all new to them. In contrast, Cuban history is very different from Chinese history. Cubans are and continue to be a very educated, modern, and cosmopolitan. While most of the high end of society left, the population will take to freedom much more quickly than the Chinese (which have never really had it) simply because they have experienced it before. Perhaps a bit simplistic of an analysis, but I think you get my point: Cuba is not China.

On the Miami-Cubans. My brothers and sisters in Miami are not as unified as you would think. Last poll I saw had 40% of them wanting to lift the embargo. Moreover, the fact is Cuban-Americans can visit Cuba, send money to Cuba, and bring things back from Cuba. We are essentially exempted from the embargo. So it is a bit hypocritical for the 60% of the Cuban-American population that does support the embargo to then send Castro $500M a year through person-to-person transmittals. It supports the same regime and is a large part of the economy. If they truly want change, then they should stop sending money. Of course this won't happen, so why not just open the flood gates and see how that works? Doesn't 40 years of the same policy without change suggest a lack of effectiveness? I think so. What is that definition of insanity that Clinton always used... Knowing what is wrong yet continuing to do it over and over again... This we should not continue to do."

Buffy Season Finale Recap: From Ashes to Redemption
Last night's 2-hour season finale was a powerful show, redeeming the basic tenets of the creators' intent. Good and evil collided with all sorts of implications for the future. It seems a bit much to criticize realism in a show featuring apocalyptically-inclined wicca and raging vampires, but the pacing of the action sequences seemed a bit uneven. However, on technial merit, I credit the finale for some of the best fight sequences of the past 5 seasons. While not dramatically epic like Season 2's Buffy-Angel duel or rousingly decisive like Season 3's Graduation battle, the show did conclusively end the darkness arc of the season. Plus, the song played at the end had a spiritual resonance previously untouched in the Buffy mythos. Plus, if what happened to Spike at the last moment turns out to be enduring, then Season 7 could be a fine successor to the franchise.

Flirting with the Tripwire: India-Pakistan
How ironic that India and Pakistan's Kashmir dispute focus on the geographic figment of the "Line of Control." Of all the harping about "imperial legacy" of colonial powers -- it is this British remnant that could trigger a war of perilous consequences. The wild cards in play of course are both sides' maturing nuclear arsenals. They could be too small to warrant any concern or risk of deployment. However, if one side feels that it can deliver its weapons first, then someone could order a first strike. Then you have issues of command and control, along with delivery systems. Could we see nuclear-tipped artillery shells or air-deliverable weaponry? If so, do the combatants attack military targets or civilian locations? Plus, since neither side has published anything close to an announced doctrine, we are in the realm of dicey speculation. British efforts to mediate the crisis are laudable. American help, given the balancing act between keeping India honest and preventing a Pakistani meltdown, could also cool tensions. Of course, if neither side is listening, then all we are doing is making ourselves feel better.

"Cows may come and cows may go but the bull in this place goes on forever." -- sign in the Cortes household, Laredo, TX

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

ZoNotes: She's Got, Hey Baby She's Got It.

8 Days Until Ernesto's Graduation
11 Days Until Livy&Sharlene's Wedding

The Baseball War: Middle Relief
President Bush's speech yesterday in South Florida outlined a policy on Cuba that puts the onus on the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. Simply lifting the embargo without any reciprocation from the Castro monolith would be appeasement-minded capitalism that would only benefit the Communist state. It is a glittering fantasy that the tourism industry in Havana is a sign of the country's modernization. The economy there is a state-run mini apartheid. Cuban citizens can't even stay in the finest hotels of their own country, and not simply because they can't afford it -- because they are prohibited. Does Castro not want us to meet the natives? Plus, Bush's speech does offer a hint of daylight for those wanting to lift the embargo -- all Castro has to do is have elections in 2003 and liberalize the state-run economy. Our good dollars cannot go into Havana chasing bad options. A popular lefty refrain is "well, we trade with China, don't we, and they're's because the fanatic right-wing Cubans in Florida want the embargo." Well, last I checked, representative democracy has not come to China, even with the massive capital influx enjoyed by the PRC. What the money does is perpetuate a military-intelligence-statist amalgam in Beijing. I call it "frosting capitalism" -- looks good on the top, but deeper inside, there is no "cake." The same would happen in Cuba. Both the Canadians and the Europeans inject serious money into Cuba, yet state prisons still detain dissidents and the media is still tightly controlled. We have the veneer of freedom, but there is nothing there of substance. Now, how about the Cuban-American contingent in S. Florida? Their "fanatacism" stems from the fact that they stand for democracy and free market commerce. How dastardly. That is not to dispel the extremist component, as some people were unhappy Bush didn't announce more of a crackdown. But still, I'd rather be on Miami's side than Havana's on this one. I think that Castro needs the American dollar more than we need the Cuban economy. I would love to integrate Havana into the Americas' free market of the future. But not to fortify a hostile anti-American dictatorship 90 miles away from our coastline.

He's a Brick in the Royall
"Hockeytown, my ass..." Vodkapundit says...the Colorado Avalanche administer a crucial upset of the Detroit "Communist" Red Wings to notch their best-of-7 at 1-1. Ubergoalie Patrick Roy surrendered 3 goals, but he improved to 10-0 after losing a game. Plus, the Avs stuck 4 goals on the "Dominator" Hasek, including the clincher 2:17 into OT.

"What was wrong with communism wasn't aberrant leadership, it was communism" - William F. Buckley, Jr.

Monday, May 20, 2002

ZoNotes: There's no easy way out, there's no shortcut home...

9 Days Until Ernesto's Graduation
12 Days Until Livy&Sharlene's Wedding

Spun Around
Trekking to Fairfax on Saturday night, I had a good time at Bridges listening to DJ Twist do his thing. Many thanks to Nazanin Razavi for extending the invitation and for her work as bouncer-hostess-MC.

Made Lots of Money It Did...
Episode II reeled in a 4-day total of $116.4 million at the box office, of which I contributed $8.50 at the Potomac Yards cinema in Alexandria on Friday night. Without giving anything away, I had a blast watching this film, a definite improvement over The Phantom Menace. I do plan on seeing it again when I head down to Texas this weekend.

The Nile Riddle
Last night before I turned in for the evening I resumed my reading of British journalist Alan Moorehead's compilation of books originally printed in the 1940s, repackaged as a single book titled The Desert War, a recounting of the North African campaign during World War II. His description of Egypt in wartime is fascinating and definitely speaks to another era. I read a passage specifically that caught me as interesting:
British troops had a love for swimming in the fast flowing waters of the Nile, until one day a sergeant was overwhelmed by the river and drowned. The authorities, fearing a loss of manpower, fenced off a portion of the Nile and designated it as an appropriate area for swimming. However, the water became stagnant, becoming a breeding ground for the most lethal bacteria. Soldiers who did swim ended up getting infected and many died.

All of this to me seems to be a very interesting lesson. Solving one problem (drowning) ends up creating others (bacteria). By taking decisive action to alleviate one situation, the British in Egypt manufactured another headache. Draw the analagous from our current state of affairs and apply where appropriate.

"It is significant that despite claims of air enthusiasts no battleship has yet been sunk by bombs." --
Caption of a photo of USS Arizona, Army-Navy game, 29 November 1941