Friday, September 26, 2003

ClarkWatch Update

I've updated The Wit and Wisdom of Wesley Clark to include fresh quotes from the Democratic debate. Enjoy!

ClarkWatch 9/26: The intrepid investigators at the Wall Street Journal have found a speech Gen. Clark gave for a Republican fundraiser in May 2001. (Ah, the wonders of Lexis-Nexis!) Behold the implosion.

Or, if you prefer, check out these three moments:

Yeah, whatever: I mean Desert Storm was wonderful; we whipped Saddam Hussein and all that sort of thing.

It's all about me, folks: And I discovered that when we lost our enemy we had lost our strategy. We lost our direction in the world. We just -- it just didn't add up. The week I got there, let me tell you what was on my plate. I showed up, I was a division commander -- you know, I was having a good time at Fort Hood. I learned to play golf down there. I rode a horse two days a week.

I didn't live in this century: And I think if we stay engaged and lead, that we'll make the 20th century the American century; the 21st century will be the American century, and the 21st century will be humanity's century as well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Trials of Henry Kissinger (archive)

Today in National Review, John Derbyshire writes about the 2002 documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger. I saw this film last February at UVA's "Offscreen" film series, and promptly sent the following e-mail to friends:

A few people asked me to let them know how the Kissinger documentary went last night. First of all, the 9:30 show drew over 100 people, which is a solid turnout for OffScreen. Crowd was comprised almost entirely of left-wing university types, except for a few younger students who looked a bit out of place -- I'm guessing some IR professor recommended the film in lecture and these kids decided to show up and brown-nose a bit. I mentioned in my earlier post [an announcement for the film -- ed.] that the film might contain some truth if you're willing to blast for it. So don't be surprised if the paragraphs that follow seem written with a pickaxe and not a pen. I had to dig deep to set the caps.

Given that the BBC funded this documentary, it's no surprise that their verdict on Kissinger is guilty from frame one. The film opens with a montage of archival footage of Kissinger's state visits, interspersed with snippets of the Vietnam War, as the old song "Lush Life" plays in the background. The film doesn't get any more balanced from there; it practically drips with contempt for its subject. The usual bevy of international lawyers, New York Times reporters, and turncoat subordinates shows up in a series of talking-head interviews to accuse Kissinger of everything but using babies' blood to make his matzo balls. (For the most part the film is a clunky combination of archival television footage and off-center head shots, such as you'd expect to find on the History Channel.) A second montage at film's end, which shows Kissinger at Ground Zero of the 9/11 attacks, insinuates that Kissinger is equivalent to Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, the only figure to speak in Kissinger's defense is poor old Al Haig -- and as you'd expect from Haig, he sticks his foot in his mouth and keeps it there for the duration.

Since I found myself saddled with such a transparent hack job, it's no surprise that I started to feel sympathy for Kissinger. If nothing else, he's the kind of success story you can only find in America. He grew up in Germany, fled the Nazis at about age 10, and ended up some years later in an Army uniform, liberating the very country he had to flee. In the interim, several relatives died in Nazi concentration camps -- the only atrocity the film doesn't claim he started. Then Kissinger became a foreign-policy expert and a major celebrity, dating beautiful women and becoming a respected figure in (and out of) the public limelight. This is a schlubby Jewish kid who rose to the top by his own merit and talent -- no wonder the Euro-weenies can't stand him!

The film throws the word "Machiavellian" around as if it were an insult, and I suppose for Kissinger's critics it is. Again, most of them are international lawyers -- and if they're against someone as ferociously as they're against Kissinger, there must be something good about the man. But what I found most fascinating is that these guys operate on the assumption that international relations ought to be governed by the same moral strictures as relations between individuals. Kissinger clearly doesn't believe that (as no one with hands-on foreign policy experience can) and the film damns him accordingly, using Cambodia, East Timor and Chile as the three major examples.

The problem is that if you're against Kissinger in these cases, you're basically pro-Communism. All three countries were likely to succumb to Communist control, and in Cambodia's case it actually happened. The film desperately tries to blame Kissinger for the killing fields of the Khymer Rouge, but all the artful editing in the world can't hide the basic fact that Pol Pot came to power not because American foreign policy succeeded, but because it failed. It's difficult to see what if anything Kissinger could have done to prevent tragedy in East Timor, but it's pretty clear the country would have been even worse off with an Indonesian Communist dictatorship than it is now. Think North Korea or Vietnam. Plus, as Haig notes, containment strategies in Cambodia prevented the Vietnamese from taking over Thailand, as they planned to do.

The most damning criticism of Kissinger is saved for the end: Chile. Now most of you know that I've been, to this point, resolutely against the US-sponsored military coup installing Pinochet as leader. This film changed my mind about that. It makes clear that Allende (along with his good buddy Castro) wanted to establish Chile as a Soviet satellite in our hemisphere. Although I'm still no fan of Pinochet (desaparecidos, anyone?), compared to Castro's admirer he definitely seems like the lesser of two evils. Much as the BBC tries to present the coup as an attempt by ITT and Pepsi to control American foreign policy, it seems like a case in which national interests and corporate interests coincided felicitously -- which is what you'd expect when the first order of business in your country is, well, business. The film even trots out the white-haired son of General Schneider, who was killed for his opposition to the coup. He talks at length about how big bad America killed his daddy. ("My name is Inigo Montoya ... you keeled my father .... prepare to die")

On the whole, I'm impressed by Kissinger's love of America and his hatred of Communism. If he is a war criminal, he's an odd sort of war criminal -- one who generally made the world a better place through his international power plays. Whatever we can say about the people he worked with, the people he worked against were worse by far. Now he's writing against the UN and the International Criminal Court, which the film insinuates he's doing to cover his ass. I think he has good intellectual and ideological reasons to oppose globalism, especially considering that the new globalism is currently attempting to revive those socialistic ideas we thought had been consigned, with the old Soviet Union, to the dustbin of history.

Maybe Reagan won the Cold War, but he didn't do it alone; Kissinger's exploits in the '70s managed to reduce Soviet influence to the point that victory became a possibility. The good folks at the BBC don't much like that, and neither do the crypto-Commies at the UN. They even made this movie to prove it.

"Isabel blew me like a cheap hooker ..."

Thursday began like any other rainy day, cool and drizzling. But when I ran across an industrial-strength spiderweb that morning, I thought about how you could fix plywood to it, as everyone on the coast had done with their homes and stores. That's when I finally realized Hurricane Isabel was headed our way. Inside the supermarkets, college students and "townies" stocked up on supplies. The townies were clearing the shelves of bottled water, and students filled shopping carts with "Hurricane" brand beer and nacho chips. All schools had closed for the day, and even the state university had shuttered its doors in anticipation of the great storm. There would be hurricane parties tonight.

By noon, the drizzle had turned to a light rain; two hours later the rain was heavy and steady. By four the wind was blowing hard and fierce, and all the electricity went out in my apartment. Now it was too late to get out; there was no choice but to wait out the storm. I heard a sharp crack outside, as if a glacier were about to calve, and saw an enormous tree limb crash onto a side street only a few yards from me.

The rain and wind lasted well into the night. I lit a candle, grabbed a handful of flashlights and a battery-powered CD player, and listened to classical music while the storm raged around me. For a late dinner, I raided my refrigerator, found a rotisserie chicken and a carton of orange juice which would probably spoil soon, and devoured them both in minutes. Meanwhile, my neighbors -- most of them college students -- opened their patio doors and watched Isabel's rampage. When a particularly heavy gust up-ended a tree, or turned vertical sheets of rain horizontal, they would emit long, loud, frat-party cheers.

During this time, my knowledge was limited to what I could see and hear from my window -- and since there were absolutely no lights outside, I could see for a few yards only. I had never seen Charlottesville so dark or so quiet. That didn't last long, though. As soon as the rain stopped, a parade of ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks wheeled up and down the streets, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Five people in west-central Virginia died that night.

In a way, we got off lucky. We expected the storm to pass directly over us at about two in the morning. Instead, it turned north, toward D.C. and Maryland. Isabel had dealt a heavy blow, though not the frontal assault we expected. Still, we got more than enough; Isabel left our fair city without electricity, cell phone service, radio or television. Phone lines remained miraculously intact, at least in my neighborhood, so I could maintain contact with close friends and give hourly updates to my worried parents.

Shortly after three a.m., I awoke to flashing yellow lights outside my bedroom. An emergency vehicle was surveying local streets for downed limbs and power lines. They noticed the fallen tree over the street, but saw that it hadn't brought down any power lines. So they broke up the tree branches with their hands, piled the brush on one side of the street, and kept on. An electric truck arrived a few minutes later.

Last weekend, the best pickup line in Charlottesville was "I have running water and electricity." It seems as if everyone came out to enjoy the nightlife, even though most scheduled events had been canceled. Local restaurants -- or at least, the ones with power -- were crammed to the gills with customers; even Boston Market, which never does much business, was full-to-bursting. Instead of a standard "How are you?", friends would ask if your power was on yet. One guy explained, "I'm here right now because my car works and my house doesn't."

My power was out for only fourteen hours. From what I can tell, my immediate neighborhood was one of the first areas to lose power, and the first to regain it. Even tonight, whole sections of Charlottesville remain without electricity, and downed trees make travel unpredictable. At a friend's house, a large tree limb pulled the metal gutters off his roof. His power was out for four straight days. Only a block from my apartment, an enormous tree crashed onto a power line, taking out several cars and possibly part of a building. That entire street is still dark.

Several fire stations are dispensing free water, though people must bring their own containers. A few municipal recreation buildings have even offered hot showers. Postponed events have been rescheduled; area schools have all reopened. Slowly but surely, we're recovering.

P.S. A reader asks me where I got the headline. Well, I was chatting up this guy at a Gay bar, and we tried to come up with the tackiest possible thing we could say about Hurricane Isabel. The "cheap hooker" quip won.

What limited-government conservatives can learn from natural disasters

When disaster strikes, the first thing you hear is that local, state, and federal government will be reduced to "essential personnel only." As a friend of mine remarked, "Shouldn't that be true every day?"

Firemen, police, and road crews were deemed necessary, so they all showed up for work. Regulators and bureaucrats weren't needed, so they stayed home. Tax collectors stayed home, as did schoolteachers. At long last, government had gone back to the basics, if only temporarily. The hurricane was far and away the wettest of libertarian wet dreams.

During the past week, we also saw the advantage of privatized services over government monopolies. For example, the electric company is not a government service. Its revenue depends on customer satisfaction, not our tax dollars. That's why, when the power goes out in Virginia, it's only out for hours or days, instead of weeks or months like in Iraq or Uganda. Yet our government manages roadways, so if a bridge goes out or a street gets flooded, the damage will take years to repair.

My parents used to say that the best time to shop for a house was after a flood; you could tell which land drained well, and which property took on water. In the same way, the aftermath of a natural disaster offers a interesting opportunity for limited-government conservatives. We've already acknowledged which services we absolutely need, and which ones we don't. Now all we need is someone to wield the ax.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Remembering Mario

Before I post a few long-overdue essays, I want to tell you about the true father of this website, Mario Estrada.

When I visited the Ash Lawn-Highland Opera Festival last month, I noticed Mario wasn't occupying his usual position as lead clarinet. I wondered what had happened to him, but knew better than to ask. (I suspected a falling-out with festival management; Mario could be a bit of a diva sometimes.) Shortly thereafter, a mutual friend informed me that Mario had died of AIDS.

It was my good fortune to know Mario in the last few years of his life. He was Gay, Objectivist, libertarian, and thoroughly opinionated in matters of art and politics. But he was also kind, generous, and great-souled. Mario lived in precisely the manner he wished, and was blessed with every gift but time.

On our first meeting, Mario encouraged me to see a new opera being produced at Ash Lawn: Little Women by Marc Adamo. It was the first opera I had seen live in years, and it did not disappoint. In fact, the production was so impressive, and the music so marvelously written, that I felt compelled to talk it over with everyone I knew.

After an effusive, enthusiastic discussion during which I drank entirely too much caffeine, Mario encouraged me to write a review. I knew my stuff and had good things to say, he told me, and I ought to write them down so others could see them. At the time, I taught writing at a local university -- a job for which I was incredibly ill-suited -- and suffered from crippling self-loathing and severe writer's block. Aside from a few anonymous news articles, I hadn't produced anything in four years.

The review was difficult to crank out, and I'm sure it wasn't very good. After so long a silence, my croaks and peeps were bound to fall short of melody. But a friend of mine got it published in the Metro Herald, a D.C.-area alternative weekly. Mario circulated copies among the orchestra, and even managed to smuggle me into a remarkable face-to-face meeting with the composer, Marc Adamo himself.

From then on, I would write pieces on culture as the spirit moved, sometimes publishing them, more often not. Another friend directed me to, where I appeared as an occasional correspondent during those heady early days. Eventually Michael Blowhard convinced me to write a weblog of my own. But it was Mario who started the whole thing. If you like anything I've written, he's the one you should thank.

Even though Mario was an atheist, I believe he's in a far better place now, away from the terrible pain and suffering of AIDS. On some abstract, metaphysical level, it seems petty and selfish for me to wish he were still among us. But I miss him. I really do.

Please forgive me, Mario.

Monday, September 22, 2003

The Wit and Wisdom of Wesley Clark

As a special public service, My Stupid Dog is proud to present a collection of memorable statements from the current Democratic front-runner.

A Man Who Hears the Clarion Call of History: These are historic times and we are going to run a campaign that is worthy of historic times.

A True Public Spirit: I remember a couple of times in the military when the ballot either got there late or I wasn't there when the ballot arrived.

A Man of Experience: If I've learned one thing in my nine days of politics, you better be careful with hypothetical questions.

An American Patriot, sort of: Patriotism doesn't consist of following the orders, not, not not when you're not in the chain of command.

A Fierce Defender of Freedom: If you look at the way we operated in Eastern Europe, we were effective in taking down communism because there was no embargo. The Iron Curtain was something they built, not something we imposed.

A Man of Principle: I am pro-choice, I am pro-affirmative action, I'm pro-environment, pro-health. That's why I'm proud to be a Democrat.

A Man of Principle, part two: I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls.

A Man Who Remembers the Little People: It's like what we did in the military when we went to the motor pool and talked to the troops — only better.

A Man With a Mission: I miss being in the Army. It's a wonderful thing to have a team, to have a mission, to build a sense of purpose, to see a plan come together.

A Man of Peace: Let's make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war. I've gotten a very consistent record on this.

A Man of War: At the time, I probably would have voted for [war in Iraq], but I think that's too simple a question.

A Man of Peace and War, but probably War: I've said it both ways because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position -- on balance, I probably would have voted for it.

A Man of Peace now, and War later: That having been said, I was against the war as it emerged because there was no reason to start it when we did.

A Man of Peace after all: I never would have voted for war. What I would have voted for is leverage. Leverage for the United States to avoid a war. That's what we needed to avoid a war.

A Man Who Asks Tough Questions: We are going to ask, Why are we engaged in Iraq, Mr. President — tell the truth! Why, Mr. President? Was it because Saddam Hussein was assisting the hijackers? Was it because Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon that might bring a nuclear cloud? We don't know. And that's the truth. And we have to ask that question.

A Man Who Asks for Help: Mary, help!

A Man of Conviction: Stop. Stop. I promised I wasn't going to take a strong position.

A Man of Firm Conviction: I don't know enough to give you a comprehensive answer [about health insurance] at this point. I know enough not to give you a comprehensive answer at this point.

A Man of Unshakably Firm Conviction: I'm not going to set a policy with you winging it in the back of an airplane.

A Man of Absolutely, Unshakably Firm Conviction: I'm not committing anything right now to anything, until I've got my economic facts and figures in order.

A Man of Unquestionably, Absolutely, Unshakably Firm Conviction: I'd like to see the military relook the ["don't ask, don't tell"] policy. I didn't say change it — I said relook it.

A Man Who Loves Iowa: Now this is an Iowa breakfast! That's a real Iowa outfit! Some of my best friends from the military are from Iowa.

A Man Who Respects the Cuban-American Community: I respect the Cuban-American community.

A Man What Takes His Time: It's not like the election's tomorrow.

Best of all, gentle readers, this is just the first week of Clark's campaign. Stay tuned for more gems from our retired general.

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