From Michael Totten: ‘From Tehran To Cairo’

Full interview here with Lee Smith.

Two Americans who’ve spent time on the ground in the Middle-East try and assess what’s going on:

Totten:

‘The Middle East is as trashed right now as I’ve ever seen it. The Syrian conflict has killed more people than the Bosnian war. Iran is moving ahead on its nuclear weapons program while convincing fools in the West that it’s playing nice and reforming. Egypt is in its worst shape since the Nasserist era, and the Saudis are pitching the biggest fit since the Arab oil embargo in the 70s.’

Smith:

‘Turkey can’t dictate terms. It isn’t a superpower. It’s a regional power. It’s not the United States. The bizarre thing, however, is that under this administration the United States seems to be shri[n]king. Indeed, Obama seems to be shrinking us out of the Middle East. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I’d like to hear the rationale for it.’

We’ve been creating a power vacuum in the region, but don’t seem to thinking about what we’d like to fill it.

Some of this correction may be necessary to align our budget with our capabilities, and perhaps address the failures of the last 20 years.  However, the strategic failures in Syria and Iran with this administration are serious.  We’re neither respected nor feared at the moment, and our policy is adrift.

There’s still a strong current of isolationism in the American public mind, and a deep partisan divide and lots of dysfunction to be taken into account.

Did we miss a chance to carve out a bold, new, Truman-esque path in the region last election?

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Related On This Site:  From The Wall Street Journal: ‘Charles Hill: The Empire Strikes Back’Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In DeclineRichard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’…Is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I just received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’

Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

From Charlie Martin: ‘The Arithmetic Absurdity Of Obamacare’

Full piece here.

I’ve gotten a few emails suggesting there’s been a lot of ‘partisanship,’ on the site lately.  I agree there’s more than usual, but in the face of such a pork-passed monstrosity of a law, with so many bad incentives, so much adverse selection, and young people being forced to work in a system that makes so little sense for them, it’s good to have certain ideas boiled down:

Thanks for any concern.  I assume the risk of driving some people away with all this political talk.

Martin:

Now, what’s the point of this little fable? Basically, this is the story of health insurance. We started off with “major medical,” which was a way to protect yourself against big medical bills that everyone hoped they wouldn’t have; now what we’ve got is that major medical — but we’re also paying for snow-shoveling, er, we’re paying for everyone’s day to day medical care, and we’re paying for it in pretty much the most expensive and complicated possible way: through a federal government agencyand insurance companies.

Related On This SiteRichard Epstein At The Hoover Institution: ‘The Obamacare Train Wreck’

Avik Roy At Forbes: ‘Democrats’ New Argument: It’s A Good Thing That Obamacare Doubles Individual Health Insurance Premiums’Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Health-Care Costs Are Driven By Technology, Not Presidents’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution: ‘The Obamacare Quaqmire’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution: ‘Watching Obamacare Unravel’

From The New England Journal Of Medicine Via CATO: ‘The Constitutionality of the Individual Mandate’From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?… From The New Yorker: Atul Gawande On Health Care-”The Cost Conundrum”Sally Pipes At Forbes: ‘A Plan That Leads Health Care To Nowhere’

From JPL Via Youtube: ‘Twelve Months In Two Minutes: Curiosity’s First Year On Mars’

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From what I’ve learned as a layman:

-Curiosity isn’t necessarily looking for life, but it’s looking for the conditions that make life possible here on Earth with its 10 instruments, such as trying to determine the origins of the methane on Mars’s surface by being better able to analyze the kind of carbon (12 or 14) in the atmosphere to find its source.  It’s also much better able to look for amino acids (the building blocks of life on Earth) and better able to analyze the rock and crystal samples it picks up.  It’s got a cool laser. It’s about the size of a Mini-Cooper.

-Unlike Earth with its dynamic interior and tectonic plates, relatively strong magnetic field, thick and dynamic atmosphere etc., Mars is a bit like a time capsule.   With just over 50% the diameter of Earth, about 38% the gravity, and  less than 1% the atmosphere we’ll be able to get a much better picture of what happened during the formation of our solar system about 4 1/2 billion years ago as it’s much less disturbed.  The trip up the rock face in Gale Crater over the next few years is like a trip back through time.  What happened to Mars?  Did the Earth and Mars have common experiences?

Some more Mars facts.

No methane on Mars, so that rules out the certain kinds of microbial life hoped for.  There is water on the surface, in the soil. at about 2%, which is good for colonial prospects.  It probably had liquid water in the past, but that is thought to have been billions of years ago.  A lot of evidence points to ancient Mars and current Mars being very different.
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So, what about a more human problem that interests the libertarian-minded?
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The problem is that over time, human organizations succumb to decay, bad incentives, and get weighed down by their own internal politics, increasing layers of bureaucracy, and regulations.  They can end-up no longer boldly and creatively solving the problems they were designed to solve, becoming risk-averse and losing their spirit of innovation and flexibility to free-up the top talent.  You can put more and more money in, but get less and less in return.  In fact, I’d argue along with many others that we’re in a period of American life where many other bureaucracies and government agencies may have also reached that point.  Such is my road-map.
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After the terrible Challenger explosion in 1986, Richard Feynman was included on an independent panel to find out what went wrong.  He discovered a profound difference between engineers’ and managements’ probability estimates for number of flights without failure.  One potential (and very important) reason that a system-ending failure can go unnoticed is the tendency of managers to believe top-down explanations.

It’s vintage Feynman, inconoclastic, penetrating and brilliant:

“for whatever purpose, be it for internal or external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product, to the point of fantasy.”

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Watch Robert Zubrin and other Mars Undergrounders pursue their quest despite NASA at times, but ultimately benefitting from collaboration with NASA engineers’ experience and insight, giving a boost to this deepest of human dreams:  the next frontier.  A colony on Mars.

We can do this, and it will be both like and unlike anything we’ve ever done before.

In The Mail-James Panero Of The New Criterion Discusses Fracking

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So, where does the evidence lead, and who are the people attaching themselves to causes, ideas, and politics?  Naturally, I’m sympathetic to the conservative point of view, but I’m open to debate.  There’s an entire industry now of documentary activism and political protest being rewarded by the current administration.  Are they getting the facts right?

Panero also discusses how some NYC museums have come to rely upon the recommended donation fees that rich tourists often pay, and that this revenue stream could interfere with their mission to serve the public.

His original piece ‘It’s Time To Free N.Y. Museums‘ at the NY Daily News.

Addition: Here’s Bob Zubrin on the rather pseudo-religious and dangerous roots of much environmentalism:

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How to separate reasonable environmentalism from the authoritarian impulses, the Malthusians and various other people who “know” how many people is enough?  Now that environmentalism is a primary focus in our schools, it’s probably worth thinking about.

Related On This SiteJames Panero At The New Criterion: ‘Time to Free NY’s Museums: The Met Responds’

MOMA is private, so perhaps it’s not as decadent if they display Tilda Swinton in a box:

Tilda Swinton At MOMA-From Arma Virumque: ‘Nightmare In A Box’

From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: Woman… Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Lara Logan At 60 Minutes Via Youtube-More on Benghazi

Update:  How reliable is that British contractor, anyways?

Logan interviews a British soldier hired to provide security to our mission in Benghazi, who was on-scene in the weeks leading-up to and during the attack.

Full embedded video can be viewed here at Legal Insurrection (addition: or CBS).

My takeaway, for what it’s worth: There were plenty of direct warnings that Benghazi was highly unsafe, and that the American mission there was specifically being targeted by Al Qaeda and enemy forces.   It was very risky to be there at that point, with unreliable, local security forces, relatively un-secure locations, and with Al Qaeda flags flying all over town.

After both the attack and the order to stand down during the attack, I suspect official messages given to the American public were part of a larger strategy:  To forward liberal internationalist policy and keep the administration’s goals in view.  They wanted to keep a lid on things, and not provoke other uprisings which were going on at the time throughout the Middle-East.   Basically, the State department didn’t want to rock the boat too much and was directed to continue the PR campaign to soothe the Arab Street in order to further the idea of democratic activism and grass-roots Arab-Spring civil unrest.  The U.S. and its military needed to be seen as a non-threatening force, subsuming itself to International institutions as well as carrots and sticks for democracy promotion.

Basically, I attribute very risky decision-making and possible incompetence for our decision to still be there under those conditions.  Perhaps there were other operations going on, as you never get all the facts, and it seems Chris Stevens was particularly dedicated.  I attribute incompetence and possibly other motives regarding the decision to stand-down and the ‘not a planned attack’ response the administration gave to the American people.  This could range from aggressively staying-on-message (look at Syria and Iran, as this administration’s proven to hold particularly idealistic objectives and a lack of strategy) to poor leadership to political calculation and maintaining the appearance of meeting political objectives despite obvious contrary evidence.

Tell me what I’m missing!

Any thoughts and comments are welcome

See previous posts below which indicate that if there was a cover-up, it likely has as much to do with CIA operations in the area.

Update:  See what’s become a very embarrassing story for Lara Logan: Via Mediaite: CBS 60 Minutes’ Lara Logan Apologizes for Erroneous Benghazi Survivor Report: ‘We Were Wrong’

Addition:  Thanks for the link: Eli Lake at the Daily Beast: Benghazi’s Al Qaeda Connection.

Related On This SiteLara Logan On Afghanistan Via Youtube: ’2012 BGA Annual Luncheon Keynote Speech’

Conor Friedersdorf At The Atlantic-’The Attack In Benghazi: Worth Investigating After All’

Eli Lake At The Daily Beast: ‘U.S. Officials Knew Libya Attacks Were Work of Al Qaeda Affiliates’ From The BBC Via Michael Totten: ‘Libya: Islamist Militia Bases Stormed In Benghazi’

Via Reuters: ‘U.S. Ambassador To Libya Killed In Benghazi Attack’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’From The WSJ: “Allies Rally To Stop Gadhafi”From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanFrom The New Yorker: ‘How Qaddafi Lost Libya’

Just how far Left is this administration anyways? Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

From THEFIRE.org Via Youtube: ‘Juan Williams On Firing From NPR, ‘Muzzled,’ And Threats Posed To Free Speech’

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Do you remember the Juan Williams’ firing?  He’s got a new book out and is making the rounds.

As regular readers know, my criticism of NPR usually stems from this insight:  The 60’s coalition of feminists, civil-rights activists, multiculturalists and environmentalists often represented on NPR’s airwaves are guided by ideas which unite some people while dividing and excluding others.   Ideas have limitations, and ideas often set-up by well-meaning, morally serious, well-educated people can also lead, over time, to a very different system of incentives and very different behavior than was intended.

Freedom of speech can get in the way.

Here’s a quote by Jerry Pournelle.  His  Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization’

I certainly see a lot of good in people trying to work to expand their horizons, understand and listen to other points of view while representing them in the public sphere through the arts, literature, politics and a mission of education.  NPR certainly maintains high-standards for journalism and has much broader public support.  I like NOVA as much as the next guy.

But all of the public?  Which single person or group do you trust to speak for all of the public?

Juan Williams, despite what was going on behind the scenes, seems to have stepped on the NPR mission statement.  The ironic thing is he’s still pretty invested in liberalism and the civil rights movement, it’s just that he ran too far afield from NPR’s boundaries, and ran into intolerance and illiberalism, and now he’s making it the central issue of his new book.

Here are his original comments:

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Here was then NPR CEO Vivian Schiller discussing his firing:

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*I’ve always got people telling me I’m too negative and harsh on the one hand, and not critical, negative and harsh enough on the other.  You can’t please ’em all.

Related On This Site:  What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

I’m drafting on Charles Murray: The Hoover Institution Via Youtube: Charles Murray On ‘Coming Apart’

Free speech and Muslimst From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’…  Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’… More From Spiegel Online After The Westergaard Attacks Via A & L Daily: ‘The West Is Choked By Fear’

A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’

Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

Andrew Potter At The Literary Review Of Canada: ‘Twilight Of The Pundits’

Full piece here.

What is a ‘public intellectual’ anyways, and how can it relate to journalism?

On a recent conference our author went to, the following was offered to journalists:

No more quoting political scientists:  It’s lazy and signals the reporter couldn’t find any other apparently neutral or objective source to talk. These people work in academics, not politics, so I’m not interested in their opinions on anything but their own research.’

This is often lazy journalism; an easy way for journalists to reinforce their beliefs and get a soundbite, while the quoted professor might receive a little flattery and perhaps star power if it happens often enough.

Potter:

‘The important thing to understand about journalists is that they are the lowest ranking intellectuals. That is to say: they are members of the intellectual class, but in the status hierarchy of intellectuals, journalists are at the bottom. That is why they have traditionally adopted the status cues of the working class: the drinking and the swearing, the anti-establishment values and the commitment to the non-professionalization of journalism.’

and on professors:

The important thing to understand about academics is that they are the highest rank of intellectuals. That is why they have traditionally adopted the status symbols of the 19th-century British leisured class—the tweeds and the sherry and the learning of obscure languages—while shunning the sorts of things that are necessary for people for whom status is something to be fought for through interaction with the normal members of society (such as reasonably stylish clothing, minimal standards of hygiene, basic manners).

The ideas of original thinkers and those of thinkers in academia often trickle down into popular thought anyways, but the easy quote is often just a way to reinforce one’s own beliefs or ideology, or get a quick fix.

Also:

‘In a philosophical debate, what everyone involved is trying to get at is the truth. In contrast, what is at stake in the political realm is not truth but power, and power (unlike truth) is a “rival good”—one person or group can wield power only at the expense of another. This is why politics is inevitably adversarial. Political power is ultimately about deciding who shall govern, and part of governing is about choosing between competing interests’

Politics ain’t beanbag.  The  pursuit of truth and thinking new thoughts is difficult, tedious and often ill-explained and poorly understood by most of the public.

Related On This Site:  From FuturePundit: ‘Low Empathy Response Makes Others Seem Less Human?’From Edge: ‘Re: What Makes People Republican? By Jonathan Haidt’Paul Krugman At The Guardian: ‘Asimov’s Foundation Novels Grounded My Economics’

So, economics is a science?: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Given my ideological leanings, I fear an academic-government-journalism triangle of entrenched interests guiding the ship of state.  That said, nepotism, ideology, ignorance, power, doubt and truth shall carry on.  Hate Is A Strong Word-Some Links On The BBC, The CBC, & NPR