Iraqi elections

The Election:

There are several things I might blog about today. All of them pale in comparison to the importance of the Iraqi election.

I therefore request you take whatever time you might have spent here, and visit the Friends of Democracy. They are the only group covering the elections from the Iraqi grassroots.

I hope for all the best for Iraq.

Arts & Letters Daily - ideas, criticism, debate

The Rise, or The Decline

Arts & Letters Daily links to a feud between Matthew Parris of London and Victor Hanson of California. The topic? Whether America is about to collapse, or whether she's just getting started.

I won't try to summarize the arguments, which are well constructed and worth hearing. I do have some context to provide, however. I would like to point out that the feud takes precisely the form of the claims of Marx and Joseph Schumpeter. Marx outlined what he saw as structural problems with capitalism, and projected its inevitable demise. Schumpeter, while agreeing that capitalism was doomed in the long term, explained that Marx failed to grasp the robust nature of the beast.

Marx thought that the trends of capitalism he observed in his day were not reversable. The trend toward monopolization, for example: the growing powers in each industry would continue to eat up smaller businesses until they had swallowed them all, and then the giants would clash. Projecting from that clash of giants, he saw the ruin of titans of industry, cast down into the proleteriat, where they would become disaffected leaders of rebellion...

Schumpeter explained that the situation was more complex. There are external factors that prevent the Gotterdammerung that Marx believed he foresaw. The main one, Schumpeter explained, was new ideas. Big corporations have trouble enacting them, as they are tied to existing products and ways of doing things. In the largest, there are whole wings staffed by people whose continued success depends on doing things just as they are now done. The institutional resistance to change makes them vunerable to smaller, faster, young companies, who can -- in the fashion of a barracuda -- strip chunks of the flesh off the giants, perhaps until there is nothing left. It is this ability to assimilate change that is the deciding factor.

Parris and Hanson occupy the same positions. Parris is attempting to demonstrate that American power can grow no further, and that rising powers are approaching the ability to strike at the United States' economic structure. Hanson points out that there are external factors Parris fails to consider:

China and India are the new tigers, but their rapid industrialization and urbanization have created enormous social and civic problems long ago dealt with by the United States. Each must soon confront environmentalism, unionism, minority rights, free expression, community activism, and social entitlements that are the wages of any citizenry that begins to taste leisure and affluence. China is fueled by industrious laborers who toil at cut-rate wages for 14 hours per day, but that will begin to moderate once an empowered citizenry worries about dirty air, back backs, inadequate housing, and poor health care. The infrastructure of generations–bridges, roads, airports, universities, power grids–are well established and being constantly improved in the United States, and so there is a reason why a European would prefer to drink the water, get his appendix out, or drive in San Francisco rather than in Bombay, Beijing, Istanbul–or Paris or Rome.
America, like capitalism, is more robust than the straight-line projections would suggest. It is robust because it has a system unusually well develpoed for absorbing and reacting to change in the world. The statist EU, China, and the rest are tied into formal decision making processes that, like the corporations of Marx's day, place decision making power in the hands of vested bureaucracies. Not so in America.

I suspect that Hanson has the better of this argument, as Schumpeter did with Marx. However, I would caution Hanson to beware the doom that Schumpeter foresaw for capitalism, which may yet befall America.
Schumpeter believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its successes. Capitalism would spawn, he believed, a large intellectual class that made its living by attacking the very bourgeois system of private property and freedom so necessary for the intellectual class's existence.
These people are the enemy of us all. Literally enough: they not only work against the underpinnings of the world, as Schumpeter warned, but they even wish us ill.

Winds of Change has more on the "large intellectual class," which is not quite as intellectual as it might seem. And the Belmont Club has more as well.


On Boys:

An interesting blog called Testosterhome, run by a mother of four sons, was brought to my attention by The Corner. I enjoyed this story, which I think conveys a useful lesson society would do well to learn:

The thing about boys, I'm discovering, is that the fight is usually over by the time I hear about it. Our home is more or less tattle-free, but the lack of narking is compensated by random moans and wails off in the distance.

When someone fills me in on 'what is this all about?,' the affected parties are generally back to work building their lego ship, or amassing an arsenal of tinker-toy weapons.

I told my mom the other day that I sometimes feel obligated to make a random comment, force an apology, because that's my job. But it seems that more often than not, the boys seem to handle it in the age-old spirit of hand-to-hand combat. I'd like to train them to quietly shake hands or hug, but am realizing that would just be dragging something out that they already take care of quickly and with no strings attached.

Trial by combat: an idea whose time has come again.

The Jakarta Post - U.S. Navy to stay in Indonesia as long as needed: Captain

One Could Almost Cry:

It's so touching. A genuine, good and kind article about the United States military, from the French news service AFP.

"U.S. forces will be here through the relief effort and as long as the Indonesian government needs us to stay," USS Abraham Lincoln skipper Captain Kendall Card told reporters late Wednesday.
Skipper! They've even learned a bit of the lingo. But it gets better.
He did not say when the mission would now end, adding the U.S. forces would be ready to help Indonesia even after the emergency phase was over.

"I think the relief effort is coming to a close and now we're going towards the reconstruction phase. Our helicopters will be here to help the Indonesian government in the reconstruction phase (if asked)," he said.

Catch that? The AFP added two words, to make clear that the US' intentions were honorable.

Not, "'...our helicopters will be here to help,' the military officer said, raising fears of permanent hegemony or the establishment of unwanted US military bases." That's what I usually expect from AFP.

I once heard someone say, "In this world, justice is too much to ask for. The best you can ask is the occasional lapse in injustice." Well, if that's the best we can ask, let's make sure and mark it when we see it. Thanks, AFP, for a kind word.

Telegraph | Arts | What are we thinking of?

The Great Cold:

A book review in today's Telegraph asks "What are we thinking of?" It concerns a new book warning of environmental collapse based on historic models:

Some of the case-histories make this point convincingly. The early Norse settlers in Iceland, for example, came close to rendering the island uninhabitable, but veered from the brink just in time. (It took them a while to discover that although the green and wooded landscape resembled that of Scandinavia, the soil on which it was based was something quite unlike their native earth: a layer of fine volcanic ash, held in place only by a thin web of vegetation, and easily blown away once that vegetation was cleared.)

Their counterparts in Greenland, on the other hand, never learned from their mistakes: they cut down whatever they could burn, dug up huge areas of turf to make insulating walls, over-grazed the scanty grassland, and fought against the local Eskimos (whose ingenious methods for surviving in this environment they never bothered to copy). After several hundred years of frost-bitten subsistence, the two Norse colonies on Greenland succumbed to fighting and starvation.

How seriously should we take the idea that the failures of Norse Greenland, Easter Island and other such societies constitute warnings for our societies today?
The facts about Norse Greenland are a bit different than the book presents. The environmental change that mattered most had nothing to do with human activity, but a mini Ice-Age:
Sea ice off the coast of Iceland nearly vanished for three centuries. The effects seem to have spread to North America, where in AD 900 Eskimos settled Ellesmere Island at the usually frigid northwest corner of Greenland....

Then a chill set in. Slowly at first. People didn't want to believe it. Farmers were reluctant to give up their new fields. Settlers on Greenland held on for as long as possible. But the steadily expanding cold was irresistible by the 1200s. Unspeakable hardships began to take hold in much of the world. In Iceland, extensive grasslands that had supported sheep, goats, and cattle from AD 874 had receded by 1200. Farming became so difficult that Icelanders turned to fishing and the hunting of seals to support themselves. The population fell sharply....

By 1700, Iceland was surrounded with sea ice that made commerce with the rest of the world hazardous. And in faraway China, citrus groves that had survived for centuries froze in Jiangxi province.

There's a lesson here, yes. Just not the one the author intended.

Mudville Gazette

The Business of Iraq:

Over at the Mudville Gazette, Mrs. Greyhawk -- whose continued hard work and devotion to her soldier husband are inspirational to observe -- has a couple of important roundups today. The first is on the upcoming elections. I would like to remind you also of the Friends of Democracy project, which is collecting grassroots-level news from the Iraqi provinces. Because FoD is staffed by Iraqis, the whole of the country is open to them: election-hating thugs may not like them any better than us, but they're harder to identify.

The other article at Mudville concerns the HEROS Act, which concerns aid for widows and orphans of servicemen. The bill is sponsored by Joe Lieberman and Jeff Sessions, making it a bipartisan effort to care for the families of the fallen. Should it pass, it will be retroactive to October 2001, so that all the families of men killed fighting in the terror war will be supported.