Is Barack Obama running for the presidency, and from himself?
Michael Ubaldi, November 19, 2007.
"How did your husband do last night?"
Mika Brzezinski interviewed Michelle Obama for the November 13th morning show on MSNBC. The transcript belongs in the case history of leftism as a mental block for couples like the Obamas — intelligent, successful, attractive and yet in disbelief as to how they got where they are. Dispensation of trials is not, in life, equal but it is pretty varied and wide. People who write memoirs or offer advice have first forborne, and second overcome; the implication being that as disadvantage inheres (step one) it has never killed ambition, and if it is hereditary (step two) can't prevent an escape from caste.
Asked about her education, Mrs. Obama ratiocinated. Painfully, one sees that she almost correctly answered her questions. Aside from her casting of the 1980s as the 1950s, in Brzezinski's words, when "your father worked a blue-collar job...Yet he was able to put two kids through Princeton" — the two women missing the forty-year rise in degreed Americans as a redress of the blue collar's loss in value — Obama found her way on track. If "kids are now looking at whether they should go to college," she wondered, "are they going to come out with so much loan debt?" Well? "This was the situation that Barack and I saw ourselves in." And, and — "And the only reason that we're not in debt today is that Barack wrote two bestselling novels."
So? "But that paid off unexpectedly." No! Mrs. Obama, such is the essence of calculated risk. Barack made an investment in his talent as a writer; what he reaped wasn't guaranteed and, were it worthwhile, couldn't possibly have been. This is the experience for those earning in every licit way other than confiscation. When did higher education become other than a down payment for greater means to wealth? When the diploma was reprinted as a ticket to eudaemonia, an impossible transaction Michelle Obama suggests in spite of her and her husband, wisely, never attempting it.
Later in the interview, Brzezinski lured Obama into a discussion of the electorate as paint-by-numbers. A pollster found Hillary Clinton leading Barack among blacks: "What is going on?" Obama started as would any candidate's spouse — "First of all, I think that that's not gonna hold" — and then veered. "What we're dealing with in the black community is just the natural fear of possibility, OK," she said, and the inquiry follows: a) is Team Obama relying on this demographic to vote along racial lines; b) what is different about Illinois, where Barack was elected to the Senate in 2004 by 70 percent of voters; c) if Illinois is no anomaly, could the senator's separate appeal as president maybe play a part?
One exchange further, Obama gave a half-sentence of lucidity. "It's one of the horrible legacies of racism and discrimination and depression," she warned, and "you know it keeps people down." But she didn't quite mean a subcultural inferiority complex, and then went back into the muddle. Seventy-five, fifty years ago, this would have validity. Today, there are too many examples of the aforementioned two-step solution.
"Barack has been told in every race that he's ever run that he shouldn't do it," his wife recounted, that "he couldn't raise the money, that his name was too funny, his background too exotic." Michelle Obama, meet Bobby Jindal, first-generation Punjabi Indian, birth name "Piyush"; a name thrown around by opponents like a dysphemism because to local ears it sounds funny. Jindal is the Republican governor-elect of Louisiana, until now de facto property of the Democratic Party. He is archetypically self-made. Proposed in this space is an experiment in contrast, namely the Senator from Illinois henceforth introduce himself as "Barry."
It would draw a sharper parallel. That may help Michelle Obama, who protests that "we've desperately tried to do is not to allow our political lives to change who we are fundamentally," and who doesn't "want Barack to be anyone other than who he is, because we certainly don't want to spend the next 4 or 8 years in the White House trying to live up to a persona that isn't true" — when the merits and achievements of Barack Obama stand at odds with Obama and his wife's design for genuine politics.
Standing at one of two distant poles.
Michael Ubaldi, October 29, 2007.
Two men were guests of the November 21, 1999 episode of Firing Line, "The Conservative Search for a Foreign Policy." The host of the program respectively introduced one accredited as "sovereign," a strategist, diplomat and emissary beginning his third decade of retirement from public service; and a scholastic debutant, a "looming young presence in the coming years." Nine years before that, Firing Line's host, William F. Buckley Jr., explained the reason for worldwide solidarity against Saddam Hussein's takeover of Kuwait by way of adage: "When a nation becomes nuclear, one calls it Sir."
The contemporary debate over a belligerent's atomic incipience returns the 1999 pair of invitees to front and center. In time for Thanksgiving last year, the first man, Henry Kissinger, regarded the subject country of Iran as determined for the bomb; and though he innately prescribed negotiations, they would be, under his direction, to impose on Iran a realization that "makes imperialist policies unattractive" or "if matters are pushed too far, America might yet strike." The second man, Fareed Zakaria, gave through his publisher a depreciation of any threats Iran has made or may make against American interests or allies, and doubts of the country's evident pursuit of nuclear technologies that are offensive. In the October 29, 2007 issue of Newsweek Zakaria will have none of it, not even Kissinger's preventatives, his piece titled "Hysteria over Iran."
President Bush, he begins, was caught mumbling lines reserved for those whom Zakaria thinks to be lunatics. Granted, Norman Podhoretz sets himself up when he prefaces with "I call this new war World War IV," but his message — that Iranian leadership, the Khomeinist patrimony and current government, is messianic, expansionist and eschatological all at once — can be traced to Tehran on most days of the week. Do you want to hear Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, executive appointee, dismiss Israel as a non-entity and glibly recite Holocaust denial in the same sentence as his own version of shipping Jews to Madagascar? Or presage, like those before him, a world without the United States? Why are Iran's agents, weapons and cohorts in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Syria — its ambassadors in Beijing, Moscow and Caracas?
But that isn't "reality," writes Zakaria, and states that Iran is either benign or impotent because its comparison of economic and military power with the United States can only be expressed in decimal fractions. Immediate thought: Zakaria has to rest impregnable from the word "asymmetrical." That Iran "has not invaded a country since the late 18th century" comes not from restraint but comprehension of the world since the last decade of the Cold War. Two of the last dictatorships to try annexation, Argentina with the Falklands and Iraq with Kuwait, were expelled and humiliated within six months. Tehran has since 1979 worked insidiously, though obviously to anyone willing to pay attention, its proxies killing Americans and allies in numbers large (the 1983 Beirut bombing) and steady (Iranian-made roadside bombs in Iraq today).
Where on the scale does measuring danger by contrasting national resources with geopolitical significance place, say, North Korea? Had Zakaria looked, he would have found that one can in fact be a destitute menace. Instead, he chooses to characterize Pyongyang's nuclear and inhumane blackmail — threatening to efface Seoul and Tokyo, hinting at letting millions of people in North Korea starve — not as an example of disruptive potential for Tehran but as divergent "international relief efforts." Even if Ahmadinejad's death-cult language is forever as subjunctive as the loony grandiloquence from Kim Jong Il's office, why is it OK to have another despot winning yearly concessions with its tantrums? And yet, since Tehran isn't in Pyongyang's straits, why should we assume that it will be content to simply survive through harassment?
Zakaria is somewhat accurate in labeling Western knowledge of Iran as "a black hole to us — just as Iraq had become in 2003." He blames this on obtuseness, whereas Ba'athist Iraq was and Iran is a totalitarian state. Allowing sporadic democratic resistance and the presence of a public transportation union reminiscent of Poland's Solidarity, Tehran is not as bloodily efficient as Baghdad was. But there is enough smuggled footage of the repression and execution of dissidents, homosexuals and women who defy Iran's theocratic chauvinism to wonder if when Zakaria refers to a "vibrant civil society" he is finally taking Ahmadinejad at his word.
Kissinger is best known for the equivocation of detente, and still he observed a year ago that "So long as Iran views itself as a crusade rather than a nation, a common interest will not emerge from negotiations." Zakaria scoffs at Bernard Lewis' exegesis of the radical Shiite vision of world's end. All is not unanimous among those who aren't democratists. Maybe not on William F. Buckley's old stage, but can these two men be sat across from one another once more?
Michael Ubaldi, October 15, 2007.
Today is the inauguration of Game and Player, an online magazine reporting on the pastime and culture of video gaming. Two colleagues and I, along with with our contributors, shall analyze, comment and entertain, recommending the most worthwhile pursuits and the finest ways in which to enjoy them — serving "the keen electronic enthusiast."
We invite you to visit and read.
An imaginary chat with the Communist Party's product inspector.
Michael Ubaldi, August 29, 2007.
Figure Concord (FC). Fictional Li Changjiang, Sixteenth Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, Director of the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine; thank you and welcome.
Li Changjiang (L). The pleasure is mine.
FC. The dead cat, as it were, was just that. Additives in canned food, in February causing the confirmed deaths of a dozen pets across several states, marked the first time many of us Americans heard about products from China containing extraneous and dangerous chemicals. As either part of a trend or rapid discovery, reports of toxins in Chinese imports have been unremitting.
L. As my government pledged to the World Health Organization, the People's Republic "has consistently placed a high priority on the work of food safety." This news is infelicitous, reflecting poorly on China's good name and business.
FC. It is also alarming, as the extent of deficiencies in craftsmanship is now well beyond comestibles. Mattel, Inc. is recalling several million of its products, some toiletries are suspect and there was even an embalming agent found in children's clothing traded to New Zealand.
L. Most products from China are safe.
FC. Lotteries are conducted to award prizes, not a serious illness. For consumers, the most important figures are the numbers of scares.
L. Let me repeat what I told reporters on Monday. Those companies from whose factories came the items in question are culpable. But are we, perhaps, neglecting to consider the oversight for which foreign buyers and distributors are responsible?
FC. Yes, and you completed that statement by referring to "serious problems" in design. If I may, Mr. Director — it is incumbent on the contractor to supply for production not only the quantity but the quality of materials commensurate to those specified. When Mattel has been in the toy business for sixty years, never having ordered recalls quite like the latest, let alone because of use of materials with prohibitions so settled as lead paint — and the manufacturer's country of origin is China — to believe otherwise one must mount an assault, à outrance, against logic.
L. As I have said, this is a disagreement over "different standards" between buyers and sellers.
FC. You are aware, Mr. Li, of the difference between right and wrong?
L. I know what is intrinsic and what is extrinsic to my country. Do you understand?
FC. I am afraid I do.
L. The Communist Party, in the legacy of the judicious Chairman Mao Tse Tung, spent over three decades learning how to sublimate the esurience — the recklessness — of the capitalist. We are only now, finally, able to apply the lessons of our history and build wealth carefully and properly. Have we made mistakes? Perhaps since the West is still impatient for China to act alike, we sometimes hurry to please, and repeat some of your own errors. Is it a reasonable thing to say that because the obligation of standards has been delegated to the market, industry is no longer under the conduction of the government?
FC. It is a literal thing to say.
L. Are the Chinese not allowed to prosper, to enter the modern world? If so, must we be perfect?
FC. The matter is more of that which "China" and "the Chinese" are respectively comprised, the depth of those "different standards," and by whom they are elected. One more question, Mr. Li, a bit of a non sequitur, but I thought I would ask. How does one take Tiger Mountain?
L. By strategy, of course. However slowly — patiently, assiduously, unrelentingly. The Chinese know that we are different, but we are confident. To continue your metaphor, if I may, the worldwide acceptance of our rise as an eventuality spares us doubt, even humiliation, when we stumble here and there along the incline.
FC. And you are eleven months from planting a flag in the summit. Thank you for your time, Mr. Li. Good day.
Michael Ubaldi, August 7, 2007.
In 2002 and early 2003 I played in a band called the Concord. The group was formed with four colleagues and old classmates of mine. We five started up unexpectedly, inspired by the culmination of musical work begun by myself and one of the members half a decade before that.
In dress shirt, slacks and tie, we played what we called anthemic, progressive pop-rock.
Dervish-like, the Concord played just over half a dozen shows, recorded an eleven-song album and then, a year after it assembled, broke up. I hadn't kept in touch with every member since the band's dissolution, but each one of us recalls the Concord as one of the most accomplished and refined fellowships of which we have been a part. Apropos, I spent the last five years producing the Concord's recorded material.
The Concord album is complete.
We, the five of us, have chosen to present it on disc and in MP3 format. And, to commemorate the music and the band, I wrote a pair of documentary narratives, the first about the band and the second about the making of the record. Everything can be had by visiting the band's website and MySpace page.
I invite you to see and hear what the Concord was about.
The fates of abandoned Iraqis are not Barack Obama's concern.
Michael Ubaldi, July 25, 2007.
Barack Obama, Senator of a Presidential Campaign, made some odd remarks the other day. Misstatements have percolated his time on the stump. Laboring to hold President Bush responsible for hardships in the tornado-struck Kansas town of Greensburg, Obama construed the storm as taking, instead of a dozen, Greensburg's entire population and that of seven municipalities neighboring. The senator, last Thursday, made a moral calculation as awkward as his arithmetic one.
He tried a ratiocinative answer to the question of enabling bedlam in Iraq while retreating to somewhere. The word "genocide" was used. "If that's the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of US forces," Obama replied, "you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven't done." He used Darfur in similar contrast, but then added, "Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea." Are you serious, Senator? might have been the rejoinder if it weren't the Associated Press. "There are still going to be US forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis," although "[w]e cannot achieve a stable Iraq with a military."
Several questions line up. One, why roughly twice the size of forces in the Congo as in Iraq; two, how do a pair-and-a-half of unaffiliated, abject African countries reflect on a fragile but popularly willed democracy, an American ally, that will suffer as a direct result of a decision to leave; three, will the position shift once Obama is informed that United Nations-hired soldiers are in the Congo already, fresh from a whitewashed investigation on trafficking; four, will it shift once somebody tells Obama he wanted UN troops in Darfur last September; five, is genocide rampant here cause to shrug at genocide there; six, if arms can't bring Iraq under order, how will an intercessory detachment make "stable" a place overrun by al Qaeda, Ba'athists or Iranian-backed gangs serving the former village council as hors d'oeuvres?
Senator Obama is conveying politics, yet also innocence of fact. Iraq is a risky place to be for journalists because — can you guess? — the enemy murders just about anybody including, maybe especially, those foreign and native who exercise a license to the press. The leftward media usually lays the onus on the United States or the West, as per its prejudice, though the disjunction at which most reporters file on the front is large and serial. Most bureaus don't know firsthand what is going on. If you believe Michael Yon, who can be ebullient but is very good, the military hasn't allowed journalists to overcome their inculcations against the uniform by even allowing, let alone inviting, very many of them to be embedded with troops like Yon.
But, but, but — Michael Yon and a few other reporters, notably one Michael Totten, whose desires to win show in scrupulous observation and criticism of our side, have been writing that the enemy in Iraq is foundering under an assault. Also, that one reason Iraqis are reluctant to stand up is a fear of Americans hightailing.
Totten is with a unit stationed in a Baghdad district sluiced of terrorists and gangs. His latest story followed a night patrol — as always, soldiers grumble over press coverage and Iraqis, however oleaginous, are decent. After a few hundred words and some pictures — residents, their children, teenage cruisers and a gracile Army interpreter from Lebanon — Totten published a quote from a Lieutenant Colonel. What was recorded should have been commonsense but in our time is revelatory. Still, it knocked over the assertion that terrorism is a unifying response to any Western presence: "We have tight relationships with some of the people whose sons are detainees...they don't approve of their children joining al Qaeda or the Mahdi Army."
Possibly, the same would not like Washington to tell them See you later, Alligator. Closing Totten's report was a description of what the enemy will exact on families simply when our soldiers are a block or two away. A modern proverb teaches that war inures as it lasts, year after year. Most of us tacitly know it as the fair society turned sordid, though in this case it is an abstractionist senator with little excuse for unknowing, who mistook Iraq for part of a hand to discard.
Microsoft doesn't need to dance around the Xbox 360's shortcomings.
Michael Ubaldi, June 19, 2007.
The trouble with Microsoft's public relations, to paraphrase Willi Schlamm, is Microsoft's public relations. Mercury News reporter Dean Takahashi recently interviewed Todd Holmdahl of the regnant software company's Gaming and Xbox Products Group, and the transcript thereof is an exchange with a man from whom you would not extract a single crucial datum short of using a bright light and rubber hose.
Last July, I was so impressed by the performance of a friend's Xbox 360 that I purchased one of Microsoft's latest gaming console a few weeks later, in August, a year before planned. Am I satisfied with the product? Yes. The few games selected over the last ten months have maintained my interest, and relaxing evenings denote money well spent. Signally, the 360's user interface, called the "Dashboard," keeps me in close rapport with a few dozen acquaintances across the country, a number of us playing together or chatting or sending messages back and forth, as if each one were carrying on his hobby in a different room but not so engrossed that he couldn't occasionally walk across the hall.
Owners of the 360, however, likely know a peer whose console suffered hardware failure serious enough to bundle the unit into a package bound for factory repair or replacement by Microsoft. Maybe more than once. I am such a peer myself. What broke, I can't say — but on a Friday in April, my Xbox flashed and signaled terminally, and after guiding me through two attempts at revival, a support operator pronounced the ivory box faithfully departed.
Now — how was my repair? Smooth. The unit was quickly swapped at no charge, and when I made a phone call a few days before the replacement arrived, an East Indian woman genially provided me a tracking number that I had thoughtlessly misplaced.
What is out of order here, in the market, is that however happy a tale like mine, variations of it are being told pretty often. An informal, mid-May poll of 71 colleagues revealed that two-thirds of us, nearly 50, had their Xbox 360 go dead. Which of those ran into similar problems with the first-run Xbox? Not nearly as many. How many found his laptop, tablet or cell phone summarily become unusable? A rarity. Superstition was a point of humor, as those whose consoles were still working asseverated cautiously, as if wary of a divine ironist. It was accepted, though — grudgingly — that a unit would fail eventually. And, too, if so, not painlessly. My substitution cost nothing because my warranty has not expired; were something to happen two months from now, I would pay $135.
"There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the quality of the Xbox 360 isn't there," said Takahashi, referring to the many experiences that telecommunications made confluent. "How can you paint the bigger picture for me there?"
Holmdahl either had not stepped outside of his office for two years, or prevaricated. "We're very proud of the box. We think the vast majority of people are having just a great experience. You look at the number of games they are buying," Numbers, could he give numbers for return rates? "We don't comment on that."
Takahashi: "If you have a high defect rate, won't that ruin the business model?" Holmdahl: "The vast majority of people are really excited about their product." Takahashi signed off with "We'll see if the real answers shake loose from other sources," which is the politic way to accuse someone of being politic.
A rumor holds that Microsoft fixed one of the problems Holmdahl wouldn't tell Takahashi about, and consoles so patched will be sent out when a malfunctioning one comes in. There is also a successor model, the Xbox 360 Elite, on sale, which has better electronic specifications. But not everybody will want to buy or trade for the machine they think they should have received in the first. Here is some advice: product support can be treated as a loss leader, with repairs of the 360, which appear to be serial, priced at only $30. Or less. The peculiar estrangement between Microsoft and its regular customers may not be reconciled, but the company's baffling ways can be read in the public less as What are they trying to hide? than What's the catch?
The right, worked up about little things.
Michael Ubaldi, May 31, 2007.
If the general election in a president's fourth year is when executive party members conciliate so as to defend their high office, the election following two White House terms is an opportunity for factions to debate and persuade, and assume primacy. For November after next, the first race with a retiring vice president in eighty-eight years, both charter and ballot are fairly wide open.
On the right, there is time to pick and choose. National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a pair of critical pieces this month, limning competing interests on the right — the first, somebody else's and the second, Ponnuru's own.
Two weeks ago it was Porkbusters, a spry, independent populist group, in whose work Ponnuru saw "dangerous consequences." Some Republicans in Congress — and at least indirectly, President Bush — used the public's rising disapproval of spending earmarks to good political effect, defeating the Democratic party over jurisdiction of the Iraqi campaign by portraying a materiel bill as one foundered with largesse.
Porkbusters advocates, and has inspired, fiscal moderation in Congress on the assumption that if legislators win seats by sending federal monies to their districts and states, access to funds will become a privilege and then a commodity — and then an emolument. For many, especially those angrily picturing spinach farms on a military payroll, to say "Congress" and then "corruption" is to tautologize.
But to veto an authorization, Ponnuru wrote, demonstrated that "fighting pork was more important than fighting the war." More to the point: so what? "If the money isn't earmarked, the agency is free to spend it as it sees fit," and besides, the funds in question don't exceed two pennies out of a Washington dollar.
Ponnuru was off in places: the GOP's denunciation of the bill was shrewd politics, full stop. Redirecting money on grounds that it will be spent anyway is, elsewhere, called embezzlement; and the correlation is just a rhetorical twitch away. In Washington, it can be argued as to which congressional shenanigans bring about which. Otherwise, Ponnuru was right. There are more thorough — if laborious — methods to reduce federal excess. Bearing "hostility to earmarks" is mistaking a gambit for a platform.
Today Ponnuru offered a grave estimate of Rudy Giuliani's commitment to Ponnuru's cardinal issue of abortion. Suppose, he wrote, a Supreme Court shaped by Giuliani buried the constitutional right to abortion that a prior court unearthed. If a "Democratic Congress sent Giuliani legislation to codify Roe — and thus to take back that freedom from the states — would he really veto it?" If not, "pro-lifers would have gained almost nothing." Not that day, no, but if the court ruling were to be sustained as long as the previous one, Republicans, if still in the minority, would have several chances to reclaim the legislature. And all this lacks the comparative implication of what exactly the anti-abortion constituency has gained over the last seven years.
Where conjecture begins to tip over Ponnuru's argument is on the war. "Toughness and competence are not a policy; and it is not obvious that Giuliani is more competent, or tougher, than his principal rivals." OK, but the policies of Giuliani or one of his rivals couldn't be judged until January, 2009 — so character, public statements and records of leadership must suffice. Does Giuliani excel? Judgment reserved, Giuliani is still among the strongest Republican executives. Ponnuru won't reject the man outright, but he looks ahead to a successor and thinks, "Win or lose, then, Giuliani could damage the brand." Well, that is more of a concern for peacetime. You need to have a brand left to weaken it. How does one explain subordinating national security right now?
Prolongation invites complacency, a little. Eighteen months before Election Day and counting — former senator Fred Thompson half-bid for president just today, as popular as he appears distant from Washington. A Democratic Senate is near to passing an immigration bill, over which Republicans are reportedly blaming the president and his party. Ramesh Ponnuru, exacting, is pretty reasonable, but the broader right may start looking as unmanageable as a clowder soon, and no one should welcome that.
Political fortunes of defeatism aren't good.
Michael Ubaldi, May 15, 2007.
Just as April gave way, Rudy Giuliani discovered how to flummox leading Democrats: confidently engage the opposition party.
Giuliani described, in parallel, a Democratic administration's repudiation of policies to which he himself subscribes, and the reasons for that support. "We will wave the white flag on Iraq. We will cut back on the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation and we will be back to our pre-September-11th attitude of defense." No concession can mollify, Giuliani warned, men who "hate us and not because of anything bad we have done," except for an inherent "conflict with the perverted, maniacal interpretation of their religion." On this, transgressions include, verifiable through a quick read of Islamo-fascist doctrine, "freedom for women, the freedom of elections, freedom of religion and the freedom of our economy."
What the former mayor said on April 24th was potent stuff alone. How one of Giuliani's leftist counterparts responded, though, was revealing. Barack Obama refused to rebut, as if the statement were an insult. He answered by beginning with a rebuke of Giuliani for imputing risk to a Democrat's presidency, and ending by imputing risk to George Bush's presidency. Later that week, party presidential candidates at a televised debate, queried on a martial posture in retaliation to twin terrorist massacres, either sidestepped the use of their obligatory war-making powers or admitted their reluctance thereto — well, all except Joe Biden, who is, anymore, as vestigial as Joe Lieberman.
The perfect shade Democrats want is not too tough, but tough; sort of tough enough. Implicit in the Democrats' fussing is the knowledge of what mettle the American electoral mean still demands of its executives, and why George McGovern, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry were runners-up.
But over here, William F. Buckley, Jr. argued that it is the Republican Party that has grown foreign to the habitat, all because it will not renounce the most challenging campaign of the war. "It can now accurately be said," wrote Buckley, two weeks ago, "that the legislature, which writes the people's laws, opposes the war," as far as polls on Iraq today are advocative inversions of those in 2003. He traced a path from 60-percent disapproval of the campaign to ruin, concluding that "There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma."
Buckley speaks of a conundrum over the separation of powers, but uncovers another problem. If in political discourse something as distinct as a military retreat can be effectively paraphrased, and interpolated as honorable; and the evident democratism of a country's lucid majority willfully abandoned; then it is possible to pass by the axiom that men well outside of desperate circumstances do not volunteer for their assured doom or defeat. And chances actually prescribe someone who is optimistic about Iraq to be either an Iraqi or an American soldier standing beside him.
We can submit that when the public appears to want an escape, Congress is tractable. But what about that 60 percent? If Congress consents to giving up, it chooses what is pretend (morbid impressions of the public) over what is empirical (a slow-moving war of patent but understated importance, to which those fighting it hold fast). Decisions of war will no longer be made from indications of the theater itself, and Washington will be pulled into a disentitling state of luxation.
The last president to craft policy from within an imaginary plane was President Carter, who was distrusted long before the end of his term. Reality will extrude quickly and explosively if fronts are surrendered; there aren't any more halcyon days to be got on loan. Undesirable is more desirable than unworkable. A few Democrats will instinctively remember this, even through all of their dulling; just a few. Giuliani and Buckley are both right, then. The Republican Party probably is frangible: the isolationists will break off, maybe join with Democrats, yet either way lose.
National Geographic and I.
Michael Ubaldi, April 25, 2007.
In February I let my subscription to National Geographic expire on account of the magazine's deepening politicization, but by the beginning of last month a reasonable article published by the Society had changed my mind. "If National Geographic indeed still values factually responsible, and perhaps less sensational, reporting," I wrote, "that is worth thirty-four dollars annually."
Indeed, perhaps — but unfortunately not.
Due to the lapse in my membership, two belated issues arrived in one shipment, and each cover was another page in the brief for National Geographic v. Western Civilization. For the month of March, a somber article on elephant poaching and the vain efforts of African rangers to protect herds failed to offer the most likely explanation for a struggling preserve: the land is run by the government of Chad, a corrupt authoritarian state with the memorable per capita income of about a hundred dollars. Readers were encouraged to donate to support Chad's — elephants. The magazine noted that some ivory is legally marketed around the world and can be bought, for example, in the United States, see incriminating picture at bottom-left.
When I saw April's cover, a swordfish lolling upside down in a fishnet, I decided to wait for May.
May's issue came yesterday. I opened the package in the elevator. The first words out of my mouth were "You have got to be kidding me." The cover? "Jamestown: the Real Story." Next to a colonial painting of a bemused, painted Indian was a summary of National Geographic's exposé: "How settlers destroyed a native empire and changed the landscape from the ground up."
How the magazine could imagine that a majority of its audience hadn't been brought up on the selective derogation of European colonization, one can't say. The narrative's implication was simple: American Indians blithely dominated one another in a sylvan paradise, and would have until the end of time, too, had the Virginia Company not come from England.
National Geographic began with a misnomer, identifying the natives of Virginia as part of an "empire." Yes, a few dozen tribes on the coast were subservient to a chief named Wahunsunacock — also known to us, mercifully, as Chief Powhatan. But an empire is, if you don't intend to flout the English language, qualified by expansive territory or multifarious subjects. Powhatan's domain encircled Chesapeake Bay, and the tribes were all of a people known as Algonquians. The first human empire, the Akkadian Empire, was several times that size and incorporated several languages and cultures.
There aren't many defensible reasons to accept whatever happens to be the largest historical concentration of power as an empire. Doing so, however, addresses shortcomings of the local population that may contradict an argument. Such as: why were Powhatan's habitations so pastoral? National Geographic very nearly suggested it was by choice, even explaining a lack of domesticated animals as a lack of domesticable animals. Without question? North American Indians were barely within reach of the copper age — scarcity of suitable mammals or not, they may have arrived at husbandry on schedule, if ten thousand years too late. The word here, not used prominently in the article, is "primitive."
Why weren't the Iroquois, Powhatan's adversaries and those eventually responsible for the destruction of the Erie, mentioned once? At what point did the brute contests of men become morally exclusive, what with the history of the world a litany of encroachments, invasions and alterations? And on and on.
I chose to start a collection of the gilt-framed periodical four years ago because I read every National Geographic I came across in the couple of decades before then. Mummies, dinosaurs, astronomy: reports were completed to the best knowledge of their authors, not inaccurate so much as incomplete, and always fascinating. If I wanted to have to pause at the end of every third sentence, shake my head and think No, that isn't right, I would wait until the editors of The New Republic went on a safari and then buy the expositive issue. Yes, my response to all this I find invigorating, but there is a library nearby.
So yesterday, I canceled my subscription forthwith. This morning, I received a message from the Society assuring the return of my balance. An hour later, another message came from National Geographic something-or-other. In fact it was from an intern working with National Geographic Traveler, and she was verifying a story written about a bike tour in Italy through which the author met my cousin and his bride. I forwarded the inquiry along to my cousin, who soon called the girl. In the meantime, there was an error that needed correction — my cousin was thought to share my last name, when he is my father's sister's son — and a few facts clarified. I was pleased to give both. The intern thanked me and rewarded me with, of all things, a copy of the Traveler issue that carries the article.
So I have twenty-five dollars more to spend, and — resting in my mailbox, ready to be taken and read during some future lunch hour, shall be the National Geographic Society publication that I really wanted.