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Michael Ubaldi, August 31, 2005.

Some National Review readers do not find the visibly shaken particularly inspiring.

Rightly so. Judgment of Governor Kathleen Blanco and Senator Mary Landrieu, the two most visible statesmen in the days following Hurricane Katrina's landfall, cannot be qualified by our innate sympathy for the unfortunate. Blanco and Landrieu's message via national media has been classically leftist-populist: disconsolate and condescending, addressing Louisianans as hapless victims and lining up sidecar entitlements and eulogies for southern residents when those two might instead have encouraged good people to meet and surmount a serious and deadly challenge. In despair there is the essence of conceit. No public officials, man or woman, should appear surprised or incomposed in crisis, let alone when a natural disaster endemic to their state or region strikes. No leader betrays doubt before his constituency. None worth following, anyway.

Paging Maggie Thatcher. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher?

Michael Ubaldi, August 31, 2005.

The first of two revisions for expansion of the Gross Domestic Product in Second Quarter 2005, initially reported to be 3.4 percent, is neither astounding nor worrying:

The economy grew at a 3.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, slightly less than initially estimated but still a solid performance, especially given galloping energy prices.

And an economy strong enough to continue producing through both long-term challenges and short-term crises is strong enough to boom when those rare months of economic quiet arrive.

Michael Ubaldi, August 30, 2005.

At Belmont Club, Richard Fernandez presents, through narrative, the same question asked by many a self-proclaimed leftist who supports at least in concept the assertive democratization known now as the war on terror.

I have noticed an increasing frequency with which academics puzzle over the diminishing accuracy of traditional epistemology, specifically when applied to the responses of certain groups on the "left" and "right" to the rise and aggrandizement of tyranny.

If I may, an idea: figure ideology as a circle with eight marks, forty-five degrees apart each, beginning at zero degrees so that the circle may be bisected vertically and horizontally. Clockwise from zero, respectively notate pragmatism, objectivism, moralism (ninety), traditionalism, parochialism (one hundred eighty), collectivism, nihilism (two hundred seventy), and solipsism. Notate the left semicircle as relativism, the right semicircle as absolutism; and (optionally) the upper half of the circle as coherentism and the lower half foundationalism. Assign the following people respectively to the foregoing eight ideologies, give or take: Mickey Kaus, Christopher Hitchens, Natan Sharansky, Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Michael Moore, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Woody Allen.

The reason why the "anti-war Socialists" in France in the Belmont Club brief sided with the Nazis is because they were as elementally morally relativistic as the leaders of the Third Reich. Analogously, the reason why a man like Hitchens works for the right is because he is at root a moral absolutist — only he (for better or worse) believes reason, not God, is steward of truth. Like all moral challenges, this war divides men into two broad groups; those who believe in truth, and those who either claim to and don't or those who believe truth is theirs alone to control. That would be the operative "right" and "left."

My formal education in this is nil, and I realize that this may very well be, to paraphrase Bill Buckley, "a kind of epistemology, as written by the sorcerer's apprentice." But to hear and read the confusion among the learned and know that I — if through a glass darkly — understand as consistent what has appeared to others as a tectonic shift, begged this little assertion.

Michael Ubaldi, August 29, 2005.

When the morning began, New Orleans was slated for demolition by God's own low-pressure, cyclonic wrecking ball. When Hurricane Katrina weakened and tacked east, oil was selling at a record price and Wall Street was to hold its nose and dive. Oil fell and stocks rose. One more year, presumably, of Cajun cooking and sub-sea level revelry. Fate failed to deliver what headlines had grimly promised — but then a bad day for news is a good day for the rest of us.

Michael Ubaldi, August 29, 2005.

Last week I characterized the legislative ambition of the United Iraqi Alliance as unrepresentative of its base, especially the Shiite religious community that rejects theocratic doctrines of Wilayat al-Faqih. One clergyman is particularly disappointed — none other than Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who, while unduly critical of federalism, has no patience for the sectarianism of which Iraqis are regularly (and unfairly) accused:

The Sunnis are your family. Stay by their side this time so that they stay by your side in the coming times. Consider them as your brothers and sons and do not bear any grudges within you because of the injustice of the past, as both of you were victims.

Three brothers, three victims; three pioneers. Where Sunnis are politically recalcitrant, Shiites and Kurds are eagerly modernist. While Shiites work to rid themselves of Iranian-backed, Islamist street gangs, Sunnis and Kurds have impressed secularism into the constitution. Kurds and Sunnis differ on a patriot's colors — the north's gilt sun on red, white and green to the midland's red, white and black — but Sunnis and Shiites are one, responsible for making mercifully brief the old Governing Council's promotion of an Iraqi flag bearing the Islamic crescent. If Iraqi culture is cantilevered, as derogators and sympathists alike suggest, we should keep some faith in the strength of the single vertical support that has kept Iraqis aloft this long, for we share it as all men: a desire to be free and at peace.

Michael Ubaldi, August 26, 2005.

Glenn Reynolds considers Hugh Hewitt's praise of Mosul-based freelance journalist Michael Yon, writing, "I agree with Hugh that old media ought to be buying Yon's dispatches, and I'm quite surprised that they haven't done so yet."

The Wicked Witch of the West would sooner go on a beach holiday. Bill Roggio's latest commentary (knocking the legs out from under a dismal Guardian story) shows why gentry media would never publish the uncensored work of pro-war journalists like Michael Yon, who report what soldiers actually experience and accomplish: doing so would suggest to far too many people that the Allies are capable of, indeed in the process of, winning this war.

Michael Ubaldi, August 24, 2005.

Omar Fadhil is reporting what appears to be armed, local resistance in Najaf to the gangs of Muqtada al-Sadr. This would not be the first time that Iraqis have stood up to intimidation, nor is it unthinkable that Basrans will similarly assert themselves.

Michael Ubaldi, August 22, 2005.

With long lists of briefs about security, construction and cultural progress in Iraq, reminiscent of monthly dispatches by Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff, Central Command has started a regular feature, "Successes this Week in Iraq." Here is last week's; and what appears to be the first, from the week before.

Elite media agencies often defend their misrepresentative and politicized war coverage by claiming a lack of access due to safety concerns. Now the military has brought news right to the newsmen. Will journalists use it?

MORE: National Review's Jim Robbins added sources yesterday and this morning.

Michael Ubaldi, August 22, 2005.

Last week I traded e-mails with National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru; Ponnuru challenged in print the West's traditional justification for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wary of the acts' implications for this war.

Ponnuru's replies were brief, indicative of the author's distinguished clarity; and limited time and obligation to make generous conversation with me, one of many, many readers. But I reprint the conversation for what the article and our exchange of letters suggests about rightists: that while we are hardly uniphonous we are absolutist and concurrent enough to recognize the presence of truths to which men attempt to adhere in policy and conduct. On the right is discourse for the application, not the invention, of natural law; that discourse is a refuge for constructive disagreements.

My first letter criticized a single sentence in Ponnuru's article: "The war crimes of Japanese soldiers are not a good reason to kill a child in Nagasaki." Such a selection was narrow but not unfair, the sentence a perfectly succinct thesis statement. So I wrote:

Not directly, no, but no serious supporter of the atomic bombings argues that. What the Rising Sun's conquest, massacres and destruction warranted was a good reason not to refrain from measures intended to stop Japan — simply on account of potential civilian deaths. Imperial brutality towards Japanese citizens and those living in occupied territories was shockingly exponential to Japanese losses from Allied attacks. Prolonging the war a day by sparing that child in Nagasaki meant dead children elsewhere in the Empire. Where is the moral authority in choosing to spectate before mass murder?

He replied:

That's to embrace a purely utilitarian view — that it's okay to deliberately target civilians whenever you can assume that you're saving more lives. The traditional distinction between acts and omissions is abandoned. As I noted, that's not the way we usually reason about justice in war.

I wrote:

Consider, though, that it is just as utilitarian (and ultimately relativist) to leave intact other systems, circumstances and governments daily engaged in the killing of innocents because one does not want to be directly responsible for civilian death — even if it means those other killings continue indefinitely.

In the decades following the end of the Second World War, particularly the last years of the Cold War, active concern for foreign indigents became a central variable in the West's moral calculus; the incredible and ever-increasing amount of Third World aid dispensed by a handful of wealthy nations today is sound testimony. Now, while that does not overrule traditional reasoning about justice in war, it does influence it; to the point where the culpability of omission is increasingly equated with the culpability of act, whether ethics departments are teaching it that way or not. Constructive conversations about Iraq between "left" and "right," like, say, Christopher Hitchens and Victor Davis Hanson, are often dominated by reflection on what was gained and lost by omission between 1991 and 2003. We still smart, I think, over what omission brought to places like 1944 Warsaw and 1956 Budapest.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki (even LeMay's firebombing) are, of course, potentially more troubling because of the certitude and magnitude of killing involved but the costs of inaction — given the capabilities, intentions and history of militarist Japan — still add up to something far greater.

He replied:

Omissions can be morally culpable, but not in the same way that acts are. We are not responsible for the crimes of Saddam's regime from 1990-2003 the way we would be had we committed them ourselves. Nor are we responsible in that way for the crimes of all the regimes we have not toppled.

I wrote:

True, we cannot be held responsible for the actions of others, and especially so since anti-nationalists and other relativists wrongly blame Western democratic powers for a given dictator's atrocities before turning round to blame Western democratic powers for the inevitably difficult situation following a military or political deposition of that dictator. But though the culpability may be different, the moral defeat of dereliction can easily approach that of transgression.

Rwanda would be a fine example. As would — on a much smaller scale, and even though I supported the decision of American command — leaving Fallujah in the hands of terrorists for about six months last year. The omission, significantly motivated by apprehension over potentially high numbers of civilian deaths in the Jolan neighborhood, left residents to be kidnapped, violated and murdered in conspicuous numbers.

When one is thought damned if he does or doesn't, in the democratic waging of war it is most often that by doing he ends what he could not have by not doing — and by not doing he would indeed be damned, and probably forced to eventually do whatever he had not. Cue Churchill.

On National Review's Corner, Ponnuru informed colleagues of his desire to continue developing his argument. My position stands — but so does my respect and interest.

Michael Ubaldi, August 15, 2005.

At the Corner, National Review's John Derbyshire writes disapprovingly of the relativist bent of contemporary artists and critics. Enlightenment scrutiny, practiced for betterment, was inherited by modernists and postmodernists whose lazy imitation is moral equivalence. Decrying Western flaws is avant garde; decrying the incomparable horror of tyranny without assigning blame to the democratic world, perhaps instead celebrating and advocating liberty, is strictly for squares.

With the urban elites' spheres of influence shrinking, can it last? Some day in the near future, rock bands will sing anthems for no-holds-barred Zionism, free markets and responsible self-determination. The artistic establishment will denounce these rebels but watch in horror as an entire generation of impressionable young is taken in by seductive hooks and catchy lyrics. Children will utter phrases like "Christ the Savior," "earn it yourself" and "I'm a Republican" to complete strangers and authority figures alike. Film and literature will follow in a consummate rout, the revolution captured in one band member's quip: "We're bigger than the Beatles, man."