Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Muschamp the Magnificent

The latest plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan has The New York Times’ evil architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, completely unhinged.

This morning he shares with us his euphoria over the transformational power of these new designs. You know, the ones unveiled last week by the world’s most prestigious architects . . . the ones that have met with near universal inertia?

If you haven’t seen them, take a look here. There’s lots of glass, big jumbly buildings, colossal towers, and tiny little stick figures moping around in their shadows . . . those are meant to be us.

Most of the designs include towers as tall or taller than the old Trade Center. All of the architects talked about the safety of their designs with their blast absorbing facades and multiple escape routes. They all spoke of honoring the site with contemporary visions.

But these are mostly just a bunch of glass cubes stacked high just like almost every banal skyscraper built from Shanghai to Atlanta in the past 35 years. Some in fact look no better than the smoking pile of rubble that was there on September 12th. Rather than think out of the box, the best architects in the world only offer us more glass boxes some of which have “sky parks” on high floors. As if anyone would ever go to the 70th floor to sit under a tree.

Muschamp, of course, recognizes that these designs are unrealistic . . . but that’s what make them so great. “Don’t they see that attempting the impossible is the whole point,” he practically bellows from the page wild-eyed with the sheer audacity of it. You see, as an elitist, Muschamp has to constantly keep pushing himself into realms were common folk can’t follow. Ugly, unbuildable, ridiculous scribbles that have no hope of ever be constructed, “why yes, it’s brilliant. Bwaahahaha!!!”

For the past week Muschamp has been going on about “contemporary architecture” and how these designs are at last exposing the ignorati to the dazzling genius of this unappreciated cultural movement. Today he claims people are enraptured with the designs. “Public response has reached an extraordinary pitch of enthusiasm,” he says.

Funny, the Times itself reported on the public’s ambivalence just two days ago:
The man in the beret summed up all the proposals with a snort. "Looks like they're trying to make it look like Hong Kong," he said. His wife was writing "Try again!" on her comment card.

Muschamp, though, is not talking about actual people . . . he’s talking about The People. He does all their thinking for them so he should know what they want and what they need.

The People demand buildings that challenge the status quo. True enough, but Muschamp and his fellow big brains ARE the status quo.

His contempt for popular tastes in architecture is virulent. Today is the third time in a week he has slammed the husband and wife design team of Peterson Littenberg which he dismissed on Sunday as “followers of the reactionary architect Leon Krier. Prince Charles’ architectural adviser.” Today, he can’t even be bothered to mention the team’s name and refers to their contribution only as “a reworked version of last summer’s retro motif.”

These are valuable clues for the unintiated reader. Peterson Littenberg is also working with Mayor Bloomberg to create two new livable neighborhoods in lower Manhattan that will include direct links to area airports and a grand boulevard where West Street is now. The Petersen Littenberg design for Ground Zero restores the original city grid and includes human sized parks and circles that recall past successes such as Gramercy Park and Hanover Square. Peterson Littenberg are the good guys in all this and thankfully seem to have the ear of those who will make decisions about the site.

This doesn’t sit well with Muschamp. To him the future must not include any reference to the past. It must challenge people, not accommodate them. It must disturb, not harmonize.

Fortunately, Muschamp has no money of his own to build the city of his dreams. Otherwise the streets of New York would be littered with titanium coprolites like Frank Gehry’s instantly obsolete creations.

Bloomberg, on the other hand, has the money and like Nelson Rockefeller he also has the will to fill the WTC vacuum and become the default client. Hopefully, his taste will be better than Rockefeller’s who tended toward the Brehznev school of architecture.

On the other hand, I’d love for Muschamp to occupy an office on the 120th floor of Norman Foster’s absurdly inhumane “kissing towers.” Yeah Herb, just take this express elevator to the sky lobby, then wait for the local, walk down a couple of dark over-air conditioned corridors, and your desk is right up against that inward-slanting plate glass window with southern exposure.

A bit hot in there? Oh well, that’s the price you pay for culture.

The Bottom Line

The BBC reports that Joe Strummer of The Clash has died of old age at 50.

For those of you with memories that don’t extend back quite that far, The Clash were a bracing blast of fresh air following years of fetid musical nonsense from stagnant marketing projects like The Eagles and Earth, Wind and Fire.

The Clash was the first mainstream thrash band. They saved “punk” music from self-parody and Sandinista remains a great album although its context has become all but unrecognizable.

See, Strummer thought he had a vehicle for raising political consciousness. According to Billy Bragg, a like minded left-wing bully, "Within The Clash, Joe was the political engine of the band, and without Joe there's no political Clash and without The Clash the whole political edge of punk would have been severely dulled."

Well, in fact, the political posturing was what doomed the band.

Mick Jones, the musical engine of the band, quit and formed Big Audio Dynamite, the greatest band of all time if I may say so. While Strummer droned on about socialism, Jones expressed a libertarian ethic as refreshingly different from The Clash as The Clash was from LeChic.

The Strummer/Jones relationship mirrored the decline of Michael Foot socialism and the rise of Thatcher-Blairism. Strummer was fun when you were drunk and aggressive. Jones and B.I.G. was for when you sobered up, realized you were on a dead end and decided it was more fun to turn yourself around.

Strummer, it seems, reached the dead end.

Of course, who do you think will be remembered in the media, the guy who wrote "Pick yourself up off the floor, anything you want is yours" or the one who ranted "I'm so bored with the U.S.A."?

Friday, December 20, 2002

More Ozark Wisdom

For those of you who missed the most recent issue of Iceland Review, let me summarize a short article that appears today about that lovable lug of an ex-president, Bill Clinton.

According to IR, Clinton shared some geopolitical wisdom with Einar Gústavsson, chairman of the board and the manager of the Icelandic Tourist Board in New York, during a recent conference at which Bubba was the hired entertainment.

Aside from the usual pandering, in this case claiming to be very interested in taking a golf trip to the dismal volcanic outcropping in the North Atlantic that is Iceland and playing at some of the 50 “extremely beautiful” courses there. Hmmm . . . I suspect what Bill is really interested in is the legend of Iceland’s extremely beautiful women.

In any case, Clinton slips in to pain-feeling mode rather quickly and says we ought to be more welcoming to our Islamic brothers.

. . . he stated that the travel industry is, in its nature, global. Therefore, it is impossible to think about it as localised and say, for instance, that Europe is safe from terrorism. To face the problem it would be best to open the world up for muslims and get more closer to them than in the past. This would be a project for everybody and for no one to decline.”

Now think about that for moment. What does Bill mean by “open(ing) the world up for muslims?” We’ve seen very few limitations on the movements of Muslims in this country. Indeed, some might say they were a bit too free to move about in the months leading up to the barbarous attacks on innocent civilians in New York, Arlington and above Pennsylvania.

Every city, store, museum and church in America is open to everyone including Muslims. Can the same be said for the Muslim world? For an answer, try making a reservation at the W hotel in Mecca sometime, infidel.

And what could Bill possibly mean by “get closer to them than in the past?”

Perhaps he means we should raise our awareness of Islam and the concepts that animate it. I certainly agree with that Indeed, I’d say we know a hell of lot more about Islamic world now that we did on Labor Day weekend 2001. . . and the more we learn the more disturbing it all becomes.

Of course, what Bill is really talking about is no different than what Rodney King had to say after igniting the Los Angeles riots, “why can’t we just get along?”

In the case of Islamofascism there are very good reasons for not getting along and most of them have to do with defending freedom and tolerance against a suicidal strain of medieval religious fanaticism.

But those are issues above Bill’s pay grade at the moment, thank goodness.

Let me go out on a limb here and say that if we had elected Strom Thurmond president in 1992 instead of Bill Clinton we wouldn’t be having all the trouble we have today.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Problems of Multilateralism -- Lesson One

Deutsche Welle is reporting that the weapons dossier Iraq submitted to the United Nations last week reveals Germany to be the Iraqi regime's top foreign supplier of weapons.

According to Tageszeitung, a left-wing rag out of Berlin, the number of German firms supplying the Saddam Administration exceeds by far the number of firms from other foreign countries.

Well now, this certainly puts Gerhard Schroeder's opposition to using force against Iraq in a new and less honorable light.

But we Americans . . . we're so simple.

Sad news.

Zal of the Lovin' Spoonful has died. He ought to be remembered for his song "Bald Headed Lena" which is all but forgotten today although it captured more of the true 60s ethos than any dreary protest dirge.
Lott’s Got to Go

Is there something about serving in the U.S. Senate that scrambles your thought processes? I mean, just take a look at Strom Thurmond and you can see the toll it’s taken on him.

But I’m really thinking about Sen. Trent Lott. Does he actually believe that going on BET and saying he now favors affirmative action will earn him support among African Americans? Among anyone at all?

I think what he said at Thurmond’s birthday party is typical Senate log rolling. They always praise their fellow Senators in over the top language. What’s appalling to me is Lott’s behavior since then.

He’s proven to be a political ignoramus and, even worse, a self-deluded boor. Outside the Senate, craven political sausage making just doesn’t look very appetizing. “I’ll trade you one quasi-racist bon mot for my support of your destructive social policy.” Doesn’t fly. Certainly not on national television.

If Lott were in the Senate for any other reason than the perks and prestige he would have said on BET that there are a lot of problems with race in America but not one of them has anything to do with the cadaverous centegenarian from South Carolina.

Indeed, the problem with race in this country is that while most whites support integration lock stock and barrel, those who claim to speak for the African-American community are pushing for separate dorms on college campuses, separate standards for hiring, separate expectations for success and civic duty.

Lott could have used his appearance to ask some provocative questions of his own, like at what point did Dr. King’s dream of society ‘where we are judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character’ become a vision of a world were skin color is the factor that trumps every other consideration?

He could have noted how ironic it was that he grew up in a segregated state controlled by Democrats and now works in a segregated city controlled by Democrats. He might even have asked exactly what the Democrat party had done in the last 35 years that justified such lockstep support from African American voters.

Of course, he did none of these things because, to Senator Lott, the only things that matter are the continuance of his Senatorial privileges.

That’s the reason Lott should go and go now. Hell, let him resign throw control of the Senate back to the Dems.

Just keep him far away from the Republican Party

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

What’s Byrd Got to Say About it

Trent Lott justifiably caught hell for his remarks at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. But what did the other celebrants have to say?

I’m thinking in particular Senator Robert Byrd, the “Conscience of the Senate.”

Byrd is well known for his reverence of the U.S. Senate and those who serve in it. Surely he had something to say about the Senate’s longest serving member.

As it turns out he did speak on that occasion. According to The State in South Carolina, Senator Byrd expressed regret that Thurmond, the former Democrat, switched parties in 1964:

"Our loss, your gain," Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., told Republicans in the chamber.

And there’s more, although no transcript seems to be available. According to the paper Byrd offered one of the most emotional tributes to Thurmond of the evening. You don’t suppose there were some comments that, in the harsh light of day, might sound a bit . . . say, out-of-date?

Monday, December 16, 2002

Christmas Greetings From the Permanent Opposition

Every year my wife and I receive a Christmas card from a grad school classmate of hers who is now serving our country in the Foreign Service.

Actually to call it a Christmas card is a bit of a stretch. It’s really an annual partisan rant that manages to be equal parts offensive to the reader and embarrassing to the writer. To give you a flavor, two years ago he sent a card with him and Al Gore on the front . . . and Gore was not dressed as Santa Claus either.

This year he outdid himself. Keep in mind that this is written by a fairly senior State Department official in Southeast Asia and that he is charged with representing and carrying out the foreign policy of the Bush Administration in one of the critical theaters of the war on terrorism.

Happy Holidays! With bombings in Bali, nukes in North Korea, a sniper (captured at last) in Washington, Republicans controlling every branch of the U.S. government, and war looming in Iraq, the world feels like a dangerous place. But this time of year still prompts me to count some blessings.”

Hmmm . . . Republicans on par with terror bombings and nuclear blackmail . . . and framed with hackneyed cliches no less.

Replicate this sort of reflexive hyper-partisanship a couple of dozen times throughout the State Department and CIA and you get an idea of why it is so difficult to break with the foreign policy status quo even in wartime.

Another even more troubling example comes from today’s Washington Post that is running a story about how a Clinton appointee has replaced “Radio Freedom,” a highly influential VOA-type news program broadcasting to revolutionary Iran with “Radio Tomorrow” a sugary top 40 pop music program that is supposed to enhance America’s image on the Arab Street but has no news value whatsoever.

Pretty hard to move forward with so many Lilliputians holding you back.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Race Matters

Funny how touchy racial issues are just about the only thing that gets the Democratic Party to its feet. Looking at the last couple of years of voting results it’s easy to see why.

The lesson of the 2000 national election is that even with 93% of the African-American vote, the Democratic Party can barely scrape together a win. The Republicans on the other hand have proven they can win nationally without significant the support of the African American community.

What this means in practical terms is that Republicans need only increase their support among blacks by a few percentage points to become virtually invincible. The Dems have to not only hold on their near monopoly of the black electorate but extend it just to remain competitive.

Adam Clymer, for whom President Bush coined the playful nickname “major league asshole,” described the Republican Party strategy on race in a column published on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times as:

“not to seek black votes . . . but to soothe whites who generally support Republican policies but do not think of themselves as supporting racism.”

This, of course, assumes that the Republican Party does indeed support racism and that segregation is more important to the GOP than the votes of black people, which would otherwise propel the party to an unassailable national majority.

As you can see Clymer's nickname is richly deserved.

The Times would rather believe that the GOP values racism over votes than to envision the alternative: that the Democrats have a vested interest in enflaming racial discord.

To get 95% percent of a diverse population to vote for your party requires an emotional driver. As the recent Saddam campaign proved, appealing to reason may get you a plurality of voters on your side, but to get ALL of them you need to convince them that the alternative is death or worse.

That’s why it is essential for the Democrats to portray the Republicans as racists. No matter how bad the Democrats are, no African American is going to risk voting for a racist.

Into this poisonous atmosphere strolls Trent Lott.

That he doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation is proof of a political tin ear that has always annoyed a certain segment of GOP. For instance, why does the government build warships in Mississippi? Certainly not because of the state’s maritime tradition. Lott’s brazen support of pork barrel waste makes it difficult to argue with befuddled old legislation pimps like Sen. Robert Byrd.

That Lott may actually be a racist is deeply troubling. That he is willing to damage the Republican Party and an Administration that is actually doing something to enable progress for African Americans (rather than talking about it as Clinton did, or worse, polarizing the nation as Gore did) is irresponsible and unpatriotic.

The nation is more important than Trent Lott’s political career. Rather than fuel the noxious myth than allows the Democrats to exploit African-American fears and translate them into votes, Lott should take a hit – whether it is deserved or not – and walk away from the Majority Leader post with his dignity.

Lott had an opportunity last night. He had the nation’s full attention for about 30 minutes. He could have used that time not only to save his own future but also to advance the debate on race in this country.

But one must never underestimate the vanity of a career politician.

Lott believes this is all about him.

He spoke of his impoverished background as if growing up poor and white in Mississippi is somehow reassuring to the rest of us who suspect he might just be an ignorant cracker.

He grinned in that peculiarly Southern way that practically broadcasts insincerity to a Northeasterner.

He held his most important new conference in a crowd of hooting supporters in some utterly unpronounceable backwater fever swamp of a town rather than in DC under the hot glare of a hostile media.

He totally missed the significance of the moment. A smarter person would have made this a fight for something important. Lott gave no one any reason to support him

As a result, the Democrats get to perpetuate their illusion of morality and African-Americans are again left to wonder about the credibility of the Republican Party.

Thanks a Lott.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

“This Is a European Decision”

The European Union acted with characteristic provincialism by denying even to discuss admitting Turkey to the EU until December 2004. At that time the unelected Eurocrats will decide if Turkey is democratic enough to join the club and only then will negotiations begin.

The New York Times reports today that when asked when the negotiations would begin, the Danish prime minister, Anders Rasmussen, the current president of the European Union explained:
"Well, it's a very clear message," he said. "The answer to that, well, you ask me, when. It is a good question and the answer is very clear. As soon as possible. Because we stick to principle. We stick to principle that Turkey can get a date for the start of accession negotiations when Turkey fulfills the political criteria."

According to the Times, a draft communiqué, which has not been made public, is more vague and says nothing about opening negotiations with Turkey "as soon as possible" after it fulfills the requisite conditions.

I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time the Euros decide to talk that Turkey’s leaders wake up and realize that they needn’t stoop to join such a blinkered and bigoted organization.

Rather, the United States should step up and invite Turkey to join an expanded NAFTA. That’s an economic club worth joining.

Mr. Rasmussen, normally a soft-spoken conciliator, made clear that the United States had no role to play. "I would like to stress that this is a European decision," he said in a news conference before the summit meeting opened.

Yes, now let’s let them live with it.

Friday, December 13, 2002

A Bad Day For Europe

On the same day its heavy-lift super rocket exploded 3 minutes after liftoff, Europe itself seems to be tearing itself apart as it attempts to enlarge its Union.

The EU is about to set the enrollment conditions for 10 new members, mostly from the unfashionable Eastern part of the continent. In doing so, the Western Europeans are demonstrating why they are particularly unfit to pass judgment on the domestic policies of more diverse democracies such as the United States.

The debate is formally over the terms of membership for Poland (and its cohorts) and Turkey but the subtext is much more interesting. The Eastern democracies have had a far different Cold War experience than that of their counterparts in the West. As a result, the Osties are a lot more receptive to what in America we would recognize as the free-market conservative political point of view.

In Western Europe, “conservative” simply means a socialist wearing an armband. There is very little substantive debate about the limits of government authority.

But the East has experienced half a century of abuse at the hands of unbridled socialists. They suffer from fewer illusions than their better off neighbors. They want prosperity and they know state control of the economy is not the way to achieve it.

They want to join the EU and be part of an economic powerhouse. But the Euro-haves in the West seem to think the EU is a welfare system to be guarded jealously.

Accordingly, new members to the EU will not be given access to the gravy all at once. Poland, for example, would have to wait ten years before qualifying for full agricultural subsidies. Presumably if they behave badly, the full members of the EU might string the Poles on a bit longer.

The real fear is that any new members will dilute the power of the founding members. Of course, that’s true . . . especially if the founding members have no new ideas or visions for the future. Rather, the Western Europeans seem more concerned about defending the status quo and pulling up the drawbridge if necessary.

Their treatment of Turkey is especially galling. According to former President of France, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, “Turkey is not part of Europe,” demonstrating a statesman’s grasp of geography and a bureaucrat's understanding of politics.

Integrating Turkey into the liberal democratic tradition is essential to providing the Islamic world with a vision for the future to rival the Islamofascists. This critical opportunity seems totally lost on the Euros. Rather than welcome all comers to the community of liberal democracies, the Eurocrats are more interested in their own dwindling prestige.

If you're wondering why the United States is a "hyperpower" while Europe is becoming a posturing backwater you need not look any further than Europe's "leadership" on the challenge of radicalized Islam.

Progress in Europe will not come from the frightened turf defenders in Brussels but from the fresh and energetic people of the East. And a the future of liberalized Islam will not be determined in some ghetto off the Parisian ring highway but in Ankara and Istanbul where every encouragement must be given to the fragile secular democracy taking root there.

The Europeans talk a lot about balancing the American influence with their own power, but they forget that the source of American power is not so much based on economic resources as it is on human resources.

Anyone can become as American as the Bush family in about a generation. But show me a second generation immigrant living in France who feels as welcome in the 16th Arrondisment as Giscard and I’ll show you an Saudi prince with bankroll of Francs.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Another Knife Related Death

An American barbarian was recently found in a car at the bottom of Kashima harbor just north of Tokyo.

Yasushi Dustin Rutledge was, until last week, living in Japan with American citizenship. Rutledge had been stabbed before entering the harbor in his vehicle. Two of Rutledge’s buddies, Keiichi and Takuya, have been arrested by Japanese police in connection with the death.

This incident should galvanize the knife-control movement in Japan.

For far too long the Japanese fascination with sharp objects has gone unchecked. The cost of such recklessness is measured in innocent lives cut short. The Japanese “blade culture” makes killing all too easy, especially in the heat of passion.

Indeed the rate of suicide by knife, sword, or pointy stick in Japan is far higher than in any other industrialized nation. And no one knows how many of these "suicides" where actually the result of accidents while cleaning the deadly instruments.

It’s time for this silent holocaust to stop, although it’s too late for Yasushi Dustin Rutledge.

Maybe they should ban cars while they’re at it.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

The Case Against Saddam, Again, and Again, and Again

There's just no satisfying some people.

You'd think by now the case against Saddam would have been made to even the most blinkered observers weeks ago. But just for good measure the UK has released another dossier on the Iraqi police state and the only surprises it contains concern the extent of Saddam's nastiness.

According to the report issued today by the British Foreign Office, Saddam Hussein’s Baa’th regime has perfected the art of systemic torture against political opponents. In a record remarkable even by 20th century standards, the Hussein Administration granted itself the power to suppress dissent with impunity.

A decree from the Revolutionary Command Council dated 21 December 1992 guarantees immunity for Ba'ath party members who cause damage to property, bodily harm and even death when pursuing enemies of the regime.

The RCC, issued a series of decrees establishing severe penalties (amputation, branding, cutting off of ears, or other forms of mutilation) for criminal offences.

In mid-2000, the RCC approved amputation of the tongue as a new penalty for slander or abusive remarks about the President or his family. No doubt this edict had a particularly “chilling effect” on free speech in Iraq.

The report catalogs a gruesome variety of brutal practices and includes sidebars on Uday Hussein’s private torture chamber, which he charmingly calls “The Red Room,” the business card of a professional rapist, and a memorandum chiding some overzealous local official for beheading a suspect before interrogating him.

The dossier on Iraq comes as U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq near the end of their 1 million Mississippi countdown before shouting “ready or not, here we come.” Yet the propitious timing has Amnesty International in a huff.

The human rights situation in Iraq or elsewhere should not be used selectively. The US and other Western governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and ignored Amnesty International's campaign on behalf of the thousands of unarmed Kurdish civilians killed in the 1988 attacks on Halabja.

So wouldn’t not turning a blind eye now be a good thing??

Not according to AI. No, they're concerned that using military force to stop the human rights abuses may result in human rights abuses.

I guess I see the logic here, although it’s a bit cynical – stamp out all the human rights abusers and the professional scolds at Amnesty International will have to go into market research or something.

So let’s see now. Congress has voted to give President Bush authority to attack Iraq with the goal of toppling Saddam and the voters validated that decision a few days later, the U.N. Security Council unanimously backs a Bush Administration-drafted resolution against Iraq, Nato gives its unanimous consent to using force against Iraq, and a coalition of the United States, Britain and Australia has agreed to use aggressive means to force Iraq’s compliance with U.N. resolutions.

Why do I get the feeling that some multilateralists still aren’t satisfied?