22 December 2014


New York Mayor Bill de Blasio faces a crisis of his own making with the police department, as a result of his own radicalism. Whatever the merits of the Eric Garner case, he did not respond thoughtfully or responsibly but ideologically, going on about racism, injustice and the police, and making broad, general statements having little to do with the actual case. There was no doubt that his activist heart was with street protesters, but you can’t run a city that way. Instead of rising above the fray, as he today ironically said a leader is supposed to do, he pontificated about the failings of society and yet again brought in his son, this time as a potential victim of the police. Then, having burned all the bridges with the NYPD, when two officers were subsequently murdered  over the weekend, he could only grasp at the one straw still available to him- the families of the victims, as a rationale for standing down. 

Even worse, the radicals who dominate the City Council, in an unprecedented and reprehensible gesture not only encouraged, but participated in demonstrations against their own police department, in solidarity with the Mayor. The odious NY State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, apparently taking a break from corporate shakedowns, in a naked power grab, announced he would investigate NY City police incidents, which brought an immediate rebuke from the DAs of the majority of the boroughs of the city. It is relatively early in the terms of all of these clowns, and they are only getting started. Things will only get worse. 

The basic reason for this is that radicals cannot govern effectively. They view everything through an ideological lens, and can only reckon with things based on how they comport with that vision. They not only lack any ability to approach things pragmatically; they reject pragmatism altogether. They are not liberals, but hard-left radicals. As a result, more and more things are not going to work as they should. A clash with the NYPD was almost inevitable, given their attitude towards law enforcement. Never before in the history of this city have we seen such contempt for the police on the part of public officials. Given their mindset it is no surprise that even when they try to make nice they only make things worse. Thus, after instigating much of the damage himself, the Mayor now wants to talk about “healing” and “coming together” which is what leftists do after they have irreversibly poisoned the well.

I predicted things would go bad last year, here: http://www.georgesarant.com/2013/10/the-ny-city-commune-of-2014.html. There will eventually be a correction because New York is not a radical town; it isn’t even all that liberal. Until then, hopefully the damage won’t be too bad. In the mean time, after what these public officials have done, there is no way the police are going to be mollified until there is a change, at which point my guess is that the public will be more sympathetic to the NYPD than this batch of politicians. 

21 December 2014


During the holidays we inevitably are faced with objections from atheists regarding public Christmas displays. In their view, nothing connected to religion is allowed in the public sphere. We can argue about just what is religious, or what constitutes the public sphere, but what I want to address here is something more fundamental- the question, stated simply, of who is going to get their way. For whenever a symbol that is interpreted to be religious is removed because a small minority object, or simply because someone might object, the effect is not just to assuage the concerns of the minority in some neutral fashion, but to impose their preferences on the majority. 

We are ever sensitive to the rights of the minority, as we should be in a democratic republic, and believe they never should be oppressed, but such rights do not extend to imposing the minority view over everyone else. There is almost always going to be someone raising objections to just about anything the great majority of people are comfortable with. Should those who raise  objections always have their way? There are some who in effect maintain this position, to the extent that anyone who finds anything offensive must be indulged at the expense of the majority and common sense. 

There are some things about which legal claims are invariably made, that are not matters of law. If there were some sort of legal discrimination against a minority it would be unconstitutional, but there are no “cultural” rights (with the exception of Indians) outside of universities that have invented them. In symbolic and cultural matters the preferences of the majority should prevail. No one is being forced to adhere to them, nor is anyone being harmed. When the norms of the majority in society are not respected the social order becomes untenable. If the majority feels challenged or under siege it will react. For minority rights to be respected at all there has to be a cohesive majority that feels secure. There must be a prevailing majority ethos in society, otherwise there is at the very least alienation and instability, and ultimately social collapse.

In a courthouse where the ten commandments have been posted for over a century, and where they have been established by tradition and convention, it is a stretch to argue that they are banned by the constitution, which simply states that the government cannot establish a particular religion, not that religion is altogether prohibited from public life. I personally am not religious, but I recognize that most people are, and it is their sentiments that ought to prevail whenever such questions are raised. Those who want to ban Christmas displays are part of a constant chorus claiming that all minorities have rights, but the majority never has any rights. 

The objections of a few to virtually anything basically boils down to saying we don’t like that, and because it offends, bothers, or otherwise disturbs us it must be removed. Society cannot possibly function if in any instance that someone finds something objectionable that thing must be eliminated; it would then be impossible for there to be anything common. If every claim of this sort is honored it leaves society in an acultural state, and social bonds are severely weakened. 

But to maintain that the majority ought to prevail in such matters is not unfettered majoritarianism. The minority is still protected. Crucially, when the majority prevails it is not forcing anything on a minority. The minority is not being compelled to succumb to the majority position or practices.  It is therefore absurd to require that the majority submit to the minority position, but this is what constantly happens when a minority effectively vetoes the majority, often due to nothing more than the timidity of those charged with the administration of various venues. Christmas is a custom that has been with us for ages and cannot suddenly be undone on the basis of a theory. Thus there is no possible justification for allowing a minority that has deliberately singled out the holiday to spoil Christmas for everyone else.

12 December 2014


On their way out of controlling the US Senate, the Democrats appear to be possessed with a desire to break all the windows. It is as though they are never coming back, and if the mentality behind this scorched earth policy prevails, they may well not return any time soon. What is to be gained by releasing, on an entirely partisan basis, their CIA interrogation report five years after enhanced interrogations were banned and eleven years after the last terror suspect was water-boarded? Why do this now when in the past, secrets from World War II as well as the Kennedy administration were kept for many, many years? What can possibly justify spending $40 million on a process that didn’t even bother to interview principle program managers, and incomprehensibly, no CIA Directors? Apart from massaging liberal consciences there is no purpose to this. 

It provides rhetorical fuel to enemies of the United States, particularly those regularly abusing human rights, although it is hard to see how much waterboarding is going to motivate terrorists who are currently beheading people and already hate us. It is more troubling that, in attacking the intelligence services, and increasingly the military, which formerly had bi-partisan support, they have gone off the rails.  Even Barack Obama, the most liberal president ever elected, is now being attacked by the left.

John Kennedy would have a hard time fitting in to today’s Democratic party. Kennedy was a moderate who cut taxes and was strong on national security.  In the year he was elected Hubert Humphrey was the liberal candidate in the primaries, not JFK. (The myth that he was a progressive emerged later in the 60s when Bobby Kennedy became radicalized and moved the Kennedy family towards liberalism). It is toxic for a major party to be perceived as anti-national security given how little support that view has. To assuage their left the Democrats are alienating a majority of the population.

The issue here is not whether enhanced interrogation, which can still be distinguished from torture, is wrong or right. It is broadcasting what our intensions, strategy and position are, as if the the rest of the world was somehow composed of liberal humanitarians, rather than a large number of odious regimes and players. In reality we still face a serious terrorist threat. It is hard to find anything in these actions that is not detrimental to our security.

Liberals think it was “important” to issue this report at this time, not for any treasonous reasons, but rather due to righteous indignation and the warm and fuzzy feelings that comes with saying “we’re better than that.” By asserting “principle” over the lives of these people they play into the hands of those whose principles are far removed from their own, and put all of us in greater danger. But this vain exercise comes at great cost, as a result of throwing the people who risk their lives under the bus while they pontificate in safety and security. For in the real world, as George Orwell wrote, “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

26 November 2014


Most people have a set of values which inform the way they see the world, and which provide the foundation for their sense of right and wrong. This accounts for many of our political differences because the sense of what is good is not completely in synch. When that occurs we sometimes try to resolve things rationally by marshaling facts which we believe will support our position through an objective, impartial reading. But as Bertrand Russell pointed out: 

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. 

Thus it is not so much a matter of “having our own facts,” as Senator Moynihan once said, but rather the extent to which we are willing to admit them.

However when beliefs are dearly held they may be impervious to evidence. For example, those who believe the bible to be literally true and the word of God will not be moved by any conflicting information. For the true believer, even if something isn’t true it ought to be. But the true believer is not just the religious fundamentalist but anyone who sees the world primarily in political terms, because their “side” must be right. 

In the incident in Ferguson, Missouri some people reached conclusions based upon where their sympathies took them, either in favor of the police officer or the man who was shot. In doing this they treated it as an “issue” rather than as a particular situation in a particular place where only an impartial, disinterested party can get to the truth of the matter reliably. In this instance it was a Grand Jury, which reached a conclusion based upon evidence and eyewitness testimony. The negative reaction to this determination is based not on the actual truth, but on claims that were made previously, which was what what some people wanted to be true. Nothing can satisfy those committed to the notion that something must be true under any circumstances. 

The fallback position is that the process was flawed, and therefore cannot be given credence. The problem with this is that if the decision was in accordance with their beliefs they would not make this claim. The American legal system is by no means perfect, but it is certainly checked by disinterested, randomly selected citizens, whose judgement we ought to respect. All of us need to avoid prejudging incidents we do not have accurate information about, which leads us to succumb to our prejudices instead of accepting that we were wrong.

12 November 2014


Vladimir Putin is deliberately escalating tensions with the West by sending bombers not only to European borders, but to the western hemisphere where they are traveling from the Arctic to the Caribbean. While much of this is saber rattling, it is a dangerous game that could end in catastrophe. There have already been near misses with commercial aircraft, and this aggressive posturing heightens the risk of mistakes. The Chinese appear to be on board with this and both Russia and China perceive the US to be weak and the Europeans even weaker. China is in a dispute with Japan over some islands that are basically rocks in the ocean, and her again a wrong move could lead to war. In the absence of resolve and firm resistance, if they calculate they can get away with something they will. 

All of this indicates the extent to which we are dependent upon the sanity and judgement of political leaders for our own survival. International cooperation is dependent on good behavior on their part. The more tensions escalate the more we are exposed. A cascading series of mistakes led to the carnage of World War I, and the unexpected is always present. There is no reason why the US and Russia should be in conflict, but Putin is pushing the envelope in an attempt to regain territory once held by the Soviet Union, and his recklessness is a cause for concern. He presides over a country that is losing population and is dependent on natural resources, especially oil and gas, for revenue. Falling oil prices are bad news for his government as well as various scoundrels around the world. But this weakness also causes him to lash out with what assets he has, namely a large military. The problem is that this ups the odds for mistakes happening, or miscalculation in terms of response. 

He has also whipped up a virulent nationalism and has widespread support for his aggressive actions. But he is not going anywhere any time soon given his grip on power, meaning that the West will have to deal with him for the foreseeable future. There was some degree of legitimacy in his claim for Crimea, which was always Russian until 1954. Russians and Ukrainians have common origins, but that does not translate into a choice for political authority. The European Union, with no appetite or capability for military action stirred the pot by attempting to extend itself to Ukraine, thereby provoking the Russians, who also blame the US despite the lack of any evidence indicating our involvement. But while gratifying in the short term, these actions are not in the long-term interests of Russia, which can only have a future as part of the European world. 

Given the precarious nature of wide-ranging force deployments there is increased likelihood that powers are going to bump into each other whether intended or not. Furthermore the US has a network of alliances and obligations that could force us into war unless adversaries know for certain that we will go to war. Things are most dangerous when there is uncertainty, vacillation, and when weakness is perceived. At the very least there has to be a concerted effort to reduce flashpoints before they erupt and drag us all to somewhere we don’t want to be. 

30 October 2014


For ages human beings thought they lived at the center of the universe, until science proved this to be an illusion. We came to learn that our sun was an ordinary star in a remote part of the galaxy, which indicated there was nothing special about us. Life as intelligent, if not superior to us surely existed elsewhere in the galaxy. However, despite our best efforts, we have yet to encounter aliens of any kind, and the only alien life we are likely to encounter is microbial. There may be good reasons for this, according to two scientists at the Universities of Barcelona and Jerusalem. Some regions of the galaxy are more favorable for life than others. Our sun is situated at a sweet spot in the galaxy, further from the center, and thus less subject to gamma ray bursts from exploding stars that would otherwise obliterate all life. There is a lot more complexity to this theory, but the basic implication is that it is possible we may be the first intelligent life to evolve in our galaxy. Conditions on earth had to be just right to enable the evolution of life and the creation of our species. This could only happen by being far away enough to avoid threatening events. Any closer to the center of the galaxy and life is unlikely  due to greater proximity to supernovas.

In the far shorter length of historical time we also occupy a sweet spot. Throughout most of history life consisted largely of misery, suffering, and pain. It has only been in relatively recent times that these things have not been the norm. They still underly our experience, given that things can change in a moment due to a variety of lurking threats. Our ancestors were threatened with things like plague, that could wipe out up to half the population, as well as other diseases we now have cures for. They experienced war, mass starvation, and were powerless in the face of natural disasters. Thus, however much our discontents with the present, we are very lucky to be living in this time period. 

There is no guarantee that this will continue, for all things wax and wane and rise and fall over time. Nothing exists in a steady state. The Ebola outbreak we are dealing with currently shows that plagues are still possible, and one may arise that we cannot control. The electric grid we are now totally dependent upon is vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse from any enemy with a missile, as well as a solar storm that produces a large flare. If the electric grid were knocked out our civilization would collapse. (This could be preventable if steps were taken to harden our electric grid, but so far the government has not acted). Nevertheless, we still live in the most fortunate of times, in contrast to historical or cosmological time, across most of which conditions were not favorable for life. We have only to ponder the bigger picture to realize how minor many of our discontents really are. No one can know how long the fortunate era we live in will continue, but those of us who are alive today should pause and give thanks for living in it. 

29 August 2014


Even as the Islamic State continues to expand, threatening not only the region but the West, the President of the United States has said we don’t have a strategy yet for dealing with them. Meanwhile they leave a trail of carnage, murdering countless innocent people by the most brutal means. These people are possessed by a blood lust we have seldom seen before. When religion condones murder there is no limit to what men will do. In fact they will do it with enthusiasm, based on the delusion of serving a just cause and the will of God. They may be misinterpreting or even distorting Islam, but that is academic as the killing continues. 

We are tired of war and do not want to become embroiled in another Middle East conflict. However, ISIS is leaving us no choice as they state unequivocally their intention to destroy the US and its European allies. Thus, whether we like it or not we must have a strategy to deal with this threat. Towards that end we should consider the following options:

1. Build a coalition of the Islamic states to go after them. They are the ones most threatened by this movement. Until now they have shrewdly sat back and left us to take the heat. This must stop. This is their back yard, and in reality is their problem. We can never extricate ourselves from this region until this occurs.

2.  In addition to, or failing this, call for action by the United Nations. There is not a single country in the world supporting these terrorists, so where could opposition to such a mission possibly come from? In this instance unanimity ought to be possible. Instead we are going to the Security Council about the Russians invading Ukraine, which does not affect our vital interests, and at this point only divides major partners and potential allies. 

3. The first two options takes the world as it presently exists. However, to the extent that this spreads as an attack on the West, the West must respond forcefully. That means NATO, which should be engaged to crush this evil if we are to avoid major attacks on our homelands. They have stated clearly what they intend to do to us, so it is foolish to wait until something happens and then respond. We should have a strategy in place to annihilate ISIS now. 

This requires governments that believe in the West and its values, and sees them as a force for good as well as progress in the world. It means having an abiding faith in our principles, which is sorely lacking in this administration. Unmotivated by a belief in the justness of our cause means vacillation, indecision, short-term action devoid of long-term context, and worst of all informs our enemies of weakness that they need not fear. 

They do not fear us, they do not respect us, and are contemptuous of our leadership. We cannot approach this problem with half-measures and abide by rules that are totally ignored by the enemy. We must do nothing less than terrorize the terrorists. Instead of reacting to the carnage they will unleash we must act forcefully now. Western intelligence sources suspect an imminent attack. Must we wait until that happens before doing anything? The time to act is now and we should have a clear objective- eliminating ISIS from the face of the earth. 

18 August 2014


The extent of the evil perpetrated by the “Islamic State” in Iraq against religious minorities is mind-boggling. It is the sort of thing the world has not seen in many centuries. ISIS has buried Christian children alive, cut a child in two, and crucified others. They have beheaded innocent people and then displayed their heads on pikes. They have killed all the men who refused to convert to Islam and then raping the women before selling the girls into slavery. Others have been forced to convert to ISIS’ brand of Islam or to otherwise  leave their homes and all their possessions behind. Christians have been forced from territory they have occupied continuously for two thousand years. It is not just Christians receiving this treatment, but the ancient Yazidi sect that is being massacred along with all other religious minorities, as well as Muslims who refuse to follow ISIS. 

That such things are happening in the 21st century indicates how fragile the veneer of civilization is. For here we have an instance of pure evil, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Paradoxically, the area has been ruled for many centuries by Islamic regimes which tolerated the religious minorities within their realm. Christians and Jews have been persecuted before, but the cruelty of this genocide is something new. This, for the moment trumps the case I recently made for getting out of the line of fire. The U.S., Canada, U.K., France and Australia are providing some aid, but not enough to tip the balance. Blame certainly falls on the inept regime in Baghdad that is unable to control its territory, although that will hopefully now change as the government is reconstituted to become more representative. We certainly don’t want to get involved in another Middle East conflict, but we also cannot tolerate genocide. 

If ever there was a mission for the United Nations this is it, if the UN is to be at all relevant. There should not be great difficulty in reaching a consensus. No country supports these murderers so it is hard to see how there could be any opposition to action. ISIS must be completely annihilated, and anyone surviving must pay for their crimes. It is true that a UN force would largely be supported by the US, and although I don’t place a lot of faith in the UN, based on past actions, it would at least indicate complete international solidarity against this evil. In the absence of that we need another  “coalition of the willing,” although the UN would then be missing another opportunity to legitimize itself. 

Americans are tired of such conflicts, but the extraordinary cruelty of these maniacs cannot be ignored. We also have some responsibility for stirring the pot in the first place, but I’m not interested in blaming Bush for starting it, or Obama for precipitously pulling out. A tenuous argument for ignoring them could be made if they did not directly threaten us, but they have clearly stated they intend to attack us and the rest of the west. If they are allowed to gain ground unimpeded in pursuit of establishing their “caliphate” there is no telling how far they could go, and what they subsequently might do from conquered territory. This menace must be completely wiped out before it spreads any further if there is to be peace and security in the world. This should be followed by a strategy that will insure that such things do not happen again. 

31 July 2014


In Brooklyn’s Prospect Park there stands a monument to those who died in World War 1. The names of locals who perished are displayed on three great bronze tablets, one of which has fallen off, leaving that set of names to oblivion.  The edifice is generally in disrepair and no one seems to care. Very few people stop even for a moment  to look at it, and obviously no one is maintaining it. For no one remembers anyone on the list now, so there is a total absence of anyone feeling a direct connection and a need to keep up the monument. They might as well have died at the battle of Marathon as far as contemporaries are concerned, and so they are consigned to the distant past and barely a century later. There are probably similar examples in other places in the same condition as in Brooklyn where the demographics have changed so much that relatives and descendants have virtually disappeared. 

When this memorial was constructed the war monuments were largely local, commemorating the sacrifice of people from the area. Communities everywhere felt the loss at the time, for even though the USA did not enter the war until near the end, over 112,000 died in a few months, tipping the balance towards victory. That war changed everything. Without it people would not have suffered under the communism of the Soviet Union, there would have been no World War II in Europe, and the US would not have been entangled in subsequent wars in Korea and Viet Nam.  The map of Europe would be very different, and the existing regimes might have continued forward instead of collapsing. There would have been no Hitler and Stalin, and millions upon millions of lives might have been spared. 

The Great War is remembered more in Europe, especially in the U.K., where commemorations continue to this day, due to the magnitude of their losses. There were 16 million deaths and 20 million casualties in the war. The British Empire lost 908,371, France 1,357,800, Russia 1,700,000, Italy 650,000, Romania 335,706, as well as losses in several smaller countries, including Serbia, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, and Montenegro. On the other side Germany lost 1,773,700, Austria-Hungary 1,200,000, Turkey 325,000, and Bulgaria 87,500. 

Many if not most of these deaths resulted from commanders treating troops as cannon fodder by sending them into battle with the certain expectation of heavy losses in lines close to the enemy in a futile attempt to gain some ground. The hopeless slaughter of men dug in in trenches went on four years. Due to the horrendous waste of lives, no one today could send large masses of troops to knowingly be slaughtered. Today every death is felt, and commanders are more apt to avoid casualties to the extent possible, keeping losses low. 

The Great War originated what is now Veterans Day. An armistice commenced on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month ending the conflict.  As a result, a national holiday  called Armistice Day was declared, to be celebrated on November 11 of every year. However, since the “war to end all wars” failed and subsequent conflicts arose, it was changed to Veterans Day in 1954. 

There is no excuse for allowing such monuments to deteriorate, considering that others once put their lives, hearts, and souls into them. There is no excuse for being so oblivious to the past that much of the public is completely ignorant as to what happened during those years. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." For a country without a past does not have a future. A country which cannot honor its past does not deserve a future. Let not that be the case in America. 

29 July 2014


It seems increasingly apparent, even to the most sympathetic observers, that Barack Obama has lost interest in his presidency. He’d rather play golf and continue campaigning at fundraisers with celebrities than deal with several simmering issues, some of which are serious enough to threaten the integrity of the United States. This sort of post-presidential attitude while still an incumbent is unprecedented in the modern history of the office. Meanwhile so many scandals and crises are simmering, their number is numbing to the point where the seriousness with which each one ought to be considered is degraded. 

The president, at the very least, sets the tone, so we find subordinates as well in an obfuscatory haze, when they are not simply inept. In this atmosphere administration officials are not taken seriously, most disturbing when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world, particularly in the case of the pompous Secretary of State John Kerry.  The US has been so diminished that if someone deliberately set out to ruin the country they could not have done much worse. 

That anything is functioning is more a tribute to a semi-permanent bureaucracy composed of officials of former administrations. There is a limited pool of qualified people an administration can call upon, so swaths of this government are Clinton era retreads, just as Republican administrations have drawn upon personnel from earlier administrations. As a result some departments continue to function, notwithstanding the incompetence at the Veterans Administration, among others. 

However, the people in the White House, closest to the president, are more like Obama; inexperienced, committed to being “transitional” and true believers in his cause. But a community organizer who has never run anything, and who is a believer in Rules for Radicals, proves yet again that radicals are incapable of running a government. They can agitate, campaign and advocate causes, but they are totally inept in attempting to implement anything. Thus we have witnessed failure after failure across a staggering array of issues, including the health care rollout, the VA, the IRS, Benghazi, spying on reporters, the invasion of our borders by “children” from Central America, the dubious release of Guantanamo prisoners, the Russian “reset,” Iraq, Syria, and the rest of the Middle East, etc., etc. They have been amazingly consistent in being wrong about virtually everything. 

Then there are the might-have-beens. The economy continues to sputter along, in large measure due to the policies of this administration, where it could have been growing briskly at this point under a different regime. All the elements for an economic boom are in place except for the government. With a different set of policies America and the rest of the world could be experiencing rapid growth. The only upside to all of this is that hopefully more damage can be avoided, given how rudderless the government is currently. Not just the public, but the administration seems to have lost confidence in itself as well. The best we can hope for at this point is to get through the next two years without a truly major disaster, given the colossal ineptitude of this administration in managing just about everything. It simply proves once again that radicals cannot govern. 

18 June 2014


The USA has not been blessed with leaders with a clear-eyed, long-term geopolitical view of the interests of the country for decades, and that record, along with the consistent ineptitude of the present administration, makes inaction preferable to action on a number of fronts. Iraq is descending into a chaotic civil war, due to the precipitous disengagement of the Obama administration and a total lack of strategic vision. There is no question that the blunders of the Bush administration are responsible for instigating these problems, but in that case at least half the blame belongs to Saddam Hussein himself for so successfully faking WMD capabilities in order to be perceived as a more formidable force in the region. That posture backfired, as did his removal. Sadaam was an awful dictator, but he counterbalanced the equally odious Iranian regime, which became the principal beneficiary of his demise. Broader strategic thinking would have made that outcome obvious. 

More importantly, Sadaam was a secular leader who checked religious extremism as long as he was in power. The same dynamic is at work in Syria now, where the US currently has zero credibility or respect, having drawn a  “line in the sand,” which it then ignored.  A wiser, long-term geopolitical understanding would have informed us of the saliency of the religious extremism in the two branches of Islam, and guided our strategic thinking accordingly. This is a long term, historic conflict that could still last centuries. Do we want to be part of that? At this stage, given the bumbling proclivities of our leaders, I think the best course for the US is to use this as an opportunity to get out of the line of fire. By that I mean ceasing to be enemy number one to extremists on both sides of the Islamic rift.  We have managed to fumble our way into that position, and it is now time to extricate ourselves. 

There are many countries in the world with an “Islamic problem,” meaning either a restive minority population or conflict with an aggressive neighbor. The US is not one of them, and a cursory examination of global borders makes that obvious. There is no inherent reason for the US to be at odds with any of these players, but for inserting ourselves into their affairs. Contrary to the beliefs of some on the left, it’s not about oil. We are more self-sufficient in this hemisphere than most other countries, and would be even more so but for the anti-energy policies of this administration, which sooner or later will be undone. The people who depend on mideast oil are the Japanese, the Europeans, and increasingly, the Chinese. Consequently what happens in the area is of far more consequence for them than it is for us. 

As for cultural conflict, Europe has a large, unassimilated Muslim population. Russia, and even China have restive Muslim minorities. Thus, the problems are far more acute for them, so why should the US wind up being the Great Satan? Bin Laden (who primarily targeted the US for stationing forces in Saudi Arabia, which are now gone) is dead and most of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack are accounted for. The Muslims are not our problem, and the more we disengage from conflict with them the less we would be targeted. Their main goal is obtaining power within the Islamic world. They are basically a headache for the existing regimes, who until now have managed to deflect such hostility onto the west. We are not sufficiently ruthless for this kind of conflict.

This does not mean cutting and running, but making a realistic policy that in essence says you don’t bother us and we won’t bother you, for if you do you will be annihilated with overwhelming force.  We would basically make an offer they couldn’t refuse. Let the CIA do its job for a change and come up with accurate information on these movements. Given the nature of the present administration I do not see a better path. 

We have paid dearly for all of this, not just in lives and treasure, but in terms of our own liberties. We now have a massive security state that is adept primarily at inconveniencing us at airports. Yet the end result is a situation no better than it was before, and given the instability in the area, arguably worse. We need to focus on rebuilding strength at home, where our way of life has deteriorated significantly. I am not suggesting isolationism here, but realism, as per Theodore Roosevelt’s axiom, speak softly but carry a big stick. 

15 June 2014


I’ve been down with Lyme disease for the past several days and haven’t been up for much of anything as a result. This is the second time I’ve had it, and the seventh year in a row that I’ve been bitten by the ticks that cause it. This is due in large measure to the pathway that tick-bearing deer have made for themselves across my property. They start out at a preserve east of here, cross the beach, and then somehow manage to scale a two hundred foot sandy cliff from the shore in front of my house.  From there they linger in a patches of brush and copse, while helping themselves to plants in the garden. Then they continue on, past a dune to the west and probably somehow make it to the next woodland preserve. The nuisance is still superseded by the wonder of it, and in any case other creatures, like raccoons can also carry the ticks,  which are thus hard to eliminate.

If recognized soon enough antibiotics will get rid of the disease, but this is the sort of malady with which you don’t feel up to doing much of anything, at least until drugs  kick in. It isn’t so serious as long as it’s being treated, but a kind of ennui sets in and things you usually spend time become onerous, such as being constantly online, so I’ve been unplugged over this period, not just from computers, but most television as well. It is amazing how much time you suddenly have to do things you thought you’d never find time for, even while not being well. Other things that previously seemed urgent are less compelling. You become much more attuned to the ebb and flow of life around you, and the most important thing you want to find out is the weather report.

The biggest deterrent to tuning out is that you might miss something. But with sufficient detachment you realize that in the larger scheme of things, life goes on without you, as it did before, and as it surely will when you are gone. You see that your time is truly limited, and really think about what you are spending it on. You can get a slight sense of this when traveling, but everywhere you go the world is wired, and as long as you remain connected you are never completely detached. You don’t get a true sense of life apart from electronics, or of life that is not  socially networked to everyone all of the time. 

Yet no one will go to their grave wishing they had spent more time on the Internet. I am in no way suggesting that everyone should drop out, but rather consider how much time you are spending with electronic media, especially while other things remain unattended, and try to place some limits on it accordingly. I try to limit social media to fifteen minutes a day now, because otherwise you can get drawn in for hours, and miss the larger truth that life is what is happening while you’re on the Internet. 

02 May 2014


I’ve just returned from spending some time in Nashville, and I liked it a lot. The city is pristine and pleasant, and as I often say, returning to New York City is an embarrassment in these categories. What is perhaps most striking about Nashville is how new so many things are, the way Long Island or California was in the 1950s and 1960s.

The the downtown area on Broadway was really jumping with live entertainment and mostly young people jamming the bars and restaurants. That may be why we had a curious experience at the upscale “upstairs” of one of them, when a waiter asked us for identification. I haven’t been asked for proof since I was a teenager and the drinking age was still 18 in New York, but anyway we incredulously handed it over. He studied it with more scrutiny than a TSA agent, and when I asked what that was about he explained that  they’ve been getting harassed or busted for underage customers so they decided to ask everyone without exception for I.D. That was pretty lame and makes about as much sense as everyone having to take off their shoes when boarding a flight, and the food wasn’t that good either. 

We went to the Grand Ole Opry twice; once at the old Ryman auditorium and again at the “new” Opry (which is forty years old) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Contemporary country singers tend to all sound the same to me so I was pleased to hear some older stuff as well as bluegrass and cowboy singers. However, if you lack  much meat on your behind, as I do, you will find sitting in the Ryman auditorium sheer torture, since the seating consists of extended hard wooden pews. At the new Opry at least the seats are padded. The excellent, varied, and relatively inexpensive  programs make up for any inconvenience. 

For a change of pace we also went to a concert by the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn concert hall, which is a very impressive facility with fine acoustics. It is reminiscent of the kind of design you see in concert halls across Europe, but with more modern details. The Mozart program they played sounded as good as anything I’ve ever heard in New York. The downtown contains some architecturally interesting skyscrapers that don’t have the cookie cutter steel and glass look of so many other cities. The reproduction of the Athens Parthenon in centennial park is very impressive, and if you haven’t been there since the statue of Athena was added, filling the space from floor to ceiling, it will blow you away. There are also many interesting places in the vicinity of the city, such as plantations, gardens, the Hermitage, etc. that are well-preserved reminders of the past. 

This is a place with a vibrant pulse and the “music city” name is very appropriate, although there is a lot more to it than that. The musical base is very broad. If you doubt that just watch an episode of the television show Nashville just for the music. It seems to be a very livable city. This is the kind of place that, along with vast sections of the country, people on the coasts are just oblivious to, or view with  a misplaced contempt. That is essentially a kind of reverse-prejudice against  a largely Anglo-American culture that is far more pronounced than anything emanating back. As much as I like the “diversity” (to use a purloined phrase) back home in New York, I also appreciate places where things are just basically American. It is well worth a trip for the entertainment venues alone and I look forward to returning on business as well. 

16 March 2014


There are those who are criticizing President Obama for not doing more about Russia and the Ukraine. I would argue that he and Kerry ought to be doing less because what they are doing is so inept it is almost comical. We have a weak leader (as perceived by a majority of Americans) playing a weak hand. Given that, less is better than more, lest the US be perceived as even weaker. Red lines that are indefensible and threats of “consequences” that impress no one are pointless. Given the nature of this administration, the less action there is the less embarrassment there will be.

Putin sees a power vacuum, with weak, irresolute western leaders that he has only contempt for, and he is acting on it. The main basis for the “illegality” of Russian actions is an agreement made in the 1990s to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine as it gave up its nuclear weapons. Among the signatories to this were Russia and the US. So Russia has reneged on another agreement. Who is surprised by this? For it is not only international agreements that they have discarded but also contracts with gullible western corporations dumb enough to do business there under current conditions. 

The notion of the “west” and Russia as the “east” is a false dichotomy. The Russians inherited the same Greek foundation as the west via Greek monks who created their alphabet and converted them to Christianity a thousand years ago. It is ironic that after more than seven decades of communism Russia today is far more Christian than the west. It is through this prism that Putin views western countries as degenerate and weak. But Russia also feels threatened by NATO expansion to its borders, which is one of the main reasons that Putin wants the former Soviet republics to get in line with Russia. 

The real barrier to better relations and integration with the western world is the lack of rule of law in Russia, which involves more than just arbitrary government. Normal business cannot be conducted with parties who renege on contract agreements. This will continue as long as there is not a a truly independent judiciary. Constitutional government requires more than the formal edifice of institutions with separate powers. Putin’s government is not so much in opposition to this as several steps removed. His model now is essentially that of the state as protector of traditional values, defender of the faith, etc.  with himself at the apex of the state. Nevertheless his government still has support with the majority of the population.

This is not to suggest that Russian aggrandizement should not be opposed, but realistically just what assets do we have available for this? This administration does not have the standing in the world to support its posturing. We need to take a longer term view to a post-Obama (and Putin) world. If Russia annexes Crimea based upon a popular vote it will backfire on them badly. For if Crimea can have self-determination then logically the restive regions in the Caucasus could do the same. Thus Chechnya and Dagestan could use the same pretext to break away from Russia. What the US and other western countries need to do is focus on rebuilding the economy, institutions, and strength at home before we can be taken seriously abroad. 

15 March 2014


If someone set out to deliberately undermine the United States he could not do worse than this President. Now he has decided to give control of the Internet to the “world.” This has to do with domain assignments, etc. which are working fine in their present, American, incarnation. There may be some foreign resentment of the fact that the US controls key aspects of the Internet, never mind that they originated and evolved in America and have been working fine. Nevertheless no on can say that the US has in an real way disadvantaged others with this. What’s next? The dollar?
One could argue that the Internet has long since become an international phenomenon and it therefore ought to be under the purview of an international body. However, there are many other instances of global standards being maintained by a particular country. For example Britain and Greenwich Mean Time, as well as other standards and measure. It is thus, not unprecedented for standards that originated in a particular country to be maintained by that country. Only a basic hostility to the US can account for a wish to change this. 
Furthermore the record of international bodies is less than impressive. There are many countries clamoring for various forms of censorship, and this is the surest path to that end. It will also provide the pretext for exclusion, i.e. of Israel, as has happened in other international bodies. How about Islamic, or any other restrictive standards? How about erasing something because some regime somewhere finds it offensive? This is effectively taking the part of repressive regimes rather than the people on the street. The possibilities for mischief are endless, but what is certain is that it will be the end of the wide open Internet. Some governments may   oppose the US hold on the Internet, but the people don’t because they trust it to be free and open. That will end the minute the US gives up control. For an American President to take such a step is just disgraceful. The only way to stop this now is through congress and by making our voices heard. 

06 March 2014


Russian actions in Ukraine continue to dominate the headlines, and there is no common western policy beyond expressions of disapproval. The question now is what should be done about Putin’s actions? The short answer is, not much. First, because not much can realistically be done by outsiders, and second, given the extent to which the Obama administration has abandoned leadership in the world, things like this are bound to happen in that power vacuum. With the “reset” in relations with Russia in shambles who can have confidence in the ability of this administration to handle this appropriately?

There has been some tough talk from Hillary Clinton, which makes some sense on the surface. She compares the Ukrainian situation to that of Nazi Germany, which grabbed the Czech sudetanland followed other territories on the pretext of protecting Germans in those areas. When there was no effective response Hitler’s appetite increased until the invasion of Poland finally brought on World War II.  However, Putin is not Hitler, and the global context is quite different. Britain and France were committed to alliances with Poland. No one apart from Russia is allied with the territories of the former Soviet Union, which we can assume Putin dreams of recreating. But what can he realistically do in that regard?

If Russia were to regain all those territories the Russians themselves would become a minority in the federation. They would have a substantial, growing and increasingly restive population on their hands. They have yet been unable to completely subdue the existing Muslim population in Chechnya and other Russian territories in the Caucasus. The Russian population is roughly 142 million and declining, with a non-Russian minority at nearly 20% and growing. Russia cannot possibly maintain a stable society with more ethnic minorities in its fold. Putin is no fool and he must know this. But he also knows that he can annex some territories with little to lose. 

Crimea, which is now basically occupied, has a Russian majority and the regional government is seeking a referendum on joining Russia. That should be amended to say rejoining Russia, insofar as Crimea was in fact Russian territory until Kruschev ceded it to the then Ukrainian SSR, in what was basically an internal shuffle, never imagining an independent Ukraine. From the Russian point of view they are simply reoccupying historically Russian territory. Given the history and the demographics there is not much of a case for a strong response to this by anyone. Putin took advantage of the political turmoil in Ukraine. A similar case could be made for Russian majority areas in eastern Ukraine. As long as there are substantial majority-minority population differences there is certain to be instability, and a degree of sorting out would mitigate that and eliminate any pretext for further aggrandizement. A more Ukrainian Ukraine could then pursue its goal of joining the west via the European Union. 

What disturbs much of the world is the use of force in this situation, and for that there should be consequences. The problem is that there is really no one in a position to do much of anything. The next step would be to give a strong message along the lines of “this far but no further.” The problem is that the US administration has drawn red lines before that fell away without consequences, and has no credibility left. The outrage of some hawks on the right is misplaced. This is not the Soviet Union. Russia is not an enemy and there is nothing to be gained by treating it like one. The notion of the west versus Russia is a false dichotomy. . Russia has been a part of the “west” in some sense, at least since Peter the Great. The real barrier to better relations and integration with the western world is the lack of rule of law in Russia. To be continued. 

26 February 2014


Ukraine and Venezuela are exploding with popular uprisings against oppressive regimes. In Ukraine the people have triumphed as the government has been driven from power. In Venezuela the struggle continues, but freedom cannot indefinitely be suppressed. In both cases the US has zero influence due to the deliberate weakening of American power by the current administration, which is further seeking to reduce the Army to below-WWII levels. The US is no longer respected in much of the world, and it will take considerable effort to recover from this disastrous decline. But you would not know much of this from the coverage in American media.

This is not to suggest that there ought to be military intervention, or the threat of it, particularly in Ukraine, where the situation is decidedly complex. The Russians are mobilizing forces on the border of Ukraine, but there is little we can do about it. The problem in Ukraine is the western half is mostly Ukrainian and oriented toward Europe. In the eastern half there is a large, and in some areas dominant Russian population. Although this may have come about from Soviet efforts to export Russians to the region. at this point it is an unchangeable reality. The complexity of the situation arises from the fact that they share a common history flowing from the city of Norse-controlled Kiev over a thousand years ago, after obtaining their alphabet and Christian religion from the Byzantine Greeks. Thus, although it is in present day Ukraine, Kiev is also the spiritual home of the Russians. 

But after Mongol invaders destroyed much of what was in their path there was some divergence. Western Ukraine was occupied by Poland  in 1349 and then Lithuania for centuries until the eastern portion reverted to Russia in 1654. It was subsequently divided between Russia in the east and the Austro-Hungarian empire in the west, and after World War I was incorporated as a republic within the USSR. In 1954 Russia ceded Crimea to Ukraine, clearly as part of the Russian dominated union never anticipating it would not be under their control. Modern independence only came after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Thus, not surprisingly the Russians consider the status of Ukraine to be in their vital interests, and realistically an independent Ukraine can only exist as long as Russia tolerates it. The European Union is favored by western Ukrainians, but the military power of the EU is nonexistent, and integration with Ukraine may only be possible  if Russia itself becomes an EU member. While we may sympathize with the democratic will of the people, given its leadership vacuum there is not much the west can or should do. Warnings from John Kerry are laughable, and at this point, for better or worse, Vladimir Putin is going to determine the outcome. 

Venezuela is a different story. The repressive socialist regime there is a posturing enemy of the US and a troublemaker in the region. It has gone so far as to align itself with Iran. The standard of living has declined as one would expect it to in a country with all out socialism as its goal and the people appear to have finally had enough. Here we should intervene, not militarily, but by providing full support to the opposition, especially since the regime will accuse us of doing that anyway. For Venezuela is located in what we used to consider our own back yard. Deposing the Chavista regime is in our national interests and would be a severe blow to the evil satellite regimes that have sprung up with their aid. But given the sympathies of the current administration it would be a pleasant surprise if they actually did anything. 

23 February 2014


The Beatles arrived in the US fifty years ago, as hard as that is to believe for those who were around at the time. The years seem to have flashed by progressively faster, as they inevitably do as we age. Somehow what seems like a long period of time just doesn’t feel like it. Curiously this is not because things have changed so much, but rather because they have changed so little. There is a surprising degree of continuity between now and then. For example, people still listen to the music of the Beatles, whereas in 1964 few people were still listening to the popular music of 1914. Where there is a virtually seamless connection between today and 1964 for most people in the West, the fifty years prior to that time are like a huge chasm of discontinuity. 

Consider the year 1914. Then, for the broad public everything was new, from electricity to movies, automobiles, airplanes, appliances, telephones, recordings, etc. Although most of these things originated in the late 19th century, they did not reach most people until costs tumbled due to mass production early in the 20th century. In contrast, apart from the Internet, medical devices, and electronics generally, there is not much in the way of things with comparable fundamental impact on daily life over the past fifty years. Thus, a person from 1964 could fit in comfortably in 2014  (apart from wondering where all the space travel and robots are), whereas a person from 1914 encountering the world of 1964 would be flabbergasted.  
In geopolitical terms 1914 was the apex of the civilization of the19th century and the old order of Europe, which disastrously exploded into war in August of that year. Thus began, one hundred years ago, the biggest disaster in modern western history, subsequently referred to as “the Great War,” or World War I as we now call it today. There was worse to come, but most of what followed was a consequence of that war. Had it not happened the map of the world would be very different today, and more dynamic powers would still exist in Europe. Today it is hard to imagine countries sending off millions of their young men to war, largely as cannon fodder, ultimately all for nothing. It is equally hard to imagine European countries gripped by patriotic fervor and clamoring for war as some did at the time. The United States only entered the war three years after it began, so military deaths of 116,516 were far less than the 416,800 in World War II. But for European countries in the west the losses were almost incomprehensible. Thus the Great War still resonates in Britain, which lost 908,371 versus 303,800 in World War II or France, which lost 1,357,800 soldiers in WWI versus 200,000 in World War II. On the other side Germany lost 1,773,700, Austria-Hungary 1,200,00 and all of these are only battlefield death. Total casualties were several times more. In the east Russia lost 1,700,000 before leaving the war after the 1917 revolution.
The German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empire, (which controlled much of the middle east at the time), all collapsed as a result of the war, followed by years of turmoil that led directly to WWII and the further consequences of that war. An imperial civilization vanished, and in some ways Europe has yet to fully recover from what began in August 1914.
Clearly most of the seminal events occurred in the first half of the 20th century. The years between 1914 and 1964 constituted a period of great discontinuity, in contrast to the curious continuity between 1964 and 2014. Although we have been led to believe that we live in a time of rapid change, the truth is things haven’t changed all that much, and that is why the years seem, even more so, to have gone by in a flash. As the saying goes, “the more things change the more they stay the same.”

07 February 2014


There was a considerable amount of feedback on a piece I wrote previously about gifted students in city schools. One in particular alerted me to the fact that there is a kind of mirror opposite happening in some of the suburbs, but curiously producing the same kind of leveling results. In this case the number gifted, accelerated, honors, etc. classes are increasing, not being phased out. This might lead some to conclude that the kids have somehow gotten a lot brighter, but in reality it is more a matter of parents demanding their kids be placed in the accelerated classes, thereby diminishing their effectiveness, and thus diluted they in effect become the new “ordinary” class. As one teacher wrote me: 

Years ago, the accelerated classes were reserved for the upper 5% (give or take) of students who earned grades from 95%-100% during seventh grade in their Math and Science courses. In addition to their classroom grades, students were required to earn high marks on a placement tests to discover the truly gifted from those who were simply good students. In other words, if a student had a 95% average and scored high on the placement tests, they'd skip the general science and math courses and they'd start taking High School Regents classes ahead of time in the Middle School.  Today, since the placement tests are considered "biased", parents can just call and ask to have their kids placed in accelerated classes. As a result, instead of one or two sections of accelerated courses in eighth grade, we now have four in Science and three in Math. This makes good publicity for the School Board, but with so many kids in accelerated classes (that don't belong), the teachers are no longer challenging the highest 5%. Instead they're spending most of their time trying to get kids to pass a Regents course, where their previous caseload was smart enough to pass the Regents from day one. In prior years it was assumed that the kids would inevitably pass the Regents, so more time was devoted to truly advanced lab and activities that would challenge the genuinely gifted. 
A a result, since all of the "good" students are now in accelerated courses, those who remain in the General Science classes tend to be our lower functioning kids who are now paired with Special Education students who have to take class in a general education setting as opposed to the old self-contained settings.

So here again the gifted students do not get the kind of education they should, being combined with what are essentially ordinary students, who have not suddenly become equally bright. While this gives bragging rights about all their “honor” students to parents and school officials, as the teacher further states, “Accelerated classes in 2014 are more like the "typical" classes of 15 or 20 years ago. The "typical" classes of 2014 would have been a Special Ed class in 1985.” Thus this kind of system also results in the general dumbing down  of the curriculum as in the city schools, only here the pretense is that most of the students are exceptionally bright, at least statistically, which is all that seems to matter these days. But in truth the end result is that there is essentially nothing for the truly gifted, with all the negative consequences  described previously. 

It is also unfair to the teachers to the extent that those with the “ordinary” students are evaluated the same way as those with the “bright” students, even though they cannot possibly get comparable results. Teachers have to do a lot more than produce statistics and it should definitely not be the only way to determine their effectiveness. To the extent this arises from federal mandates they are simply making things worse. I learned from another, unrelated context, that when you have to produce numbers you wind up not doing what you really were supposed to be doing substantively in the first place. There may be a “statistical” success, but little true progress. 

06 February 2014


Much has been written about how our schools are failing “poor and minority” students, as the cliche goes, but far less has been said about shortchanging gifted or exceptionally bright students of whatever background. The latter is increasingly happening, and if the left has its way, it will accelerate, based upon convoluted, loony theories and radical political ideology. 

A public school in Brooklyn recently began to scrap its program for gifted students, essentially because the gifted were not sufficiently “diverse,” so as to proportionately reflect the student population. As a result the smart kids will now be educated and treated the same as ordinary students, so that everything is nice and equal. This means that they will be held back by the rest, and have little opportunity to develop the full potential they have because of an ideology that puts equality above all else. If some kids are too smart they have to be constrained by others less able so that the outcomes are equally bad. It is more than leveling the playing field, for it is detrimental to the development of these kids, who are likely to become bored, disinterested, and even troublesome to the extent they are held back. In an ordinary class social pressure will further inhibit them from being “too smart” in the classroom. It also reduces their prospects vis a vis gifted kids in other places in the world who are not so limited when they go on to further education.

Leaving aside the kind of damage it does, you can argue they still have an even chance, the same as everyone else, but equal mediocrity is not a recipe for a dynamic society. Whether we like it or not, talents are not equally distributed and equal results cannot be programmed. If those who excel at something are discouraged from reaching their full potential, it is a loss for everyone. The only way we can have, i.e. the best scientists, is by encouraging the best minds to flourish. To the extent that they do, we have more discovery, innovation, new processes, ideas, technologies, etc. These are the things that improve life for everyone. It is a relatively small handful of people who bring about breakthroughs and significant change. In historical time we are dependent on a few bright people, no matter how inconvenient this is for the ideologically obsessed. 

We are simply not equally endowed. We have equal rights before the law, but we do not have equal abilities. To pretend that we do, or to suppose that we can change this simply limits our future prospects. Certainly everyone should get a good education, but it is in fact the bright students that will most influence our future and the quality of life we have. 

Good teachers also need good students who actually want to learn. If this kind of leveling spreads into the public school system, more and more parents will be driven to place their children in private schools. There are rumblings now of also leveling down the elite high schools, which have competitive admissions, based upon the same misguided ideology. If these trends continue we will be much poorer as a society in every way.