19 December 2011

Busy week

Apparently Hitchens' death was just the appetizer for a grisly weekend of world famous people dying. Personally, of the trio I know of so far, Vaclev Havel is by far the favorite. Hitchens certainly had a knack for pointing out the foibles and follies of many other revered people at the time of their deaths (Mother Teresa and Jerry Falwell most famously, among many others), and I appreciated his brutal rudeness for things that concerned others (interrupting the "Darwin inspired Hitler!" trope that keeps popping up is a good sign, as is responding to police with indifferent rudeness rather than polite deference), but on a key point in assessing his standing; whether he supported and/or attempted to suppress and impose extreme suffering on other human beings, he's in the wrong camp here (with Kim Jung Il). Havel isn't. Supporting, and indeed insistently supporting even after the mistakes were obvious and the propaganda false or unnecessary, the Iraq War made no sense to me. Certainly there's a strain of "I hate religions, including Islam" involved, and a strain of "I hate tyrants". But "I hate tyrants" is not a sufficient justification for a) demanding action deposing them with maximum force (to be undertaken by others), b) supporting other forms of tyranny and oppression. Gleefully at that. No person that we undertake to build monuments to, even if the statues are in our minds and hearts rather than in marble, is ever devoid of vices and contradictions that confound our ability to fully celebrate their achievements and virtues. Jefferson is a prominent example. As is Lee or Washington or Lincoln or King. And it is pretty easy to find people who have a passionate disdain for Andrew Jackson (me), Woodrow Wilson (me), and FDR (modern conservatives). So I am not saying that we cannot ever recognize some element, some filament of greatness in achievement and accomplishment in a person. But we should never blind ourselves in our haste to do this that we forget the person behind such brilliance was ultimately a person and not a monument or a symbol.

As far as the death of Kim Jung Il, a recently active tyrant rather than an active critic or former leader and revolutionary, I would say whatever opportunities are claimed there are small and that we are best suited to play a waiting game and see what leverage and compromise we can reach with the Chinese (not the North Koreans) surrounding regional security and stability. Assessments that this represents a possible uprising for freedom are as absurd as assessments that it now endangers the Republic of Korea to the south. A power struggle over the reigns left behind will happen and will be ugly, but I don't see how it results in a war, without Chinese support which won't happen, or a modestly less tyrannical state in the near term. Since I haven't written about it, the series of diplomatic arrangements in the Pacific Rim were impressive. I'm not sure that basing troops in more countries (Australia) really serves a core national interest, but combined with the rest, it doesn't look half bad at constraining China's ability to play as a more global-regional hegemon with a modest set of alliances and new friendships in the region.

Anyway. In better news. Rick Perry has managed to embroil himself in further controversy by double dipping in the state pension funds while on salary, so good riddance (even though that is perfectly legal under Texas' laws, it is absurd and likely infuriating to some conservative types). And Newt Gingrich has dropped like a rock in the polls over the last week thanks to some aggressive campaigning by his opponents (Paul's ads have been devastating and Michelle Bachmann of all people has made some rather lethal jabs at his insider-y history) and a refusal of the majority of the Republican establishment to accept him as a legitimate candidate, much less as someone they would support if he were the nominee, again, thanks for playing. I still haven't gotten a good response as to why he jumped up and became popular to begin with, but that we're back on track to have a campaign that largely ignores Ron Paul and some other yahoo wins the primary that isn't widely perceived to be crazy (ie, not Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann or Cain, but that other guy they've all been associated with as the "anti-" vote, Romney). Maybe there will be a Huntsman bounce now, but I doubt it.
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