Sunday, November 23, 2008

Everything I need to know, I learned from Peachy Carnahan

We've got to brass it out, Danny, brass it out!

So THAT'S how it happens

So the baby starts crying at 0-dark-thirty, and you wake up and get her a bottle, and can't go back to sleep. And then you find yourself drinking Jim Beam (at 0-dark-thirty!) and reading Girls With Slingshots.

This is NOT how my life usually goes.

My my, where DID the time go?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Everything I need to know, I learned from Basil Plumley

Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: I think you oughta get yourself an M-16.
Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: Sir, if the time comes I need one, there'll be plenty lying on the ground.

The Leonard Cohen of the spy genre

There is not much at which I trust the New York Times. I find their---using the editorial they---politics to be not much to my liking, far too redolent of trust in government, of the big idea, of the technocrat, far too dismissive of the little platoons of society in which, to various degrees, I place my trust. And yet, and yet . . .

There are things at which the Times does excel.

One of these things is the review of the novels of Alan Furst.

I began reading Furst's novels while I was still in the Suck, still wearing the pickle suit, when the Soviet Union was still, to some degree, The Menace To Be Feared. (The fears of childhood frequently linger into adulthood, and I was, and remain, an American child of the Cold War.) I believe that the first of his novels that I read was Dark Star, although quite possibly it was Night Soldiers. Whichever of the two it was, it---or they?---was/were a grand read, and I have continued to return to them over the years, for repeated readings and great enjoyment.

I am not quite sure by what accident of fate or chance I came upon Mr. Furst's books, umm, "first." I tend to haunt used book shops more than the NYT's book review pages, and yet, somehow, I came across them.

From the first read, I knew I was sunk. I have, since that time, consumed each new Furst novel as I came across it. No artist is entirely consistent, and this is true, of course, of Mr. Furst. His novels have included high and . . . not so high . . . points, although each of them has been a pleasure, and an intrigue.

The title for this post, and the New York Times reference, comes in a review of Mr. Furst's Blood of Victory by Janet Maslin, from this paragaraph in her review:

Mr. Furst, the author of last year's "Kingdom of Shadows" and a string of alluring earlier espionage novels in a similar vein, seems to arrive effortlessly at such assurance. He glides gracefully into an urbane pre-World War II Europe and describes that milieu with superb precision. The wry, sexy melancholy of his observations would be seductive enough in its own right — he is the Leonard Cohen of the spy genre — even without the sharp political acuity that accompanies it. Of tensions between Stalin and Hitler, Mr. Furst's latest protagonist resignedly observes, "Two gangsters, one neighborhood, they fight."

Two gangsters, one neighborhood, they fight.

A frequently quoted observation is that reading Furst's Night Soldiers series is like watching Casablanca for the first time. I quite like Casablanca, for all its flaws. I cannot argue with the frequently quoted observation.

I don't know what Mr. Furst would make of me. Perhaps an elegantly drawn, throwaway minor character? At best.

But you will not go far wrong, if you venture into Mr. Furst's novels. On this, I trust the New York Times, and that's saying something.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

75 years ago on this date, the Century of Progress

75 years ago, on 20 November 1933, the Century of Progress balloon ascended to a height of 61,000 feet.



Returned safely to earth, too!

That "clank clank" sound could have been made by two big brass balls clank-clanking against each other.

61,000 feet!

At the helm? Jean Piccard. Not Jean-Luc Picard, mind you, but Jean Piccard, a Swiss-born American. Later, he ascended to a similarly impressive height with his wife and c0-researcher, Jeannette.

I cannot in good conscience call this achievement stellar, but I can call it stratospheric.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It Couldn't Happen Here? It DID Happen Here

Justin Raimondo on the strange return of socialism.

After 9/11, LeMonde (I think) had a headline saying "We are all Americans now."

After the South Ossetian War of 2008, John McCain said "We are all Georgians now."


Well . . .


I'd make a joke about drinking the Kool-Aid, but that, too, seems somehow inapropos.

Didja hear about Obama's Polish connection?

Didja hear that Barack Obama might have a Polish connection?

Rumor has it that his grandfather ate a Polish missionary.

Hey, ordinarily I wouldn't go there, that's not the kind of joke I find funny. The Polish Foreign Minister, however, apparently has differing tastes in humor. (That's cool, I mean, humor is a very individual thing.) And besides, he wasn't telling a racist joke, he was just retelling a racist joke, as an example of the racist jokes that some racist jokers tell.

I wonder if his wife will discuss it in the Washington Post?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Yes, but do you want to end up like George W. Bush?

With Russian tanks only 50km from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia's Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned. "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. "Hang him?" he asked.

Mr Putin replied: "Why not? The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein."

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: "Yes, but do you want to end up like (US President George W.) Bush?"

Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: "Ah - you have scored a point there."

Because NO ONE wants to end up like Bush!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Elton John talks sense-smack on gay marriage

I've always had a weakness for some of Elton John's songs. "Sad Songs (They Say So Much)" and "Rocket Man," for instance. I never really cared for "Candle in the Wind," since I've been a Christopher Hitchens-level atheist in the Cult of Diana, but there you go.

And it's never been a really big secret that Elton John is gay.

I try and search my heart for hatred or bigotry, and (unsurprisingly, perhaps) seldom do I find it. I'm opposed to gay marriage, but am a wishy-washy supporter of civil unions, or civil partnerships. Mostly, this comes down to a mixture of the sacred and the profane, for me. The sacred is the church, and the profane is the state.

I like to use that phrase, "mixture of the sacred and the profane," about a LOT of things, from blues music to sex, but that's really a sidebar, and only tangentially relevant to Elton John and gay marriage.

I don't mind if gay people enter into committed relationships with each other; rather, I think that's a good thing. Caring and loving? Stable relationships? In my mind, that gets chalked up in the "win" column.

But it doesn't quite seem like marriage to me. Maybe that's my heart's inner hatred and bigotry, although I don't think so, but I could be wrong.

Amid all the hubbub about gay marriage, especially in light of California's Proposition 8, along comes Elton John and talks some sense-smack about "gay marriage." In, of all places, USA Today!

The article, by Donna Freydkin, quotes Sir John:

In December 2005, John and Furnish tied the knot in a civil partnership ceremony in Windsor, England. But, clarified the singer, "We're not married. Let's get that right. We have a civil partnership. What is wrong with Proposition 8 is that they went for marriage. Marriage is going to put a lot of people off, the word marriage."


"I don't want to be married. I'm very happy with a civil partnership. If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership," John says. "The word 'marriage,' I think, puts a lot of people off.

"You get the same equal rights that we do when we have a civil partnership. Heterosexual people get married. We can have civil partnerships."

As I have said before, I am a cautious progressive. I am reluctant to throw over several thousand years of history and tradition based on popular fads. Once overthrown, I find that history and tradition have a hard time coming back, if we turn out to have made an error in judgment.

Maybe I am a bigot and a hater---I don't think so.

And I have never held more respect for Elton John than I do right now.

Note: Edited on 22 November 2008 to add a "close parens" after "sad songs (they say so much". My bust, my bad, my edit. Hey, I'm not going to redact this to cover up embarrassing boo-boos!

Monday, November 10, 2008


Happy birthday, Devils.

"We're surrounded. That simplifies the problem." Chesty Puller

"Come on, you sons of bitches. Do you want to live forever?" Dan Daly

"War is a racket." Smedley Butler

"I have only two men out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and a constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold." Clifton Cates

"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet." James Mattis

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers." William Shakespeare

No better friend, no worse enemy. Teufulhunden, the hounds of hell. Devil dogs. Woof woof.

Happy birthday, Devils.

The man in the mirror

So, word on the street is, even IF Georgia started the whole dustup that became the South Ossetian War of 2008, Russia is to blame for massively overreacting. (And lots of street people seem to think that the "IF" is a mighty big one.)


Man in the mirror time?

There's no real, tangible correlation between Iraq and 9/11, although there was a time when word on the street had it so. (C'mon, you know it's true, you lived through it just like I did. Atta, Prague? C'mon. Short term memory loss isn't that bad.) If we pretend there is, there's still the question of just how many Iraqis we've killed (liberated from life) since Operation Iraqi Liberation . . . oh wait, the acronym for that one didn't work out, whatever, started.

And Afghanistan? (More on point.) How many Afghans have we lit up? How long have we been there? How long do we plan on being there?

Contra SOW-2008! The Georgians went into the autonomos zone, killed Russian peacekeepers, and played games with artillery and Grad rockets. (Grad, or Град, is Russian for "hail." Not as in hail and well met, but as in small hard things falling from the sky.) What did the Russians do?

Only my take, of course, but it's mine.

The Russians responded with a short, sharp, shock of overwhelming force. They tore up the Georgians a hella lot worse than Obama tore up McCain (don't look at electoral votes, don't look at states, look at popular vote totals). The Russians rolled in like it was cool, killed any elements of the Georgian military that didn't run away tuit de suite, then rubbed the Georgians' noses in the mess they made by sinking chunks of their fleet.





Sorry, folks, that's what they did. While Saakashvili was blubbering on tv about the destruction of Georgia, the Russians pushed past their defensive zones into Georgian territory, laagered up their tanks, BMPs (Боевая машина пехоти, or infantry combat cars, or as we call 'em APCs), and sometimes revved the engines, like kids at a stop light looking for a drag race.

There was a lesson, there, and it wasn't just for the Georgians. It was for Europe, too, and, yes, America, although our pride prevents us from admitting it. I mean, what were we gonna do? Drop the 82d in there? Oh, wait, even if we wanted to, aren't they kind of tied up with another mission? What, we were going to go nuclear, over Tbilisi?

Get real.

Maybe the Russians learned something from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? Something about "not getting bogged down in a land war in Asia"? Something about "easy to seize, but hard to hold"? The kind of lessons that, ahem, we don't seem to have learned from Vietnam?

Maybe I'm a Putinist stooge, but to me it looks like a textbook military intervention. Go in quick, go in hard, kill everything that doesn't run away (or doesn't run away fast enough), and right before you get on the helicopter say "Bye. Don't make us come back, y' hear?"

Ah, I see. We're America, hence the good guys. They're Russia, hence the bad guys. Meanwhile, we seem to just keep on using air strikes against Pashtun wedding parties. Even if it's completely justified, riddle me this, Batman: does that make the Pashtun like us more, or like us less? Does that make it easier, or harder, to sell the Pashtun on the line that we're America, and hence the good guys?

I could be wrong about this, you know, but that's how I see it.


A thought, only a thought. Is there a point at which it becomes acceptable to worry about the impact on America, vice the impact on the world? That is, is there a time when we define "we" more narrowly? And conversely, is there a point at which it becomes acceptable to worry about the impact on the world, vice the impact on America? Perhaps the simplest example I can think of is the IWW vs. the AFL-CIO.


Krugman doesn't seem to grok Bastiat

Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate, doesn't seem to have heard of Bastiat and the Broken Window fallacy. Of course, if all the broken windows are in other countries, then I guess the Broken Window fallacy isn't so bad. Of course, we still ended up with all those dead guys.


What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy's needs.

At some cost, one must add, to "external actors."

Tony Blair with a ranch

Mark Steyn (another wordsmith) on Bush, conservatism and so forth.


As we've seen these last few months, John McCain was so accustomed to running against his party the old dog was incapable of learning the entirely novel trick of running for it. What about the other star names in this year's primary season: Rudy Giuliani? Well, there's a pro-life gun-nut. Mitt Romney? Technocrat governor of a deep blue state. Mike Huckabee? Compassionate conservatism on steroids.

In other words, I don't think the problem these last few years has been "right-wing extremism".

Tough times ahead for this blogger

But don't worry, I'll come through. I finally got the name "Ahmadinejad" down pat, and one day I'll stop trying to spell "Barack" as "Barrack" or "Barak." The Obama part is easy, but that first name trips me up, between thinking of a military housing unit, and a former Israeli prime minister.

Undaunted, however. That's me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Truckers and Lorry Drivers

I don't just want to run a link farm here, but I enjoyed this review of Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's in a British site. Very surprisingly, however, it references both Smokey and the Bandit (labeled as a "libertarian trucking movie") and Convoy, both single and film version. And who remembered that SAM PECKINPAH made Convoy?

I swear, the stuff you can stumble upon, whilst surfing dem dere intarw3bz!

The Brothers Hitchens: they do have a way with words

Anyone would think we had just elected a hip, skinny and youthful replacement for God, with a plan to modernise Heaven and Hell – or that at the very least John Lennon had come back from the dead.

The whole thing is worth a read. Agree or disagree, that's some powerful wordsmithery right there.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Everything I need to know, I learned from Miller's Crossing

Verna: What you doing?
Tom Reagan: Walking...
Verna: Don't let on any more than you have to.
Tom Reagan: the rain.

Everything I need to know, I learned from Sasha Lebed

* (On the Soviet-Afghan War) "We began the war with lofty aims but ended up with a war against the people."
* (On the War of Transnistria): "I am proud that we helped and armed Transnistrian [separatist] guards against Moldovan fascists."
* (On the War of Transnistria): "I told the hooligans [separatists] in Tiraspol and the fascists [government] in Chisinau -- either you stop killing each other, or else I'll shoot the whole lot of you with my tanks."
* (On the Chechen War) "Unprepared, untrained boys have been thrown to face bullets. It is a criminal power that sends hundreds of its citizens to certain death."
* (On Chechen capital Grozny) "Here we have a Russian city, bombed to bits by Russian planes paid for by Russian taxpayers who are now going to have to pay a second time to rebuild it."
* (On the Russian government) "Those who profit are the ones at the top. They keep the doughnut for themselves and give the hole to the people."
* (On the Russian Minister of Defence Pavel Grachev) "I don't like prostitutes, whether they are wearing a skirt or trousers."
* (On the ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky) "The Lord God's monkey."
* (On the Western democracies): "They support Yeltsin who helped start the war in Moldova. I stopped it. He started the war in Chechnya. I stopped it. Who is the greater democrat then, he or I? Is democracy war or peace? I think it is the latter."
* (On the Russians) "Most Russians don't care whether they are ruled by fascists or communists or even Martians as long as they can buy six kinds of sausage in the store and lots of cheap vodka."
* (On himself) "I am not without sins. There cannot be an airborne assault general who has no sins. I spit on popularity ratings. I live and serve as I see fit."

Friday, November 7, 2008

Appeasement! or: Another Good Word Gone Bad

I stand before you crestfallen. I have discovered a dirty little secret about myself. Only the thin veil of internet anonymity allows me to confess this, as it is something to which I could never, in person, admit. Like Neville Chamberlain (in Munich! in 1939!) and like Ronald Reagan (cut and run from Lebanon!) later on, I have discovered that I am an appeaser.

Dirty sounding word, isn't it?

For most of my life, certainly, for most of my political life, by which I mean my life while interested in politics, appeasement has been a dirty word.

Quite frequently, it's linked to Neville Chamberlain, oh, and Munch! and 1939! But I'll bet you didn't know that. It takes a keen and insightful mind to notice those little details.

Sorry, I'm dancing around the issue. I am trying to hide my shame. I am trying to put off having to relate, under the thin tissue of internet anonymity, the sordid tale of what happened.

Here's the word.

The other day, my wife was upset with me. Deep down, I think she just wanted to annex Schleswig-Holstein, or maybe it was Alsace-Lorrain, but the point is, she was upset with me. She said it had something to do with the fact that I hadn't done the dishes.

And I . . . oh G-d it's hard to admit . . . I appeased her. I wrapped up what I was doing, and then I went and did the dishes.

Y'all see where this is going, right?

Merriam-Webster says that appease means "to bring to a state of peace or calm," or "to cause to subside" or, and here's the killer, pacify or conciliate, especially in the sense of "to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles."

Well, that's only the third definition. (I'm not vouching for Merriam-Webster in particular, but I don't think any kind of straight-faced argument can be made that the primary meaning of appease is "to abandon your principles.")

We have taken a sufficiently fine and honorable word, of long and regular usage, and perverted it to always mean Munich, always mean 1939, always mean Neville Chamberlain (who was in Munich! in 1939! and an appeaser!). We have cheapened its meaning in the pursuit of lockstep ideological conformity. Every conflict, every dispute, someone's gonna come running out and start talking about how any compromise with the other side is appeasement.

I speak, here, particularly of fo-po, or foreign policy.

Should I have not appeased my wife? Should I have said, "Not only will I not do the dishes, but you'll go do them right now?" Should I have further said, "And if you don't get to it tout de suite, you'll taste the back of my hand?"

No, no, and no, really I shouldn't have done that.

Now I'm hungry, and I think I'll go appease my appetite.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So a plane crashes in Mexico DF . . .

The New York Times notices that the world didn't stop just because Obama won the horse race. "Mexico's Interior Minister Killed In Plane Crash."

Relevant bits that leapt out at me:

Mexico’s interior minister and seven others onboard a government jet died Tuesday night when it crashed into a tony business district here during rush hour, igniting cars and sending dozens of people to local hospitals.

The minister, Juan Camilo Mouriño, 37, had been one of President Felipe Calderón’s closest advisers and a rising star in the National Action Party. He headed the government’s security apparatus and was the president’s point man in the increasingly bloody drug war.

And, of course,

As an investigation began, officials said that the crash appeared to have been an accident and that there were no signs of foul play.

Let's just juxtapose those thoughts: A rising star in the PAN, who "headed the government’s security apparatus and was the president’s point man in the increasingly bloody drug war" dies when his plane falls from the sky, and no foul play is suspected.



And I thought watching 24 required a massive suspension of disbelief!

Spinning on a dime

Hey, anyone want to bet that the GOP starts taking a different view of the unitary executive now?

Presidential signing statements?

The authority of the president to arrest anyone he deems a terrorist, without judicial review?

Foreign adventurism?

Vast new bureaucracies?

The idea that "we had our accountability moment, and that's called the . . . elections"?

Hey, go figure.

A friend e-mailed, worried that Texas would go Dem, wanting me to vote

My friend, if I did vote (and I didn't), it wouldn't have been for McCain. The only reason I would have voted for him was to be voting for Palin, and that's not nearly enough to make up for my opinion of Mad Bomber John.

He is everything I despise about the Republican Party. He is not from "real America." He gets props for his service, but he was a legacy, and the idea that the son of John Sydney McCain II, and the grandson of John Sydney McCain, would do anything but join the US Navy is simply laughable. He was a military aristocrat, an officer from a family of officers, in the most autocratic and aristocratic of services, the US Navy. The impression I've got is that he sold out the POW/MIA activists, repeatedly---the very image of why I pretty much hate officers (many, if not most, of them). That is, he doesn't value what the British call the "other ranks."

He was always happy to cross the aisle . . . and go to the left. When he crossed the aisle, it was always for, what, again? Immigration "reform" or campaign finance "reform" or horsetwaddle like that.

He chased women all the time. When you're a young man, that's a good thing . . . but when you stand before God the Father and say you will cleave only unto this one woman . . . and you keep on chasing other women, then you're not much of a man yourself. John McCain isn't much of a man.

We are in for hard times, we are in for bitter times. George W. Bush can skulk home to Crawford, ruined by listening to the wrong advisers, in part, because he could not make peace with his (earthly) father. I'd probably like W. more than George Herbert Walker Bush. But Poppy was the better President, by far.

Iraq is lost. Iraq is now a de facto colony of Iran, and the Iranians have been empowered by our stupidity. The surge did not work. It has not been working. The surge was stupid. Anyone with even the most elementary understanding of counterinsurgency knows that a limited "flood the zone" type assault does not work. The insurgents go home, clean their rifles, nail their wives to make more babies to win the next insurgency, and wait, and rest, and get better.

Afghanistan is looking the same way. I could be wrong, but I don't think it's anywhere close to becoming Arizona, or even Arkansas.

The GOP has turned its back on America, for a long time now. Time for America to turn its back on the GOP.

Note: This is the e-mail I sent back to my friend, nearly verbatim. I edited it to remove the bad language I sometimes, reflexively, use in private, and to clarify a point that wasn't quite clear.


It sure looks like Barack Obama has won the presidential race.

I didn't vote for him, but lots of people did, and I am moderately hopeful that he will shed a lot of his campaign rhetoric, and really represent change. Despite the variety of issues he supports, which I oppose, I do have some real hope that he'll change disastrous US foreign policy blunders.

The first black president? I've got to admit, that's pretty cool.

Only in America.

My congratulations to President-elect Obama.

In an otherwise shattering election for the GOP . . .

It is instructive and worthwhile to remember that one Republican---one non-RINO, one REAL Republican----ran unopposed.

That would be in the 14th Congressional District for the State of Texas.

That'd be the man who has clung, anything but bitterly, to God, to the Second Amendment, to babies, to fiscal responsibility, to limited government, the man who clung, in short, to the Constitution, the man who opposed the war in/on Iraq before Barack Obama did, the man who opposed the PATRIOT ACT, the man who opposed the bailout, the man who opposed immunity for the telecoms. The man who opposed amnesty for illegal aliens.

That'd be Ron Paul, y'all.

In your heart?

You know he's right.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Because things change. . . right? Right? Right?

Not so long ago in Oklahoma the son of an Okie preacher knelt to pray
He said Lord I wanna be a Christian soldier just like you
And fight to build a new and better day
Now many years and miles from Oklahoma
That same young Okie boy still kneels to pray
But he don't pray to be no Christian soldier anymore
He just prays to make it through another day
Cause it's hard to be a Christian soldier when you tote a gun
And it hurts to have to watch a grown man cry
But we're playin' cards writin' home havin' lots of fun
Telling jokes and learning how to die

Now the things I've come to know seem so confusin'
It's gettin' hard to tell what's wrong from right
I can't seperate the winners from the losers anymore
And I'm thinking of just giving up the fight
Cause it's hard to be a Christian soldier when you tote a gun
And it hurts to have to watch a grown man cry
But we're playin' cards writin' home ain't we hadn't fun
Turning on and learning how to die

Kris Kristofferson from, what, like 1970?

Cause there's nothing like that going on now, right?

Ain't no Okie boys kneeling to pray, are there, in some foreign land?

I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A possible upside to a McCain victory?

With "Bomber John" McCain clawing his way back to life, like an IRS vampire which was not completely staked, I find myself desperately looking for some reason, any reason, to be glad if he wins.

I may have found one.

It occurs to me that Andrew Sullivan's head might simply explode if Barack Obama does not win the presidency. Failing that, maybe he'll just go back to his husband and cuddle, whimpering, for a few years.

At least that would spare us his peculiar variety of nose-in-the-wind "conservatism." (If anyone can explain to me the logic that led Sullivan to support Ron Paul, Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain AND Barack Obama, I would be grateful, as this is a task which I cannot master, and I've mastered the который clause!)

"Measure seven times . . . "

I am a cautious progressive of conservative temperament, with neither "progressive" nor "conservative" being used in the current vernacular of our political climate. I am not progressive in the current political sense of the word. I do not favor the dread hand of state regulation, I do not believe that we can wave a magic wand and poof! everything will be better. I am not conservative in the current political sense of the word. I do not favor the dread hand of state military intervention, I do not believe that we can use a military application of a forward policy to meddle, to liberate, to force Qataris to become Kansans, or Afghans to become Arizonans.

I am progressive in that I believe in progress. I think we can make things better. Here I speak not only of things, but of ideas as well. Our things have gotten vastly better, in many ways. Our ideas? Not so much . . . but, in many ways, yes, better. I think that if we use faith and reason, two of God's greatest gifts, we can make progress. "We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . " and all that.

I am conservative in that I am afraid of making a misstep. I have had many ideas, some of them were quite good. Some of those quite good ideas? They were simply incompatible with reality. They didn't work. Great ideas put me in mind of Thomas Edison and the (soon-to-be-banned-by-federal-law) incandescent light bulb. How many times, again, did Edison come up with incandescent light bulbs that didn't work? Doesn't the number "ten thousand" stick in the mind?

What if our grand new ideas are wrong? (Whatever they are.)

Folk wisdom, I think, mostly comes down on my side. Yes, there is "he who hesitates is lost" but there is also "look before you leap" and the wonderful congruence between Anglo-American and Russian wisdom, expressed in the parlance of the building trades. The Anglo-American version, with which I grew up, is expressed as "measure twice, cut once." The Russian version is even more cautious: Отмерь семь раз, отреж один раз. Measure seven times, cut once.

The concept of federalism in the United States was, I think, a concept of allowing fifty little laboratories to try out different approaches to life. (Fifty today, of course, latterly many fewer.) Federalism would allow California to be California, and Maine to be Maine, Texas Texas, and so on. If Texas (for instance) came up with a good, workable plan, a new idea, a better way, a great leap forward, and it worked out, then perhaps Maine and California and those other states could watch its progress, learn from its mistakes, and adopt a similar but hopefully better policy. If Texas' policy was bad, however, or misguided, short sighted, or just plain stupid, the other states would not necessarily be forced to suffer through those policies. If California sneezed, the rest of the nation would not have to catch cold.

It seems to me that today we have cast not only federalism, but conservatism, indeed, caution itself, to the winds. In almost every sphere of life, we have overturned the verities of the past in favor of grand new ideas. We press on, hurly burly, seemingly convinced that no one in the past has grappled with the issues we now face, or, at least, never grappled with those issues with the insight, wisdom and moral clarity we bring to bear.

A belief in progress says we can change things for the better. A belief in conservatism asks the green eyeshade questions: what will this get us? what will this cost us? what could this get us? what could this cost us? what are we overlooking? (Note: those are all different questions.) Faith, you might say, and reason.

Hopefully without being reduced to a Hamlet-like level of incompetence, inactivity and indecision, one must ask "what if I'm wrong?"

What about, say, immigration? Do we want high levels of immigration into America? If so, what kind of immigrants do we want? If we were to bring, say, millions of low-skill Mexicans into our country, as indeed we seem to have done, what are the probable and potential upsides, and what are the probable and potential downsides?

(Note: while there is not always an upside, there is always a downside.)

What about, say, the invasion/liberation of Iraq? Do we want to become involved in a land war in Asia? (Even Southwest Asia?) What are the probable and potential upsides? What are the probable and potential downsides?

Did we measure seven times, or even twice, before we took up the saw and cut?

Some actions, once taken, cannot be undone. I remember the old saying, "When you draw your sword against the king, throw away the scabbard." "Crossing the Rubicon" has the same connotation: when you take your army across the Rubicon, you declare yourself in opposition to Rome, and you'd best throw away that scabbard.

When I was working construction many years ago, I cut a board, neat and clear, with a circle saw. It turns out that I cut it too short. The crew chief clapped me on the shoulder and told me to go and find the board stretcher. There is, of course, no such thing.

Measure seven times, cut once.

Oh, and the mass immigration thing, and the liberation of Iraq? How have those worked out for us? Has the upside we were promised come true, and even if it has, has the downside we were cautioned about come true as well? Have there been blowback, unintended consequences, unforeseen circumstances?

Perhaps the immigration example is not to your taste, nor the Iraq example. Gay marriage? Global warming, a la Kyoto? The Great Society, or welfare reform?

"And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire," indeed.