Monday, July 31, 2006

The Threat from Hezbollah to U.S. Security Interests

Jeff Jacoby's got a sobering piece up today at on the threat Hezbollah poses to U.S. security. Regular readers here at Burkean Reflections will remember Jacoby's commentary, as I previously posted an excerpt from his incisive Boston Globe article, "Are You a Chicken Hawk?"

In today's piece, Jacoby notes that Sheik Hassan Nazrallah pledged "death to America" in February 2005. Here's the article's introduction:

According to a pair of Gallup polls released last week, 83 percent of Americans say Israel is justified in taking military action against Hezbollah, while 76 percent disapprove of Hezbollah's attacks on Israel. Yet when asked which side in the conflict the United States should take, 65 percent answer: neither side. Indeed, 3 in 4 Americans say they are concerned that the US military will be drawn into the fighting, or that it will increase the likelihood of terrorism against the United States.

Gallup's numbers suggest two things. First, that most Americans, sizing up the warfare in northern Israel and southern Lebanon, recognize that Hezbollah is the aggressor and that Israel is fighting in self-defense. And second, that most Americans believe this fight has nothing to do with the United States.

Welcome to Sept. 10.

For years Osama bin Laden had preached that it was "the duty of Muslims to confront, fight, and kill" Americans. His adherents had responded by blowing up the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and slamming a boat laden with explosives into the USS Cole. Yet most Americans paid no attention to Al Qaeda and its threats -- until 3,000 people lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

Has nothing been learned from that experience?

Hezbollah's barbaric assault on Israel -- kidnapping and murdering soldiers who weren't engaged in hostilities, firing waves of missiles into cities and towns, packing rockets with ball bearings meant to maximize suffering by shredding human flesh -- is part and parcel of the radical Islamist jihad against the free world. Nothing to do with the United States? It has *everything* to do with the United States. Hezbollah hates Americans at least as implacably as Al Qaeda does, and rarely misses an opportunity to say so.

Jacoby notes that the Bush administration's spokesman, Tony Snow, on July 19, was hesitant to recognize Hezbollah's threat to the U.S. when asked if this was "as much the United States' war as it was Israel's."

Perhaps Snow was being coy, seeking to gain time from press corps queries on administration objectives, in furtherance of the administration's support for Israel's effort to neutralize the threat from Hezbollah's rocket capabilities in Southern Lebanon. Who knows? Whatever the case, though, Jacoby's right: This is our war, too!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Iraq and the Partisan Divide in U.S. Public Opinion

Thursday's post, based on the latest New York Times polling report, asked "Does the United States Have a Responsibility to Respond to International Crises?" The Times survey found 59 percent of those polled responding in the negative. Now, in today's edition, the Times addresses the partisan divide over U.S. intervention in Iraq, which appears more intense than any previous division between the parties in earlier American wars. Here's the introduction to the article:

No military conflict in modern times has divided Americans on partisan lines more than the war in Iraq, scholars and pollsters say — not even Vietnam. And those divisions are likely to intensify in what is expected to be a contentious fall election campaign.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows what one expert describes as a continuing “chasm” between the way
Republicans and Democrats see the war. Three-fourths of the Republicans, for example, said the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, while just 24 percent of the Democrats did. Independents split down the middle.

“The present divisions are quite without precedent,” said Ole R. Holsti, a professor of political science at
Duke University and the author of “Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy.”

The Vietnam War caused a wrenching debate that echoes to this day and shaped both parties, but at the time, public opinion did not divide so starkly on party lines, experts say. The partisan divide on Iraq has fluctuated but endured across two intensely fought campaigns in which war and peace — and the overarching campaign against terrorism — have figured heavily. Each party has its internal differences, especially on future strategy for Iraq. But the overall divide is a defining feature of the fall campaign.
The Times analysis doesn't go a long way toward explaining the data. The piece does suggest that much of the partisan split has to do with the identification of Iraq with President Bush. The article also suggests that the Democrats have become increasingly disinclined to commit troops to foreign hostilities, especially in the absence of a broad international consensus. Republicans have generally sustained their loyalty to the administration, and Independents have been more likely recently to side with the Democrats. An additional factor suggested here is the question of support for the war as a wedge issue in recent elections, with the GOPs 2002 successful advertising attack against then-Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs in the war, providing the key example.

The analysis is relatively superficial, given the brevity of the newspaper article format (the issue of the contemporary partisan dynamics on questions of war and peace demands an in-depth scholarly analysis). One variable not discussed is whether the Cold War environment of the Vietnam era created greater threat perception among Americans, and thus engendered an increased bipartisan approach to backing the country's foreign commitments.

On a related note, see
Christopher Gelpi's recent piece in Foreign Affairs, in which he rebuts John Mueller's argument that increasing casualties in Iraq have caused a decline in public backing for the deployment, mirroring a similar trend in public opinion on the Vietnam War.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Storming Beirut? Why Israel Resists Expanding the Ground War in Lebanon

Yesterday's New York Post ran an excellent commentary by Ralph Peters on why the Israeli military hesitates to expand the gound incursion beyond Southern Lebanon. According to Peters:

The answer's straightforward: Different cultures fight for different things. Arabs might jump up and down, wailing, "We will die for you Saddam!" But, in the clinch, they don't - they surrender. Conventional Arab armies fight badly because their conscripts and even the officers feel little loyalty to the states they serve - and even less to self-anointed national leaders.

But Arabs will fight to the bitter end for their religion, their families and the land their clan possesses. In southern Lebanon, Hezbollah exploits all three motivations. The Hezbollah guerrilla waiting to ambush an Israeli patrol believes he's fighting for his faith, his family and the earth beneath his feet. He'll kill anyone and give his own life to win.

We all need to stop making cartoon figures of such enemies. Hezbollah doesn't have tanks or jets, but it poses the toughest military problem Israel's ever faced. And Hezbollah may be the new model for Middle Eastern "armies."

The IDF's errors played into Hezbollah's hands. Initially relying on air power, the IDF ignored the basic military principles of surprise, mass and concentration of effort. Instead of aiming a shocking, concentrated blow at Hezbollah, the IDF dissipated its power by striking targets scattered throughout Lebanon - while failing to strike any of them decisively.

Even now, in the struggle for a handful of border villages, the IDF continues to commit its forces piecemeal - a lieutenant's mistake. Adding troops in increments allows the enemy to adjust to the increasing pressure - instead of being crushed by one mighty blow.

This is also an expensive fight for Israel in another way: financially. The precision weapons on which the IDF has relied so heavily - and to so little effect - cost anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars to seven figures per round. Israel has expended thousands of such weapons in an effort to spare its ground forces.

Theoretically, that's smart. But we don't live in a theoretical world. Such weapons are so expensive that arsenals are small. The United States already has had to replenish Israel's limited stockpiles - and our own supplies would not support a long war. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, a relatively easy win, we were running low on some specialized munitions within three weeks.

Precision weapons also rely on precision intelligence. It doesn't matter how accurate the bomb is if you can't find the target. And Israel's targeting has been poor. It even appears that Hezbollah managed to feed the IDF phony intelligence, triggering attacks on civilian targets and giving the terrorists a series of media wins.

The precision-weapons cost/benefit trade-offs aren't impressive, either. Killing a terrorist leader with a million-dollar bomb is a sound investment, but using hundreds of them to attack cheap, antiquated rocket launchers gets expensive fast.

Just as the U.S. military learned painful lessons about technology's limits in Iraq, the IDF is getting an education now: There's still no replacement for the infantryman; wars can't be won nor terrorists defeated from the air; and war is ultimately a contest of wills.

Those of us who support Israel and wish its people well have to be alarmed. Jerusalem's talking tough - while backing off in the face of Hezbollah's resistance. Israel's on-stage in a starring role right now, and it's too late to call for a re-write.

As a minimum, the IDF has to pull off a hat trick (killing Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, would be nice) in order to prevent the perception of a Hezbollah victory - a perception that would strengthen the forces of terror immeasurably.

If this conflict ends with rockets still falling on Haifa, Israel's enemies will celebrate Hezbollah as the star of the Terrorist Broadway (Ayman al-Zawahiri's recent rap videos were an attempt to edge into Hezbollah's limelight). Israel - and the civilized world - can't afford that.

Yes, Israel's casualties are painful and, to the IDF, unexpected. But Hezbollah isn't counting its casualties - it's concentrating on fighting. In warfare, that's the only approach that works.

Israel and its armed forces are rightfully proud of all they have achieved in the last six decades. But they shouldn't be too proud to learn from their enemies: In warfare, strength of will is the greatest virtue.

Peters just grazes the subject, but the Israeli government is practicing restraint in the face of international pubic opinion. It's a wonder that nation-states can ever win wars in the current postmodernist climate of practically universal opposition to the use of force (there were American antiwar protests even against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001). See also this piece from Sally Buzbee, published at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which lays out more broadly the many risks for Israel in the current conflict, win or lose.

Aiding the Enemy? American University Professors Back Hezbollah and Hamas in Signed Petition

Friday's edition of FrontPageMagazine ran a troubling story on a petition drive circulating across U.S. colleges and universities calling on professors to denounce "Israel's aggression against Lebanon and Gaza." According to the piece, roughly 1000 professors have signed the document (and having looked at the signature list, I recognize two respected political scienctists among them). The petition vehemently attacks Israeli policies, "including a 'brutal bombing and invasion of Gaza,' and 'acts of Israeli state terrorism' in Lebanon."

The petition does not, however, condemn Hamas or Hezbollah for their terrorist activities, treaty violations, or unprovoked aggression. For more double standards, check out this longer quote from the article:

Never mind that Israel has withdrawn from both Gaza and Lebanon, and that the current offensive was prompted by the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, first by Palestinian terrorists and then their Lebanese counterparts. Never mind, too, that the “expansionist policies” in the region have been pursued by Arab powers who launched four major wars against Israel since 1948; by Islamist jihadists who have never reconciled themselves to a Jewish presence in the Middle East; and by rogue states like Iran and Syria, who rely on terrorist surrogates to succeed where the earlier efforts failed. These details are aggressively ignored for, as a review of the petition’s signatories makes clear, the rewriting of history to serve the interests of Israel’s enemies commands no small following in the increasingly radicalized academic world.

In fact, some professors have gone far beyond the petition in declaring their support for the terrorists’ war on the Jewish state. Chief among them is Rabab Abdulhadi, the Palestinian-born director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. To appreciate the depth of Abdulhadi’s disdain for Israel, one need only consider that she dismisses as a “myth” the easily demonstrable fact of “Arab armies invading Israel in 1948.” Adapting a theme from the Hamas charter, which lays claim “to the land of Palestine,” Abdulhadi has charged that Israeli settlers are “living on stolen Palestinian land, sucking out the water which is very much needed from Palestinians and making lives.” Not only that but, according to Abdulhadi, “what Israel is doing in the occupied territories, in some instances, looks like what Nazi Germany did.” Abdulhadi consequently sees the Palestinian Authority’s admonitions against terrorism--infrequent and never unequivocal--as evidence that the PA is “exercising maximum reserve.”

Yet Abdulhadi is moderation personified next to another name that appears on the petition. Dr. El Guindi, an Egyptian-born professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California, has alleged that “Israel is engaged in practices muted by the media: massacres and genocides, trafficking of human organs, genetic experimentations, inhumane torture.” Hamas’s most zealous propagandists could not improve on the inflammatory rhetoric. And much like them, El Guindi has never offered any evidence for the charges, relying on innuendo and conspiracy theories to make her case. Failing that, she considers terrorism the answer to the Palestinians’ woes. In contrast to the petition, which at least condemns the killing of civilians in Israel even if it absolves the actual murderers, El Guindi has embraced anti-Israel terrorism as an acceptable form of “resistance.” Of Palestinian terrorism, she has written that “[i]t is a universal and legitimate right,” one appropriate to “colonized people.”

Similar sentiments frequently issue from Middle Eastern Studies departments. In keeping with tradition, the most notorious of these departments, Columbia’s department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), boasts no fewer than four representatives in the recent petition. Most prominent among them is Hamid Dabashi, the Columbia professor of Islamic studies who despises not only Israel, which he views a “ghastly state of racism and apartheid,” but also Israeli Jews, to whom Dabashi ascribes a “vulgarity of character that is bone-deep.” His crude bigotry notwithstanding, Dabashi has his followers at Columbia, among them the Iranian-born Golbarg Bashi, a visiting scholar and a protégé of Dabashi specializing in “anti-colonial theory” and “black and Third World feminisms,” whose name likewise appears on the petition. Other MEALAC faculty who endorsed the petition are Suhail Shadoud, a Syrian professor of Arabic language, and Jeffrey Sacks a lecturer in Arabic who in recent years emerged as a leading advocate of divestment from Israel at Columbia. MEALAC’s reputation as a hotbed of political extremism is plainly well deserved....

Behind the obscene double standard set forth in the petition, wherein Israel is attacked for defending its right to exist and terrorists escape all blame, is a conviction, all too common among the academic Left, that Israel’s very existence is both regrettable and undesirable. Thus Judith Butler, another Jewish academic who signed the petition, has declared against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, writing that “political sovereignty based on religious status is misguided, undemocratic, and discriminatory, in principle and in practice.” (That this is precisely the end sought by Hamas, Hezbollah and their terrorist brethren is a contradiction conveniently ignored by Butler.) Another signatory, Marguerite Rosenthal, a professor of Social work at Salem State College, is an activist with a radical group calling itself Jewish Women for Justice in Israel Palestine, which blames Israel for the 60-year war waged against it. Sighing over the “desperate suicide attacks by Palestinians,” the group claims that “[f]ifty years of conflict have increasingly compromised the ideals that contributed to Israel's founding.” In the eyes of Rosenthal and countless others who committed their signatures to the petition, Israel alone can do wrong.
Read the full story and check the petition yourself. I feel sickness and disgust when I come across developments like this. Indeed, anti-Americanism and the leftist takeover of much of academe are a couple of the main reasons why I started this blog. Political sympathy for the enemies of Israel among activist professors of the American left jeopardizes not just the sovereignty of the Jewish state, but American national security as well.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Senator Joseph Lieberman, Daily Kos, and the Future of the Democratic Party

I've never really paid that much attention to The Daily Kos. I don't like its politics and I don't care for its publisher, Markos Moulitsas. But I'm feeling some pangs of anger toward Kos now, after watching this Nightline episode covering Moulitsas' blog campaign to defeat Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

Lieberman's in
the final leg of his primary campaign against insurgent challenger Ned Lamont. For my earlier post on Lieberman's primary challenge, click here. Daily Kos has pledged the defeat of Lieberman to be one of its top political priorities in this year's election season. The reason? Lieberman has emerged as the Senate's top Democrat supporting the American project of democracy-building in Iraq. Lieberman published an important essay in the Wall Street Journal last November after visiting Iraq, arguing against a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. Here's what Liberman said of Iraq, following the nation's January 2005 elections:

In the face of terrorist threats and escalating violence, eight million Iraqis voted for their interim national government in January, almost 10 million participated in the referendum on their new constitution in October, and even more than that are expected to vote in the elections for a full-term government on Dec. 15. Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them. Most encouraging has been the behavior of the Sunni community, which, when disappointed by the proposed constitution, registered to vote and went to the polls instead of taking up arms and going to the streets. Last week, I was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it. None of these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition forces led by the U.S. And, I am convinced, almost all of the progress in Iraq and throughout the Middle East will be lost if those forces are withdrawn faster than the Iraqi military is capable of securing the country.
Lieberman's commitment to America's Iraq project steams Daily Kos, the main representative of the netroot's liberal blogosphere, and, more importantly, the antiwar faction of the Democratic Party. The problem, of course, is that Moulitsas' views actually aid and abet terrorism, and it would be a disaster for American foreign policy should the Kos cut-and-run vision triumph in a Democratic takeover of Congress this fall.

Fortunately though, Kos-led netroot activists have been unable to develop a compelling campaign platform to rival that of the GOPs "Contract with America" from 1994, a point noted in David Broder's June 22 essay on the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas. Daily Kos' infuence is further belittled in this New York Magazine essay, where John Heileman dismisses Moulitsas as "purity-enforcing commissar" for the Democrats and the "self-appointed head of the blogitburo." I would add, further, that Moulitsas is an egomaniac who doesn't know much about political strategy. If Heileman's right, the Moulitsas agenda will alienate mainstream American opinion and further relegate the Democrats to political obscurity and irrelevance. Let's hope so.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Does the United States Have a Responsibility to Respond to International Crises?

Americans are turning isolationist, according to today's New York Times poll on the conflict in the Middle East. Here are some of the poll's findings:
Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the state of affairs in the Middle East, with majorities doubtful there will ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors, or that American troops will be able to leave Iraq anytime soon, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority said the war between Israel and Hezbollah will lead to a wider war. And while almost half of those polled approved of President Bush’s handling of the crisis, a majority said they preferred the United States leave it to others to resolve.

Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East.

The concerns expressed over the direction of foreign policy also highlight some of the pitfalls facing Republicans as they head toward the November elections with national security front and center.

A majority of respondents, 56 percent, said they supported a timetable for a reduction in United States forces in Iraq, a question the two parties have been sparring over, with the White House and most Republicans in Congress taking the position that setting a timetable would send the wrong message. More than half of that group said they supported a withdrawal even if it meant Iraq would fall into the hands of insurgents.

Americans support the idea of putting an international peacekeeping force on the border between Israel and Lebanon to calm tensions there, the poll found, but most do not want United States troops to be a part of it.

By a wide margin, the poll found, Americans did not believe the United States should take the lead in solving international conflicts in general, with 59 percent saying it should not, and 31 percent saying it should. That is a significant shift from a CBS News poll in September 2002 — one year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — when the public was far more evenly split on the issue.

Yet, in the latest poll, 47 percent gave Mr. Bush good marks for handling the situation in Israel, with 27 percent disapproving and 26 percent saying they did not know. That was the highest registration of approval for the president in any of the poll’s performance measures.

Mr. Bush has experienced a slight increase in his overall job approval rating since the last New York Times/CBS News poll, in May, indicating that the steady erosion in his support over the last year has leveled off and even improved by a few percentage points. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said they approved of the way he was doing his job, up from 31 percent in May.
I find these results troubling. Since World War II, the United States has pursued a foreign policy of internationalism. America's forward role in the world since 1945 -- as the international system's great democratic superpower -- contrasted dramatically with the dark isolationist turn the U.S. took in the 1930s after World War I. American policymakers learned key lessons from the interwar experience, one of the most important being that the interests of the world community are best served through the benign hegemony of U.S. leadership. We saw overwhelming evidence of this with the defeat of Soviet tyranny and expansionism with the end of the Cold War, as well as in the dramatic growth of global economic prosperity through successive rounds of U.S.-led trade and financial liberazation in the global political economy.

The public shift toward isolationist tendencies -- which comes in tandem with growing nationalism and protectionism characterized by the collapse of the Doha Round of current trade negotiations -- may threaten continued U.S. leadership in providing public goods of global security and economic prosperity (it's welcomed, though, that a large plurality supports the administration in its hard-line stand with Israel in the current conflict).

The Mideast War and the 2006 Midterm Elections

Larry Sabato's a highly regarded political scientist at the University of Virginia. He's got a piece up today at Real Clear Politics on this summer's Israeli-Hezbollah War and the 2006 congressional elections. Here's an excerpt from the article:

The Israeli-Hezbollah war in the Middle East has become this summer's obsession, and rightly so. The dangers of a wider war are ever present, and no story is equal to the misery of armed conflict in the world's tinderbox.

Nonetheless, one wishes that the television media could walk and chew gum simultaneously. Loads of important stories, like trees falling in the forest, are making no sound because they are not recorded. The bloodshed in Iraq is worse than ever; if this isn't a civil war now raging there, it's a good imitation. On the home front, President Bush's first veto of a critical stem-cell research bill and his first White House appearance at an NAACP convention were barely one-day stories--major political events that got short shrift and deserved better.

It's the same with the 2006 midterm elections, which have essentially fallen off the radar screen for the time being (and this might be a lengthy war). However, the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict is having, and will continue to have, an impact on the midterms in several ways.

First, the absence of the usual level of media coverage makes it more difficult for many challengers to get the attention needed to defeat incumbents. The public is also distracted, so even when well-funded challengers try to buy their coverage with paid TV ads, voters look elsewhere. Meanwhile, incumbents scarf up free media (TV news time) by virtue of their offices, commenting on the Mideast troubles.

Disproportionately, this effect of war helps Republicans, since they are in the majority in both houses of Congress, and most endangered incumbents this year are from the GOP.

The Republicans benefit in another way. Democrats still are not the GOP's equal on the national security issue--though the gap is not as great as it was in the years immediately after 9/11. In times of international tension and trouble, there is a natural focus on the White House, and President Bush has the security credentials to take advantage of this issue on behalf of his party. Whether Bush fully does so, of course, remains to be seen. Only now is U.S. diplomacy and influence beginning to be exerted in the region.

The final advantage for Republicans in the current conflict is the all-encompassing nature of the coverage. The near black-out of news on Iraq can only help the White House. Were it not for the bombs falling on Beirut and the rockets raining down on Haifa, the nearly unprecedented carnage throughout the blood-soaked nation of Iraq would surely be leading the news. Bush owns Iraq, and GOP candidates would surely suffer from the chaos, just as they have been doing for a year or more.
Also, is there any doubt that the GOP would have taken some major hits on the stem-cell veto had it received more sustained scrutiny? The American people substantially favor embryonic stem cell research, even many normally pro-life voters; Nancy Reagan, Bill Frist and Orrin Hatch all represent this sizeable segment of the electorate. Bush's veto may play to some conservative Christians, but it has the potential to alienate the independents and moderates necessary for a broad-based GOP victory in the fall.

Having said all this, Democrats may not be disadvantaged by the Mideast war come November. After all, even the Israelis suggest that they may be ready for a ceasefire and an international peacekeeping force after a few more weeks of fighting, once they have "cleaned out" Hezbollah missiles and fighters in southern Lebanon. The focus of the public and the media shifts rapidly, and only a terrible game of war dominoes could keep this conflict at the top of the news through the American elections.
Sabato notes further that the Democrats might also criticize the administration for the (slow?) U.S. evacuation of Americans from Lebanon, tying that attack to the controversy over the government's response to Hurricane Katrina last year.

I've blogged previously on this fall's elections, for example, on the
whether the Democrats will take back the House and on why it is likely the GOP will retain majority control of Congress, this year and in the future.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Academic Freedom? The 9/11 Conspiracy at the University of Wisconsin

I first read about Kevin Barrett in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, which ran an article entitled "Wisconsin Lawmakers Want Islam Teacher Booted." Barrett, who is an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin, claims the September 11 attacks were a product of the U.S. government. Here's the key quote from the Times piece:

Barrett told a Milwaukee talk show host in June that he believed that the U.S. government used "controlled demolitions with explosives" on Sept. 11 to bring down the World Trade Center buildings and later said that the idea of a hijacked plane hitting the Pentagon was "preposterous." He plans to discuss these beliefs over one week of the 15-week course for undergraduate students.
Read the whole article. I first found the story mildly amusing, with Barrett's situation characteristic of what's wrong with much in contemporary university teaching. But after surfing the web a bit yesterday, I found the Barrett controversy raising some big questions of academic freedom. The New York Times published
an essay by Stanley Fish on the Barrett case Sunday, which is getting a lot of attention among the A-Listers of the blogosphere (for example, see Ann Althouse).

Glenn Reynolds ran a post quoting Aziz Poonawalla (who blogs at

This is an affront to me on multiple levels of identity - as a muslim, sure, but also as a proud Badger alumni . . . My beef isn't with Barrett's comments - hey, free speech, whatever - but rather that they reveal a mentality that is very dangerous for a professor teaching introductory Islam. Barrett has a clear agenda and is going to use his class as a vehicle for it. Rather than be taught about the great history of jihad, the critically differing interpretations of it between (as an example) the Umaiyyads and the Fatimids, the students will be taught a bland version of the concept that ultimately takes away the power of jihad as a principle of Islam.

This is my beef with progressivism in general - it seeks to neutralize the power of faith and the vibrancy and potency of its ideas. Islam is not easy. It isn't meant to be distilled into coffee-cup aphorisms or worn on the sleeve. It's not a pet cause to be trotted out in service of political posturing. It means something, it has a real depth and a real heft, but people like Barrett (and bin Laden) cannot allow that wondrous complexity to distract their audience from their own petty agendas.

Reynolds jokes that maybe the University of Wisconsin should hire Poonawalla. For more on Barrett, check out his Wikipedia entry.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What is a "Chicken Hawk?"

Here at Burkean Reflections, I've put up a number of patriotic posts in support of U.S. policy in the War on Terror and the Middle East. One of my favorites, for example, is this entry covering President Bush's 2006 Memorial Day address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Posts like this occassionally generate nasty little responses from antiwar activists, comments that are basically anonymous cheap shots, denouncing me as a fascist or a "chicken hawk" (see the comments, for example, found in the Memorial Day post mentioned above). I've gone to comment moderation because of stinky little rebukes such as these -- remarks that have near-uniform irony in their essential anonymity (dumb, angry respondents such as this don't normally post their blogger URLs publically).

So it was with some gratification -- no, glee! -- that I came across
this essay by Jeff Jacoby at Sunday's Boston Globe asking "Are you a Chicken Hawk?" Here's a snippet:

"Chicken hawk" isn't an argument. It is a slur -- a dishonest and incoherent slur. It is dishonest because those who invoke it don't really mean what they imply -- that only those with combat experience have the moral authority or the necessary understanding to advocate military force. After all, US foreign policy would be more hawkish, not less, if decisions about war and peace were left up to members of the armed forces. Soldiers tend to be politically conservative, hard-nosed about national security, and confident that American arms make the world safer and freer. On the question of Iraq -- stay-the-course or bring-the-troops-home? -- I would be willing to trust their judgment. Would Cindy Sheehan and Howard Dean?

The cry of "chicken hawk" is dishonest for another reason: It is never aimed at those who oppose military action. But there is no difference, in terms of the background and judgment required, between deciding to go to war and deciding not to. If only those who served in uniform during wartime have the moral standing and experience to back a war, then only they have the moral standing and experience to oppose a war. Those who mock the views of ``chicken hawks" ought to be just as dismissive of ``chicken doves."

In any case, the whole premise of the "chicken hawk" attack -- that military experience is a prerequisite for making sound pronouncements on foreign policy -- is illogical and ahistorical.

"There is no evidence that generals as a class make wiser national security policymakers than civilians," notes Eliot A. Cohen, a leading scholar of military and strategic affairs at Johns Hopkins University. ``George C. Marshall, our greatest soldier-statesman after George Washington, opposed shipping arms to Britain in 1940. His boss, Franklin D. Roosevelt, with nary a day in uniform, thought otherwise. Whose judgment looks better?"

Some combat veterans display great sagacity when it comes to matters of state and strategy. Some display none at all.
General George B. McLellan had a distinguished military career, eventually rising to general in chief of the Union armies; Abraham Lincoln served but a few weeks in a militia unit that saw no action. Whose wisdom better served the nation -- the military man who was hypercautious about sending men into battle, or the ``chicken hawk" president who pressed aggressively for military action?

The founders of the American republic were unambiguous in rejecting any hint of military supremacy. Under the Constitution, military leaders take their orders from civilian leaders, who are subject in turn to the judgment of ordinary voters. Those who wear the uniform in wartime are entitled to their countrymen's esteem and lasting gratitude. But for well over two centuries, Americans have insisted that when it comes to security and defense policy, soldiers and veterans get no more of a say than anyone else.

You don't need medical training to express an opinion on healthcare. You don't have to be on the police force to comment on matters of law and order. You don't have to be a parent or a teacher or a graduate to be heard on the educational controversies of the day. You don't have to be a journalist to comment on this or any other column.

And whether you have fought for your country or never had that honor, you have every right to weigh in on questions of war and peace. Those who cackle ``Chicken hawk!" are not making an argument. They are merely trying to stifle one, and deserve to be ignored.

This piece is a classic. I'm thankful for such a thoughtful rebuttal to the liberal chicken hawk slur. Jacoby's right: One doesn't have to be a doctor, for example, to have strong views on healthcare. And one doesn't have to be, for that matter, a government official to have opinions on politics and public policy. What's interesting in my case -- with my interests in international relations -- is not just that my family members have served in the military, but that I was brought up with experience living abroad. Moreover, my advanced political science training in international security affairs gives me an informed perspective and academic responsibility to add to the debate on the direction of U.S. foreign policy .

I honor and respect the American service personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces today. The chicken hawk slur is not just a cheap shot attacking supporters of our wars overseas, but is a denigration of all those who serve our country with the support of the American people.

Hat tip goes to
Captain's Quarters for the reference.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Myth of Hispanic Family Values

I have blogged previously on the conservative divide on the illegal immigration issue, for example, on how immigration has split the GOP in this fall's congresssional races, and on the Wall Street Journal's defense of its open borders policy advocacy. Also, on Saturday I put up an entry covering Heather MacDonald's recent critique of the conservative policy debate at City Journal.

Now over at National Review Online, MacDonald's posted a summary essay laying out her critique of the "Hispanic family values" myth, drawn from her larger City Journal article. Here it is:

The myth of the redemptive Hispanic is finally cracking. For years, conservative open-borders advocates have touted Hispanic “family values” as a prime reason to increase immigration. Hispanic immigrants, these conservatives say, will save America from itself. At a time when Anglo and black families are disintegrating, when society is becoming increasingly atomized and alienated, Hispanics will bring the traditional values that the country so desperately needs. In a classic iteration of the theme, Larry Kudlow wrote on NRO last May that Hispanic immigrants would “become a much-needed churchgoing blue-collar middle class . . . that is crucial to a healthy America.”

The truth is now supplanting the fiction. Last Friday, the New York Times ran an editorial, “Young Latinas and a Cry for Help,” that laid out the real state of the Hispanic family. A quarter of all Latinas are mothers by the age of 20, few of them married, reported the Times. This out-of-wedlock teen-birth rate is three times that of white teens, and significantly more than that of blacks as well. The Hispanic dropout rate is also the highest in the country — the Manhattan Institute’s Jay Greene puts it at 47 percent.

There is simply no way to square the facts about Hispanic family breakdown with the myth of the redemptive Hispanic. Talk to any social worker and she will tell you that illegitimacy has become completely normalized among her Hispanic clients. And the usual explanation for this epidemic of illegitimacy — an unresolved culture clash between young people and their traditional parents — is equally bogus. The mothers of teen mothers are themselves completely on board with single parenting, say the social workers, having often been single parents themselves. And they have no qualms about hooking their daughter and grandchildren into the public-benefits apparatus: “It’s now culturally OK for that population to be served by the welfare system,” says a case manager in a Santa Ana, Calif., home for teen mothers.

Far from exercising a brake on the erosion of traditional values, as conservative immigration advocates claim, the growing Hispanic population will provide the impetus for more government alternatives to personal responsibility. Advocates for young unwed mommies in the South Bronx are agitating for more day-care centers in high schools to accommodate the students’ children, reports El Diario/LA PRENSA. Demand for the 18 day-care slots at Bronx Regional High School, for example, far outstrips the supply, an 18-year-old Hispanic mother who attends the school told the paper. A bill has been introduced in Congress, the Latina Adolescent Suicide Prevention Act, to channel $10 million in federal funds to “culturally competent” social agencies to improve the self-esteem of Latina girls and to provide “support services” to their families and friends if they contemplate suicide.

For the New York Times, of course, the inevitable expansion of the welfare state is the glowing silver lining to this cultural catastrophe. With the usual melodrama that accompanies the pitch for more government services, the Times designates young Latinas as “endangered” in the same breath that it discloses that they are one of the fastest-growing segments of the population. “The time to help is now,” says the Times — by which it means ratcheting up the taxpayer-subsidized social-work industry.

It strains credulity to think that conservatives will fend off this push to meet social dysfunction with bigger government. Since the open-borders advocates have yet to acknowledge the facts of Hispanic family breakdown, there is no way of knowing what their solution to it is. One in four women in the U.S. will be Hispanic by the middle of the century, reports the Times — in states like California, they will be the majority. Unless Hispanic illegitimacy is stemmed, it is hard to see how the American family will be in a stronger state in future decades than it is today.
MacDonald concludes by noting that "Conservatives, including open-borders conservatives, market themselves as the party of realism and common sense. A recent manifesto for immigration amnesty and liberalized entry rules in the Wall Street Journal bragged: 'Conservatives have always prided themselves on acknowledging, in the words of John Adams, that 'Facts are stubborn things.' More stubborn still, however, is the unwillingness of open borders proponents to acknowledge social facts that undercut their cause." MacDonald's point here dovetails well with my argument found in the WSJ post cited above.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Reconstruction and Reaction": Black Resilience and Survival in the Post-Civil War South

I've now finished reading "Jubilee," the classic novel of slavery written by Margaret Walker. I have put up two previous blog entries on the book -- the first an introductory post on the novel laying out some reflections on the black predicament (and discussing my modest expertise on the topic), and a second post on how Southern planters kept their black slaves from rebellion.

I found the book at Book Junction, a used bookstore in Huntington Beach -- and what a discovery it was! I recommend this book to each and everyone who loves a moving historical drama that combines epochal storytelling with a fundamentally heartwarming look at personal strength and the essential goodness of the human spirit. I wish I was able to post lengthy excerpts of key episodes of the novel (as it is, I've keyboarded the book's quotes in my previous posts), but it's better off that I didn't, because I don't want to spoil the story for those inclined to pick up a copy for a good read themselves.

I can quote from "Jubilee's" blurb on the cover, which proclaims the book as "THE 1,000,000 COPY BESTSELLER ACCLAIMED NATIONWIDE AS A "JOLTING EPIC OF SLAVERY" AND AS "A NOVEL OF SIMPLE FAITH FOR ALL WHO REFUSE TO BE DEFEATED." The blurb goes on to say that:

This stunningly different novel of slaves and slavery during the Civil War is steeped in knowledge of and feeling for the times and people, and boasts a heroine to rival Scarlett O'Hara. Daughter of the white plantation owner and his beloved mistress, Vyry was conceived, born, and reared to womanhood behind the House... 'One of the most memorable women of contemporary fiction... In its best episodes, and in Vyry, Jubilee chronicles the triumph of a free spirit over many kinds of bondage.' -- The New York Times Book Review.

A magnificent tale told with devastating new truth! 'A revelation.' -- Milwaukee Journal.
I mentioned in my initial post on the book that I hadn't read many books on slavery. I did read, however, Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain," the story of Inman, the Civil War deserter, and a novel later made into a panoramic fim directed by Anthony Minghella. A key problem with Frazier's novel, of course, was that the book was about the white South -- there was really no discussion, well, maybe a bit mention here and there, of black slaves and their predicament as part of the Old South's peculiar institution. "Jubilee's" graphic detail of the life and times of everyday slaves -- with its penetrating and profound scenes of black hardship, death and loss, of slave auctions and family breakup, and of hunger and poverty, to name just a few subjects in Walker's magisterial treatment -- more than overcomes for the dearth of black coverage in "Cold Mountain."

Perhaps more important is the book's fundamental moral foundation, its treatment of Vyry as the human embodiment of proud perseverance, ethical goodness, and economic endurance and stability. The book has a staggering portrayal of Vyry's personal survival skills, for example, at building and keeping an independent black freedman's home after the South's surrender, focusing especially on her prodigiously wonderful cooking, as well as her family's robust talents in animal husbandry and farming.

Read this book! These scenes, which compose the last third of the novel, demand a fresh look at the African-American predicament in the U.S. today. Vyry is a model of industriousness and self-sufficiency. Her life contrasts dramatically with the life of blacks as told by the "cult of victimology" peddled by the post-civil rights activists of today's multicultural left (on this point, be sure to read John McWhorter's book, "Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America"). Blacks today in America, if they could adopt in greater numbers the moral and ethical individualism found in Vyry's story, would not be among the worst-off socio-demographic groups in the country.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Straight Talk on Immigration: What Conservatives Miss in the Current Illegal Alien Debate

In a previous post I laid out a critque of the Wall Street Journal's editorial stance on the conservative divide over illegal immigration. Well it turns out that Heather MacDonald, one of the most potent conservative voices on the immigration crisis writing today, has a incisive, facts-on-the-ground analysis of America's current illegal alien debate in the latest issue of City Journal. MacDonald looks at four key areas in the debate, focusing on where conservatives have lost their bearings: Concern for the rule of law; threats to national sovereignty; the Hispanic breakout of criminality and its challenge to law enforcement; and the absence of family values within the ethnic enclaves of Mexican and Central American illegals.

Here's a quote from MacDonald on the challenge to American sovereignty:

Today’s international elites seek to dissolve “discriminatory” distinctions between citizens and noncitizens and to discredit border laws aiming to control the flow of migrants. The spring amnesty demonstrations are a measure of how far such new anti-national-sovereignty ideas have spread. The last large-scale amnesty in 1986 was not preceded by mass demonstrations by illegal aliens but was rather a bargaining chip among American legislators, negotiated in exchange for employer sanctions and a national worker-verification card. Predictably, the card never materialized, and the sanctions were never enforced; only the amnesty lived on.

By contrast, this year’s protesters spoke the language of the anti-sovereignty intelligentsia. This increasingly influential discourse was on display at a May conference of Latin American diplomats at the Library of Congress, which spun endless variations on the identical theme: migration is a fundamental human right. As Nicaragua’s minister of foreign affairs, Norman Caldera Cardenal, put it: “It is the responsibility of all nations to respect the dignity, integrity, and rights of all migrants.” (The delegations dutifully acknowledged the U.S. prerogative to decide its own immigration policy, but these ritual genuflections were insignificant compared with the invocations of migrants’ rights.) In less diplomatic language, Mexico’s bicameral permanent legislative commission calls American immigration policy “racist, xenophobic, and a profound violation of human rights,” reports George Grayson in The American Conservative.

Less than a week before the Library of Congress conference, illegal aliens on the streets of Southern California were making the identical demands: “We just want some respect and human rights,” a Santa Ana protester told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re fighting to give [immigrants] equal rights,” explained a marcher in Riverside, California, holding a “Legalize, Not Terrorize” sign.
This call for “human rights” is a clever one, for it hides its radical status in a rhetorical safe harbor. What, exactly, are the “human rights” that the U.S. is denying illegal aliens? They have unfettered access to free medical care, free education, welfare for their children, free representation in court when they commit crimes, every due-process protection during criminal prosecution that the Constitution guarantees citizens and legal immigrants, the shelter of labor laws, and the miracles of modern industrial society like clean water, the control of infectious diseases (including the ones that they bring with them), and plumbing. The only putative “right” that they lack—and that, of course, is the “human right” to which they and their ambassadors refer—is the right to legal status regardless of illegal entry.
Speaking now of the utter absence of traditional values among large numbers of Hispanic undocumented immigrant households, MacDonald lays out some interesting considerations on the illegal alien legitimacy crisis, academic failure, the immigrant gang crisis, and the large-scale rejection of Hispanic assimilation to American culture.

Here's MacDonald on the Hispanic gang culture:

In his prime-time May radio address promoting amnesty, President George Bush invoked a marine, Guadalupe Denogean, as the embodiment of immigrant values. Like Denogean, today’s immigrants are willing, said Bush, “to risk everything for the dream of freedom.” Many immigrants do share Denogean’s patriotic ethic. But for every immigrant soldier, there are as many less admirable counterparts. A selection of Hispanic portraits could just as well have picked out Connie Retana, a 38-year-old Anaheim, California, resident, who in February egged on her 18-year-old son, Martin Delgado, as he and his gang friends raped a 23-year-old for seven hours in retaliation against the young woman’s boyfriend. A survey of Hispanic family values might also include the Santa Ana mother who threatened in 2004 to kill her neighbors if they testified against her gangster son in a gun-assault case. Then there’s the extended family of criminals in Pomona, California, who raised Valentino Arenas: the 18-year-old sought membership in Pomona’s 12th Street gang by killing a California highway patrol officer in cold blood in April 2004. Following a sweep in May of the gang, which specializes in large-scale drug trafficking, murder, and extortion, Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley excoriated the families across the California Southland who are “aiding and abetting murders in Los Angeles County” by refusing to cooperate with authorities or curtail their children’s crimes.

Open-borders conservatives point to the relatively low crime rate among immigrants to deny any connection between high immigration and crime. But unless we can prevent immigrants from having children, a high level of immigration translates to increased levels of crime. Between the foreign-born generation and their American children, the incarceration rate of Mexican-Americans jumps more than eightfold, resulting in an incarceration rate that is 3.45 times higher than that of whites, according to an analysis of 2000 census data by the pro-immigrant Migration Policy Institute.

California, with one-quarter of the nation’s immigrants and its greatest concentration of Mexicans and Central Americans, is the bellwether state for all things relating to unbridled Hispanic immigration, including crime. The Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study, conducted by sociologists Alejandro Portes of Princeton and Rubén G. Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine, followed the children of immigrants in San Diego and Miami from 1992 to 2003. A whopping 28 percent of Mexican-American males between the ages of 18 and 24 reported having been arrested since 1995, and 20 percent reported having been incarcerated—a rate twice that of other immigrant groups. Anyone who speaks to Hispanic students in immigrant-saturated schools in Southern California will invariably hear the estimate that 50 percent of a student’s peers have ended up in gangs or other criminal activities.

Gang life—both Hispanic and black—immediately asserted itself last July when the Los Angeles Unified School District opened a model high school to ease overcrowding. Despite amenities that rival those of private schools—a swimming pool, Mac computers, a ballet studio, a rubber track, and a professional chef’s kitchen—it instantly gained the distinction of being one of the most violent campuses in the system. Shots rang out in front of the school on the second day of classes, reports the Los Angeles Times, and three days after opening ceremonies, police arrested a student with an AK-47 on the campus perimeter. Brawling students attacked safety officers and tried to grab their guns in December, while cops pepper-sprayed a dean breaking up a gang fight in March. Students sell meth in the classrooms, graffiti covers the stairwells, textbooks, and high-design umbrella-covered picnic tables, and a trip to the bathroom requires an adult safety escort.
Be sure to read the whole thing. For more on the immigrant gang crisis, see MacDonald's earlier article on the topic in City Journal. For my earlier post on immigration and national culture, from the perspective of Eva Longoria's personal experience, click here. For my post on how immigration is affecting GOP congressional races this year, click here. Also, for my post on how the Minutemen succeeded in shutting down a local illegal alien day labor center, click here.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Iran's Stealth War Against Israel and the U.S.

If you haven't read it already, be sure not to miss this week's absolutely essential cover story at Newsweek, detailing Iran's behind-the-scenes strategy to destroy Israel and undermine American security interests in the Middle East. As Israel conducts a massive build-up of its forces along the country's border with Lebanon, it's important to take a step back to look at some of the larger political forces that are driving developments in the 2006 Middle East War.

The Newsweek story begins by citing Hassan Nasrallah's remarks after Israel's airstrikes last week on the Hezbollah leader's compound, where the militant chief warned of open-ended warfare between Israel and his Shiite Lebanese group. Here's an introductory excerpt from the story:

The crisis began in Gaza on June 25, when a corporal in the Israeli Army was taken hostage by Hamas guerrillas. Then it exploded across the region last week after Hizbullah guerrillas crossed into Israel to snatch two more soldiers, killing eight. Israel's reaction was swift, brutal and massive. Its forces took the whole of Lebanon hostage, treating the state on its northern border just as it treated the Palestinian territory to its south, tearing apart highways, blockading ports, blowing up the runways and fuel dumps at Beirut's international airport—setting out not only to free the hostages but to eliminate Hizbullah once and for all. Yes, this was war. Nasrallah was right about that.

But battles—and battle lines—are rarely if ever simple in the Middle East. Nasrallah knows that. So do the Israelis, who saw hidden hands behind the Lebanese and Palestinian militants. They accused Syria, which harbors the Hamas leadership in exile and has a longstanding alliance with Hizbullah in Lebanon, of complicity. But they also saw the long arm of their ultimate enemy, Iran—the creator of Hizbullah, a patron of Hamas, the ally of Syria, the provider of rockets that struck 22 miles deep into Israel last week and a missile that crippled an Israeli warship. Iran, developer of nuclear technology and eventually, perhaps, nuclear weapons.

The piece goes on to indicate that President Bush -- in an exclusive interview for the story -- has strong concerns over Iran's role in the Middle East, and particularly on the Iranian leadership's growing strategy of spreading chaos across the region. There are a number of components to the Iranian destabilization program that bear highlighting:

*** The creation of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia also known as the "Party of God," which works as an Iranian proxy mounting relentless attacks and raids against Israel, including the current artillery barrage using Iranian funding and stores of the 13,000 medium- and short-range missiles provided by Tehran.
*** Staunch backing backing for the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, an alliance that dates back to 1992, and one that continues to grow with Tehran's scheduled gift of $50 million to the new Palestinian government.
*** A Syrian-Iran alliance directed against Israel, guaranteeing unrestricted Iranian transit rights for Iranian arms shipments to Tehran's Hezbollah forces.
*** Iranian intelligence infiltration in Iraq, where Tehran's clandestine operatives have gone inside Iraqi militias, political parties, and security services.

The article highlights the incredible stakes at issue in Israel's current national security challenge. Israel's current crisis has revived national memories of the nation's earlier wars of independence and survival. The unprovoked Hezbollah attacks, moreover, have engendered an intense national solidarity (with polling data showing public support for Israel's response in the 80 percent range), marked by a clarity on the nature of the enemy (something lacking during the periods of Intifada, when at any moment a cafe or pizza parlor was likely to be blown to bits by a Palestian suicide bomber/murderer). The piece also gives credence to claims found among some commentators of the global nature to the current conflict, despite the localized nature of actual military hostilities.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Blog Earthquake! Create a Traffic Temblor that Rocks Your Sitemeter to its Foundations

I'm taking a vacation with my family next week and won't be blogging for a few days. So I thought this might be a good time for me to put up a post I've been meaning to write on my experience using some of the blog and traffic exchange programs. I first got the idea for this after visiting Viki Babbles' page and her post on the superiority of Blog Mad over Blog Soldiers. Viki argued that she was receiving more high-quality hits from Blog Mad -- readers who were more likely to linger around her blog for awhile and drop comments. At first I agreed. But they made some changes over at Blog Soldiers (going to 100 percent auto-assignment) that really sped-up the traffic flow, and the program started working much better. Since then, I've been experimenting with a few of the different blog exchanges, and after reading this post from Regina Avalos' blog, I starting surfing a number of traffic exchanges over on the Internet marketing side as well.

Let me first discuss the blog exchanges I like. Then I'll discuss a number of the business traffic exchange programs that have worked well for me. Finally, I'll lay out a little critique of traffic promotion sites and provide some additional suggestions for building traffic at your site.

Blog Exchanges:

Blog Soldiers is probably my favorite blog exchange. Since they moved to 100 percent auto-assigning, websites rotate fairly rapidly through the program. Most important, though, is that I get more high-quality visitors from Blog Soldiers than from any other site, measured by the amount of time they stay on my blog, and by the number individual posts that they visit. It's also easy to win credits by surfing at Blog Soldiers. The program has surfer-rankings, such as "newbie," "blogger," and "aggregator," and you'll be credited 250 hits after you've won all the letters for each rank (which becomes progressively harder as one moves up). I've accumulated a load of credits, which is nice because I can release those for generating traffic when I can't surf.

My next favorite is Blog Mad. The program has a cool professionalism to it, there's a 1:1 surf ratio, and you can win generous random credits fairly often. A lot of younger, politically-liberal bloggers surf Blog Mad, so it's got a hip feel to it. Blog Mad surfers are really interested in building credits to get their sites seen, so visitor quality at my page hasn't been as consistently high as those from Blog Soldiers.

Blog Explosion is the granddaddy of all the blog exchange programs. It's not my favorite, although it is probably my "home-base" blog exchange, in that it's got a steady rotation that guarantees 15-25 hits daily, and it's got a number of fun games (try Blog Rocket) and contests that make the program much more than a traffic generator.

I also surf Blogazoo quite a bit as well. Traffic moves through the program consistently, and I've been able to build and hold some credits in reserve, although winning credits is much easier over at Blog Soldiers.
There's a few more blog exchanges out there, but I've had less success using them.

Business Traffic Exchanges:

I've had very good results from surfing a number of the web-marketing traffic exchanges. There are literally dozens upon dozens of these programs out there, and the quality across the wide number of exchanges varies considerably. Yet I've generated consistenty high-quality traffic on a number of these sites, and I recommend trying some of them enthusiastically. The criteria for a good traffic exchange is primarily ease-of-use (simple sign-up and site-approval, easy log-in and navigation, etc.), the speed of site's rotation (how quickly hits are credited to your page), and the program's system for winning free credits. Here's a few of my favorites:

Traffic Roundup and Canadian Clicks: Traffic Roundup was one of the first business exchanges I tried. It's a very professional program, with a fast rotation, and a cool "Cattle Roundup" game for winning credits. Traffic Roundup also places your blog in a special rotation category, for example, news or marketing. I tried Canadian Clicks more recently, but it quickly emerged as one of my favorite programs. Surfers at Canadian Clicks are more laid back for some reason, and I routinely get visitors from the program that stay 15, 20, 45 minutes or more (one Canadian Clicks visitor stayed on my page for hours, reading 24 different blog posts).

Deep Sea Hits and Hit Safari: These two programs are "sibling sites," with common administration and cross-promotion. They both work very well, are easy to use, and have provided very high-quality traffic to my page. Lately though, Hit Safari has had some problems with pop-up downloaders, hijackers, and Trojans (which is common with a number of these exchanges, so be sure your antivirus and antispam programs are up and running).

Clicks Matrix and StartXchange: I've just joined both of these programs in the last few days, though I've been very pleased with this pair's quality. Clicks Matrix uses the same template as Blog Explosion, and has a 30-second timer as well. The program's got a very professional feel to it, with great site navigation, etc., as well as a fast rotation for your blog. StartXchange also feels very professional, and just works well in terms of ease-of-use and the webpage rotation. (StartXchange also had an instant approval process -- I was receiving traffic to my blog in just a couple minutes.)

Vinterchange and WebBizSolutions: Vinterchange works very well. It's got one of the most professional navigation pages out there and a neat credit assignment setup -- and you can win lots of credits with the program's "Vinterchallenge" quiz game. WebBizSolutions is just different: It uses a "craps" game to win credits, and I've had a lot of high-quality visits from its quick rotation cycle.

Fast Freeway and Raging Bull: These are two more programs I surf regularly. They both have a quick rotation, as well as quick log-in and simple site-navigation.
Surf exchanges aren't for everybody. Think about the target market for your blog, and the time and commitment you have towards building your page's popularity. (If you're game, though, check out, a web portal with site rankings and links to most of the best manual traffic exchanges.)

Caveats and Suggestions:

One thing I've learned is not to expect to build a bunch of repeat visitors who log-on to Burkean Reflections first thing when they wake up. Note that not everybody's going to have traffic like Powerline's (check their Sitemeter for some humility). Look at the traffic exchanges as increasing your exposure on the web. Most visitors will stay for awhile and move on -- and that's fine. Having just a few people a day stay on my page and read for a half-hour or so, and perhaps drop a comment, is rewarding.

There's some downside of course, and some commentators have agued that exchanges don't really work much at all:
Unfortunately, blog traffic exchanges really don’t produce a great deal of value for users. There are two reasons why blog traffic exchanges don’t really work. First, the traffic sent to your blog is basically untargeted. Let’s say you have a blog about being a work at home mother and the challenges you face. The traffic exchange will send you everyone from the army corporal operating a military blog to an angst-ridden teen who has her own gothic poetry blog. These visitors have no real interest in your topic and won’t add to the community there - or the blog’s potential profit. Untargeted traffic is simply not worth much in most cases. Second, most of the traffic sent to your blog will be more focused on waiting for the mandatory time to elapse than they are in what you have written. The users of blog exchange programs, after all, are other bloggers seeking traffic. They are participating because they want to send people to their blogs - not because they have a burning interest in what others are writing. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, but overall the prevalent motivation is getting more traffic, not finding new blogs to read regularly. If you doubt this, try a blog traffic exchange program for yourself and observe your own behavior and instincts while “surfing for credits.” You may start with the best of intentions, but after seeing a few blogs on topics that aren’t really interesting, you will find your eye wandering to the timer. You will be ready to move on to the next blog at the first available opportunity. Keep track of how many blogs you see that really met a need for you. Observe how many other blogs you have decided to visit again some day. After only a few hours of participation, you will soon realize that you are being exposed to a lot of blogs that offer little for you and that you are probably finding yourself wishing you could cruise through more blogs faster. You will find that your motivation for doing this is decidedly selfish - you want people to visit your blog. Just remember, that is what everyone else participating is feeling, too. Blog traffic exchanges won’t get truly targeted traffic to your blog. They also won’t bring active community participants or regular readers.
I think that analysis is a little pessimistic. Pam Blackstone, over at Random Bytes, argues that blog exchanges work on marketing principles, facilitating name recognition and familiarity. Moreover, surf exchanges aren't the be-all-end-all to site promotion. Try to post a good, high-quality entry every day. Excellent content pulls in readers, and over time they'll come back on their own for more. Also, when surfing, leave comments like crazy at blogs you like, or those with a similar focus to your own -- you'll be likely to build a network of like-minders bloggers that way, and people will be linking to your page in no time. See this Blogger article on building traffic for more information.

Well, I hope this post is informative and helpful. Good luck and happy surfing!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"The Plantation Metaphor": Black Athletes and American Sports History

In Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Susan Straight, who is a Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside, published a compelling book review of William Rhoden's recent book on black athletes, "Forty Million Dollar Slaves." A main theme of Rhoden's book holds that big-time sports for the African-American going back to the early 1700s has resembled a plantation system in which black athletes, to quote Straight's review, "have used superior physical ability as well as 'soul and style' not only to thrill and entertain their fellow Americans but also to make money for white owners, yet they have been unable to control their own destinies." Here's a longer segment from the review:

Rhoden begins with Tom Molineaux, a former slave whose boxing career took him to England in the early 1800s to fight the British champion. Before he was an internationally known athlete, he was a plantation slave. "The most talented enslaved athletes not only earned respect among fellow slaves, but also garnered favor among owners, who saw their prowess as an outward extension of the owner's own strength. For those in bondage, the image of the strong black body engaged in competition was a positive one, and a powerful symbol. The black athlete's strength and grace presented a powerful counter-image to the prevailing stereotypes of blacks as slump-shouldered, shuffling bondsmen with heads bowed and knees bent."

Rhoden writes about the Negro baseball leagues and about Jack Johnson, who became the first black to win the world heavyweight title in 1908. He recounts the fascinating and little-known history of black jockeys in America. He also traces the rising influence of top black athletes on modern American culture at nearly every level, through their performance, attitude, dress and sense of style.

Johnson, Rhoden writes, drove a cold realization through white America — that a black athlete had surpassed a white one, and that he desired to show fellow African Americans his triumph in all its glory. Rhoden includes a quote about the boxer from a white writer of the era: "With money in his pockets, physical triumph over white men in his heart, he displayed all the gross and overbearing insolence which makes what we call the buck nigger insufferable."

The book examines the integration of college football, the emerging dominance of black athletes in professional football and basketball, and the case of center fielder Curt Flood, a seven-time Gold Glove winner who in 1969 refused to be traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. "After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes," Flood wrote to then-commissioner of baseball Bowie Kuhn.

Rhoden describes Flood's lawsuit (which, though he lost, opened the way for others to become free agents), NBA player Larry Johnson's controversial reference to fellow Knicks as "rebellious slaves" in 1999 and other such episodes as examples of the similarities between modern professional sports and plantations of the past.

It is, according to Rhoden, all about money. From the earliest days, when slave owners pitted their slaves against each other in races or matches, money was on the table. And now, when every schoolyard basketball player dreams of being drafted by the NBA, it's still all about money. Think of only one example of the commodification of black style in sports — the shoe industry — and then think of the enormous profit made on shoes that cost a few dollars to manufacture overseas.
The book's title, as Straight notes, is a play on the words of the old historical promise to the former slaves after the Civil War of "40 acres and a mule." Perhaps the allusion is a little over the top, but in an era when young blacks -- in many cases emerging from a familiy or community background lacking a deep cultural ethic of educational attainment, and seeking upward mobility (and riches) through sports -- Rhoden's thesis of the commodification of black athletics ought to receive serious consideration. I found particular interest in the book's "plantation metaphor" in the context of my continuing series here at Burkean Reflections on "Jubilee," a novel of slavery, and the Southern planter society.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The "Boy Crisis" in American Higher Education

Sunday's New York Times ran a stimulating piece on the "boy crisis" at America's colleges and universities. According to current data from the U.S. Department of Education, men are less likely than women to graduate with a Bachelor's degree, they take longer to complete their schooling, and do less well in their classes. There is some scholarly consensus that the difficulties men face have origins in childhood, where differences across the genders are seen relatively early in life. Here's a passage from the article, discussing the changing college fortunes of men in recent years:

A quarter-century after women became the majority on college campuses, men are trailing them in more than just enrollment. Department of Education statistics show that men, whatever their race or socioeconomic group, are less likely than women to get bachelor's degrees — and among those who do, fewer complete their degrees in four or five years. Men also get worse grades than women.

And in two national studies, college men reported that they studied less and socialized more than their female classmates. Small wonder, then, that at elite institutions like Harvard, small liberal arts colleges like Dickinson, huge public universities like the University of Wisconsin and U.C.L.A. and smaller ones like Florida Atlantic University, women are walking off with a disproportionate share of the honors degrees. It is not that men are in a downward spiral: they are going to college in greater numbers and are more likely to graduate than two decades ago.

Still, men now make up only 42 percent of the nation's college students. And with sex discrimination fading and their job opportunities widening, women are coming on much stronger, often leapfrogging the men to the academic finish. "The boys are about where they were 30 years ago, but the girls are just on a tear, doing much, much better," said Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington.

Take Jen Smyers, who has been a powerhouse in her three years at American University in Washington.

She has a dean's scholarship, has held four internships and three jobs in her time at American, made the dean's list almost every term and also led the campus women's initiative. And when the rest of her class graduates with bachelor's degrees next year, Ms. Smyers will be finishing her master's. She says her intense motivation is not so unusual. "The women here are on fire," she said.

The gender differences are not uniform. In the highest-income families, men 24 and under attend college as much as, or slightly more than, their sisters, according to the American Council on Education, whose report on these issues is scheduled for release this week. Young men from low-income families, which are disproportionately black and Hispanic, are the most underrepresented on campus, though in middle-income families too, more daughters than sons attend college. In recent years the gender gap has been widening, especially among low-income whites and Hispanics.

When it comes to earning bachelor's degrees, the gender gap is smaller than the gap between whites and blacks or Hispanics, federal data shows. All of this has helped set off intense debate over whether these trends show a worrisome achievement gap between men and women or whether the concern should instead be directed toward the educational difficulties of poor boys, black, white or Hispanic.
Read the whole piece. The Education Department data confirms a trend in women's progress that has building for a while, and the emerging gap in success across the sexes raises a host of questions involving gender equality and civil rights. Women have long struggled for equality under the law in the United States. But as the article points out, women have done so well since the civil rights revolution and the feminist movement, that some fear a deep structural change in the U.S. demography, with perhaps the development of a large surplus of less well-educated men relative to women.

Note, though, that this is not a new discussion, and in fact there has been some interesting work done in journalism and scholarship suggesting that some of the changes in gender equality in the educational system amount to a "
war against boys." Business Week, back in 2003, published "The New Gender Gap," with the article's subtitle saying, "from kindergarten to grad school, boys are becoming the second sex":

It may still be a man's world. But it is no longer, in any way, a boy's. From his first days in school, an average boy is already developmentally two years behind the girls in reading and writing. Yet he's often expected to learn the same things in the same way in the same amount of time. While every nerve in his body tells him to run, he has to sit still and listen for almost eight hours a day. Biologically, he needs about four recesses a day, but he's lucky if he gets one, since some lawsuit-leery schools have banned them altogether. Hug a girl, and he could be labeled a "toucher" and swiftly suspended -- a result of what some say is an increasingly anti-boy culture that pathologizes their behavior.

If he falls behind, he's apt to be shipped off to special ed, where he'll find that more than 70% of his classmates are also boys. Squirm, clown, or interrupt, and he is four times as likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That often leads to being forced to take Ritalin or risk being expelled, sent to special ed, or having parents accused of negligence. One study of public schools in Fairfax County, Va., found that more than 20% of upper-middle-class white boys were taking Ritalin-like drugs by fifth grade.

Once a boy makes it to freshman year of high school, he's at greater risk of falling even further behind in grades, extracurricular activities, and advanced placement. Not even science and math remain his bastions. And while the girls are busy working on sweeping the honor roll at graduation, a boy is more likely to be bulking up in the weight room to enhance his steroid-fed Adonis complex, playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on his PlayStation2, or downloading rapper 50 Cent on his iPod. All the while, he's 30% more likely to drop out, 85% more likely to commit murder, and four to six times more likely to kill himself, with boy suicides tripling since 1970. "We get a bad rap," says Steven Covington, a sophomore at Ottumwa High School in Ottumwa, Iowa. "Society says we can't be trusted."

As for college -- well, let's just say this: At least it's easier for the guys who get there to find a date. For 350 years, men outnumbered women on college campuses. Now, in every state, every income bracket, every racial and ethnic group, and most industrialized Western nations, women reign, earning an average 57% of all BAs and 58% of all master's degrees in the U.S. alone. There are 133 girls getting BAs for every 100 guys -- a number that's projected to grow to 142 women per 100 men by 2010, according to the U.S. Education Dept. If current trends continue, demographers say, there will be 156 women per 100 men earning degrees by 2020.

Overall, more boys and girls are in college than a generation ago. But when adjusted for population growth, the percentage of boys entering college, master's programs, and most doctoral programs -- except for PhDs in fields like engineering and computer science -- has mostly stalled out, whereas for women it has continued to rise across the board. The trend is most pronounced among Hispanics, African Americans, and those from low-income families....

The trouble isn't limited to school. Once a young man is out of the house, he's more likely than his sister to boomerang back home and sponge off his mom and dad. It all adds up to the fact that before he reaches adulthood, a young man is more likely than he was 30 years ago to end up in the new and growing class of underachiever -- what the British call the "sink group."
Newsweek Magazine also had a story on this in January. Hat tip to Laurie Bagby, Associate Professor of Political Science at Kansas State University, for some of the sources for this post. (Bagby published an important article on Thucydides and international relations back in 1994.)