“Don’t do stupid [stuff]” and “Smart Power” — what’s the difference?

Hillary Clinton famously chided President Obama for his foreign policy when she declared: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” But what is the organizing principle of Clinton’s foreign policy?

According to Clinton, it is “smart power.” In remarks posted on her website (before it was scrubbed of content), she said she is “enormously proud of what we have achieved” using her “smart power approach” to foreign policy.

On the face of it, “don’t do stupid [stuff]” and “smart power” seem like basically the same “organizing principle.” As one of our readers puts it, they both reflect “the attitude that leftists are smarter than idiots like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, etc., and that their high IQs will make all right in the world.”

To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, “I’m smarter than you” is not an organizing principle.

“Don’t do stupid [stuff]” and “smart power” also provide the identical excuse for eschewing the use of force in situations where, throughout most of human history, force has been employed. By invoking these mantras, leftist politicians can claim they eschew using force to defend American interests and values not because they are soft or pacifist-leaning, but because they are smart.

“Smart power” sounds more impressive than “don’t do stupid [stuff].” It contains the word “power” and seems less passive. But is there any substantive difference between the two mantras?

“Smart power” proponents would cite their reliance on non-military forms of action, i.e., economic and diplomatic. But the “don’t do stupid [stuff]” proponents in the Obama administration have relied on economic and diplomatic action in lieu of military power. For them, quite clearly, these forms of behavior aren’t stupid. The use of U.S. ground forces is.

Thus, the foreign policy principles of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton turn out to be the same bit of delusional arrogance. “Don’t do stupid [stuff]” is simply the colloquial, more snarky equivalent of “smart power.”

We shouldn’t be surprised by the equivalence. Clinton did, after all, serve as Secretary of State under Obama, as much as she would like people to forget the collaboration.

The case of the mystery virus

Twin Cities internist Chris Foley is a faithful reader whom I know in his professional capacity. Today he writes to address the case of the mystery virus:

It might be worth a short commentary re the connection between the sudden “mystery” virus that is hospitalizing children all over the US and the indiscriminate distribution of illegal alien kids “all over the US.” To wit: “Human rhinoviruses and enteroviruses in influenza-like illness in Latin America.”

‘Tis anything but a mystery, yet the MSM appears utterly blinded.

In a follow-up message, Dr. Foley writes a little more tentatively:

This is basically the same virus commonly seen in the equatorial Americas and South America. The very odd emergence of this virus at this time – especially just prior to the new school year and now fueled by the congregation of children in schools – demands an explanation. The only plausible one is that this has been brought here from south of the – now non-existent – border.

Although there will be a good deal of epidemiological work to be done before this can be scientifically associated, there is a deafening silence on the part of public health officials and the mainstream media in even speculating about this association. This is not simply a case of being politically selective about the news, it is downright dangerous and could be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the emergence of diseases long absent from daily life in America now suddenly popping up “inexplicably.” By the way the article from the Journal that I cited [linked above] likely represents gross underreporting which is typical in South America.

I trust that the truth will out some time after Obama issues his royal decree regularizing illegals after the midterm elections.

What’s Wrong With California in One Map

Remember Barry Goldwater’s famous line that the country would be better off if we sawed off the Atlantic seaboard and let it drift out to sea?  Well, the same thing should be said of coastal California.

This isn’t exactly news of course, but below is a great photo that dramatizes the problem: it shows which California counties have banned single-use plastic bags.  No mystery as to the politics of this.  Of course, plastic bag bans are environmentally as well as economically stupid (that’s usually the case when the two factors are considered together).  FWIW, I always reuse my plastic bags, and even made some custom products with them.  (I’ll show you some time when I get back from my current road trip.) Even my temporary hamlet last year, the People’s Republic of Boulder, hasn’t banned plastic bags: they just put a 10-cent tax on them.  Naturally, California’s legislature has passed a statewide plastic bag ban.  Jerry Brown is expected to sign it, if he hasn’t already.

So we may as well saw off all of California and send it out to sea.  Just give me advance notice so I can move to Nevada.

California Bags copy

Jan Karski’s message

I first learned of Jan Karski’s story in Walter Laqueur’s The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth About Hitler’s “Final Solution,” published in 1980 (and first learned of Laqueur’s book from George Will’s excellent column on it in the Washington Post that year). Karski was an incredibly brave and dignified man. We need to attend to his example, now more than ever.

Karski performed heroic service in World War II and moved to the United States, where he earned a Ph.D., became a citizen and taught at Georgetown University. Joshua Muravchik was one of Karski’s many students at Georgetown. This week he wrote about Karski in the essay “A tree grows in Lublin.” It is an intensely moving and instructive essay. I want to take the occasion of Muravchik’s essay to revisit Karski’s story, but please don’t pass up the essay.

When the war broke out Karski served in the East as an officer in the mounted artillery. He was taken prisoner by the forces of the Soviet Union. Because the Soviet forces routinely held back Polish officers, most of whom never returned, Karski disguised himself as a private and was repatriated to Poland, where the Germans put him on a train to a labor camp. He escaped from the train and made his way to Warsaw where he joined the Underground, for which he worked as a courier.

Work as a courier was of course a high-risk affair. On one mission in June 1940, he was caught by the Gestapo and tortured. Unsuccessfully attempting suicide in captivity, he slit his wrists. He was sent to to a prison hospital from which he escaped. Karski lived underground in Warsaw in 1941-1942. Prior to his last mission as a courier, Karski met with Jewish leaders, whose message he solemnly promised to convey to the West.

He visited the Warsaw ghetto in October 1942. This did not, in Karski’s words, present any special difficulty; the area of the ghetto had shrunk after the deportations of June-September 1942. The tramways that crossed the ghetto reached the streets which had been taken over by the “Aryans.” Elsewhere one could enter or leave the ghetto through the cellars of houses which served as the ghetto wall.

Karski informed Laqueur that he was taken to a shop nearby the Belzec death camp by a Jewish but “Aryan-looking” contact. The contact provided both a uniform (of an Estonian guard) and a permit. He entered Belzec with his contact through a side gate. There he saw “bedlam” — the ground littered with weakened bodies, hundreds of Jews packed into railway cars covered with a layer of quicklime. The cars were closed and moved outside the camp; after some time they were opened, the corpses burned and the cars returned to the camp to fetch new cargo.

After watching the scene for some time he began to lose his nerve. He wanted to escape and walked quickly to the nearest gate. His companion approached Karski and harshly shouted: “Follow me at once!” They went through the same side gate they had entered and were not stopped.

Karski arrived in London to convey his message to the West in November 1942. In July 1943 he traveled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt and many others. The message he conveyed to Anthony Eden, President Roosevelt and others is reproduced in Laquer’s book at pages 232-235, from which this post is closely adapted. Karski reported to Laqueur that Roosevelt’s response was: “Tell your nation we shall win the war” and some more such ringing messages. He also met with Justice Felix Frankfurther. Frankfurter’s response was: “I don’t believe you.” It’s not that he thought he was lying: “I did not say this young man is lying. I said I don’t believe him. There is a difference.”

Laqueur writes that Karski was neither the first nor the last courier to arrive in the West from Warsaw with news of the Holocaust, but as far as the information about the fate of the Jews in Poland was concerned, he was certainly the most important.

Karski patiently submitted to Laqueur’s detailed questioning in a September 1979 interview and even wrote out for him the message that he (Karski) conveyed to President Roosevelt, Anthony Eden and others in 1942 and 1943. According to Laqueur, the message could not be published during the war. Karski’s message is included in Appendix 5 to Laqueur’s book. Laqueur comments elsewhere in the book:

Democratic societies demonstrated on this occasion as on many others, before and after, that they are incapable of understanding political regimes of a different character….Democratic societies are accustomed to think in liberal, pragmatic categories; conflicts are believed to be based on misunderstandings and can be solved with a minimum of good will; extremism is a temporary aberration, so is irrational behavior in general, such as intolerance, cruelty, etc. The effort needed to overcome such basic psychological handicaps is immense….Each new generation faces this challenge again, for experience cannot be inherited.

Before the war Poland was of course home to a thriving Jewish community of some 3,000,000. By the end of the war the Nazis had eliminated the community through the death camps they operated in the country with German efficiency.

For reasons that Muravchik discusses in his essay, Karski maintained a despairing silence about his wartime experiences until he was interviewed for Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah in the late 1970′s. Video clips of Lanzmann’s interview have been posted on YouTube. I think the clip below represents the opening of the interview. This is powerful stuff. Please take a look.

In the clip below Karski recounts his meeting with Roosevelt.

In the clip below Karski recounts his meeting with Frankfurther.

The Holocaust Museum’s Spielberg video archive has posted a compilation of video clips with Karski here and a transcript here.

Do you know the way to Mel Tormé?

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Mel Tormé on September 13, 1925. I think Tormé is simply one of the all-time great American artists, too little known and vastly underappreciated. Permit me this salute in the hope that I might interest you in deepening your familiarity with his work.

Tormé died at age 73 in 1999 in Los Angeles at the end of an incredibly fruitful career. The wonderful Allmusic Guide take on Tormé by William Ruhlmann testifies to the variety of his gifts:

[G]iven the breadth of his talents, he might have been a bandleader since, in addition to singing, he was also a drummer good enough to have gotten offers to go on the road as early as his teens, a songwriter responsible for one of the perennial Christmas standards, and an arranger who wrote the charts for much of the music he performed. Amazingly, this is still only a partial list of his accomplishments, which also included acting in more than a dozen feature films and on radio and television; hosting radio and TV shows; and writing television dramas, numerous articles for periodicals including Down Beat and The New York Times, and six published books of fiction, biography, and music criticism.

By the age of four, Tormé was singing professionally with the Coon-Sanders Band at Chicago’s Blackhawk Hotel. In his memoir It Wasn’t All Velvet, Torme situates the commencement of his career at the end of the Roaring Twenties:

Flagpole sitters were still doing their dizzying thing, daredevils walked tightropes between buildings twenty-five stories high, and ex-World War I aviators were flying surplus Jennies under the Brooklyn Bridge. Novelty was the key to success and a kid in short pants and a beret belting out pop tunes with a famous band fit right in with the nutty goings-on that attended the collapse of Wall Street and the subsequent Great Depression.

Tormé’s singing demonstrates incredible musicality, consummate taste, perfect time, and great harmonic gifts. Early in his singing career he teamed with Peggy Lee’s future husband Dave Barbour, who was a member of the quartet that occasionally backed Torme in the 1940′s. Torme’s strengths as a vocalist seem to me to share much in common with Lee’s. His range, control, and scatting ability, however, put him somewhere in the vicinity of Ella Fitzgerald’s neighborhood at the apex of the craft; Fitzgerald was certainly one of his favorite singers.

You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Tormé tear through popular music’s gift to the geometry student, “Pythagoras, How You Stagger Us,” a song that dates from the early period of Tormé’s singing career documented on Proper Records’ four-disc collection Jazz and Velvet (now supplemented by The Quintet & Beyond).

Tormé continued to perfect his craft as a jazz singer throughout his career. He was not only an incomparable stylist, he got better as he got older. In 1956, for example, he recorded two brilliant albums with the Marty Paich Dek-tette that are now collected on the aptly titled The 1956 Torme-Paich Legendary Sessions. In 1988 Torme reunited with Paich at the Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival in Japan for a live set that is still available on disc. A video from that date (no longer available on YouTube; will somebody please restore it?) includes a magnificent rendition of the Ted Koehler/Harold Arlen composition “When the Sun Comes Out.” In the video above Torme flies high with the great George Shearing at the Newport Jazz Festival.

It may be only a slight exaggeration to say that Tormé never really found a sympathetic producer or record company until 1982, when he commenced a collaboration with Concord Records that resulted in something like the music of the spheres. I absolutely love The Best of the Concord Years, a two-disc compilation that whets your appetite for all the rest. When I wanted to get to know his work, this is where I started and I recommend it without reservation. It is superb, from beginning to end.

Tormé’s work with Shearing on Concord is full of beauty and hijinks. In the liner notes to the two-disc collection of Tormé’s highlights on Concord, Shearing writes that in the Ellington medley he’s playing “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart” while Tormé is singing “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Shearing comments: “We had to stay sober while recording this one!”

Tormé ended his career on the many high notes reflected in the Concord recordings. The several live recordings from this era (not all on Concord) are also noteworthy. Mel Torme and Friends Live at Marty’s (originally released in 1981), for example, shows Tormé in especially fine form. In the video of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” above, Tormé is still operating somewhere near the height of his powers, accompanied by John Colianni in concert in 1994.

Toward the end of his memoir, Tormé writes: “Timing is everything, particularly in the music business.” Torme’s career came to an end with the stroke he suffered in August 1996. His last recording was An Evening with Mel Torme, recorded the month before his stroke. His final recorded song turned out to be Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Timing may indeed be everything, but Torme’s career is also a reminder of the fact that even genius occasionally requires persistence combined with raw talent to produce the full flowering of great gifts.

The video below gives the last word to Ella and Mel — Andy Williams introduces them as “the first lady of song and the last word in talent” — with a teachable moment.

Bill Maher flips

To borrow Rick’s lovelorn lament in Casablanca: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, Bill Maher walks into mine (and John Hinderaker’s). My gin joint, so to speak, is Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, where I drink, live, and vote. Bill Maher has walked in to announce that he has has picked incumbent Republican Rep. John Kline to knock off in Maher’s bid to Flip a District. Maher is a showbiz millionaire who is going to pour money into the district to try to flip it to a Democrat. Flip off is more like it.

We think John is going to win his rematch against Democrat Mike Obermueller in 2014. John beat Obermueller by over 7 points in 2012, a good Democratic year. In 2014 Obermueller is a generic Democrat running in a marginally Republican district in a good Republican year. John should do at least as well has he did in 2012 against Obermueller this time around.

Moreover, to say the least, John is a meritorious incumbent and a worthy candidate for reelection. He is an extraordinarily solid conservative and man, having served in his first career with distinction as a Marine officer who carried the nuclear football for President Carter and President Reagan. He is a model congressman. In a time when national security issues have returned to the forefront, his wisdom and experience are badly needed in Congress.

If Maher is serious, one would conclude that he has chosen poorly. Shortly after the announcement, Maher himself admitted he doesn’t know anything about John. “I’ve never heard of John Kline, but he sounds like he might be Jewish,” Maher joked. As a comedian, anyway, Maher is serious. He has reached his usual level of hilarity on the humor front.

The disappointment in the report on Maher’s announcement by the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake is palpable. Blake laments: “He picked the wrong guy.” You can annoy Maher by contributing to John Kline here.

The Week in Pictures: Unitarian Edition

The most astounding news of the week is that the Bad Guys of the Week in the Middle East, the “Islamic State In Iraq” (ISIS) or the “Islamic State In the Levant” (ISIL) or ISIOMH (“Islamic State Inside Obama’s Mush Head”) is not Islamic!  Pay no attention to the term Islamic in their name!  I’m sure Obama is right; they’re probably Unitarian Universalists.  Oops—that’s the problem: they’re universalists.  They want to take over the world.  Obama also said ISIOMH is not a State.  So what’s the problem then?  I thought advanced liberalism today was against the nation-state, and for cosmopolitan movements that transcend things like borders and arbitrary lines on a map.  I’m confused here. Almost as confused as the Obama Administration.

No Islamic copy

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Golf Shoes in Iraq copy Play Through 1 copy Play Through 2 copy

Romny Was Right copy

One is a person who lives in a fantasy world and thinks he has super powers.  The other person is Superman.

One is a person who lives in a fantasy world and thinks he has super powers. The other person is Superman.

Obama theater copy

Is has come to this?

Is has come to this?

Uh oh.  This can't be good.

Uh oh. This can’t be good.

Boycott Palestinian Goods copy Hillary Denier copy

Bingo copy

Autocorrect Enema copy

Talking to the Wine copy Easter Island Pez copy Cigarette Buttocks copy Cleaning Spiderman copy Rat Maze copy Cool Dog copy Time Travel copy No Hipsters copy No Hipster 2 copy

No Worm copy

You May Be Cool copy

Capn Mal 3 copy

And finally. . .

Hot 150 copy