Needles & Threads

The week’s best from the Fray.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s resignation from the Supreme Court has fraysters projecting the coming political battle — both in the Senate come confirmation hearings and amongst social constituencies across the spectrum. Thrasymachus says that we should table any talk of a recess replacement for O’Connor:

No doubt, there are some people in the conservosphere advocating just that, but O’Connor herself seems to have anticipated this strategy, and disapproved. In this regard, the exact wording of her letter of resignation could be important. She wrote: “Dear President Bush, This is to inform you of my decision to retire from my position as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, effective upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor[.]”

This closes off the option of a recess appointment, since (as mentioned above) recess appointments aren’t confirmed. If Bush nominates someone over the Independence Day Recess to replace her, the new “acting” justice won’t be able to take office, because O’Connor’s resignation won’t yet be effective.

It’s very, very clever… and it says a great deal (none of it flattering) about what O’Connor thinks of this President’s judgment and scruples.
This prompts JLF to ask:
…how does Bush get out of this corner into which he has painted himself? Anything but a red-meat conservative will have his base screaming treason. Anything but a moderate will provoke a filibuster, and, given the agreement to which you refer, Bush can’t win a cloture vote. So what is he to do?
If T. was playing the role of George Bush
I’d wait for Congress to come back from its recess, and then nominate Janice Rogers Brown to the Supreme Court. She’s a hardcore conservative, she’s black, and she’s individually named in the filibuster deal as someone the Democrats promise not to filibuster.

The Democrats will argue that they only promised not to filibuster her for that appointment, but any GOP members of the “Gang of 14” who want to defect will be able to use that argument for cover.

Result: a damn good shot at undoing the filibuster deal, a hardline conservative on the Supreme Court, and a nice, divisive racial fracture in the Democratic party base. Plus, of course, a chance at the incalculable satisfaction of outsmarting all his enemies…
On the matter of O’Connor as jurist, KevClark weighs in with the popular criticism that
she decided things too narrowly, just this case too much. Hence, she left no general rules for anyone to follow. People with similar questions are left with no guidance to their situation since she only decided on the most narrow question.

Law ought to be clear. We ought to be able to clearly say what affirmative action program are legal and which are illegal. We ought to be able to clearly delineate between legal and illegal Christmas or religious displays. But with O’Connor’s jurisprudence, we have no idea what is legal or illegal until she tells us, and no matter what she says, we can’t apply it to other cases.
But Payne replies that O’Connor personifies “what we seek in a jurist”:
we have an intelligent, intellectually honest women with a right leaning personal philosophy who has been repeatedly forced to render decisions where her legal education and intellectuallly honest exploration have left her at odds with her personal leanings. Where possible, being the decent, honest, jurist that she is, she has chosen the most narrow interpretation possible of the legal, intellectual argument, so as to create the smallest effect possible on her contrary personal opinion.
What will be O’Connor’s legal legacy? Pass judgment at Jurisprudence Fray or with the gang over at Breakfast Table Fray.Here is some of the week’s best:
…Rove’s little formulation was a skilled bit of demagoguery. Many liberals did indeed think after 9-11 that it made more sense to approach 9-11 as a criminal conspiracy (a route that would have no coattails for Bush in terms of domestic electoral politics or policy) than an act of war. However, this had nothing to do with the silly idea of offering “therapy and understanding for our attackers.” These liberals just thought it would lead to a more effective approach. By caricaturing criminal justice as bleeding heart psychoanalysis(does Rove really think policemen and judges offer primarily “therapy and understanding” to rapists and murderers?) Rove was trying to inoculate Bush against an argument that will gather strength the more of a debacle Iraq, Afghanistan, and the search for Bin Laden become: the argument that the “war on terror” was foolish and misconceived from the start. Of course, the implicit insult to law enforcement is probably revealing. Rove and Bush along with him really do think that the rule of law is for sissies…–akaramazov, here, on the conflation of therapy and the rule of law. It is surprising that the view that history is largely the story of the lives and decisions of certain individuals gets such short shrift among academic historians. The history of the last century seems particularly well suited to the narrative. Great social and economic forces may have been at work in Germany, but it’s hard to imagine them taking as murderous a turn without Hitler. Soviet Communism may have taken many different directions but one man–Stalin accounted for much of its paranoia and extraordinary violence. Less dramatically, it’s hard to argue that the world wouldn’t be very different if presidential election of 2000 would have turned out differently.

The academic historians have done us a service in focusing attention on ordinary people and more abstract forces in recounting history. There will always be room, however, for a storyteller of Foote’s talent with an eye to the deeds and words of history’s great actors.–abogado, here, on Shelby Foote and the virtues of top-down history. As an Ethiopian living in the Diaspora, I wanted to chime in about aid and what I call Tony’s Big Misadventure in Africa.

Do we not learn anything from history? Do policy wonks ever get in a room and ask, “Now what the hell does it mean that we have poured money into Africa it has done nothing to move the continent along?”…What we need is Africa is not more money, because, seriously, if $500 billion doesn’t make a dent then surely it is not about money. What we need is for Tony Blair not to support despots. Can we start with that? Keep the money, lose the despot.

The potential of Ethiopia, under good leadership, is staggering. There are so many educated Ethiopians who are so tired of fighting with the government for small progress that we’ve chosen exile. 
The world cannot ignore what’s happening in Ethiopia and to her 71 million people. Failure here is giving every two-bit dictator tacit approval of the long-held tradition of corruption rampant in African governments. We are not asking the west for money, we are asking for it to understand, really understand, that what we want is to be “home of the free.” The president has said, “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know…
the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

Keep that promise; we’ll take care of the money part.–A frustratedmolqaqa, here, on debt relief for Africa.Yeah, Americans love Baseball because it is so exciting! No, they love it because they understand it – all its subtleties and arcana, and yes, occasional excitement. To say that Le Tour needs to be improved for more “action” is a testament to one’s inability to “see” fully what is on the TV screen. Race with a team some time. Road racing is very much a team sport that, while placing incredible emphasis on individual fitness, is ultimately a game of strategy. That’s hard to view through a box.–bikeracer, here, breaking away from Bill Gillford on the Tour de France.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

One of the prevailing themes from supporters of the administration’s strategy in Iraq is that it’s futile to argue whether we should have launched a pre-emptive invasion; we’re in Iraq, like it or not. Examining the justification for going to war after the fact is counterproductive because it’s a fait accompli.  What’s ironic is that most of the prominent voices recapitulating the 2003 debate belong to the administration and its backers rather than from the ranks of the I-told-ya-so delegation. And last night, the president spent the first third of his speech “reiterating virtually every reason for going to war with Iraq in the first place, sans WMDs,” writes The_Bell, here, asserting that the president’s address, while “not a bad speech,” was pep talk first, tactical prescription last.  According to The_Bell, the “speech fell short of what was needed for two reasons”:

First, the President did provide some specifics but these were nothing new, nothing different than what has been done before and which have left some many Americans fretting over a potential quagmire. The President clearly stated he would not follow any formal timetable for withdrawal because it would be demoralizing. “… it would send the wrong message to the enemy – who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out.” That made some sense to me. But combined with this was his continued stubborn refusal to consider bolstering troop strength, arguing this would also be demoralizing. “… sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever.”

Bush insisted that both he and his commanders on the ground felt troop levels were just fine for the current exigencies in Iraq but this seems at odds with a statement later in his speech when he thanked “those of you who have re-enlisted in an hour when your country needs you.”

Second, and perhaps most importantly, Bush called upon Americans to trust him and the worth of the U.S. mission in Iraq. But polls suggest most Americans have no quibble with our goals in Iraq but rather how the mission is being carried out. They understand that U.S. lives must be paid to obtain freedom but they want a sense that payment is buying progress. What Bush most clearly missed in his speech is that when giving a pep talk and asking your team to re-double its efforts, you have to acknowledge that you are having real problems or even losing at the moment.
Betty_the_Crow inspected the two versions of the speech—”the first was the speech as prepared, the second the speech as delivered,” and spotted a familiar refrain, to quote General John Vines, “We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us”:
Can you say “meme,” boys and girls? It’s the flypaper theory, which as noted elsewhere was never the most persuasive argument even before the CIA issued a report saying Iraq had become a living urban warfare laboratory for terrorists who were then taking their skills back home to find gainful terrorist employment in those countries.
BTC then begs and pleads with William Saletan, and presumably others with the burning urge to disclaim their motives, to “give it up”:
Invading Iraq wasn’t a good idea when it started; it was a terrible idea conceived and executed by the only people in the world who could fully exploit its awfulness. And it was obviously terrible, and many of the people who said it was a terrible idea were pretty accurate in defining its specific and likely and ultimately realized potentials for terrible-ness.

So damnit, man: Find another horse, this one done died. Fess up, get it over with and go on about your life.
Not surprisingly, response on the Fray to the presidential address generally broke along partisan lines. Fraysters such as JohnLex7 proclaim, “all hat, no cattle,” while locdog praises the “solid content, superb delivery” of the address:
the speech had a profoundly unifying message. the emphasis wasn’t on what we were doing in iraq in the first place, a hotly contested issue even today, but on why it’s so important to win now that we are there, whatever the cost–and that whatever-the-cost mentality was evident throughout the president’s remarks. while the president’s opponents take potshots from the gallery with calls for arbitrary timelines and other politically-imposed constraints ranging from the meaningless to the outright suicidal, he remains focused on victory.

the speech centered around what the president plainly sees as the fundamental truth of iraq, something that all americans, regardless of party affiliation, should be able to agree on: iraq is now the epicenter of the war on terror, and however high the price of victory, the price of defeat will be higher still. the enemy believes this unwaveringly, all the way up to bin laden himself. our resolve must be firmer still.
Critics of the war continue to batter the president on the matter of American sacrifice—issues ranging from the administration’s insistence on fighting a full-scale war while slashing taxes to supporters of the war not passing the rhetorical litmus test. J_Mann, here, lets Slate’s Fred Kaplan have it for perpetuating this notion:
I am absolutely sick of the rhetorical criticism that the President has failed by not asking Americans to “sacrifice” enough for the Iraq War…The idea that we should, as a nation, have some “commensurate sacrifice” with the soldiers in Iraq doesn’t make any sense. What would possibly qualify and what good would it do?…What, exactly, is wrong with Bush’s proposal that Americans make an effort to help military families, write letters to the troops, and fly the flag in support of the troops. Is Kaplan’s only criticism that it’s not painful enough?

…Finally, if Kaplan really thinks there is a moral obligation for US citizens to suffer “commensurate sacrifice” for the troops, I am curious what he, personally, has sacrificed. Is he waiting for the president to ask him, or does he get our a whip and mortify himself in solidarity with the troops, as he seems to recommend for the rest of the country?
Finally, Demosthenes2 weighs in at War Stories Fray, bookending his remarks on the speech with English aphorist Charles Caleb Colton up top, and his namesake, Demosthenes1, down below … KA 10:20 a.m.

Monday, June 27, 2005

BTC: While Fr_Ed would substitute “civil libertarian” for “liberal,” he has yet to find a more pithy summation of Dick Durbin’s remarks than this:

Rove held up Dick Durbin’s remarks — about expecting to hear about the torture detailed at Abu Ghraib and Bagram and elsewhere in connection with the worst despots and totalitarians the world has to offer, and not the US — as evidence of “liberal motives.” He’s right, albeit unintentionally; liberals do expect better of the US, and we’re not so chickenshit as to think the country can’t defend itself without tossing our values out the window.
Farther down the column, Betty_the_Crow evokes apprehension of the administration’s Iraq policy by Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and Lindsay Graham. What’s portentous about guys like Mel Martinez calling for the closure of Guantanamo and Hagel going so far as to state publicly a MoveOn-esque riff such as “disconnected from reality” is that these sentiments are exposing a chasm in the pro-invasion bloc between pragmatic interventionists and neo-conservative true believers—a division that’s always existed, but one that was easily attenuated by the “with us or with the terrorists” meme. As 2006 electoral battles begin to take root in swing states, it’ll be interesting to see where Republican candidates position themselves vis-à-vis Iraq. Light Shades of Green: Over in Breakfast Table Fray, MikefromHouston brings up an interesting strain from last week’s Kelo decision:
Kelo is about Environmentalism.No one seems to be getting the main issue with Kelo which is how it is tied to Regulatory Takings. Imagine this:

A law (can we say the Endangered Species Act) impacts MANY properties but diminishes the value only a few properties enough to qualify as a regulatory taking.
Right now the government can pay off the few people who are impacted by the law.

If Kelo was decided the other way, we begin the path any regulation that impacts any property is dissected by courts to determine if reaches to a newly created threshold of ‘public use.’ Wetlands protection? The Clean Air Act? Who knows what courts would find to be insufficient public use.
In reading the decision far more narrowly, Joe_JP contends, “The issue of regulatory takings has been dealt in the past.” Fr_Ed is no legal maven. Any other Juris-frayster care to weigh in on how broadly Kelo can be invoked in the future? Is this defeat for individual property owners a victory for enviros? Join the thread here. Area Moneyboxer Back in the Ring: It seems that Moneybox will be seeing a lot less of Scott_TOO in the coming weeks. Fraysters often comment (correctly) that quality responses to top posts go overlooked. Few users personify the art of the reply more so than S2. Fraywatch thanks Scott_TOO for his inexhaustible contributions and hopes to see him from time to time during his transition back to the workforce—and hopes that his new employer fully values what it’s getting … KA9:25 a.m.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Fray was relatively quiet on the new H.R. Clinton pulp came as a surprise to FrEd, and he wishes to extend his gratitude. This week, Fraysters gravitated to the Downing Street memo and the inscrutable Kelo decision, giving peripheral attention to the downward spiral that is Tom Cruise. 

It is true that the Downing Street Memorandum and other documents from London tell us little that is new, at least to attentive observers, about the timing of the decision to go to war with Iraq. That, however, is the less important question. I think anyone sensible agrees that Saddam had to be removed, sooner or later.

The far more important question is whether the Bush administration was and is competent enough to be entrusted with the dangerous and demanding task of invading Iraq, destroying the old regime, and rebuilding the country.

The answer to that, as supplied by documents prepared by America’s closest ally, is a resounding no…In one of the more damaging documents, a British diplomat urged prime minister Blair to get into contact with Bush, because the president clearly needed to know things that his own advisors were not telling him. In other words, the incompetence of the American government was to be resolved by personal intervention of the British PM — no doubt a rather too optimistic view of how US policy is made.

What these leaked documents show us is that although Britain allowed itself to be dragged into this war, British officials at the highest levels had serious misgivings about the competence and responsibility of their US counterparts.–MutatisMutandis, here, on the true import of the Downing Street memo.
The inexplicable Kelo case has ignited a firestorm on the talk shows which looks likely to build steadily over the coming weeks. In brief, the Court decided 5-4 that a local government can force a homeowner to sell to a developer if that developer can promise higher property taxes to the local government. This apparently is a public good. Just checking the 5th amendment (which several of the justices neglected to do):nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.As the Bill of Rights have been held to apply to state and local governments as well as the national government, one is at a loss to explain this decision.

I’m sure that a number of lefties won’t be pleased at the idea of mom and pop getting kicked out of the old homestead to make way for a Walmart; the decision was announced today, and we’ll likely hear howls of protest from all sides. But the fact remains that the dissenting justices were the conservative bloc and O’Connor. One is therefore unlikely to overturn this decision by nominating a Breyer.

The opportunity beckons, therefore, for the GOP to use the next Supreme Court nominee as something more than a base-cranking exercise about abortion or affirmative action silliness. Something that hits people where they live.

“Runaway activist judges say it’s OK for the government to evict you from your property to make way for fat-cat developers. Vote Republican, and send a message that the court should keep the government away from your family’s home.”

It’s glorious, I tell you, can’t miss…–Quirinus, here, offering his services to the RNC.
Will I be able to burn something that looks like a flag, but isn’t? You know, something with fifty-two stars, or fourteen stripes, or thirteen stripes - but one of them is pink? How about an oval flag, or one with a picture of Tom DeLay where the stars should be?

I’m not asking because I’m already going through flag-burning withdrawal and need the equivalent of flag-methadone. I’m thinking there might be a real market out there for pseudo-flags. Flags for people who want to burn a flag, but want to stay legal. All those flag-burners with all those unused matches. There may be a whole sector of people who have always wanted to burn a flag, but don’t like the stigma attached to burning a real one. Maybe even people who want to protest flag-burning by burning something that’s not a flag.

Maybe self-starting flags that don’t need matches? Like charcoal flagettes? I’m serious here, I smell real money. Of course, once it’s burned up, it would be hard to prove it’s not a flag, so they would have to have a fireproof non-flag proof-of-non-flagship emblem.

I need a website for marketing. Is taken? What about

Oops, sorry - gotta go. I smell something burning.–Ducadmo, here, getting into business for himself.
The sense of growing aimlessness and isolation that so many Americans are experiencing may not be so much because the U.S. is but a life raft adrift on a wide and stormy sea of anti-democracy hatred but rather of our own leadership’s poor choosing. It is interesting to note that Brennan Hawkins, the boy who was lost in the Utah desert, definitely delayed his own rescue and might have missed it altogether because he was following his parent’s instructions regarding “stranger danger.” He hid from rescuers on several occasions because he was not sure if they were “good people” or not. Alternately, authorities say Patrick Hannon, the man adrift off the Hawaiian shore, aided his rescue by sitting atop his life jacket, rather that strapping it around himself and lying low in the water – thus making himself a larger target for searchers.

How much longer then will we be content with failure to engage the rest of the world at any level other than militarily on the justification that too much of it does not understand and hates us – a truly self-fulfilling prophecy.–The_Bell, here, trying to chart a course.
…the confluence of world economics and world popular art have combined to make Mr. Cruise arguably the most successful movie star of the past 20 years.

He was at or near the top of the list back when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone ruled the charts, and that’s over for them now. Eddie Murphy and Kevin Costner used to be as big as Cruise, too, but no more.

Is Tom Cruise in the dramatic ballpark as James Stewart or the iconic star range of Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart? I don’t see it myself. But the audiences of the world think so. And with percentages of his worldwide grosses, the frivolous and unimportant Mr. Cruise can earn upwards of 60 million a movie.

Cruise is also famous for backing up his performances with non-stop worldwide promotion of his films and himself. Which is where “TomKat” comes in.

Ostensibly, possibly because he fired his longtime PR guru, something has gone wrong with Cruise’s usually savvy self-promotion. Or has it? He’s all over the summer media.

The judgment lies ahead: will Mr. Cruise’s charmed star career finally start to fade, ala such Number One stars as Rock Hudson, Burt Reynolds, Kevin Costner? Or will he go another 30 years, like Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman?..–lucabrasi, here, probing the TomKat appeal

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

After F1 gave its fans a big “FU” on Sunday, Fray editor expected to see commentary in Sports Nut Fray from the Fray’s leading Formula One maven, TheQuietMan. After being prodded from his hiatus, TQM jumped into SNF to assign blame for a jilt he calls “unprecedented in sports history.” Who’s responsible for Sunday’s anemic six-car race at Indianapolis? According to TQM:

First, Michelin. There is simply no excuse for not having a second set of tires. Worse, there is no excuse for not having the first tires meet safety requirements. Bridgestone’s tires were fine. There was no secret in the makeup of the road at Indianopolis. True - the road had been ground in a certain way 5 months earlier - but there is no way Michelin could have not known this.

Overall, I see no choice but for Michelin tires to be banned for next year. This was gross negligence on their part.

Second, the Michelin teams deserve a dollop of blame. a) They aren’t blind to their tires. They should have ensured the safety of the first set and the existence of the second; b) they should have raced and reduced speeds at the appropriate times. The F1 authorities were right to say that there was nothing wrong in giving the Bridgestone teams an edge - as F1 is built on teams having edges; c) they should have not insisted on the chicane addition. There was no reason to punish the Bridgestone teams for their own stupidity.

Third, the F1A gets their fingers dirty here. At least a small part of the problem is due to tire rule changes that started this year. It has meant we don’t get to see those remarkable tire changes at pit stops. And we do have to see some potentially serious accidents due to tire fatigue. A few weeks earlier Kimi Raikkonen literally wore his tire out on the final lap of the race and had to retire.
While Fray editor can’t reasonably call himself a race fan, he feels that Ferrari —the spoiled brat of open wheel racing—has to take a measure of responsibility. On Ferrari, TQM writes:
Fourth, Ferrari is to blame. They should have refused to race (the other two teams too - but really, they don’t count). This would have forced F1 to bend and add the chicane.
So, what should F1 do to mitigate Sunday’s betrayal?
F1 has never been successful in America. Its revenue base comes from everywhere else. So the direct impact won’t be great. But the lost opportunity - I’d wager the race won’t be invited back next year to Indianapolis - will have a major impact. And F1 fans elsewhere remain stunned at the colossal stupidity it took to generate such an outcome.

The paying public are demanding refunds. And they deserve them. But then the question becomes who takes the hit? The immediate answer would be the Indianapolis F1 people and the Speedway. And this seems a tad unfair. But I don’t think those who paid really care at this point. The event was a disgrace.
Sailorwalk responds to TQM, adding these as responsible measures for F1 to take:
1. Penalize Michelin in the selection process for a sole supplier for F1’s dubious future.
2. Better yet, a plague on both tire firms and choose a third firm.
3. Fine Bernie for his promoters fees and return it to the fans who were cheated on site.
4. Give one point for participation to each driver and two points to Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi for the Constructors title. The race wasn’t worth full points.
5. If it ever happens again, have a race ready to go or just allow the fans down to the pits to visit. A Fan Appreciation Day by the teams and a track walk might have smoothed a lot of ruffled feathers with F1 fans.
Elsewhere, sports nutters lambaste Felix Gillette for his unfortunately timed piece on Robert Horry. Gillette has composed terrific work for Sports Nut, and there’s probably no one outside Detroit Metro more distraught at Horry’s freaky heroics in Sunday’s pivotal Game 5. But, as you can probably imagine, fraysters like JimWum are piling on:
I understand that sports journalism is a Slate sideline, a racket undertaken … to fulfill Slate’s mission to appeal to a broad readership. And I generally find the articles well-written and occasionally thought-provoking. Mr. Gillette’s June 16 article, however, was disappointing and, indeed, maddening. Again, while recognizing that sport resides on Slate’s periphery, that does not absolve Slate’s editors of their fundamental responsibility to insure that a given piece, especially one of opinion such as Mr. Gillette’s, contains well-reasoned arguments and, at the very minimum, expresses a basic understanding of the topic in question. For example, would the Slate editors publish a piece on the war in Iraq that began, “When Saddam Hussein’s agents attacked New York on September 11, 2001 …”? They certainly would not, but Mr. Gillette’s piece was published despite expressing similarly contrived conclusions; so egregious are these conclusions that Mr. Gillette’s credibility as a commentator does not survive the first - the very first - paragraph.
For more target practice, see CAguy hereKA 11:50 a.m.

Monday, June 20, 2005
Mr_Dick reasons that the dominoes that the Bush administration wanted to set into motion with the invasion of Iraq have been thrown into disarray. “So how do we put the dominoes back up in place?” Mr_Dick asks, soliciting this response from Fritz_Gerlich:

Shaking things up and setting things right are two different things.

There is little doubt that popular restlessness and discontent with traditional power arrangements are sweeping (or at least creeping) through south Asia. Most of the nations of the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central Asia are showing symptoms of one degree or another. And the natural (almost inevitable) ideological form for any popular resistance to centralized power is “democracy.”

The problem is that there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the constitution. (Hmmm … that needs work.) Shaking things up may indeed be, as Samuel Adams Bush argues, a necessary precondition to the spread of “freedom.” The old idea that Westernized elites would gradually “modernize” their “traditional” societies into constitutional democracies was getting a bit far-fetched by the late 1960’s, and after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was rapidly abandoned for the extreme cynicism of Reagan foreign policy, i.e., any caudillo in a storm. There things have more or less remained; and there but for the grace of Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atta, and Godfrey de Bouillon Bush, they would likely remain indefinitely.

(Well, that’s oversimplifying a tad. I mean, the crackup of the USSR does have something to do with it. But the rapid growth of popular restlessness, expressed some places through electoral politics (e.g., Iraq, Iran, Ukraine), some places through street politics (e.g., Georgia, Lebanon, Ukraine), some places through armed insurgency (e.g., Uzbekistan, Iraq, Afghanistan), and some places through a mixture of some or all of the foregoing (e.g., Pakistan)–all this has accelerated in Asia since Lev Davidovich Bush made clear that his policy was to use military force to upset the existing power arrangements in the Mideast.)

To borrow a metaphor from physics, high energy states cannot be sustained for long. Systems will rapidly seek their most stable configuration. No, they won’t maintain such configurations forever, either, because of the inevitability of perturbation. But absent constant energy input, they will spend much more time in stable than in unstable configurations. And I take it as a given that there are limits on energy input. Long-term states of active crisis are indeed possible, but they are not common.

So with societies. There surely is, as Patrick Henry Bush asserts, a very wide and deep yearning for change in much of the world. That yearning is the social equivalent of energy. It is not self-forming, self-defining, self-stabilizing. Once a social-political system enters disequilibrium, factors other than the desire for change will decide what configurations it can fall into, and ultimately, and what configurations it will fall into, for shorter or longer periods. Those factors consist primarily of existing social and cultural arrangements and institutions. These things do not depend very much on changing political fortunes. They are necessarily what people fall back on in times of uncertainty. Sticking with your tribe (ethnic, religious, clan, or however defined) is not, as Americans tend to think, mere backwardness. In most of the world through most of history it has been an indispensible survival strategy. Its day is far from finished, especially in the sector of the globe we are talking about.

Of course, Simon Bolivar Bush and Toussaint L’Overture Rice don’t see their excellent adventure as just a whole lotta shakin goin on. They see it as a stately waltz to constitutional democracy in places that have never known it. But this is a bit like predicting that the next eruption of Mount St. Helens will form a recognizable likeness of Paris Hilton in the sky.

Well, gamblers do win sometimes.