Thursday, January 31, 2013

This is rich

So the food police went looking for the usual suspects in food poisoning and caught a vegan red-handed brandishing a lettuce leaf:

The new report is the most comprehensive CDC has produced on the sources of food poisoning, covering the years 1998 through 2008. It reflects the agency's growing sophistication at monitoring illnesses and finding their source.
What jumped out at the researchers was the role fruits and vegetables played in food poisonings, said Griffin, who heads the CDC office that handles foodborne infection surveillance and analysis.
About 1 in 5 illnesses were linked to leafy green vegetables — more than any other type of food.

 It would be nice if these tiresome people would button up their pie holes, but don't count on it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Anonymous geniuses of the Internet

As a writer, I often find the anonymous geniuses of the Internet demoralizing. I've been trying to make the point above six ways to Sundays, and some guy does it in 34 words.

(I originally posted this as anonymous, because it wasn't labled on the FB post, but a hovering courser revealed a credit to Claire Purvis Nelli, whoever she is.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dead wrong

Following up on the previous post, I find Guardian columnist Dean Baker writes:

The news that the UK, with negative growth in the fourth quarter of 2012, faces the prospect of a triple-dip recession, should be the final blow to the intellectual credibility of deficit hawks. You just can't get more wrong than this flat-earth bunch of economic policy-makers.
What's really bizarre is that Britain tried austerity in the early '30s, and it was a thundering disaster then, too. It always is.

The only good thing to come out of the National government's budgets was Orwell's "The Spike," his report of wandering with the armies of jobless men in the late '30s.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A capsule history of public debt

Until 1693, sovereign debt really was the personal obligation of the sovereign. That year, England financed a war by setting up a bank to buy public bonds, and the government – not the king – was responsible for paying them off.

That was the start of modern national debts. There had been earlier attempts, notably in the Italian republics. In some ways, the Venetians had a more sophisticated notion of public debt than we do; they did not roll over for speculators, unlike the American habit established by the corrupt Alexander Hamilton and unaltered since.

The Bank of England was a desperate expedient, but within less than 50 years, a funded, permanent public debt was recognized as a good thing. An expanding urban merchant class was amassing non-land assets at an unprecedented rate, and they needed a safe place to store them: public bonds.

Market-oriented expedients were dangerous, as the English had learned from John Law's disasters in France.

It was not yet appreciated – in Tea Party salons it is not appreciated yet – that hard money stymied economic expansion. Inflation is good and controllable. Deflation is bad and no one knows how to control it.

Jackson paid down the public debt, leading to some of slowest economic growth in our history. Franklin Roosevelt, elected as a deficit hawk, changed his mind and established the conditions for the greatest economic expansion of all time.

As an economy expands, the public debt needs to expand also. It is possible to expand public debt too much, but few people seem to understand that it is also dangerous to restrain the growth of public debt.

If you're going to have a big economy, you must have a big government. Small government ideals are the result of the economic illiteracy of Americans.

When I wrote this, I had not seen E.J. Dionne's latest column where he says:

  Gradually, establishment thinking is moving toward a new consensus that puts growth first and looks for deficit reduction over time. In the last few months, middle-of-the-road and moderately conservative voices have warned that if we cut the deficit too quickly, too soon, we could throw ourselves back into the economic doldrums — and increase the very deficit we are trying to reduce.
Here, for example, is excellent advice from the deservedly respected (and thoroughly pro-market) economic columnist Martin Wolf, offered last week in the Financial Times: “The federal government is not on the verge of bankruptcy. If anything, the tightening has been too much and too fast. The fiscal position is also not the most urgent economic challenge. It is far more important to promote recovery. The challenges in the longer term are to raise revenue while curbing the cost of health. Meanwhile, people, just calm down.”

I think Dionne is wildly overoptimistic.

Book Review 266: Uncommon Law

UNCOMMON LAW, by A.P. Herbert. 494 pages. Dorset

Although these 66 humorous essays were written 80 years ago in another land, some of A.P. Herbert's themes maintain their relevance today. Particularly his bitter campaign against England's (but not, as he was always careful to note, Scotland's) divorce laws.

Divorce is a thriving legal business in America today, but only because of the ingenuity of aggrieved spouses; there are not, I conceive, any legal philosophical issues of note. However, many of Herbert's points can easily be recast into the same-sex marriage debate.

Herbert, trained in law, wrote for Punch as the Victorian (and earlier) legal ideas were giving way, reluctantly, to modernism in England. Not a questioner of class values, he did not touch the kind of political-legal issues that, say, Claud Cockburn was ventilating in The Week. A novelist by profession, Herbert was more interested in social norms.

In one of the first of his “Misleading Cases,” he asks whether an Englishman has the right to jump off a (low) bridge just because he feels like it. Constable Boot (one of a cast of recurring characters) thinks not though he cannot quite say why.

Albert Haddock, who ought to be as well known as Colonel Blimp or Mr. Polly, thinks so.

Haddock spends much of his time duelling with tax collectors, but the more interesting essays are about regulations of personal conduct: drinking hours, marriage, publishing.

It is not easy to state briefly why these essays are funny. They are so in the low-key Punchian way; in an early essay, Herbert has a judge refer to a reasonable man as “this excellent but odious character.” (The judges have humorous names like Wool and Sheep, but in an introduction Herbert writes that such obvious tipoffs failed to prevent a few provincial journalists from falling for these legal “reports” as the real thing.)

After writing these japes for about a decade, Herbert was elected to Parliament, where he was successful in reforming England's licensing, divorce and obscenity laws, something that I think no American humorist can match.

His overall strategy – employed both humorously and seriously – was the reductio ad absurdam: “The way to remove a fantastic measure from the statute book is not to evade or ignore it but to enforce it.”

Of all the absurdities, Herbert felt the divorce restrictions most keenly: “Legal actions concerning the personal relationships of men and women must always be odious to a civilized community.”

(It has little to do with Herbert, but it is interesting to note that at precisely this time, England's imperial administrators made a point of not interfering in sharia law where it concerned issues of personal status, like marriage, in the colonies, although some of these rules would have been odious to Herbert – and some not. Divorce was easy for Muslim men, and while Herbert was for easy divorce, he was careful to demand fair treatment for the parties, something not found in sharia law.)

It is a measure of Herbert's passionate feelings about divorce that while most of these feuilletons (as they would be called in Europe) run about 20 or 30 paragraphs, he has a piece (Called “ 'Not a crime' “) about divorce that runs 20 pages, and he expanded it into a whole book, “Holy Deadlock,” which he claimed led to the reform of the divorce laws.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The nemesis of the NRA

This is too funny.

I follow a few blogs and comment from time to time on 3 or 4 of them.

Recently, there has been some discussion on several of them concerning open carry, concealed carry and the location of shootings on college campuses. To sum up a variety of gun nut comments spread over several locations, the idea is that college shootings only occur in states were colleges are 'gun-free zones' --  in places like Texas lots of people carry, although few around them may realize who is armed, so shooters will avoid shooting up Texas schools.

Well, that's the theory anyway. Practice, not so much.

The great antidote to the fantasies of the gun nuts is the daily newspaper.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gong Show in Davos

Remind me again why executives just have to be paid 500 times what ordinary workers are paid:

The parade of economists and investors led by Nouriel Roubini predicting Greece’s ejection by now from the euro zone failed to appreciate the resolve of European policy makers to protect their union and the amount of pain Greeks are willing to stomach. . . .
Joining him in questioning whether the 17-nation euro region was built to last and declaring Greece’s departure imminent, inevitable or in its interest were hedge-fund manager John Paulson, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. President Gary Cohn, Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, Pacific Investment Management Co. Chief Executive Officer Mohamed El- Erian, Kenneth Rogoff and Martin Feldstein of Harvard University and Citigroup Inc. chief economist Willem Buiter.
If anybody has been following RtO since its inception (at The Maui News) early in 2008, he or she may recall that I stated it as obvious then that modern economies have enormous resiliency, so that a) they tend to recover from setbacks fairly quickly; and b) it takes some really, really stupid ideological interference to knock them down.

The rightwingers provided the interference. Fortunately, the residuum of good sense that the New Dealers and Keynesians taught two generations ago was strong enough for governments to adopt their backstop role as lender-of-last-resort and prevent the idiots from destroying prosperity for a generation, like the rightwingers did in the '20s.

Unfortunately, the other lesson of the New Deal -- unsupervised markets fail but reasonable supervision makes them work -- did not survive the assault of the Reaganites.

I notice, from comments around the Internet, that the advice of the rightwingers in 2008 to let the market be the market (that is, to repeat Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's advice in 1930 to liquidate labor, liquidate stocks etc.) has been thrown down the memory hole.

If you read the whole Bloomberg News report from Davos, you'll see that the geniuses (who, if you look at that list, include a couple of well-known leftwingers) are predicting that Greece will still fail and force eurocide.

During the past few weeks, I have been reading the humor columns of A.P. Herbert in Punch written in 1931, when Britain was attempting to work its way out of the collapse caused by free market and solid money policies through austerity and providing Herbert with plenty of room to make jokes at the expense of the Inland Revenue. This reinforces my view, which will be obvious to anyone who knows economic history, that if the rightwingers continue to have their way with Greece, they will indeed kill the Greek economy, and very likely the euro along with it.

A good man with a gun

Just hours after Gov. Rick Perry invited New Yorkers with guns to move to Texas, where guns are regarded as a good thing to have around, a Texas man shot his wife, then himself. At his daughter's 16th birthday party.

Sweet 16.

A good man with a gun, by Rick Perry and NRA standards, since he apparently (police were still checking) had no criminal record. Whether he was crazy -- apart from taking a gun to a teen birthday party -- was not reported by Raw Story.

That gets the number of Americans shot to death since the Newtown massacre up to around a thousand, and the number saved by gun-totin' hunnerd-percent 'Muricans to -- zero.

The Texas party follows, by a very short interval, the slaughter of a family of 5 in New Mexico and of another family in Kentucky (plus who knows how many others haven't crossed my computer screen in the past 96 hours?).

In none of these cases was the home invaded by scary black dudes, or by anybody else. All this shooting was homegrown, with guns kept around the house. The New Mexico house was found to be full of firearms.

During my 45 years as a newspaper reporter, there were uncounted little domestic slaughters like these in the circulation zones of the papers I worked for. The very first news story I ever reported for a daily newspaper concerned a 13-year-old boy who shot his father in the back with the family shotgun.

It is just possible that this shooting did halt a murder, or at least some serious violence. The father was chasing the mother around the house with, at least, mayhem in mind. Of the scores, perhaps hundreds -- I wasn't keeping a list -- of similar domestic slaughters that happened on my watch (not necessarily ones that I reported), I cannot recall another that even potentially prevented other violence. And while some may have slipped my mind, I recall only one of these family murders that did not involve a gun -- a women stabbed her boyfriend in the back with a butcher knife.

How many people were shot to death in these family get-togethers? Hundreds, at least.

And how many times during a period of 45 years did an armed citizen stop a murderous attack, at home or at some public place where he was lawfully in attendance? Never.

That's right. Zero, nil, zip, nada, nothing.

It happens from time to time, somewhere, but compared to the millions of Americans shot to death, not to any extent worth mentioned.

Let's state the obvious: Some parts of the Constitution, like having state legislatures elect senators, were ill-conceived. The Second Amendment was one of these mistakes, and we ought to repeal it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The craziest gun nut statement ever

Little Green Footballs keeps me up to date with Glenn Beck. Via a link to RightWingWatch, we can see and hear Beck, in a pro-gun tirade, say:

I stand with Gandhi
Well, not really. Gandhi is the one who advised the Jews to commit suicide as some sort of lesson to the world about the badness of Nazism.

I know, Neither one of them makes any sense.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Embattled farmers

.Some days, the gun nuts say the reason we have to let them run around unsupervised is that they have a natural right to protect their homes and families from all those scary, lascivious black dudes who are trying to break in. But on other days, they say the real reason for the Second Amendment is that only an armed citizenry is able to resist government tyranny.

Consider the second. Is an armed citizenry competent to resist a centrally organized tyranny? History says no.

The obvious place to look for a yes would be the American Revolution. After all, the men who gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution had just finished rebelling against what they regarded as the tyranny of Britain. It is significant that they did not originally see any necessity to provide guarantees about private firearms.

They knew that the Revolution was not won by "embattled farmers." Although in the 1770s and '80s, the disparity in firepower between a citizen militia and the army was tiny compared to today, the lightly-armed irregulars were unable to prevail against the British army. From time to time, the militias won a battle. They never came close to winning a campaign.

In "The Glorious Cause," a history of the Revolution, Robert Middlekauff wrote that the driver of success was the Continental Army. Irregulars melted away ("summer soldiers," Tom Paine called them, even before the fighting had begun) and could not be relied upon. The regulars endured long seasons of discouragement (Valley Forge) and recovered from defeats (Brooklyn Heights). Irregulars don't do that.

It didn't hurt the American prospects that an important political faction in England thought the government should let the Americans go; nor that the Royal Navy was unable to blockade all American ports simultaneously; nor that the Royal Navy of France managed to defeat the Royal Navy of England when it counted; nor that French regulars joined American regulars in the final campaign.

It would be going too far to say that the "embattled farmers" had nothing to do with the success of the rebellion, but they didn't win the fight.

Recent history confirms that light-armed irregulars cannot stand up to armies. Famous examples include the rising of the maquis in central France in 1944, crushed with great slaughter by a minor effort of the German army that was busy dealing with real armies to the west; the decimation of the Viet Cong in 1968; and the Iraqi Sunni resistance which succumbed to a minor "surge" by an otherwise undermanned and incompetently led American army.

It sometimes seems that light-armed forces impose their will against states, but that happens only when the state is rotten within: Nobody wanted to die for Fulgencio Batista, so Castro's rebels won almost without fighting. Today's newspaper states the situation clearly. The Malian state, corrupt and incompetent, has been unable to resist irregular rebels, but a tiny force of French troops backed by airpower has done so easily. In Libya last year, the rebels were unable to prevail by themselves. .

The idea -- and it seems to be nearly universal among the noisy gun nuts -- that armed but unorganized slobs would be able to resist an American army that (somehow) had turned against its own people is a childish, ignorant fantasy.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Creators v. consumers

The suicide of Internet hacker Aaron Swartz turns out to be a sheep-goat separator.

'Sfunny. Libertarians and rightwingers generally pretend to be in favor of private property rights, libertarians often to the practical exclusion of any other rights -- unless you wave the Internet at 'em.

Then, it's communism for all.

I don't get it.

It always seemed to me that the creation and protection of intellectual property was one of the high points of capitalist organization; and it didn't happen until recently or easily. Charles Dickens, who lived not so long ago, was a prominent victim of poachers and crusader for legal protections for mental capital. As was Irving Berlin even more recently.

To me, it's clear as clear. Schwartz was a thief. Or, rather, not merely a burglar (although he seems to have been that, too) but an ideological patron of the idea that intellectual property should be seized and distributed to each according to his needs without compensation.

Some years ago, I believe it was around 1998 during the height of the boom, I attended a speech on Maui by the chief executive of the company that was pushing Napster. I've forgotten his name but not his message.

It was the same as Abie Hoffman's "Steal This Book." I was appalled. But not one of the three or four hundred other people in the room twitched.

I suppose I was probably the only content-creator in the room, and they were all consumers.

It is only stating the obvious that we creators are going to lose this one. We are outnumbered at least a hundred to one, and victory will go to the big battalions.

This debate, such as it is, has been going on as long as we have been a republic. Thomas Jefferson opined that the greatest benefactor of society was the man who introduced a new crop plant; and he walked the walk: He smuggled upland rice seed out of northern Italy in his coat pockets, a crime that was punishable by death.

As it happened, upland rice cultivation didn't catch on in America, but the model for Internet poaching was established centuries ago with the smuggling of silkworm eggs. Later, in our own history, the Massachusetts postal clerk who devoted his spare time to developing the Concord grape had his work stolen from him.

I've had my work stolen thousands of times. Strictly, my employer's work, since my employment agreement assigned my creative work to the company. Because of the thefts, the company was financially penalized, and my compensation was reduced.

So I do not see Aaron Swartz as a hero, as some do. I see him as a thief.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Found sounds 13: A mystery chanteuse

It's been a while since I've found a sound worth reporting -- since March 2011 -- but here's a sound with a story, an untold story.

In the 1932 movie "Hot Saturday," an uncredited nightclub singer belts out a wonderful torch song, "I.m Burning for You."

Peter Mintun, a pianist and singer who has hundreds of videos at Youtube, plays it and attributes it as an unpublished piece by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow. So far so good.

Johnston and Coslow are well known. Their best-known collaboration may be "My Old Flame," or perhaps "Pennies from Heaven." They were successful on Broadway and in Hollywood. Johnston, according to the Broadway DataBase (a site originated by my son, he said proudly), was, for example, the arranger for the Marx Brothers hit "The Cocoanuts." Coslow won an Oscar for a short documentary.

But "I'm Burning for You" sank without a trace. The next year, the Production Code came in, which meant that "Hot Saturday" was not seen for about four decades. Today, it is available (along with some other Johnston-Coslow songs for Paramount) on a collection of Pre-Code Hollywood films. A brief search finds no mention of the song on sites related to Johnston or Coslow, and an inventory of Coslow's recordings held at the U. of Wyoming shows no copy of "I'm Burning for You."

Mintun does not indicate where he got "I'm Burning for You" and his performance lacks oomph. (There's another version from him, also without oomph but with better recording.)  But the film version packs plenty. Who is that singer?

iMDB asks the question but does not answer it. A number of reviewers, not only me, were strongly impressed by the song.

The singer is a typical club singer of the period, with short, peroxide hair and Mae West gestures (but not Mae's figure). Nor is her orchestra identified. They play a hot chart but it is not obvious whether Paramount hired a Southern California band or put together an outfit for the filming.

The movie, in fact all six movies in the salaciously marketed Pre-Code collection, is tame stuff. It is worth a look, besides the great song, for Cary Grant's wardrobe. He plays a rich layabout who, when not dressed in soup-and-fish, is attired in the 1932 equivalent of resort dress wear. It is the gayest clothing seen on a Hollywood actor at least until "The Day the Fish Came Out," and you'd have to be as handsome as Cary Grant to carry it off.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Speaking of GOP crazies

In the previous post, put up just a few minutes ago, I mentioned Republican crazies. Now, via a Facebook comment, I am led to an example:

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a fierce opponent of US foreign aid who is being touted already as a likely 2016 presidential candidate, said in Jerusalem on Monday that the United States is and always will be a friend of Israel, but thinks "it will be harder and harder to be a friend if we are out of money."

Well, yes, it was a big mistake to borrow money to defeat Hitler. Wasn't it? Paul must think so.


Today, President Obama, a Democrat, nominated Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to his Cabinet.

Without doing an exhaustive search, I believe it is correct to say that all Democratic presidents, at least since Roosevelt, have had Republicans in their Cabinets; while no Republican has ever named a Democrat to his Cabinet. (But I have a nagging memory that there may have been an exception, once, for one of the lesser posts; while the Republicans in Democratic adminstrations have gotten the top positions, like Stimson at War and Dillon at Treasury, and, if confirmed, Hagel at Defense.)

Even if this statement -- Democrats appoint Republicans but never vice versa -- is not absolutely correct, it is in political essence correct. It is one of those obvious things that RtO would be happy to restate, if only someone had ever stated it before, but so far as I know, no one has.

I have for a long time considered what, if anything, this difference means.

Possibly it means that the American political landscape is by tradition conservative or rightwing, and all liberal electoral outcomes should be regarded as aberrations.

Perhaps it means that Republicans are hyperpartisan. I tend to think this is at least part of it. There has never been a Democratic McCarthy, after all.

I first became aware of the difference when I was in high school and Kennedy appointed Douglas Dillon. This was clearly a bid to calm the doubts of Wall Street and big business. There has never, however, been a bid by a Republican president to calm the doubts of workers or retirees by appointing a Democrat to Labor or Health and Human Services.

It was before my time, but Roosevelt put Stimson and Knox at War and Navy in a bid to co-opt part of the Republican Party, then in the hands of the pro-fascists at America First, for rearmament. I do not see any subsequent party line-crossing as any form of co-optation, more as palliatives against the paranoid style that Richard Hofstadter defined (See "Another Hofstadter fan," September 29, 2012) and that has been so prominent a part of Republican ideology.

Although every four years, fringists on both sides predict that "if X is elected, there will never be another election," it is true that rightwingers tend to take a more apocalyptic view of politics. Some Republicans are certain that gay marriage will lead to the destruction of the nation, but I am pretty sure no Democrats think that about straight marriage, for example.

Anyway, a lot of people think the Republican Party is on the brink (the Washington Post opinion blogs seem to be able to worry about nothing else except Robert Griffin's knee), because it seems to be unable to figure out how to manage its crazies in the Tea Party (who are just the John Birch Society without a credible communist bogeyman to wail about); while the Democrats have their crazies in hand. I propose that the next Republican president could signal both sides that craziness is out and moderation is in by appointing a bipartisan Cabinet.

But I don't expect it will happen.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review 265: High on Arrival

HIGH ON ARRIVAL, by Mackenzie Phillips. 292 pages, illustrated. Simon and Schuster.

High on Arrival” is a beautifully written memoir about – nothing, really.

It came out in 2009, and before starting this review I had to check to see if she's still sober. Apparently yes.

If about anything, “High on Arrival” is about her father, John, who was dead when this was published and who never has a voice in the book, only an overwhelming presence.

We were kids of privilege who could have anything we desired except what we really wanted – a connection with our parents,” she writes.

Sad and not really true. Mackenzie Phillips didn't really want to be brutally raped when she was a child, no doubt. She now thinks she did not want to be a drug addict most of her life. She never wanted her dear cousin to be murdered with a “hot shot” overdose.

She and her father are poor candidates as models for those libertarians who think the war on drugs has been a failure and would prefer to just legalize the stuff. Thanks to their money, fame and influence, the Phillipses were practically living a drug-legal world.

They could get as much of what they wanted as they wanted, with only slight concern about the authorities. Even when, after many years, they did encounter the law, they wriggled free with minor inconvenience.

Actions that get ordinary people decades in prison got them, at worst, a short time in rehab.

You always take others down with you,” Mackenzie Phillips says. The key word is down. Hers was a miserable life.

She claims to have done cocaine around the clock for long periods. It seems almost impossible that she could have done so much, but perhaps so.

In any event, she claimed to have cleaned up for over a decade. Then she started again, this time with pain pills.

At the time of writing “High on Arrival,” she was 50 and, she says, clean again.

At least she didn't find Jesus.

Our dictator

From time to time, I state the obvious, that Bush lost both his wars. Other voices, mostly outside the United States, are beginning to say so, too.

For example, Abdul Rahman al-Rashad.

Iraq has virtually disappeared from American press reports, so you may not know this:

It is important to note that Maliki’s position is unrivalled by any president or king, possibly anywhere else in the world, for he has sole authority over all key ministries and entities including security, intelligence, the armed forces, finance, the central bank, the media, the judiciary, and the policy of “de-baathification.” Currently, he is trying to seize control of the anti-corruption bodies, and the list goes on.

When the deputy prime minister said in an interview with CNN that al-Maliki was a dictator, he was immediately dismissed. When al-Maliki fell out with Vice President Tarek al-Hashimi, he accused him of terrorism and conspiracy, and jailed his bodyguards.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review 264: The Arabists

THE ARABISTS: The Romance of an American Elite, by Robert D. Kaplan. 333 pages, illustrated. Free Press paperback

Arabist is a wonk word, not used in ordinary American.

In essence neutral, indicating a westerner with special knowledge of the Arabic language, it was turned into a slur meaning particularly a Jew-hating (or despising) American diplomat who had “gone native” and adopted the anti-Zionist attitudes of the Arabs among whom he had spent many years.

Robert Kaplan, a journalist with interests in the Middle East, tries to reconstruct the evolution of the Arabists and to rehabilitate them, in part. Not by denying that they were, largely, antisemitic partisans; but by claiming that the situation was more complicated.

Not much more complicated, on the evidence of this 1993 book, whose hopeful conclusions – that the State Department's Arabists were going to become better – turned out to be a bad prediction.

Arabists seem to have had a love-despise attitude toward Arabs. Many people have written about the romantic feelings inspired by the desert and the warm feelings created by Arab courtesy. Less susceptible visitors have observed the way Arabs treat women and animals and been less impressed by formal courtesies; as, for example, romantics have fallen for the gentility of the Old South while realists were repelled by its brutality and cruelty.

More than one Arabist seems to have loved Arabs while holding them in contempt. One described learning the language as “opening the door to an empty room.”

I learned a lot from this book – based as it is on interviews with active and retired Arabists – but I also had many serious problems with what Kaplan left out.

American Arabism originated with missionaries. Do-gooders, with whom Kaplan is mightily impressed.

Their experience in the Koran Belt, compared with, say, China, was unique. Islam is a universalizing, salvationist monotheism, as is Christianity; but Islam has a one-way view of proselytizing. It's like the Hotel California. You can check in but you can never leave.

After a generation or so, the missionaries realized they would never convert any Moslems. Dedicated but sappy, they gave up and adopted what Kaplan does not call a social gospel approach.

The Middle East was treated as a gigantic Salvation Army aid station. If they could not be given Christianity, the Moslems could be given medical care, writing and printing, democratic instruction, efficient agriculture and nationalism.

The masses accepted the medical care without gratitude but proved indifferent to farming, study, nationalism and democracy. A tiny film of students got interested in nationalism, and for a time staffed the bureaus and palaces of the faux-modern Arab states. They are now being swept out by the real Moslems.

No Arab Moslem was ever attracted by democracy.

It was the fundamental failure of the Arabists, both before and after Kaplan wrote this book, to imagine that they were. Much blather about the Arab Spring in 2012 (and anticipations of it in “The Arabists”) could have been avoided had these deluded specialists paid attention to the Syrian political scientist Bassam Tibi, who states flatly that Arabs are not interested in democracy.

Allah knows there are enough indications of that truth in Kaplan's book, although he does not draw the obvious conclusion: Alberto Fernandez, a new generation Arabist, told Kaplan “self-determination is not something the Arabs want to apply anywhere else in the Middle East” except Israel and the areas it conquered in 1967.

Just so.

The missionaries, at least, had a reason for their delusions. As I said, they tried to introduce modernist ideas into the Koran Belt. As Kaplan does not realize, they were not themselves full moderns.

True, as Americans they were skilled in the use of books and gadgets. But every last one of them was also in thrall to the Book of Revelations. It was probably this – their expectations about history – that prevented them from quitting the area when their purpose became obviously impossible.
That is, the missionaries, whatever their skills and good intentions, were all half-crazy (some way more than half).

It is not a good idea to base a nation's foreign policy on a bedrock of half-craziness. The 20th-century Arabists were free of this delusion, but the circle turned in 2003, when a bunch of fundamentalist Texas yahoos grabbed power in America.

Kaplan ends his book worrying about the collision of American policy with Baathist, secular, modernism in Iraq, which he considers the nadir of Arabist influence – Gulf War I.

It was the Koran Belt. Things could always get worse.

When the antimodernists of the Bible Belt collided with the antimodernists of the Koran Belt in 2003, things got worse than even the worst pessimists imagined in 1993.