Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pretending That November 7th Never Happened. Also, It Is Now Time to Quite Seriously Ask The Question Of Whether George Bush Is Sane.

November 29, 2006

Re: Pretending That November 7th Never Happened. Also, It Is
Now Time To Quite Seriously Ask The Question Of
Whether George Bush Is Sane.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

This blogger is not the first to say that, since daybreak of November 8th, much of Washington, D.C. and its satellite media have been engaged in an effort to insure that in reality nothing changes in regard to Iraq, in an effort to pretend, that is, that November 7th never happened. There are legislators and pundits, even some new Democratic legislators apparently, telling us, as with Viet Nam, that more American troops are what is needed. There are people warning us, as with Viet Nam, that disasters are aborning if we pull out. There are people telling us, as with Viet Nam if memory serves, that we should set timetables to get out. There are people like Bush telling us, as with Viet Nam, that we must stay the course. As was asserted here two weeks ago but was confirmed only in recent days, the Iraq Study Group met with the Pretexter-In-Chief so that he could pitch them not to go off the reservation, and his pitch was stay the course. There are people saying, as with the South Viet Namese government, that we can get out only when and after the Iraqi government becomes effective, which, again as with South Viet Nam, will obviously never happen. We have people saying we should enlist Iran and Syria -- now former members of the former axis of evil, apparently -- to help us end the disaster in Iraq, the disaster which they helped create, from which they benefit, and which there is no known reason for them to want to bring to an end. (One might even say that the current American administration of bullies and cowards, who ran and hid from Viet Nam and who keep their families safe from Iraq, first called Iran and Syria names but now have to beg them for help. Nice people, these bullies and cowards. Smart too.) There are leading Democrats saying (pace November 7th) that impeachment of the Pretexter-In-Chief, for his crimes and lies is off the table.

There is one thing that there is none of, however, or at most very little of. As with most of Viet Nam, there is no hot shot pundit or Washington big shot saying get out of Iraq and get out now. That would be the real change, and that is why we are not hearing it. The rest of what we are hearing is just one variation or another on the theme that, for one purported reason or another, nothing will really change: under the variations we will be in Iraq anywhere from another year to another five years -- or more.

There are some other things we are not hearing, or have begun to hear only on very rare occasions because they would be a sea change. True, we have begun to hear, now and then, complaints that the big shots don’t send their own family members to run the risks of war; they only send other people’s family members. That this simple fact has finally begun to penetrate the thick headed media and public consciousness is an improvement over previous brainlessness. And we do hear the first stirrings of the very beginnings of consciousness that this has been an aggressive, warlike country since at least 1898, probably since 1846, or even much earlier in regard to the American Indians. These are the first stirrings of the beginnings of a realization that we are a western hemisphere last-half-of-the-19th-century-and-first-part-of-the-20th-century Germany, not a peaceful Sweden or Switzerland. These stirrings of beginnings do mark a potential sea change in the American viewpoint. One wonders if the stirrings will outlast Iraq.

But though we do see a change in prior thick headedness about the big shots’ family members and the first stirrings of reassessment regarding national aggressiveness, we do not hear other crucial points. We do not hear, for example, that our position in the world improved greatly after we got out of Viet Nam, instead of getting worse, as doomsaying warmongers predicted. To hear this would encourage a departure from Iraq, which Washington and the pundits are determined shall not occur, so we don’t hear it. Relatedly, we do not hear that war is the most debilitating thing, the most morale-destroying thing, that can befall a nation, even if it is good for the economy, or at least not bad for it, and even if it is fought by only a small slice of the population, who bear the burden for everyone. For politicians and pundits to state this obvious truth would again encourage departure from Iraq, so again we don’t hear it.

Nor do we hear any recognition of the fact that leaders, politicians, journalists, lawyers, the man in the street, anyone, can dream up hypothetical scenarios of terrible things that will happen unless we do this or that. This technique is called a parade of horribles, is a staple of lawyers, and was one of the ways we got into the Iraq mess in the first place -- the parade of horribles was of the awful results that would arise if Saddam were allowed his supposed WMDs. One does not hear that the parade of horribles technique, as a mode of analysis, is far more often wrong than right, and is what the let’s-stay-in-Iraq crew is relying on now in regard to the benefits to, and actions of, Iran and Syria if we were to depart Iraq. But exposure of the parade of horribles mode of analysis and its usual wrong headedness would encourage departure from Iraq, so we don’t hear it exposed.

There is, of course, one horrible that already is happening in Iraq, and, because it is happening, and is worsening, is not a mere matter of imagining a possible parade of horribles. That is the constant, enormous, religiously based killing, what NBC News now deigns to call a civil war though other news media lack the guts to buck the administration on this. Because this is happening and is increasing, is driven by religious feuds that has existed for over a thousand years, and is no figment of imagination, it seems fair to assume that it won’t get better if we depart. It will only remain the same or get worse. The sensible thing, therefore, as said here innumerable times, is to divide the country into three areas corresponding to religious preponderance, give people a few months to move if they want (as hundreds of thousands are already doing), and then get the hell out of the country. But only a few of the Washingtonites and pundits are for this course of action. For it too would enable a rapid departure from Iraq, would enable, that is, a rapid change in accordance with the electoral dictate of November 7th. And change in accordance with November 7th, as said, is not what is desired by the people who run this country and want to pretend that November 7th never happened.

* * * * *
This blogger was among the very first writers to say that George Bush is incompetent, a view which now has become virtually a drug on the market. This writer may be the only one to also say, and surely there are at most only a few others who say, that except for being venally crafty in politics, Bush is stupid as well as incompetent. But until very recently it never occurred to me to question whether Bush is sane. Yes, he kept on and on in Iraq, but one chalked this up to the fact that he is by nature stubborn and, besides, is a spoiled brat who always got his way in life (despite his constant incompetence) because of who his family is and who therefore cannot accept that he will be thwarted.

But as with all of this writer’s other opinions about Bush, simple facts are causing a judgment to be made. Bush has constantly been saying we will stand down when the Iraqi army can stand up, and he is quoted as saying just yesterday that “I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.” (Remember “Mission accomplished” a few years ago?) Apparently, from what one reads, for the mission to be complete the Iraqi government must produce a stable country -- maybe even a democratic one, although the latter desideratum may have gone by the boards.

But to think that we or the Iraqi government can create a stable Iraq seems vastly out of touch with the facts on the ground, with the ever increasing violence, more than a millennium of religious hatred, and the hatred of Americans. (One is speaking now, as Bush does, of a unitary Iraq, not a country divided into three nations according to religious preponderance.) To think that we or the Iraqi government can create a stable Iraq is so out of touch with what has been happening on the ground for years, and recently has been getting even worse, that one literally has to question the sanity of somebody who propounds it as a goal. In everyday life, someone who refuses to recognize the reality, who refuses to recognize the actual facts, of the world around him, and who instead lives in a dream world in his head, is regarded as not being sane, as being, to use the blunt words, insane or crazy. Why is it different when it is a national leader who refuses to recognize facts in the world and instead lives in a dream world in his head?

The horrible thought is that we have been taken into and kept in Iraq by a guy who is not quite right in the head. His life has shown elements of lack of balance you know, and other countries have had leaders whom we regarded, or have come to regard, as not quite right in the head for one reason or another. (I really don’t have to mention names, do I?) So why should it be impossible that our national leader too is a bit “teched,” as they say, or maybe is more than just a bit “teched.” Refusing to recognize the facts of the world, after all, and instead living in a dream world in one’s head, is not the model definition of sanity.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Social Justice At Brandeis

November 28, 2006

Re: Social Justice At Brandeis.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

The news from the academic world is not all good, shall we say? Filthy rich universities continue to get richer, but impose total charges of $40,000 to $50,000 per year on students. The middle class and poor get priced out of the so-called elite schools whose diplomas are tickets to big money jobs. Asian Americans are improperly rebuffed by these schools. A fair number of university presidents now make over one million dollars per year or close to it, while their schools sock it to the students and their families. A commission on the future of education decries what is going on, but one ventures that the chances of change are small at best: The elite of the country like things as they are and the elite, the plutocracy, run the nation.

In the midst of this comes a story that would be bizarre had we not as a nation absorbed the values of Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes (and, if truth be told, the Clintons too). Brandeis University was founded as a Jewish-sponsored school in, I believe, 1948. One of the reasons for creating the school was that, in those days, Jews were still largely excluded from the elite academic institutions, as had been the case since the late teens and early twenties of the 20th Century. (Improper exclusion is why Asian Americans are sometimes called the new Jews.) So, somewhat as the Catholic Church had with such institutions as Boston College and Notre Dame among many others, the Jews created a university. It was named for one of the leading avatars of social justice in the history of the United States, Justice Louis Brandeis. It was to be, and in fact was and is, very strong academically. Its student body was, at inception, heavily Jewish, maybe nearly 100 percent Jewish, and Jewish traditions had a place on campus. Over the years, however, the school increasingly became religiously integrated (and ever-more secular in traditions, I gather), so that today one reads that about half the student body is not Jewish. The school has had teams in lots of sports; early on it even had a football team, coached by the great Michigan and pro quarterback Benny Friedman, but today it no longer has a football team though it has teams in lots of sports. It has teams playing in the University Athletic Association, a league of fancy academic institutions, like the University of Chicago (which was a Big 10 powerhouse in the early part of the 20th Century), NYU, Washington University of St. Louis, Emory, Rochester, Carnegie-Mellon and Case Western Reserve.

Brandeis has long had a problem, though. Students have long complained that an adequate social life is lacking. Ohio State or Maryland or Miami or Colorado it is not. So, from what one reads, a few years ago the school hired a new vice president with a fancy title and told her to “‘upgrad[e] student life.’” Part of this upgrading, apparently, was to create better sports teams. According to The Boston Globe, this new vice president, Jean Eddy, “believes athletics are a big part of student satisfaction and that winning teams help provide a sense of community and pride. She made it clear to coaches and athletic staff that winning teams and top-notch recruits were required.” Eddy says that ‘“athletics can provide a sense of community.’” (I take it back. Maybe Brandeis is Ohio State or Miami.)

Once the new vice president arrived -- from that vaunted athletic powerhouse Northeastern University, no less -- the axe started falling on people who had been at Brandeis for 30 years. Several of them were in areas other than athletics. But some were in athletics and, recently, one of the axed was Mary Sullivan, a 54 year old woman who had been the women’s softball coach for 32 years and had started and coached the volleyball team for 25 years. She was fired by the Athletic Director, Karen Sousa, a 1990 Brandeis graduate who had played on Sullivan’s softball and volleyball teams for four years. According to The Globe, Sousa did not like the fact that Sullivan’s last two women’s softball teams had gone 9-27 and then 20-24 in the last two seasons.

The Boston Globe ran two stories totaling three full columns on the affair Sullivan. One would gather from this that The Globe considers Sullivan’s story, or maybe the whole relevant situation of numerous terminations at Brandeis, to be of at least passing interest, or of human interest. Needless to say, there are charges and countercharges about what occurred and why, about what the athletic and university dynamics are, about the actions and/or reactions of present and former players, and about claims that there is a change in attitude that comes down from the very top of the university. But what interests me most are some very simple facts that nobody seems to have disputed.

Sullivan was fired a year before she could begin receiving retirement benefits, and with no medical insurance. Because her husband is a self employed lobsterman, they had both relied on her job at Brandeis for medical insurance. Now she is without a job and they are both without medical insurance unless they have managed to secure alternative insurance -- which was not mentioned one way or the other in The Globe. It was mentioned that Sullivan had asked to be allowed to stay one more year, but her request was denied. (At least one other “terminee” had been allowed to stay for awhile. Whether others had received the same “beneficence,” The Globe did not mention, though it did indicate that, at other Division III schools, coaches who are replaced are allowed to stay on in other capacities.)

I have to say that what really got to me was the fact that, after 32 years, Sullivan was let go not just summarily, but without medical insurance for herself and her husband -- in this day and age, no less. My reaction is, how could Brandeis do something like that? Named for an avatar of social justice, the school was founded by a people who have long claimed social justice to be their special provenance, and was founded partly because these people were themselves being denied social justice at other universities. And now this school just cans someone? -- just lets her go, cold turkey, summarily, after 32 years, with no income (except her husband’s, which may or may not be enough for the two of them) and with no medical insurance? (Maybe Sullivan has managed to get such insurance elsewhere -- which does not appear from The Globe article to have been a factor one way or another in Brandeis’ thinking. But maybe she hasn’t and, even if she has, it’s bound to be either pretty expensive or less adequate -- or both.)

Frankly speaking, what went on with regard to Sullivan -- and, for all one knows, may have gone on with others at Brandeis -- is not the kind of conduct that I was taught to think well of. Entirely, and emphatically, to the contrary. Of course, one learns in adulthood that the lack of concern for others shown in the Sullivan affair is generally the way of America. It has, indeed, increasingly been the ascendant norm since the recently departed Milton Friedman wrote his article against being decent in business in 1971 or so, and since Ronald Raygun, followed by the Bushes and Clintons, took greed from a mere fact of American life to enshrinement in the pantheon of high American virtues. But for a school started by claimed avatars of social justice, and named for Louis Brandeis, to act this way? Disgraceful. Just disgraceful.

As said above, I am not going to get into the charges and countercharges here. It apparently is true, however, that about 20 people have been fired or left Brandeis in the last few years, and age discrimination is one of the charges being made in the Sullivan matter, although one sort of intuits that maybe the “problem” is that the powers that be wanted to put a new, younger, possibly more vigorous face on Brandeis, wanted to do this as part of making it a happier place socially. As someone who runs a small academic institution, one is not blind to the fact, as no head of any kind of institution can be blind to the fact, that there can be people who have to be replaced if an institution or business is to improve -- although the problem with such people should be nonperformance, not age. Of course, whether an academically oriented institution like Brandeis will improve by assuming a more athletic face through firing of long termers and hiring replacements after nearly 60 years of success with a heavily academic orientation might be subject to question. But even if one were to assume that Brandeis is improving its situation that way, there is still the question of how one goes about it. Summarily putting employees of 30 years standing on the street with no medical insurance is not the right way to do it.

There is one irony here. To replace Sullivan as women’s softball coach, Brandeis hired a young lady who last year coached the women’s team at Mt. Ida, a small Massachusetts college, to a record of 13 wins and 26 losses. This is not exactly the New England women’s college softball equivalent of hiring Jim Tressel or Urban Meyer; and what we have is the replacement of a coach whose most recent season record was 20 wins and 24 losses, or a 45% winning record, by a coach whose most recent winning record was 33 percent. Hmmm.

Making the irony more delicious for those of us at MSL is this: A few years ago, our law school hired for its faculty a fine young woman who at the time, in addition to her day job, also happened to be the coach of the Mt. Ida women’s softball team. She won about one-third of her games overall at Mt. Ida, she says (it’s a tough place to win at), and one year won half of them. So one year she had a better record at Mt. Ida than the new Brandeis coach had in her last year there. But my colleague went into law school professoring, while the last Mt. Ida coach went into Brandeisian coaching. Funny, huh? I think my colleague got the better deal.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

Monday, November 20, 2006

What Schembechler Accomplished.

November 20, 2006

Re: What Schembechler Accomplished.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

Because of its vast importance, for quite awhile now this blogger has found himself writing continuously about the same general subject: George the Incompetent, his misbegotten war, or some variation on this theme. There are other things that would have been fun to write about, perhaps would even have been fun for readers to read about. But as every significant war inevitably does because of the human and economic disasters war causes, the George-Dick-Don war always obtruded.

There is much to comment on today about the war (as there will continue to be), but for once the hell with it. For once let me write about something that is almost pure fun, as was done in a posting about half a year ago that compared the great Oscar Robertson with the aspiring, and perhaps rapidly closing, Lebron James.

What this piece in effect begins with, however, is emphatically not fun to write of: the death of Bo Schembechler last Friday, the day before what must have been the most ballyhooed Michigan-Ohio State game over. The game itself largely lived up to the hype, which often does not happen: it likely will take a place in the lore of this series that equals the “snow bowl” of 1950 when Michigan beat Ohio in a blizzard -- Chuck Ortman versus Vic Janowitz, and about 40 or 45 punts, I believe -- and equal to Michigan’s truly astonishing victory over an Ohio State superteam in 1969. Schembechler’s death was, of course, a major part of the story of the game from the very moment it occurred on Friday. However, nobody in the media that I read or viewed seems to have noticed the possible consequences of the fact that on Thursday, the day before he died, Schembechler cancelled a doctor’s appointment in order to make a speech to the Michigan football team. I gather that he thought it was important that he make the speech. Since his pacemaker apparently was in a period of continually being adjusted, one has to wonder what if any effect the cancellation of the doctor’s appointment had. Would the doctor have detected that some further adjustment of the pacemaker was needed? Would it have mattered if he did? Is it possible that, unknowingly, Schembechler literally gave up his life trying to spur a victory over Ohio?

As said, his death is not fun to write about. But the history of what he did for Michigan football is fun to write about. In all the articles I’ve read about his death so far, and of all the talk I’ve heard about it on the tube, only one piece touched on what could be considered the cornerstone of what he did. This occurred in two paragraphs of The New York Times’ lengthy Saturday obit on Schembechler. Let me quote:

When Schembechler became Michigan’s coach in 1969, its glory years under Fielding Yost and Fritz Crisler were long gone. The 107,501-seat Michigan Stadium had seldom been filled in recent seasons, and the Michigan band was finding fewer occasions to hail the maize and blue with the marching song “The Victors.” The Wolverines had gone to the Rose Bowl only once in the previous 18 years.

But on November 22, 1969, Schembechler put his stamp on a new day for Michigan with a 24-12 victory against top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State and Coach Woody Hayes, his former mentor.

Today, when Michigan has been a perennial football power for over 35 years, not many people remember that for about twelve years or so it was usually in the football doldrums. From roughly the late 1890s or so until about the early to mid 1950s, Michigan was often a powerhouse, with a storied football history. One remembers the wooden plaques on the wall of a now departed bar, called The Pretzel Bell, which each listed all the scores of a particular year of Fielding Yost’s so-called point-a-minute teams of the first years of the 20th Century. It was phenomenal to see. Each year the list of scores would run something like 50 to nothing, 60 to nothing, 65 to nothing, etc., with the total for the year being something in the neighborhood of 450 or 500 to nothing or, in the year of the fantastic 2 to nothing upset by a Chicago team coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg, something like 500 to 2). (I hereby warn the reader about something. For various reasons, everything in this posting except the quote from The Times is being written from memory. So there is a possibility of mistakes. But I do think that most of what is being said is either exactly right or, at minimum, roughly right).

But from roughly the mid 1950s until Schembechler started at Michigan in 1969, Michigan could hardly win for losing. It did win one Big Ten championship, in 1964 I think, but it was often pretty mediocre, even bad. Indeed, those of us who were in Ann Arbor during the late 1950s and early 1960s (a seven year period for myself and lots of my friends) lived through the worst period ever in Michigan football history.

Over that period, championship caliber in Big 10 football got spread around. Michigan State, under Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty had some great teams in the early and mid 1950s and again in the middle ’60s. (The 1966 ten to ten tie game between unbeaten Michigan State and Ara Parseghian’s unbeaten Notre Dame team is still thought by some to be the greatest game of the 20th Century. In the middle of last Saturday’s telecast of the Michigan-Ohio game one of the announcers commented that it was 40 years to the day since that game. Others pick the 1935 Ohio State-Notre Dame game as the college game of the century, and I’ve often wondered why nobody ever seems to have picked the 1946 Army-Notre Dame game -- but that’s a whole ’nother story, as they say.) Iowa, under Tommy Harmon’s blocking back, Forrest Evashevski, had some great teams in the late 1950s, when, I believe, it had Alex Karras, an All-American quarterback named Randy something or other, a couple of great halfbacks, and a few other great ball players. Minnesota had a good year in 1960 or so when the now-recently-deceased Sandy Stephens, the first black quarterback of a major college team I believe, was its quarterback. So did Wisconsin, with Ron Vanderkellen at quarterback and its recent Athletic Director, Pat Richter, an All-American, at end. And then there was, of course, Ohio under Woody Hayes. It had a great team in, I think, 1955 with Hopalong Cassady, and again in 1957 I believe, with an All-American halfback named Don Clark, if memory serves. It had a fantastic team in the early 1960s, with, I think, the great Paul Warfield, who later played for the Browns. (I also think one of the linemen on that team was Gary Moeller, who succeeded Schembechler at Michigan and lasted until he got caught being drunk, or driving while drunk, or something like that.) When that Ohio team came to play Michigan one year, on the opening kickoff it shattered the cheekbone of Michigan’s captain, which was symptomatic, I’m afraid, especially since Ohio went on to score 50 points or so. Then, in 1968, Hayes had a team heavily comprised of sophomores that won the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl, and was probably the greatest college football team of mainly first year players that ever existed. (Freshmen couldn’t play then, so sophomores were first year players.) That fantastic Ohio team -- it was the team of, among others, the Oakland Raiders’ Jack Tatum -- was initially thought likely to eventually be called the greatest team ever, but it got derailed by Schembechler’s first Michigan team in 1969, and then somehow lost the Rose Bowl after its undefeated 1970 season. (And all of this Ohio success was, of course, before its fantastic early to mid 1970s Archie Griffin team.)

In those days, before Schembechler, when Michigan was usually mediocre, not only was success spread around the Big Ten to some degree, but the Big Ten, after World War II until the beginning of the 1960s (and Southern Cal’s great 1960 team) was far and away the strongest conference in the country. Teams like UCLA and Duke (which weren’t bad then -- these were around the days of Sonny Jurgenson, you know), used to come to Ann Arbor early in the season, would get whomped, and would then be powers in or win their league, while Michigan would end up about 7th or 8th in the Big Ten.

Why was the Big Ten so strong in those days? One can only speculate. I would guess there were two reasons. One was that the Midwest was still immensely heavily populated compared to the rest of the country. The nation had not yet tilted west and south, though the movement to the west was in progress. So the Midwest was still a huge storehouse of talent compared to the rest of the country, and lots of that talent was comprised of big strong kids from families that led hard lives in factories and mills, not to mention on farms.

The other reason was southern segregation, which was, I think, the South’s gift to Big Ten football. Black kids who were great ballplayers but who were not allowed into Southern universities, let alone on Southern football teams, came to the Big Ten, where they set the world on fire. In 1955, ’56 and ’57, for example, Illinois had the fantastic Bobby Mitchell, who went on to play with the Browns and Redskins and is now, I think, in the pro football Hall of Fame, and Michigan had the equally great Jim Pace, who beat out Mitchell for first team All-American, I believe, in 1957. (Pace’s knee got wrecked in training camp with the New York Giants before the 1958 season, so he was never much as a pro and didn’t last long there.) The thing that makes the tremendous duo of Mitchell and Pace emblematic is that they not only played in the Big Ten at the same time, but, if memory serves, they grew up only about 15 or 20 miles from each other in Arkansas. They were practically neighbors, and both had to come north to play college football. So the South lost two great players, the Big Ten gained them, and this was, as I say, emblematic of the period. I suppose those of us who were Big Ten fans should have gotten down on our knees and thanked the racist Southern bastards of the post reconstruction 19th Century and the first 60 years of the 20th Century for helping to make the Big Ten dominant in the nation in football in the 1950s.

But during this period of Big Ten dominance, Michigan was usually not among the dominating teams. In the late 1940s -- in ’47 and ’48 -- it had had fantastic teams, under Fritz Crisler in ’47 and his successor Bennie Oosterbaan in ’48. (Oosterbaan inherited pretty much the same team as Crisler had in ’47.) It’s ’47 and ’48 teams were one of the two best in the country along with Frank Leahy’s truly phenomenal ’47 and ’48 teams at Notre Dame. (The level and depth of talent on those Notre Dame teams, which because of the war were stockpiled with six or seven years worth of talent, have perhaps never been equaled. They had third stringers who went on to be all pros. I think they may have been the best Notre Dame teams ever, notwithstanding all the success of Rockne and Parseghian, not to mention the lesser but still bright lights Devine and Holtz (with Weis now coming up).) Then, in the early and mid 1950s, Michigan was okay, sometimes in fact pretty good, with some great players like the ends Lowell Perry and Ron Kramer, and halfback Jim Pace. Despite all the fantastic players Michigan has had since the Schembechler era began in 1969, 37 years ago, Kramer, whose last year was 1956, is still thought by lots of people -- including knowledgeable ones -- to be the greatest football player Michigan ever had. Once, when he was a senior, Sports Illustrated had on its cover head shots, with their helmets on, of Michigan’s two ends, Kramer and Tom Maentz (I have the picture) because they were so good. Maentz would probably have been an All-American if he had played on any other team than Kramer’s. But though it was often decent, Michigan wasn’t of championship caliber, and Bennie Oosterbaan, who was widely thought the greatest Michigan football player before Kramer -- and this includes the legendary Tom Harmon, who won a Heisman, you know -- and who some still thought even better than Kramer, simply was not the coach that Yost and Crisler had been. So, amidst calls for his head after the ’58 season, I think it was, he was replaced by Chalmers “Bump” Elliot (whose brother Pete subsequently became the coach at Illinois). The two Elliots had played on the great ’47 and ’48 teams, but, like Oosterbaan, Bump Elliot was not the coach Yost and Crisler had been. So Michigan remained largely mediocre, except for winning the Big Ten in, I think, 1964. (I remember that, a year or two after I went to Lawrence, Kansas in 1966 to teach law, a game between Michigan and, I think, Missouri was broadcast on the radio and could be heard in Lawrence. I listened to it. If memory serves, Missouri scored over 40 points and just killed Michigan. (Can you imagine this happening today?) Michigan simply wasn’t very good then.)

Well, the calls went out for Elliot’s head because Michigan was mediocre. Even though Michigan had suffered roughly 10 to 12 years of general mediocrity, I gather that the job at Michigan was still regarded as highly desirable. When I was a professor at Kansas, one of my students was a really nice fellow who, after playing for Michigan State, had been an assistant at Missouri and had then, foolishly, taken the head coaching job at Kansas State, which for years was just awful most of the time. After being fired, he came to Lawrence to go to law school. (He later, I think, became the Athletic Director at Southern Illinois and then at Michigan State.) While in law school, he told me that the Michigan coaching job was still regarded in the coaching profession as the most desirable in the country. After years of losing, no less. Go figure.

Anyway, by some stroke of genius, Michigan hired Schembechler. I’m not at all sure, but this possibly could have been the work of a guy named Don Canham, who had been Michigan’s track coach, became its Athletic Director, and is generally regarded, I gather, as the father of modern college sports marketing -- the logoed Tshirts, sweatshirts, hats, etc., etc. Whoever was responsible for Schembechler’s hiring, it became a new era when he arrived, an era heralded by the amazing 1969 upset of Ohio State -- perhaps one of the greatest upsets in college football history because that Ohio team was on the road to becoming one of the greatest teams -- maybe even the greatest team -- in college football history until it got derailed by Michigan in ’69 and then lost in the Rose Bowl after the next season.

Schembechler rescued Michigan football. I think that is the only accurate way to put the matter, is the cornerstone of his accomplishment and is the only way to truly understand his accomplishment. Had there been another 10 to 15 years of mediocrity in Ann Arbor, Michigan likely would have become just another also ran in football, as has happened to other teams that once were powerhouses, (e.g. Army, Pittsburgh, Harvard, Yale). In the new era of Michigan football created by Schembechler, an era like that of Yost and Crisler, Michigan is again thought of as a perennial powerhouse. It gets talent like you wouldn’t believe, and frankly should rarely lose with the level of talent it has -- a subject I shall return to. There is a certain irony in the fact that this is the situation at a University that is intellectually elitist. As I’ve written in Misfits In America, Michigan constantly proclaims itself to be one of the world’s great universities, and has done so since long before I set foot on campus as a freshman in 1956. The psychological health of its people apparently depends on the academic sickness of always claiming to be elite, and the University’s deepest wish would be for it to be Harvard, because so many people think Harvard is in fact the best. But this academically elitist university makes a point of having a football team which truly is among the elite. Ah well, this keeps the alumni and fans happy, especially the Philistines like me. It also means that the football team, as a general matter albeit not always nor in every way, bears the stamp of competence which was inculcated into us in many other aspects of the University’s life, even if we were, as I was a general effup.

There is, however, one cloud on the Michigan football horizon. The current coach, Lloyd Carr, seems pretty much unable to defeat the current Ohio State coach, Jim Tressel: Carr is 1-5 against Tressel. This is interesting in a number of ways. Carr has won somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of his games. He has won a national championship. He could still win one this year if Michigan plays Ohio again, and beats it, in the national championship game. Nevertheless, as idiotic as it may sound, this blogger -- a heretic, a rebel against conventional wisdom, and all the rest of it -- has never thought Carr is really a very good coach. (He was not incidentally, the first choice from Schembechler’s staff to succeed Schembechler as head coach. Gary Moeller was, but he self destructed.) With the level of fantastic talent that Michigan gets year in and year out, it really should never lose a game, except about half the time to Ohio, which gets equally good talent. And it really should have a much better pass defense, instead of the porous pass offense it actually has -- and even usually had under Schembechler -- a defense which, if I may put it this way, often makes the game interesting when it is protecting a one or two touchdown lead near the end of a game. (The pass defense -- or lack of it -- sunk Michigan last Saturday.) But regardless of what should happen, Carr loses to Ohio all the time, and sometimes, like last year, he loses to several other teams too, loses to teams he should never lose to.

The question that comes to mind, then, is this. Despite all his success, will Michigan keep Carr if he keeps losing to Tressel in what now is and could become even more of a lopsided series between them. My guess is that the series could become even more lopsided because Tressel is, quite simply, one of the great college coaches ever and certainly, at this point, is the best, or one of the two or three best, in the country. The only way to insure against losing to him regularly would be for Michigan to hire him, which cannot possibly happen even if Leo Durocher did leave the Dodgers for the Giants. It is also my guess that Carr will be “allowed” a few more losses to Tressel, but that if the 1-5 record becomes something like 1-7 or 2-9, we might begin to hear a lot of yelling for a new coach no matter what Carr’s record is against other teams. This is pretty much what happened to the previous Ohio State coach, John Cooper, who had great teams, even national championship contenders, at Ohio, but seemed unable to beat Carr and Michigan. On the other hand, the Michigan people are not, one thinks, quite as football crazed as the Ohio Staters, and may be willing to cut Carr more slack than Cooper was cut; especially since Carr seems well liked as a person. Also, one can’t know in advance whether whoever were to replace Carr would be as successful as Carr has been in terms of sheer percentage of victories, or would himself beat Tressel. Yet, when all is said and done, one expects that there would be an outcry for Carr’s head if his record against Ohio were to go to 1-7 or 2-9. Lloyd had better hire some more really smart assistants -- maybe a great pass defense coach, for instance -- who will see to it that Michigan starts beating Tressel half the time -- like Bo and Woody each beat each other about half the time.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Re: Conventional Wisdom And Bad People In Washington.

November 15, 2006

Re: Conventional Wisdom And Bad People In Washington.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

This posting is about more of the rot coming out of Washington. It begins with the matter of the so-called Iraq Study Group (ISG). One cannot yet know for sure, but the ISG bids fair to be the latest political fraud attempted to be perpetrated on the American people. Its membership is just a bunch of long-time Washington insiders/groupies, people like Baker, Hamilton, Jordan, Eagleburger, Robb, Panetta, Simpson, Meese -- Meese for God’s sake -- and, to try to fool all of the people some of the time, the asserted middle of the road jurist, Justice O’Connor.

God forbid that this cast of perpetual Washington insiders should come up with ideas different from the supposedly middle of the road ideas that most of the pols are tossing around. To insure against this, the ISG met on Monday with Bush and Cheney, met on Tuesday by videoconference with Bush’s British poodle, Blair, and met as well with a bunch of Clinton people who failed to see or guard against what was coming. These meetings were held long before the ISG’s recommendations will become public. The only realistically possible reason for the advance meetings, as opposed to theoretical reasons for them, is to try to insure -- by giving the ISGroupies the Bush/Cheney/Blair views and other conventional views -- that the ISG does not go too far off the reservation. Not to worry, since none of its members is famous for going off the reservation.

To further insure conventional wisdom, Bush commented after his meeting with these paladins of orthodoxy that “it was important for ‘people making suggestions to recognize that the best military options depend upon conditions on the ground.’” John Warner -- who for years would investigate little or nothing about Iraq -- said on the same day that the Senate shouldn’t leap to conclusions before the ISG issued its report. Lindsey Graham, that sometimes -- and only sometimes -- paladin of decency, who at other times is a raving right winger, said he would ‘” adamantly oppose’” a deadline for withdrawing because it is the ‘“equivalent to surrendering in the central battleground in the war on terror.’” The “central battleground in the war on terror”? Can you believe that? Gimme a break! And never forget that another right winger, a deeply political guy who now is making himself come off as a nice guy, John McCain of the Keating Five, wants to add more American troops in Iraq.

Now we read that McCain is being joined in this disastrous desire by lots of the founts of conventional wisdom. All these people want to do more of what has been a roaring failure, which some people think is the definition of insanity.

So the usual Washington crowd, including leaders among the miscreants, are already at work trying to insure that we will be in Iraq for more years, with thousands more deaths of Iraqis and Americans. Not for them the wisdom of former Marine Commandant David Shoup. To accomplish his own purposes, a disbelieving legislator who wished to remain in Viet Nam, and wanted to prove withdrawal would be fraught with disaster, asked Shoup disbelievingly how he would withdraw our troops from Nam. Shoup answered “By ship and by plane”.

The current crop of fools in Washington don’t want to hear this despite the election on November 7th. So they conjure immense difficulties attendant to withdrawal, as their ideological ancestors did with Viet Nam. This blogger’s answer to all this remains the same, and simple. Divide the country into three parts. (Apparently, Joe Biden is the only Senator who favors this or something like it.) That indeed is already happening, as Shia and Sunni, as did the slaves in our own Civil War, vote with their feet. They are moving to their own areas. Once there are three areas, Sunni, Shia and Kurdish, you can bet that the government of each will make sure there is no insurgency in its territory. Division of the country and a consequent end to the killing is a lot more important than who gets what oil, than whether Iran or Syria have influence over respective coreligionists -- which they already do anyway -- or whether Turkey is concerned over a Kurdish area. What we have now is a disaster that can only get worse, as was recognized by the electorate on November 7th. Nothing is likely to be as bad as things are at present if there is division. Right now, though, only Biden, as said, seems to be enough of a non-toe-the-line-Washingtonite to favor the common sense solution of division. The rest favor only the phony nostrums that will dig us in deeper.

It would be nice to be wrong about the ISG. It would be nice if the ISG came up with really unconventional advice that, de facto, stuck it to Bush/Cheney by making them get out of Iraq very quickly. But you wouldn’t want to bet on it, would you?

The question which remains, of course, is whether the Democrats, once again seeking immolation as well as a major defeat in 2008, will go along with remaining in Iraq, or will instead compel an immediate division of and withdrawal from Iraq. One of their problems is going to be Joe Lieberman in the Senate. Apparently a gross egomaniac (like lots -- all? -- Senators), a supporter of a compromise that allowed reactionary judges to be confirmed, a shill for the insurance industry, victorious in the election extensively because of Republican votes, a self admitted potential joiner of the Republican Party, and a long time supporter of the war (there was even talk at one point of Bush appointing him to replace Rumsfeld), Lieberman now holds the key to Democratic control of the Senate. If he were to throw his support to the Republicans, as he has said could happen, then the vote there will be 50-50, Cheney will break the tie, and the Republicans will control the Senate. So . . . . what if Lieberman -- that self-assessed self-righteous paragon of virtue and alleged moderation -- were to say he will give his support to the Republicans if the Democrats were to push for a quick withdrawal from the war that he has long favored? What would the Democrats do in such a case? The question will come down to whether they prefer self-immolation and dishonor to once again being the minority party in the Senate. (They would, however, still control the house if they chose honor and told Lieberman to get lost.)

A correlative question to whether the Democrats will push for quick withdrawal is whether they will or will not investigate fully all the evil and screw-ups regarding Iraq, and will, indeed, keep impeachment off the table as conservatives are seeking to persuade them to do and as Nancy Pelosi has said will (God forbid) be done. If the Democrats do these things, they are going to face a bitter backlash in 2008 from millions of people who voted for them in the hope of having a better country. Lots of those millions of people know that you cannot have a better country so long as those who do evil are not punished and their machinations are not exposed. Without the threat of exposure and punishment, potential evildoers have no reason not to commit evil. This is how conservatives feel about street thugs and Mafiosi; why is it any less true of thugs in suits who control armies? All of recorded history cries out that it is not less true for them. (When they are not punished, you even get things like the secret comeback of Henry Kissinger.) If we want a decent country we must, after trial, put the criminals in irons or even against the wall, depending on the nature of their crimes and regardless of whether it’s some street criminal or one of our many tycoon type criminals or some of our murderers in government.

Frank Rich recently put a related matter quite pithily. Talking about what he called the “toxic” conduct of George Allen (who before November 7th was gunning for the White House), Rich said that, “Once it became clear that Mr. Allen was in serious trouble, conservative pundits mainly faulted him for running an ‘awful campaign,’ not for being an awful person.” (Emphasis added.) An awful person. Exactly. That is what’s the matter with far too many of our politicians. They should be tried and then, as said, be tossed behind bars or, in some cases, should suffer worse.

Speaking of bad people in Washington (who number in the thousands), let me close with a brief comment about Bob Woodward, the former Midwesterner who, as discussed in a prior blog, gave up Midwestern modesty for east coast braggartry. In a review of Woodward’s most recent book last Sunday, Franklin Foer commented on the extent to which Woodward has retreated from his prior near-idolatrous treatment of Bush and company and is now blasting these incompetents. Foer said some things that, to me at least, ignoramous that I am, were amazing to read. I had no idea, as it is said. Speaking of officials who are now jumping ship on Iraq, Foer, who calls this a “rat-jump,” says:

But Woodward doesn’t render this rat-jump with the appropriate comic flair. He portrays these revisionist accounts with far more sympathy than they deserve.

This book, after all, is an object lesson in precisely this brand of retreat. You can easily understand Woodward’s urge to retreat. For the past decade, he has received unending abuse, suffering a devastating Joan Didion hatchet job and then the scorn of the anti-Bush left. His critics have turned him into a symbol of journalism’s rot, a leading force in the sad demise of adversarial reporting that led to Judith Miller and media passiveness in the face of Bush spin. After writing “All the President’s Men,” Woodward became one of them.

With “State of Denial,” you sense this (somewhat overwrought) critique has rattled Woodward. It has forced him to change his style. There’s less of his signature omniscience here -- a style that not only reflected his proximity to power, but captured the self confidence of the Washington Establishment. In its place, he has grown self-referential, nervously mentioning his past books, as well as inserting himself as a character into his own tale. That Bob Woodward has strayed from the Bob Woodward method tells you a lot about the state of American journalism.

“[J]ournalism’s rot,” and the “state of American journalism” indeed. Guys like Woodward -- bigfoot journalists with the power to uncover and write the truth -- instead played the pols’ game, the game of money and self importance. They were (and are) no better than the pols they wrote about. And while it would be too much to say that they are as responsible for this war as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of that crowd, they do have considerable guilt to atone for.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

Friday, November 10, 2006

Let Us Now Throw Rumsfeld Under The Bus

November 10, 2006

Re: Let Us Now Throw Rumsfeld Under The Bus

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

To those who have read this blog over the years, and are aware of this writer’s contempt for Donald Rumsfeld, it will come as a shock that this posting will in one way support him.

Rumsfeld should have been gotten rid of years ago. He has messed up for a long time. But in the last analysis it is not Rumsfeld who is responsible for the debacle in Iraq. It is his boss, Bush, who desired to pursue Rumsfeld’s policies and who let the disaster occur. It is the man who doesn’t read, doesn’t elicit conflicting opinions, gets rid of those who offer them, is obstinate, bullies people, until just a few days ago was determined to “stay the course,” is grossly dishonest, lied about Rumsfeld until Tuesday by saying Rumsfeld would stay (a lie ignored by almost all in the media), and is, in general, a 60 year old overgrown frat boy. (Being a frat boy may be okay to some extent in one’s teens or early 20’s (I was one too in fact), but when you’re in your late 50’s or early 60’s?)

But having said until a few days ago that Rumsfeld will remain, no sooner were the election results in, then Bush decided that Don must go. Don would be thrown under the bus for what Bush himself allowed and stridently supported. For Bush to throw Rumsfeld under the bus was very dishonorable. Dishonorable -- there is no other word for it.

It was also typical of Bush. Having lived a life in which his chestnuts have always been pulled out of the fire of failure by daddy’s friends and wannabe friends (Robert Gates anyone?), Bush is not accustomed to taking blame for his mistakes and eff – ups. He is, to put it bluntly, a 60 year old spoiled brat. So, due to the election results, he decided to pin the tail on Rumsfeld, to try to shift all the blame to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld had to go lest George be blamed for the Iraq debacle.

I know, I know. By getting rid of Rummy and hiring Gates, Bush supposedly was signaling openness to working with the Democrats, to rethinking the Iraq policy, and all the rest of it. Indeed, turning off his combative, frat boy, I’m-gonna-smash-your-face-in persona, he turned on, once again, his good-old-boy, I’m-really-a-good-guy, I’m-all-charm persona. The latter persona has worked before, in 2000 and 2004 -- would it be too cynical to say it has fooled people before? -- so maybe it would work again. And George, of course, is now suddenly desperate to make it look as if he is the reasonable one and to make the Democrats look like the hard guys, the bad guys, if the Executive and the Congress do not work together effectively in the next two years. (There is 2008 to think about, after all.) As well, Bush clearly would like to ward off the possibility of impeachment proceedings directed at him and Cheney, and what better way to do that than to present oneself as a reasonable guy, a good guy, not the jerk he has been for the last few years.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, to make themselves look good, are falling for this or at least playing along with it. They are making all kinds of noises about working with the President, about making nice with George, etc. (They too are thinking about 2008.) Frankly, this turns one’s stomach even if it is the expectable thing for politicians to do and say. Impeachment, withdrawal from Iraq and a host of other crucial issues -- including improving the lives of our military people, incidentally -- should be very high in the pecking order and should be focused on by Democrats. (Let’s hear it for impeachment hearings that ought to be held by John Conyers.)

In playing along with Bush’s new -- or, more accurately, renewed -- nice guy persona, the Democrats will set themselves up for a big fall if they fail to keep a couple of things in mind. One is that the people of this country want a major change in what the Executive Branch is doing. They want the Democrats to accomplish things, to be sure, but they did not vote the Democrats in so that this country’s abysmal (and frankly even criminal) foreign policy should be continued in Iraq or elsewhere. With regard to Iraq, it is possible that Bush might end up using -- might even intend to use -- the new Robert Gates regime to pursue the forlorn (McCainesque) tactic of trying to do things “better” in Iraq rather than getting out of the mess as fast as possible. If the Democrats fall for this hopeless idea, they too will receive and deserve extensive, bitter blame in 2008.

Another point the Democrats must keep in mind is the old concept of fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. The Democrats should never forget the kind of person Bush really is. For tactical purposes, he is making sure to come across now as all sweetness and light, as Mr. Reasonable, etc. But as we have found out before, he is in reality an ignorant bully, not a gentle fellow of sweet reason. If he gets a chance, he will once again stomp on the Democrats’ heads, and call them (and lots of the rest of us) traitors, and will try to pin all blame for everything wrong on them (and lots of the rest of us), just as he previously did and just as he now has done with Rumsfeld, whom he dishonorably has thrown under the bus for a policy that Bush approved, that Bush vigorously defended up until the election, and for which Bush bears responsibility.

I don’t know whether one can say of all bullies, at all times and places, that once a bully, always a bully. But I seriously think that to say anything else in Bush’s case would be bullsomethingelse. Ditto regarding his dishonesty.[*]

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Honesty, History, And A College Of History And Law

November 7, 2006

Re: Honesty, History, And A College Of History And Law

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

On Sunday Michael Kinsley wrote a long essay in The Times Book Review called Election Day. Roughly three and one-half pages in length, it was given pride of place; it began on the first page. This apparently signifies that the editor of the Book Review thought it important. The essay, as you would guess from its title, is about American politics -- primarily, it seems, about what is wrong with American politics. (Plenty is wrong with them.) In the three and one-half pages Kinsley discusses, or at least mentions, ten books on politics, including ones by a Senator, professors, and various pundits. But, when all the sturm und drang is done, what does Kinsley say is the biggest problem in American politics today? Let me quote him (emphases added):

In my view, the worst form of cheating in American democracy today is intellectual dishonesty. The conversation in our democracy is dominated by disingenuousness. Candidates and partisan commentators strike poses of outrage that they don’t really feel, take positions that they would not take if the shoe was on the other foot (e.g., criticizing Bush when you gave Clinton a pass, or vice versa), feel no obligation toward logical consistency.

* * * *

The great flaw in American democracy is not electoral irregularities, purposeful or accidental. It’s not money (which, even under current law, cannot in the end actually buy votes). It’s not even the inexplicable failure of all other Americans to vote my way or of politicians to enact my own agenda. It’s not the broken promises and the outright lying, although we’re getting close. The biggest flaw in our democracy is, as I say, the enormous tolerance for intellectual dishonesty. Politicians are held to account for outright lies, but there seems to be no sanction against saying things you obviously don’t believe. There is no reward for logical consistency, and no punishment for changing your story depending on the circumstances. Yet one minor exercise in disingenuousness can easily have a greater impact on an election than any number of crooked voting machines. And it seems to me, though I can’t prove it, that this problem is getting worse and worse.

Kinsley goes on to discuss what he calls “the most corrupt” thing Bush did during the 2000 election crisis. It involved “Intellectual dishonesty” and I have to admit to not having heard of it before and to being thunderstruck by it:

A few days before the 2000 election, the Bush team started assembling people to deal with a possible problem: what if Bush won the popular vote but Gore carried the Electoral College. They decided on, and were prepared to begin, a big campaign to convince the citizenry that it would be wrong for Gore to take office under those circumstances. And they intended to create a tidal wave of pressure on Gore’s electors to vote for Bush, which arguably the electors as free agents have the authority to do. In the event, of course, the result was precisely the opposite, and immediately the Bushies launched into precisely the opposite argument: the Electoral College is a vital part of our Constitution, electors are not free agents, threatening the Electoral College result would be thumbing your nose at the founding fathers, and so on. Gore, by the way, never did challenge the Electoral College, although some advisers urged him to do so.

Of all the things Bush did and said during the 2000 election crisis, this having-it-both-ways is the most corrupt. It was reported before the election and is uncontested, but no one seems to care, because so much of our politics is like that. And no electoral reform can fix this problem. Intellectual dishonesty can’t be banned or regulated or “capped” like money. The only way it can be brought under control is if people start voting against it. If they did, the problem would go away. That’s democracy.

Kinsley’s view is most congenial to this author since, for several years, I have been saying in blogs and books that dishonesty in all its forms -- outright lies, spin, hypocrisy, failures of disclosure, etc. -- is the single most important problem facing this country. It is an even greater problem than the widespread lack of competence -- which is itself a major problem -- because it is very hard to act competently when one is acting on the basis of false information. So it is nice to see, for the first time, a leading member of the establishment media say that intellectual dishonesty -- with its associated lack of concern for the truthfulness or accuracy of one’s statements -- is the major problem we face. One hopes the rest of the mainstream media picks up the theme, and, since it is Michael Kinsley who has now said it, perhaps this will happen. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

One of the reasons for not holding one’s breath, for skepticism, is that the mainstream media, like politicians themselves, seems to place relatively little value on truth. It is more concerned to report the latest White House banalities, or to report imbecilic statements in order to supposedly insure that both sides are presented, than it is in the truth.

One of the worst correlative aspects of the media’s failure to really care about the truth, while pretending the opposite and using that pretense as an excuse for reporting horrendous political claptrap under the guise of presenting both sides, is the media’s lack of concern with or knowledge about history and for what history shows. (If an event is more than a few days old, the media has little interest in it.) To know no history, of course, and not to care about what it shows, is a method of enabling the perpetration on the public of dishonest views that would be exploded by (even slight) knowledge of historical facts. It is a method, that is, of enabling pols to fool the public. There was a wonderful example of this in a column by David Brooks of the Times last Thursday. Three and a half years after we invaded Iraq, three and a half years too late, Brooks said the following:

Policy makers are again considering fundamental changes in our Iraq policy, but as they do I hope they read Elie Kedourie’s essay. “The Kingdom of Iraq: A Retrospect.”

Kedourie, a Baghdad-born Jew, published the essay in 1970. It’s a history of the regime the British helped establish over 80 years ago, but it captures an idea that is truer now than ever: Disorder is endemic to Iraq. Today’s crisis is not three years old. It’s worse now, but the crisis is perpetual. This is a bomb of a nation.

“Brief as it is, the record of the kingdom of Iraq is full of bloodshed, treason and rapine,” Kedourie wrote.

And his is a Gibbonesque tale of horror. There is the endless Shiite-Sunni fighting. There is a massacre of the Assyrians, which is celebrated rapturously in downtown Baghdad. Children are gunned down from airplanes. Tribal wars flare and families are destroyed. A Sunni writer insults the Shiites and the subsequent rioters murder students and policemen. A former prime minister is found on the street by a mob, killed, and his body is reduced to pulp as cars run him over in joyous retribution.

Kedourie described “a country riven by obscure and malevolent factions, unsettled by the war and its aftermath.” He observed, “The collapse of the old order had awakened vast cupidities and revived venomous hatreds.”

* * * * *

The British tried to encourage responsible Iraqi self-government, to no avail. “The political ambitions of the Shia religious headquarters have always lain in the direction of theocratic domination,” a British official reported in 1923. They “have no motive for refraining from sacrificing the interests of Iraq to those which they conceive to be their own.”

* * * * *

The Iraq of his youth, Kedourie concluded, “was a make-believe kingdom built on false pretenses.” He quoted a British report from 1936, which noted that the Iraqi government would never be a machine based on law that treated citizens impartially, but would always be based on tribal favoritism and personal relationships. Iraq, Kedourie said, faced two alternatives: “Either the country would be plunged into chaos or its population should become universally the clients and dependents of an omnipotent but capricious and unstable government.” There is, he wrote, no third option.

Now, I ask you, why did the press not concern itself with Kedourie’s essay back when it would have counted, in 2003 during the run-up to war? The answer, I’m afraid, is what is often said here. The press doesn’t care about history. If it didn’t happen yesterday, it might as well not have happened. (Politicians in Congress, I note, have access to extensive intellectual resources and research capabilities, even if they themselves are not very knowledgeable or smart. But, like the press, they have no interest in history either.) By not caring about history, by ignoring Kedourie when knowing what he had said might have done the rest of us some good, the press enabled the liars in the White House to get us into a war partially on the claim that we would create a model democracy in Iraq. There were other reasons too why the Pretexter-In-Chief was able to fool us, but the media’s lack of concern with history, it’s ignoring of writers like Kedourie, was one of the relevant reasons.

As someone with a deep interest in history, I read all the history and biography I can get to, and believe deeply in Harry Truman’s aphorism that there is nothing new under the sun except the history that you don’t know. It seems pretty plain that history presents recurrent patterns -- which is the basis of Steven Kinzner’s marvelous book entitled Overthrow: America’s Century Of Regime Change From Hawaii To Iraq, a few chapters of which have been discussed here previously (chapters on the Philippines Insurrection and the overthrow of Mossadegh of Iran). Sometimes, I note, one finds historical analogs where one did not previously know they exist. For example, by the time one is even a quarter done with the recent biography of Julius Caesar entitled Caesar: Life Of A Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy, one is well aware of similarities between the Roman politics of Caesar’s day and the politics of our own. Roman leaders were pretty much a hereditary group (the equivalent of Bushes, Kennedys, Gores, etc.) They spent a bundle on political campaigns (just like today) and often went into debt to finance them (like today). They made fortunes off of politics and empire (as current pols and contractors do). Bribery and extortion were big. (Today we call them campaign contributions.) While the Roman pols and the other aristos were rich, the poor were very numerous and were crammed into very crowded slums (as in our big cites). When the Roman pols felt like it, they violated the law or changed it to suit their purposes (like George Bush). The only thing I can think of offhand that was different is that many of the most important Roman leaders were military men who had risked their lives in battle (Lyndon Johnson was not, Richard Nixon was not, George Bush and Dick Cheney are not), and it was fairly common to simply kill your enemies and even to have their heads paraded around on a pole. We’re not there yet, although leaders’ enemies are simply killed in lots of other countries.

Another work of history that presents some interesting parallels right from the get go is The Barbary Wars, by Frank Lambert. It turns out that to buy favor -- in this case to enable their oceanic commerce to ply the seas without being hijacked by Barbary pirates -- the great powers of Europe, and for awhile the US too, simply bribed the Barbary states. England, France, Spain, many others too -- they would all pay large sums to the Barbary States (to the Barbarians), would give lavish presents to the Barbary leaders, and would give the Barbarians warships and cannons, i.e., would give them implements of war which sometimes were turned back on the givers. At first the US did the same. To me, all this doesn’t sound so different from what the US has now been doing for many decades in the 20th and 21st centuries. To buy allies we give huge sums of money to middle eastern and far eastern nations that to a large extent despise us (we call it foreign aid sometimes), and we give them or sell them vast amounts of military equipment which sometimes gets turned back against us or our allies. I wonder whether -- I don’t know, but wonder whether -- there is a lesson in the fact that we eventually had to fight the Barbarians.

Well, even if it doesn’t precisely repeat itself, history does occur in patterns. It is thus a disaster that politicians and the press care nothing about it and that our kids are taught less and less of it. This writer learned decades ago that, when there is something so systemically wrong as the wide-ranging lack of concern for history, there is little or nothing that an individual can do about it on a wide-ranging basis. Rather, the most one can do is to tend one’s own backyard, one’s own garden, in a way that makes a tiny, even an infinitesimal, dent in the problem. To that end the Massachusetts School of Law has requested the state’s permission to begin an undergraduate program in history and law, a program in which students would concentrate in and could get a degree in only a single major, history and law. As part of the program, students would learn American history from A to Z, would learn about the relationship between American and world history, would learn the history of scientific ideas, mathematical ideas, economic ideas, etc. There would also be courses in the crucial subject of the lessons of history. This topic is often neglected today because historians, it would appear, unlike Kinzner, seem to be experts in and to think in terms of given historical periods rather than in terms of recurrent patterns that continually make themselves felt and are making themselves felt today. (Although there can, of course, be argument over what the patterns are, I think extensive agreement -- consensus -- might well develop if the matter were extensively studied and that consensus may even, in fact, exist already.) And, to address a major problem of modern higher education, students would have to write and write and write, on the twin theories that one learns how to write by writing and that clear writing makes for clear thinking. As well, making use of MSL’s extensive experience and consequent know-how in making rigorous education available inexpensively (the law school’s tuition is only 40 to 45 percent of the average in New England), the tuition for what will be a very rigorous undergraduate program would be only about $6,000 per year.
We hope the state will permit this program to be undertaken. It is a beginning to a much needed effort to cure the historical ignorance that afflicts, and adversely affects, this country. It may be a beginning only in our own little backyard, our own garden, but it would be a beginning that lots of people could replicate elsewhere.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

Monday, November 06, 2006

Subject: weblog posting
Date: Fri 11/3/2006 4:41 PM

Dear Dean Velvel;

I was rather bleakly amused by your post today - just a few days ago I read an editorial in our local rag that set forth a number of things that Mr. Bush 'should do' in the next months and years to restore his credibility and perhaps the situation in the Middle East and the world. As my wife could no doubt attest, I am a fairly mild-mannered fellow, but this set me off a bit; among other things, I recall ranting about how on Earth these editorials could still be produced 6 years into this man's reign, when there is no objective evidence that he does anything he 'should do' from any responsible point of view. His policy choices and actions have (charitably) mostly been poorly-considered and even more poorly carried out. He has shown little sign of being aware of or concerned with anything beyond the political machinations of his management team, and he has demonstrated many of the hallmarks of a second-rate middle-manager: inflexibility, theft of credit for ideas that migh t make him look better, blame-shifting when things go bad, loyalty to sycophants and ego-massagers, and hostility to those who disagree with (and therefore ego-threaten) him. He would have made a practically ideal Bourbon king (perhaps more of a Spanish than French Bourbon, considering his combination of weak viciousness and petulant incompetence). This was all quite visible, I understand, in his years as governor of Texas, and much of it was clearly visible in his run-up to coronation as GOP candidate for the 2000 election. And yet, supposedly intelligent people are still seeing in this Rohrshach-blot of a man the things they want him to be. Alas, we get the government we deserve (where 'we' is the whole group, for good or ill...). The big question, of course, is whether this administration will allow a change in control of the Congress, given their manifest (and justified) fear of the consequences of their actions to date. Let's hope that I am once again being over-pe ssimistic; I don't mind being wrong when being right spells disaster..

John Robinson

From: Gregory F. Reggie
Subject: Power to make war
Date: Thu 11/2/2006 5:33 PM

Dear Dean Velvel:

Thanks for including me in this email distribution and for your letter to the NYT reporters who incorrectly reported the state of the law regarding presidential power to make war. Sadly, our congress has completely abdicated its oversight and war-making powers. It’s hard to imagine that congress has not declared war since WWII, yet we have fought in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Iraq II, to name a few.

Now it's getting worse as this president pushes his “unitary executive” theory, complete with signing statements that purport to interpret/override legislative intent and ignore the will of the people, imposing his astonishingly radical view of freedom and democracy. And absent courageous and clear voices like yours, the country is taken like silent sheep to be sheered, and worse. Respected voices in positions of trust, like yours, make a difference on the national level, while those of us in less visible roles preach the truth in our local communities. Thanks for your efforts, and know that a lot of us are standing right with you. I hope you will continue to speak out.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Mock Letters To Bush, Pretend Speeches For Bush, And Reactionary Judges

November 3, 2006

Re: Mock Letters To Bush, Pretend Speeches For Bush,
And Reactionary Judges.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

Last Sunday my wife informed me that she had heard the sometimes estimable Ben Stein deliver a commentary on the CBS TV show called Sunday Morning. (On that same day Stein had an excellent article in the Business Section of The New York Times.) My informant said that the commentary took the form of a proposed speech to the American people about Iraq, a speech in which Bush conceded to a mistake, a well meant mistake but a terrible mistake nonetheless, took responsibility for the mistake, and told of plans to have a blue ribbon committee give him a recommendation in one month on what to do, with all options being on the table.

One has often read columns that pretended to be either letters to Bush about what he should do now with regard to Iraq or talks Bush should give to the American people about Iraq. One has often seen, in other words, the kind of format used on television by the sometimes estimable Ben Stein. The question which arises from use of the mock letters or mock speech format is “why?” Why do pundits create mock speeches for Bush to give confessing error and saying how the situation will be rescued? Why do pundits write mock letters of this character to Bush? Can these pundits really think Bush will give their speeches or heed the views in their letters? -- Can they seriously believe such a thing? Do they not understand that Bush is an obstinate (unintelligent) man whose views and feet are set in concrete, a man who is not going to back off his obdurate views even when confronted with powerful facts and ideas, let alone when “confronted” merely by some fake letter or fake speech?

One gets the impression that the egomaniac pundits really do think Bush will heed their letters or give their speeches. One gets this (insane) impression even though one knows it far more rational to believe that the pundits are merely using the format of a letter or a proposed speech as a “writing vehicle,” as a stylized way of saying what they wish to say. But in that case, why use such a vehicle? Why not just say, in normal expository language, that George effed up big time and it is time to lay plans to get out? Do the pundits think a fake letter or fake speech will be more effective, and that this is true even though the supposed letters or speeches are just more of the fakery which pervades America’s public life? I really have no answers to these questions.

* * * * *
Now to a different subject. In the most recent issue of a national legal newspaper called The National Law Journal there is a front page article about political criticisms of federal judges (for supposedly being too liberal), and Bush’s reactionary desire to push through nominees who, in polite language, are deeply conservative and who, in more accurate language, are right wing wackos. The level of “criticism has so polarized relations between Congress and the judicial branch,” said the NLJ, “that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Bush’s own Chief Justice, John G. Roberts, Jr., have warned that judicial independence may be at risk.” Some reactionaries, on the other hand, say things such as “much of the criticism is warranted.”

What one does not read, however, is what is regarded by this writer as the truth. Bitter criticism of the federal courts is warranted; it is warranted from top to bottom, from the Supreme Court to district courts. But not because federal judges are too liberal. Rather, because way too many of them are despicably reactionary. Some of their misbegotten reactionary decisions have been discussed here in recent months, and I shall not take time now to elaborate again on those (or other) decisions. For the only point one wishes to make now is that, if there is going to be criticism of the federal courts, let’s have some from the truthful standpoint, let’s have some that hammers at their plethora of unjust reactionary decisions.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at