Please, Talk to Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Bush [.pdf] was remarkable, in that it was the first time the leader of Iran has sought to engage the leader of the United States since the Iranian revolution.

Unfortunately, the letter was tainted by the fact that it was sort of loopy, to put it charitably. The Wall Street Journal editorial page compared it – fairly – to the Unabomber’s manifesto. And Mr. Ahmadinejad has a particularly nasty habit of sprinkling Holocaust revisionism and bombastic rhetoric about Israel into every speech he makes.

Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration dismissed the letter, pointing out that it does little to get at the range of substantive issues that divides our two countries. Still, there were some observers who thought that the fact that Ahmadinejad took the step – let alone the fact that he has jetted to Malaysia to declare that Iran “is ready to engage in dialogue with anybody [except Israel]” and that “there are no limits to our dialogue” – represented an opening. But the bizarre tone and lack of substance in the letter sowed grave doubts for some about the prospects for defusing the crisis.

Fortunately, the Iranians appear to have cribbed their strategy from Nikita Khrushchev, sending a second, non-nutty letter to Time magazine for dissemination in the West. In that letter, Hassan Rohani, a representative of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, makes a serious proposal that holds a much better prospect as a starting point for negotiations – and for standing back from the brink of war.

The deal Rohani offers is not very close to the Bush administration’s current demands, but in the course of trying to get to the negotiating table, the opening salvos don’t often resemble the final deals.

We should definitely reply to Mr. Rohani’s letter. Hawks are right to point out that we don’t want to get rope-a-doped here: We don’t want to enter into endless negotiations with the Iranians that go nowhere and just allow them to play for time. That’s why, if we want to find out what their intentions are, we should offer them a serious deal, and see how they respond.

If the Iranians are at all willing to give up their drive toward nuclear weapons in return for normalizing our relationship (including our promising not to attempt “regime change”), it is definitely, absolutely worth making a serious effort to get that deal.

The Red Menace

China’s plan to build 48 new airports over the next five years is freaking out environmentalists, who worry abou the impact of Chinese air travel on ozone depletion.  Apparently, the poor, unwashed masses of China should stick to their bikes while the rest of us jet around to U.N. conferences where we can worry about global warming and the oncoming environmental Armageddon in peace.

I’ll put “Chinese air travel” on my list of things to worry about tonight. 

You Put Your Left Foot in

Look, I’m all for blaming government when blame is due, but conservatives have got to stop suggesting that high gasoline prices would disappear tomorrow if the government would repeal the ethanol mandate, build new refineries, open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or do the hokey pokey [.pdf].

Doing all of the above (save the hokey pokey) might reduce prices somewhat (and do more so over time), but 85 percent of the variation in gasoline prices is explained by variation in global crude oil prices. Crude oil prices are established by global supply and demand patterns, and there’s not much Congress can do about either.

Arguing that there are simple legislative fixes encourages the mistaken belief that there’s no problem Congress can’t solve. Too many people believe that already.

Bloody Madness

God bless Sarah Lyall. Not only does the New York Times correspondent pen a steady stream of stories about the wackiness of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.  She also drops references to Austin Powers and The Simpsons.

Her latest is a May 7 article on dentistry in Britain titled, “In a Dentist Shortage, British (Ouch) Do It Themselves.” Lyall introduces us to Britons who yank out their own teeth rather than rely on a “state-financed dental service [that is] stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone, and no longer even pretends to try.”

The local private dentists are pricey, but some Britons are cutting those bills in half by visiting dentists in Hungary. Competition is funny that way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go floss.

Repeat After Me: “We Are All Individuals”

Back when Steve Martin was doing stand-up comedy (yes, I’m OLD), he had a wonderful bit in which he would get the audience to repeat a series of statements in unison, the last of which was “we are all individuals.” 

I’m sure that this bit of irony would have been lost on the editors of the Washington Post. In a May 9 feature, they asked three authors to discuss the battle between traditionalist and progressive pedagogical methods. The fatal conceit of this feature, to which all the contributors succumbed, was to ignore the most sensible approach of all: let families decide for themselves. 

If parents were free to choose the schools best suited to each of their children, and schools were forced to compete for the privilege of serving them, the most effective methods would flourish and the rest would be marginalized. We’d also likely find that certain methods work well with some children but not others. 

The sooner we overcome the Stalinesque notion that educational excellence can be pursued through more or better central planning, the better off our kids will be.

Uncle Sam: Lord of the Flies

The Fish & Wildlife Service announced yesterday that it will move with great dispatch and determination to save 12 species of rare Hawaiian flies from the brink of extinction. Thank God for the Endangered Species Act. Who knows what sort of dark ecological night might descend upon us without it?

Of course, the ESA is like an operating room in which patients check in but they don’t check out. Its success as saving and reviving patients is akin to Jack Kevorkian’s. So don’t throw a party for those flies yet.

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McCain-Feingold Bites

So a court confirms that, under the McCain-Feingold law, it’s illegal to run ads urging a senator to vote for a bill in Congress if the bill is coming to the floor within 30 days of a primary election in which the senator is running unopposed. Because letting a grassroots group contact voters on a proposed constitutional amendment would compromise “the integrity of the electoral process.”

John McCain often takes the lead on economic freedom, and Russell Feingold was the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act, but they should both be sorely ashamed that they have so effectively blocked the voters from the sacred “electoral process.”