Saturday, April 13, 2002

Cambridge, MA>

SO YASSER ARAFAT is denouncing terrorism. What's next -- will he ask himself to resign?

Cambridge, MA>

OH GOODIE! CARDINAL LAW won't be leaving us after all! In a time of crisis like this, the city and the church really need a strong experienced leader to guide us.

After all, as Law says, the latest revelations have:

brought home with painful clarity how inadequate our record-keeping has been. A continual institutional memory concerning allegations and cases of abuse of children was lacking. Trying to learn from the handling of this and other cases, I am committed to ensure that our records are kept in a way that those who deal with clergy personnel in the future will have the benefit of a full, accurate and easily accessible institutional memory.
That's right kids, you heard it here -- the Catholic Church has no child abuse problem, it has no honesty problem, it has no cooperation with law enforcement problem, all it has is a bad filing system!

Friday, April 12, 2002

Cambridge, MA>

LOVE THE E-MAIL but hate the e-spam? Check out Alex Rubalcava's helpful advice on how to foil the insidious forces of corporate marketing.

Cambridge, MA>

BOO HOO, LEGENDARY BLACK "scholar"Cornel West is leaving Fair Harvard for the greener pastures of some school in New Jersey. If only Skip Gates would join him....

Cambridge, MA>

I DON'T KNOW IF ANYONE KNOWS or cares, but when I'm not blogging I'm a student of moral philosophy and, as such, I get to grapple with tough questions like "does the fact that culture membership is a necessary condition for the creation of a context of choice justify the state in limited individual choice in order to protect the viability of the cultural structure?"

Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, on the other hand, a highly trained theologian, can't seem to figure out whether or not repeatedly covering up heinous crimes against children means you should resign from your position as a moral leader.

Cambridge, MA>

I REALLY CAN'T COME UP WITH clever things to say any more. I'm feeling more and more like we're still in the open stages of what's going to be a really protracted and ugly conflict. But maybe not. Frankly, I have no idea. I thought, though, that I'd quote this e-mail my father sent me this morning:

Today, on the front page, given the Venezuelan generals and the Middle East and the stock market continuing to unravel, well...it just seemed like the 1970's all over again. Never liked that decade.
I'm feeling less and less confidence in the president, but at the same time I'm feeling even less like the Democrats would do any better....

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Cambridge, MA>

WHY DOES ANDREW SULLIVAN need to go ruin what was starting to be an interesting pro-tax cut argument with some silly rhetoric? Sullivan notes that:

In 1989, the top 5 percent paid 44 percent of federal taxes. Today they pay 55 percent. Al Gore's favorite "top one percent" now pay one third of all taxes, while accounting for only 19 percent of national taxable income.
The point here, I take it, is that conservatives can stop the game of denying that their tax policies overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy and just say that the rich deserve a break. Maybe they do, maybe they don't, it would be worth seriously debating, though my personal take on it is that there's no real point in debating the merits of the tax rates in isolation, the question is what we're spending the money on.

It seems to me that in practice the Bush tax cut is probably going to prevent increased spending on pointless pork barrel projects and the inane prescription drug benefit for medicare recipients. If I'm right about that, then in my opinion the tax cut was probably a good thing. If someone proposed raising the taxes again, though, in order to achieve, say, universal health care or as part of a really comprehensive education program, then that would be a different story.

Back to Sullivan, though. After sighting some those interesting left-wing spin deflating statistics, he makes the absurd claim that the current system is "downright punitive of success."You hear this kind of thing from conservatives all the time, but it seems to demonstrate a pretty weak grasp on the concept of punishment.

If I commit a crime, the government will punish me. The idea of the punishment is to make me worse off than I was before the crime, and thereby to dissuade people from committing crimes. If punishment just consisted in reducing the scale of the benefit for having done something, then that wouldn't really be a punishment at all, it would just be, well, like a kind of tax.

Consider -- suppose I robbed a bank of $1 million and then got caught. Making me pay a fine of any sum less than $1 million would be absurd. That's why in the real world bank robbers get sent to jail.

I believe Sweden used to actually have a top tax bracket of something like 104% percent -- that is a tax that punishes success. So-called wealth taxes would arguably do the same thing, but we don't have any wealth taxes in America.

Cambridge, MA>

IT'S BEEN A WHILE SINCE I posted, but I thought I'd put up this article appearing in today's issue of the always fantastic Harvard Independent.

It's not the occupation.

Understanding the Palestinian "Right of Return."

By MATTHEW YGLESIAS

The conventional wisdom on campus and in the media seems to be that the horrific violence in the Middle East is caused by the fact that Israel is currently occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, thereby denying the Palestinian people the opportunity to live in an independent country. It's a natural enough thing to assume?Israel, after all, is occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the denial of national independence is the cause of conflicts throughout the world from Sri Lanka to Chechnya to the Kurdish territories to the Basque country. It's a natural assumption, but it's also completely false.

The fact is that Israel has repeatedly offered to end the conflict between itself, the Palestinian people and the various Arab states on the basis of the creation of two states?one Jewish and one Palestinian. On each of these occasions, the leaders of the Arab world have turned down these offers, preferring to fight ever onwards with the goal of killing Jews and destroying the Jewish state.

Exhibit one in making the case against the occupation-based interpretation of the conflict is the fact that the conflict quite clearly predates the occupation. In 1947, the United Nations proposed dividing the land west of the River Jordan into two states?Israel and Palestine. The representatives of the Jewish community in the area agreed, those of the Arab community refused. In the course of the ensuing war, an independent Israel was established and the territory now known as the West Bank came to be occupied not by Jordan but by Israel. The result, of course, was not a campaign of terror directed against the Jordanian occupiers of Palestinian land, but rather a campaign of terror and a massive military build-up directed against Jews.

The military buildup culminated in two wars?one in 1967 and one in 1973?aimed not at the establishment of an independent Palestine, but at the destruction of the adjacent state of Israel.

But that was then, this is now. Haven't things changed? Didn't Yasser Arafat accept Israel's existence at Oslo? Didn't the Arab League just agree in Beirut to make peace with Israel if only they would end their occupation?

One could be forgiven for thinking so based on most coverage of the issue, but the answer is no.

First Arafat and then a united front of Arab leaders demanded not only Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 frontiers, but also the poorly-understood "right of return" for Palestinian refugees.

In the course of Israel's war for independence in 1948, many Arabs living behind what became the cease fire line left their homes as the result of Israeli military pressure and encouragement from Arab leaders who assured them that they would be able to return shortly after the impending victory over Zionism.

To be a refugee is a terrible thing, but many refugees have the good luck to have co-nationals with their own states to take care of them. Germans expelled from Eastern Europe were taken in by Germany, Jews expelled from Arab countries after 1948 went to Israel, French settlers in Algeria settled in France after Algerian independence. Fortunately for Arab refugees (or so you would think) they had not one, but over a dozen countries that could take them in. But none did, instead they preferred to keep them, and their children, and their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren in appalling conditions as permanent refugees and potential canon-fodder for future anti-Israeli crusades.

Now Arafat and the Arab states argue that these refugees and their children and their children's children and their children's children's children?almost four million people in total?should be allowed to settle amidst the approximately six million Jews of Israel proper. There can be only one result of granting this so-called "right of return," the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, not by military force, but by demographic onslaught. Perhaps the Arab leaders who back this demand do so only out of sincere concern for the lives of the refugees and their descendents. Perhaps. But it seems unlikely considering the fact that the Palestinian people have been given precious little by their Arab brethren save weapons to be aimed at Jews. More likely the motivating force behind the right of return is simply a desire to bring about its inevitable outcome?as in 1948, as in 1967, as in 1973 the goal is the destruction of Israel.

This is not to say that the plight of the Palestinians living under occupation is not a serious one, or that they deserve to live in independence. Nor am I claiming that if the Palestinians asked for nothing more than an end to the occupation that Israel would necessarily grant it?I suspect that they would, but perhaps I would be wrong. The point is simply to make it clear that the Palestinians are not asking for an end to the occupation, rather they demand an end to the occupation and an end to Israel. It will be clear to anyone why Israel will not grant that demand, and a moment's thought will reveal how foolish it would be for the Israelis to retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders while still surrounded by enemies hell-bent on its destruction. Such a course of action would be nothing short of suicide.

And so, the occupation will continue. So too, no doubt, will the violence. Only two things can bring it to an end: Either Israel will be destroyed or else the leaders of the Arab world will need to really and truly reconcile themselves to the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Cambridge, MA>

RICK LOWRY ODDLY COMPARES Israel to the Francoist side of the Spanish civil war in a way that casts the United States as Nazi Germany in an article that means to be focused on saying that Arab terrorists are as bad as the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Cambridge, MA>

THANK GOD! THE SAUDIS have finally decided to do something about their notoriously anti-semitic textbooks. No wait! Actually they've decided to beef up censorship to ensure adherence to establishment Saudi dogma. Love them moderate Arab states...gotta make sure nothing bad happens to them...such loyal friends and all...with their absolute monarchies and brutal repression....

Cambridge, MA>

DEN BESTE ATTRIBUTES the the Bushies a non-wobbly Mid-East plan worthy of Talleyrand or Metternich, but I don't buy it. I just don't think that this sort of deep-scheming can work in a democracy. Yes, I know Nixon and Kissenger tried it, but it didn't really work and it stretched the meaning of "democracy" to the breaking point. If you ask me, they're drifting. Bush and Rice don't have the confidence to make up their minds and Cheney and Powell are both such broken record hawks and doves that their words have no real weight.

Bush's simplisme moralizing streak is probably pushing him to do the right thing and let Israel loose, but his dad and their oil buddies are pushing him toward a continuing search for the ever-more-elusive peace process.

Cambridge, MA

MORE TOTAL WAR: as many on the web and around the world have noted, many in the mainstream media have the odd habit of writing about the Israel-Palestinian conflict without distinguishing between civilian and military casualties or between civilians killed as a side effect of an operation against military targets and civilians directly targeted for killing.

The people who paper over these distinctions typically seem to think that they're standing up for the "powerless" in the world and that the civilian-military distinction (what Michael Walzer calls "the War Convention") is some kind of a fraud perpetrated on the wretched of the earth by the mighty industrialized west. I take it that this theory is some kind of Marxist hangover -- a dull throbbing pain telling everyone to look for the self-interest underlying every statement of values -- because it's wildly out of step with the reality of contemporary technology.

Despite all the talk by pro-Palestinian types, the Israelis are clearly not committing genocide in Palestine nor are they trying to terrorize the population. One can tell this by the fact that there are still Palestinians alive today. Does anyone doubt that Israel really could solve their Arab problem (or America its Islam problem in general) through this method if they wanted to? If you do doubt it, you should go back and read more about what nukes can do.

This is not to say that Israel's hand is being stayed solely by their superior moral outlook. Indeed, this is the very point -- Israel's hand is being stayed by the existence of a rough global consensus that however you solve your problems it's not by indiscriminate attacks on a civilians population.

Arab leaders are doing the Palestinians no favors (but then again, they never have) by trying to erase this distinction -- they're just inviting the Israelis to find someone more brutal than Ariel Sharon to do their dirty work for them.

This goes double for Western European leaders whose thoughts probably have some kind of impact on Israeli actions. If it gets to the point, however, when Prodi et. al. have made it clear that in their view what Israel is doing is no better than lining up all male Palestinians and putting a bullet in their head, that that's just what Israel will do.

Monday, April 08, 2002

Cambridge, MA>

I'M NOT A BIG READER of my local daily (and I suspect that the recent incident with their media columnist has not won them many blog readers) but in a cast-off hard copy I was reading in my local bagel shop I came across a very non-reassuring article about how the non-American Catholic Church seems to think that criticism of rampant sexual abuse problems in the clergy is just some wacky North American obsession that can be safely ignored.

Even worse, though, is this little gem about the Church in Africa:

The newspaper reported that the Vatican had known for seven years that priests were having sex with nuns, and in some cases raping them - apparently in part because in a continent where many people have AIDS, the nuns were viewed as safe sexual partners. In a handful of cases, nuns became pregnant and were encouraged by priests to have abortions.

The Vatican responded to the report by issuing a statement, in Italian, that did not use the words Africa, sex, or abuse.

"The problem is known, and is restricted to a geographically limited area,'' the Vatican said. ''Certain negative situations cannot cause to be forgotten the frequently heroic fidelity of the great majority of male religious, female religious, and priests.''

According to the article, this kind of crap will fly in the Third World, but I certainly hope Americans don't stand for it.
CONGRATS TOGlenn Kinen who's now done with his thesis and hopefully won't be too busy partying to find some time for blogging over the next few weeks.
Cambridge, MA

JONAH GOLDBERG'S SCATHING attack on intellectuals' response to Palestinian terrorism is an excellent read, but he -- and other conservatives who've been admirably correct on the Israel issue -- is missing a crucial point: Bush agrees with the intellectuals, not the conservatives. Sure he's made the euroleft unhappy from time to time by not yelling quite enough at Ariel Sharon, but the logic of the insight that Yasser Arafat is the leader of a terrorist organization can lead to only one conclusion: He and his cronies must be mercilessly removed from power.

Neither Bush nor Sharon shows any real sign of moving in this direction. In the case of Sharon, one can only assume that it's because Bush is keeping him on a leash. In the case of Bush, I think it's unlikely that Jacques Chirac is restraining him -- more likely it's that on this issue, as on so many others, the administration has sold its soul to big oil.

There's a lot of room in the political space for a hawkish Democrat -- someone who believes in promoting democracy and human rights over the acquisition of cheap energy. Unfortunately, we don't have one. As long as the conversation was firmly fixed on Iraq, it looked like Joe Lieberman might be that guy, but now that the focus has shifted to Israel, I suspect he's concerned that it not appear that Jews are controlling our Mideast policy or some such thing.

Either way, it's sad.

Cambridge, MA>

SO WHAT'S SO TERRIBLE about suicide bombing anyway? Many people I talk to seem to feel that moralistic objections to the tactics of Hamas, Al-Aqsa, Islamic Jihad, etc. are little more than a cover for prejudice in favor of well-equipped, well-funded first-world armed forces. Is there a principled distinction to be made here, or does it really all just come down to what we think of the underlying cause for which people are fighting?

Needless to say, I think there is a distinction. It's not, however, the distinction between injuring civilians and injuring military personnel, because any serious attack whether undertaken by Yasser Arafat or George Bush or Ariel Sharon is bound to cause civilian casualties. The question is how is the attack supposed to accomplish its objectives.

When the United States bombed Taliban targets in Afghanistan, we killed civilians -- more civilians, I would guess, than the intifada has killed in Israel. The difference is, our strategy would have worked just as well if our bombs and targeting information had been more accurate and we'd been able to avoid those casualties. Indeed, our strategy would have worked better because it would have gotten us more support in Afghanistan and around the world.

Note that it's not really correct to say that we killed those civilians "by accident" we didn't mean to kill them, but we knew that many civilians would be killed as a by-product of our actions. The point is that killing civilians wasn't integral to the strategy we were pursuing.

The goal of a conventional military campaign is either (as it was with us in Afghanistan) to eliminate the ability of some group of people (the Taliban) to use force against you, or else (as with our Vietcong opponents) to simply kill a sufficient number of people so that the other guy doesn't feel like sending any more after you. These are both nasty things to do (people, soldiers and civilians alike suffer and die) but they are fundamentally limited in what they express to a will to accomplish a political objective by altering the policies of a given regime.

Palestinian (or al-Qaida) terror, on the other hand, seeks to achieve its objectives by frightening (terrorizing) an entire population to the point where they are willing to do anything to halt the terror. The will here is a will to total destruction -- the threat is that if the terrorists demands are not heeded every member of the targeted political will be killed. It is a will to policide or genocide depending on the nature of the target.

There can be no compromise with this sort of tactics because the terrorist admits of no distinctions amidst his opponents. If my enemy's target is my army, then surrendering my army will remove the casus belli and peace will return. The terrorist, however, has already indicated his willingness to kill any and all members of my community in order to achieve his goals -- he assigns his goals an infinite importance and hence there is no reason to believe in any offers of compromise.

Some goals (allied victory in World War II) are, indeed, of infinite importance and if a resort to terror (in this case with firebombings and nuclear weapons) really was the most effective way to bring about victory (I'm not really qualified to judge, it seems that at least some of it was unnecessary) then it would have been justified.

Other things (a Kuwait independent from Iraq, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, a Taiwan free of mainland domination) are indeed worth fighting for, but not to the extent that one should use terror bombings of civilian populations in order to achieve them.

It's true that accepting restraints of this sort on your conduct will tie your hands behind your back somewhat when dealing with the bad guys, but on the other hand they're the price you pay (or should be made to pay) for entry into the world where dialogue and compromise are possible and not every dispute must break out into bloodshed.

I wouldn't want to say that "once a terrorist always a terrorist" or that one or two (or even many) bad acts should make a person untouchable forever, but when you take a man like Arafat who has already once (in fact, I think many times) renounced terror only to take it up once again in a more intense form, that that is a man who has demonstrated that he has no sense of perspective on the importance of his objectives versus the importance of human life.

That is not the kind of man who deserves a Nobel Prize and that is not the kind of man who can be negotiated with.

Cambridge, MA>

WELCOME! Alex Rubalcava, a fellow Harvard undergraduate who I know only through his interesting Crimson columns on business and tech stuff has started a blog. Check it out. There's already a couple of interesting posts about the always-fascinating world of digital music and the record industry's ceaseless battle against innovation.

Cambridge, MA>

I THOUGHT I WOULD TAKE a moment to quote from the latest column by Ross Douthat, a Harvard classmate of mine and a rising star in the thrilling world of conservative punditry.

Amid the wreckage that the suicide bombers have wrought, to speak of moral equivalence between the combatants is to enter the madhouse. There is no “cycle of violence” here, in which all parties are guilty. There are Palestinian attempts to slaughter Israeli civilians, and Israeli attempts to capture and kill those responsible for the atrocities —which includes, of course, Arafat himself, whose government gives aid and comfort to the men and women tearing gaping wounds in the world with their bodies and their bombs.
Others have said it before, of course, and others will say it again -- but until the world starts listening it's important to say it over and over and over and over again, in as many voices as possible.

The idea that the United States of America is currently helping to protect a man whose cause -- the destruction of Israel via the "right of return" -- is unjust and whose methods -- deliberate violence against civilians -- are unconscienable frankly sickens me.

Sunday, April 07, 2002

Cambridge, MA>

MAC THOMASON WRITING ON IRANIAN threats to use oil as a weapon says:

This is not your father's OPEC; the phrase "OPEC Secretary General Ali Rodriguez" gives that away. And the time when Arab countries had that sort of power is long over.
Which is quite true. Many commentators have noted that the exigencies of the war on terrorism have tended to prevent the administration from following through on its campaign promise (not that anyone blames them) to make Latin America the centerpiece of 21st century US diplomacy.

What's been less noted -- but equally significant I think -- is that US-Latin American relations have been improving significantly of late at the exact same time that our traditional "allies" in the Middle East have been proving themselves to be enemies and our European allies are proving themselves to be pains in the ass.

Given that the non-British Europeans can't actually do anything very useful for us other than to just exist as a block of nations that are culturally similar to and economically integrated with our own, our increasing integration with our south neighbors means that soon enough we'll just be able to let the Europeans go be bitchy in their own little corner while we play with our new friends.

It'll drive The New York Times crazy, but I think the rest of us will breath a little bit easier.

Cambridge, MA>

BJORN STAERK'S THOUGHTS ON the Norwegian media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stands up as analysis of the media just about everywhere.