Saturday, January 26, 2002

MAYBE THE ECONOMIST article I mentioned below on the Gitmo situation was a little too reasonable. John Colethinks so and I think he may just be right. I also wonder where the term "Gitmo" comes from and strongly suspect that someone out there in blogland can help me out.
IF I MAY UNFAIRLY CARICATURE Robert Putnam's communitarian views, the death of thousands of Americans on September 11 was a good thing because thanks to Osama bin Laden, "the levels of political consciousness and engagement are substantially higher than they were a year ago in the United States."

Now I know that's not what Putnam really thinks, but it is more or less what he's saying and he's not the only one. What critics of the "decadent" (or whatever) nineties need to remember is that even though they (and I) think politics, etc. is interesting all the time, not everyone needs to agree with us.

Most people are only interested in public affairs when something's going wrong. The rest of the time they want to concentrate on their private pursuits, and when they do focus on politics it's only in order to get politicians to get things back in order so that they can go back to their private lives.

Is that really so wrong.

THE ANTI-SEMITIC BRITISH PRESS gets even more anti-semitic as it tries to deny its anti-semitism by printing this column which correctly points out that
We Jews do ourselves a disservice if we cry "anti-semite!" with the same stridency at a liberal commentator who criticises the Israeli army's disproportionate response to terrorist outrages, and at a National Front lout who asserts that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a genuine document
while ignoring the fact that the most recent cries of "anti-semite" were in response to a ludicrously anti-semitic New Statesman cover story alleging that a "kosher conspiracy" has been silencing British critics of Israel.
THOSE OF US WHO ARE neither members of the Taliban nor psychotic neo-Marxists have been doing a lot of Guardian-bashing since September 11, but I thought I'd point out that they're high-quality reporting on international stories that tend to get ignored by the American press like this piece on Zimbabwe still make them worth reading.
RON ROSENBAUM IN THE New York Observer asks where the conservatives were when Martin Luther King needed them.
And where are the conservative human-rights activists of today, who may not have been old enough to be held responsible for their position on Dr. King when he was alive? Making cracks about "affirmative action," without ever having taken on the racism that gave rise to it. Slandering the 60’s as nothing but Marxists and hippies in a disengenous refusal to see that the defining aspect of the 60’s in American history was the civil-rights movement–because to admit that would force them to face the shameful history of conservative cowardice, hypocrisy and often outright racism in the 60’s.
It's something to think about in these heady days of leftist bashing.
SENATOR HILLARY'S PRESS OFFICE has gotten someglowing coverage for their girl, but what are they doing wasting their time trying to get glowing coverage in the Washington Post? Don't they realize that New Yorkers don't read the Post?
CONSPIRACY THEORY OF THE DAY: could the entire Cornel West controversy have been engineered by K. Anthony Appiah newly departed Harvard Afro-American studies scholar and my professor for Philosophy 166z: Identity and Individuality: Race, State, and Society?

After all, thanks to Cornel's antics, his leaving for Princeton is now front page news in the New York Times which went so far as to bill him a "star" Otherwise, I think the best he could have hoped for was the front page of the Crimson. All this virtually guarantees that my beloved Harvard Independent will be breaking it's informal policy of not covering the comings and goings of the faculty?

DUKAKIS MEETS BUCHANAN: sound frightening? John Judis thinks it's a good description of Edmund Stoiber President of Bavaria, leader of the Christian Social Union, the new candidate for Chancellor of the joint German right, and possibly the soon-to-be leader of Europe's most important country.

So should we join Judis in panicking? Perhaps. The article's worth reading and the race is worth paying attention to, but I think that this sort of analysis underestimates the ability of long-term pols to shift according to the winds.

If much of Stoiberism sounds outdated, that's only because he's been around a long time. Look at some other European survivors -- like Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin in France -- and you'll see that what makes them survivors is their ability to adopt new policies to meet new conditions and never seem out of date.

I JUST NOTICED THE GUARDIAN'S Robert Nozick obituary which makes the interesting claim that Anarchy, State, and Utopia:
philosophically underpinned the free market, anti-welfarism of the approaching Reagan-Thatcher era
. This seems wrong to me. The fundamental tenet of Reaganism, as a public political platform at least, was much more the Milton Friedman line that deregulation and lower taxes would lead to more growth and hence improve the condition of the poor. This was mixed in with a good deal of "neoconservative" concern for the moral state of the poor, welfare's effect on the family, etc.

There's an important difference between these two different arguments for reducing the size of government and I think that it would do those of us (like me and the Guardian) to distinguish between the two. The empirical claim that a freer market will make things better needs to be tested and, where true, embraced. The Nozickian argument, however, should simply be refuted.

GLENN KINEN AND THE ECONOMIST are pushing a moderate, reasonable line about the fracas over the prisoners in Cuba.

More interesting to me then seeking a correct understanding of what should be done is the question of why Rupert Murdoch's rightwing papers in the UK have played such a large role in fanning the flames of the current controversy. Their shocking conduct -- it was the Daily Mail, after all, not the Guardian that ran TORTURED as a headline -- can't be explained as typical Euro-antiamericanism since those publications are traditionally staunch defenders of the US and unceasingly hostile to Europe.

Friday, January 25, 2002

NON-MEDIA BIAS WATCH: Andrew Sullivan writes:
The implications of "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" are strongly libertarian and proved comforting to the right, which was grateful for what it embraced as philosophical justification. Christopher Lehman Haupts New York Times obituary for the great Robert Nozick (a mentor of mine). Justification for what? The implication here is that conservatives are just greedy, bad people and that Nozick gave them some patina of philosophical justification for their selfishness.
If Nozick were really a mentor of Sullivan's, shouldn't he know what "justification" means in terms of philosophy? For a political program to have a "justification" is for it to be correct. Nozick's book, allegedly, justifies libertarianism. Similarly, his antagonist John Rawls' Theory of Justice provides justification for redistributive taxation provided that empirical data supports the idea that such taxation would benefit the worst-off members of society.
A GOOD NOZICK ANECDOTE on Shamed Dogan's site here
I'M SURE I DON'T APPROVE of it's political implications, but the smart bomb manifesto in the Iranian is really funny.
GLENN KINEN COMPARES NOZICK to Ayn Rand and finds the latter lacking. He's quite right, and what I said the other day about Nozick changing his mind a bit about libertarianism is the perfect example. He was always philosopher first and ideologist less than second -- always open to a new idea, always aware of the possibility of error. If we had more people with that kind of spirit in the world of punditry, this country might be capable of having some significantly more interesting debates.
MATT WELCH'S POST ON anti-globalization fools is worth reading. The sad thing about this, as with all outbreaks of well-meaning idiocy, is that there are some legitimate issues being buried under the pile of crap that these kids toss up.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

WILLIAM SALETAN OFFERS an excellent evaluation of Ari Fleischer's performance as press secretary.
JEFF JARVIS HAS SOME interesting musings on the fate of John Walker. My favorite:
I also fantasize about Walker becoming a character on Oz. Imagine if Verne and his boys got hold of him. The black Muslims wouldn't take him as one of their own. He'd be shish kebab in no time.
Love that Oz. I'm no so certain as to what Verne would do, the far right's reaction to the current war has been similar in many ways to that of the far left. American neo-nazis sort of admire the Taliban's hardcore traditionalism.
I SEE ON INSTAPUNDIT that Robert Nozick is dead. I've been in a seminar with him this past semester and must say that he was a truly inspiring figure, having gone so far as to use the negative prognosis he received from his doctors as an example to "raise some interesting issues in the field of probability."

His loss will probably be felt in the libertarian-heavy blogging community, but people should know that although he never published any further works on political philosophy that at the time of his death he no longer held the views of Anarchy, State, and Utopia feeling that there were some "Burkean considerations" pushing him more in the direction of a traditional conservativism. He still remained deeply attached to the instrumental arguments of Friedman and Hayek, however, despite having backed down from some of his own rights claims.

The best thing that can probably be said is just to quote these words from department chair Christine Korsgaard:

[Nozick was] a brilliant and fearless thinker, very fast on his feet in discussion, and apparently interested in everything. Both in his teaching and in his writing, he did not stay within the confines of any traditional field, but rather followed his interests into many areas of philosophy. His works throw light on a broad range of philosophical issues, and on their connection with other disciplines. The courage with which he faced the last years of illness, and the irrepressible energy with which he continued to work, made a very deep impression on all of us.
On a less serious note, this raises two questions: Who's going to grade my paper and who's going to inherit his university professorship?
THE ODIOUS EDWARD SAID writing in the odious Nation says that he is seeing the growth of secular Palestinian nationalism. If this is true (which I highly doubt) I would have thought that it was a good thing, except for the fact that Said seems to think it's a good thing.
THE NEW NEXT TARGET of the day is Iran with both Andrew Sullivan and Mac Thomason calling for action against them.

I say, hold your horses and focus on al-Qaida outliers in Somalia, etc. Then bring some pressure on less deadly, but still dangerous, Sunni fundamentalists (Saudi Arabia, et al), and then maybe Iraq. We should still be trying to ally with the Ayatollahs. The enemy of my enemy...

JOSH MARSHALL HAS been posting a lot recently on Ari Fleischer's alleged mendacity and incompetance. I have to say that while I won't disagree about the mendacity (then again, he both a press secretary and a Republican, so I don't know what you expect), I actually think he's done a reasonably good job.

His practice of seeming constantly irrelevant and ill-informed gives him a bad name among the press corps, but allows him to do his job of shielding his boss and his boss's policy people from tough questions very effectively. People (Marshall included) have started passing things off as Fleischer's responsibility rather than attributing them to the administration as a whole.

The great strength of the Bush network of family and loyalists is that Dubya, unlike Bill Clinton, is surrounding by a group of people who are more than happy to make themselves look like idiots for his sake.

I CAN'T FIND THE STORY online, but I had a hardcopy of the Guardian yesterday that included a story by a man who had been held hostage by terrorists for five years. He stated that every day he had been beaten severely. Then he condemned the conditions in Guantanimo Bay as "similar."

Could the European intelligentsia really be so far gone that even a man who has been tortured can't recognize the difference between torture and normal prison conditions?

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

READER JEFF THEODORE RESPONDS to an earlier post of mine about a lecture at Oxford by saying that the British professoriat's pessimism about the US extends to a general sense that the West is over and done for. This seemed confirmed by a lecture I saw on the EU yesterday. The theme: The Euroification of Britain is inevitable and terrible. It will destroy Britain and Europe. But there's nothing to be done about it except to try to sound witty and learned.
THERE'S A BRILLIANT PIECE in the National Post about libertarianism and dating.
GLENN ALSO POINTS OUT the continuing danger of China and the (vast) potential virtues of an Indian alliance in combatting it. I'd been meaning to say something about this myself....
PAL AND FORMER INDY editor Glenn Kinen has a new blog with design that puts most of the competition to shame, and some comments on a recent PBS documentary about COs during World War Two. I remember getting kicked out of a high school English class for loudly arguing that there was really, really, really nothing admirable about these men who saw the world threatened by purest evil and refused to fight. They're just as despicable today.
WISE THOUGHTS FROM THE inimitable InstaPundit on a potential winning campaign strategy for the Dems in 2004 -- go after the Bushies as soft on Saudi Arabia (and the other Gulf States too, I might add). He characterizes this as attacking Bush "from the right," but I think for it to be succesfull (and it could work) the Dems need to sell it as an attack from the left.

Consider this: Some things are more important than low oil prices. The rights of women matter. Secular education is important. Governments should not be underlined by religious ideologies. These sound like liberal themes to me. Unfortunately, for too many bloggers the only right-left issues are the war and income tax rates and they associate the term "liberal" with the rantings of marginalized (and/or foreign) intellectuals. Liberalism also stands for things like secularism and rational government that can easily make the case for a crack down on the House of Saud.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

INSTAPUNDIT REFERS ME TO Ted Barlow's liberal-minded blog, a much-welcomed development in the right-wing world of blogging. I refer you to Barlow's most recent post on the Sullivan-Krugman controversy, which hits the nail on the head.
THE NEW REPUBLIC brings us interesting thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. the man and on the struggle to make his birthday a national holiday. The gem of the piece, however, is this quote from former Congressman Ed Bethune (R-AK)
And do you know what we learned out of all that? The great changes are not made here in the legislative chambers or in the judicial halls. The great changes in this world are made in the hearts and minds of men and women. Attitudes are so important. I think that this holiday for Martin Luther King will give us an annual opportunity to recommit ourselves to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Sounds like a holiday worth having to me.
ANDREW SULLIVAN ASKS somewhere in one of his anti-Krugman rants, "am I crazed?" then goes on to say that he isn't because he doesn't even have any self-interest in going after Krugman so hard. On the other hand, if there was some personal gain motivating these attacks, maybe they wouldn't be so crazy. He also slams Jim Romanesko for not linking to (a mistake I shall not make) and then rips into Josh Marshall for joking about how he'd be glad to get a little corporate sponsorship. I should note that in a later post he promises to talk about something else.
MORE THAN ZERO OFFERS some useful thoughts on why our foreign aid policies aren't as stingy as Europeans seem to think. Crucial point -- individual Americans give far more to charity than do individual Europeans. Doesn't mean that the government shouldn't do more, though.

I tend to agree, however, with the Economist's line on this question which is that a good first step would be to make more effective use of our foreign aid payments by ending requirements that they only be used to purchase American goods or services (which is really an industry subsidy and not foreign aid). We could also stop giving so damn much of it to ungrateful basketcases like Egypt.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG'S BEEN issuing welcome "let's all love each other" signs since his election. Yesterday's MLK Day celebrations seems to have offered more of the same along with a disturbing amount of Al Sharpton ass-kissing. I see why a white politicians might want to use Sharpton as cover, but I find it really stunning that a (semi) credible African-American leader like David Dinkins would bolster this guy.
EXCELLENT STORY HERE about the slaveholding Saudi Princess sent in by reader Glenn Kinen who feels that this particular Saudi-bashing angle is being insufficiently covered in the blogging world.

Monday, January 21, 2002

VIA BJORN STAERK I come to this link saying that Harvard professor Roy Mottahedeh is planning to draw up an indictment charging Osama bin Laden with violating Islamic law. He says it will show that Islam doesn't condone terrorism, which would be good. I say it's a bad idea. Terrorism is wrong. Therefore people shouldn't commit acts of terrorism. Therefore Muslims shouldn't commit acts of terrorism. If Islamic law says that terrorism is bad, then so what? -- terrorism is bad no matter what Islamic law says about it. If Islamic law says that terrorism is good, then so what? -- terrorism is still bad no matter what Islamic law says about it. In fact, the only purpose of drawing up such an indictment seems to be that something is bad if and only if the Sharia says it is. Which is the same as thinking that we should let our lives be governed by the Sharia which is what bin Laden is for, but we're against.

Then again, how surprising would it be for a "distinguished" academic to take a pro-bin Laden position. Everything is good -- even Islamic fundamentalism -- as long as its neither capitalism nor Israel.

MATT WELCH HAS AN important corrective to a lot of the whining that's been going on lately about media bias, correctly pointing out that the bias that exists is largely cultural, rather than political. That means that while stories tend toward the left on social issues, they tilt left on important economic ones -- namely the income tax rates that hit well-to-do journalists in the pockets.

HMO reform is a good example of socioeconomic bias. Journalists, as journalists, do not have any reason to be sympathetic to insurance companies. They have every reason, however, to want their health care to be better. So they sympathize with efforts to regulate HMOs more closely without giving much thought to the plight of the uninsured who could actually use help and simply dismiss as propaganda the idea that marginal patients will lose coverage.

MICKEY KAUS TAKES ON Black Hawk Down in this piece. I have mixed feelings about the story. On the one hand, it's an important vindication (in part) of Clinton's policy-making in the area. On the other hand, I'm afraid that the very low (American) body count in Afghanistan will make the public unwilling to take serious risks to bring the campaign elsewhere. The film's a useful corrective to that tendency.
LEON KASS TO Washington Post:
Washington likes fights and polarization and opposition.
But he has a better way. First stack the bioethics commission with a faux-diverse group of anti-technology zealots and then assign them anti-science fiction books for reading.
SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: I found this piece by "Bako Bitz" on the anthropological shortcomings of Civilization III to be fascinating. Then again, I find anthropology and the Civ gams fascinating, so who knows.
JOSH MARSHALL HAS A defense of Paul Krugman's alleged conflict of interest. More and more people are starting to wonder what's wrong with Andrew Sullivan.

Sullivan's response to Daniel Goldhagen's lengthy and detailed article on anti-semitism and the Catholic Church was also, I should note, cursory and hysterical at the same time.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

I OBVIOUSLY HADN'T checked Sullivan's site recently enough when I wrote that last post. His latest rant deserves to be read in full:
ISN’T IT RICH?: Frank Rich asks many tough, pertinent questions about Enron today. “Then again, who in either party hasn't cashed an Enron check?” he demands. Good point, Frank. Asked your fellow columnist Paul Krugman about that? “Whom can the country turn to for an honest investigation?” Rich asks. Another excellent point, Frank. Certainly not the economics columnist for the New York Times who never disclosed his own $50,000 Enron lucre in his own column until it was reported by others. Then there’s Rich’s peroration: “Enron has arisen like the ghost of over-the-top Christmases past, as a jolting throwback to the untethered America of the dot-com bubble. The greed of its perpetrators, and of the enabling politicians of both parties who took their cut before the wipeout, looks even uglier against the stark backdrop of those less well-connected Americans who are fighting our war.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. $50,000 is up to two years’ salary for some of our troops. Rich’s fellow columnist pocketed it for what he concedes was doing nothing but burnishing Enron’s image. And now he asks us to take him seriously when he lambastes Enron cronyism?
What is the relevance of any of this to Rich's column? Does Sullivan really think that there's a vast liberal conspiracy centered around the New York Times op-ed page to defraud America and hand the nation over to bin Laden? What's the big deal anyway? If he's just forcing himself to muster a lot of fraudulent outrage in order to try and eliminate Krugman then that sounds like abuse of blog to me.
THE FIRST TIME I EVER read Jeff Jarvis's site I discovered this post, an excellent takedown of Andrew Sullivan's hubris and paranoia.
I WONDER WHY MATT Welch is so eager to debunk anti-war claims that the number of casualties in Afghanistan now exceeds the number from New York. I didn't think we were in this war to "even the score" with the Taliban. Rather, we're trying to take action to prevent further brutal acts both here and abroad.

I'd be concerned about claims that revealed we'd been killing people when some other course of action could have saved those lives and still accomplished our goals. As long as the killing is necessary, though, I'm all for it. Easy for me to say, I suppose....

JOHN TIERNEY'S GOT a piece pointing out that all the post-Enron investigating and hand-wringing hasn't been nearly matched by an attempt to figure out what went wrong in the pre-September 11 intelligence community.

Why would a piece about Enron and the CIA be in the Metro Section? You'll have to ask the Times why they bury their most interesting columnist there. I hate to say it, but I'd guess that the answer has more than a bit to do with liberal bias.