Saturday, February 16, 2002

WELL, THEY'RE NOT SO KEEN on cooperating with American anti-terrorist efforts, but at least the Saudi law enforcement community is cracking down on insidious liquor smugglers. With a few more big busts like these, I think they'll have constructed the perfect society over there.
THE FIRST PHOTO ACCOMPANYING the NY Times Magazine story about the no-longer-interesting Gary Condit priceless.
YOU MAY WELL HAVE BEEN AWARE of the meeting between Austrian Far Rightist Jorg Haider and Saddam Hussein, but you ain't read nothign until you've read the official Iraq News Agency account:
Mr. Haider affirmed his country's solidarity with the people of Iraq, and expressed willingness to develop relations between Iraq and Austria in all fields and strengthen cooperation ties between Austrian Liberty Party and the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party in a way that make available further bilateral cooperation and coordination in international forums in the service of both countries' aims.

Friday, February 15, 2002

DAVID BROOKS HAS SOME SENSIBLE talk on how the anti-war Left, though pace Slate real, neither ever was nor ever will be a serious threat to anything. I would only add one quick reason why the current ideological opponents of American action will never gain much support: The nature of the cause we're opposing.

In the '50s and '60s we were going up against Communism. Many people saw Communism for what it was, but many others whose vision of the good society was much like my own (something basically like what we have but with reasonable housing, health care, and education available irrespective of income) were fooled into thinking that the Communists shared (something similar to) that vision.

Islamism could never, ever become a compelling vision for Western intellectuals or even pretend that it was. I don't quite know what motivates the latter day Osama fans of Cambridge, MA, but it's certainly not a desire to live under the rule of Taliban and as long as that remains true their ideas will have only a very limited appeal.

GLENN KINEN'S RECENT POST on Iraq gives a neat summary of the alternatives to war and the reasons for rejecting them. I'm still not really enthusiastic about war, though, as I haven't yet heard a plan that sounds workable.
I FORGET TO MENTION YESTERDAY that the new Harvard Independent is up on the web -- the reason I forgot is that I was so ridiculously tired yesterday after having been up 'till all hours Wednesday working on it. There's a pretty interesting piece about the university's handling of mental illness in admissions, as well as my column on Valentine's day, and a bunch of other stuff that I don't think would be very interesting to a non-Harvard audience.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

THERE'S SOME INTERESTING THOUGHTS in TNR about who will follow the inevitable fall of Arafat but speculating on the matter frankly strikes me as absurd. The situation is very unstable and there's no telling what could happen.
GOOD POINT ABOUT CAMPAIGN FINANCE from new-to-me blogger Douglass Turnbull who writes:
Banning soft money donations is either a case where government would, in fact, know better than private industry what is in their best interests, or else it's true that corporations are getting special treatment and corrupting the democratic process with their big money donations. You can't have it both ways, and either case is an argument for reform.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

TODAY'S NY TIMES EDITORIAL on Shays-Meehan is an even larger exercize in hyperbole than we're used to from the page on campaign finance reform. Is Congress really "in search of its soul" or are they just debating another issue about which people disagree.

It's true that one proposed amendment to Shays Meehan would allow money "to flow to independent groups for sham "issue ads" running just before an election" but by the same token it would allow independent groups to run ads about issues that are important to them. Are all issue ads eo ipso "sham" issue ads? If so, where's the argument? If not, why is it okay to ban all issue ads because some are shams?

THE BOSTON HERALD HEADLINE says it all: `Reformer' Reich made $750G on big-biz speeches.
OF COURSE, IF THE GUARDIAN doesn't like Sharon, they're going to hate Netanyahu who will apparently be running for the Likud leadership on a platform of refusing to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state, ever, even in principle.

Doesn't sound good for the Jews to me. Unless, of course, we're able to succesfully pursue Glenn Reynolds' famed Hashemite strategy,

A PRETTY GOOD GUARDIAN leader today disavows the new anti-semitism in Britain and suggests an interesting distinction. We're all familiar with the (problematic but real) distinction between anti-zionism and anti-semitism, but the Guardian mentions an additional possibility: anti-Sharonism. Clearly this latter thing is distinct from both anti-zionism and anti-semitism (since they have internal politics in Israel) and only goes to reinforce the point that one can sharply condemn the policies of the Jewish state without harboring hatred for Jews.

The problem for me, however, is the tendency of the leftish media to focus such a disproportionate amount of their attention on the misdeeds of Sharon. The Arabs in the occupied territories aren't any worse off than the Arabs in Saudi Arabia or Iraq or Syria, but we never hear about that.

Clearly, the fact that abuses exist elsewhere doesn't justify any abuses committed by Israel, but there is something anti-semitic about dedicating 50% of your coverage of bad things happening abroad to the misdeeds of the Jews who are, after all, responsible for only an incredibly tiny proportion of the bad things in the world.

JACK STRAW GETS IT: On his trip to Israel, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said said exactly what the world needs to hear, namely:
It is a bad situation but it is not without some hope. My view is that the first requirement in this situation is for an end to the terror against the Israelis.
Of course Palestine deserves a state, but until the Israeli public is convinced that the people likely to run such a state won't allow their citizens to launch attacks on Israel, there's just no way Israel can give up their right to police the territories.

Everyone knows that many Palestinians don't so much want a Palestinian state as they do the destruction of Israel, and moreover, any negotiated settlement is bound to leave many people on both sides of the line unhappy. Without assurances that unhappy Palestinians won't go around killing busloads of children, the occupation will never end.

Arafat and the Palestinians need to decide if they would rather see the occupation end so they can get on with their lives or else if they want to retain the moral high ground vis-avis Israel in the underlying dispute about Zionism. The only way for them to win the current battle for the West Bank will be to admit once and for all that they lost the war for Israel proper and that they will by no means try to refight it.

(relatively> SANE ACADEMICS GOT TOGETHER to write this declaration of support for the war. The truly frightening thing, however, is how many of the members of even this group of reasonable academics are snake-oil salesmen, posturing extremists, and various breeds of no-talent wannabe pundits.

Anyone who may both be on the list and currently teaching a class I'm in is not, of course, the target of the comments above.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY Margaret Thatcher's Op-Ed from yesterdays New York Times is being reprinted in -- of all places -- the Guardian where she appears to have added one line about how the UK should support a war on Iraq, but sadly still fails to give an analysis of her countrymen's wacky behavior throught this war.
CHARLES DODGSON (OR WHOEVER HE REALLY IS) has a brilliant summation of just how far through the looking glass some of the administration's Enron defenders seem to have gone.

As we all know, of course, there's no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of the administration, but that's more because all kinds of things are legal that shouldn't be than because Dubya hasn't done anything wrong.

THINK THERE'S NOTHING WRONG with the President using some morally stirring but intellectually incoherent rhetoric about Iran? Well, think again because
Millions of Iranians galvanized by President Bush's branding of their nation as part of an "axis of evil" marched in a nationwide pep rally today that harkened back to the early days of the Islamic revolution, with the American flag burned for the first time in recent memory.
Now obviously the Ayatollahs are manipulating public opinion here, but lets not forget that until recently the demonstrations we were seeing were either in support of the reformist President or else were in order to condemn him for being insufficiently radical.

Turns out that people may not like having their nation, bad as it may be, labeled an ally of two different vicious mass murderers (bin Laden and Saddam) both of whom it was fighting against long before the US got in the battle.

THE TIMES EDITORIALIZES IN REFRENCE TO opponents of the Shays-Meehan soft-money restrictions that
There is really no principle at work by the foes of campaign reform. Their philosophy seems to be: Do whatever works to kill the bill, erode support or force the bill into a House- Senate conference, where Republican leaders in the House plan to bury it.
But isn't it quite clear what the principle is: They think Shays-Meehan is a very, very bad bill and so they're going to try and stop it from becoming law. Given their beliefs (personally, I don't think that the law will make a real difference one way or the other) I would expect nothing less of them.

Wouldn't the Times strongly object to some legislation that would, say, remove all limits on political fundraising? Wouldn't they want Senators and Representatives who also objected to such a measure to take every possible action (or at least every legal action) in order to stop it? If not, why not?

I HEAR FROM PAUL KRUGMAN, who's still a good columnist no matter what Sullivan says that
the Bush administration has balked at providing a significant increase in the S.E.C.'s budget ? even though "it pays far less than the private sector and, more amazingly, less than other federal regulatory agencies."
Now I've noticed that a surprising number of the hits I get on this site originate from the domain and if that's because I have loyal readers over there then let me share my outrage that this important agency that makes capitalism work isn't being funded appropriately.

If, on the other hand, this is part of some big-time government plan to monitor webloggers for signs of securities fraud or something, well then I think we may need some budget cuts.

TIME HAS PIECE THAT ASKS SENSIBLY "if hemp isn't a drug, why is the DEA treating it like heroin." In many ways, what's most disturbing about the war on drugs is that seemingly everyone recognizes that it's a complete and utter failure both on its own terms and (especially) in wider moral terms and yet no one's doing anything about it.

It would be nice if people concerned with preserving individual liberty against government encroachment spent a little more time railing against a set of policies that keep thousands of innocent people locked in tiny jail cells and a little less focusing on the plight of the "overtaxed" super rich.

IN CASE YOU, LIKE ME are engaged in some serious Britney Spears research (seriously -- there's gonna be a big cover story/feature in the February 21st Indy) will be interested to know that Ms. Spears has not one, but two websites: set up by the movie studio that owns Crossroads and from Jive Records.

The latter is significantly more informative, but the former has more T&A, so take your pick.

TED BARLOW BRINGS UP A POINT about rappers' lack of humility that I've been thinking about myself, except he comes up with a funnier way to put it:
Also, on the drive home I started thinking about two of my favorite imaginary bands: Adequate G, the rapper with a realistic sense of self, who boasts that he has approximately as many rhymes as comparable rappers. The other thing I'd love to see is some punk band with a sense of humor do a video in which they drive around in hot tubs in the back of limos, drink champagne with bikini models, and nod enthusiastically as big bootys shake in the camera.

Monday, February 11, 2002

ODD COUPLE MAC THOMASON and Antonin Scalia team up to offer a reasonable "principled" argument for why Oregon should be allowed to keep its assisted suicide law.

I'm going to just come out and admit, however, that I'm one of those much-maligned people who's willing to distort the constitution in order to accomplish my own goals. I don't think that's such a bad thing. After all, I believe what I believe because I believe it to be right and I don't really think that doing what's constitutional is more important than doing what's right.

To take another example. Gun control advocates say that the 2nd Amendment doesn't bestow an individual right to own firearms. Gun rights advocates, on the other hand, believe that the 2nd Amendment prohibits all sorts of regulations of firearms. They both coincidentally think that their constitutional views would make for good public policy.

Now I don't know much about the constitutional debate, but I do know a lot about the public policy debate and it seems to me that gun control is good public policy (obviously, many readers will disagree, but that's a separate debate) and so I don't really care what the 2nd amendment "really" means.

I think anyone who thinks we should sacrifice good policy for the sake of some abstract constitutionalism is fooling himself. Many times, of course, what the constitution says we should do (I think of the first amendment) is what we should do, and in those cases we should do what the constitution says.

DEMONSTRATING THEIR WISDOM the good people of protein wisdom have added me to their list of "vintage" blogs. The empire grows ever more mighty....
MARGARET THATCHER'S OP-ED in today's Times seems basically sound to me, if unoriginal, but it's a shame that she didn't give much of an international perspective. Clearly, she's extremely sympathetic to America and must be aware that many of the leaders of her country and the rest of Europe are not.

Surely a woman with over a decade's experience dealing with British public opinion and continental leaders should have something worthwhile to say about the subject.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

TED BARLOW DEFENDS CONGRESSMEN who took gobs and gobs of Enron cash and then turned around and started bitching them out in open sessions.
I'd rather see more Congressmen "hypocritically" act against the interests of their donors, rather than "honorably" staying bought.
Quite right. Hypocrisy is a silly charge to level at people as its easy as hell to avoid hypocrisy by simply refusing to have any substantial moral standards at all.

I study moral philosophy, but as far as I know this important point isn't made by any philosophers. It does feature prominently, however, in Neal Stephenson's excellent The Diamond Age

CRUCIAL BOSTON-AREA NEWS regarding the popular local passtime of dog racing can be foundThrough the Looking Glass.
A DELIGHTFUL CARTOON IN THE Arab News appears to depict George Bush painting the White House red with the blood of chopped up Arabs obtained, of course, from a bucket being held by Ariel Sharon depicted with an oversized nose and wearing a Star of David badge.

There are, clearly, many objections one could raise against this sort of thing, but the absurdly inaccurate rendering of the White House seems worth mentioning along with the blood-curdling anti-semitism.

CHECKING MY REFERRALS LIST I've come upont the blog of Dane Carlson who kindly linked to yours truly, the number two blogger in all of Harvard College. Dane's got a nice writeup of the sport of googlewhacking to which I was introduced just yesterday by my roommate Francis.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD'S blog parody is pretty funny, but for a conservative publication seems mighty obsessed with Britney Spears's breasts. Indeed we may be gaining further insight into the Standard's odd fascination with pedophilia.
THE USUALLY HAWKISH CHUCK Hagel seems to be coming out against an attack on Iraq: "we cannot unilaterally take on Iraq militarily." He's concerned about "stability." I think he may be right.
WHY IN THE HELL IS TIM RUSSERT putting Alan Iverson on his show? He must want me to check out This Week really badly.
HISPANIC VOTING UPDATE: Ginger Stampey agrees with me that people should be thinking more about urban Hispanic voting patterns and adds the example of Houston -- where Latinos and white conservatives united under a Latin standard-bearer and narrowly lost to African American Mayor Lee Brown -- to my earlier look at New York and Los Angeles.
SO THE SUPREME COURT IS FINALLY going to take up the hot-button issue of vouchers for religious schools.

As a liberal secular humanist, I'm not wild about the idea, but as someone educated in a religious school myself, I know it's not the worst thing in the world. The most important thing, really, is for kids to learn.

What does worry me, however, is not so much the thought of vouchers that can be used for religious schooling as it is the thought of vouchers that can only be used for Catholic schools.

Both the private Episcopal elementart school and the private secular high school I attended cost on the order of ten times what this Ohio program was offering. Partially, that's just because it was Ohio and things are cheaper there, but largely it's because these voucher programs are stingy and designed to target the relatively low tuitions charged by Catholic schools.

Here again the problem isn't that I don't like Catholics, it's just that for vouchers to work they're going to need to spur an increase in the number of private schools (or else it'll just take the very few very best kids out of the public system) and that will only happen if the money's there.

MICKEY KAUS WONDERS IF ROBERT REICH will renounce his statement that "the jury is still out on whether the traditional union is necessary for the new workplace."

Anyone whose read Reich's "The Democrats Aren't 'Just Resting'" which says "the DLC stands for nothing, nada, zero, except it's anti-union" won't be holding their breath.

In the interests of full disclosure, I spent last Saturday at the Cambridge Ward 8 Democratic Party caucus standing for election as an alternate delegate for Tom Birmingham who, admittedly, isn't perfect, but at least he's not full of shit. Anyway, the Reich supporters -- who included Reich himself -- had to be repeatedly ruled out-of-order for their attempts to short-circuit the caucus process.

They kept noting that Reich had a lot of "vision" but were unable to articulate what, exactly, this vision consisted of other than a lot of bitching about trade and welfare reform.