Saturday, February 23, 2002

BILL KELLER'S COLUMN TODAY about Russia and McDonalds matches precisely my estimation of the situation from my time in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. I strongly recommend it.

Friday, February 22, 2002

ANDREW HOFER HAS SOME SMART remarks on what he calls the "decline of higher education as a viable enterprise."

I agree with him that unions' success in organizing on campus (often with the aid of student leftists) plays a large role in this, but must take issue with his comment at the end that "the notion that this select group of volunteers needs a union is laughable."

One hears this kind of talk from pro-market types all the time, but it's absurd. Of course no one needs a union, just as no one needs to threaten to quit if they don't get a raise. People do these things because it will advantage them, not because they need to.

IN RESPONSE TO CONCERNS THAT his site is being blocked by web filtering programs, Glenn Reynolds poses this "interesting legal hypothetical: If a program labels your site as "hate speech" when it isn't, is that actionable as libel?"

I would think not. Calling something hate speech must count as first amendment privileged political commentary.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

The Central Intelligence Agency has warned in a classified report that Afghanistan could once again fall into violent chaos if steps are not taken to restrain the competition for power among rival warlords and to control ethnic tensions, senior American officials said today.
I don't think this speaks very well of our intelligence community. Their billions of dollars in budget and all their satellites and interrogations of prisoners have let them figure out that if competition among rivals goes unrestrained that that might lead to chaos. I would say that that's just a simple truth of logic that has nothing to do with intelligence gathering except for the fact that the CIA doesn't seem to recognize that there's no "could" about it. What is chaos if not a situation in which there is no restraint in the struggle between rivals?

The worst thing about it is that this was a classified report. Top secret! What if the world finds out?

THERE'S A NEW ISSUE OF MY BELOVED Harvard Independent online now, featuring some crucial coverage of Britney Spears as well as my column which is excellent as always. There's also a bunch of stuff that would be interesting if you were a Harvard student.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

TED BARLOW ASKS, AFTER A USEFUL roundup of recent posts asks if Mickey Kaus isn't more neo-con than neo-lib. I'd say that the anti-left tilt of his recent posts has had more to do with the question of which issues have been salient recently than anything else.

Kaus, if memory serves, is pro-choice and doubtless wouldn't be terribly opposed to an (honest) effort to block rightwing judges like Pickering, but as a journalist has to comment on the democrats rather shady tactics.

He also supports universal health care and pumping more money into the reform welfare as long as such money is aimed at helping people get jobs, but neither of these proposals is really on the table.

Most fundamentally, a dissident liberal is more likely to attract praise from conservatives for his points of dissidence then he is to attract praise from libs for his points of orthodoxy, so it becomes natural to emphasize the points of dissidence. When there's no war on you can see a similar thing at work with Sullivan.

I'M SURE SCOTT SHUGER'S LATEST Slate piece won't make hawks happy. He denies that the attcks on the Pentagon and the Cole were terrorism, because they struck at military targets.

All this hot air floated about on the definition of "terrorism" (are Israeli tactics terrorism, is Iraq a terrorist state) seem really, really pointless to me. Certain things are right (fighting to defend democracy) and other are wrong (fighting to expand Islamic fundamentalism) and other things are wrong even if they're done in pursuit of good ends (launching a full-scale nuclear strike on Iraq to remove Saddam).

Waging war for Islamic fundamentalism wouldn't be any more right if it was done by uniformed bomber pilots dropping explosives on our heads, and combating Osama bin Laden wouldn't be any less right if it were done by irregular partisan (or, say, the Northern Alliance).

Sometimes, of course, moral distinctions are hard to draw. The point, however, is that we can debate and decide on the morality or immorality of an action independently of whether or not we think it's terrorism, so why bother with the latter which is, after all, only a linguistic question.

Speaking of linguistic questions I'm going to commit now to researching the history of the term "terrorism." But not now, later.

THE ALWAYS ECCENTRIC, OFTEN ASTUTE Bull Moose does (in my humble opinion) a fantastic job handicapping John Edwards' Presidential hopes.

Only problem is that he failed to mention the boy-Senator's key committee assignments: Judiciary lets him pander to important social-lib interest groups and Intelligence lets him deny being inexperienced in foreign policy without needing to point to any actual experience (I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you...)

Most importantly, he can play Johnnie B. Goode as a campaign theme song. "Go Johnny go, go...."

IF YOU, LIKE ME, ARE OBSESSED WITH MAPS (but, of course, you're probably not) it'd be worth checking out this recasting of the famous red-vs-blue election map as shades of purple.

Dave Leip's collection of presidential election maps is an invaluable resource for this sort of thing and his county-by-county breakdown of 2000 may restore your faith in American polarization.

One should remember, however, that the polarization in question is probably nothing more than a creation of the polarization between the relatively small interest group bases of both parties, rather than something that exists in the minds of most Americans. One can easily imagine a candidate (let's call him "John McCain" or, indeed, Joe Lieberman before he sold out on vouchers and affirmative action to get the nomination) who would have trounced either Bush or Gore in a general election.

liberals like Hunter Thompson and the late Edward Abbey: gun-owning, booze-sucking, tobacco-smoking writers who hate big government while demanding our government do something usefull
I tend to agree. You hear a lot of talk about how the left has captured academia, but what seems more interesting (and important) to me is the extent to which academia (or at least the effete spirit of the ivory tower) has captured the left.

I have a real honest-to-god explaination for how and why this happened, but it's long and complicated and involves referring to sources in actual books, so I won't try to blog it here.

VIA GARY FARBER I COME TO AN amusing game called Battleground God from The Philosopher's Magazine. My one complaint would be that on a crucial question the game relies on the analytic-synthetic in a way that's really no longer tenable in a post-Quinean world (some of us are philosophy majors). If you don't know what that means, you don't want to know, but you will want to play the game.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

DAVID CORN WRITING FOR THE NATION repeats a common campaign reform fallacy when he says
Not that further evidence is needed, but the Enron case clearly demonstrates how special-interest contributors (a k a fat cats) give to get. Why else would corporate executives invest millions in candidates and parties? If they're not receiving a return, shareholders should sue.
I believe I may have said something similar recently, but if so I was wrong. There's clearly a third option between "no benefit to the donor" and "donor is buying influence" namely a donor could be giving money to a candidate whose previously arrived at policies will benefit the donor.

The donotion pays off for the donor because it increases the chances that the guy with pro-donor policies will win. Notice that this needn't imply anything more than that the candidate in question has, say, better macroeconomic policies than the other guy and that therefore his election will be good for business.

I doubt that this is really what's going on and I'm not quite sure if it's really better (it would still give the rich an outsized influence on politics), but it would be wrong of us to rule it out a priori.

Monday, February 18, 2002

ROBERT REICH, THE PSEUDO-POPULIST midget claiming to be the gubernatorial candidate prepared to stand up for the little guy seems to play a lot better before a packed house of Hollywood know-nothings who probably have never even heard of their boy's opponents.
SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR IS PROBABLY the second or third most powerful person in America, and certainly the most powerful woman this country has ever known and if you want to read a pointless, uninsightful profile of her, today's Washington Post is the place to turn. If you'd actually like to read something interesting about this important subject, you'll need Jeffrey Rosen's Times Magazine profile from summer 2001, but you'll either have to pay or become a college student again and use your free nexis.
DON'T BE ASHEMED STATES in reference to the endless media bias debate that
If Ted Barlow or any other such liberal can find examples of conservatives getting away with saying the kinds of disgusting crap liberals get away with all the time,like wishing a Supreme Court justice's wife would kill him, I'd love to see it. It would be a best-seller.If you'd like an example of conservatives getting away with "disgusting crap" please read any article that mention the budget, the surplus, or the Bush tax cut (see post below). I doubt that it would be a bestseller anyway, because liberals tend to read books to try and learn new things whereas conservatives seem obsessed with reading books that confirm their pre-existing prejudices.

The main point here is that anyone who's ever worked as a journalist could tell you that the number one cause of failure to do one's best work is not personal bias, but laziness. Dailies like the Times and the Post in particular almost need to write the easiest rather than the most accurate story if they want to fill their pages

THERE'S AN EXCELLENT SPINSANITY column on the long list of outrageous lies that the Bush administration has been telling in pursuit of its tax cut.

I find it fairly astonishing that certain people who are prone to obsessing about Bill Clinton's dishonesty never seem to mention this or to have anything but smack to say about Paul Krugman who's been one of the key figures in exposing the administration's dissembling.

Now there are plenty of honest (though, I think, wrongheaded) reasons why one might support the Bush tax cut, mostly relating to a moral opposition to government redistribution of income. But why is it that none of the many, many, many people on the web who hold this view are never able to admit that their president is lying and that, fundamentally, there may be something wrong with duping the American people into accepting a tax cut they wouldn't like were the truth to be known?

Sunday, February 17, 2002

MATT WELCH'S REASON ARTICLE about trying to uncover the truth about deaths caused by Iraqi sanctions should be required reading for anyone hoping to express an opinion on either sanctions (on Iraq or elsewhere) or the Middle East in general.

I'm afraid that given it's source of publication the piece won't get the circulation in non-libertarian circles that it deserves, but hey, that's what blogs are for, right?

It occurs to me that the grossly immoral nature of our current sanctions on Iraq is one of the best arguments I can find for why a liberal ought to support a war there. If there's one thing the current administration's certainly not going to do, it's ease up on Saddam. Given that, wouldn't everyone be better off if we just pulled the band-aid all at once rather than watching the country fall apart slowly?

ACCORDING TO A VERY UPSET professor of media studies writing in Al Ahram, the trouble the "Western media" has unleashed uncomprehending hatred of Islam upon the world. How does this hatred manifest itself? Well,
The US is attempting to impose American-style democracy on Arabs and Muslims, forcing these countries (conveniently depicted as backward) to apply the social and economic policies it dictates; an American prescription is the remedy for the terrorist germs we breed.
If only it were true! Sadly, the Bush administration seems to be doing precisely zero to eliminate the bums running the show in Cairo and Riyadh.
AN OTHERWISE TOTALLY COMMENDABLE (if a bit dull) op-ed in the current Dawn that argues against Pakistani regional reorganization begins thus:
Once, as a colleague and I discussed some organizational issues at the University of Massachusetts, quoting an old New England maxim, he said to me: "If it is not 'broke,' don't mend it." That was surely good advice, and one that the self-appointed reformers in Pakistan appear never to have heard.
Such are the perils of repeated translation.
THE ALWAYS FAIR AND BALANCED Arab News has a brief piece entitled "Palestinian Death toll now over 1,000" that details the lives lost in the "intensive offensive against Palestinians" without mentioning a single Israeli death or a single Palestinian terrorist.

And they think that our media is out to get them!

SEIU 1199, THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, and the state apparently have a plan to open a college in the Bronx that will train people as nurses, with a special focus on reaching out to the Latino community in their area, and with a union commitment to provide free tuition and child care to members who want to attend.

This sounds like a really good idea to me, but I'm suspicious of anything involving SEIU President Dennis Rivera, so if anyone can explain how this turns out to really just be a scam, I'm eager to hear.

ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TAKE Tom Friedman's new column seriously? He writes that Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is secretly planning to launch a bold new peace initiative that would front-and-center offer full diplomatic normalization with all the Arab states to Israel in exchange for a withdrawl to 1967 borders.

If that's true, isn't it huge news that belongs on the front page not sitting somewhere in an op-ed column?

I'M LIKING SOUNDBITTEN.COM MORE AND MORE especially after reading this witty and spot-on take-down of Norah Vincent's phony complaints about "special interest bureaucrats" and the liberal media who hides their power.