Saturday, May 25, 2002

ROBERT KAGAN'S RATHER LENGTHY essay on changing power dynamics in a post-Coldwar world is quite informative and rewarding, moving beyond the somewhat simplisme bashing of the Eurowimps that we warbloggers tend to favor and reaching some real analytical depth and insight into the situation faced by European policy makers. I still think we're right to (more or less) ignore their bitching and moaning but after reading Kagan I no longer think that the problem is simply insanity on their part. One thing I do take issue with, however, is his tendency to label the Euroapproach "idealist" and the American one "realist." I'm not sure how useful either of the terms are in describing foreign policy differences, but it seems to me that as long as we're accepting that framework it's important to recognize that their are significant strains of realism and idealism in both European and American policies.

It's more that we have different ways of coping with an imperfect world in which the existence of many highly objectionable regimes (viz. China, Syria, Iraq, Cuba, etc. y'all know the list) makes it impossible to regulate inter-state relations in the sort of way that one would like via multinational organizations. Americans, being powerful, tend to think that we should pursue the sorts of objectives -- elimination of bad guys -- that we would like to see an ideal international community undertake, even if that means leaving institutions that are packed with representatives of the bad guys themselves behind and acting on our own. Europeans, being weak, tend to want to bolster the sorts of institutions that we'd like to see exist in an ideal international community even if that means setting aside some of the substantive ideals that they and we both hold. In many ways, this is a "realist" response on the part of the Europeans. It doesn't, at the end of the day, really affect their national interests whether or not the Mullahs of Iran are repressive to their own people and if carrots can pursuade the Iranians to act (somewhat) responsibly in the inter-state sector, then why not just screw the Iranian people and let the institutions work. Kagan is right, of course, to see a hefty idealist strain in European thought and commitment to multilateral institutions as well, but both strains really are present.

UPDATE: a (drastically) abridged version of the article is now available as a Washington Post op-ed.

I NEED TO PACK AND MOVE OUT TODAY so the volume of rabble-rousing may be somewhat less than those who've visited this page for the first time over the past week have come to expect. My apologies.
PANTS ON FIRE! interrupting our regularly scheduled program of "American Jihad"-related rabble rousing, I thought I'd draw your attention to this New Republic notebook item about an amusing anecdote Dubya likes to tell on the campaign trail.
President Bush has recently taken to amusing audiences by recounting how, during the campaign, he promised never to run a deficit except in case of war, recession, or national emergency. The problem is that there's a long record of Bush promising not to touch the Social Security surplus--but no record of him ever listing these exceptions.
In the greater scheme of things, this isn't that big a deal, but it's really quite incredible that the media is letting him get away with what appears to be nothing more than an out-an-out Big Lie. Remember when Al Gore had an honesty problem? The press were all over him for the most minute little contradictions, but the wholesale fabrication of a campaign promise goes by without note. Where's the liberal bias when you need it?

Friday, May 24, 2002

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION OPPOSING THE CHOICE OF Zayed Yasin to deliver the Undergraduate English Oration at Harvard's 2002 commencement ceremony.
JUST CAME OUT OF A MEETING WITH COMMENCEMENT COMMITTEE member Michael Shinagel regarding "American Jihad." Shinagel assured us that the speech was inoffensive and apolitical, but also conceded that does not include any condemnation of terrorism. Shinagel also indicated that it was not relevant whether or not Yasin was a supporter of Hamas front organizations, partially on the grounds that Hamas "is not a black and white issue." Troubled? Me too. E-mail Dean Shinagel and tell him how you feel. Shinagel also indicated that Yasin's background would not be an issue because the audience at the speech wouldn't be aware of it. Not if I have anything to do about it.
SO WHAT WAS PROFESSOR OF LATIN AND GREEK Richard Thomas (chair of the standing committee on commencement parts) like before he decided to become a promoter of jihad. Well, see for yourself....
RED CRESCENT UPDATE: In case you were wondering why the Palestinian Red Crescent would be willing to serve as an agent of terror, this article may contain a hint:
While there is no direct evidence, there are rumors in the territories that Fathi Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and Yasir's brother, might be a surprise candidate for succession. He physically resembles the chairman and might satisfy a yearning for continuity, since Yasir does not have a son.
It's not all that surprising that Fathi might be willing to help out with his brother's reign of terror, and if he's really angling for the succession, well then we can see that he's gonna need some street cred.

Thanks to reader Ross Feldman for the heads up.

UPDATE: The Grasshoppa brings us this evidence.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Hilary Levey who should be contacted if you'd like to know how you can help with counter-jihad organization sends the following e-mail:
Check out the article in The Crimson this morning:

In this article, it is reported that the committee will be meeting today. This is wrong- they met yesterday, denying us the opportunity to present our concerns (confirmed by Commencement Office and Dean of the Extension School, both of whom I spoke with this morning). Additionally, the article reports that University Marshall, Richard Hunt, would allow concerned students to read the speech. Wrong again! I spoke to him and he said he will not comment on the content, allow anyone to read the speech, or meet with anyone. He did give me the name of the Dean of the Extension School (Richard Shinagel) who he said would discuss the content. I called him and he was very friendly. He has agreed to meet with as many of us as want to come today to discuss content and hear our concerns.

This is a pretty major error if you ask me. Fortunately, Levey has a plan:
THE PLAN! We need to get as many people there as possible. The meeting will take place at 3 today at 51 Brattle Street on the 7th floor. We plan to meet in front of ABP at 2:45 so we can go over as a group. Pass this email along to groups! We need to make a showing! Also, if people not just from the College show up, that will send an even stronger message. Please let me know if you expect to come, along with others.
"AMERICAN JIHAD": DAY THREE: The Crimson finally ponies up some coverage of the jihad issue, albeit not very competant coverage. I'm gonna quote the whole thing with commentary.
The Faculty’s Standing Committee on Commencement Parts will meet today to discuss recent controversy over the planned speech by Zayed M. Yasin ’02 titled “American Jihad.”

The meeting comes a day after about a dozen students met in the Quincy House Junior Common Room to discuss protesting the speech because of the use of the word “Jihad” in the title.

“I’m concerned,” said Hilary L. Levey ’02, who organized the meeting. “I don’t know the content of the speech, but I think the use of the word ‘jihad’ in its context now has a lot of other meanings besides the religious meaning. When you say ‘jihad’ now you think of planes flying into a building.”

Levey said she has talked to many undergraduates, alumni and parents who are unhappy with the choice of the speech after the events of Sept. 11.

“It could be very painful to hear about that when you have people who have died in the name of jihad,” Levey said.

Now obviously there are people out there who are concerned about this speech for no reason other than its title, but frankly I think the fact that the speaker is a supporter of a Hamas front group is at least as distressing as Yasin's poor choice of title and might be worth mentioning somewhere near the top of the article.
Yasin, a former president of the Harvard Islamic Society (HIS), said that his speech is not political and is meant to relate the original religious meaning of “jihad” to the road that seniors will face upon graduation.

“It’s a speech about the privileged opportunities and responsibilities we have as graduates...and about how these are enunciated in both the Islamic concept of jihad and in American ideals,” Yasin said.

“The idea is that we live in difficult and trying times and we will have to struggle both within ourselves to do the right thing and with very difficult problems that affect our communities,” he said.

So the line of defense emerges. "American Jihad" will be an a-political speech that just happens to use the term "jihad." It's not about politics at all, so there's no reason to offer any political objections. Only problem is, there's a war on between the United States and a bunch of self-proclaimed jihadists. Any commentary on the term "jihad" in such a climate is inherently political, because it's part of an ongoing (and extremely high profile) struggle within the Islamic community to define the term. The meaning of "jihad" and its role in Islam is, in other words, a political issue, and there's just nothing you can do about that.
Yasin said he is not surprised by the outcry that followed the announcement of his speech title.

“That is part of why I wrote this speech,” Yasin said. “Jihad is not something that should make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s a matter of other people deciding what they think jihad is and attributing to the word the product of their own imagination.”

Right...part of the reason Yasin wrote the speech was to change our ideas about jihad. That makes it a political speech.
While not surprised by the reaction, Yasin did say that he was surprised at the vehemence of the response.

“More disturbing is ad hominim attacks upon the work that I’ve done and on my personal life,” he said. “They’re very disappointing. I expected more from the Harvard community. I’m referring to people who have called me anti-Semite, to people who have said I support terrorism...All of these are untrue.”

Hm. I wonder who these unnamed attackers might be. "Ad hominem" is a dirty word or something among sophisticated people, but when a single individual is singled out to receive a high honor from a university, I don't know what other kinds of attacks we should be offering. Now, I have no idea whether or not Yasin is an anti-semite in the sense of harboring negative feelings toward individual jews, but as a signer of the Chomsky divestment petition there can be no question that he subscribes to a vehement form of anti-zionism that's not all that different. As for whether or not he supporters terrorism, well, I'll just say again that I think supporting groups that the US government considers to be sponsors of terror and raising money for organization that allow ambulances to be used as bomb delivery devices amounts to supporting terrorism.
University Marshal Richard M. Hunt said the speech does not deal with the Middle East at all and is “healing” and “non-confrontational.”

“It’s a speech that maybe has a title that misleads some people down some different paths,” Hunt said. “The students and the public when they hear this will be convinced.”

So now it's not apolitical at all. In fact, it's supposed to "convince" us of something, but it's OK because it doesn't involve the Middle East. In fact, it's the fact that the speech won't discuss Yasin's views on the Middle East that makes it objectionable to my way of thinking. The universe can stand to hear yet another vicious attack on Israel from a prominent figure in the Islamic community. What is intolerable, however, is for people harboring extremist views on the Middle East to be given a prominent platform from which they can seize the mantle of moderation for themselves while they work to impair the government's attempts to cut off funding for terrorism.
But David B. Adelman ’04 said he thinks the University should not have chosen such a contentious issue for one of the few Commencement speeches given by seniors.

“There’s a lot of very motivating ideas out there they could have chosen,” Adelman said. “Using such a contentious issue is unnecessary at this time.”

Sounds about right to me. I'm not quite sure what motivated the faculty committee to make such an obviously divisive choice. There are two possibilities I can think of. One, that this is just an outbreak of political correctness motivated by a totally misplaced fear that your average Harvard student is walking around thinking that all Muslims are terrorists. Second, and more insidious, is the possibility that Committee Chair Richard Thomas who is also a signer of the Chomsky petition is just intentionally misusing his authority to promote anti-zionist views.
Adelman also said he finds questionable Yasin’s past support of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF).

While Yasin was president of HIS, the group raised funds for HLF at a November 2000 dinner. The U.S. State Department has alleged the foundation has ties to Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group.

Seems pretty important to me. It might be nice if they'd noted that the alleged "ties" are millions of dollars to finance the murder of Jews and not just, say, occassional social contacts.
Yasin defends HLF, saying while working in Albania three years ago, he witnessed the group’s “professionalism, compassion and dedication to helping people in dire need.”

Adelman said he has written to the senior class committee and Commencement Director Grace C. Scheibner, asking to see the speech in order to assess its content.

Levey also said she will wait to see the speech before taking further action. Yasin declined to release the text of his speech to students who inquired, although Hunt said that he would privately show the speech to concerned students.

And thus we reach the end. I'm probably the only one who thinks this, but in my opinion it's not really very relevant what the actual content of the speech is. Either he'll be calling for some sort of violent warfare against the infidels (which strikes me as very unlikely) or he'll be putting forth some nice, moderate, unobjectionable view that gives the impression that he's not a supporter of groups waging terrorist warfare. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Incidentally, why didn't The Crimson mention me in their story? Well, I stole their foosball table a while back so I guess there's still hard feelings.
NOT GETTING YOUR FILL OF COMMENCEMENT DAY JIHAD? Then head on over to Charles Murtaugh's blog for some more sage thoughts on the situation.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

A LETTER QUOTED ON InstaPundit reads:
Since Hahvahd (Harvard) is considered by many to be the epitome of educational institutions, and since any law professor worth his or her salt would strive to be a professor at said Hahvahd, doesn't it make sense that you would give grades like they do at Hahvahd? Give them all A's, which will prove you are truly worthy. Also solves your current problem of having to grade papers!
This kind of thing really pisses me off. Getting As at Harvard is hard and if a lot of people here do succeed in getting them, well then that's only because there's a lot of smart people here who do a lot of really hard work (I work semi-hard and so there's a lot of B+ and A- on my transcript, I'm also editor in chief of a weekly newsmagazine which is the kind of thing non-students tend to do full time and I also write this blog, so I manage to keep busy). Getting in to good schools and doing difficult academic work isn't everything in life and I know better than anyone that many students here don't quite seem to realize that, so it's semi-understandable that there's a lot of anti-Harvard sentiment out there. Still, in many ways it seems to me that Harvard bashing isn't much more than a sort of American version of the anti-Americanism we bloggers like to complain about in Europe.

The point is -- don't knock the work 'till you've tried it. I'm sure the various Harvard bloggers out there can all share with you some of the questions we've just had to go answer on our finals if you'd really like.

IN OTHER HARVARD NEWS I've just returned from a get-together with fellow undergrad bloggers Glenn Kinen, Alex Rubalcava, and Evan Day. A good time was had by all, but Evan's a lousy tipper.
A CORRECTION: I see that the funds raised by HIS did not, in the end, go to the Holy Land Foundation at least in part because of the controversy concerning the connections between that group and Hamas. Rather they went to the Palestinian Red Crescent. The concerns raised about "American Jihad" are, however, still legitimate as despite his group's decision to bow to pressure, he himself remains a supporter of the HLF and an opponent of the US government's attempts to end the financing of terrorism. Yasin and the chair of the committee who selected him are also signers of the petition calling on Harvard to wage economic warfare against Israel. He also signed this petition put forth by this radical group.

The Red Crescent, moreover, as you can read here here here here here here and here has been linked to terrorist attacks in Israel.UPDATE: also here.

SO THE MAIN SPEAKER AT COMMENCEMENT is going to be former Senator Pat Moynihan. I feel like as a former New York State politician, he must have a pretty solid record of opposing terrorism and supporting Israel and I'm sure he'd like to know who he's supposed to be sharing a dais with. If anyone out there thinks they know how he or his staff could be contacted, please pass that info along. Or contact him yourself.
A REPLY TO MY CRITICS: Now that my original post on the forthcoming "American Jihad" has started to receive some attention beyond my rather narrow usual readership I have, unsurprisingly, began to receive no small quantity of critical responses, both to myself and also on some House e-mail lists where the issue is being discussed, so I thought I might offer some words in the way of rebuttal. Far and away the most common complaint I'm hearing is that I'm allegedly misunderstanding the sense in which the word "jihad" in the title is meant. I am, however, fully aware (as is any non-braindead person who's watched the news since September 11) that jihad is a complicated notion in Islamic thought whose true meaning is contested by a variety of thinkers. I have no real doubt that Yasin will not be offering up a bin Laden-style call to war and destruction but rather will be presenting his views as a more moderate version of Islam. This, however, is exactly my concern -- what is that we will permit to be considered a "moderate" view. Simply being less extreme than the most extreme view possible does not, in my opinion, necessarily qualify you as moderate and I believe that there are a variety of things in Yasin's past that give us reason to doubt the extent of his moderation.

First and foremost among these is his history of support for groups like the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development which the State Department considers to be affiliated with the radical anti-Israel group Hamas. I have not just pulled the idea that Yasin is an HLFRD supporter out of nowhere, the evidence can be clearly seen in his statements in the Crimson articles found here and here. Supporting Hamas is, to my way of thinking, an extremist position, even if it is not so extreme as Osama bin Laden's. Others have taken the line of criticism that HLFRD is not, in fact, a front organization for Hamas. To be honest, I have no real way of knowing whether or not they are, but the State Department which is in a position to know affirms that, indeed, that is their role. It seems to me that supposing that the US government would simply fabricate ties between a "charity" group and a major terrorist organization is also an extremist view. What is unquestioned is that HLFRD activities include providing financial support to the families of people killed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that they consider the families of suicide bombers to be worthy of such support, indicating that it is their position that suicide bombing attacks against unarmed Israeli civilians are a legitimate part of the campaign for Palestinian sovereignty. This is an extremist position that has been repudiated by Yasser Arafat and the leadership of every major country on earth.

Yasin is, in addition, unquestionably a signer of the petition found here calling on Harvard and MIT to wage economic warfare against Israel unless and until the Jewish state unilaterally surrenders to the campaign of terror currently being waged against it. This is an extremist position, held not only by Yasin but also by the Chairman of the committee which selected him as speaker.

If you like you can consider this man and his views to me "moderate." Certainly they are more moderate than the views of some others in the Islamic world. So too are they less moderate than the views of many others. The question before Harvard, in my mind, is do we want to create a world in which "moderate" supporters of terrorism who only engage in a "moderate" quantity of killing and who support only the "moderate" goal of destroying Israel are considered representatives of moderate mainstream Islam on our campus. I am not, of course, qualified to judge the accuracy (if indeed one may speak of such a thing in theology) of Yasin's view of Jihad, but like any person I am more than entitled to question the reasonableness of his political views. By this standard, it seems to me, Yasin comes up short. Ordinarily one would expect that the faculty committee charged with selecting speakers would be able to exercize its own good judgment in matters such as this, but given the fact that the chairman of the committee in question has publicly committed himself to extremist views on the Middle East it is clear that that was not and will not happen.

If others agree with Yasin's views, well, they are entitled to do so, but they should not be entitled to consider themselves moderates or to foist their spokesman on an unwitting public. The main goal of my writing on this site and the campaign to gain more attention for the facts disclosed herein has simply been to allow for people to inform themselves about what's really going on. I believe that if you click on the links provided in this and the previous post you will see what sort of a moderate is going to be lecturing us on jihad in two weeks time and that if you have any good sense you will see that this brand of moderation is not moderate enough.

UPDATE: The State Department brief on the Holy Land Foundation/Hamas connection can be found here. See also this memo from the Treasury Department and this statement from the Anti-Defamation League.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A new form of counterargument has been brought to my attention. According to this line of thought, although perhaps Yasin is linked to the HLF and the HLF is linked to Hamas, that's too distant a link in order to tar him with the Hamas brush. If you're thinking along these lines I urge you to read this reaction of Yasin's to the State Department's decision to freeze HLF assets unless and until they broke their links with Hamas:

“I think that this attempt, to criminalize the care of widows and orphans, is a very underhanded way of pursuing a political agenda and that it is absolutely unconscionable to attack an organization that takes care of the poor, the sick because you disagree with the causes that may have contributed to these people’s destitution,” Yasin said.

SAS President Rita Hamad ’03 also said she thought the government’s actions against HLF were unfounded.

Of course, it would be unconscionable to criminalize an organization on those grounds, but as anyone who read the article could see the government froze the HLF's assets because it was a foreign terrorist organization, not because of a political disagreement with sick Palestinians. There can be no grounds for this deliberate refusal to concede the truth about HLF other than a desire to see the organization's Hamas-funding activities continue.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

WELL I'M PRETTY UPSET ABOUT this "American Jihad" situation (see below) but as Patrick Nielsen Hayden points out, there's bigger fish to fry out there in the world. Even if the odds of nuclear war between India and Pakistan are low, the sheer scale of the badness such a thing would involve makes this extremely troubling. I was shooting the shit with a friend the other day, handicapping Democratic primary contenders, we were talking about various possibilities, "well what if this? what if that?" when all the sudden it hit me -- what if I wake up tomorrow and Karachi is gone. I'm not ready for that kind of thing. I was 10 when the Soviet Union fell -- 8 or something when the Berlin Wall came down, I don't have the stomach to live in fear that whole cities may vanish in an instant. I dunno how the rest of you made it for all those years.
CONCERNED THAT THE IVY LEAGUE has become a hotbed of anti-American sentiments? Well fear no more ladies and gentlement, the good people of Harvard University are sufficiently filled with a desire to improve the nation they love that one of our Commencement addresses this year will be entitled "American Jihad" and "will challenge seniors to apply the concept of the jihad to their lives after graduation." The speaker, Zayed Yasin, is a former president of the Harvard Islamic Society and a Model UNer who's been known to play the role of High Commissioner on Refugees. He's also affiliated with a group called the Palestinian Center for Human Rights which is currently denouncing the Church of the Nativity Settlement as too hard on terrorists.

Of course, when Yasin says "Jihad" he doesn't mean the kind of Jihad where you slaughter a bunch of defenseless civilians. According to The Crimson:

After addressing popular misconceptions of the concept, he said, he will talk about jihad “as a kind of charge for graduating Harvard students as we go off...into whatever engagement we have with the world.”
So we could all sleep easy except for the fact that under his tenure the HIS has engaged in raising money for Hamas [Note correction above, the inital plan was to give it to the HLF -- a Hamas front group -- it was eventually given to the Palestinian Red Crescent a group that has also been linked to terrorism] and he personally has spoken out against freezing the assets of terrorist front groups. So who chose this man to represent the best and brightest of America's youth? A panel of Harvard professors, who else?

UPDATE: Questions, comments, concerns? Try e-mailing Grace Scheibner Harvard's Commencement Director. Wondering which faculty members, exactly, were on this judging panel? Me too...hopefully details will be posted shorty.

MORE UPDATE: Our man is also a signer of the infamous Harvard-MIT divestment petition.

UPDATE AGAIN:Harvard Students for Israel President David Adelman tells me via e-mail that his group is drafting a letter to the senior class committee requesting a reconsideration of their choice of speakers. He recommends e-mailing not only Schiebner, but also if you'd like to voice your concerns. Thanks are also in order to those of you who've linked to this page, hits are always nice of course, but in this instance I think I can legitimately say that it's important that this situation be brought to the public's attention. On that same note, if you're reading this and think you have any sway with some of the big boys, consider passing the info on to them.

UPDATE ONCE MORE: Reader Andrew Miller helped me locate the names of the members of the Faculty Committee on Commencement Parts. They are: Richard F. Thomas (chair), Peter J. Gomes, Nancy K. Houfek, Richard M. Hunt, Robert Kiely, and Michael Shinagel. I would note that Thomas, the Chairman of the committee, is also a divestment petition signer.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

WELL I JUST SAW THE DANIEL PEARL VIDEO. Horrifying stuff. Simply horrifying. Watching it brings back some of those feelings from last September and October when I felt in my gut the sort of evil we're up against. At any rate, I know it's been the policy of most websites not to post the link, but I think there's something a little hypocritical in writing about the video and then hiding it from readers. Obviously you could just go on google as I did and find it, but I'll spare you the trouble. Here it is. See it and remember that the enemy is real, and he's still out there. Never forget.
IN THE MIDST OF DISCUSSING a variety of vagueness problems Brink Lindsey puts forth an interesting view on abortion
The problem is that, in these kinds of situations, there is no "just the right place"; the best we can do is make a sensible but arbitrary call and then live with it. In my opinion, the question of abortion falls into this muddle. I'm sure that a zygote isn't a person but that a 40-week fetus is; sometwhere between those clear cases lies the Rubicon of personhood, but exactly where it lies is anybody's guess. I'd be inclined to draw the line somewhere around the end of the first trimester, but I can't claim that that's the right answer.
I don't share Brink's strong intuition that a 40-week fetus is a person. Indeed, I'm attracted to the infamous Peter Singer's skepticism about whether young babies are even people in the relevent sense (though at the end of the day I, like everyone else, am going to say he's wrong). What I do think is correct in Brink's discussion, however, is the insight that it's just up to us in a very strong sense where and how we want to draw this line. Obviously, as a matter of law we can draw the line wherever we want to, but the political debate on this issue often proceeds as though the goal of the legal line drawing process is to get our legal line to match up with the "true" dividing point between human life and potential human life. This project, however, as the interminable debate on the issue bears witness, is totally fruitless. Better, I think, would be to debate where the line should be drawn not in terms of whether or not we're allowing for the killing of entities that are "really" persons, but rather in terms of what we can and cannot accomplish by drawing the line in different places.

Thus I would argue that the important criterion in evaluating abortion laws is the extent to which any given proposal tends to give women's interests the equal concern to which they are entitled. Allowing women to lead free and autonomous lives in the sexual domain requires that women be given a reasonable amount of time to become aware that they are pregnant, evaluate their options, and obtain an abortion if they so choose essentially without restrictions. It also requires that once that window of opportunity has passed they be permitted to change their minds in light of the changing medical facts surrounding their pregnancy. This would lead, I think, to something roughly like the Clinton/Gore position that restrictions on third trimester abortions should be implemented if and only if they contain an exemption for the sake of the mother's health.

What pro-lifers think, on this re-interpretation of the debate, is not so much that a fetus "really" is a person and that, therefore, its life should be protected but rather that women are biologically different from men (which is clearly true) and that basically they should just accept their destiny as bearers of children regardless of the fact that modern technology is capable of eliminating unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, there's no particularly reason not to draw the person/pre-person boundary line generously since fetus are, on any reasonable account, more human than, say, cell phones or paper cups and therefore entitled to some sort of consideration in our thinking.

BILL SIMON IS COMICALLY INEPT and Gray Davis is unstoppable even though smart California liberals hate his guts. But then again reuters thinks he's weak. Who's right? The Times, methinks. I think abortion is very, very, very important to people and lacking evidence that Gray Davis is the devil himself (but he couldn't be -- the devil's pro-life!) the people of California will stick with him.
CHARLES DODGSON RIGHTLY NOTES THAT despite Andrew Sullivan's mystification, it's quite clear what we need to do to limit income inequality (assuming we want to, I'm not so sure...fighting poverty is one thing, fighting inequality is another) -- tax the bastards. Dodgson proposes bringing back the estate tax that Bush and his cronies trashed in the not-so-distant past. It's always been my feeling, though, that taxing estates as such was foolish and that we should rather tax inheritances as a form of income (but not at the same rate as income and with some kind of exceptions for the much-vaunted small family businesses, I'm not a tax expert, I don't have all the answers, but I'm sure it could be worked out). After all, I don't really have a problem with the idea of Bill Gates amassing a fortune of billions and then distributing 500 bucks to every American on his death bed and I can't imagine why anyone else would. The concern is not with rich dead people, but rather with rich live people who amassed their wealth simply by having it handed to them.
JEFF MANDEL GOES OFF "In Search of Pro-Israel Moderates" but doesn't find very many. That, I think, is because he's failing to understand the essential dynamic of the deadly struggle in which Israel now finds itself. I would count myself as a pro-Israel moderate by Mandel's criteria: I support the creation of two states, one Jewish and one Arab, to the west of the River Jordan and I'd be happy to see any number of Jewish settlers relocated out of the West Bank if that's what it takes to resolve the conflict. I'm quite certain that I'm not alone in holding this view -- lots and lots and lots of people I talk to agree with me -- it is, after all, a sensible, moderate position between the current Arafat line that Israel should be flooded with returning Palestinian "refugees" and the Sharon line that all the current settlements must remain in place.

Nevertheless, I appreciate that what's going on in the Middle East is an actual life-and-death struggle between two armed camps one of which is seeking to destroy the Jewish state (and probably the Jewish people as well) and the other of which is simply not prepared to offer the Palestinians as many concessions as I think they deserve. Given that dynamic, I choose to be on the side of Ariel Sharon and the Israel government. It's not that there is no middle ground between his position and Arafats' -- there's lots and lots and lots of different permutations of compromises that people could propose. It seems to me, though, that we're not being faced with a theoretical question that we need to debate with all the subtelty of the seminar room -- what we've got is a war. Simply wishing that the Israeli government would be something other than what it is ain't gonna make it so. When the bullets start flying you have to look at the two sides as they actually, really, currently exist and pick which side you're on. When and if Israel gets a more moderate government, I'll support that one too, but for now I'm supporting the only Israeli government there is.

I THINK ERIC OLSEN'S RECENT diatribe against Andrew Sullivan goes a bit too far, but the question of proper blogosphere etiquette is, I think, an interesting one. By far the greater offender on this score is, however, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo who has, to my knowledge, only linked to other bloggers on two occassions, going so far as to ignore even such eminent bloggers as me during the great Marshall/Samizdata/Yglesias Krajina ethnic cleansing controversy that got me labeled a haven of fluorescent egotism. Beyond the personal angle, it does seem to me that Marshall's lack of interest in the blogosphere is impeding the development of more liberal blogs and hence the ultimate enlightenment of mankind.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that while I've been sending out e-mails trying to build liberal blogger solidarity and attacking Josh Marshall for not being helpful in this regard that there's not actually anything liberal up here currently, so for the record I think there ought to be free health care for everyone in this country. I think we should pay for that health care with taxes. Taxes on the rich, most likely, since they've got the money. I think abortions should be safe, legal, and widely available, and gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. I think we ought to abolish the death penalty. Yeah. I think more liberal stuff too, but it's late. Tax and spend. Rock on.

Monday, May 20, 2002

WELL THE BOYS OF SHAS HAVE DONE a lot of irresponsible things over the years, but provoking a political crisis in the midst of a national emergency over inane entitlement spending is really beyond the pale. I hope the government does fall and they have new elections and the people of Israel send these jokers into the dustbin of history.
SOME RELATIVES OF MINE HAVE EXPRESSED concern that their use of the new comments feature might not be appreciated. Au contraire! If you comment you just might find yourself so enamored of your work that you encourage your friends to start reading the site. Then they might start commenting. Then they'll encourage their friends to read. And then I'll rule the world. Hehehe. Seriously, though, everyone's input is very much desired.
JEFF JARVIS TAKES THE LATEST REVELATIONS about intelligence failures in the Bush administration to renew his push for an old cause of his -- Rudy Giuliani for Attorney General.
We now have an attorney general who's there to push the far-right agenda -- guns, abortion, prayer -- and make the far-right happy when what we should have as attorney general is somebody who knows how to catch criminals and protect the people. That is the real job. And the man who could do it: Rudy Guiliani.
A strong crime fighter should be attorney general. That person should be responsible for homeland security so there is cabinet-level accountablity.
I feel the pull of this idea myself, but it's important to realize that Bush has some very good reasons for not making Rudy Attorney General (or giving him Tom Ridge's job, which also seems like a good fit in a number of ways). First off, it's not some kind of coincidence that John Ashcroft is pushing the agenda of social conservatism from the perch of the justice department. It's not like Bush picked him for his strong crime fighting record and he just happens to be a staunch opponent of abortion. Bush was elected largely with the support of religiously-motivated voters (especially in his primary campaign against John McCain) and he needs to keep those people happy. September 11 makes it more rather than less vital for him to let the Christian right keep their AG since the war has obviously reduced the amount of time and political capital that Bush can spend pushing their agenda. If he robs the right of their greatest prize, they'd never forgive him. Beyond this, Giuliani's personality just makes him very poorly suited to serve as a cabinet secretary in any administration, and particularly this was. Rudy's a brash, publicity-hungry kind of guy who likes to make headlines and make waves. That's a great quality in a New York City mayor and it might work for a governor or a president, but it's the last thing you want in a subordinate. Given the current administration's love of loyalty above all else, Rudy's just way too much of a loose cannon.

It's too bad, because I think he'd do a really good job. I'm not a total apologist for the Giuliani administration's record in New York, but where he went wrong I tend to feel that it was mostly because of a manic desire to keep scrubbing the city once it had already been cleaned. As we've learned this week the federal law enforcement apparatus could probably use a tireless taskmaster who's dedicated his career to trying (and sometimes succeeding) to achieve the impossible.

STEPHEN J. GOULD IS DEAD. I've read all his books (well, except for the new long boring one) and admired the vast majority of them, so one can't but count his passing as sad. I'm told by people in the know that he was all wrong about all kinds of stuff, but were it not for popularizers like Gould people like me wouldn't know anything about science and that would be a bad thing.
I NOTE THAT I'VE FALLEN OFF the google radar for both the classic "virtual kiddie porn" and "natalie hershlag" (Who's she? I can't tell you. Damn journalistic ethics) so in a bout of absurd hit-whoring I'm writing a self-referential post that mentions them both.
READING THIS ACCOUNT IN THE Independent of East Timorese independence and of the long struggle they've fought over there against the brutal Indonesian occupation made me think that perhaps the Euroleft was at last ready to move beyond the idiotic worldview that all the bad things in history are done by white people. As the story makes painfully clear, post-colonial nationalism can be just as bad, if not worse, as the Western brand (the same point is somewhere in Fouad Ajami's Iraq article in the Times. On the other hand, though, it may just represent another variant of the equally foolish political tendency to just side witht he underdog -- little East Timor against big Indonesia, poor Palestine against big bad Israel -- regardless of the merits of the case. There are real reasons, I think, to worry about any national breakup. There really aren't very many countries on earth whose borders could stand up to a great deal of rational scrutiny, and the less we think about that, the better off we'll be. I don't want to necessarily say that independence for East Timor isn't a good thing, but the fact of the matter is that the only reason they're being able to start a new country now is that the brutal regime responsible for most of the oppression the article details is gone so maybe the right thing to do would have been to try to make a go of it as part of the new Indonesia. I don't want to stake out a claim either way, though, do to total ignorance of the issue. The point is only that the fact of East Timorese suffering does not, itself, indicate that the birth of an East Timorese nations should be regarded as A Good Thing.
I DON'T SHARE THE SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE FUTURE of NATO that Jeffrey Gedmin's got on display in today's Washington Post. Sure, there's been a lot of bitching and moaning across the Atlantic of late, but I think it's really easy to make to much out of that. My general perspective on US-European arguments is that these should really be seen as lovers' spats. When Jacques Chirac or whomever starts beating up on us (and when we bloggers in turn beat up on them) the dispute is fundamentally about how to instantiate a set of values that's shared throughout the Western world. This is very different from the kind of disputes that play out between the US and Islamic fundamentalists or that we used to see between the US and the USSR. Those are conflicts between fundamentally incompatible value systems. The reason there's so much verbiage to US-European disputes is that our shared values give us something to talk about rather than just shooting each other. The other point that needs to be made about European anti-Americanism is that I don't think there's really as much of it out there as reading American press accounts would have you believe. There's a whole lot of people in Europe and a couple of dozen countries, and it would be really odd of some of them didn't disagree with any given US action. We tend to hear about only the most strident critiques of the US and only the most bone-headed Europronouncements because something like "Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said today that President Bush's policies are basically OK" wouldn't make for much of a news story. In fact, it wouldn't be any story at all because a Prime Minister wouldn't speak up just to say that he agreed.

The really important thing that Gedmin points out is what he calls the "capabilities gap," i.e. the fact that the US military is way more kick-ass than any of the Euroarmies. This, obviously, spells trouble for a military alliance because it's hard to see what use allies would be if their armies couldn't even get to the scene of the battle. That said, the capabilites gap could be resolved by European governments fairly quickly if they wanted to and I don't really see how they can avoid resolving it. Either they'll want the Atlantic Alliance to continue and prosper in which case they'll need to upgrade their military equipment, or else they'll decide that they're so disgusted with America that they don't want to be in an alliance with us an without the US around to bail them out of trouble they'll need to...upgrade their military equipment. One way or another, weenie armies that need to borrow Ukraining transport aircraft to get the job done are not going to meet Europe's needs, so the capabilities gap doesn't really provide an independent reason to think the alliance is doomed.

Fundamentally, NATO was never a pact saying that all its member countries were going to agree about everything, or even about anything. There were lots and lots and lots of disputes across the Atlantic throughout the Cold War, and there will continue to be disagreements in the future, but that needn't prevent the alliance from surviving. NATO was -- and is -- a mutual defense pact; a commitment by the member nations to go to war in order to ensure the survival of the other nations. I have no real doubt that were some Al Qaida army to come pouring across our borders and for some reason saving America from Islamic fundamentalism required the French to fly some mirages out over here and drop some bombs that even they would do it. Similarly, no American president would sit idly by and watch an invading army march down the Champs Elysee.

Of course, none of this is inevitable and all of it will depend on the actions and wisdom of US and European leaders, but I really don't think there's anything real evidence out there to warrant the sort of pessimism Gedmin's serving up.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! I've just added an exciting comments feature to the site so that you, my loyal readers, can now shout back at whatever nonsense I've written. Thanks to Mr Ted Barlow for showing me how it's done.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

WITH THE TIMES REPORTING THAT THE world is awash in illegal social security numbers I'm led to wonder why we don't institute a national ID card system. I'm sympathetic to a certain degree of unease with the command and control connotations that the proposal has, but given the fact that the government currently tries to use social security numbers to accomplish most of the things (good and bad) that one would do with a national ID card, it seems like giving the government the power to at least do those things competantly would be a pretty good idea. This isn't a question of religious faith to me, though, and if people have solid arguments against national ID cards (and I'm sure you're out there, after all there must be some reason we don't have them) I'd be eager to here about it.
INTERESTING ADAM NAGOURNEY PIECE in the Times about the sad farce of political conventions. Personally, I think that there was a lot to be said for the old pre-primary system when nominees were selected by so-called "bosses." Obviously that system wasn't ideal and had a tendency to blunt the impact of public opinion on the ultimate political outcome, but the downsides of primary camaigning seem to me to far outway the problems of the old way of doing things.

Most succinctly, primaries strongly favor candidates who either already have high name recognition or else who can quickly raise a lot of money without high name recognition so that they can buy ads that get their names out there. Thus one winds up with nominees like Al Gore and George Bush neither of whom were the best (or even good) standard-bearers for their respective parties and ideologies.

There's no guarantee, of course, that a conclave of party workers and other insiders will do any better than this, but the sorts of people who controlled nominations under the old system were, if not terribly principled or wise, at least well-informed about the potential candidates and able, therefore, to make a good-faith effort to find the nominee who would best promote their interests.

Looking ahead, it's pretty clear to me and, I think, most people who look at it, that John Edwards would make the best nominee for the Democratic Party. If it were up to some kind of convention, I bet he'd win it, but I'm having a hard time seeing how he could possibly win a primary battle against, say, Al Gore, given the public's much-greater familiarity with the former Vice President and the similarity in views of the two candidates.

Ultimately, however, the American people are not going to be well-served by a 2004 election in which, once again, the major strains of political thought in this country are represented by fools.

WHY STUDY FOR FINALS when you can waste the whole day messing around with your blog template?
WHEN I SAW THAT THE POST HAS AN EDITORIAL titled "capitalism's hollow core" I thought we were gonna see some of that old fashioned liberal media bias. Sadly, however, it turns out to have been about accounting rules. I know it's an important topic, but it must be the lease interesting political issue in the history of human society and it seems to me that Enron and Arthur Andersen's greatest crime was bringing it to my attention in the first place.
IF YOU LIKE WATCHING THE SOCIETY OF ELDERLY VIRGINS squirm as they try to somehow justify employing child abusers as priests, you won't want to miss this WaPoer. My main complaint -- the website lists it as a "religion" story when it should really be more of a crime story. The piece contains, however, the ultimate response to the Church's new good abuser/bad abuser distinction:
"They say an 'ephebophile' is not as bad as a 'pedophile.' That's insane. Where's the bright line? Is it okay to abuse a 13-year-old but not a 12-year-old?" demanded Lee White, a lawyer and SNAP member. "A crime is a crime. And as far as I know, it's still a sin, too."
These folks have a lot of things to answer for, and from the look of their behavior recently they have no intention whatsoever of doing so.
JEFF JARVIS HAS SOME MOVING REFLECTIONS on turning points -- 9/11, 'Nam, and JFK. It's worth bearing in mind as many of us berate the Vietnam syndrome that's afflicted an unfortunately large slice of the political left that there are good reasons why that syndrome took hold in the first place.
SO I WAS WONDERING WHY MY fellow Harvard bloggers haven't been posting much lately, but then it occurred to me that this is exam period and that they've probably been studying instead of taking advantage of the lack of classes to blog all day.

So I, too, do have to take a final tomorrow now that the birthday revelry is done and I could use some help from you, my readers. If anyone understands the difference between David Hume's and Adam Smith's accounts of sympathy (can you imagine? they assign Adam Smith at Harvard!) please drop me an e-mail and let me know.