Saturday, June 08, 2002

TAPPED, LIKE GOOD PARTISAN LIBERALS EVERYWHERE is noting that the McCain-Feingold bill is terrible for democrats and does almost nothing to decrease the system's overall bias in favor of the wealthy. According to TAPPED, much of the blame lies in the fact that:
The reform groups were so committed to achieving some kind of reform that they didn't want to do anything that might jeopardize its passage.
Now this sounds really dumb, and I'm inclined to agree with TAP that it sounds dumb because it is dumb, but I recently read Robert Caro's Master of the Senate about LBJ during the 50s, and according to the book Johnson used a similar strategy to convince Northern Liberals to go along with the toothless 1957 Civil Rights Act. He told them that even though the bill wouldn't really do anything, that the most important thing was to pass a bill, any bill, and thereby prove that it was possible to get a Civil Rights bill through the congress. Obviously, the two situations are different in any number of ways, and, as I said, I do think that "reformers" made a mistake in passing this bill, but there is a chance that success will breed success and a good bill will follow a bad one. At least I hope one will.

Friday, June 07, 2002

With her Fargo drone and her schoolmarm glasses and her willingness to propound her personal recommendations on any topic -- even the structure of the federal government itself -- I have to believe that every single FBI boss over her -- competent or incompenent -- is gritting and grinding teeth right now, unable to say a thing, unable to shout: She's just a midwestern midlevel cog!
Couldn't agree more, I kept thinking while I watched her that if I'd been her boss I would have ignored everything she told me. Of course, it wouldn't turned out I was wrong. On the other hand, the fact that she was right about one thing by no means makes her qualified to set the agenda for the reorganization of a huge slice of the federal government.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

I'M GONNA SAY SOMETHING CONTRARIAN AND POSSIBLY extremely foolish, but I sort of wish the president wouldn't re-organize the agencies pledged to combat terrorism in order to make them work more effectively. It seems to me that no matter what we do, some people somewhere will still be able to pull off a devastating attack sooner or later. The answer to the terrorist problem isn't trying to devise foolproof counterterrorism measures, it's defeating the Islamist ideology that inspires the attackers. Going on the offense, (a) kills terrorists, thereby making it harder for them to attack us (b) deters states and other powerful figures from sponsoring terrorism, and most importantly (c) shows that hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings doesn't make America give in -- it makes America topple your regime. Going on defense, on the other hand, makes us look weak. It makes it look like if the terrorists can foil our new, better, homeland security that maybe then we'd give in. That means they'll try to foil our new, better, homeland security. And you know what? They'll be able to. There's only so much security an open society can provide. We need to go out into the world, into the regimes that sponsor this sort of garbage -- Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority -- and find newer, better, governments over there. They definitely cannnot defeat the United States' military power, especially when you take into account our ability to vastly expand that power if we see fit. Playing terrorist vs. counterterrorist is their game, though, and they've shown us that they can play pretty damn well.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

LAURENCE GRAFSTEIN NEAR THE END of a quite interesting article on the strange sophistry of Arab moral arguments regarding what sorts of suicide bombings are legitimate writes:
There are simply no circumstances in which the premeditated targeting of innocent civilians is justified. And the widespread, institutionalized use of this illegitimate tactic by what Cody calls "activists," even in a supposedly legitimate cause, not only undermines that cause, but also calls into question the very legitimacy of that cause.
I think this is doubly foolish. Are there really no circumstances in which the premeditated targeting of innocent civilians is justified? I have my doubts. When Great Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany they employed a campaign of terror bombing against the German civilian population, and it seems perfectly reasonable to me that given the nature of the situation (the state of available bombing technology, the imperative to defeat what was essentially evil incarnate, the general lack of other realistic options) that that was a justifiable policy. Similarly many claim that by indiscriminately killing the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki the United States effected a net preservation of civilian lives since even though house-to-house fighting on the home islands wouldn't have been targeted at civilians a great many would have wound up dying.

I don't know if the empirical assumptions behind those arguments really hold up (I've seen a great deal of dispute on both sides and I don't really know how to evaluate it), but they seem like perfectly sound structural arguments if the facts really support them. Similarly, many take the opposite view of Bomber Command's activities, particularly after the entrance of the USA and USSR into the war and hold that they were basically just the pointless terrorization of the German civilian population, but I can't imagine anyone thinking that "calls into question the very legitimacy" of the anti-Nazi cause.

I agree with the specific assertions that I think Grafstein is trying to make -- namely that the campaign of suicide bombings against Israel is unjustifiable and that Sharon is right to refuse to negotiate with their perpetrators, but it's important not to prove too much with one's moralizing.

THE NEW REPUBLIC, LIKE MANY OTHER folks seems astounded by the Green Party's campaign against Paul Wellstone
You'd think if there was at least one Democrat the Green Party could get behind, it would be Minnesota's Paul Wellstone.
This kind of shock, though, is a little naive. Liberal Democrats like Wellstone are the essence of the problem for Greens. If the Greens can succesfully eliminate them, then the Democrats will be totally taken over by DLC-types and that'll give the Greens the opportunity they need to win union and other institutional support. After all, if what the Greens were really about was supporting liberal democratic candidates like Wellstone, they'd be doing what liberal Democrats do -- running candidates in primary elections.
VIRGINIA POSTREL DOES FAR AND AWAY the best job of defending Yasin that I've seen yet.
AN EDITORIAL IN THE TIMES points to a bunch of failures in New York City's existing job training and placement schemes for welfare recipients and praises Mayor Michael Bloomberg for "moving away from a welfare policy fixated on reducing the number of people on welfare toward one that would encourage education and training and provide vital support like child care." I'm all for child care, but how about instead of having the city engage in the basically impossible task of trying to guess what sorts of skills employers will be looking for in the future and trying to give people the "education and training" they need to get those jobs we just give them, you know, jobs? Is there really no work to be done in the entire city of New York? I doubt it. It's been a few months since I've been back home, but I'm guessing that neither the streets nor the parks nor the subway stations have become spotlessly clean. The editorial takes a swipe at "make-work" jobs, but as Kausfiles said a few weeks back, cleaning parks isn't make-work, it cleans the damn parks. Of course, if a large army of low-paid former welfare recipients started getting our public spaces spic and span, people might start to wonder what we needed all those higher-earning unionized municipal employees who'd failed to get things clean in the first place for, and that might provoke some ugly political consequences.

Now I live in the real world and, frankly, I can sympathize with the desire of politicians to stay on the good side of powerful public sector unions. Anyone who wants to stay in office is going to need to do some pandering here and there to well-organized interest groups, so getting all outraged anytime you see someone being less-than-totally pure is a bit silly. That said, newspaper editorialists don't run for office and its really unfortunate that liberal writers have such a propensity to buy into whatever talking points the relevant "left" interest group puts forth on any given issue rather than doing some independent thinking about what's actually in the interests of the disadvantaged.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

SO IT WAS LOOKING LIKE A QUIET NIGHT FOR ME, no TV to watch Daniel Pipes debate "American Jihad" on Nightline, no nuclear war in South Asia (and inshallah there won't be one), and only a moderate quantity of alcohol hours ago with dinner. I thought I'd do some reading to prepare for my forthcoming thesis, so I called up Brian Barry's review of Michael Sandel's Liberalism and the Limits of Justice from the April 1984 issue of Ethics and what do I see as a concluding paragraph but this howler:
Sandel makes the transcendence of justice by group identity sound very high-minded. But it gives the green light to every string-pulling parent and crony-highering academic. And at the end of the road stand Torquemada, Stalin, Hitler, and Begin.
Torquemada, Stalin, Hitler, and Begin are at the end of the road? With Begin as the very last stop? Now I'm going to admit straight-up that I don't really know anything about Begin -- I don't even know when he was in power -- but I'm having a hard time believing that he did anything to deserve being put in the Hitler/Stalin league of all-time bad guys, much less that he deserves the implication that he was worse than Hitler. Didn't he sign the peace agreement with Sadat at Camp David? When will the madness cease? When I graduate, I suppose, and don't need to put up with these academic types anymore.

UPDATE: The worst the charmingly named Jew Watch can come up with is the alleged massacre of 100 Arab civilians. Don't know if that actually happened (and I highly doubt it went down quite the way a bunch of people calling themselves "Jew watch" said it did), but if it did, that's bad. I'm not sure I understand the whole Irgun deal either, but I suppose it's a bit questionable, and the Lebanon invasion certainly wasn't the best idea the world has ever seen, but the Osirak reactor bombing looks down right prescient from where I'm sitting. Hitler? I really don't think so, and it's quite hard to believe that otherwise serious people would go in for this sort of comparison.

CONTRARY TO WHAT YOU MAY HAVE heard on Instapundit and OxBlog, Harvard Afro-American studies Charman Henry Louis Gates, Jr. may well not be the man hiring Cornel West's replacement. West was, as those who've followed the controversy closely, a holder of one of Harvard's 17 uber-prestigious University Professor chairs and those, as befits the name, are the property of the central administration rather than any particular department, so not only will Larry Summers be making the call, but the "replacement" won't even necessarily be an Af-Am professor. Indeed, these things are normally given out as promotions to an already-existing faculty member.

Gates, moreover, has only committed to sticking around for one more year, saying that he's still considering an offer from Princeton. One possible resolution of this would be to make Gates Cornel West's replacement in order to hang on to him and then to let the Af-Am Department hire someone to replace Gates. On the other hand, its very common for a University Professorship to be moved from one department to another when the professor leaves -- the Conant University Professorship, for example, has jumped from Economics (Kenneth Arrow) to Philosophy (John Rawls) to Chinese Literature (Stephen Owen) -- and it would appear that philosophy's not going to get to hire anyone to replace Pellegrino University Professor Robert Nozick now that he's dead. A final note would be that making these appointments sometimes takes a very long time -- the Conant chair was absent from 1992-96.

ROBERT SAMUELSON SAYS THAT SOME DAY in the not-too-distant future the United States will win the world cup. I quite agree. Not only is participation (as opposed to fandom) increasing steadily, but comparisons of the relative place of soccer in American culture to its outsize role elsewhere are fundamentally irrelevant -- we're just a way bigger country than France, Germany, Argentina, or even Brazil and we're richer too. We don't need the same proportional level of interest that other countries have in order to beat them.

Monday, June 03, 2002

CHECK OUT JOSH CHAFETZ'S two two recent posts on ZionBlog's proposal (which, I must admit, I was not too high-minded to have entertained for a time about eleven months ago) that Israel hold the families of suicide bombers responsible for the crimes of the bombers themselves. Josh makes all the main points, but I would just add one note on the distinction between doing something like this and the sort of civilian killing that the US has done in Afghanistan and the Israel has done (and presumably will continue to do as long as the war continues) in the West Bank, borrowing a distinction from Michael Walzer. There is a difference, morally speaking, between employing a military tactic that will lead to the deaths of civilians and employing a tactic whose method is civilian death. When the US launched attacks on the Taliban and its infrastructure it was completely forseeable that our strikes would wind up killing innocent civilians. Nevertheless, despite the fact that killing civilians was a necessary consequence of our military strategy, the death of the civilians played no role in the plan for victory. If we could have only hit the troops then that would have worked just as well as what we did and that's why, insofar as its possible, we try not to kill civilians even though we know that given the current state of military technology we'll wind up killing some anyway. Suicide bombings and ZionBlog's proposed deterrent, on the other hand, not only kill civilians but they work (insofar as they do work) purely by killing civilians. There would be no point in trying to reduce the number of civilians killed in an action of this sort because the killing of civilians is the essence of the strategy.

Some may say that this is a difference without a distinction, and I'm too hungry right now to produce the argument for why this is a morally significant difference, so go buy Just and Unjust Wars.

TAPPED IS WEIGHING IN ON HARVARD'S new rape policy and I agree (Evan Day wrote on this issue earlier). Neither note, however, the definition of "consent" under which we're operating:
Consent is freely given agreement to sexual activity. You have a right to stop sexual contact at ANY point. Silence, previous sexual relations, kissing, going to a date's room or apartment, wearing "sexy" or revealing clothing, or agreement given under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is NOT considered consent. [emphasis in original]
This is, to be frank, absurd. Now of course neither "previous sexual relations, kissing, going to a date's room or apartment, [or] wearing "sexy" or revealing clothing" constitutes consent as such, and certainly none of those things obviate verbal objection to further sexual contact, but on what universe is having sex with a person who's under the influence of alcohol or other drugs rape? Now clearly if we're talking about someone who's passed out or unable to speak coherently the fact that she doesn't object doesn't excuse anything, but someone who's simply "under the influence" even if she explicitly consents? I think we're going to need to build a lot more jails if we're really going to enforce that one. Even worse is the notion that "silence" doesn't imply consent under any conditions. Now I seriously doubt that innocent people are actually being punished under these rules, but that doesn't make them any less inane. Indeed, they seem to be promoting an incredibly reactionary view of women as passive victims who are incapable of taking responsibility for their actions.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

THE CRIMSON HAS A PRETTY GOOD ARTICLE that, for the first time in print journalism, touches all the bases in the "American Jihad" controversy. I'm having trouble understanding, however, what the meaning of the highlighted "compromise" that Yasin has agreed to -- changing the title from "American Jihad" to "Of Faith and Citizenship: My American Jihad" -- since (to me at least) the term "jihad" was never really the issue, and even if you think it is the issue I don't really see how the change is supposed to alleviate any concerns you might have (except, maybe, the fact that "American Jihad" was plagiarized from Steve Emerson's very different American Jihad). The most bizarre thing, however, is that the Commencement Day program will list the address only as "Of Faith and Citizenship." That last part sounds more like (inept) coverup than compromise.

More importantly, I think, the articles reports that:

In addition to changing the title, Yasin agreed on Wednesday to add a sentence condemning violence in the name of jihad, which includes a condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks.
I'd like to see exactly what that amounts to, but it sounds like genuine progress to me.