Saturday, June 28, 2003
Well, just one post
I was going to write a quick post to say that Budapest is awesome, but then I read a Washington Post story stating that U.S. forces have put a stop to all local elections in Iraq, and that set me off.
The key grafs:
If you read further, it's clear that what scares Bremer and others is the prospect of radical parties -- which are now better organized -- taking power.
I can see this, except it's also true that radical parties tend to act more like moderates once they face the prospect of governing rather than campaigning. By halting the electoral process -- and rewarding ex-generals -- the current policy seems to do little more than successfully alienating the people you most want to motivate in Iraq.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Empty and stupid threat of the year
Here's more evidence that the Iraq debate is driving people batty -- A Financial Times article on Congressional reaction to European opposition on Iraq. Most of it falls into the garden-variety blowing-off-steam category. Then there's this idiocy:
Look, I could yammer on endlessly about all the reasons why this move is idiotic, but it boils down to this: pulling out would be stupid for selfish reasons. At this moment, the U.S. receives more benefits from the WTO than any other international organization -- why destroy it? Furthermore, such a move would succeed in causing a collapse of the global trade regime, a triumph for EU protectionism, and perhaps a global depression. That's a recipe for instability and violence -- not in our interests either.
I must congratulate Thomas for coming up with the single dumbest foreign policy proposal of 2003. I seriously doubt anyone else will be able to top it in the next nine months.
The half-life of the antiwar movement
George Packer has an excellent piece in today's New York Times Magazine on the network of antiwar movements. Eli Pariser, a staffer at one of the larger antiwar groups MoveOn.org, is the likeable protagonist of the piece. Read it to get Packer's main thesis, but here are three vignettes to chew on:
1) The origins of the antiwar movement: According to Packer, "On the day after Sept. 11, Pariser, who was living outside Boston at the time, sent an e-mail message to a group of friends that urged them to contact elected officials and to advocate a restrained response to the terror attacks -- a police action in the framework of international law. War, Pariser believed, was the wrong answer; it would only slaughter more innocents and create more terrorists."
I wonder three things -- a) Does Pariser now acknowledge that Operation Enduring Freedom was "a police action in the framework of international law"? Or was that action just too violent for his tastes? b) Given the success of Enduring Freedom, and the more fragmented nature of post-9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, does Pariser still think military action was the wrong answer? c) Would the people that form the backbone of the antiwar movement ever justify the use of force to advance the cause of freedom?
2) The prejudices of the antiwar movement: I love the condescension that drips from this quotation: "he [Pariser] found that opinion polls and political rhetoric didn't come close to doing justice to Americans' beliefs. 'There's all this gloss and spin and whatever, and then there's actually what people think,' he told me. 'Even when we talked to people who are racists, pro-gun folks, I couldn't make myself dislike them just because of their political views.'" (my italics)
Maybe I'm misreading an admittedly vague phrasing, but it sounds to me like Pariser thinks that racists are either identical to or just as bad as pro-gun folks. I can't believe Glenn Reynolds hasn't commented on this yet. [Well, now he has--ed.]
3) The shallowness of the antiwar movement: One of Packer's closing grafs:
"A young woman from Def Poetry Jam shouted: 'We send our love to poets in Iraq and Palestine. Stay safe!' The notion that there is little safety in Iraq and, strictly speaking, there are no poets -- that the Iraqi people, while not welcoming the threat of bombs, might be realistic enough to accept a war as their only hope of liberation from tyranny -- was unthinkable. The protesters saw themselves as defending Iraqis from the terrible fate that the U.S. was preparing to inflict on them. This assumption is based on moral innocence -- on an inability to imagine the horror in which Iraqis live, and a desire for all good things to go together. War is evil, therefore prevention of war must be good. The wars fought for human rights in our own time -- in Bosnia and Kosovo -- have not registered with Pariser's generation. When I asked Pariser whether the views of Iraqis themselves should be taken into account, he said, 'I don't think that first and foremost this is about them as much as it's about us and how we act in the world.'" (My italics)
THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE IRAQIS???!!!
Despite my extracts, Pariser seems like a genuinely nice guy. The thing is, genuinely nice guys with such an inward and uninformed view of world politics scare the crap out of me.
A working vacation
Blogging will range from intermittent to nonexistent for the next week. I'm off with the blogwife to Budapest for a conference. [Sure, it's all work to you--ed. No, really, check the program -- I'm working for a few days.] A few days of vacation after that.
What to do while I'm away? A few suggestions:
2) Turn off the computer and read a book. My spouse once told me that the only difference between me working and me on vacation is that there's a different book in my hands. So, in quasi-homage to Brink Lindsey's retirement from blogging right after he published his critical review of books read during the past year, here's what I'm bringing with me to Budapest to read:
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Michael Kinsley flunks logic class
Here's how Kinsley's latest Slate essay starts:
Now, while I actually agree with Kinsley that "O'Connor's opinion... sinks back into a vat of fudge," the logic he uses above is incorrect.
Let's ignore the concept of the wait-list and grant Kinsley's point that admission is a binary decision. His next logical leap to assert that each factor has a binary quality because, "it either changes the result or it doesn't. It makes all the difference, or it makes none at all."
What Kinsley is describing is a necessary and sufficient condition: if X, then Y, if not X, then not Y. However, many admissions criteria are necessary but not sufficient. For example, it's safe to say that you cannot get into a good law school with a felony record. Not having a felony record is a necessary condition, but it does not make "all the difference"; it's not sufficient.
Other admissions criteria are sufficient but not necessary. For example, if an applicant had a letter of recommendation from William Rehnquist saying "this is the brightest undergraduate I've met," that person will be accepted. However, it's not necessary to have such a letter to be accepted.
One can parse conditions further. There are SUNI conditions -- sufficient but unnecessary parts of a necessary but insufficient condition. There are also INUS conditions -- insufficient but necessary parts of an unnecessary but sufficient condition.
Race, in the Michigan admissions criteria, is a INUS condition. To be let in for reasons of diversity, it's necessary for the person to be a minority. There are other criteria that must be satisfied -- no felonies, remember. Race, in and of itself, is not a necessary and sufficient condition.
[Er, does this actually matter?--ed. Let me ruminate on that. I'll update this post if it does. The abuse of logic bugged me, however.]
UPDATE: The abuse of logic bugged Kieran Healy in exactly the same way.
Affirmative action links for the day
Robert Tagorda has a first-person account of the myriad absurdities of the diversity rationale for affirmative action.
I disagree with some of what Orlando Patterson wrote in his Sunday New York Times essay, but he does an excellent job of spelling out the problems with the emphasis on diversity:
Then there's Dahlia Lithwick's logical demolition of O'Connor's majority opinion. It's no use excerpting it -- just read the whole thing.
Humorous links for the day
The Boondocks confirms what I've long suspected.
Finally, Gawker posts about Tucker Carlson admitting he put his foot in his mouth and now he's going to have to do the same thing with his shoe. Points to Carlson for being a good sport about it.
Before the critics start whopping it up too much, however, consider this:
Duty, joy, and blogging
Eugene Volokh on bloggers and biases:
Eugene is factually correct about the inclination of bloggers -- hence my general silence about the Bush tax cut. However, for scholar-bloggers, I don't think it's that easy to dismiss the notion of obligation altogether.
In my day job as one who publishes and teaches international relations, I feel a duty to acknowledge opposing arguments or contradictory facts. If I don't, then my papers won't get published in good journals and my teaching approaches hackery.
This doesn't affect the choice of what scholar-bloggers write about (Eugene's point), but it should affect the content of their posts. No one can rebut every opposing argument, but the good ones demand acknowledgment and a good intellectual wrestle.
Does this make blogging less fun? Not for me. I like an old-fashioned rant as much as the next blogger, but I like it even better when I acknowledge the points made on the other side of the debate but still win the larger argument.
Finally, there's something of an obligation here. For all of the talk about the Blogosphere as an egalitarian community, hierarchies still exist. It's easier to attract readers when your day job carries some signal of expertise, and being a professor at the University of Chicago is that kind of day job (Many academics forget this, because they tend to socialize only with other academics. When everyone you know has a Ph.D. or is working towards one, it tends to lose its luster. Outside such social clusters, it's a different story altogether). People can point to graduate students or recent undergraduates as exceptions, but their educational affiliations pack a powerful credential.
Because I know that part of what attracts my readers is my profession -- not to mention my acute awareness that several members of that profession will be reading these words -- does create a sense of obligation.
In choosing my topics, I'm never going to be an equal-opportunity blogger. Once I've chosen the topic, however, duty calls [Even on posts like this one?--ed. Well, most topics.]
Permalinks not working. New Blogger interface disappointing.
Rage at Blogger.... growing.
Desire to discard possessive pronouns and good grammar increasing.
"Fibber, dumb-ass, or panderer?"
That's Andrew Sullivan's question about Richard Gephardt. According to multiple news sources -- all courtesy of Eugene Volokh -- Gephardt said the following at a candidate forum sponsored by Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in Michigan yesterday:
Dennis Kucinich made a similar statement.
Here's Volokh's assessment
Indeed. However, I'm even more alarmed by Gephardt's casual assumption that he knows more about constitutional law than the Supreme Court. Shudder.
By the way, I'd have to go with "panderer."
Monday, June 23, 2003
How France helps the world's poor
[Isn't it hypocritical to blast France when the U.S. has its agricultural subsidies?--ed. Look at this chart and you'll see that U.S. subsidies are considerably smaller than the those in the EU, Japan, South Korea, or Scandinavia]
If you think either ABC or myself is exaggerating, read the transcript. My favorite part:
To be fair, I think the press is exaggerating Dean's inability to recall the exact number of U.S. troops in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Still, not an auspicious debut.
UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh highlights another recent Dean gaffe.
More on Iranian bloggers
This Christian Science Monitor story (link via Tom Paine.com) looks at Iranian bloggers, including Lady Sun, described by the Monitor as the "emotional voice of Iran's Generation X." She's not very happy with CNN's headline editors.
Iraq and WMD
Elaine Sciolino makes a provocative point in yesterday's New York Times -- that regime change in Iran would not necessarily spell the end of its nuclear ambitions:
Is Sciolino correct?
On the one hand, number of democratic governments that overthrew unrepresentative regimes -- South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, even Ukraine and Belarus in the early 1990s -- did voluntarily abandon their nuclear weapons programs.
However, none of those countries were in the Middle East.
The WMD question
I've stayed silent on this issue, because my support for going to war was not related to the immediacy of the WMD problem. Even if Iraq was WMD-free by 2003, no sane person engaged in the debate on Iraq doubted that Saddam Hussein was going to make every effort to acquire such weapons if and when he could. Just because a house is cleaned once doesn't mean that dust will never reappear.
I supported the war for other reasons:
1) What we did in 1991 needed to be fixed. President Bush urged Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam. 17 of 18 provinces in Iraq did so. We did nothing -- actually, worse than nothing, since we tolerated infractions of the no-fly zones -- while Saddam viciously put down those uprisings among the Kurds, Shi'a, and Marsh Arabs.
Chomsky types tend to blame the U.S. for every wrong committed everywhere. This, however, was a case of the U.S. government encouraging people to risk their lives and then sitting on its hands because the uprising was perceived to be messier than an anticipated military coup. The cause-and-effect link here was pretty tight, and the effect was devastating to the Iraqi people. This was a debt that needed to be repaid.
2) All of the other policy options stunk. It's important to remember that the containment option was deteriorating day by day even before 9/11. France, Russia, and China were openly agitating for an end to the sanctions regime. The U.S. was deemed responsible for the mass immiseration of the Iraqi people. The presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia were leading to discomfiting policy externalities.
War was not a great option. But it was better than the other alternatives.
Sunday, June 22, 2003
While I was away....
Not blogging for a couple of days generated two wildly contradictory impulses. The first was the rather pleasant sense of leisure. Not having to have an opinion on anything or everything was a nice respite. As Michael Kinsley recently observed, competition in the the opinion industry has accelerated its pace:
Mark Jordan, in a lovely piece of writing, conveys the problem an academic sometimes faces in trying to join the opinion mafia:
At the same time, I missed blogging -- it's just so much fun. Worse, I felt a pang of responsibility from not blogging. I got a fair amount of e-mail asking for posts, and as a good Jew I respond to guilt exceptionally well.
I'm optimistic enough to think that it is possible to engage in both quality scholarship and pithy opinion-making. So the blogging will continue, regardless of how much Blogger tries to thwart me.
UPDATE: Alas, Brink Lindsey appears close to blogging retirement for a reason I didn't mention above but certainly empathize with: