Friday, November 28, 2003
Your weekend reading on what's going on in Iraq
In the past, I've occasionally offered posts on what's going on in Iraq. However, this time, George Packer blows away anything I could muster. If you have the time, go read Packer's vivid dissection of the current state of Iraq from last week's New Yorker (link via Matthew Yglesias). I'll admit to liking it because it reinforces three points I've made repeatedly over the past few months:
1) There is still no coherent narrative about the future of Iraq. The Packer story is filled with anecdotes both good and bad, frustrating and promising. One hopeful sign is that Packer's updates from his reportage done during the summer suggests that both material and institutional conditions are improving;
2) Bureaucratic politics made an absolute hash out of the pre-war planning for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. One key section:
[Oh, sure why didn't you raise this before the war, when you supported military action?--ed. Even Packer says in the article that prior to the war, "The Administration was remarkably adept at muffling its own internal tensions."]
3) Drew Erdmann is a smart, smart man (click here for my last post that mentioned Erdmann). Having been in Iraq from April to August, and having endured a lot while he was over there, he agrees with me on the "no coherent narrative" line:
Good politics and a good thing to do
To address each of his points in turn:
1) My guess is that this did not cost a hell of a lot, in part because of the mission’s secrecy. Bush did not travel with his normal-sized retinue – according to this report, much of his Secret Service detail thought he was in Crawford, which meant they didn't travel with him to Baghdad. He did not travel with a normal-sized press contingent. The secrecy also meant that very few people were in on the loop, which prevented any large-scale activities. This trip was probably less expensive that a garden-variety stop in Chicago.
2) As hard as this may be for some on the left to accept, the president is the Commander-in-Chief. There are some events for which Bush will be viewed as the head of government rather than the leader of the Republican Party. Does Matt seriously believe that the troops in the mess hall were going to say, “Huh, there’s the President. Wait a minute, there’s Tom Daschle!! And Nancy Pelosi!! Awesome!!”
Does this mean that this wasn’t a good political move for the President? Of course not. However, despite some problematic policies as of late, it is possible for a presidential action to simultaneously be the right thing to do and the politically savvy thing to do. This was one of those occasions. Those who criticize the president for the latter are ignoring the former at their own peril.
3) I agree with Yglesias that the really important challenge for Bush and the administration is figuring out a long-range strategy for Iraq – and Matt should bear in mind that unless the long-term policy sorts itself out, this trip will backfire, much like that carrier landing.
However, that was true whether or not Bush went to Baghdad. It’s not clear to me whether the time invested into this trip was so distracting that the opportunity costs of lost long-term planning (which seems to have made new headway) are particularly high.
Furthermore, Yglesias may be underestimating the effect the visit had on troop morale in Iraq. The media reports indicate that Bush’s visit was warmly received by the men and women stationed in Iraq. Given the importance of morale in ensuring a constructive military occupation of Iraq and a transfer of power to Iraqis, I would think Yglesias would approve of such trips.
When tenured philosophers attack
Hmmm.... how to respond?
I could fire off a one-liner about how this sentence, alas, confirms my view that law and philosophy professors remain woefully behind in understanding the perils of inductive extrapolation from one empirical observation, but that would be unfair to Leiter as well as the rest of the law and philosophy crowd. It would also commit the same error in logic that Leiter commits in his post.
I’m sure that Leiter has published/posted items of value…. er, somewhere. Generalizing from that one sentence to conclude that Leiter's entire body of work is rubbish would be wrong. And it would be even more wrong to infer that Leiter’s statement is endemic of those who study the nexus between law and philosophy.
Rather, I will suggest that on this issue, Leiter is wrong on the facts and spectacularly wrong in his generalization. To be fair, however, Leiter's comparison was based on a brief comment. Click here to see my expanded thoughts on the Bush visit and a response to Yglesias.
Thursday, November 27, 2003
All blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy...... all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play ma-----
[All right, that does it, you're taking a break for Thanksgiving! I am not going to be the Shelley Duvall character in this production!--ed. Yes.... yes, that may be for the best.]
A happy Thanksgiving to one and all!
UPDATE: Looks like American troops in Baghdad got an extra special Thanksgiving treat. Bravo for a class act.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's my reply to Brian Leiter's moronic hyperbole, and here's a more substantive response to Matthew Yglesias on the merits of the trip.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
The conundrum of tenure and toddlers
Kieran Healy, Chris Bertam, and the Invisible Adjunct have posts up about this report in Academe on the effect of gender and children on career advancement: The key finding in the report:
As a man whose wife had an early baby, I guess I should like my chances for tenure. However, the implications of the report are indeed disturbing. Laura McK**** makes some interesting proposals. [Hey, is it any worse in academia than elsewhere?--ed. Good question. Anyone know if this gender effect also takes place among similar professions like law or medicine? What do you mean by "similar profession"?--ed. A trade that requires a great deal of training, after which there is an intense 5-7 year period of near-apprenticeship, and then a significant career advancement that vastly increases job security?]
Fundamental attribution error and Al Qaeda's strategy
As I've said recently, Al-Qaeda's current strategy of killing large numbers of Muslims makes little strategic sense. Stephen Den Beste recently offered up his explanation: "bin Laden's strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel." A slightly longer excerpt:
This is certainly a plausible theory. However, part of me is also convinced that this kind of analysis suffers from fundamental attribution error -- a tendency to overemphasize motivational factors and undeemphasize situational or environmental factors when explaining an actor's actions.
It's possible that Al Qaeda's strategy is based on a fundamental constraint -- it can't hit the bigger targets. Maybe Al Qaeda will strike on American soil in the future. However, would anyone have predicted that, more than two years after 9/11, there would be no additional attacks?
Even in Iraq -- and bear in mind that I'm not claiming that the insurgent attacks there are coordinated or managed by Al Qaeda -- there's been a shift in tactics:
Because the perception of the Al Qaeda's strength rests on its ability to wreak terror, better to attack somewhere than nowhere. Hence the bombings in Istanbul. And for those who believe that such attacks have a persuasive effect on Muslims, consider this report from the http://www.guardian.co.uk/turkey/story/0,12700,1092383,00.html: Radio 4 and the broadsheet comment pages reflected my pessimism. A bridge between east and west had been destroyed, said one. It was only a matter of time before the west pulled out entirely. I had heard all about the new draconian security measures: the truck now blocking the gate to the American-owned Robert College, where my brother-in-law teaches; the armed guards and sniffer dogs outside the malls, the banks, the supermarkets, and just about anything with a foreign-sounding name; the blockades around the building that was, until a few months ago, the US consulate, and has now become the temporary headquarters for the British. So I was expecting to find the streets empty and most of the city's 10 million residents cowering behind closed doors.
Indeed, there was a great hush in the arrivals lounge. For the first time ever, I did not have to queue for a visa. But once we had left the airport, it was hard to see any sign of a crisis. The streets were clogged with traffic and people shopping for the holiday that begins today. The shores of the Bosphorus were lined with fishermen and a procession of large, slow-moving families enjoying the unusually fine weather. The restaurants and cafes were doing a brisk business, and every few hundred metres there was a florist overflowing on to the pavement to meet the seasonal demand.
In my brother's neighbourhood, which was ankle deep in broken glass a week ago, the glaziers have been working so hard that there is a joke rumour going around that they were the masterminds behind the bomb. Now all but a few of the windows have been replaced, bar the ones on the mosque next door to the synagogue. The buildings across the street have lost their fronts and been condemned. But the lighting store next to them is open for business.
My brother says that the shopkeepers on the street were out with their brooms within minutes of the explosion. It was the residents who got the wounded to hospital. He saw no official presence for two hours.
They are very much in evidence now. Those with homes or businesses in the affected areas must leave their identity cards with the police manning the barricades. Anyone who stops to look at the damage can expect to be filmed by a man who may or may not be an innocent journalist. It is all very subtle, and very calm. The shopkeepers in the fish and flower markets near to where the entrance to the British consulate stood until last Thursday do not want to talk about the bomb any more. They would rather sell me a string of red peppers or talk me into a pair of wonky glasses and a monster mask. Like my friends, they see staying at home behind closed doors as a form of defeat. They are determined to get life back to normal as soon as possible, no matter what.
This was Istanbul's September 11. They thought they were safe from the war on terror because they thought all Muslims were brothers. Now they know otherwise, and are unified in their condemnation of the terrorists, who cannot be "true Muslims". The fact that the terrorists staged this attack in the last days of Ramadan has added to their outrage. But no one is in any doubt why the city has become a terrorist target.
Christopher Hitchens has some additional points on this subject (link via Andrew Sullivan).
I'm not claiming that my theory is more compelling than Den Beste's or anyone else's, for that matter. I'm just putting it out there for consideration.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
All Things Considered on blogging
Last night NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story last night about how campaign blogs and “independent” blogs (their choice of words) will affect the 2004 election and politics more generally. Their abstract says:
You can listen to it here. Having already heard it, I have two thoughts:
Tomorrow morning on WBEZ’s Eight Forty-Eight program (which airs from 9:30 AM to 10:00 AM Chicago time), I will be commenting on blogs as a new media form. Blogs will be discussed, however.
The stability pact -- R.I.P., 2003
The Economist has the latest on the death of the European "stability and growth pact," which was made in order to harmonize the business cycles of European economies for the creation of the Euro (for my previous takes on this, click here and here). The good parts version:
Now, as has been pointed out in several places, the economic logic undergirding the stability and growth pact were not necessarily rational, so it's demise can be seen as a good thing. However, the combination of no fiscal rules and a unified monetary policy creates massive free rider problems, as the story goes on to observe:
Klaus is probably a bit of an outlier in terms of Eastern European opinion.
Still, it's gonna be fun to see him tangle with the EU.
UPDATE: Atrios makes some cogent points on this topic, and on the premature rumors of the death of Keynesian macroeconomics. His key point:
Monday, November 24, 2003
You know things are bad when this qualifies as good news
From the New York Times:
Will Medicare now cover my depression about domestic politics?
Last week, Matthew Yglesias wrote:
I'm not going to lie to you -- for me at least, Matthew's observations are spot-on. My automatic impulse is to skip any article with the words "Medicare," "Medicaid," or "prescription drug plan" in them.
So I'm struggling against all my natural instincts here in writing this post.
That said, the Medicare bill passed by the House this weekend -- and looks likely to obtain Senate approval before Thanksgiving -- bothers me for three reasons.
The first is that it doesn't appear to be a very good bill at all. The New Republic's &c. has been all over this -- click here and here. Conservatives aren't thrilled about it either. With regard to its fiscal effects, just let me reprint the Heritage Foundation's graph right here:
Second, the way in which the bill was passed bothers the hell out of me. Pejman Yousefzadeh -- in a must-read post -- draws a great parallel between what the Republican leadership did here and what Speaker Jim Wright did fifteen years ago to railroad a budget reconciliation bill through the House. As Pejman put it, "The worm has turned."
During the eighties, it was this kind of Democratic high-handedness that built up such an enourmous reservoir of ill will among Republican House members, which got vented after the 1994 takeover. If the House should switch anytime soon, the changeover will not be pretty.
Not that the Democrats have covered themselves in glory for their performance over Medicare this past week.
The third is that this spending bill is merely indicative of the larger budget-busting pathology currently infecting Wasdhington. Tyler Cowen highlights the extent of the current profligacy in Washington:
All of this comes from a Washington Post story that contains the following nugget of data:
Of course, Democrats are not exactly fighting this tooth and nail. And some of them can be bought on the cheap, as the Post observes:
[You put that in the post just to link to Hooters, didn't you?--ed. I'm just trying to sex up the issue! And let me add that I'm only interested in their magazine for the articles.]
Indeed, for a pragmatic libertarian, the political landscape out there is pretty depressing at the moment. Joe Klein makes my point for me: