Friday, March 31, 2006

Russ may be on to something..

A good post from blogger Mike Stagg.

I think Russ Feingold is doing a good job on this, and if Bush keeps dropping in the polls (which I think he will) I think Russ will benefit from this censure stunt in the long run.

Back in 2002, when almost all Democrats supported the Bush invasion of Iraq, I felt in my gut that this was going to come back to haunt them. Now I'm feeling the same thing about Bush and wiretapping. As details keep appearing Bush may comet to look worse than Nixon. And he's still got 3 years to commit further screw-ups.

UPDATE: Based on this blogsearch it seems that the Republican wingnut-choir is going after Russ in a big way. That's a great indication that he's on to something.

Prayer Hurts

Please hold the Godspeak if I get sick:
NEXT time you're sick consider asking your loved ones not to pray for you.

A study of more than 1800 patients who underwent heart bypass surgery has failed to show that prayers said for their recovery had any impact. In fact, some of the patients who knew they were being prayed for did worse than others who were only told they might be prayed for.
UPDATE: Removed an earlier comment that just didn't make much sense. I really have no further comment on this.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why American Companies Rock

An interesting take:
The best guess about the "X factor" is that America's business culture is peculiarly well-suited to contemporary challenges. American business is not especially good at coaxing productivity out of factory workers: The era when this was all-important was the heyday of Germany and Japan. But American business excels at managing service workers and knowledge workers: at equipping these people with technology, empowering them with the right level of independence and paying for performance. So the era of decentralized "network" businesses is the American era.

Fighting Terrorism vs. Promoting Democracy

A sobering piece by Fukuyama.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Christians For Torture

This is just great:
In other words, if you are an American Christian, you are more likely to support torture than if you are an atheist or agnostic. Christians for torture: it's a new constituency.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Brzezinski on Iraq

A must read that starts with an effective description of Iraq today and options for tomorrow. It ends with this nugget, which goes to the heart of the question of why it took over 5 years for substantial critisism of Bush' foreign policy to emerge:
What troubles me the most is not that which that I have criticized, but that which hasn't happened. That is to say: a serious and comprehensive Democratic challenge on this subject. Democratic leaders have been silent or evasive. They have not offered an alternative to the war in Iraq. It's easy to criticize - that was the first part of my speech. That is easy to do, although some of us did it sooner than others.

But they haven't offered an alternative. Also they have not seriously challenged the view of the world that is being propagated from the top. At a time of a deepening and widening crisis in Iraq, and a widening gap between America and the world, that to me is a form of political desertion.
And do you know what's really, really scary? The best and most substantial war critics today are Johnny-come-lately conservatives like Bruce Bartlett, Andrew Sullivan and Greg Djereijan.

I see now, more clearly than ever, that the Republicans have a monopoly on foreign policy expertise. I'm not a religious man but I think I'll start praying for the emergence of a competent Democratic challenger like Wesley Clark or else we're all fucked.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gays and Kids

Andrew quotes Mitt Romney:
Today, same-sex couples are marrying under the law in Massachusetts. Some are actually having children born to them. It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has the right to have a mother and a father
I know I am a horrible liberal and an even worse Scandinavian for saying this, but being a father myself I think Romney has a point about the kids. I see no reason at all for gay couples not to marry, and even though I suspect having a mother and a father is best for a child I would never support banning people (gay, straight or single) from bearing children. But, if it's done in a tactful and non-discriminatory way, I do support upholding the ideal of traditional mother-father parenting through practices such as restricting (though not eliminating) same-sex (and single) parent adoptions.

The South and Republicans

Kevin has a good post on Republicanism in the South where he quotes a book review as saying:
The engine of partisan change in the postwar South was, first and foremost, economic development and an associated politics of social class," they conclude after sifting through reams of electoral and polling data. "The impact of legal desegregation and an associated politics of racial identity had to be understood through its interaction with economic development." In other words, the Southern realignment wasn't about white racial backlash. Rather, it was about a new, middle-class South that focused mostly on economic issues and only secondarily on race.
Kevin doesn't buy this, and I don't either. I'll use a personal anecdote to illustrate why.

Let's look at my neighbour across the street from my house in Chamblee (15 min outside central Atlanta). He recently had a meeting of minds with my wife over the FUH2 website which posts pictures of people "saluting" Hummers. He carries stickers in his car that read something like "H2: Fuck the environment, I'm rich", along with an assortment of anti-Bush stickers. Yet he is not a Democrat. Like most other white and sensible people I've met in the South he says he's a "Libertarian".

I don't know exactly what it is, but there's some powerful force that keeps Southerners away from the Democratic party. If you're a white male who grew up in the South, and you don't work in a very liberal-minded profession such as education or healthcare, then you're just not going to admit any allegiance with the Democratic party no matter how liberal, environmentalist or even socialist your political views are. I didn't go to high school in the South but I'm pretty sure boys who support Democrats get wedgies until they learn to stop.

My own theory is that white kids down here are taught to associate Democrats with poor work ethic and a desire to milk other taxpayers for as much money as possible. And if so, there is clearly a historically racist element in this view (although I would not classify any of the people I've spoken to as racists). I've posed this theory to many white Southerners, and nobody really denies it. They usually utter an embarrassed laugh and try to change the subject.

American Intellectuals For Sale

Here's an interesting discussion between Francis Fukuyama and Bernard Henri-Levy. Andrew Sullivan thinks the Frenchman is the loser in the exchange, but I disagree.

I respect Fukuyama's superior understanding of American society and I share his view that America provides unique opportunities for immigrants. But he clearly doesn't understand what a European-style intellectual is. Like most non-Europeans he sees nothing wrong with America's leading thinkers like himself being "for sale", switching their allegiance in order to retain employment (and getting fired when they dare to disagree):
I myself worked for more than ten years at the RAND Corporation, the original "think tank" satirized in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove that did contract research for the U.S. Air Force and Defense Department. Obviously, one cannot be a free thinker in a place like that (Daniel Ellsberg tried to be and he was fired), and that is one of the reasons that I eventually left to go to a university. But overall, I believe that a democracy is better off having intellectuals pay systematic attention to policy issues, even if it is occasionally corrupting. Having to deal not with ideal solutions but with the real world of power and politics is a good discipline for an intellectual. There is a fine line between being realistic and selling one's soul, and in the case of the Iraq war many neoconservatives got so preoccupied with policy advocacy that they blinded themselves to reality. But it's not clear that virtue necessarily lies on the side of intellectuals who think they are simply being honest.
What Fukuyama doesn't understand is that it's more about independence than honesty. European intellectuals may get as wrapped up in their own pundit franchise as anybody else. But at least in Europe they are not expected to conform to the views of their employers.

Bernard says it well, although I have never succeeded in communicating the real meaning of these words to a non-European:
The problem lies with the definition of what you and I call an intellectual, and beyond its definition, its function. Unlike you, I don't think an intellectual's purpose is to run the RAND Corporation or any institution like it. Not because I despise RAND, or because I believe in Kubrick's burlesque portrayal of it. No, I just think that while some people are running RAND, others no more or no less worthy or deserving should be dealing with, shall we say, the unfiltered truth. A democracy needs both, imperatively and absolutely both—"realistic" intellectuals and "idealistic" intellectuals. Both types and the functions they embody have recognizable places inside society, even if some societies value one type more than the other. America needs intellectuals with a selfless concern for sense, complexity and truth. This is just as essential to its equilibrium (possibly even to its moral fiber and therefore to its good health) as the existence of universal suffrage or the separation of powers à la Montesquieu.
Now that the press has relinquished much of its watchdog function in American public life the lack of truly independent intellectuals is becoming painfully apparent. And it has allowed conservatives to perpetuate the silly myth that "all news is biased" which has led to a stunning disconnect from reality.

UPDATE: It appears that Daniel Drezner (an American) is also concerned.

Another Hawk Apology

Greg Djerejian says he deserves scorn from sensible war skeptics:
In good time, I will write my personal mea culpa in this tragic affair. I had greater faith in this Administration, and they have let us down time and again. But it's too easy to say it would all have been OK but for the dumbies who effed up the show. People who supported the war, and there were many of us (on both sides of the aisle) lest we forget, had to keep in mind the abilities of those charged with prosecuting it, and the resources that would be brought to bear. We knew the Powell Doctrine had been shunted aside in favor of utopic transformationalist nostrums, and we knew that some who were listened to in the leading counsels of power had memorably declared the effort would be a cakewalk. We should have smelled the danger signals better, and we deserve the scorn of those who were against this effort from the get-go, at least those who honestly believed we were doing the wrong thing rather than just opposing anything the horrible Bushies would bring to the plate. Also, it should be said, war is a tremendously complex endeavor, and while it's a cliche to state, it's very true that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. We can beat up on the war-planners, and their arrogance and reluctance to admit mistakes makes it feel good, but their jobs are never easy ones, and those of us brandishing laptops to castigate all and sundry do well to recall this now and again.
Good for him. I value his opinion, thus I am glad to see he is a man of integrity. Even though, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it "took him a while to do the right thing".

Friday, March 10, 2006

Krugman on Bartlett and Sullivan Flip-Flops

Loved this:
Bruce Bartlett, the author of "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," is an angry man. At a recent book forum at the Cato Institute, he declared that the Bush administration is "unconscionable," "irresponsible," "vindictive" and "inept."

It's no wonder, then, that one commentator wrote of Mr. Bartlett that "if he were a cartoon character, he would probably look like Donald Duck during one of his famous tirades, with steam pouring out of his ears."

Oh, wait. That's not what somebody wrote about Mr. Bartlett. It's what Mr. Bartlett wrote about me in September 2003, when I was saying pretty much what he's saying now.
Andrew attempts a defense of the indefensible:
But then, in times of peril, some of us feel that supporting the president, whoever he is, and hoping he gets things right, are not contemptible impulses.
Those impulses may not contemptible, but they are foolish. History teaches us that such impulses allow leaders to lead countries into ruin:
"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."
-- Joseph Goebbels, German Minister of Propaganda, 1933-1945
Intelligent writers like Andrew should know better. But, it's tough when you spend a whole lifetime building up a opinion-franchise like most pundits do. To quote myself paraphrasing Julian Sanchez:
People who produce political opinion for a living (i.e. "pundits") may start out with the noblest of intentions. But informal social pressures make it increasingly difficult to deviate from the ideology they started out with. Thus over time they turn into partisan/ideological hacks -- defending "their side" not in earnestness but to keep from upsetting sympathizers while protecting the "opinion franchise" they've built up over time.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Via Andrew Sullivan (a Catholic), a review of a book which charts what happens when a born-again fundamentalist Christian with a knack for languages start looking closely at Biblical texts. He finds, among other things, that all references to the resurrection were added centuries after Christ supposedly died.
Ehrman slowly came to a horrifying realization: There was no real historical record. It was, he felt, all incense and myth, told by illiterate men and not set down in writing for decades.