Sunday, February 27, 2005

Type carefully: from Japan Today,
TOKYO — Police arrested a senior member of a rightist group Sunday for vandalizing the house of a Meiji Jingu priest, suspecting the crime was motivated by a dispute between the Tokyo shrine and its umbrella group over mistyping the titles of the emperor and empress.

The first story Jorge Louis Borges published under his own name was "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote." The story focuses on the fictional early 20th century writer, Pierre Menard, who dedicates himself to writing Don Quixote - not a new translation, or a modern adoptation - but the same Don Quixote that was written by Cervantes, line for line, word for word, in 17th century Spanish. The story is a review of Menard's efforts, and in one of its most hilarious passages Borges writes:

It is a revelation to compare Menard's Don Quixote with Cervantes'. The latter, for example, wrote (part one, chapter nine):

". . . truth, whose mother is history, rival of time,
depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and
adviser to the present, and the future's counselor."

Written in the seventeeth century, written by the "lay genius" Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical praise of history. Menard, on the other hand, writes:

". . . truth, whose mother is history, rival of time,
depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and
adviser to the present, and the future's counselor."

History, the mother of truth: the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an inquiry into reality but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what has happened; it is what we judge to have happened. The final phrases--exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future's counselor --are brazenly pragmatic.

The contrast in style is also vivid. The archaic style of Menard--quite foreign, after all--suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his forerunner, who handles with ease the current Spanish of his time.
Today's Boston Globe has a piece on Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkings, a late 19th century black novelist whose novels were the subject of some attention in academia. Apparently, some historical research revealed that Kelley-Hawkings was not black after all:

...despite continual scholarly interest in Kelley-Hawkins as an important voice of the period, [she] has never fit comfortably within the African-American canon. Most puzzling has been the apparent whiteness of her characters, who are repeatedly described with blue eyes and skin as white as ''pure'' or ''driven'' snow-a conundrum that critics have largely sidestepped by arguing that these women would have been understood as ''white mulattos,'' or very light-skinned women of color...

I have recently uncovered, Kelley-Hawkins does not appear to have been African-American at all... I found the record of her parents' 1859 marriage, which provided all four of her grandparents' names. I located them (along with a sizable extended family) in the censuses from 1840 to 1860. Moving forward, I followed Kelley-Hawkins in Rhode Island in the first three decades of the 20th century...With each new document, I was confronted with a startling fact: In four generations, over the course of 80 years, Kelley-Hawkins and every single member of her family are identified as white... does this discovery change our understanding of African-American literary history? The readings of Kelley-Hawkins's novels that have been offered over the past 20 years-as critics have labored to account for the overwhelming, almost aggressive whiteness of her characters-now seem notably strained.

Many noted black authors, including Frances E.W. Harper in ''Iola Leroy'' (1892), have depicted light-skinned ''mulattos'' with blue eyes as a way of pointedly exposing race as a social construction, instead of a biological fact. Kelley-Hawkins's novels, on the other hand, lack any such political thrust. Scholars have explained this away by arguing that the abundance of white signifiers is actually politically radical, with some even going so far as to argue that this extremely white world depicts a kind of post-racial utopia. For example, in an essay on Kelley-Hawkins collected in the 2003 volume ''Women's Experience of Modernity, 1875-1945'' (Johns Hopkins), critic Carla L. Peterson argues that Kelley-Hawkins ''sought to offer her readers-particularly African Americans-a vision of what it would be like to live in a modern world in which racial difference no longer existed.''

But a reconsideration of not only Kelley-Hawkins's racial identity but also the historical context of her novels suggests that a far different reading is in order. Suddenly, they look not at all like hopeful African-American novels but like reflections of white racial anxiety in one of the most violently racist decades in American history.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Cute story:
It was a firm presidential handshake. But technically speaking, since he didn't take off his gloves, President Bush didn't press the flesh when he greeted top Slovak officials. And that was an apparent violation of protocol in Slovakia, where leaders always shake with bare hands. The wardrobe malfunction caused a stir on Wednesday night in Slovakia...

Thursday, February 24, 2005

An interesting piece of news: Syria has announced it will "redeploy" some its troops in Lebanon, from the urban areas to the Bekaa Valley.

Back during my undergrad years, I sat in on a "history of revolutions" class. After a while, I got tired of going to class, my math assignments piled up, and not much was said in class that wasn't in the readings anyway. I stopped going - and did not, of course, get around to looking at the readings on my own.

One thing I do remember from those days, though, is that revolutions are often preceded, and indeed fueled by, mild reform from the ruling regime. Think late 1970s in Tehran: Iran's revolution was preceded by midly succesful pressure from Carter on the Shah to be more respectful of human rights. Or Russia in '91: the overthrow of Communism was preceded by partial reforms towards free speech, i.e. Gorbachev's perestroika and glastnost.

What is the explanation for this? Supposedly, reform by the regime only emboldens the revolutionaries because it demonstrates to them that their actions can have concrete effects. Success becomes less of a pipe dream and more of a reality. Each step that goes towards appeasing the revolution - thought to have a chance calming its anger, turning the people away from the streets - in fact only makes the situation worse for the regime. The best strategy for a despot, according to this theory, is not to make any concessions at all.

Indeed, one possible explanation why some countries have revolutions (Ukraine, Georgia) and others do not (Saddam's Iraq, North Korea) is that the populations of the latter tend to be pessimistic about the possibility of improving their lot. Steadily declining situations are good for tyrannical regimes because they depress the populations; periodic improvements, however, are dangerous because they might make the people see the possibility of living better.

It will be interesting to see if the theory holds up in this case and whether the latest partial concession by Syria emboldens the Lebanese opposition.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Annoying things about blogs:

1. Analyses of the role of blogs vis a vis the public, the mainstream media, the politicians, and the effect they have on the public discourse. If the author is a blogger, the answer most typically will be that blogs are the best thing that ever
happened to this country. If the author is a journalist, he will wonder about the objectivity of weblogs and ask whether its healthy to view politics through such a narrow prism.

Enough already!

2. Apologies for not posting, people ending their blogs because they cannot handle posting rarely. The main thing that bloggers seem to do, as far as I can see, is apologize for lack of posts. Please. If I decide that I have nothing worthwhile to say for the next year, I see nothing to apologize for. And I see no reason why anyone would expect regular commentary from me. Or a notice that I won't be writing.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein makes a couple of silly points regarding the Summers affair.

Bernstein approvingly quotes an anonymous commentator,
Correct me if I'm wrong, but about 6-8 weeks ago there was a flurry of activity in the blogosphere re: the dearth of conservatives/Republicans on university faculties. If I recall, the general, not to mention immediate, consensus among liberal/Democrat professors was that Republicans either didn't have the intellectual oomph to be professors, or just preferred to do other things. Natural selection, in other words, certainly not any sort of bias. We now have Harvard jumping through hoops to explain the dearth of female professors in math and science departments. They're not quite sure why this condition endures, except for the fact that it absolutely, positively, ain't natural selection. Strangely enough, this was another immediate, reflexive consensus, excepting Mr. Summers' brief but embarrassing romp off of the intellectual plantation.
It's really pretty simple: there is a long history of discrimination against women in the workplace. There is also current evidence that such discrimination exists in significant amounts.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no empirical verification of discrimination against conservatives in academia - though there is no shortage of complaints. Indeed, as I have repeatedly pointed out, there is a piece of evidence that contradicts this. Namely, arts and humanities departments are not the only ones dominated by liberals; the same goes for engineering and science departments as well, where identifying conservatives is impossible. See my previous post for a link to the data.

Bernstein then writes,
I would add that if Summers' quite measured comments have gotten him into such hot water, imagine how regular faculty, untenured faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates whose views don't reflect the politically correct mainstream are treated, and how much their careers can be placed in potential jeopardy. And then consider whether a young conservative or libertarian scholar would be wise in pursuing an academic career.
One does not need to imagine. Steven Pinker, a prof. at Harvard just like Summers, has been quite vocal in his support of Summer's statements. Is anyone calling for his resignation? Not at all. Why not? Because Pinker is a member of the faculty, a scientist, and Summers is an administrator. As such, they are subject to radically different standards: while academics generally are free to do whatever research they desire, the standard for university administrator is set at will by the institution - and a large part of the job is presenting a good image to the public. I myself have criticized Summers for making statements unsupported by the evidence; I really doubt its the job of a university president to do so.

I was wrong about Larry Summers.

I had previously defended Summers' remarks on the ground of academic freedom and free inquiry. My argument was that Summers attempted to summarize the complex state of current understanding as far as gender differences and unequal representation of women goes. Given that it has not been ruled out that biological differences have some role to play in the matter - indeed there are some studies suggesting this may be a possible factor - Summers remarks were a summary of sound science.

A couple of days ago Summers released the transcript of his remarks. It reveals that Summers went way beyond what could be justified as scientific inquiry:
So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind [the lack of women in science] is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude...
But the studies that Summers cites in support say nothing at all about "intrinsic aptitude." Summers case for the "variability of aptitude" is based on tests done to 12th graders that demonstrate a larger number of higher males in the highest percentiles. But all that follows from this is that is that if a social explanation is responsible for the lack of women in the sciences, it must be manifesting itself before 12th grade, for example in the different ways parents raise boys and girls. It may very well be that compelling biological explanations will be found in the future, but the current state of evidence does not support Summers' contention that it is likely something "intrinsic" about men and women that is causing this. Summers was, to put it bluntly, talking out of his ass.

Given that Summers' remarks are logically incoherent, let me pose the following question: what would be the right response if Summers speculated that blacks are inferior to whites? That the Holocaust didn't happen? What if Summers followed that up with fairly shoddy logic to back up his claim? Should his remarks be defended on the grounds of academic freedom?

My feeling is that remarks that are presented with a sufficient degree of rigor ought to be defended regardless of their content (even if they are on an rattling topic - see here for examples). On the other hand, if Harvard wants to fire its president for talking out of his ass in front of what turned out to be a national audience, I see nothing objectionable.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Over the weekend, John McCain and Joe Lieberman called for the expulsion of Russia from the G8. Didn't hear about it? Not a single American news source seems to have reported it. By contrast, the story is getting wide play in Russia.

This is a story I have observed more than once in discussing U.S. foreign policy with Russian speakers: often they refer to obscure congressional bills and regulations specifically aimed in Russia that I haven't even heard of. I think its worth noting that what is driving U.S. public image is not diplomatic actions but opinions expressed by congressmen here and there that get picked up by the Russian media.

I found this part of the newly-surfaced tapes of Bush conversations from '98-00 rather amusing:
Preparing to meet Christian leaders in September 1998, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, "As you said, there are some code words. There are some proper ways to say things, and some improper ways." He added, "I am going to say that I've accepted Christ into my life. And that's a true statement."
Funny that someone so familiar with the nudge-nudge-wink-wink nature of politics would make such a silly mistake as to speak at racist Bob Jones University.

This was also curious:
"I like Ashcroft a lot," he told Mr. Wead in November 1998. "He is a competent man. He would be a good Supreme Court pick. He would be a good attorney general. He would be a good vice president."

"I want Ashcroft to stay in there, and I want him to be very strong," Mr. Bush said. " I would love it to be a Bush-Ashcroft race. Only because I respect him. He wouldn't say ugly things about me. And I damn sure wouldn't say ugly things about him."
And, of course, there is the admition of drug use, which we all knew anyway. The White House, by the way, has admitted these are genuine ("Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said, "The governor was having casual conversations with someone he believed was his friend.")

Saturday, February 19, 2005

One interesting political phenomenon that seems potent across cultures is the symbolic appeal of the cemetary visit.

-Jorg Haider was branded a fascist in part because he visited Waffen-SS cemetaries.

-China and North Korea have cold relations with Japan because Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi insists on visiting the Yasukuni shrine, which contains Japanese war dead from WWII.

- The latest case involves outrage by Georgia over the refusal by the Russian Foreign Minister to lay a wreath on the graves of Georgians who died battling South Ossetia in the early 90s (South Ossetia is a quasi-ally of Russia).

Fascinating stuff:
An experimental study of private contributions to a common project, two sociologists from the University of Wisconsin, Gerald Marwell and Ruth Ames, found that first-year graduate students in economics contributed an average of less than half the amount contributed by students from other disciplines.

Other studies have found that repeated exposure to the self-interest model makes selfish behavior more likely. In one experiment, for example, the cooperation rates of economics majors fell short of those of nonmajors, and the difference grew the longer the students had been in their respective majors.

The Times brings us an amusing story on Japanese culture:
Perhaps it was the equivalent of Americans waking up one morning to find John Wayne transformed into the Cowboy of the Village People.

For 25 years, on a Japanese television series called "The Violent Shogun," Ken Matsudaira played an 18th-century samurai who embodied Japan's idealized masculinity: strong, selfless, interested in neither women nor money, quick to dispense cold justice with his sword and a single order, "Punish!"

So closely identified had Mr. Matsudaira become with this pop culture hero that it came as a shock when the Japanese found out recently that for the last decade (and hidden mostly out of sight), he had been dancing the samba on stage in glittering gold and purple kimonos, emitting animalistic cries and thrusting his hips. His sword replaced by a coterie of female dancers and a revolving disco ball, he told his fans that in these dark days in Japan, samba was the only thing to do and sang: "Samba! Viva! Samba! Matsuken Samba! Olé!"

The image was in keeping with the macho or tough-guy image idealized in the pop culture for much of postwar Japan, said Kimio Ito, a sociologist at Osaka University. It is in the last two decades that the image of the idealized male began changing, he said, with the popularity of funny and sensitive types.

In the real world, as the generation of gray-suited corporate warriors has given way to young Japanese men who put great care in their dress, use cosmetics and are generally considered feminine, it was perhaps not surprising that "Matsuken Samba" has become wildly popular now even though Mr. Matsudaira had been performing this show for a decade.

The shows also developed a following in Japan's gay subculture, said Noriaki Fushimi, a gay author and lecturer on sociology at Meiji Gakuin University. The image of "Matsuken" (as Mr. Matsudaira is familiarly known) featured prominently in gay festivals last year in Sapporo, in northern Japan, and Shinjuku 2-chome, the gay district in Tokyo.

"Matsuken's original image was that of a samurai, a macho image," Mr. Fushimi said. "And there was a huge impact when someone who had a macho image, a sophisticated samurai image, absorbed a kind of femininity."

"Matsuken Samba" became popular throughout Japan after a CD of the show's songs was released last year, and Mr. Matsudaira's radical transformation was complete.

"About 90 percent of people had a favorable reaction," he said. "For about 10 percent, especially among older, conservative men, the image of the samurai was shattered."

To many, the enormous success of "Matsuken Samba" struck a deep chord in a Japan gripped by uncertainty and pessimism about its future. Here was a samurai icon for a quarter century, no longer bent on fighting with his sword for a better society, transformed into a hedonistic samurai who lives only for the samba.

"Olé! Olé! Matsuken Samba! Let's fall in love, amigo. Let's dance, señorita. Let's forget about sleep and dance through the night! Samba! Viva! Samba!" (Spanish and Portuguese are evidently interchangeable in the lyrics.)

As everyone from children to salarymen began singing and dancing to "Matsuken Samba II," some people compared its popularity to that of a dance that gripped Japan in 1867, the year the 264-year Tokugawa shogunate ended. Japanese reacted to the era's confusion and uncertainty by dancing and chanting, "Eejanaika!" or "Why not? It's O.K.!"

At the "Matsuken Samba II" show here recently, fans shrieked, "My Lord!" and "Shogun!" as Mr. Matsudaira addressed the audience. Introducing the show's last song, Mr. Matsudaira listed problems besetting Japan and added, in words that could have been as much about his country as about himself: "In times like these, the only thing to do is samba!"

Thursday, February 17, 2005

On the power of belief: A would be St. Francis jumped into a Taipei zoo to preach the gospel to the lions:

You can guess how this turned out:

See here for the entire grueling slide show.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Slate runs a piece today blasting EU policy toward dictatorial Belarus, entitled "Mincing around with Minsk." Low on persuasion and high on righteous-minded indignation, the writer, Peter Savodnik, opines
The United States and the Eastern Europeans, particularly the Lithuanians, understand the only way to change Belarus is to fight Lukashenko—to aid the opposition, to discourage investment in the country, to do everything short of arming an insurgency. The Western Europeans, the so-called Old Europeans—the Europeans who think that Slobodan Milosevic deserves his day in court and that the Iranian mullahs can be talked out of building a nuclear bomb—have yet to figure this out.
Two comments.

First, don't bother reading the piece: nowhere does the author bother to provide an argument that the American approach is more effective than EU engagement. Was it because the successes of the everything-short-of-insurgency tactic are so apparent in the history of American policy? Two recent examples - American policy Iraq during 1991-2003 and towards Iran during 1980-2005 - suggest otherwise. By contrast, at least two examples where the EU type policy succeeded are immediately apparent: South Korea and Taiwan during the cold war.

Secondly, the really curious thing about this piece is the inability of the writer to spot a pattern in U.S. foreign policy. Replace Belarus with China or Saudi Arabia, and suddenly U.S. policy begins looking suspiciously like EU policy. Whatever the mertis of U.S policy, its hardly consistent: when the U.S. practices constructive engagement with its favorite dictators, it loses the right to criticize others for doing the same.

In a typically interesting post over at Left2Right, David Velleman notes that while scientists are always skeptical of new hypotheses, especially coming from outsiders, theories that consistently made correct predictions have always won the day. Velleman takes issue with the complaints of skepticism from scientific establishment, made by intelligent design proponents, and with the attempt of ID theorists to sneak into science "through the back door" (i.e. through actions by legislatures, school boards, etc). My one quibble is with the following bit: Velleman is using Wegener's Continental Drift as an example,
the hypothesis of a single primordial continent, dubbed Pangaea by Wegener, bears a striking resemblance to the creation story in Genesis, which tells us that God began by making a single division between land and water. The website's author complains that Wegner has been given credit for a "discovery" that wasn't his. But the history of science is full of misattributed discoveries. What's important about this case is that a Biblical hypothesis, though vigorously rejected by scientific authorities for decades, gradually won their adherence by explaining and predicting more phenomena than competing hypotheses.
Is Continental Drift really a "biblical" theory? This assertion reminds me of some of the stuff my great-grandmother often says.

You see, in 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the two or three days before the start of the invasion were marked by a large number of planes flying overhead (at least as my great-grandmother tells it). Since that day, my great-grandmother has taken to attributing a near mythic significance to planes. Often she will remark on the number of planes she saw flying in a given day, and if that number happens to be large enough, she is often in a a speculative frenzy over what could possibly have gone wrong.

She also claims that she has predicted events by counting planes. For example, the Asian tsunami, and the invasion of Iraq, were supposedly likewise accompanied by large numbers of planes overhead.

The thing about her predictions, though, is that they always occur after the fact. If she were able to perceive that something terrible was going to happen right before the tsunami, well, that would be really something wouldn't it?

Those who claim Pangea was predicted by the bible - or those who claim that the bible says the earth is round - are doing the same. I'm glad that there exist biblical verses that sound like they imply these theories, but where were you before scientists figured them out? The fact is that no one had even thought of interpreting Genesis to support continental drift until 19th century geographers noted how well South America & Africa fit together.

Similarly, Christians did not interpret the bible to say that the earth is round until it became scientifically confirmed. On the contrary, the Catholic church persecuted all who said so, and only now do we get all this bullshit about the verse in Isiah that refers to "the circle of the earth."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

One of the interesting features of Japanese media, which I have been trying to read in English translation as of late, is the regularity of "groping" stories. With charming titles like "Frisky farmer nabbed for fondling policewoman's breast" (which tells the story of a farmer who approached a plainclothed policewoman from behind and intimately hugged her before running away, and eventually, getting caught), these concise descriptions tend to appear, if not daily, then at least three or four times a week. For more examples see here, here, here, and here.

Groping is actually a very widespread phenomenon in Japan, with 64% of women claiming to have been groped at least once during a recent survey. However, rape generally is much less common, at least compared with other countries. For example, the sexual assault rate of Japan is approximately 1/10 of the sexual assault rate in the United States.

One could try to come up with an institutional explanation for this: Japanese are more likely to use the subway, and subway cars in Japan are more likely to be packed, resulting in a grope-causing atmosphere. But the same argument applies to many other countries (Russia, Italy, much of eastern europe) without such extensive groping-related problems. A cultural explanation seems more likely: it appears there is something about Japanese culture that, while making sexual assault overall fairly uncommon, predisposses the (male) population toward grope-and-runs.

The latest issue of The New Republic has two thoughtful pieces on early withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq: for and against.

A Berlin zoo has been unsucessfully trying to turn gay penguins straight using "aversion therapy." LBGT groups are complaining of cruelty to animals. Though I support gay rights I must say I am of two minds on this one...

Friday, February 11, 2005

Some links:

- David Brooks recently invoked the work of Harvard sociologist Theda Skocpol to argue that newly dominant secular elites are taking over the Democratic party. Skocpol, in a Salon article, writes that Brooks misrepresents her work and misunderstands the state of social movements in America.

- More fascist filth coming from "mainstream" conservatives (I use fascist here to describe the "our political opponents are traitors/helping the enemy" type arguments).

- Apparently, President Bush is a big fan of I Am Charlotte Simmons. Can't say I am surprised. The story has this charming quote:
"I'm reading, I think on a good night, maybe 20 to 30 pages," the president told Brian Lamb of C-Span in an interview at the White House last month. "I'm exercising quite hard these days, and I get up very early, and so the book has become somewhat of a sedative. I mean, maybe there are some other old guys like me who get into bed, open the book, 20 pages later you're out cold.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

North Korea has asked the Czech Republic to ban Team America: World Police due to its unflattering portrayal of Kim-Jong Il. Czech response:
"We told them it's an unrealistic wish," ministry spokesman Vit Kolar said. "Obviously, it's absurd to demand that in a democratic country."

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

World news: North Korea calls Japan a "wicked trickster."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Since everyone is writing about the Ward Churchill controversy, why should I let my lack of original ideas stop me? Surely my blog needs an official position on the matter.

1. Nobody should have to lose his job because of his personal views. The efforts by Gov. Bill Owens to get Churchill to resign need to be denounced and fought.

2. The fact that Churchill was regularly invited to speak at universities is disturbing and highlights a dangerous politicization of the humanities departments. The academic freedom argument does not fly here; should universities invite KKK members to speak? Neo-nazis? War criminals?

Universities as institutions are uniquely capable of judging the quality of people's scholarship and commentary. Why bother to invite figures whose scholarship is so terrible?

The low quality of Churchill's scholarship is rather obvious: his ignorance of international law (he claims that Gulf War I violated it), his misuse of the word "genocide" (he is unaware it means the planned extermination of a national, ethnic, or racial group), or his inaccurate portrayal of the final battle of Gulf War I (he describes a battle between U.S. and Iraqi armed forces as "slaughter,...worthy of the Nazis," treating the deaths of soldiers as if they were civilians), or his evidence-less imputations of racist ideas to the American public: "...100,000 "towel-heads" and "camel jockeys" -- or was it "sand niggers" that week?"

Why in the world would a university committed to scholarly research and debate invite Churchill to give a speech?

3. I find that there are many mischaracterizations of Churchill's point on the deaths in WTC. When Churchill referred to them as "little Eichmanns" he was making a very precise point. Eichmann, during his trial, argued that he could not be held responsible for the deaths in the Nazi concentration camps: he "only" helped to streamline transportation to and from the camps. Churchill was arguing that because America creates so many deaths and so much pain and suffering, and because the WTC formed the "technocratic core" of America, referring to WTC casualties as innocent is equivalent to the Eichmann defense: they are not innocent because they "only" did their part of the system.

4. The only thing I find more annoying that Churchill is the conservative response to Churchill. There is very little engagement with his ideas. Mostly, responses I have seen tended alternate between exasperated outrage and claims that Churchill represents the "true face" of the left (ha).

As far as the claims of America causing pain and deaths in the world, there is the ostrich-like desire to stick your head in the sand. Rail at the media for not reporting good news from Iraq, describe this or that school that U.S. troops helped renovate, post pictures of smiling Iraqi children, and so on. Its quite obvious that the U.S. does cause some suffering, does start wars on blatantly false pretexes, does quite a bit of the things that Churchill attributes to it (Abu Ghraib anyone? deaths squads in El Salvador?); but that it also does quite a bit of good. I obviously believe it does a lot more good than bad but I find the stick-your-head-in-the-sand and pretend everything is rosy attitude to be unhelpful. If anyone knows of a conservative commentator that genuinly tries to grapple with these issues, weighing the good versus the bad without denying or belittling the bad, do let me know.

Friday, February 04, 2005

I'm confused: Yesterday's Times quoted Condoleeza Rice as follows:
Less than a day after President Bush declared he was "working with European allies" to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would continue to rebuff European requests to participate directly in offering incentives for Iran to drop what is suspected of being a nuclear arms program.

Opening her first overseas trip as secretary, Ms. Rice also declared that the Tehran government's record on human rights was "something to be loathed" - a harsh comment that comes at a time when many European leaders have asked the United States to help lower tensions with Iran.
Today's Times, on the other hand, quotes her
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that an attack on Iran by the United States "is simply not on the agenda"
Lets recap: we are not going to attack Iran; we are not going to negotiate with them either; we are "working with our European allies"; but we refuse to participate in their negotiations with Iran. What, exactly, is our Iran policy? Sit tight and hope the Europeans work it out?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

My first reaction to the news that Dean may become DNC chair was negative. But the more I think about it, the more I grow to believe it may not be a bad idea.

1. I think we can all agree that Dean is a masterful strategist. For one thing, he managed to propell himself out of total obscurity on the national stage to the frontrunner position for the Democratic nomination. He also fundamentally changed the presidential race. Dean lost because he won: as other candidates increasingly co-opted his aggressive criticisms of the administration, he began to seem as one voice among many. By contrast, before Dean's rise to prominence most candidates (certainly Kerry and Edwards) were very uncritical of the administrations foreign policy.

Dean's addition of bitterness to the Democratic tenor was a success. Let's not forget that by summer 2003 Bush held a double digit lead overy every Democratic dandidate; by winter 2004, six months later, after Dean's rise and fall, Bush was trailing each democratic candidate by 2-3%. The new democratic rhetoric worked better.

Finally, I hardly need to mention Dean's innovation in using the internet to raise large amounts of money based on small donations from a large number of people.

2. A year ago I joined Republicans in thinking some of Dean's statements were nutty. At this point, however, Dean appears largely vindicated.

Dean was widely criticized for his reaction to the toppling of the Saddam regime. "We should have contained him," he said, but we went on to overthrow him. "I guess that's a good thing." (emphasis mine)

At the time, Dean was widely mocked for having to guess that Saddam's removal was good. Further events, though, showed that Dean skepticism was correct: Saddam did not have WMD programs, was not a threat, and our invasion has resulted in (best estimate) 100,000 more deaths than Saddam would have caused if left alone. In both strategic and humanitarian terms, we can conclude that Saddam's removal was not a good thing (this, of course, may change if a stable, democratic Iraq emerges but this outcome is far from certain).

3. The problem with Dean is that he represents, in popular conception, the more liberal wing of the party. Certainly he was succesful in drawing many on the far-left to the polls. His presence might alienate many moderates in the Republican party that Democrats might have otherwie appealed to.

But - most of the "moderate Republicans" I know would not even consider voting for Kerry. If they were unhappy with a former marine/prosecutor who initially supported the war, and only turned away from it when it became clear that WMDs were a myth and the Bush administration did not get any credible commitments from our allies; who advocated tax cuts, opposed most liberals on gun control, criticized Republicans for excessive spending, criticized the President for not sending enough troops to Iraq, vowed to increase the size of the armed forces, supported the death penalty, faulted the President for cutting federal aid to police departments across the country...and so on...then is there any reason to make sacrifices to keep appealing to these people? I'd say, not enough to prevent Democrats from appointing the best strategist/fundraiser possible to the DNC chair position.

Some interesting excerpts from Seymour Hersh's 1983 Kissinger anti-biography (The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House):
...Nixon made an extremely damaging breach of intelligence by revealing to the press that the NSA was able to monitor and recreate North Korean and Soviet radar signals. Emphasizing that the EC-121 [an American plane shot down by North Korea] was in international waters, Nixon told reporters, "There was no uncertainty whatever as to where this plane was, because we know what their radar showed. We, incidentally, know what the Russian radar showed. And all three radars [Russian, United States, North Korean] showed exactly the same thing."

The Nixon statement created near-pandemonium at the NSA. "I died when I heard it," one official said. That was my business. I just fell out of my chair - I literally did." He considered the Nixon statement equivalent to "Black Tuesday," the day in 1960 when two NSA cryptologists who had defected to the Soviet Union were unveiled at a Moscow press conference...After Nixon's statement about the EC-121, the NSA official says, "The Soviet Union and other countries changed every frequency, every crypt system, every net structure - all at once. It took months to work it out." At the time of Nixon's blunder, the Soviets, North Koreans, and Chinese were using relatively simple codes in their radar analyses and the NSA had been able to break these codes and recreate their radar patterns in its systems, giving the United States the incalculabe advantage of knowing what the other side was seeing...[NSC analyst] Alexis Johnson [speaking to Kissinger] ... attempted a weak joke: "We're going to take the President's clearances away."
This little bit is amusing:
Kissinger's backbiting began almost immediately. [Secretary of State] Rogers was a "fag" who had some strange hold over Richard Nixon; [Secretary of Defense] Laird was a megalomaniac who constantly leaked anti-Kissinger stories to the press; Richard Nixon was a secret drunk of dubious intelligence.

There was a steady stream of invective from Kissinger, and his personal aides heard it all. At one time, Kissinger told some of his staff that a prominent Georgetown clumnist had confided to him that Rogers was keeping a house in Georgetown with a young male paramour in it. Kissinger went further one evening, Roger Morris recalls, telling some of his close aids that [White House Chief of Staff] Haldeman had once hinted that Rogers and Nixon had "indulged" together.