July 2003, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Pomo-babble: Robert Fulford tries to explain why humanities professors can't write, except in postmodern babble like Kay Armatage's:
We can see a socio-sexual parallel between the geography of the wilderness and the topographies of narrative in this genre, which organizes a particular spatial itinerary and social anatomy.(Which is about a Canadian silent film maker, if you are wondering.)
Or Yale English professor Paul Kay's:
It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness -- rather than the will to power -- of its fall into conceptuality.(Which I won't even try to decode.)
Or Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's:
In the logic of colonialist representations, the construction of a separate colonized other and the segregation of identity and alterity turns out paradoxically to be at once absolute and extremely intimate.(Which is part of their attack on free trade, though how I can't explain.)
Fulford thinks that the humanities professors have been trapped, by fashion and tenure requirements, into this jargon; those who don't publish this kind of nonsense, perish. That seems right to me. He advises students exposed to this stuff to fake it until they can escape. That's practical advice, if not very principled or brave, but it neglects the cost of this nonsense, paid mostly by taxpayers. An English professor may cost taxpayers 100 thousand dollars a year or more; they ought to get more in return than occasionally entertaining nonsense. Parents at private schools like Yale have more choice in the matter than taxpayers, but if they are not aware of this before their children enroll, they would have a good moral case to sue the school for fraud.
- 7:26 AM, 16 July 2003
Update: The "Watchmaker" sent me this link to one of the funnier examples of this nonsense. Physicist Alan Sokal created a completely nonsensical article, sent it to one the prominent post-modern journals, which published it. What struck me most about the affair is that the journal did not seem to be especially embarrassed afterwards.
- 10:16 AM, 21 July 2003 [link]
Update: Police now think that the light skinned South African boy living in an all black area was not kidnapped from white parents, but was the son of the maid who had left him there. Here's the story. What made the idea that he had been kidnapped believable was his very light skin, for those who missed the original story.
- 6:40 AM, 16 July 2003 [link]
Brights and Dims, and the Moral Majority and the Immoral Minority: British scientist Richard Dawkins recently proposed that atheists like himself call themselves, modestly, "brights". (For a longer explanation of the idea, see this op-ed.) The term has, in my opinion, exactly the same defect that Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" did. Though the term will please those that agree with Dawkins, it will offend those who do not, or are undecided. People thought Falwell was arrogant when he, in effect, called people who disagreed with him, "immoral". People will think Dawkins is equally arrogant when he, in effect, calls those who disagree with him, "dim". Oddly, both men could have avoided their errors if they paid more attention to their own doctrines. Christians like Falwell are warned against the sin of pride, and academics like Dawkins often inveigh against intolerance.
(For a different view, see Dean Esmay's thoughtful discussion. Or, see Pejman Yousefzadeh's detailed critique of the op-ed.)
- 2:12 PM, 15 July 2003 [link]
Worth Reading: James Bennett's light-hearted comparison of the British and American approaches to religion and news. The BBC and the Church of England have much in common, he thinks. And, as an American, he naturally favors disestablishment for the BBC, just as his ancestors favored it for the Church of England. (I would go even farther and close down the public support for our PBS, as well.)
- 7:24 AM, 15 July 2003 [link]
Saddam Had Spies in the United States, following everything his opponents here did. The Iraqi National Congress captured tons of documents in Iraq and is now analyzing them to identify Saddam's agents in the United States, who may have done more than just gather information.
How the information was used is not known, but [Chicago businessman Guliana] Younan has received phone threats, his cars were vandalized, and a previous business of his was broken into and torched. No arrests were made in those incidents, he said.They should get more attention now.
- 7:12 AM, 15 July 2003 [link]
When the First President Bush Decided to Bribe North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons, I approved. Although it was not certain that the policy would succeed, it seemed the best of several bad alternatives. When the Clinton administration decided to continue the policy (after some outrageous interference by former President Carter), I was more skeptical since we seemed to be rewarding the violation of the first agreement. Even then, I was not sure it was not still the best of the bad alternatives. We were not alone in these decisions. Japan and South Korea, both closer to the problem than we, in every way, agreed with them, and even provided their own bribes. (The South Koreans even sent funds illegally to the North Korean leaders, in advance of peace talks.)
I was wrong, and so were the leaders who made these decisions to bribe North Korea. Since we began this policy, North Korea has gone through a horrible famine in which, by some estimates, ten per cent of the population died. They have continued to develop nuclear weapons and to sell their missiles and technology to other states hostile to us. The money we and our allies have sent them has gone into weapons production and the pocket of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an extensive article (not available free on line) describing just how much money he squirreled away in an organization with the bland name of "Division 39", while his nation starved.
According to interviews with high-level defectors, South Korean businessmen and Asian intelligence officials, Division 39 has generated a cash hoard as large as $5 billion that is salted away in places as disparate as Macau, Switzerland and Pyongyang. It produces a steady flow of money that Mr. Kim uses to buy political support and loyalty. Intelligence officials have also tied it to Pyongyang's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.They could have bought a lot of rice with five billion dollars.
After more than a decade of trying to bribe North Korea and failing, you would think that everyone would understand that it was time to try something different. (The current Bush policy of mostly ignoring North Korea, which forces the Chinese and South Koreans to confront the problem now seems about the best of the bad alternatives.) You would be wrong, as you can see in this extraordinary editorial in the Guardian, which calls for still larger bribes. The Guardian even opposes undermining the North Korean regime because of the difficulties that refugees might cause South Korea. Those starving currently should just stay where they are and not make a fuss, I suppose. And the Guardian doesn't even mention what happened to the previous aid, much of which vanished into Division 39.
- 6:36 AM, 15 July 2003 [link]
In this post, I mentioned the belief, found on both sides of the political spectrum, that the other side is tougher and less scrupulous. Yesterday, Doonesbury illustrated my point in this strip, except that he has the conservative agreeing with the liberal's belief that the right is tougher. For some evidence on which side is actually nastier, see this article on Julian Bond's speech to the NAACP convention. Bond, a former Democratic state legislator, had this to say:
Republicans appeal "to the dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality," NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said yesterday at the civil rights group's 94th annual convention.So, Republicans are racists, Nazis, and Confederates, who reject both democracy and equality. At least this time, unlike 2001, he did not indirectly compare the Republicans to the Taliban. Perhaps I miss it, but Bond does not seem "hung up on fairness" nor does he seem to be trying to "respect all points of view". Bond complains that President Bush has not met with the leaders of the NAACP, but, considering the personal insults Bond showers on the president, that is hardly surprising.
- 2:54 PM, 14 July 2003 [link]
Speaking of the IRA, one of its members was just arrested in Israel:
A member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was arrested on Saturday south of Ramallah on suspicion he had come to Israel to teach Palestinian terrorists how to upgrade their explosives.Those opposed to the liberation of Iraq often argued that al Qaeda and Saddam would never cooperate tactically because they disagree so profoundly. But we know that many terrorist groups, including the IRA, have cooperated with all sorts of other anti-Western and anti-Israel groups and nations. There is nothing implausible about Saddam and Osama working together in the near term, even though they plan to do each other in later.
- 8:13 AM, 14 July 2003
Update: British intelligence may have identified the wrong man, according to this editorial. However, my more general point still stands; the IRA has been cooperating with many other terrorist organizations, including some in the Middle East.
- 12:35 PM, 15 July 2003 [link]
Routine Anti-Americanism, Example 8: Another article of faith among leftwing British journalists is that Americans have been persecuting Muslims since 9/11. Gary Younge claims that:
Anti-Arab discrimination is not a new problem in America. But since September 11 it has greatly intensified. Alienation, racism, miscarriages of justice are just a few of the things that have already emerged as a result of this process.Younge can not be bothered to present any evidence for this smear, other than a vague quote from a representative of an interest group. It is true that immigration authorities have been searching for Muslims who are here illegally. I would expect British authorities to search for Irish who are in Britain illegally, after an attack by the IRA. To do otherwise, in both cases, would be foolish.
One can find an anti-Muslim incident or two, which is not surprising in a nation with nearly 300 million people, but there has been no organized campaign against either Arabs or Muslims, and considerable efforts to prevent one. President Bush, from the beginning, was careful to say that most Muslims rejected the terrorist attacks. In Seattle, after a drunk made a haphazard effort to burn a mosque, neighbors, including many from nearby churches, organized a watch to protect the mosque. One poll after the 9/11 attack actually showed more sympathy for Muslims than before, partly because of all these official and unofficial efforts to prevent discrimination against Muslims or Arabs, I would guess.
Nor can he be bothered to notice the evidence against the smear. An Arab-American general has just been named to a top post in Iraq. Iraqi exiles, who are mostly Arabs and mostly Muslims, are strong supporters of Bush's policies toward the Saddam regime. And it would be easy for any reporter with an open mind to find more evidence against Younge's article of faith, if, that is, they want to.
(Younge makes a telling error, confusing Arabs and Muslims. Most Arabs in the United States are Christians, not Muslims. And most Muslims in the United States are not Arabs.)
- 7:58 AM, 14 July 2003 [link]
Democrats Walking Into Trap? That's what USA Today columnist Richard Benedetto thinks.
Their shrill criticisms of the Iraq operation and more the president's assertions that Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction presented a clear and present danger to the security of the United Sates and its people, could bounce back on them.The Democrats are trapped, as they were in 1972, between the desires of their activists and the views of the more moderate independent voters. Nixon won a landslide victory in 1972. It wasn't because of his great personal appeal, as those old enough to remember the man can tell you.
Benedetto is a thoughtful moderate; curiously, the far left editor of the Seattle Weekly, Knute Berger, comes to a similar conclusion about the search for Saddam's chemical and biological weapons in this column.
LIBERALS ARE FOOLS to hang their hopes on Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction. While clearly the warmongering Bush administration lied about WMDs in the run-up to the war, exaggerating Iraqi capabilities, it is extremely unwise to pin your hopes on a negative. The Iraqis certainly had such weapons (and used them) and may have stashed the remnants somewhere: a backyard, a bunker, a neighboring country, or all of the above. Odds are, eventually, we'll find at least something that can fall under the ridiculously general WMD label, and possibly much more. For most Americans, the WMD question is just nit-picking: We kicked Saddam's ass (wherever it may be), so there.Since this is Knute Berger, he continues to predict a "quagmire", even though he admits, indirectly, that he was completely wrong in his predictions before the war. And, although he denies it, he is, as one can see from his columns, one of the journalists who hopes for a "quagmire". (By the way, isn't it time to find a new metaphor to replace "quagmire"?) For those interested in the facts on the ground, unlike Berger, see this column by Ralph Peters on our progress in the war, which ends with this summary:
Once again, G.I. Joe went off to foreign shores and made the world a better, safer place. It's time to recognize the dimensions of our accomplishment and stop declaring failure in the face of triumph.Especially if you want to win public office outside of Seattle, Berkeley, and similar places.
- 6:57 AM, 14 July 2003 [link]
First Blogoversary: About a year ago I put up my first posts on this site. I say about because the records I have just show the the week I started, not the day. (If you notice small details, you may wonder why there are a few posts with earlier dates. I started out building the site off line as I taught myself some of the basics, but didn't put them up until later, though I did post a dummy file in June of last year just to check on procedures.) In this last year, I've had a great deal of fun, built up a respectable level of traffic, and received some interesting feedback from all over the world. Here are some of the best posts and articles from this last year, beginning with two that I had circulated earlier to friends and family by email:
- 6:46 AM, 11 July 2003 [link]
Brutal Liberian Dictator Charles Taylor has some strange supporters in the United States, like Jesse Jackson. Kenneth Timmerman, a respected investigative reporter, charges Jackson with helping create the problem:
As President Clinton's special envoy for Democracy and Human rights in Africa, starting in October 1997, Jackson became the administration's point man for Africa.And he implies that Jackson (and others) did so for the most mercenary of reasons.
Among the first questions prosecutors should ask Taylor is whom he paid off using Foday Sankoh's diamonds. U.S. intelligence officers reported these payoffs at the very moment that Jackson was negotiating a favorable role for Taylor and for Sankoh in Lome, former CIA officers and other sources have told me over the past two years. As a result of the payoffs, Taylor continued to enjoy support among the Congressional Black Caucus and with the Clinton State Department.Jackson is not the only American political figure who has ties to Taylor. So does Pat Robertson. It is possible that either, or both, of these men were duped. But that's kindest explanation of their support for Taylor, and not one I consider very likely for either man.
- 10:30 AM, 10 July 2003 [link]
Howard Dean's Chances: Dean Esmay argued here that Republicans should not entirely dismiss the chances of Howard Dean defeating President Bush in 2004. I agree, and can give a rough, back of the envelope, estimate for Dean's chances.   Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns and Elections, regularly estimates odds in national races, and has a good track record for predictions. (He claims more than 98 per cent correct. That number refers to his final predictions, naturally, not the earlier ones he makes throughout the campaign.) His latest, for the presidential race are here. Faucheux currently estimates Bush's chances of winning re-election at 58.3 per cent, so the Democrats, together, have a 41.7 per cent chance of defeating him. Faucheux estimates Dean's chances of winning the Democratic nomination at 9.1 per cent. If we naively do the multiplication, then we would say that Dean has a 3.379 per cent chance of becoming president, not great, but not that much worse than the other Democratic candidates. That is naive, as Faucheux would probably tell us, since most observers think that Dean would be weaker against Bush than some other Democrats. Most likely, Dean's chances of being president are at most 2 per cent, currently.
However, as Esmay also argues, Howard Dean has a greater chance of influencing the Democratic party if he wins the nomination, just as Goldwater and McGovern did earlier in both parties. I would go even farther. Even if Dean loses the nomination, he has already shifted the party a bit to the left, by making respectable, or at least semi-respectable, arguments associated with its nutty fringe. Other candidates have seen his appeal to Democratic activists, and have already adjusted what they are saying on the war with Saddam. The more success he has in the primaries, the more effect he will have on the party.
Dick Morris, for one, thinks that the influence of independents, who can vote in many of the early primaries, will push the party toward the center. He may be right, but the combination of multiple candidates and low turnouts in the primaries can produce very strange results. I would argue, for instance, that several of his Democratic opponents in 1988 could have defeated Michael Dukakis if the campaign had been a series of one-on-one contests.
A partisan prefers that the other parties' candidate be weak and foolish; a patriot wants all parties with a chance to win to present decent candidates with sound ideas. It would be best for the nation if Dean were to be eliminated quickly in the race for the nomination.
- 9:28 AM, 10 July 2003 [link]
Some Minorities Don't Deserve Representation, thinks journalism professor Floyd McKay. At least that's what I conclude from this column on the likely senate race between Congressman George Nethercutt and incumbent senator Patty Murray. The rural minority in Washington state, concentrated in the eastern half of the state, has not elected a senator for many years. This is just fine with Professor McKay, though the rural areas here are poorer than the urban areas, and policies imposed by urban politicians are one of the causes of that relative poverty.
What about the substance of his argument, that Nethercutt has no chance against Murray? Although odds favor Murray, as they do most incumbents, she is hardly unbeatable. It is simply false to argue that:
Her only Achilles' heel is comments made in the wake of 9/11 suggesting to a school audience that Osama bin Laden had support among Arabs because he delivered social services. Although the comments were true, and appropriate in the setting, Nethercutt quickly branded her soft on terrorism.Murray has other weaknesses. To begin with, she's not very bright, as I discussed at length here. That's not just my opinion; she is a consistent winner of the "not a rocket scientist" category in the Washingtonian magazine's annual polls. Second, she's a bit out of step with the times; her pork barrel policies were more popular in past years than they are now. The (un)Sound Transit light rail project, which she has backed, is now unpopular even in this area and would lose by a big margin in the state. Third, she has managed to look both vacillating and hypocritical on Iraq. She opposed authorizing President Bush to use force (contrary to what professor McKay says), but then rushed to greet the troops when some of them returned home.
(Regular readers, unlike Professor McKay, will know that her comments about bin Laden were not true. They were false in a minor, indisputable way; bin Laden did not build any day care centers, which have no place in his radical form of Islam. More importantly, no real expert on terrorism would claim that "social services" are what attract people to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Someone who believes that, against all the evidence, is not fit to be a senator, or a journalism professor, for that matter.)
Years ago, I jokingly suggested that news organizations could improve by refusing to hire anyone with a journalism degree. Obviously, there are exceptions; I believe that Joanne Jacobs has a degree in journalism, and I'd hire her in a second if I were running a newspaper. Still, if Professor McKay is typical, with his bias and frequent, uncorrected errors, I think news organizations would improve if they considered a journalism degree a minus, rather than a plus, in their applicants.
- 8:24 AM, 10 July 2003
Update: Joanne Jacobs tells me that she actually has a degree in English, which provides one more bit of evidence for my theory that news organizations should be slow to hire people with journalism degrees.
- 2:24 PM, 15 July 2003 [link]
Shoot the Looters, save the pot shards, urges the archaeologist.
"I would like to see some helicopters flying over these sites, and some bullets fired at the looters," Elizabeth Stone, head of archaeology at Stony Brook University in New York, said in London yesterday. "I think you have got to kill some people to stop this."Now, I can understand why archaeologists would want the sites protected, but should it be tops on our priorities, as opposed to, for example, protecting our own troops or getting clean water to Iraqi children? Imagine the reaction if President Bush, rather than Professor Stone, had said this, or if an oil executive urged shooting looters of the Iraqi petroleum facilities on sight.
- 2:46 PM, 9 July 2003 [link]
Anne Applebaum says that Hillary Clinton is praising the wrong Thatcher, Margaret, rather than Denis, whom she should have emulated. That argument will cause gnashing of teeth in Senator Clinton's offices, since Applebaum is saying that Hillary completely botched the job of First Lady. (At that, Applebaum is kinder than I am in assessing Clinton's claim to admire Margaret Thatcher. I am not sure that it is any more than an attempt to sell her book.)
- 8:24 AM, 9 July 2003 [link]
Bush's Trip to Africa creates a dilemma for the Bush haters in the press and in the Democratic party. He is doing what they have said they want him to do, but it may benefit him politically. This column by Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times shows their struggle over whether to praise him for his initiatives to help Africans. To her credit, Mitchell does just that in her lead sentences:
Thank, you President Bush for going to Africa. There, I've said it. Those two little words sure took a load off my mind.And her closing:
No, black people don't have to vote for Bush because he went to Africa. But we do have to give him credit.Knowing the dilemma this trip would cause for the Bush haters at the networks, I quickly channel surfed through the ABC, CBS, and NBC news programs last night to see if any made Bush's trip the lead story. As far as I could tell, none did. ABC preferred to lead with the story that the Bush administration had finally admitted that it had been fooled by a forged document on uranium sales to Saddam, and I think the other networks did the same. This is literally not news since the fact of the document's forgery has been known for months. (Nor would it necessarily be very important, even if it were news. The British and American governments have both said that they have multiple sources for their claim that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa. That one piece of evidence was wrong does not disprove the general case.)
In choosing not to give Bush favorable coverage, the networks are like Mitchell's boyfriend, who, she tells us, is going to give her "heck" if he sees this column. They would rather that millions of Africans suffer than see Bush get credit.
One last point. Much of the anger felt by blacks toward Bush was created, deliberately, by the Democratic party and its allies, like the NAACP, in the 2000 election, because they were worried about his appeal to blacks. The arguments they used were disgusting, even by the low standards of political campaigns.
- 8:06 AM, 9 July 2003 [link]
This Communications Director is obviously working for the wrong candidate. Wonder how he answers the phone?
- 6:57 AM, 9 July 2003 [link]
Wondering About Climate Change? James Schlesinger has a good summary of the current scientific uncertainty on the subject.
We are in command of certain essential facts. First, since the start of the 20th century, the mean temperature at the earth's surface has risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit. Second, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing for more than 150 years. Third, CO2 is a greenhouse gas -- and increases in it, other things being equal, are likely to lead to further warming. Beyond these few facts, science remains unable either to attribute past climate changes to changes in CO2 or to forecast with any degree of precision how climate will change in the future.Schlesinger notes that variations in the sun's output could also explain temperature changes in the 20th century. Besides that, there are some stranger possibilities, including a recent theory that changes in cosmic rays, caused by interstellar dust, cause climate change on earth. Schlesinger ends with a call for modesty about our current knowledge:
There is an idea among the public that "the science is settled." Aside from the limited facts I cited earlier, that remains far from the truth. Today we have far better instruments, better measurements and better time series than we have ever had. Still, we are in danger of prematurely embracing certitudes and losing open-mindedness. We need to be more modest.Agreed.
(Schlesinger has had quite a career. He served three presidents, Nixon, Ford, and Carter, in positions that included CIA Director, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Energy.)
- 8:57 AM, 8 July 2003 [link]
Progress in Afghanistan: This USA Today article begins with the conventional wisdom:
The simplistic way to look at what's been happening here since the Taliban regime was vanquished a little more than 19 months ago is to focus on the broken promises, the lack of progress and regular warnings that at any moment Afghanistan could again be torn apart.But that's not the view of most Afghans. Many are happy that they can now do something as simple as go on a picnic, which was forbidden by the Taliban.
It takes an Afghan, someone who knows that this country was one of the world's poorest and least-developed even before it was devastated by two decades of fighting, to see a picnic as a sign of something larger. It also takes an Afghan to note that it's a stretch to try to compare the situation and lessons learned here with what the United States and its coalition partners now face in Iraq, where some object to the presence of foreign troops and the temporary control of their country by U.S. bureaucrats.There are great problems, but also signs of progress, both large and small:
Another positive sign: There were fears before the U.S.-led war that Afghanistan might explode as its religious and ethnic groups made power grabs after the Taliban was removed. But there have been no serious uprisings. And work continues on a new constitution and toward national elections in June.Wonder which news organizations might be pushing that "simplistic" way of looking at things?
- 7:49 AM, 8 July 2003 [link]
Publish, and Americans May Perish: Sean Gorman's adviser thought his thesis "tedious and unimportant", but anti-terrorism officials find it all too fascinating to one set of readers, terrorists. These compilations of information make it all too easy for foreign (and domestic) terrorists to locate their targets, yet it is not easy to see just how to regulate them.
- 7:14 AM, 8 July 2003 [link]
Republican, Democrat, Who Cares? Not the Guardian's American correspondent, Gary Younge, who converts New Jersey's governor, Jim McGreevey, from a Democrat to a Republican, in this column. (I don't find the error surprising. Judging by his earlier pieces, Younge's knowledge of American political figures is limited to people of color who really, really like Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.)
Younge is also rather reticent in describing just how vile Baraka's "poetry" is. Look through this column by Ward Connerly and you'll see some of the gems that Younge doesn't mention, like this one:
Nihilismus. Rape the white girls. RapeNot the kind of sentiments I associate with a poet laureate, but then I am not a Democratic governor or an expert on modern poetry.
- 6:18 AM, 8 July 2003 [link]