Friday, February 22, 2002

FROM THE LION'S DEN: I've been meaning to write about this piece for a while. While I haven't been on Columbia's campus for a while, I did spend much of the 90's there getting undergraduate and law degrees, and I loved the place despite itself. The description in the article sounds all too plausible.
What irritates me most about the prevalence of shallow anti-Americanism on Columbia and other campuses is not even the substance itself (though that's bad enough) or the atrocious quality of thought that goes into much of what passes for argument from those quarters. It's the conviction that they are being non-conformists, bravely rebelling against conventional thought. Campuses - and Columbia is no exception, which I know from first hand experience - are among the most suffocatingly conformist, and homogenous in thought, places in the U.S. today. Here's a tip: You aren't being non-conformist when everyone around you thinks exactly the way you do.
I would appreciate hearing from people with recent first-hand exposure to the Columbia campus as to whether the attitude described above reflects their experience. Click on my "name."
There are too many links to choose from to help illustrate the atmosphere on Columbia campus. Try this article. He's overstating the case to compare Columbia's atmosphere to North Korea, but it's irritating enough.
NOSTALGIA ALERT: I was going to give Paul Krugman a pass for today's column, which doesn't have the usual overt snideness we've grown used to (and even has a touch of humilty at the end, a drink which the Professor needs to imbibe freely). I did think something was funny about his characterization of the $300/$600 tax rebate as an advance on future tax cuts, though - and then saw this letter cited by Andrew Sullivan, worth reproducing in detail:
It might be worth pointing to today's Krugman column as an example of how intellectually slack this once able economist has become. He completely mischaracterizes "line 47" (the rate reduction credit on the 2001 Form 1040) as some sort of snatching away of the $300/$600 tax credit we all received last fall. In fact, it is an opportunity for those who did not receive a check they should have received to claim the credit. And the $300 was not, in any case, an "advance on future tax cuts", it was the immediate implementation of the 2001 tax cut retroactive to the beginning of 2001. Doesn't this guy check his facts anymore?
So, here's today's corrective: This 1999 Slate piece discusses the good and bad -actually, just the bad - of recessions.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US: I'm listening to the "Mike and the Mad Dog" radio show (sports talk, with hosts who in many respects haven't entered the 1990s yet) as I work, and the sole topic of conversation is the figure skating competition last night.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

IF IT'S IN OUR PAGES, IT MUST BE TRUE: The NYT gets carried away with the "story" that Thomas Friedman broke in his previous column regarding the Saudis' supposed willingness to spearhead an offer of full recognition and normal relation with Israel in return for a withdrawal to the 1967 lines. Friedman was far more skeptical than his own editors, and appropriately so. Let's wait until this proposal is actually made before getting excited about it, OK? I suppose the editorial page couldn't resist the temptation to appear above the fray.
IF YOU RUN SOMEONE OVER, YOU DON'T UNDO YOUR MISTAKE BY BACKING THE CAR UP: Another outstanding piece by Yossi Klein Halevi in The Jewish Week regarding the attempts by "the very people who once assured us that the terrorists had transformed themselves into peacemakers" to recycle their ideas which didn't work in the past. For those who aren't familiar with Halevi's work, try this article regarding the "cycle of violence" and this interview with Salon.
WRIGHT IS WRONG: In Slate, Robert Wright has been a persistent critic of just about every move the Bush Administration has made in the war on terrorism. His latest effort shows how even razor-shrp logic will lead you astray if it starts from the wrong premises.
The flaws in Wright's approach can be summed up in one sentence: he hasn't read his Bernard Lewis. Fundamental to Wright's critiques is the belief that if the U.S. acts wisely (i.e., in accordance with Wright's prescriptions), it can drastically reduce the number of Muslims who hate the U.S. and thus reduce the pool of future terrorists. The corollary to that argument is that if the U.S. acts unwisely (i.e., everything the Bush administration has done), it will expand the ranks of those Muslims who hate us and accordingly expand the pool of future terrorists. As such, Wright's critiques are merely a higher-class version of the familiar voices who seek to blame certain American policies for "why they hate us;" he merely substitutes game theory for a general animus towards Israel or U.S. policy during the Cold War.
The problem with Wright's (and his cohorts') approach is that, as elegantly explained by Lewis in this November article in The New Yorker and in this prophetic 1990 piece from the Atlantic Monthly, "they hate us" for what we are and what we represent (the "House of War," to use Lewis' phrase), and that our actions directed at the Muslim countries are of secondary importance in influencing Muslim attitudes - and when such actions are important, they often don't cut the way people assume Wright and his ilk assume they do. (See Lewis' New Yorker piece regarding the U.S.' relations with Sharon and the Shah.)
THE WORST FEARS: Apparently Daniel Pearl has been murdered by his captors. We should all pray for his family, and for the destruction of his murderers and those who supported them.
MORE FROM THE SPECTATOR: Matt Ridley praises Bjorn Lomborg's book The Skeptical Environmentalist and bashes its critics.
I have not read the book - and would appreciate hearing from anyone who has (click my name at the bottom of the post) - but the controversy surrounding it sounds eerily like that which surrounded Gregg Easterbrook's A Moment on the Earth (one of my favorite books) when it was published in 1995.
THE ULTIMATE QUESTION OF OUR TIME: Bill Simmons considers it, in the final question of his regular "Mailbag" segment.
I'M BACK: No more posts lost by Blogger after hours of work. From InstaPundit, this Mark Steyn article is an absolute riot - and spot-on, too! (As they say in the UK.) For another must-read from Steyn, try this classic about the U.S., Europe and the Palestinians.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

SOME BRAINS NEED A GOOD WASHING: OpinionJournal's "Best of the Web" is always a must-read, and today's entry has, among other jewels, the following priceless entry:

The Des Moines Register offers a revealing view on the militant Muslim mind from David Baugh, a civil-liberties lawyer who's represented al Qaeda members in court: "When the American press talks about suicide bombers, Muslims become upset for the same reason you would be upset if your son died trying to save a drowning child. Your son sacrificed his life for another. If someone walked up to you and said, 'I'm sorry about your son committing suicide,' you'd probably want to punch them." Murdering Jews, saving a drowning child--what's the difference, really?

INTOLERANCE: Saul Singer often has interesting pieces in the Jerusalem Post, and this article is no exception.
WE'LL BELIEVE IT WHEN WE SEE IT: Thomas Friedman is appropriately skeptical about the supposed willingness of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to offer a full peace to Israel in return for a withdrawal to the 1967 lines. The dog has eaten these proposed peace offers too many times. But it's better than refusing to make the offer even in theory, I guess.
THE MEN WITH THE GOLDEN ARMS: Great piece by Michael Wolverton at Baseball Prospectus regarding the correlation of runners cought stealing by catchers from year to year. This earlier piece demonstrated just how much a catcher's throwing arm can make up for a relative offensive deficiency. For another example, see this piece comparing Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza. In sabermetrics, much of the action over the last few years has been in measuring aspects of defensive performance. The best part of Bill James' New Historica Baseball Abstract was the defensive component of James' Win shares method, which extends his offensive formulas to measuring defensive performance.
In the current Wolverton piece, he notes that a further column will examine the deterrent effects of a catcher's arm (i.e., how runners may stop trying to steal on a catcher) and how to measure such effects. In the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James states that teams steal more often when they are ahead than when behind, meaning that bad teams face more stolen base attempts than good teams. It thus appears that a true measurement of a catcher's arm would have to take into account not only the deterrrent effects of a catcher's arm, but also the team's won-lost record. Perhaps James has a formula for adjusting expected stolen-base attempts based on a team's won-lost record. We await publication of his Win Shares book for the answer.

Monday, February 18, 2002

NOSTALGIA INTRO: As feared, Paul Krugman has gone over the edge again. Accordingly, for the benefit of those of us who were big Krugman fans before he got the NYT job and devolved into the equivalent of a tape-recorded screech on continuous play, I am inaugurating a new feature. For each monotonous Krugman screed that graces the NYT Op-Ed page, I will link to a better, more substantive example of Krugman's writing from his previous incarnations. Most of the links will come from Slate, but not all. Today's entry was originally published on May 16, 1997 in Slate regarding rational choice theory as an explanation for political corruption. This may have been one of Krugman's weaker Slate pieces, which gives you an idea of how far he has descended with his NYT efforts.
IMPRACTICAL IDEALISM: Michael Nauman, the editor of the German weekly "Die Zeit," has a piece in the NYT that wastes no time becoming disjointed:

In June 1981, Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin, ordered a posse of F-16 jets to take out Saddam Hussein's two nuclear reactors. With vast petroleum reserves, Iraq had no imaginable need for nuclear energy — except to make bombs. And Mr. Hussein had openly declared his intention to attack Israel.
Publicly, Begin was scorned for his outrageous breach of international law. Privately, however, many politicians agreed: Why not destroy Iraq's potentially murderous nuclear toys? Mr. Hussein did go on to start two wars. But he lost both, and if he had been armed with nuclear bombs world history could have taken a very ugly turn.
However, while the man is dangerous and crazy, we do not know that he has weapons of mass destruction. He seems to have had precious little connection to Sept. 11. His army has been destroyed. Therefore, two decades after Begin's attack, America's European allies would deplore a repetition of the Persian Gulf war. Their doubts are born from an ingrained sense of realpolitik. Europe learned a lesson in World War I: slipping into a conflict, with no clear moral sense of one's mission or of the likely military outcome, became a basic fear. Europeans' great source of anxiety was the prospect of being caught in an uncontrollable military escalation.

So: 1) Israel's actions in 1981 were appropriate and helped save the world from a nuclear-armed Saddam, 2) Saddam remains "dangerous and crazy" (and is indisputably subordinating his country's welfare to the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction), and 3) therefore, we should not move against him now. Did I miss something?
More importantly, Nauman's explanation for European reluctance is, in my opinion, completely off-base. The reluctance to move against Saddam is not grounded in realpolitik. It is grounded in a peculiar, legalistic form of idealism - alluded to in Nauman's comment that Saddam appears to have little connection to September 11. The argument for removing Saddam now is a prophylactic one - grounded solely in arguments of national self-interest. The Europeans (and U.S. Democrats, for that matter) approach the question of removing Saddam from a legalistic perspective - i.e., has he committed a specific wrong against the U.S. which gives it the right to oust him? The founders of realpolitik no longer recognize the rationale of raison d'etat.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

STILL WORKING AT IT: I will have some of these formatting issues fixed soon.
UPDATE - TOLD YOU SO: I have now figured out how to add links, and the e-mail link to my name should be working.