Thursday, May 16, 2002

ETHANOL FUMES: For everything you never wanted to know about Iowa politics and media, check out Cornfield Commentary.
A LIBERAL GETS LIBERTARIAN: Michelle Cottle is appropriately outraged that the government is apparently going to decide whether Americans should get vaccinated against smallpox:

I'm sorry, but if a well-informed, tax-paying, mentally competent adult wants a smallpox vaccine, she should be allowed to have it. If the government is worried about costs, make people pay for the shots--and pad the price enough to subsidize shots for poor folk. If we're worried about supply, then let's have a debate about what it will take to procure enough vaccine to go around. But don't babble on about how the government must weigh the risks to individuals and make this decision for us as though we were small children. Tell people the odds and let them take their chances.
...Yes, there would be some education issues and practical challenges to address. If at all possible, we want to avoid outraged citizens suffering ill side effects and suing the government, whining that no one told them the risks. Of particular concern would be people with compromised immune systems, who face a much higher danger of severe side effects. They might want to opt out of inoculation entirely, as well as take precautions around friends who had just been vaccinated. But these are details that could and should be worked through so that the individuals can be given a choice.
Hey, maybe we'll be lucky. Maybe all remaining traces of the lethal virus are in the hands of safe, sane, responsible, pro-U.S. scientists. Or if there is an outbreak, maybe the ever-vigilant, always-efficient public sector will be able to contain and swiftly vaccinate every single infected person. Maybe. But it sounds like a sucker bet to me.

THE ANGEL OF DEATH IN TWO COUNTRIES:Joe Sheehan has a good article on Jeffrey Loria and how he has run two teams into the ground. In the piece, he summarizes the facts regarding the Marlins and their profitability problems:

The 1997 championship team that was dismantled is held up as an example of how teams in "small markets" can't be successful, even though we know that the reason the team looked unprofitable is that the stadium was assigned all the revenue generated by the Marlins' games there. At the time, Wayne Huizenga owned both entities, so this was just another example of the shell games MLB teams play with their finances.
Years later, those same conditions are in place: the Marlins remain a victim of Huizenga's greed, appearing to bleed red ink while making money for the man who lied his way through 1997, then threw a tantrum when he didn't get his own publicly-funded stadium.
The Marlins' problem isn't Pro Player Stadium; the Marlins' problem is their lease with slumlord Huizenga, which makes it virtually impossible for them to make money there. That's not a ballpark issue, it's a negotiating one. It has nothing to do with markets, or player salaries, or competitive balance, or any other damn thing. It's simply an arrangement that never should have been allowed to occur, and for which the baseball fans of south Florida have suffered.
If MLB cared at all about anything but lowering labor costs and getting taxpayer dollars, they would have addressed this in 1998, when the Marlins were sold. They don't, of course, and the problems the Fish face are exactly the same, four years and one owner later.

TALK ABOUT SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL: In honor of the opening of "Attack of the Clones," Jonathan Last argues for the superiority of the Empire over the Rebel Alliance. I like his point about the meritocracy of the Empire versus the genetic roaylism of the Jedi Knights.
CIA (OR FBI) = CYA: Apparently President Bush was warned before 9/11 that Al Qaeda was planning to hijack airplanes. I cannot believe how little has changed on the domestic front since that date. Glenn Reynolds has a selection of opinions on the subject.
ROBERT THE POSEUR: Responding to Robert Wright's superficial treatments of game theory as applied to the Israeli-Palestinian war gets tiresome after a while. (I've tried it a couple of times already, and it doesn't seem to have worked.) So instead, check out this infinitely more sophisticated treatment of exactly the same topic by Douglas Turnbull.
ECCLESIASTES 7:10: Robert Samuelson argues against drawing apocalyptic conclusions from Americans' ignorance of history:

I reject the alarmist notion that ignorance threatens our social cohesion or democracy by cutting us off from the roots that define the American experience.
If that were so, we would have foundered long ago. Perhaps there was some golden age when most Americans knew their history. It seems unlikely, but without good survey data before the 1930s, we cannot know. Since then, we do know; we're dummies.
"Our comparisons of recent surveys with polls from the 1940s and 1950s suggest that there's been no overall increase in knowledge despite enormous increases in education," says political scientist Scott Keeter, co-author with Michael X. Delli Carpini of "What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters." A 1986 poll found that only 49 percent of Americans knew that the United States was the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war. In a 1989 survey, only 63 percent correctly identified Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a Democrat. Ugh.
To blame inept schools and lazy students is to miss the larger cultural failing. I grew up in the 1950s. My parents didn't discuss the Great Depression, which was history only two decades old, let alone the Revolution or Civil War. They probably were typical.
... The "greatest generation" knew why it was fighting, even though it was as ignorant of history as its children and grandchildren, perhaps more so. In 1943, a Gallup poll found that about 30 percent had never heard of the Bill of Rights and fewer than 23 percent could identify it as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution; the rest were confused about what it was.
In 1942, Elmo Roper -- a pioneer in opinion surveys -- wrote (in his pre-politically correct prose): "A great many of us make two mistakes in our judgment of the common man. We overestimate the amount of information he has; we underestimate his intelligence. . . . During my eight years of asking the common man questions about what he thinks and what he wants I have often been surprised . . . that he has less information than we think he should have. . . . But I have more often been surprised . . . that, despite his lack of information, the common man's native intelligence generally brings him to a sound conclusion."

As a history-obsessive who once considered pursuing an academic career in the field, I think that Samuelson is absolutely right about the (lack of) consequences of Americans' ignorance. And the stats cited by Samuelson regarding the knowledge of the "greatest generation" illustrates one of the most important lessons of history: Nostalgia is for the weak-minded. Nine times out of ten, the sentiment of "things were so much better back [insert time of speaker's childhood]" is wrong, and the tenth time is usually overstated.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

IN DEFENSE OF MY PROFESSION: Catholic blogger Mark Shea publishes a letter from an attorneyarguing that the Catholic Church should be thinking more, not less, like lawyers.

THE ANACHRONISM: Writing on Pim Fortuyn, David Brooks carves up the moral fastidiousness of the press, calling it a "Victorian gentleman:"

After each event, the Victorian gent struggles to find the correct emotional response. Once the correct emotion has been discerned, it is repeated and recirculated with a pious self-assurance familiar to 19th-century drawing rooms. All data that support the correct emotion are emphasized, while all that do not are ignored.
...In the parlors of polite society, social tolerance sits side by side with multiculturalism. They are two pastries on the platter of polite opinion. But Fortuyn was socially tolerant, even libertine, and it was for that reason he felt he could not be a multiculturalist.
The Victorian gent does have a strategy when confronted with this clash of Good Opinions. Insulation. Retreat to the high-minded tolerance of your suburb and social circle, and leave it to other poor buggers to actually live with the intolerant extremists. That is to say, champion multiculturalism from the enlightened venue of leafy London or Cambridge, and force the bastards in Israel or the neighborhoods to actually confront the practical consequences of your ideas.
But Fortuyn was a nationalist. The Victorian gent disapproves of nationalism, since it is a primitive passion, like excessive religious belief. But nationalism is actually a form of unselfishness, which takes one out of one's immediate circle and induces one to love and care about one's countrymen. In America, a nation of immigrants, nationalism takes one form. In France, the land of the blood and soil patrie, nationalism takes another form. In Holland, the land of pot bars, nationalism takes another form yet, Mr. Fortuyn's.
Fortuyn forcefully confronted the great contradiction in enlightened opinion. He argued that given the realities of the situation, one had to build a wall around one's tolerance, and restrict the flow of people who refused to join the culture of openness. He proposed reducing immigration flows and stepping up assimilation programs.
One can argue about the merits of his platform. One can argue whether Islam is really as intolerant as Fortuyn made it out to be or even whether this intolerance toward homosexuality and euthanasia is a good thing. But what is interesting from our point of view is that the Victorian gent that is the Western press corps could not even allow Pim Fortuyn to exist.
With the unselfconscious instinct for self-preservation that has always been the great strength of Victorianism, whether in its original form or today, the gent had to depict Fortuyn as something other than what he was. The gent had to depict him as a cliche, a far-right bogeyman. To acknowledge the existence of the real Fortuyn would be to acknowledge the rift between tolerance and multiculturalism. To do that would be to explore what this rift means--what it means in the Middle East and at home.
That exploration is impermissible. It is beyond the bounds of polite discussion. Hence, it does not exist.
Pim Fortuyn is dead. In fact, he never existed.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned this, but while Brooks' description of the contemporary media is dead-on, his Victorian analogy is based on stereotype rather than fact. The real Victorians mixe it up in politics far more overtly and honestly. Check out this letter to Andrew Sullivan, which sets the record staright.
I've always thought the Victorians have gotten a bad intellectual and moral rap..

AN OASIS: Jonathan Chait has an absolutely fabulous article in Slate explaining why the Israeli incursion into the West Bank was successful, and why the media cannot admit it. Here are some excepts:

Last week a suicide bomber killed 15 Israelis outside of Tel Aviv. Here is how a New York Times editorial reacted: "But as was sadly demonstrated again yesterday, no amount of military action can stop the suicidal madness. That can only happen if there is Palestinian moderation, Israeli restraint and progress toward an equitable settlement."
You have probably read sentiments along these lines so many times that this reasoning sounds sensible. But it's complete nonsense. First of all, the bomber came from the radical group Hamas, which openly rejects any peace with Israel and tends to strike anytime progress toward peace appears imminent. So, far from deterring suicide bombings by Hamas, an "equitable settlement" would likely have provoked more. Second, prior to Israel's offensive in the West Bank, suicide bombers were striking at nearly a once-a-day rate. Since then, they've struck at a rate closer to once a month. Third, last week's attacker came from the one location (the Gaza Strip) that Israel didn't target. Imagine if the government gave flu shots to residents of every state except New York. If a flu epidemic then hit New York, would it demonstrate that flu shots can't stop the flu?
When intelligent people (like the Times editors) believe something so wildly wrong, it's usually because they're in the grip of a theory that helps them to ignore real-world evidence. In this case, the theory is that Palestinians resort to terrorism out of despair. The corollary to this theory is that all Israeli military action will inevitably backfire since it simply makes Palestinians more desperate and angry. For those who believe this—a group consisting of most liberal newspaper editors, the foreign policy establishment, and virtually the entire outside world­—the case against Israeli military action (such as the recent one in the West Bank) is simply an a priori truth.

Most notable is the following:

For the sake of argument, though, let's suppose that Israeli military crackdowns did increase the number of Palestinians willing to engage in suicide bombing. It still wouldn't necessarily follow that crackdowns lead to more bombings. Why not? Because the number of suicide attacks depends upon more factors than simply the number of willing martyrs. Successful suicide bombings require plenty of other ingredients: the capacity to get past Israeli security (which necessitates training and, probably, fake identification); the ability to fashion hidden explosive devices; and the explosives themselves. Yes, some bombers use homemade ingredients, but they're far less effective than the professional-grade stuff—such as the explosives that the Palestinian Authority imported from Iran. The choke-point in the production line is almost certainly not the number of volunteers. It's the other ingredients. And it's those ingredients Israel has tried to cut off, by arresting or killing terrorist leaders, seizing bomb-making equipment, and sealing off its borders.
Of course, this isn't a perfect defense. But the other strategy—placating the Palestinians to the point where none of them are willing to serve as suicide bombers—is almost certainly worse. Even if an Israeli charm offensive could convince an overwhelming majority of Palestinians to reject suicide bombing, even a tiny minority of holdouts—say 100 or 200 volunteers a year out of a population of nearly 4 million—could sustain a massive terror campaign. Trying to protect Israel from suicide bombers by dampening Palestinian despair rather than fighting terrorism directly, then, is sort of like safeguarding your house by trying to give every potential burglar in town a well-paying job rather than installing an alarm.

This is all true, and almost completely ignored.

UPDATE: A great Charles Krauthammer article makes almost the same points:

There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So says -- to take an almost random sample -- The Post (March 26), Sandy Berger (March 29), George Mitchell (April 1), Colin Powell and Kofi Annan (April 10), Colin Powell again (April 21).
...It is wrong.
After the Passover massacre, Israel launched its offensive into Palestinian territory. The most dramatic effect has been a reduction in terrorism. It is no accident that while Israel suffered seven suicide bombings in the seven days of Passover, there has been but one successful suicide bombing in the past month. There will surely be others. But the frenzied wave of terror that pushed Israel over the edge has been stopped.
Why is the level of terror down? Because terror does have an infrastructure, and attacking and degrading it makes it harder for terrorists to operate, as the United States proved in Afghanistan. During Israel's offensive, hundreds of bomb makers, gunmen and trainers were captured. Others are on the run. Huge caches of illegal weapons and explosives were seized or destroyed. Can they be replaced? Perhaps, but it will take time. It took Arafat eight years to build this arsenal. He will not be able to replace it in a day.
More important, Arafat's forces were everywhere defeated. As the only functioning military authority on the West Bank today, the Israeli army can now make lightning raids, relatively unmolested, to prevent terrorist operations. For eight years, Palestinian terrorism had the protection (and, in many cases, the active assistance) of Arafat's Palestinian Authority. That sanctuary is no longer.
...Arafat assumed that Israel was losing the will to fight back with anything more than pinpricks -- and more important, that even if Israel did strike back, the world (i.e., the United States) would stop it.
He was wrong. He has now suffered a serious defeat.
Just days ago, it was conventional wisdom that the Israeli operation had backfired because it had dramatically boosted Arafat's popularity. This was nonsense from the beginning, the usual mistaking of victimhood for power. In fact, Arafat was practically scorned by his people when he ventured out for what he thought would be his triumphal post-Ramallah tour. The crowds were sparse, the people indifferent and he did not even venture into the Jenin camp, knowing that he would be heckled, jeered and possibly worse.
Why? Because he lost. His security services have been shattered. He can no longer protect the terrorist shock troops. He is shorn and he knows it.
Why do you think the United States is now talking about "reforming" Arafat out of the leadership of the Palestinian Authority? Why are Arab leaders privately endorsing such reform? A sudden conversion to constitutionalism? Operation Defensive Shield left Arafat gravely weakened. Arab leaders are not sentimental.
The fire will cease in the Middle East not when a piece of parchment is signed (remember Oslo?) but when the Palestinians conclude that they are no longer winning, that the Israelis are not going to give up and go away, as they did from Lebanon. Israel's offensive has begun to restore the deterrent that Israel forfeited with its unceasing concessions under Oslo and its precipitous withdrawal from Lebanon.

THE UNBIASED MEDIA: Here is a story about the photographer for the L.A. Times who made her way into the Church of the Nativity. Apparently she has a history of getting involved in her stories.
IN THEIR WORST NIGHTMARES: A chilling account of what the U.S. was considering in World War II if the atomic bombs did not force the Japanese to surrender. It illustrates what we are capable of if faced with a true existential threat. It is also true that the massive imbalance of power in the world today means that the U.S. is unlikely to be faced with such an existential threat and thus is unlikely to have to resort to such actions. When you hear anti-globalists bemoaning the fact that the U.S. is so much more powerful than the rest of the world, keep that in mind.
OUR TOLERANT CAMPUSES: Meryl Yourish has a horrifying description of an anti-Jewish riot at San Francisco State University. Joe Katzman has some good suggestions on how to respond.
THE OBVERSE OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES: From a link by Steven Den Beste, an outstanding piece from Thomas H. Lipscomb arguing that the confinement and release of Arafat is part of an elaborate plan by the U.S. and Israelis to destroy the effectiveness of Arafat and the Palestinian intifada.
If you assume that results with which you agree are the product of an elaborate plan, you run the risk of the same oversimplifications of reality as those who see consipracies in everything. In this case, I think "muddling through" is a more likely explanation for the Bush Administration's actions than a detailed plan. But Lipscomb is right about many of the effects of the Israeli incursion - especially relating to Iraq. Whatever objections the Stae Department may have had at the time, the Administration probably appreciates that it will be much harder for the Palestinians to strategically escalate the violence and attempt to wring leverage out of their supposed ability to delay or prevent military action against Iraq.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

A GOOD INSIDE SHOT: As much as I rip the NY Times, they deserve plenty of credit for this week's cover story in the Magazine: a profile of an Israeli squad operating in the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield. The actions of this squad are the best antidote to a U.N.-style compulsion to find war crimes in anything Israeli soldiers do.
THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO: Professor Reynolds has an interesting discussion with his readers about how smart or dumb Al Qaeda is, and how lethal and ruthless the U.S. will be if the "clash of civilizations" sought by Al Qaeda actually ensues.