Mindless headlines

by Micah on August 21, 2003

This “headline”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/21/international/middleeast/21CND-MIDE.html?hp from the “New York Times”:http://www.nytimes.com has been bothering me all day. It reads: “Islamic Militant Groups Say Truce Is Dead After Israeli Strike.” Wasn’t this obvious from the fact that they “claimed responsibility”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/20/international/middleeast/20MIDE.html?8bl for the Jerusalem bus bombing two days ago?

Suicide-bomber apologist in fit of indignation

by Chris Bertram on August 21, 2003

I’ve blogged before on Junius about retired British philosopher Ted Honderich and his lamentable book After the Terror. It seems that Honderich is now involved in a fierce spat with his German publishers Suhrkamp Verlag who have withdrawn the book after charges that it is anti-semitic were levelled by Micha Brumlik (Director of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Study and Documentation Centre for the History of the Holocaust and Its Effects). Jurgen Habermas, who originally recommended the book to Suhrkamp, now agonises about and seeks to contextualise his recommendation. Honderich in turn, angrily rejects the charge of anti-semitism and calls for Brumlik to be dismissed from his post by the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main.

For what its worth, Brumlik’s charge of anti-semitism is, in my view, technically unwarranted. I doubt that Honderich bears any animosity towards Jews as such. But Brumlik is correct to state that Honderich “seeks to justify the murder of Jewish civilians in Israel.” In Honderich’s recent essay “Terrorism for Humanity” he gives a list of propositions including “Suicide bombings by the Palestinians are right.” He says of his list: ” These are some particular moral propositions that many people, probably a majority of humans who are half-informed or better, now at least find it difficult to deny.”

There’s probably some possible world where I’m moved by freedom of speech considerations to the thought that Suhrkamp shouldn’t have withdrawn Honderich’s book (though it hardly amounts to censorship, since they’ve relinquished the rights and he can presumably disseminate it himself). But I can’t summon up any indignation on behalf of someone with his odious views who also calls for his critics to be sacked from their academic posts.

(Honderich’s site has links to the text of Brumlik’s letter, Habermas’s thoughts, Honderich’s replies and “Terrorism for Humanity”.)

Greatest figures of the 20th century

by Chris Bertram on August 21, 2003

Matthew Yglesias has some reaction to Right-Wing News’s lists of greatest figures of the twentieth century as voted for by right- and left-wing bloggers. My considered view that such lists are inherently silly hasn’t sufficiently stifled my irritation at the omissions. There’s obviously an argument to be had (on Aristotelian lines) about whether a person can both be great and do really bad things, though the further back in time one goes the easier it seems to be to reconcile judgements of greatness with the fact of a historical figure having committed atrocities or other acts of cruelty (e.g. Alexander the Great, Cromwell).

But I was also appalled by the fact that the so-called left-wing bloggers were, for want of a better word, chicken. Their list contained no leading figures from the international communist and socialist movements at all, and yet quite a few of them warrant serious consideration. Jean Jaures, French socialist opponent of war, murdered on the eve of the first world war, for one. And how about Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, again, socialist opponents of the war, murdered by the neo-fascist Freikorps in 1919? I’d even make the case for Lenin and Trotsky. The leftists have voted, safely and reasonably enough, for Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King jr. Fair enough, but I’d have thought Ho Chi Minh and Ben Bella were in with a shout. Yglesias bemoans the absence of theorists other than Orwell (who wasn’t). I concur: why were there no votes for Bertrand Russell (also a campaigner against WW1), Max Weber and Emile Durkeim (20th century figures both) or John Rawls? No doubt the prevalent francophobia meant that the right-wing crowd denied Charles de Gaulle his place. (And don’t get me started on the artists, writers and composers.)

UPDATE: (Thanks CY) There’s a long thread on this at Electrolite.

UPDATE UPDATE: Norman Geras posts the list he voted for and some reflections.

Incarceration and the Labor Market

by Kieran Healy on August 21, 2003

Devah Pager has won this year’s Dissertation Award from the American Sociological Association. (I wrote about her work last year. It’s worth mentioning again.) Devah studies the effect of incarceration on labor market outcomes. Her approach was to conduct an audit study of employers, sending in applications for real jobs using vitas for matched pairs of black and white men. The abstract of a working paper from the study says, in part:

bq. With over 2 million individuals currently incarcerated, and over half a million prisoners released each year, the large and growing numbers of men being processed through the [U.S.] criminal justice system raises important questions about the consequences of this massive institutional intervention. This paper focuses on the consequences of incarceration for the employment outcomes of black and white job seekers. … By using matched pairs of individuals to apply for real entry- level jobs, it becomes possible to directly measure the extent to which a criminal record in the absence of other disqualifying characteristics serves as a barrier to employment among equally qualified applicants. I find that a criminal record is associated with a 50 percent reduction in employment opportunities for whites and a 64 percent reduction for blacks.

Pager found that blacks “are less than half as likely to receive consideration by employers relative to their white counterparts, and black non-offenders fall behind even whites with prior felony convictions.” In other words, even though being black and having served time both negatively affect one’s employment opportunities, controlling for education and skills you are better off being a white male with a felony conviction than a black male with no criminal record.

To put Devah’s work in context, take a look at Bruce Western’s research in this area. “How Unregulated Is the U.S. Labor Market? The Penal System as a Labor Market Institution” is a good place to start. It’s a comparative macro-sociological account of what’s been happening to the U.S. penal system. A recent working paper co-authored with Becky Pettit, “Inequality in Lifetime Risks of Incarceration” estimates risk of imprisonment by race and education. Here’s the abstract:

bq. Although growth in the U.S. prison population over the last 25 years has been widely discussed, few studies examine changes in inequality in imprisonment. We study penal inequality by estimating lifetime risks of imprisonment for black and white men at di erent levels of education. Combining administrative, survey, and census data, we estimate that among men born 1965–69, 3 percent of whites and 20 percent of blacks will have served time in prison by their early thirties. The risks of incarceration are highly stratified by education. Among black men born 1965–69, 30 percent of those without college education and nearly 60 percent of high school dropouts went to prison by 1999. The novel pervasiveness of imprisonment indicates the emergence of incarceration as a new stage in the life course of young low-skill black men.

Sergio Vieira de Mello

by Brian on August 21, 2003

If one just read the blogosphere, one might get the impression that few conservatives thought the UN or its senior officials ever did anything useful, and that some rather unbalanced souls on the right approve of murdering UN representatives. In the interests of being fair and balanced, I thought I’d point out that some conservatives don’t agree.

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