No comment

by John Q on February 6, 2004

In the middle of a generally reasonable Newsweek article about the failure to find WMDs, I came across the following para

But if Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, why didn’t he come clean? After all, he could have given U.N. inspectors free rein; he could have allowed them to interview all of his scientists in private—even outside the country—and let them rummage through his palaces. Faced with war, wasn’t that the sensible option?

But, but …(lapses into stunned silence)

Living with hunger

by Chris Bertram on February 6, 2004

I’ve just finished watching Sorious Samura’s documentary “Living with Hunger”: on the UK’s “Channel 4”: . It seems to be screening worldwide over the next few days including on “CBC in Canada”: and repeatedly on “Discovery/Times”: in the US. It is an extremely vivid portrait of how some of the world’s poorest people live, how hard they work, and their dignity in conditions tougher than most of us will ever face. Highly recommended.

Random Finds in Heterodox Economics, #2

by Daniel on February 6, 2004

Apologies in advance because this edition of RFHE is not really going to be all that good. It’s a grab bag of things I’ve picked up relevant to personal hobby horses of mine. Lots of people sent me some really good stuff in response to the last one, for which thank yoyu very much. Unfortunately, my chaotic email management habits came through a minor MyDoom infestation about as well as I thought they were going to. I should be able to find all the stuff I had pretty soon; otoh, if any of you were to resend it, that would be just lovely. So, apologies, promises of something better next time, and please regard this inconsistency in quality as charming rather than annoying.

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More on framing effects

by Daniel on February 6, 2004

Framing effects, again:

Question 1: Would you support the Canadian courts if they decided to “ban spanking in most circumstances?

Question 2: Would you support the Candian courts if they decided to tighten the current loophole in the law on common assault which allows some kinds of physical violence against children?

Question 2 is actually the better description of the facts; the question at issue is the definition of “reasonable chastisement” of a minor by its parents, which is a carve-out from the law on assault.

For additional credit, could someone explain to me why it is that my wife and my child are both insolent and disobedient to me, but I am only within my rights to impose reasonable physical chastisement on one of them (these days) , specifically the one who is less able to defend themselves and utterly unable to stop living in my house if they so choose? Don’t even get me started on the servants …

Who are the Left?

by John Q on February 6, 2004

A number of posts in various places lately have raised the question “Who are the Left?”. The ambiguity on this point goes all the way back to the origin of the term, when the Jacobins and their allies were seated to the left of the chair in the National Assembly while the conservatives sat on the right. From this beginning the term “Left” has been used to refer both to the more radical half of any political spectrum (arguably the natural interpretation, if the symmetry between left and right is to taken seriously) and to the conscious or unconscious heirs of Jacobinism, that is to revolutionary vanguard groups.

Update and concessionReading the comments, it’s evident that I have not been as clear as I should have been about the way in which the term “Left” is used in the US, and that, even with clarification, there are problems with my argument. Rather than focusing on the Democratic Party, I should have looked at the term “liberal” which roughly encompasses the left side of the political spectrum in the US. My claim would then be that there is a sharp divide between liberals and the vanguard/Jacobin Left in the US which does not exist in other countries. I’ve certainly seen plenty of examples of this [try Googling “liberals and the left” to find some], but the comments thread shows lots of people treating the two as being part of the same spectrum, which contradicts my claim. So, to clarify, my comments suggesting that the US Left was characterized by reflexive opposition to US foreign policy were not meant to apply to anyone who would regard themselves as “liberal”, with or without qualifications such as “left” Now read on

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by Kieran Healy on February 6, 2004

Randy Barnett links approvingly to a column in the Seattle Times arguing that John Kerry should shut up about his war record:

Voters honor the service and patriotism of military veterans. Indeed, so much so that they can be quickly turned off by use of such symbols cynically to evade scrutiny and accountability.

That’s why Kerry’s best move now might be to shut up about Vietnam. He’s about two applause lines away from convincing voters that he’s trying to cash in on a war that cost thousands of his fellow volunteers and draftees their lives.

Which is all well and good, but in my view also solidly in the tradition of “Impartial and Reasonable Advice to Democrats from Your Friends, the Republicans.” This week’s advice: Now that Kerry is the front runner, it’s time he stopped talking about his Vietnam record, for his own good. No, really! Not because someone else’s service record rather pales in comparison. I’m afraid it won’t wash. I don’t care if Kerry mentions his life in the military every other sentence, because we all know what “cashing in on a war” really looks like.


by Daniel on February 6, 2004

Fully aware that I haven’t written that review of “After the New Economy” that I said I would, here’s an article by CT favourite Doug Henwood and some of his mates on the subject of a worrying tendency toward mindlessness on the part of some activists on what we laughingly call “the left”. Just to provide some context, the article was written after the Afghanistan war and before the Iraq one, which is why some of the references look a bit weird.

For what it’s worth, I think I don’t agree with a single word of it; I don’t think that the lefties are as anti-analysis as the authors suggest and I don’t think that there would be many benefits to their getting into more theory since a) it would tend to create “party lines” and we all know how well they work b) it would just mean a switch from being dismissed for having no positive ideas to being dismissed as closet Stalinists and c) I don’t think that people relate to single-issue politics in that kind of way anyway. I also question whether the anti-sweatshop movement is really a good model, as my experience of it has included a lot of people with such a vehement obsession over particular branded sports goods companies that I ended up suspecting it was largely populated by foot fetishists. On the other hand, Doug spends more time in the company of the American Left than I do, and his professional responsiblities as a contributing editor to the Nation probably mean that he has fewer opportunities to steer clear of its loonier element than I do, so here we go. To link to the article as part of a general exercise in condemnation of “The Left” would b unsporting, by the way.

{UPDATE]: Rereading it, “not one single word” is a silly exaggeration on my part; there are some points that are very good. In particular, it is an entirely valid criticism of certain types of activists that they don’t think systemically; they honestly believe that Nike are running sweatshops just to be nasty, or as Doug says, that Greenspan creates recessions when employment is too low by accident. This is the type of thinking which gave us the single-company anti sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s, which today have resulted in a Southeast Asian clothing industry consisting of a few lovely air-conditioned palaces making clothes for Nike, in the context of a rest of industry that has hardly changed at all.