From the monthly archives:

May 2004

A non-sequitur about Amnesty

by Chris Bertram on May 28, 2004

My post the other day “about Amnesty International”: generated some comments, as I expected. It also led to “Jacob Levy”: over at the Volokh Conspiracy getting excited over the following statement by AI:

bq. AI is independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion. It does not support or oppose any government or political system, nor does it support or oppose the views of the victims whose rights it seeks to protect. It is concerned solely with the impartial protection of human rights.

Now I happen to think that’s a reasonable thing for an organization like Amnesty to say. Libertarian Cain and Socialist Abel may disagree on a lot of things. Cain believes that socialized medicine is the first step on the road to serfdom and Abel believes that the capitalist system inevitably leads to exploitation and oppression. No matter. They can work together to protest against torture, extrajudical killing and so on — which they agree are _bad_ things. An organization that insisted the everyone sign up to an analysis of underlying causes would be sectarian and ineffective. But because the smart thing for an organization like Amnesty to do is to stay out of the business of root causes, that doesn’t mean it is committed to the positive view that “Jacob now attributes”: to it in a further post. To whit:

bq. I emphasized the organization’s institutional stance that no system of government is preferable to any other, that human rights abuses just kind of happen rather than being matters of official policy in some cases and not in others. This requires a pose of believing in equivalence among liberal democracies, theocracies, military dictatorships, and so on.

No way is such “equivalence” entailed by the Amnesty statement of aims that Jacob quoted and it is lazy of him to suggest that it is.

(I should add that Jacob does have a point about the emphasis of some of Amnesty’s up-front press releases, but it is absurd to suggest as Frida Ghetis does in the “TNR piece”: that Jacob approvingly links to that Amnesty “has decided to stop doing its job” — since it demonstrably continues to produce the many detailed country-by-country resports that are its staple.)

One true love

by Ted on May 28, 2004

Last week, Daniel Drezner asked, “Who will the neo-neos go with — Bush or Chalabi? My money is on Chalabi.”

I hope that he made that bet:

Richard Perle, until recently a powerful adviser to U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, described U.S. policy in post-war Iraq as a failure.

“I would be the first to acknowledge we allowed the liberation (of Iraq) to subside into an occupation. And I think that was a grave error, and in some ways a continuing error,” said Perle, former chair of the influential Defence Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon…

“We didn’t have to find ourselves in the role of occupier. We could have made the transition that is going to be made at the end of June more or less immediately,” he told BBC radio, referring to the U.S. and British plan to transfer political authority in Iraq to an interim government on June 30.

Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t suddenly discovered the previously unsung wisdom of Richard Perle because he’s started criticizing the administration. He’s been wrong since the beginning.

What I’m marvelling at is the fact that Perle is willing to attack the Administration on the record, calling the Administration’s policy a “grave error” and the current situation an “occupation”, because they didn’t follow his plan to hand the country to Chalabi just after the statue of Saddam fell.

Amazing. Will a widely-denounced tell-all book be next?

(via The Poor Man.)

Home cinema

by Chris Bertram on May 28, 2004

This may well be an idea that has already occurred to most of you, but I hadn’t heard it before. Ingredients: a laptop with a DVD-drive, a data projector of the sort widely used for PowerPoint presentations, a large flat white wall. Yes with just these three items (and connecting cables) you can project your favourite movie in a rather more stylish manner than on a wide-screen TV.

Peace with Sadr

by John Q on May 28, 2004

Now that the inevitable peace deal between the American forces and Sadr’s Mahdi army appears to have been reached, amounting to restoration of the status quo ante , can anybody provide a coherent rationale for Bremer’s decision to drive Sadr into revolt in the first place, by closing his newspaper and arresting his supporters? The assault on Fallujah was bound to be a disaster, but it’s not surprising that the Americans felt impelled to take some drastic action in response to the killing and mutilation of US contractors there. But the attack on Sadr seemed gratuitiously stupid, even more so than the disbanding of the army and the banning of the Baath party.

Tacitus, still taking the view that “failure is not an option in Iraq”, is naturally furious about the deal . But any realistic analysis of the planned election must recognise that Sadr has enough support to make him a powerful force. He may not be a particularly attractive character, but he’s no worse than dozens of other world leaders with whom we deal for want of any better alternative. The notion that a military option with a June 30 deadline could take him and his movement out of the picture was never more than a delusion.

Whether you think, like Tacitus, that the attack on Sadr should been pushed through to its bloody conclusion, or like me that it should never have started, this is another appalling stuffup on Bremer’s part. Even at this late stage he ought to take responsibility and resign or, failing that, be sacked.

Rumsfeld Speaks

by Kieran Healy on May 28, 2004

The incomparable “Fafblog”: interviews Donald Rumsfeld:

FAFBLOG: Great to have you here Donald Rumsfeld! Lets get right to it an start by askin: what is with this torture thing, and how long have you known about it?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Good gosh, that’s a tricky one there. Was it torture? Were detainees indefinitely held for days with bags over their heads? Yes. Were testicles electrocuted? You bet. Were orifices molested, flesh ripped by dogs, and nostils raped? Almost certainly. But torture? Hard to say.
FB: Wow – that IS hard to say.
DR: It sure is.

There’s “plenty more”:

The one where I pretend that this is Fametracker

The liberal media loves to show us bad album covers. And, sure, there are some bad album covers out there. But what about all of the good album covers that are ignored? That’s what we’re here for.

If I had to point to the best album cover from the last few years, I’d point to Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner.

Here’s my case:

* It captures the sound and mood of the album. Dizzee Rascal’s persona is living in a dangerous inner-city housing estate, but he’s neither a thug nor a wish-fulfilling mack daddy. Instead, he’s a confused, paranoid bystander, rapping about keeping his head down while thinking about how the world got this way, over a backdrop of synthesized beats.

On the cover, he’s sitting in artificial-looking room, scowling and giving himself little devil horns with his fingers. It captures the mood of the album beautifully.

* It’s simple. The eye can take it in in a moment, and it works just fine on a little CD cover.

* It’s an original image, not a parody, homage, or genre cliche. (As far as I know.)

* It’s witty without being jokey.

* It’s like, the question is how much more yellow could it be? And the answer is none. None more yellow.

The comments are open- what do you think is the best album cover from the past few years, and why?

Improving Schools

by Harry on May 27, 2004

Excellent post from Laura about improving schools. She makes several school-improvement suggestions, in response to an article in the NYTimes arguing that all you need for good schools is good teachers and small classes. As Laura points out, the research on class size is completely inconclusive. I’d add two points. The first is that even if class size matters we have no reason to believe that there are no threshold effects; it may be pretty much as easy to teach 30 as 25, and much easier to teach 22, for all we know. Incremental across-the-board reductions in size are expensive, and may have miniscule benefits. Second, I have a feeling (based only on anecdotal evidence) that small classes, in making it more feasible for teachers to individualize instruction, may encourage them to engage in trendy, experimental, but ultimately less effective teaching methods.

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Not in our name

by Ted on May 27, 2004

Left-of-center bloggers, could I have a quick word with you, before this becomes a problem?


Barbara and Jenna Bush are going to join their father’s campaign. There’s going to be a fair number of stories about them. They’re out of college, and many are going to consider attacks on them to be fair game. We shouldn’t.

When Rush Limbaugh referred to Chelsea Clinton as the “White House dog”… when John Derbyshire wrote his famous “I hate Chelsea Clinton” column… when Mickey Kaus attacked Kerry’s daughter for the dress she wore… those arguments were heavily quoted and promoted, not by conservatives, but by liberals. They make right wingers* look like cruel, petty people who attack the loved ones of their political opponents. I don’t want us to be like that. These attacks barely work in terms of preaching to the choir, and alienate and insult everyone else.

So it will be with the Bush daughters. There will never be a post or story about Bush’s daughters that loses votes for George W. Bush. The Bush daughters are good-looking young women who are doing nothing wrong by supporting their father, whom they love. They could hardly be more sympathetic if they fell down a well. We should leave them alone.

* “But Kaus is a Democrat!” Yes, he’s a Democrat who wrote a mean, inaccurate hit piece on the Democratic nominee’s daughter. Duly noted.

Virtual ataraxia

by Chris Bertram on May 27, 2004

Congratulations to Chris Brooke, whose funny, informative, enlightening (and splendid) “Virtual Stoa”: is now three years old. In my experience the third birthday party is the one where hordes of children turn up, are abandoned by their parents for several hours, grind jelly and crisps into the carpet and play at sticking their heads through the cat-flap. So I’m imagining the Stoical attitude Chris is displaying to such mayhem at Magdalen Towers even now.

How Democracies Lose Small Wars

by John Q on May 27, 2004

Below the fold is a draft review of Gil Merom’s How Democracies Lose Small Wars. Comments and criticism much appreciated.

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Passion of the present

by Chris Bertram on May 26, 2004

Via “Lance Knobel”: I see that Jim Moore has started a blog to encourage more coverage of the unfolding tragedy in the Sudan, “The Passion of the Present”: .

Amnesty annual report

by Chris Bertram on May 26, 2004

“Amnesty International’s annual report for 2004”: is now out. A sobering reminder of how bad things are out there. It is also a reminder of how bad things are in world of chatterers, op-ed columnists and bloggers that we can expect (a) a great deal of moaning about how Amnesty has failed to treat country X (of which the writer approves) with due understanding, context, perspective etc; and (b) much noise about how the activites of country Y (of which the writer disapproves) are demonstrably condemned by the same report. Human rights are indivisible, and in my view, the burden of proof is on those whom Amnesty condemns to show their innocence.

The point of paradox

by John Q on May 26, 2004

Suppose you have encountered Zeno’s Achilles paradoxfor the first time. Zeno offers a rigorous (looking) proof that, having once given the tortoise a head start, Achilles can never overtake it. Would you regard this as[1]

# A startling new discovery in athletics;
# A demonstration of the transcendent capacity of the human spirit – although the laws of logic forbid it, Achilles does in fact catch and overtake the tortoise; or
# A warning about how not to take limits?

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On the bezzle

by Daniel on May 26, 2004

John Kay has a pretty decent column in the FT today. The actual message will eb pretty familiar to anyone who’s been folowing the Cassandra-like wailings of people like Wynne Godley and (on some occasions) me about the unusustainability of the US current account deficit, but he has some quality jokes in it. In particular, he recruits JK Galbraith’s concept of “the bezzle” to illustrate his thesis about overconsumption and asset price inflation:

John Kenneth Galbraith’s greatest contribution to economics is the concept of the bezzle – the increment to wealth that occurs during the magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not understand that he has lost it. The gross national bezzle has never been larger than in the past decade.

Your Commencement Speaker Roster

by Kieran Healy on May 26, 2004

Successful commencement speakers are notoriously difficult to find. If you’re not “boring people to death”: you are likely to be “ticking someone off”: With this in mind, the *Crooked Timber Talent Agency* is pleased to announce its list of *2004-2005 Commencement Speakers* to the Administrations of all interested degree-granting institutions of higher learning, high schools, kindergartens, day-care centers and also right-wing think-tanks posing as any of the above. A brief selection of our speakers follows.

*Saddam Hussein*. _Bio_: Former President of Iraq. _Speech topics_: The glorious history of Iraq; the importance of law and order; outdoor living and survival skills. _General theme_: The importance of following your dreams; bouncing back from unexpected adversity. _Special Appeal_: Like Ted Nugent, but with broader musical fan base.

*Paul O’Neill*, *Richard Clarke*, *Richard Foster* and *Larry Lindsey.* _Bio_: Former administration officials now collectively known as “The Mayberry Quartet.” Group bookings only. _Speech topics_: The meaning of loyalty; public service as its own reward; starting a new career later in life. _General theme_: The importance of following your dreams; bouncing back from unexpected adversity. _Special Appeal_: Barbershop quartet numbers at post-commencement reception.

*John Lott*. _Bio_: At various times very nearly on the faculty of several major universities, currently at the _American Enterprise Institute_. _Speech Topics_: Gun control in the United States and elsewhere; public policy; the dangers of the Internet. _General theme_: The importance of believing your dreams rather than the evidence, or presenting the former as the latter; bouncing back from unexpected adversity. _Special Appeal_: Much loved by graduands who faked all their physics problem sets in sophomore year.

*Ahmed Chalabi*. _Bio_: Future President of Iraq. _Speech Topics_: The glorious history of Iraq; the importance of law and order; indoor living and survival skills. _General theme_: The importance of being able to get other people to follow your dreams; causing unexpected adversity. _Special Appeal_: None.

*Judith Miller*. _Bio_: _New York Times_ reporter who as recently as a month ago was personally storing Saddam Hussein’s WMD stocks in her basement at home, according to one Iraqi scientist. _Speech Topics_: The overwhelming danger posed by Iraq; compromised sources I have known but not suspected. _General theme_: The importance of believing other people’s dreams; bouncing back from unexpected adversity. _Special Appeal_: Sincerity above all.

Many other speakers available for booking, most at short notice. Reasonable rates. Speeches guaranteed short. Email for details today.