From the monthly archives:

September 2004

Whom will they blame this time?

by Chris Bertram on September 30, 2004

“Gene at Harry’s Place writes”: :

bq. I know I’m expecting too much, but I really hope the “we can’t be choosy” Western supporters of the Iraqi “resistance” will find a way to blame the murder of dozens of Iraqi children– at a ceremony in Baghdad to mark the opening of a new sewage plant– on those who actually perpetrated it, without in some way implicating the US government.

I’m no supporter of the Iraqi “resistance”, but I still guess it would be expecting too much to hope that the contributors to Harry’s Place desist from making this kind of heavy-handed point every time something nasty happens in Iraq. In any case, the presupposition of Gene’s point — which he may or may not endorse when it is brought to the surface — is that if one gives the bombers the blame they deserve one must thereby absolve the US government. Not so, and for two reasons. First, if a government’s policies bring a situation into being in which crazy fanatics take the opportunity to slaughter innocents, a situation that would not otherwise have obtained, then that government is sure as hell implicated. Compare: if the British government gave an amnesty to all Britain’s sex offenders, it would in no way be exculpatory of the rapists to hold the government to account for the increase in rapes. Second, if you invade a country, destroy or disband the existing state apparatus, and assume responsibility for the peace and security of its citizens, then it is hardly unreasonable to hold you responsible when that peace and security fails to obtain. None of which, of course, settles the question of whether there should have been a war or not. But it does settle the question “Is it possible to blame to fanatics appropriately and still implicate the occupiers.” The answer to that question is “yes”.

Republicans against torture

by Henry Farrell on September 30, 2004

Sebastian Holsclaw is a regular commenter here – while I’ve had some serious differences with him, he certainly deserves some kudos for this “post”: on Obsidian Wings explaining why his fellow Republicans should disavow the proposed legislation that would facilitate extraordinary renditions. I only hope that others on the right side of the blogosphere start to pick up this message.

Party-line vote

by Ted on September 30, 2004

The Bush administration is supporting a provision in the House leadership’s intelligence reform bill that would allow U.S. authorities to deport certain foreigners to countries where they are likely to be tortured or abused, an action prohibited by the international laws against torture the United States signed 20 years ago.

The provision, part of the massive bill introduced Friday by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would apply to non-U.S. citizens who are suspected of having links to terrorist organizations but have not been tried on or convicted of any charges. Democrats tried to strike the provision in a daylong House Judiciary Committee meeting, but it survived on a party-line vote.

The provision, human rights advocates said, contradicts pledges President Bush made after the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal erupted this spring that the United States would stand behind the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Hastert spokesman John Feehery said the Justice Department “really wants and supports” the provision.

Kudos to the Washington Post for picking up on this. If this is defensible, I’d really like to hear a defense. Until then, I’m going to contact my Representative again.

Revolution and Revelations

by John Q on September 30, 2004

John Holbo’s post on apocalyptic Christianity and its political implications raises a couple of questions I’ve been wondering about for a while.

The first one relates to my memories of the late 1960s, when most people of my acquaintance gave at least some credence to the belief that there would be a revolution of some kind, sometime soon. At about the same time, I encountered the Revelations-based eschatology of people like Hal Lindsey. Thirty years later, there’s been no revolution, and I don’t know of anyone who seriously expects one. As I recollect, belief in the possibility of a revolution had pretty much disappeared by 1980.

Revelations-based prophecies have similarly failed time after time, but they seem to be more popular than ever. What is about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation? I assume there’s heaps of research on this kind of thing, but I hope to get readers to point me to the good stuff.

The second point is that, as can be seen from Lindsey’s site, he and other apocalyptic Christians have strong political views, which could broadly be summarised as favouring a vigorous military response to Antichrist (variously identified with the Soviet Union, the UN and so on). How does this work? Do they think that another six armoured divisions could turn the tide at Armageddon? If so, wouldn’t this prevent the arrival of the Millennium and the Day of Judgement[1]?

And how does all this affect believers in rapture? Do they install automatic watering systems for their gardens and arrange for unsaved neighbours to feed the cat? Or do they just pay into their IRAs as if they expect the world to last forever?

fn1. There’s a genre of horror movies (The Omen, The Final Conflict and so on) that takes pretty much this premise.

Over at Marginal Revolution, they’re quoting Jagdish Bhagwati:

“Once, Mrs Joan Robinson, my radical teacher at Cambridge University, and Professor Gus Ranis of Yale University, a ‘neo-liberal’ economist, were observed agreeing with each other that Korea had been a great success.
The paradox was resolved when it turned out that Mrs Robinson was talking about North Korea and Professor Ranis about South Korea!

(emphasis added)

Although “Mrs Joan Robinson” was indeed so called in 1956 (when she was teaching Bhagwati), by 1965, she was going by the name of “Professor Joan Robinson”. Gustav Ranis was made a full professor in 1964, according to his CV. So either this conversation took place in the second half of 1964 (or early in 1965), or Bhagwati is making a mistake that is, frankly, all too common when people discuss female academics. Val Dusek points out that Margaret Mead was a frequent victim of this accidental rudeness too.

Update. A number of our commenters appear to be making variants of the same joke about Joan Robinson being stupid for calling North Korea a success. Ahem.

“Like all the postwar Communist states, the DPRK undertook massive state investment in heavy industry, state infrastructure and military strength, neglecting the production of consumer goods. By paying the collectivized peasants low state-controlled prices for their product, and using the surplus thus extracted to pay for industrial development, the state carried out a series of three-year plans, which brought industry’s share of the economy from 47% in 1946 to 70% in 1959, depite the intervening devastation of the Korean War. There were huge increases in electricity production, steel production and machine building. The large output of tractors and other agricultural machinery achieved a great increase in agricultural productivity.

As a result of these revolutionary changes, there is no doubt that the population was better fed and, at least in urban areas, better housed than they had been before the war, and also better than were most people in the South in this period. Even hostile observers agree that standards of living rose rapidly in the DPRK in the later 1950s and into the 1960s, certainly more rapidly than in the South, where there had been no land reform and little industrial development. There was, however, a chronic shortage of consumer goods, and the urban population lived under a system of extreme labor discipline and constant demands for greater productivity.

In other words, between the Korean War and the oil crisis of the 1970s, the North Korean economy was not doing at all badly and it was entirely arguable that it was outperforming South Korea. (Professor) Joan Robinson retired in the early 1970s. Btw, Bhagwati explicitly did not make this mistake; his whole point in the original anecdote was to point out that subsequent events had shown that South Korean state-organised export promoting capitalism was a better system than North Korean state socialism.

Update update It’s just struck me that since JR was the wife of Professor Sir Austin Robinson, there’s probably a case to be made that at the very least, Bhagwati ought to have called her “Lady Joan Robinson”.

Outsourcing Torture redux

by Ted on September 29, 2004

What Belle said: Please, please contact your Representatives about this bill. I’m including the email that I sent to my Rep under the fold. Feel free to use any or all of it.

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M-O-O-N. That spells moon. Laws, yes.

by John Holbo on September 29, 2004

Eugene Volokh is too reasonable. Maybe. Regarding Republican mailers alleging liberals are hot for an old timey Bible banning:

Whether the usage is actually misleading depends on how people are likely to perceive it. If the literal meaning is clearly extremely implausible (such as that the liberals would actually criminalize private possession and distribution of Bibles), then people are more likely to recognize the alternative meaning. And this is especially so if the usage is in a medium that’s known for hyperbole (such as political mailers), then I suspect that people will discount it in some measure. This is why, having read both the cover separately and the cover and the insides together, it seems to me that the flyer is likely to be understood as making a plausible allegation — that liberals are seeking to ban the Bible from public schools (at least in most contexts) and from government-run displays — rather than a wildly implausible one (that they’re seeking a total outlawing of the Bible).

A very popular fiction genre in the United States is (what’s a good name?) tribulit. Christian tribulation/persecution fantasy. Unkinder critical terms – raptureporn and such – have been applied. I don’t read the stuff; I’ll bet Volokh doesn’t either. The snippets I’ve seen are stand-out dreadful. But never mind the literary criticism. Jerry Jenkins (of LaHaye and Jenkins Left Behind fame) has a recent novel, Silenced, the plot of which involves – well, I’ll let you read the news today oh, boy: Silenced Times (PDF). [And you really might want to click the Silenced link. It goes to the book site, which is dramatic. Not safe for work if there is any sort of no-cymbals policy in your work place. Or just turn it down. Site needs a fast connection.]

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Around and about

by Chris Bertram on September 29, 2004

Various things have caught my eye around the blogosphere. First up, Chris Brooke ran with a suggestion of mine concerning “our latter-day Widmerpool”: (and _splendid_ work he has done too). Chris also “reacts to Melanie Phillips’s response”: to the Blair speech. Marc Mulholland comments on the latest “degenerate hackery”: from Christopher Hitchens. Brian Leiter “posts”: moral philosopher Jeff McMahan’s “essay on the the injustice of the Iraq war”: (rtf). Finally, Damian Counsell has “disturbing news”: on the racism in the campaign around a change to Switzerland’s nationality law.

Outsourcing Torture

by Belle Waring on September 29, 2004

Erstwhile (and deeply missed) blogger Katherine has returned to Obsidian Wings with a very important post. Under cover of the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004”, House Republicans are attempting to pass a law which would legalize “extraordinary rendition” — the practice of deporting foriegn-born suspects to a country which practices torture, in order to get information our government feels it cannot extract legally. From a press release sent to Katherine by the staff of Rep. Edward Markey (a Massachusets democrat who has sought to ban such extraordinary rendition):

The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist – thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish “by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured,” would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary’s regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will – even countries other than the person’s home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

This provision was not part of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, and the Commission actually called upon the U.S. to “offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors.”

It’s difficult for me to express what a terrible, immoral piece of legislation this is. This is a shameful and cowardly attempt to sneak language legalizing the outsourcing of torture into a bill claiming to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Katherine urges bloggers to link to this post, and US readers to contact their representatives and object to this harmful measure (Markey is sponsoring an amendment to remove this provision). If the blogosphere really has any ability to break stories, we should be spending our firepower here. I’m willing to bet this law won’t get passed if it is publicized before passage, but it might get through in some hasty, last-minute bill passing if it is overlooked. Don’t let it happen.

Education and Terror

by Kieran Healy on September 29, 2004

“Belle”: below and “Edward”: at “Obsidian Wings”: have already said most of what needs saying about Prof. Martin Kozloff’s “fear- and hate-filled letter”: I knew people like Prof. Kozloff in Ireland, where terrorist groups in the North spent twenty-five years or so “plumbing the depths”: of pointless, evil violence. But “frustration is not a strategy.”: It’s easy to give in to blind anger, but if you don’t follow it up with any tangible action it’s just political onanism, and if, God help you, you _do_ follow through then you just find yourself in the same boat as the people you despise.

Prof. Kozloff is “Watson Distinguished Professor of Education”: at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. What sort of values does he think schools should try to embody? What sort of values does he think make it possible for there even to _be_ such things as Distinguished Professors of Education in the first place? Yet he says “We will … muzzle or remove anti American professors,” and “We will burn your mosques,” and “We will transport arab-muslims to our deserts, where they can pray to scorpions under the blazing sun.” In the face of this, I’m not ashamed to say that my view is best expressed in, of all places, a comic novella by Alexander McCall Smith:

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The debate I’d like to see

by Eszter Hargittai on September 29, 2004

If you ever need to reach me, don’t bother trying at 10pm (CST, Mon-Thu) because I am likely watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I am obsessed with that show not only because the entire cast is incredibly funny, but also because Jon Stewart is so well informed and quick on his feet. He did a great job talking tonight (Tue) with Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition and chair of the Southeast region Bush-Cheney campaign. It was an interesting glimpse into what it would be like to have Jon Stewart take part in a presidential debate. I am not referring to the laughs we would get out of it, but the witty and sharp comments that would keep everybody on their toes. Even Al Gore, in his NYTimes op-ed today about debating George Bush, quotes Stewart. Bummer that Bush likely won’t go on TDS, it would be interesting to watch him interact with Jon Stewart. But as someone from the Bush campaign who recently visited the show commented: why would Bush bother showing up on TDS?

To spice things up a bit this Thursday, I will be watching the presidential debate with a group of students in Northwestern’s Communications Residential College where my colleague David Zarefsky, an expert in argumentation and Presidential rhetoric, will lead a discussion about the debates right after.

Genocide and Juice

by Belle Waring on September 29, 2004

Feel like getting really scared, but don’t have time to rent 28 Days Later? I invite you to read this open “Letter to Our Enemies”, posted on the blog “Horsefeathers.” (via an excellent post at Obsidian Wings.) The enemies in question appear to be Muslimofascistislamonazis (i.e., all adherents of Islam).

Ordinary Americans are arming themselves for war with you. I and many of my friends have closets full of handguns, rifles, shotguns and thousands of cartridges.

If we had enough ammunition and time, we would kill every last one of you.

We completely support our President and our armed forces. We only wish they would destroy you faster, but we are certain that they will.

This is the type of thing that really makes me reconsider my support for the second amendment.

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All Things Depressing

by Kieran Healy on September 28, 2004

Three stories I heard on “NPR”: on the way to Daycare which made me want to drop myself off there and play for the day while sending my baby daughter off to the office instead:

* “This kid”: whose doctor and parents are reluctant to take her off the “Zoloft”: they suggested she start taking, even though she’s been asking to stop for a year. Some of the doctors quoted in the report are a bit frightening. “Oh, we don’t know when to take them off the stuff — some of my patients have been on them since they were seven and now they’re in their 20s,” or words to that effect. Mom and Dad insist they are just waiting for a “less stressful time” in their daughter’s life to stop her course of anti-depressants. But guess what? She’s a junior in high school, is looking at colleges, next year’s senior year and then it’s the transition to University and … you see how it goes. That’s the kind of parent I want to be! “Honey, the problem isn’t your shitty high school, it’s serotonin re-uptake malfunctions in your brain.”

* John Kerry is starting to “refer to himself in the third person”:, like Bob Dole did in ’96. A sure sign of fatigue. Bush’s glib one-liners about Kerry are better than Kerry’s rebuttals. I’ve come to agree with “Matt”: that the debates are going to be a rough ride for Kerry.

* Perhaps saddest of all was hearing the father of “Sgt Ben Isenberg”: of Oregon talk about his son’s death in Iraq. Sgt Isenberg was killed when his Humvee ran over a home-made mine. His father quietly explains how the war in Iraq is a “spiritual war” and that people “need to just dig into their Bible and read about it — it’s predicted, it’s predestined.” He says his son understood he had to go to Iraq because “our current President is a very devout Christian … [who] had the knowledge, and understood what was going on, and it’s far deeper than we as a people will every really know, because we don’t get the information that the President gets.” What can one say in the face of such belief? The President is simply unworthy of the trust these people have placed in him.

Mmm, Astrolube and Commentary

by Belle Waring on September 28, 2004

You should read the crucial interview with Roy Edroso of alicublog which was somehow cut from the final version of the NYT bloggerama. Here’s how it begins:

I knocked several times on the green steel door of Edroso’s Williamsburg apartment before a loud, phlegmy voice bade me enter. I found the author of “alicublog” — a little-read website devoted to politics, the arts, and bitter denunciations of the buy-back policies of local bars and clubs — in his tiny bedroom, nestled between a closet and a bookshelf stuffed with volumes of 19th-century literature and old issues of Black Tail, and pounding furiously on an ash-smeared keyboard.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said, not taking his eyes off the screen. He jerked a thumb toward his bed. I pushed aside empty bottles of vodka and Astrolube, and a copy of Commentary, and took a seat.

Go read the rest.

Two’s company, …

by John Q on September 28, 2004

We have a pretty clear division of labour as regards paradoxes here at CT. Brian, Daniel and occasionally Chris set them up, while I, along with the commenters, try to knock them down. Following Chris’ discussion of the paradox of rational voting, I found myself wondering about the sorites paradox[1]. Once I got the thing into a form where I felt confident about the truth-value of the premises, I came to the conclusion that the argument fails, at least in my language, at n = 2.

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