Connecting the dots

by John Q on January 19, 2007

Jonathan Chait connects the dots between dishonest conservative (fn1) claims about income inequality (coming in this case from Alan Reynolds) to similar arguments made about evolution and global warming. As he says, to construct an alternate reality in which income inequality is not increasing, global warming is not happening and the world is near the end of its 6000 years anyway, there’s no need to prove a case – just cast enough doubt on the facts and ideology or faith will do the rest. This is happening across the board. The Republican War on Science is so broad-based that there is now no academic discipline whose conclusions can be considered acceptable to orthodox Republicans.

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Showy spending

by Henry Farrell on January 19, 2007

Becks at Unfogged and Scott Lemieux “both”: “wonder”: why the hell the _New York Times_ publishes articles like “this”:

FOR some people, the most elusive aspect of owning a vacation home that sits beyond big-city borders isn’t finding the time to enjoy it. It’s finding someone to service the deluxe appliances inside.

“We called Viking over the holidays every year,” Rosemary Devlin said of her half-decade-long (and mostly futile) efforts to schedule manufacturer service for her mutinous dishwasher. The appliance was installed along with a suite of Viking cousins when Ms. Devlin and her husband, Fay, whose main house is about 20 miles north of Manhattan in Irvington, N.Y., built their six-bedroom ski house on Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, Vt.

The _Financial Times_ (which has its biases, but is still in my opinion the best newspaper out there), has an entire bloody weekend supplement devoted to this kind of stuff, with the classy title “How To Spend It”: While a fair number of its readers are presumably City types who can afford the pieds-a-terres and fancy toys lovingly detailed in its pages, I would imagine that most of its readers aren’t. Someone who I was chatting to about this recently suggested that it’s an aspirational thing; while most of its readers can’t afford this stuff, they’d like to be able to, and are more likely to buy a newspaper that allows them at least to daydream about it. Or perhaps the marketing types think that readers would prefer to be addressed _as if_ they were in a position to “Spend It” even when they aren’t. Any other plausible explanations?

Simplify and exaggerate

by Henry Farrell on January 19, 2007

This “column”: by Gideon Rachman in the FT is pretty interesting; he argues that what’s wrong in right wing foreign policy discussion in the US is that there are too many journalists and former journalists.

An editor of The Economist in the 1950s once advised his journalists to “simplify, then exaggerate”. This formula is almost second nature for newspaper columnists and can make for excellent reading. But it is a lousy guide to the making of foreign policy. … the journalists are a vital part of a neo-con network that formulated and sold the ideas that took the US to war in Iraq and that is now pressing for confrontation with Iran. The links between journalists, think-tanks and decision-makers in the neo-con world are tight and there is plenty of movement from one area to the other … You get the same combination of overstatement and ancestor-worship in Mr Stelzer’s introduction to The Neocon Reader, when he writes of the “formidable intellectual firepower behind neo-conservative foreign policy”, which “has probably not been seen since George Kennan led a team that formulated America’s response to the threat of Soviet expansionism.” The comparison with Kennan is instructive but not in the way Mr Stelzer intends. The main difference is that Kennan had a profound knowledge of the part of the world he was writing about. … Neo-conservative columnists have tended to follow the trial lawyers’ approach to expertise. First, decide what you want to argue then find an expert who agrees with you. … The current debacle in Iraq is what you get when you turn op-ed columns into foreign policy.

To which I’d add that right-wing house-organs such as _Commentary_ have also shaped these commentators’ style, by creating a culture in which you get ahead by smearing your opponents (to illustrate this, it’s worthwhile to read through, say, a selection of Norman Podhoretz’s old columns, or Charles Krauthammer’s more recent attempts in _The National Interest_ to claim that Francis Fukuyama is an anti-Semite). This isn’t to say that things are much better among the centrist and Democratic divisions of the foreign policy commentariat; they also have their own exaggerated simplifications. Here, the tendency seems to be to argue over grand and abstract paradigms for foreign policy making, without any real attempt to account for the actual human costs that this or that paradigm will have, if implemented. This seems to me to be the more fundamental problem that lies behind recent complaints that commenters who got the Iraq war wrong have done quite well out of it; that there’s a fundamental disconnection between the DC-centric arena of foreign policy debates, and the world in which the results of these debates play out. This intellectual disconnect isn’t only a sin of journalists; it’s a sin that academics are often guilty of too (I suspect that the problem with Henry Kissinger’s behavior as Secretary of State wasn’t exactly that he was a Metternichean realist, but that he was an academic _trying_ to be a Metternichian realist). But it’s a pretty fundamental sin, and a pretty fundamental problem.