A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Friday, May 02, 2003
IN PRAISE OF NAIVETE: Brett Marston on the virtue of taking a romantically integrative attitude in academia. Plus, lots of links to smart people carrying out the debate in the blogosphere.

I think I pretty much agree. Although I also think that a sense of institutional incentives is important. Both for encouraging this integrative attitude of which Brett and I approve (admittedly, most self-respecting romantics would probably puke upon hearing the word "institutional"), as well as for promoting practices within the social sciences and humanities that will constitute a pragmatic and concrete advance in knowledge. No I don't disagree with the sentiment that most academic pursuits have intrinsic value, but some have much more than others. Call me a overly faithful son of the Enlightenment, but I think concrete progress is possible in the soft sciences; and that maybe something analogous to progress (cumulative transcendance?) is possible in the humanities too. The trick is to give more people reasons to do research that's structured in a way that promotes cumulative, directional synthesis.

JUST WONDERING: I'm blogging right after delivering my first conference paper ever. Not nearly as bad as I thought, although maybe someone who's an old hand at this conference deal could tell me--exactly how bad of a faux pas is it if you have to excuse yourself in the middle of the panel while another panelist is taking a question to go to the restroom? Sigh. Sometimes I can be such a tool. I swear I meant to go beforehand...
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
TAKING OVER IRAQ, THE GOOD: I will certainly grant the following to the pro-invasionists: this announcement that the U.S. is going to pull its troops out of Saudi Arabia is pretty good news.

Even if, I suppose, it's to set up the neo-cons eventual plans to "do" that country as well. We can always hope that this will make it much easier for the next president to keep U.S. troops completely out of provocative Middle East countries.

On the other hand...

TAKING OVER IRAQ, THE VERY BAD: This is very, very bad.

By "this," I mean U.S. troops firing on a crowd of Iraqi protesters and killing 13 of them.

The American troops claim they responded to automatic weapons fire from the crowd, and I'm sure there will be apologists who will be ready to give them every benefit of the doubt.

But here's the thing: none of the U.S. soliders were injured.

Yet to "control" the crowd, armed or not, the Americans--clad in kevlar and with the advantages of night-vision goggles and an elevated and protected position (a school secured for use as a post)--had to kill THIRTEEN people. At the very, very minimum, giving the U.S. soldiers every benefit of the doubt, that's extreme incompetence. I'm talking something close to navigating-the-Titanic or blowing-up-Columbia level incompetence. The following justification by the commander of the involved battalion doesn't exactly fill me with confidence:
"How do you tell the difference between a rock and a grenade? How do we know which it is?"
Quick answer: a rock doesn't have a pin and it doesn't explode. What exactly were they teaching you at West Point, Colonel?

Longer answer: So does this mean that the U.S. forces' rules of engagement allow troops to shoot anyone who looks like they're about to throw a grenade-sized object? I guess we should tell those Iraqi mothers not to let their sons pick up any rocks. Some liberation.

Bush was right after all: the U.S. armed forces clearly aren't meant to be used for nation-building. Because they seem to suck at it. This occupation of Iraq will go very hard indeed if this doesn't turn around, stat.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
SEE, WE WUZ, RIGHT! The WHO announced that it will lift its SARS travel advisory on Toronto, effective Wednesday.


I'm going to hold off saying "I told you so" until the whole SARS thing blows over completely, but I feel pretty good that the Canadian health people were vindicated on this one. One wonders, though, if some pretty substantial economic and reputational damage hasn't already been done by the WHO's hasty decision.
NOTHING EARNS YOU LEFTY STREET CRED like being chastised by your Big Media bosses for criticizing their abdication of their responsibilities or getting called a slut by the egregious Michael Savage (technically, he reaffirmed his comment), which is what happened to Ashleigh Banfield. At least, that seems to be true if the comments at Eschaton (which is providing pretty good coverage of this) are any indication.

Could NBC's integrity as a news broadcaster sink any lower? I really hope Banfield stands tall on this one--and that those of you who share my and Atrios' general sympathies should consider doing something to criticize MSNBC and/or to support her. The last bloody thing both America and the world need right now is an even more complicit media.

NBC Nightly news:

The very first link in this post also has more good quotes from Banfield's lecture, which seemed to be even more pointed than first reported; you can hear the actual lecture here, which I'm going to do myself when I have some more time.

UPDATE: Atrios points out that The Boston Phoenix's Dan Kennedy has a perfect pitch post on the topic.
Monday, April 28, 2003
STUFF THAT MAKES ME DEPRESSED: Demosthenes has a good summary of a ludicrous exchange between Paul Krugman and general do-gooder Dwight Meredith on the one hand, and Donald Luskin of the NRO (where else?) and probably hordes of anti-Krugman Uruk-Hai.

The short version: Luskin says Krugman lied about the job creation effects of Bush's tax cut. Meredith points out Luskin messed up his math, and Krugman offers the economic assumptions that he omitted that make his argument quite plausible. Luskin responds by calling Krugman names and accusing him of speaking in "econobabble."

It's so obvious who should have the better of this that my head hurts--mainly because I know it doesn't matter. If Luskin can spout the nonsense he has without committing hiri-kiri, then it doesn't seem likely that any of the lesser anti-Krugmanites will judge the case on its merits either.

Sometimes I wish there was a divine judge of rational argumentation, all-knowing like Ronald Dworkin's Hercules, who'd have the power to righteously smite those knaves who pass off blatently awful reasoning in the public sphere.

Sure, the left would lose Mike Moore and some of the ANSWER people would become pillars of salt, but I think 95% of the right would light up like candle tailings a la the last scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

UPDATE: Max Sawicky says that Luskin does score one hit in his critique of Krugman:
PK and Dwight Meredith are correct to point out that Luskin has ginned up a claim of out-year employment gains from the CEA report out of thin air. But that doesn't mean it is impossible to conceive of such effects. Otherwise DL just babbles like a fool. But if you had a million monkeys at a million word processors...eventually they would type out an issue of the National Review.

Of course, it's hard to squeeze this into a NY Times column. Bottom line, however, is that PK is too pessimistic and too arrogant. The latter is an occupational hazard of arguing with idiots.

TB STRIKES AGAIN: No not the disease--I'm a bit, ahem, sick of all of this pestilential talk--but Tom Burka, a veritable blogotopic weapon of mass destruction (in the good, "America owns them" way, not in the bad "world's worst weapons [if Iraq owns them]" way). All last week I meant to link to his big scoop:

Angry Rumsfeld Crushes Reporter's Left Testicle

Ouch. Now go read the rest of it...
MORE CANADIAN DISEASE HAPPINESS: Yikes--conflicting reports over a crewmember of an Egyptian ship that arrived in Canada from Brazil who died of anthrax.

Reuters reports that Brazillian police claim the man caught it from a WMD-filled suitcase o' doom, but the CBC says that Health Canada scoured the quaraintined ship (they were tipped off by Interpol) and found it to be clean.
SURE THEY CAN, WITH THE HELP OF A FEW MORAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHERS: An interesting article titled "Can the Rich be Good?" introduces America's "New Philantropists": wealthy people, in many cases multimillionaires, who aren't just donating money, but also actively trying to stymie their well-healed brethren by lobbying to increase taxes on the rich for redistributive and social purposes.

Too good to be true? Well, The Wall Stret Journal's op-ed page seems annoyed at them, so that's a sign they're doing something right. Also check out Responsible Wealth's website and Bill Gates Sr.'s column in The Nation in defense of the estate tax. Yes, that Bill Gates. OK, his dad.

It's exactly this sort of thing that keeps me optimistic about America and Western Civilization.
THE PLAGUE IN PICTURES: Mel Lastman's insane rant notwithstanding, I think a lot of smart Canadians, some of whom may actually know something about health issues, are pretty steamed by the WHO's travel advisory on Toronto. Check out this useful chart that clearly shows that the number of active SARS case in Canada in declining and the rate of spread is slowing (what, did you think I was going to show you some icky disease photo?). And don't forget that it's only been spread in hospital environments for the past 3 weeks.

The nationalist in me must be coming out, because I can't completely squish the thought that someone's playing politics...

(via The Agonist)
SO YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION: One of my personal media favourites (she impressed both with her pluckiness on Sept. 11, as well as with her willingness to interview Palestinians and Afghan leaders whom you didn't see elsewhere on Big Cable), Ashleigh Banfield, spent a lecture taking some solid swings at the her own profession's conduct during the war:
"It was a grand and glorious picture that had a lot of people watching," Banfield said, "and a lot of advertisers excited about cable TV news. But it wasn't journalism, because I'm not sure Americans are hesitant to do this again -- to fight another war, because it looked to them like a courageous and terrific endeavor."
I got this from Atrios' site. The majority of the denizens there weren't impressed with what they viewed as a hypocrtical turnabout. I didn't watch much cable coverage at all (I stopped around the time her show got cancelled, and when all the networks started using up red, white, and, blue bunting up) and I have little doubt that she participated in the rah-rah festivities, but at least she's trying to do something about it. We know, example, that most (real) journalists do have liberal personal sentiments--but the problem isn't editorial; it's with ownership. You can't get your message out if the people who own the networks and the stations refuse to broadcast it.

In any case, it seems to me that it makes a lot more sense to take this and to run with it, rather than to mock the messenger.