Saturday, November 23, 2002

The New York Times defines democracy: "We win"
The New York Times, in an editorial today, reminds everyone why they are such pompous asses: democracy means that their side wins. They tell us that it is up to Sharon, Netanyahu, and Mitzna to save democracy in Israel. How is democracy at risk? According to the Times, the latest bombing in Jerusalem could lead to retaliation by the Israelis. Retaliation is what the terrorists want, because it would further radicalize the Palestinians and make peace more difficult. The Times accordingly says that retaliation is a bad idea. Fair enough. They might be right, although I am not persuaded. But what does this have to do with democracy? Because the Israeli public is outraged about the bombing, they may very well insist on retaliation, no matter what the Times thinks. This demand might induce Labor to favor retaliation, even though Mitzna, its new head, is a prominent dove, for fear of losing support. But, says the Times, if both Likud and Labor favored retaliation, then who would the doves vote for. Absent a choice of backing the dovish position, there would be no democracy in Israel, even if the absence of choice is the result of the Israeli public not wanting that choice. I am not, Anna Russell always said, making this up:
The terror strategy is obvious. It aims to drive frightened voters to the extreme wing of the Likud party and then wait for new Israeli reprisals in Gaza and the West Bank that will radicalize more Palestinians. Israelis, including Likud supporters, ought to be able to choose their next government free of such coercion.
. . .
Israelis already know that they want an end to terror. They have a right to hear their two main parties debate their broadly differing strategies for achieving this. Too often in recent elections, that debate has been drowned out by anger, grief and fear. Mr. Sharon, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Mitzna must show the wisdom and political courage necessary to keep Palestinian terrorists from hijacking Israeli democracy.
The Times is perfect beyond words. If Israeli voters will not back a position favored by the Times, then democracy in Israel is destroyed.
This would explain why the anointed ones at the Times say that democracy in America declines when the Republicans win: democracy is when the Times wins.
Racism at the Independent
The Independent has now endorsed Klan-style racism. Howard Jacobson writes Britain in the '50s:
We were undernourished, that was part of the problem. Food was scarce, and of what there was we were incapable of making an educated selection. Have an orange, someone told us. Have an orange, if you could find one, and a slice of that wax which went by the name of cheese. Many of us, hating the sensation of juice running down our wrists, just ate the wax. As a consequence we grew up rickety, with narrow shoulders and attenuated limbs. And pale. On a snowy morning in Manchester you could barely distinguish the population from the weather, so white and light and flaky were we. Small, ill-fed, ill-formed, ill-favoured, with lustreless faces and eyes that swallowed light, we blinked upon the world and assumed people everywhere were just as we were.
. . .
And now look at us! A Samoan princess with ballerina's feet and weightlifter's forearms beams upon me, flooding me with her radiance as she checks my food out at the supermarket till. A Nigerian Kashmiri with Samurai eyelids wraps my Christmas presents. There is more energy in a single one of his moon-white teeth than keeps my whole body alive. Sounds come from his finger-tips as he ties a bow in the ribbons. A hissing which can only be his red corpuscles breathing out with the sheer joy of victory.
The discovery that lower middle classes are better off in Britain now than 50 years ago gets turned into a statement about racial superiority. If this sort of talk came from a member of the British National Party, the Independent would be screaming for his arrest. So now it is official: the Independent, home of Robert Fisk, is also a racist rag.
Help, I can't find a grocery store
David Zinczenko, over at the New York Times, says that teenagers pig out at McDonald's because they cannot find a grocery store.
I grew up as a typical mid-1980's latchkey kid. My parents were split up, my dad off trying to rebuild his life, my mom working long hours to make the monthly bills. Lunch and dinner, for me, was a daily choice between McDonald's, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Pizza Hut. Then as now, these were the only available options for an American kid to get an affordable meal. By age 15, I had packed 212 pounds of torpid teenage tallow on my once lanky 5-foot-10 frame.
. . .
Shouldn't we know better than to eat two meals a day in fast-food restaurants? That's one argument. But where, exactly, are consumers — particularly teenagers — supposed to find alternatives? Drive down any thoroughfare in America, and I guarantee you'll see one of our country's more than 13,000 McDonald's restaurants. Now, drive back up the block and try to find someplace to buy a grapefruit.
So, parents dump their responsibilities, and the fault lies with McDonald's. Of course, it is entirely unreasonable to think that parents might try prepared meals from Safeway that are a lot cheaper and healthier than McDonald's. Does he really think that teenagers eat burgers because they are so cheap and there are no salad and sushi bars handy? Not in my high school.
A bit of catching on at the New York Times
Frank Rich begins to understand why the Democrats are in trouble. He has doubts, however, that all Democrats do.
In the aftermath of the election, I received hundreds of e-mails from readers suggesting what Democrats might stand for today after standing for nothing brought them their Nov. 5 debacle. "It need not be such a complicated question," wrote one correspondent, cutting to the chase for many others. "Stand up honestly and courageously for workers, consumers, voters, investors, people who breathe air and drink water and eat food. Do what's best for them. Big business can take care of itself."
This is equivalent to "the Council on Foreign Relations" runs the world stuff, an adolescent belief that there are no trade-offs because big business has grabbed it all. (I wonder if that email was sent by Paul Krugman.) No wonder Rich is frustrated. Relaxing air pollution requirements in industry A increases returns to its investors and lowers prices for its consumers. It also makes the air dirtier for people who breathe. By making the air dirtier, it may also raise costs for some industry B, lowering returns to its investors and raising prices for its consumers. Big surprise, all those people are voters, too. Rich seems to understand that if the Republican Party were simply the party of a cabal of rich businessmen who somehow control the world, there is simply no explanation of where all those Republican votes came from.

Friday, November 22, 2002

People who deserve to be beaten
Through CalPundit (a typically liberal cat fancier), I found a post from South Knox Bubba on who should, and who should not, have a dog. For the lucky ones who should, good advice is also offered on how to get one.

For the ones who should not have a dog, well, people who mistreat their pets are excellent candidates for the reintroduction of corporal punishment.

Defending Belarus in the Guardian
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have taken time out from denouncing the US to denounce repression in Belarus. But in the Guardian, John Laughland, a trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, assures us that there is no repression in Belarus. The west is really down on Lukashenka because (are you ready?) he is bravely saving his country from capitalism:
The real reason why the west hates Lukashenko has nothing to do with concern for democracy or human rights. It is instead that, as a genuinely popular politician who has preserved his country from the worst ravages which economic reform has inflicted on its neighbours, Lukashenko is not given to taking orders.
A good word for banality
Caroline Sullivan is a music critic for the Guardian. Today she inquires into the CD collection (I started to type "record collection", thereby establishing just how ancient I am) of the late Princess Diana. She doesn't merely complain that Diana's tastes were for banal pop, she does so with the kind of arrogant snobbery that makes me assume, when I see the twits in the university common room reading the Guardian, that they must be jackasses. A taste:
To the end of her life, Diana's tastes were not just middle-aged but horribly underachieving - and they seem to have come to a juddering halt around the time of Live Aid in 1985. She may have been doing her bit for the British music industry by favouring English artists, but apparently had no truck with black ones, or any genre other than MOR pop. (Leo Sayer, for God's sake!)
What will happen next?
The New York Times bids farewell to Strom Thurmond, and manages to be polite about it.
Arrested Adolescence
Why is it so hard for some people to get past adolescence? Andrew Sullivan links (eighth one down) approvingly to an awful piece by Crispin Sartwell on the repulsive Eminem. Sartwell and Sullivan approve of the rapper because, they say, he is authentic.
Eminem is the pre-eminent figure in American popular culture and, in some ways, the most admirable. Eminem is an activist for just one thing: the truth. He’s the poster boy for the new realism.
. . .
That’s what Eminem’s whole career has been: an absolute commitment to parade his demons and his flaws publicly, an absolute determination to say what no one else will say, to tell his own truth.
. . .
predict that we have seen almost the last of Britney Spears and Al Gore, and are in for some real moments.
Is Eminem really authentic? I doubt it. Compare a picture of Eminem in concert, looking trashy, with a picture of him in court, wearing a conservative dark suit, while trying to get out of a jail sentence. But who cares? This is the sort of thing adolescents get worked up over; they are at an age when the worst sin is hypocrisy. Adults are supposed to be able to get past this, because much of what we are is appalling. Civil society depends on people behaving themselves, not being who they really are. This is what makes Miss Manners so valuable: her continual reminders to sometimes be anything but yourself.
Maybe it is more than coincidence that both Sullivan and Sartwell are burdened with doctorates. Back in 1991, in a Lingua Franca article, Valerie Steel wrote about badly dressed professors, dressing badly so they could be nonmaterialistic and therefore intellectually authentic.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Mona Baker
Someone has posted an online petition defending the egregious Mona Baker. The first two signatures are a couple of philosophers at the University of Wales, Swansea, so I'm guessing that is where it started, but I don't know. The petition complains that Baker has already been condemned by UMIST. This is the final statement by UMIST:
UMIST is holding an inquiry into the issues arising from Professor Baker’s decision to remove two Israeli academics from the Boards of her independently owned journals.
UMIST has always had a clear position on this issue: we strongly believe that discrimination is unacceptable, that the Israeli academics should not have been removed and that this decision was wrong. If the academics had been working on UMIST journals, rather than independent and privately owned journals, they would never have been removed. However, they are not UMIST journals and do not carry the UMIST logo.
UMIST appreciates the controversy and great upset that this issue has caused to many people, including our own students and staff.
UMIST is holding an internal inquiry into this matter which will cover all relevant issues. The inquiry will be wide-ranging, dealing thoroughly and sensitively with all the issues that have arisen as a result of this case. The inquiry will be conducted according to UMIST’s procedures and will determine any further necessary action. This precludes UMIST making any further comment on this issue.
For all the petition's hysteria about her being fired, how exactly do you carry out a disciplinary procedure without calling it that?
In Britain, unapproved speech is worse than child abuse
The story has gotten around about Robin Page, the Telegraph writer arrested for allegedly inciting race hatred.
Mr Page said yesterday: "I urged people to go on the march and I urged that the rural minority be given the same legal protection as other minorities. All I said was that the rural minority should have the same rights as blacks, Muslims and gays.
Is this a story about Britain in decline? Well, yes, but there is an interesting contrasting story. On Monday, the Guardian reported that the FBI caught a child abuse ring on the net, of which roughly 7000 (not a typo) were in Britain. This was not pleasant:
Until it was broken up, the Landslide website offered its subscribers access to the most violent and obscene pictures of child abuse available. Some of its members entertained one another by raping and torturing babies and children live on the net. Others swapped soundtracks of children screaming as they were assaulted. By the time American investigators infiltrated the website three years ago, it had more than 80,000 paying subscribers, and was making £1m a month.
The British police have investigated very few of them because they say they lack the resources. They have the manpower to harrass and arrest a countryside campaigner, though. Hate speech legislation not only is a tool to crush dissent, it drains police resources from actual crime.
Chirac does a Jimmy Carter
Everyone remember Jimmy Carter, back in the 1980 debates, citing his daughter Amy's views on nuclear weapons? Now it is Chirac's turn. In his continued efforts to protect French oil interests, Chirac tried to push Blair away from invading Iraq. The Daily Telegraph reports:
The president specifically mentioned two-year-old Leo Blair. He asked the Prime Minister: "How would you be able to look Leo in the eye in 20 years' time if you are the leader who helped start a war?"
George Will takes politeness a bit far
George Will is often brutal, but still very polite. Today he takes that a bit far. He catches Al Gore in a lie, but describes it as "revisionism".
Useful idiots
In the Guardian, Seumas Milne gleefully asserts that the war on terror is being lost. By this point, you would think that the terror apologists at the Guardian would have come up with something new, but it is the same old stuff. On Afghanistan, we get
The death toll exacted for this "liberation" can only be estimated. But a consensus is growing that around 3,500 Afghan civilians were killed by US bombing (which included the large-scale use of depleted uranium weapons), with up to 10,000 combatants killed and many more deaths from cold and hunger as a result of the military action.
(This is a reduction from last year when he claimed "at least 3767" death, citing Marc Herold's "conservative" and "meticulous" estimates.)
There are the usual adolescent complaints that war is just, well, too impure for the moral preeners (not forgetting to always blame perfidious Jew):
But there is little sign of any weakening of the wilful western refusal to address seriously the causes of Islamist terrorism. Thus, during the past year, the US has armed and bolstered Pakistan and the central Asian dictatorships, supported Putin's ongoing devastation of Chechnya, continued to bomb and blockade Iraq at huge human cost, established new US bases across the Muslim world and, most recklessly of all, provided every necessary cover for Ariel Sharon's bloody rampages through the occupied Palestinian territories.
He brings an interesting twist to terrorist apologies: pre-emptive apologies:
But what is certain about such an act of aggression is that it will fuel Islamist terrorism throughout the world and make attacks on those countries which support it much more likely. If such outrages take place in Britain, there can no longer be any surprise or mystery about why we have been attacked, no point in asking why they hate us. Of course, it wouldn't be the innocents who were killed or injured who would be to blame. But by throwing Britain's weight behind a flagrantly unjust war, our political leaders would certainly be held responsible for endangering their own people.
An apology for the terrorists in advance. Saves him the trouble of thinking one up afterwards. The "of course" is particularly rich. Where does the Guardian dig up these creatures?

Orwell described this kind of jackass in Notes on Nationalism:

It is, I think, true to say that the intelligentsia have been more wrong about the progress of the war than the common people, and that they were more swayed by partisan feelings. The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance, that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind.
Once again, a pampered leftie, stomping his foot like a spoiled child, demanding that he be treated as an adult.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

No ideological agendas here, just us chickens
The National University of Ireland, Cork, which previously sponsored a lecture by Robert Fisk, now has, in the interests of balance, invited an Israeli, Uri Davis, to give a lecture titled "Israel and the Palestinians: Apartheid in the "only democracy" in the Middle East". Two weeks ago, Davis was denouncing the Israelis as Nazis and guilty of genocide.
The lecture is being sponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Department of Food Business. Clearly a lecture closely related to the food industry. No ideological agendas at taxpayer expense going on here. And since Davis is an Israeli, the university certainly is not being used as a one-sided attack on Israel. Whew.
In the interests of fairness, I should probably add that I doubt this is some sort of grand ideological agenda by the university, which I doubt has one. Kissinger spoke here not too long ago, and the university was actually very good about ensuring that the hate Kissinger crowd did not disrupt anything. They also suspended a student organization a couple of years ago for disrupting a lecture. My point is rather that an awful lot of academics seem driven by ideological agendas, which may be why a food business department sponsors this sort of thing.
Pay your own way, kid
CalPundit appears startled that the Economist has challenged the notion that society gets benefits from more people going to college. He asks:
Is the Economist really not convinced that sending kids to college helps society as a whole?
It would help if he would give some indication where the benefits to the rest of us come from when a kid goes off to college. The kid gets lot of things: higher income later, a chance to go to more parties and puke more, maybe even new friends. What do the rest of us get? Liberal arts majors who can say "deconstruct" with a straight face or even pronounce "Derrida"? What do we get that is not alreay covered by higher wages or other perks that go straight to the kid?
Same old stuff
Clarence Page offers advice to the Democrats on how to win:
Americans deserve to have a choice, not an echo. That was a slogan of conservative Republicans in the 1960s. They made a comeback. So can the Democrats--if they offer Americans something worthwhile to choose.
Very inspiring. So what does Page suggest? He praises Al Gore for advocating the Canadian mess be brought to America.
Basically, single-payer coverage would collect insurance premiums or tax dollars in a single agency, which would pay for comprehensive coverage for all citizens. Canadians have a form of it and it constantly rankles conservatives and the health-insurance industry. They talk a lot about Canadians who come here for health care. They talk very little about Americans who go to Canada for cheaper drugs.
Page is wrong. First, it rankles a lot of Canadians who get in long queues for health care. Second, conservatives have been complaining about the Canadian drug scam for years. Canada is a small market, the US is a large one. Since there are large R&D costs in drug development, price is well in excess of manufacturing costs. That means that isolated markets can extort lower prices from the drug companies as long as the large US market picks up the R&D cost. Canada is free riding on Americans in drugs just like it free rides on defense.
UPDATE: No surprise that The New Republic has come running to Gore's defense. They are still smarting because, even though they are the annointed ones, they do not get their own boy as president. Would imposing Canada's system make us worse off?
Canada only devotes about 9 percent of its GDP to health care, while the United States spends 14 percent (and rising fast). If the United States imposed a single-payer system that cost 14 percent of its GDP, it would no doubt be vastly superior to Canada's.
So that is it? After all these years, The New Republic still thinks that giving a government agency lots of money guarantees success. That explains why American public schools no longer produce illiterates. And it also explains why The New Republic, which values American defense, never criticizes the Pentagon.
Another feminist cruelly crushed by the Taliban at the BBC
Cherry Potter complains in the Guardian that one Andrew Davies is doing all the screenplays for BBC adaptations, including, most recently, Daniel Deronda and Dr. Zhivago. I have no idea if this is correct, but it is interesting that her complaint is that a man is doing the screenplays of women writers. Big surprise, she turns this into a big "I am a cruel victim" whine:
If the television company was even a tiny bit worried by the possibility of a feminist outcry there was no need. Nowadays sensible feminists don't cause outcries. If they did they might risk that worst of all punishments: not being published, being isolated, being ignored.
Isolation and silence is a subject 19th-century literary women knew something about. George Eliot herself, along with Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, found it necessary to adopt male non de plumes to get published at all.
Presumably, Potter is still running around in a corset, can't get a job (does writing for the Guardian pay that badly?), and is forced to write under a man's name (Cherry is a well known macho name, as in Cherry Schwarzenegger. Is this why so many feminists seem to like bin Laden: their sympathy with griping about something from centuries long ago?
Everyone likes Bond movies (more precisely, everyone I know likes Bond movies) and the Guardian comes through with a nifty quiz on the Bond movies (one question is really obscure). But the Guardian is still the Guardian,and it reprints its slightly snotty 1964 review of Goldfinger.
Getting together
Since I have been talking about marriage, I will note that Carrie Conaway, a sociologist at the Boston Fed, has an interesting summary of what social scientists know about the mechanics of how people meet up and get married. I have only one objection. She remarks on the growth in cohabitation (what we used to call shacking up), and suggests it is a useful way for couples to decide whether they are compatible before marriage. But it is a long-standing puzzle in social science why it is that couples who cohabit before marriage have higher divorce rates. My guess (and it is only that) is that because cohabiting can end easily, the couple fail to develop trust. In extreme form, imagine the celebrity facing the prospect of an ex-partner spilling the beans for the papers. A good form of protection is to reveal nothing, and that absence of trust makes relationships unstable.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

More whining from the appeasers
The left keeps saying the war in Iraq will be long and bloody (Okay, not all the left. Robert Fisk says it will be quick and bloody, mostly for the Iraqis.), so, oh dear, don't do anything but talk Saddam to death. So an administration official responds by saying, roughly, the Iraqis have no chance at all. So how does a leftie respond? Squeal "bloodthirst". In the Daily Telegraph, Adam Nicolson goes on for most of a column comparing modern western society to the Aztecs:
The Aztec virtues, the ideals towards which all young Aztec aristocrats were taught to strive, were, according to a brilliant essay in the Royal Academy catalogue by the Californian anthropologist Frances Berdan, "obedience, honesty, discretion, respect, moderation, modesty and energy". They were us, or perhaps even the best of us. But what about that blood?
Nicolson quotes Daniel Goure, an official in the first Bush administration (he does not give a source, and neither Google or Yahoo brings it up):
Goure's description of the war was "a run to Baghdad. Worst case, you serially defeat Iraqi forces. They're toast. They become the speed bumps on the road to Baghdad. If they disperse, the ground forces roll over them. If they group, air gets them. The combination of US air and ground power is truly unstoppable. This is it - the Roman legions, the German panzers. Truly unstoppable."
Then the whining begins, with a Fisk-like outrage at the notion that thoroughly defeating your enemy is some sort of war crime.
How are we to look on the description of the Iraqi dead as "speed bumps"? The way in which the Aztecs used to sacrifice captured foreign soldiers to their blood-hungry gods was by arming the captives with feathers and then exposing them to the Aztecs' own all-too-real weapons.
Feathers in hand, the victims would be cut into slices. Those were the ritual deaths that would allow another feather head-dress to be made, another vase of flowers to be arranged, another jadeite necklace to be hung around another metropolitan beauty, another luxury guaranteed with blood.
I am weary of this. First they demanded Bush go to the UN. He goes to the UN, and now they denounce the UN. Then they say, well, you can't go, because the war will be long and bloody, just like we said the last Gulf War would be. They get told, sorry kids, but it will be quick, and they scream bloodthirsty. The appeasement crowd loses credibility by the day.
More on marriage
I just returned from Shannon Airport, outside Limerick, roughly a six hour round trip with all the construction going on (and consequently little blogging today). I was there to pick up my wife, who has been helping out her parents for nearly three weeks. Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher pile on the arguments and numbers in detail in The Case for Marriage, but my view is simpler. After three weeks of being on my own, well guys, independence is way, way over-rated.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Good news for economics bloggers
David Warsh wrote "Economic Principals" for the Boston Globe for years. The column was a superb explanation of recent developments in economics and their possible relevance to public policy issues. It was also a good source of professional gossip. It has gone online in recent years as a weekly, but it was hard to link to, because the permanent links were there only on old issues. Warsh has now added a permanent link for each new issue, which will make linking much easier. Hurray. By the way, the current issue has a lot of good gossip over possible shake-ups in the Bush economic team, including a suggestion about who may replace Greenspan.
Marriage and children
This seems to be a day for the papers to talk about marriage and families, a subject dear to my own (professional) heart, but the talk is the sort that worries me. When I wrote the other day about Germaine Greer's screed, part of the reason I found it grotesque was her notion that raising children was primarily about sex. She seemed oblivious to the simple fact that raising a child involves at least a couple of decades of work after the sex is over. In the Washington Post, William Raspberry praises the Motherhood Project as a rebellion against the downgrading of motherhood as an important task. Because it is affiliated with the Institute for American Values, I was optimistic. But going to their site, I started getting worried when I discovered that Marian Wright Edelman is on the board. I should have been: their focus is on advertising. Sane parents worry about the effects of television and much of modern culture on their children. But their statement, titled Watch Out for Children: A Mothers’ Statement to Advertisers is vague about parents but mighty clear on everyone else. It has a promising beginning:
We make the following commitments to the children we nurture and to each other:
1.) To look inward and work to change ourselves. We will strive to lead less media-driven, work-driven, and consumption-driven lives.
2.) To reassert ourselves and our values in the lives of our children. We will teach our children self-discipline, empathy, moderation, and other values that will help them resist the messages of marketing.
These are good things, but there is no inkling of how they are to be achieved, or what sacrifices have to be made to achieve them. The hint for me that it would go downhill from there is the "nurture", a PC term of art, like "offended". Raspberry remarks, "the sacrifices necessary to raise the sort of children we want are likely to be unequal and tolerable only if marriage is accepted as permanent." In short, taking marriage as seriously as they say they take children. The statement says nothing about those sacrifices. The statement complains about advertisers:
You are targeting ever-younger children and teens, who have huge and growing amounts of disposable income. You are increasingly undermining the parent-child relationship by targeting parents through their children, since parental purchases are strongly influenced by children's desires and by their nagging.
No inkling in the statement about where that money is coming from. Then it gets weirder. It cites Robert Kuttner's claim about the power of five multimedia giants, and then says:
Against this backdrop, the nation also faces a crisis of values as adults of all backgrounds seem to have joined in the spirit of the day, focusing primarily on their own self-interest and the gratification of their individual wants and desires. We are, all of us, caught up in a powerful market-driven value system.
What sort of alternative do they propose? More government regulations.
We join in the spirit of Commercial Alert's 1999 letter urging Congress to restore the Federal Trade Commission's authority "to enact solutions" to the excessive commercialization of our children's lives "before it gets worse."
How do they know this will be an improvement over "a power market-driven value system"? They don't say. They say (1) we should nurture our children, (2) big advertising giants manipulate our children, and (3) the government can help make the problem go away. Unfortunately, they give absolutely no reason why I should believe them, or why I should accept extra regulation because they give no evidence that government regulation (here, the FTC) will make any improvement.
Meanwhile, in the Independent, Terence Blacker talks about marriages have referees, a proposal he seems to like. The problem with the Independent is that I never know when they are kidding and when they have simply gone loopy. Decide for yourself:
The current rage for adultery will inevitably cause disciplinary problems and attitudes to it will vary among marital referees. A few hard-liners will take a brisk "one-shag-and-you're-off" approach but, as any football fan will know, a game can be destroyed by too much discipline. A more sensitive line would be to recognise the pressures of the modern game and use the yellow rather than the red card.
Manners at Thanksgiving
With the approach of Thanksgiving, Miss Manners talks about modern manners at the Thanksgiving table.
Abba Eban, RIP
Abba Eban has died at age 87. The Jerusalem Post offers an obituary and a tribute from Shlomo Avineri. Ha'aretz has a similar obituary, and it has links to some of his important speeches. It also offers a tribute from Hanan Bar-On.
Just war
In today's Telegraph, the theologian George Weigel explains "in desperately brief form" just what the just war tradition means. The gist of it:
The just war tradition is not primarily a set of hurdles that religious leaders, philosophers and theologians set for statesmen to jump over. Rather, it is about ends as well as means - it is a time-tested way of moral reasoning about how prudent statesmanship advances the peace of order that is composed of justice and freedom.

So the proper role of religious leaders and public intellectuals is to help clarify the moral issues, while recognising that the final burden of moral responsibility lies elsewhere - with duly constituted public authorities, who are more fully informed about the relevant facts and who must bear the weight of responsible decision making.
The Telegraph also sensibly carries a link to Weigel's longer piece "Moral Clarity in a Time of War", for those who want more elaboration or for those who are obsessive about newspaper registration.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

More on men hating
Critical Mass has taken on Germaine Greer, and now has a long post on the shrillness and wild hatefulness of radical feminism.
Back in 1999, Greer was interviewed by CNN, in which she comments on her brief marriage:
In 1969 or so, I was briefly married, which turned out to be the worst jam I was ever in. Until that time, I had been rather unsympathetic to the suffering of women, and in 1969, therefore, after running away from my husband, I began to write a book about the need for feminism called "The Female Eunuch."
. . .
Like Princess Diana, I married a man who didn't like me. He liked shagging me, but he didn't like me.
Talk about turning the personal into the political. Actually, the whole exchange is quite bizarre.
Free speech: not in Britain
At OxBlog, Josh Chafetz says: "For those who think that free speech is a revered right in the UK, I have two words for you: prior restraint." Spoken like a journalist. The correct answer, because it affects everyone, not just journalists, is "libel law". The law of libel in Britain says, essentially, that the defendant must prove his statement is true. If you can't persuade a judge of that, you pay damages plus the plaintiff's legal fees (and your own). That means even a trivial matter that costs £10,000 in damages can easily cost a half million in legal fees. That is a strong incentive to keep your mouth shut. If anyone thinks I am letting the Irish off the hook, the situation is just as bad here. Libel law exists primarily to protect politically well connected thugs.
Hashem Aghajari
InstaPundit asks where Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were on the death penalty passed on Iranian academic Hashem Aghajari. Amnesty's website has exactly nothing on him (I used the search command), although the main Amnesty page does link to a comment on Iraq that is mostly an attack on the US. Big surprise there. Human Rights Watch did issue a press release condemning the Iranian government. Their main page has no link to it, however, although it does have links to statements condemning the US government for not doing enough to stop an anti-Muslim backlash ("US Officials Should Have Been Better Prepared for Hate Crime Wave") and denouncing the US military for violations of the laws of war ("Human Rights Watch Reports on US Military Actions"). Why does none of this surprise me?
UPDATE: A reader points out that Aghajari's case is mentioned on the Amnesty International Norway site (partly Norwegian, partly English) and on the Amnesty International Austria site (in German). Fair dues to them, but the main Amnesty page still seems to be silent. I tried the search command, I looked under recent press releases, and I looked under Iran. Nothing. Maybe it is in there, but it is well hidden. However, it is easy to find Amnesty's condemnation of the execution of Mir Aimal Kasi, the guy who murdered two CIA employees, right there on the main page.
Murder and remorse
Myra Hindley has died. She, with Ian Brady, murdered five children in 1963. In one case, they taped the murder. The Sunday Telegraph reports on her life and death, and her murders. Possibly the wisest man in Britain, Theodore Dalrymple, takes on her apologists in the press and the church who wanted her released because she showed so much remorse. Dalrymple runs through the reasons why her remorse was probably fake, and describes Peter Timms, the Methodist minister who kept trying to get her released, as her "useful idiot". But then he adds:
Her remorse was in any case irrelevant to the case, even if genuine. Suppose someone had committed such offences as hers and was adjudged to be truly and genuinely remorseful a week later: would that be an argument for cessation of punishment? Such a person would not any longer be a danger to the public: why not release her, then?
The reason is that punishment is not medical treatment, that necessarily stops once the patient has recovered. It serves many other functions. And the fact is that there are some crimes that are so heinous that no earthly forgiveness or atonement for them is possible. Myra Hindley's crimes were undoubtedly in this category.
. . .
Punishment of serious crime is not double entry book-keeping, with sadistic murder on one side to be balanced by remorse on the other. Could one be remorseful in advance and therefore subsequently be allowed to commit a crime to balance out the remorse? Some deeds are simply beyond the pale: and if the abduction and murder of children is not beyond the pale, then nothing is, and we ourselves are doomed.
Like I said, the wisest man in Britain. The Telegraph requires registration, and registration is not popular in the blogging world. I have been registered with the Telegraph for a long time, and it does not send piles of spam in my direction. For Theodore Dalrymple alone, it is worth the small effort.
More good news about British universities
Remember Mona Baker, the creepy professor at UMIST who fired two Israeli academics from a journal she edits for the crime of being Jewish (oops, I mean of course Israeli; yeah, right). British academics responded mostly by either saying nothing or by giving Baker resounding cheers. Once it made the papers, however, much of the British public and government were outraged, and UMIST had to actually do something. Today the Sunday Telegraph reports:
"The Prime Minister is appalled by discrimination against academics on the grounds of their race or nationality. He believes that universities must send a clear signal that this will not be tolerated," said a Downing Street aide.
. . .
Mr Blair is said to have told the Chief Rabbi that he took the matter "very seriously indeed". A senior Labour Party figure said that the Prime Minister had also offered to "do anything necessary" to stop academic boycotts.
The Telegraph reports as well that Blair's intervention increases the likelihood that Baker will be fired.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I am pleased that the anti-Semitism so fashionable in British universities has gotten a kick in the teeth from Blair. On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to Richard Epstein's position in Forbidden Grounds: The Case Against Employment Discrimination Laws that people should be able to choose who they want to associate with, even at work. In net, though, I suppose I won't complain loudly if Baker is fired. First, she is an anti-Semitic creep. Okay, I grant this isn't much of an argument, and probably if applied consistently, would wipe out more than a few universities. This is more of a statement that even if, on principle, she should not be fired, I can't work up any personal sympathy for her. Second, she may be entitled to the right of free association, but the taxpayers who pay for her salary at UMIST don't get a right of free association. If a taxpayer refuses to shell out for salary, he gets punished. If she had simply denounced Israelis (the Tom Paulin case), or refused to hire Israelis to, say, do her taxes, I would be more comfortable condemining any threat to fire her. Third, I can't prove, but I believe, that if a Jewish academic had done what Baker did, only say to a couple of Egyptian academics, the British academic establishment would have been in full fury, whereas they ignored Baker's stunt.

So what have I done? Come down, however uneasily I may claim, on the side of a philosophical position that pisses thoroughly on someone I dislike intensely. I feel like John Rawls, who dedicated his career to an elaborate explanation of why justice required, by sheer coincidence, all his left-wing political goals.

A Bit More Agonizing: I wonder how this problem would play out in the context of the UT blackface incident. It seems to me the blackface incident involves a simple attack on free speech. Now suppose a professor said "I don't like black people, and I don't want them near me." Still free speech and free association, except that it raises the question: does a black student have a legitimate claim that he will be unfairly treated in the prof's classroom, and does a black assistant professor have a legitimate claim that the prof should be disallowed from voting on his tenure review? (I think yes). Now raise the stakes. The college president says "I don't like black people, and I don't want them near me." May he say it, and may he refuse to hire blacks to fix his car, do his taxes, or be his doctor? I think yes. May and should the university fire him because he isn't fit for his post? Here I think the answer is yes and yes, especially because it is government university. (Regarding Mona Baker, pretty much every university in Britain is a government university, including UMIST.)

The Independent tries to save the Labour Party
In the Independent, Steve Richards says the firemen's strike must not be allowed to prevail.
This is what will happen if the firefighters receive large pay rises without reform, or the universities receive big increases in resources while remaining staidly bureaucratic, or the hospitals soak up resources in pay increases without becoming more efficient: those who believe that higher spending cannot lead to better services will claim triumphant vindication.
Richards is an advocate of higher government spending, but he also knows that another winter of discontent like 1979, with the unions shutting down the country, will likely destroy the Labour Party for good.
Britain faces reality in higher education
And about time, too. In today's Guardian (strictly speaking, the Sunday version of the Guardian is called the Observer, but it is pretty much the same operation), Vernon Bogdanor, a professor of government at Oxford University, argues that increased spending on British universities should not come from the taxpayer. No kidding, from an Oxford professor in the Guardian. Bogdanor says of the suggestion to have the taxpayer shell out more for the universities:
Moreover, to ask them to do so would be socially regressive, a transfer from those who do not benefit from university education to those who do, and will, for most of their lives, earn higher incomes in consequence.
Over a lifetime, the private gain from a degree has been valued at around £400,000. Today, around 75 per cent of university students come from middle-class backgrounds and more than half from professional and managerial backgrounds. Just 2 per cent come from families headed by unskilled workers. These percentages have barely changed since the 1960s.
It is hard to understand how a system in which, in the words of the Minister for Higher Education, Margaret Hodge, the dustman subsidises the doctor can be regarded as equitable. Fairness suggests that those fortunate enough to benefit from higher education should be asked to make some contribution in return.
Bogdanor's suggestion is a tax on graduates. A graduate tax is potentially appealling because it would have the advantage of getting around difficulties an 18 year old may have in raising funds to finance education, because education provides no collateral to the lender. Bogdanor discusses some of the objections to a graduate tax. My favorite:
The first, well expressed by Labour's primitive wing, led by Frank Dobson, is that it would be 'divisive' by encouraging some universities to be better than others. It is strange that similar objections are never made in relation to sportsmen, for no one protests that it would be 'divisive' to encourage Britain's best footballers.
Only in the public services does Old Labour expect us to accept an equal level of mediocrity for all.
Unfortunately, Bogdanor doesn't address the most serious problem: adverse selection may make it ineffective. Imagine that you are academically mediocre and averse to risk, so you plan on a low paying but safe job (one you can't be fired from) in the civil service. The graduate tax is appealling because you are taxed only on your monetary income, not on the benefits of job security or leisure time. The same is true of, say, an artist or academic, whose incomes are heavily non-monetary. What if you are a high-flyer in financial markets? Easy. Take the schooling, then get a job in New York and avoid the tax altogether.

Meanwhile, over at the Independent, Charles Clarke
, the new Secretary of State for education, although he won't face up to the adverse selection problem, is remarkably candid about the equity issue.
Fear of debt is a real issue, which is why repayment must be related to the ability to pay. The level of contribution is important and it should be collected in a way that is manageable, and which seeks to minimise any disincentive to study. Yet many young people do not think twice about taking out a loan or credit to buy a car or holiday
All the squawking the British have done for years about the horrors of a student finishing school in debt are finally being faced down by the government.
Clearly, the British government has a long way to go on higher education financing, but at least they are starting to face real problems.