December 2004

2004 12 20
Marmot and Egalitarianism


I suppose that it’s legitimate–especially during a slow-posting period–to point to the continued discussion of the ideas brought up in this post. Bill Gardner has made some final comments about social policy and the ways in which Marmot’s arguments support egalitarianism. In the comments section I question whether Marmot has offered anything new to egalitarian thought.

UPDATE: I’ve added to my comments on egalitarianism over at Bill’s site. I’d love to discuss these issues more, over there, or over here. This schtuff is my schtik, so I’d relish the opportunity to defend my positions.


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2004 12 20
Re: Abortion


The two points made here seem sensible to me.


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2004 12 20
Quizzes and Exams


I’m snowed under with end-of-term grading. While you’re waiting for my glorious return, why don’t you go take this quiz on market fundamentalism.

Update: Ooooh. Brad DeLong flunks the designer of the quiz.


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2004 12 17
Darfur


Posted by in: Political issues, Sudan

The BBC has some alarming news:

Sudan ‘plans huge Darfur attack’

The Sudanese government is preparing a huge offensive in war-torn Darfur, the head of the African observer team says.

Following a “build-up of forces in the past two weeks”, Darfur is a “time-bomb which could explode at any moment,” said General Festus Okonkwo.

Peace talks between the government and rebels have broken down after the rebels accused the army of breaking a ceasefire agreed in April.

About 70,000 people have died in the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.

More than 1.5 million have fled their homes, mostly black Africans being targeted by pro-government Arab militias.

Which would be very bad, I think.


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2004 12 16
Please, tell me it’s a joke.


It doesn’t appear to be. Guardian:

Universal Pictures announced yesterday that it is to make The Battle for Falluja. To prove it is serious, it has enlisted Indiana Jones himself, actor Harrison Ford, to help defeat the insurgency.

The film – Hollywood’s first foray into the second Iraq conflict – is due to go into production next year and will be based on a yet-to-be-finished book, No True Glory: The Battle for Falluja by Bing West, a former marine, politician and now war correspondent.

I wonder if they’ll show how the “U.S. military turned back fleeing males [who had tested negative for explosive residue on their hands] into a war zone; it used [skin-melting] chemical weapons (phosphorus) in the fighting; it preceded the invasion with weeks of fairly indiscriminate heavy bombing in civilian areas; and so on” (Quotation is Chris’s).

The Guardian article ends with this apt quotation from the writer:

“If America needs a hard job done, the marines will do it, and they won’t lose their humanity in the process or any sleep over pulling the trigger. Yes, they are ‘the world’s most lethal killing machine.’ That’s what America needs in battle.”

I guess that’ll make Robert E. Brown, who fought in Iraq, sleep a little better:

18 months after leaving Iraq, he takes medication for depression and anxiety and returns in dreams to the horrors of his war nearly every night.

The scenes repeat in ghastly alternation, he says: the Iraqi girl, 3 or 4 years old, her skull torn open by a stray round; the Kuwaiti man imprisoned for 13 years by Saddam Hussein, cowering in madness and covered in waste; the young American soldier, desperate to escape the fighting, who sat in the latrine and fired his M-16 through his arm; the Iraqi missile speeding in as troops scramble in the dark for cover.

“That’s the one that just stops my heart,” said Mr. Brown. “I’m in my rack sleeping and there’s a school bus full of explosives coming down at me and there’s nowhere to go.”


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2004 12 16
They’re for…


Posted by in: U.S. politics

The Republicans are for ownership. They’re for personal responsibility, and personal accountability. They’re for self-reliance. And they are not for paternalism, not for using the power of the state to direct people’s lives. At least, that’s what they say:

“You can’t take it to the race track and hope to really increase the returns. It’s not there for the lottery,” Bush said.

“There will be reasonable guidelines that already exist in other thrift programs that will enable people to have choice about where they invest their own money, but they’re not going to be able to do it in a frivolous fashion,” Bush said.


Howls of outrage (2)

2004 12 16
Get real


Lemme see, idiot Republicans spend billions on a missile defense program that doesn’t work, Bush is still happy with bumblin’ Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, one man joke-machine Bernie Kerik was Bush’s first choice for Homeland Security, and . . . it’s Democrats who have a problem with national defense issues.

Well, the Democrats aren’t perfect, that’s for sure. But anyone who thinks that they could possibly sink lower than this is just irrational.


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 12 16
With friends like these…


Posted by in: Abortion

Great post by Atrios here:

What do pro-life Democrats want?

Do they want to outlaw abortion? If so, I’m not going to tell them that view is okay.

Do they want to add additional legal restrictions to abortion in response to the latest Republican icky-abortion-scare? If so, I’m not going to tell them that view is okay.

Atrios cites a recent Amy Sullivan post over at washingtonmonthly.com. Sullivan lauds Kerry for recently telling the president of EMILY’S LIST that the Dems need “new ways to make people understand they didn’t like abortion.” She then links to an “excellent piece” by Sara Blustain, deputy editor at the American Prospect.

Blustain unrepentently admits to being pro-choice, but then spends paragraph after paragraph explaining how icky pro-choice rhetoric makes her feel. She’s tired of the bald liberal invocation of women’s “rights”, apparently because it makes women sound “so darn cheerful” about their ability to exercise those rights. Blustain even left the March for Womens’ Lives–after having gone “ambivalently, reluctantly, and under peer pressure–because the “rally left me cold.” I’m sorry, what?? The confluence of over one million Americans to march for the right of women to have control over their own bodies; to fight for women to be able to have birth control covered by insurance plans that happily cover viagra; to fight for the right to be referred to a doctor willing to counsel a women on reproductive health issues when the first doctor she goes to invokes a “refusal clause”; to demand that abortion remain safe, legal, and rare through the teaching of comprehensive sex education in our schools; all of these things left Blustain cold?

Democrats like Sullivan and Blustain identify a real issue: Democratic politicians often do not effectively touch workaday voters when they talk about abortion. I agree that they need to make considerations that weigh with liberals like us weigh with those who are, at the moment, wont to reject our views. But there is more than one way to do this, and spending political air time lamenting about the tragedy involved with an abortion is the wrong way to go. We need to bring home the tragedies involved when women are denied proper medical care, or when teenagers don’t know how to use condoms but they sure know how to use all that spare time after school, or when Roe is overturned and women have to go back to the way it was: coat hangers and back-alley abortions. All this was talked about at the March, by speaker after speaker. This is the rhetoric of women’s lives–the rhetoric of threatened lives–and American women can not afford to follow Blustain to the political center where she feels cozier. Even though I’m not a woman, there are several women who are, in Aristotle’s words, other myselves. So I don’t feel out of place when I say to Blustain: Hell no, we won’t go.


Howls of outrage (4)

2004 12 16
Amnesty International on Darfur


Posted by in: Political issues, Sudan

Here’s Amnesty International on Darfur:

Sudan: Time running out for two million affected in Darfur

Amnesty International is calling for the rapid implementation of the enhanced African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS). The mission’s speedy deployment throughout Darfur will enable it to act more effectively in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians and investigate violations of the ceasefire and humanitarian law. Strong political support for AMIS is necessary to ensure that its reports on such violations are addressed.

“The AMIS monitors and troops are already said to be taking a more proactive role in protecting civilians, patrolling in areas where there have been clashes in order to try to build confidence,” Erwin van der Borght, deputy director of the Africa Program said. “But their deployment has been slow; their recommendations are not acted on; and, even their reports on ceasefire violations are usually blocked by the parties to the conflict. As a result, their presence has neither yielded improved security for civilians, nor has AMIS so far been functioning as a deterrent to attacks.”

The displaced, who have already fled several times, continue to be attacked where they have sought refuge and continue to flee from one place to another. Those in camps find that the government and police who should be protecting them are the ones who are bulldozing their shelters and expelling them. Most of the few who do dare to go home return to the camps for the displaced, feeling vulnerable and unprotected from the militias who attack them.

“The passivity of the UN Security Council with regard to Darfur, during its November session in Nairobi which prioritised the North-South peace process, has been interpreted by parties to the conflict as a signal that they can continue with their attacks”, Erwin van der Borght said.

[. . . ]

As of December 2004, 1.65 million people from Darfur are displaced within the region, more than 200,000 have fled to Chad and tens of thousand are displaced in Kordofan, Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan. Others have temporarily settled in towns or villages or eke a precarious existence in the bush eating wild seeds and fruit.

[. . . ]

Amnesty International is also calling for an increase in the numbers of UN human rights monitors. They have been able to follow up on many cases of arrests and rape, but now number only nine in the vast region of Darfur. The organization is also calling for the police component, set up in October by the African Union Peace and Security Council, to be attached to Sudanese police forces in every locality in order to assist, monitor and act as a visible presence to give confidence to the displaced.

“The people, who have suffered so much, distrust the government. The introduction of a new police force has not changed their attitude. New and old police are still seen as opposed to the people. Displaced people have been forcibly relocated, beaten up, and arrested by police forces which are still failing to investigate cases of women being raped,” Erwin van der Borght said.

No progress has been made on the disarming of the Janjawid militias. The African Union monitors should take seriously their mandate to monitor and verify efforts of the government of Sudan to disarm Government-controlled militias.

“Local communities in Darfur demand a foreign presence that would ensure their security. Only by listening to their concerns and involving them in decision-making will it be possible to build up the confidence of those in camps and villages,” Erwin van der Borght said.


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2004 12 15
Autonomy’s (Constitutive?) Causes and Effects


Harry over at Crooked Timber draws my attention for the first time to a much talked about book by Michael Marmot, The Status Syndrome. By way in introduction, he lets former CT guest blogger Bill Gardner introduce us to the books arguments. Here’s Harry’s shorter Gardner:

Marmot�s fundamental empirical finding is that there is a social gradient in health, that is, when you group people according to their places in social hierarchies, you find better health and greater longevity in each successively higher class. His classic work studied the British civil service. He placed civil servants into four grades: administrators who set policy, executives who carry it out, clerical staff, and support personnel. There was a four-fold greater mortality rate from ages 40-64 for support personnel versus administrators. This was a large effect, and much larger than the difference in mortality rates related to conventional measures of social class.

Marmot argues that the principal explanation for the status syndrome is not relative income, not higher rates of health-risk behaviors among the lower classes, and not status-related differences in genes. Income, heath-related behavior, and genes are all important determinants of health, but their effects are largely independent of the effect of your place in the social hierarchy and only partially explain the social gradient. What matters is autonomy:

for people above a certain material threshold of well-being, another sort of well-being is central. Autonomy � how much control you have over your life � and the opportunities you have for full social engagement and participation are crucial for health, well-being, and longevity. It is inequality in these that plays a big part in the social gradient in health. Degrees in control and participation underlie the status syndrome.

It is true that the finding of a more accute differential in mortality rates is interesting and in need of explanation. Nevertheless, I’m not quite sure what Marmot’s thesis about autonomy is supposed to be. (I’ve not read the book, so this post is about ideas, not the specifics of that work.)
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Howls of outrage (4)

2004 12 15
Cole responds


The other day, I took a crack at Juan Cole for this post. I read Cole every day, and find him a valuable resource. But sometimes I think he just gets something wrong, and this is one of them. In the offending post, Cole recommended another blogger’s post which indulged in some dark and baseless speculation about the motives and backing a few Iraqi bloggers. I don’t think he should have done that – not without better evidence.

Anyhow, out of curiosity, I poked around a bit on some right wing sites and found that his comments had infuriated a lot of people. Indeed, a consensus appears to be forming in some quarters around the assertion that Cole is “pond scum” – which is, I think, really not a nice thing to call someone. Perhaps the most repeated claim about Cole is that his remarks show that his brain has been marinating in shrill anti-Americanism for so long that he can’t bear to hear any good news, which is what the Iraqi bloggers in question apparently provide. But a) that’s clearly false; and b) if ever there were a lot who couldn’t bear unwanted news, it’s the lot currently accusing Cole of being unable to bear unwanted news.

Cole has responded to the criticisms, and I think at the weakest point of the argument against him:

My allegation that the IraqTheModel website is far outside the norm of Iraqi public opinion as measured by polling has caused a stir in the weblogging world among, apparently, dittoheads who can’t read polls.

Here are the results of an April, 2004, Gallup poll, which was scientifically weighted and involved over 3000 face-to-face interviews all over the country.

On Balance, do you think of the Americans mostly as Occupiers or liberators?

Occupiers: 71 %
Liberators 19%

(43% reported that in April 2003, they had thought of the Americans as liberators).

How have the US Forces Conducted themselves?

58% said “fairly badly” or “very badly.”

Asked if the US was serious about establishing democracy in Iraq:

50% said “no.”
12% said “don’t know.”

Asked if attacks on US troops could be justified, 52% said “sometimes,” “somewhat,” or “completely.”

The United States had an unfavorability rating of 54% (and there wasn’t a significant difference between the Shiites and the Sunni Arabs).

Only 31% favored a separation of mosque and state! (But 66% of Kurds did).

Only 30% of the Arab population favored a multiparty parliamentary democracy!

So far, so good. Most criticisms of Cole skirted past the awkward fact that most Iraqis are (justifiably) pissed off at the U.S. right now, and that the right’s habit of holding up its favourite Iraqi bloggers in order to deflect attention from this is sort of pathetic. (I’ve been toying with the idea that it’s a bit like depicting pre-War Iraq in a documentary by showing children flying kites.) But then there is this:

I drew attention to Martini Republic’s questions about the independence of IraqTheModel without actually expressing any opinion myself one way or another, except to say that they are out of the Iraqi mainstream. The dittoheads who read them and can look at the above polling figures and come to a different conclusion are just innumerate (if only they were also so illiterate as to be unable to figure out my email address).

I think that’s just silly. Go back and read the post to see if you think that Cole offers a plausible interpretation of his own post. I think he doesn’t. He drew attention to the Martini Republic’s questions in a way that seemed to clearly imply approval, and he juxtaposed speculation about the blog with speculation about other nefarious doings. When the Instapundit pulls this kind of nonsense, we all know to call bullshit on him. We should know enough to call bullshit on Cole in this case too.


Howls of outrage (12)

2004 12 15
Rumsfeld bashing


Matthew Yglesias writes:

THE PERILS OF RUMSFELD-BASHING. As Bill Kristol slams Don Rumsfeld in the pages of The Washington Post, I can’t help but wonder if years of liberal attacks on the Secretary of Defense have become counterproductive. After all, it’s not as if Rumsfeld is some rogue bureaucrat operating without outside supervision who coincidentally wound up in George W. Bush’s cabinet. Bush kept him there, and has chosen to keep him there longer at a time when most of his cabinet secretaries are departing. Bush is the issue here — every single one of “Rumsfeld’s” bad decisions were decisions Bush could have countermanded; indeed, almost all of them were instances where Rumsfeld disagreed with other important actors inside the government and the real national mistake was for Bush to take Rumsfeld’s side. Letting conservatives maintain their good president / bad defense secretary dichotomy may help them sleep at night, but it doesn’t do the country any good.

Ah yes, I’ve been meaning to make this point. Over the last few days I’ve enjoyed watching right-leaning bloggers pile on Rumsfeld, which is funny because it requires them to use words like “accountability.” Indeed, I did have a post written on this subject singling out a few people, but ended up deleting it cause this is a kinder, gentler blog these days.


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 12 14
Is that a barn in your field, or is your epistemology text-book just happy to see me?


Posted by in: Pundits

Drum says, “Now see? David Brooks can write a good column when he puts his mind to it.” I says, “Huh?”, I says.

Brooks writes a how-to guide: a wonk’s guide to getting through a presidential economic summit. There are four tips to be had, three of which are good, the other is a deal-breaker–i.e., it takes this column out of the “good” category, toot sweet.

First, we are told that “the subject of the summit is not the subject of the summit” because the subject is–always is–”the president himself.” Check.

Then we learn that the summit “may not feature the widest possible range of views,” firstly because staffers have orchestrated it this way, secondly because “policy johnnies are incapable of intelligent thought in the presence of all that power.” Maybe. Check.

The fourth and final tip is to dumb it down: “Instead of citing a great intellectual, it’s better to cite a wise but ordinary person with a poignant, uplifting [faith-based] life story.” Check.

So what’s the third tip? Well, we have three checks, so the third must be the deal breaker, and it is. Thirdly, we are to

remember that Republicans have a different relationship to ideas than Democrats. When Democrats open their mouths, they try to say something interesting. If the true thing is obvious and boring, the liberal person will go off and say something original, even if it is completely idiotic. This is how deconstructionism got started.

Republicans are less concerned with displaying their own cleverness. When they actually stumble upon an idea, they are so delighted they regurgitate it over and over again. Where others might favor elaboration, Republicans favor repetition.

Notice the attempt to mask the jab at Dems with a little self-deprecating humor: Republicans are “so delighted they regurgitate” and repeat. Check. But what is it that they regurgitate? Lo and behold, it’s the truth! That truth which is simple and beyond the reach of Dems who are constantly trying to see the forest through the trees. But wait! Dems don’t even see trees. They’re too busy wondering whether there is a common phenomenal denominator between a verific tree-sighting and a hallucinatory one. “Ooo, Ooo, Mr. President! Pick me! Pick me! Hi, I was just wondering, do you believe in the myth of the given?” “Son, with me, the myth is always a given.”


Howls of outrage (4)

2004 12 13
Kerik


Posted by in: Political issues

Wow. Sounds like a bad guy.


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 12 13
Employing Markets


Posted by in: Egypt, U.S. foreign policy

The US is using its market power to entice Egypt to adopt much needed reforms. We are now allowing more tariff-free goods into the US, and will continue to do so as long as Egypt continues to make progress. What sort of progress, you ask? Are they beginning to hem in their human rights abuses, including the recent rounding up of up to 3,000 detainees without charges or access lawyers? Of course not, we’re into that too. Nope, the greater access to US markets is “in exchange for using some materials from Israeli businesses.” Read about it here.


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)