January 2005

2005 01 30
The election in Iraq

I really, really hope it does some good.

That is all.

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2005 01 29
A letter to Fred Kaplan

I wonder if I’ll get a response to this:

Mr. Kaplan,

Back at the end of October, you wrote a column for Slate about the Lancet study (estimating excess deaths as a result of the Iraq War). Your column wasn’t very good, but that’s ok. You were writing during the first wave of discussion about the study, and the dust hadn’t settled yet. My initial reaction was sceptical too.

In the meantime, though, the dust has had some time to settle. And my impression is that apart from a few reasonable concerns (a misleading summary of the piece by the editor of the journal, for example), the study is more solid than either of us originally took it to be. For some intelligent discussion of the study, here are a few links from Crooked Timber.




And the tireless Tim Lambert has a bunch of posts on the subject here:


I’m writing because a search for “Lancet” on Slate turns up exactly one relevant hit: your flawed piece. I do understand that the Lancet study was published last year, and that the study itself might not be considered newsworthy any longer. But it still seems to be worth revisiting in a future column, since your first column wasn’t able to take the ensuing discussion into account, and because both the war, and the debate about the war, are still going on.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 01 28
O’Rourke on Summers


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2005 01 28
Overheard in New York

Posted by in: Overheard

I’ve been enjoying the site Overheard in New York since it’s launch a few weeks ago. Two samples. The first:

Dude #1: I’m gonna stand up as I turn. I’d like you to kick me in the nuts. The idea is to black out, end up in the hospital, and push this off on someone else. Ready?
Dude #2: I was born ready.

–59th & Park

And the second:

Don Juan: Sure I got a seven inch dick, but the thing no one ever talks about is I got a seven inch ball sack, too.

–Avenue A

They’re not all scatological. Those just happen to be the ones that make me giggle.

Via . . . aw, it was two weeks ago. How do I know?

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 01 28
Opposing the War

I agree with everything said in this letter from the Progressive Democrats of America to the current Congressional Democratic leadership.

If you do too, then click to learn more about the March 19 GLOBAL DAY OF PROTEST ON THE TWO-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE IRAQ WAR.

Last year, on the first anniversary, thousands marched in New York and San Francisco, but only 50 showed up in Washington, DC. I’ll be taking part in DC this year. If you live in the area, please consider doing the same.

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2005 01 27
Three nights of music

Posted by in: Music

Friday, check out the Slavic Soul Party:

98 Ave B., East Village
11 pm.

Alas, that’s past my bedtime. But perhaps it isn’t past yours. Saturday, don’t forget this absolute must-see show! Sunday, don’t miss The Four Bags doing their thang at Barbes, in Brooklyn:

THE FOUR BAGS. Using trombone, accordion, guitar and clarinet/saxophone, the Four Bags combine the vibrancy of popular music and modern jazz with the rigor and sophistication of a classical chamber music group. Their adventurous repertoire includes arrangements of Frederic Chopin, Alec Wilder, and Brian Wilson augmented by original compositions from each member. The result is strikingly beautiful, sophisticated and yet highly entertaining. They have performed at Celebrate Brooklyn!, BAMCafe, Symphony Space – and they’re big in Japan!

With Bryan Drye – Trombone; Jakob Garchik – Accordion; Mike McGinnis – saxophones & Clarinet and Sean Moran – Guitar.

They go on at 7pm.

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2005 01 27
Aristotle’s Ethics

In previous semesters, my plan has always been to teach and audit classes on subjects that are well outside the topic of my dissertation, Aristotle’s ethics. The thought was that this would keep my mind limber and flexible, and prevent me from getting sick of Aristotle. Alas, the other subjects always turned out to be completely engrossing, and the semester would dwindle away without much progress on my dissertation. Not this semester. This semester, in addition to (ahem) making astonishingly rapid progress on my dissertation, I will be teaching a class on Aristotle’s ethics, and auditing a class on Aristotle’s ethics. As I remarked to a friend the other day, my motto for this semester is: “Aristotle’s ethics, Aristotle’s ethics, Aristotle’s ethics . . . until I put my fist through a wall.”

Howls of outrage (4)

2005 01 27
What about Poland makes Bush lie?

I have a t-shirt that says, in big red letters on the front: “Bush Lies”. Because I’m now living in Arlington, VA, those who notice it usually approve. But I wear it other places, too, and I am sometimes asked to defend the shirt’s thesis.

I mention this because one year ago today, on my birthday, Bush said one of the lies that makes my list. Here’s the list I typically give. Add your own in the comments section–that is, if you’re not sick and tired of talking about the moron.

1. “[B]y far the vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum.” (Said during 2000 campaign.) Not true, as demonstrated here, and here.

2. [This one might be my favorite, because it’s soooo brazen in the face of the truth:] Bush WH press conference, March 6, 2003:

He’s a master at deception. He has no intention of disarming — otherwise, we would have known. There’s a lot of talk about inspectors. It really would have taken a handful of inspectors to determine whether he was disarming — they could have showed up at a parking lot and he could have brought his weapons and destroyed them. That’s not what he chose to do.

Here’s what was really going on:

yesterday Iraq, reluctantly, agreed to the destruction of four of its outlawed al-Samoud 2 missiles. At a military base just outside Baghdad, bulldozers were brought in to crush the missiles under supervision of the UN.

A potential timetable to destroy the remaining 100-plus al-Samoud 2 missiles was also discussed with the UN. Around 50 of the missiles are with Iraqi forces scattered around the country and will have to be brought in to be destroyed…

And what chief weapons inspector Hans Blix called “a very significant piece of real disarmament”, the US called “propaganda wrapped in a lie inside a falsehood”, and the UK called “a cynical attempt to divide the Security Council.” I can’t wait to see how that one turns out.

3. Bush, to Polish journalist, May 29, 2003:

We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two. And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.

Of course, they had no reason to think that was true, and good reason to think it was false. They certainly had no reason to state it as true. (Recall that Cheney was still claiming, in January of 2004, that those mobile labs were “conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction.”

4. Bush, in WH press conference with Polish President, January 27, 2004:

I was hoping the United Nations would enforce its resolutions, one of many. And then we went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution — 1441 — unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.

5. Who knows if Bush himself knew about this, but I don’t really care. My fifth lie is the the lie the Bush Administration told Congress to get its Medicare prescription drug benefit passed. They said that it would cost $400 billion over 10 years, when in fact it was expected to cost $500 billion to $600 billion. But, not only did they lie about the cost, they threatened to fire the Medicare actuary who wanted to tell Congress about the true costs before they voted on it.

We might also add, in connection, the Administration’s production and distribution of “fake news broadcasts”. The GAO–our government’s official watchdog–has rebuked Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services and Office of National Drug Control Policy for disseminating “fake news” segments designed to convince voters of their policies. The Administration has also just come under fire for paying so-called ‘independent’ commentator Armstrong Williams $241,000 to defend No Child Left Behind in his syndicated columns and radio show. Bush now says that, “we didn’t know about this in the White House.” That’s curious, given Bush Press Secretary, Scott McClellan’s response to inquiries about the matter with: “There are also questions about whether or not this commentator should have been disclosing this information publicly.”

6. And now I’ll add his claim that Social Security faces a crisis and is “flat bust, bankrupt”. Of course, that’s not even close to true either.

Well, that’s good for now. Of course there are others. But I said my gift to myself today was an abiding sense of abiding self-satisfaction from having worked so hard on my dissertation. So I’m off.

Howls of outrage (6)

2005 01 27
More on suicide bombings

The blogger “Lenin” weighs in on the subject. He doesn’t think that it is at all surprising that some Palestinians engage in suicide bombing, citing both the brutality of the Israeli occupation and the collapse of Oslo. I wouldn’t follow Lenin in giving quite such a one-sided account of the collapse of Oslo, but that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of our discussion. Lenin is talking about the motives and pressures at work in the individuals who choose to engage in suicide bombing, and I was speculating about the strategic considerations which at least some of the higher ups in Hamas and co. must have entertained regarding the tactic. Anyway, even if Lenin is entirely right about all that, this seems an entirely distinct point:

The Palestinians do not have hawk air-jets or tanks or helicopters. They don’t even have a very well-equipped army. They have a subterranean movement which includes both religious and secular groups. In direct combat with the IDF, they don’t stand a chance. Hence, suicide bombings.

But they don’t stand a chance with suicide bombing either. Setting aside questions about the motives of individuals, suicide bombing could only be justified as a last resort attempt to liberate the Palestinians if it actually bore any to relation to the liberation of Palestinians. And it’s patently clear that it doesn’t.

We can’t go back in time, and so we can’t replay history with a (strictly) non-violent Palestinian liberation movement. And so it’s hard to speculate. But I find it very difficult to resist the temptation. I think that such a movement would have crushed the Israeli right, and that the Israeli right knows that in its heart and fears such a movement most of all. (And yes, I know that many Palestinians groups have been engaged for many years in non-violent protest, and that they’ve been ignored to a large extent by the media. But surely part of the blame here lies in the way that very violent protest has muddied the water.) I don’t know if such a movement would have been successful. But I imagine it would have gotten Palestinians much further than anything Hamas or Islamic Jihad or any other group employing violence against innocents has.

I was mainly interested in questions of strategy and tactic, rather than moral justification. But of course you can’t morally justify a means to an end if the means aren’t really means to that end. I should also note that the question of moral justification is to some extent separate from the question of sympathy or understanding. Palestinians in the occupied territories typically live under horrifying amounts of pressure. I do hope very much that I would refrain from deliberately and directly attacking innocents under any circumstances – indeed, I think I would refrain – but whether I would act in non-violent and constructive ways under that much pressure is an entirely different question. Some days I doubt it.

Howls of outrage (5)

2005 01 27
NYC jazz

Posted by in: Music

What are you doing this Saturday? Well, it couldn’t possibly be as important as going to this:

Yoon Sun Choi (voice) and Jacob Sacks (piano)
with special guest, Ben Monder (guitar)

Saturday January 29th

5C Cafe
68 Ave C (E5th and Ave C)
F train to 2nd Ave

Cover $8.00

Listen to clips of the Yoon Sun Choi and Jacob Sacks duo over at Yoon’s site.

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2005 01 26
Eagleton on suicide bombing

Terry Eagleton writes about suicide bombing in today’s Guardian. There’s a lot to disagree with here (and others have). I just want to note that Eagleton’s piece is entirely taken up with what he takes to be the personal motives of suicide bombers. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that Eagleton is exactly right about these motives. There is still the larger political question of what the people who order and justify suicide bombings have in mind from a strategic point of view when they order them. (I’ll just focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Eagleton also talks about the use of the tactic in Iraq.)

The leaders of Hamas are obviously under quite a bit of pressure. They no doubt suffer from moments of despair and, given their limited military capabilities, from feelings of powerlessness. But they surely also have goals in mind, which they hope that the suicide bombings they help to organize will further. To the extent that limited military capabilities and feelings of powerlessness operate higher up the chain, I suspect it is to justify or rationalize a tactic which the leaders take themselves to have independent reasons for employing.

Suicide bombing, it has always been clear, will never, ever dislodge Israel from the occupied territories. Indeed, it has long been clear that suicide bombing only strengthens the Israeli right, and helps them generate the political capital they need to press forward with their wretched policies. The only sense I have ever been able to make of suicide bombing from a strategic point of view is that it is aimed squarely at the result that it is all but guaranteed to achieve, rather than the far fetched result of improving the position of Palestinians.

I’m not saying it’s a good strategy. Indeed, I think it’s a stupid one. I’m saying it’s the only thing I can recognize as even remotely resembling a strategy in the actions of groups like Hamas.

Why would they think this way? Well, suppose you’re a radical. Suppose that you oppose any kind of reconciliation with Israel. Suppose that you find your fellow nationals dispiritingly soft and willing to compromise. You must convince them to reject any kind of accommodation. And you must recruit others to your brand of radicalism. But if you attempt this by force, you will fail, because you are weak (at first) relative to the rest of society, and because this would only alienate you from people you want to persuade and recruit. So you invite the Israeli right to do your recruiting for you. You invite reprisals and collective punishment. The collective punishment is very persuasive. Because it is collective, it is unfair, and because it is unfair and brutal, it is reasonably effective at sapping interest among Palestinians in accommodation and compromise.

The dynamic, I think, is similar within Israel. And this is why it seems a bit misleading to be always talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially when the discussions are about the Palestinians’ use of suicide bombing against Israel. From a strategic point of view, though the immediate effect is (of course) to kill Israeli citizens, Palestinians suicide bombing seems to me to be aimed as much at Palestinians moderates as it is at Israelis. That’s why it seems much more illuminating to talk about two simultaneous conflicts, between moderates and extremists on either side with one another.

I’m curious if anyone else has the same impression, or if people think that I’ve simply gone and misinterpreted Hamas. Or? Let me know in the comments.

Howls of outrage (7)

2005 01 26
Moral Philosophy

I’ve tried to do a little moral philosophy in the comments section of this post at Bill Gardner’s Maternal and Child Health blog. Bill is very interested in (among other things) constructing an account of child well-being that could be used to evaluate public policy and guide medical care. My comments try to address a fundamental point about how such a view might get off the ground.

Chris, I tried to write a bit about the moral value of pleasure, invoking Aristotle and Green. If you have time, head over there and set me straight.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 01 25
On second thought . . .

. . . perhaps I should just delete this post. Probably harmless, but you never know.

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2005 01 24

There was a time when Slate’s “Bushisms” feature was funny. They almost all seem lame now – many very lame. About as lame as today’s.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 01 24
It won’t stop with Social Security

Bill Gardner posits that the GOP may have it in next for Medicaid. I think that, or something along those lines, is correct. Consider two quotations from Sunday’s NYT that it will be useful to have on file.


“Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state,” said Stephen Moore, the former president of Club for Growth, an antitax group. “If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state.”


In his new book, “Winning the Future,” Mr. Gingrich promotes the private accounts for Social Security and health care. But he cautions Republicans not to scare voters with any talk of reducing Social Security benefits.

“If you frame the private Social Security accounts as giving your children the right to choose, as opposed to cutting benefits or forcing anyone to do anything, I think it’s a total winner for us,” Mr. Gingrich said in an interview. “The accounts will create the first 100 percent capitalist society in history. Fifty years from now, relatively poor Americans for the first time will have their own personal savings; they’ll see the power of interest buildup over time and appreciate the importance of property.

Of course, Gingrich is wrong here, but not just about his ideology. Dismanteling social security won’t be even close to the end of the welfare state or the creation of “the first 100 percent capistalist society in history.” Achieving that grotesque end would require, among other things, removing the minimum wage, cancelling child labor laws, cancelling overtime protection, cancelling government regulation of workplace safety, ending Medicare, and, yes, ending Medicaid. After doing all that, people will certainly come to understand “the importance of property.” They will come to see–as they have at certain times in the past in various countries–the need for the government to check the inhumanity of unrestricted capitalism. They will see the need to assert the importance of human dignity and the security of that which is in fact important, rather than the bald security of one’s place as an economic atom at the mercy of repulsive market forces.

The Democrats won’t win unless they can show Americans that the policy elites–Dems and Republicans alike–have few qualms with entertaining the cancellations of those governmental checks on brute market forces. Republicans have gotten Americans to think first of that Platonic form, Freedom, and then to judge–wrongly–that (certain forms of) government involvement with the market constitutes unfreedom. Dems and progressives need to get Americans to move from Freedom, to the checks that make real freedom possible, such as (just, fair, “living”) minimum wage, child labor laws, social security, medicare, medicaid, etc…It’s revealing that Gingrich doesn’t think private accounts can be sold by telling Americans about benefit cuts, but that they can be sold by invoking ideas such as “freedom” and “control”. That is an open door for Dems: for who really believes that people will have more control of their lives in world in which they have far fewer resources in old age than they would with a simple, effective, effecient, government program? Just as they reject as worthless the speculation of how many angels can dance on a pinhead, workaday people must come to reject the allure of that form of “control” which allows one all the liberty in the world to move one’s paltry retirement savings from one mutual fund to another.–What good is that sort of control after Wall Street has taken its 20 percent management fee and your grandparents are left shaking their heads at how little they have to show fifty years of good citizenship?

Howls of outrage (2)