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Monday, March 31, 2003
Response to Proposition: The Observer is not dying, it is catching its stride for the following reasons:
1. People are trying to catch their stride this term academically. Taking classes, figuring out our schedule, reading the news and writing about it all time consuming. In fact there is an article in the BBC that I wanted to comment on Saturday that I couldn't because the network on my computer was down and I didn't want to stay at the public terminal.
2. A number of our contributers have left the country and face a variety of circumstances that limit their contributing capacity.
3. I'll be back in as soon as possible to start posting. We have an audience to serve out there you know. Ahh, blogging: the activities that AGORA moderators emeritus do.

Sunday, March 30, 2003
There was a flurry of op-ed activity at the New York Times this Saturday concerning the Michigan affirmative action case. The Supreme court hears arguments on tuesday, and in anticipation, the New York Times ran four op-eds and one piece of "Op-Art" about the issue. Writers included Lawrence Summers and Laurence Tribe of Harvard, and our own Geography professor Benjamin Forest. Most of the arguments, of course, were in favor of the University of MIchigan's current policies.

The main argument in favor of race based admissions policies is diversity. According to these educators, racial diversity is an inherently positive force in j. random student's education. I have a hard time buying this argument. For example, meeting and interacting with ChienWen has helped my intellectual growth at Dartmouth. He's a smart guy who always has something interesing and intelligent to say. This has nothing to do with the fact that he's Singaporean and ethnically Chinese, and everything to do with the fact that he's well read and intelligent. There is very little evidence supporting the claim that racial diversity (as opposed to intellecual diversity) helps students grow intellectually.

But, even if that were true, it is problematic that University admissions incorporate race. The goal of equal and civil rights is to make sure that people and institutions in positions of authority (ie. the government or university admissions committees) do not treat two individuals differently based on superficial characteristics like race. You can say that you don't consider your race to be a superficial issue, but in terms of a meritocratic decision making process (which is what university admissions claims to be) race does not count. I am no better qualified as an applicant to a University or a job just because I'm Indian. I may be a better qualified applicant because I have trained in Indian music, and therefore possess a skill many other applicants do not. That however is a tangible, quantifiable skill that clearly adds to my merit as an applicant. My being Indian does no such thing.

Saying that College admissions committees should take race into account in their decision making process is the same as arguing that persons of certain races are objectively better candidates than others purely because of their race. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we fight the Civil War a hundred and forty years ago, and the Civil Rights battle forty years ago? Why then is our society still haunted by these racial demons?

I took a posting hiatus for a long time, but this week I came across some stuff relating to my two pet issues: terrorism and higher education. I felt I had to comment.

I met up with my Dad this week, and he showed me something very interesting and extremely disturbing. The cover story of last week's New York Times Magazine is about an Egyptian intellectual from the 50s and 60s called Sayyid Qutb. The article is written by Paul Berman who's got an upcoming book called "Terror and Liberalism."

According to Berman, Qutb's writing is the intellectual basis for the Islamist movement today. As a member of Egypt's infamous Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb was "Islamism's principal theoretician in the Arab world." His writings have greatly influenced current Al-Qaeda ideology, and need to be looked at carefully if we are to understand the nature of the beast we are fighting against.

The West today is a synthesis of 'Athens and Jerusalem,' or Greek rationality and Christian theology. Berman says that "the early Christians imported into Christianity the philosophy of the Greeks - the belief in a spritual existence completely separate from physical life, a zone of pure spirit." Most of us can relate to this belief, and indeed the currency we place in the ideal of the separation of church and state comes from this very tradition.

Islam however, according to Qutb, is exactly the opposite. The theological is the physical, the practical is religious. "Muhammad dictated a strinct new legal code, which put religion once more at ease in the physical world." Qutb felt that there is no separate realm for religion, and religion is certainly a part of the public sphere. So, Islam would be diminished if it were forced to accept a separation of church and state, and tolerance for other religions.

As Berman notes, "the truly dangerous element in American life in [Qutb's] estimation, was not capitalism or foreign policy or racism or the unfortunate cult of women's independence. The truly dangerous element lay in America's separation of church and state - the modern political legacy of Christianity's ancient division between the sacred and the secular." It gets worse. "Qutb worried that, if secular reformers in Muslim countries had any success, Islam was going to be pushed into a corner, separate from the state. True Islam was going to end up as partial Islam. But partial Islam, in his view, did not exist." So, George W. Bush is completely correct when he says that these radical Muslims hate our very freedoms.

Berman goes on to analyze Qutb's exposition on the jihadi death cult that this ideology spawned. I highly recommend you read the whole article, and if you can't find it, blitz me. I held on to my copy.

Proposition: The Observer is a dying blog.

Friday, March 28, 2003
Breaking [Down] News

Some thoughts on the media coverage of the war:

I must say that I have found TV news mighty disappointing this past week, although it has been interesting to watch the night-and-day different between the broadcast networks and the 24-hour cable channels. In my opinion, the cable coverage has been downright horrible – which is a bit of a surprise, given that Desert Storm I was really the birth of cable news.

MSNBC is its usual, schizophrenic self – jumping oddly between flashy, exaggerated graphics and the news, which is painfully dull (perhaps they forgot that they’re MSNBC, not CNBC). Fox News, usually my channel of choice (because they tilt in my direction and because they usually put on an entertaining show) is over-sensationalized, and I must say that I bristle at Fox’s endless use of the possessive adjective: “our” troops, “our” marines, etc. Not that there is anything factually inaccurate about the description, but the sense of righteousness with which the “our” is always used strikes even me – a hawk and an unabashed supporter of America – as a bit corny. I have actually found myself watching CNN, the channel I usually avoid (because it tilts in the opposite direction, and because watching Aaron Brown is like taking a sedative). However, all the cable news channels seem unable to make much, well, news out of this war. All they show is the same camera shot of downtown Baghdad for ten hours a day. The other fourteen hours are filled by nameless ex-generals playing with the map of Iraq on the screen writer, muttering inanities (“We’ll want to attack the enemy army”) and drawing tanks the size of Qatar (thus making it a bit tough to tell where said army is).

I rarely say this, but recently it has been better to just watch an hour of news on the networks than the stream of drivel currently on cable. You get the same stories, just compressed into a more appropriate time frame. But the prima-donna anchors (Dan, Peter, and Tom) get on my nerves. Supposedly, Peter Jennings flew into a rage last Wednesday because Bush ordered those first cruise missile strikes after the anchor had already gone home (with White House assurances that the war wasn’t starting yet), and thus was unable to have his face on the screen when the news broke. And I almost laugh at Dan Rather’s hyper-serious tone as he interrupts the NCAA tournament. “When news breaks, we’ll break in,” he assures viewers. OK, Dan, but the reason I’m watching CBS now instead of CNN is because I want to watch the game.

[If it sounds like I have a cavalier attitude towards the war, then I’ve given the wrong impression. I care deeply, and I worry about the brave soldiers on the front lines, and about the oppressed people of Iraq. But the war is compelling in its own right, and the effort of the media to ratchet up the emotion of an already emotional story tugs at my cynicism.]

Comparatively, the print media has been thorough and engaging. And, if you combine the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, you can get a pretty accurate picture of what is going on. My one big complaint is that the headlines and articles often don’t sync-up. The headlines and leads scream “quagmire!” and “stiff resistance!” but only in the tenth graph do you learn that no coalition troops were killed and that the armies continue to press on.

Which leads me to a final thought about the system of “embedding” reporters. While I think it may be a good idea, because it helps protect the journalists and has produced most of the good stories and footage so far, I think it is also responsible for the headline/story/reality disconnect I tried to describe above. The simple fact is that soldiers have been training for combat, for this kind of war for years – journalists have not. So an engagement that may be nothing abnormal for the troops seems like a major firefight to the reporter, and shows up on the news as such. And it is true that whenever the bullets start flying there is danger. But compare the tone you get on the news to the fact that there have been fewer than 50 American soldiers killed or captured in combat – unprecedented low casualties, for an invasion of this size. The soldiers and the reporters just see the battlefield from different perspectives, and the result is news that is compelling but not always accurate from a military standpoint. I hope that the media will get better at putting their reports in perspective as the campaign goes on.

Monday, March 24, 2003
Notice from Dickey

To: Various Departments.
Please circulate the following notice to all members of your department. Thanks very much.


War and Peace Studies announces an open microphone community meeting on the war in Iraq this Wednesday March 26th at 7:30pm in 105 Dartmouth Hall. All are invited to attend and welcome to use the microphone. WPS Coordinator, Professor Ronald Edsforth, will moderate this event

Sunday, March 23, 2003
The Other Powers

1. Chechens Turn Out in Huge Numbers for a Vote on a Moscow-Backed Constitution While the war in Iraq rages, President Vladimir Putin may be near to ending the years long conflict with Chechnya.

2. Meanwhile, back in China, former President Jiang Zemin makes a political move to hold on to the foreign policy apparatus of the Chinese government while his sucessor, Hu Jintao tries to find his own leadership style. Even though most of the high ministers who ran for office ran unopposed, there was a considerable minority, 10%, who were against the President Emeritus holding on the reigns of power. Vice President Dick Cheney will be visiting China soon; it will most likely deal with North Korea and Chinese opposition to the war in Iraq. Whether or not Taiwan will figure in the talks will depend on how low Taiwan stays on the international radar.

Nominees 2003

Pot Shots?

Hemant Joshi award nominee (for exessive leftist rhetoric): "The critical battle for Baghdad was yet to come and "Shock and Awe" was still a few hours away. (The hawks, who are trying to send a message to the world not to mess with America, might have preferred an even more intimidating bombing campaign title, like "Operation Who's Your Daddy?")" -Maureen Dowd

A fine piece of work from a Tory in the NY Times: "We know that our security is indissolubly linked with America, and Tony Blair will go with America, not Europe. He will do the Tory thing, not the Labor thing, and he will lose support. He will lose cabinet ministers. He will lose ministers whose names are not known, and will never be known, by the American public. But he will not lose office, and I doubt very much that he will lose the war. Of course, he will be weakened, at the end of it all. He will never be forgiven for shaming the doubters, for helping to liberate Iraq from tyranny. His antiwar backbenches will pursue him with special fury if and when he is proved right. Across Britain, in the commentariat and in the saloon bars, there are too many people who have invested too much, emotionally and intellectually, in the antiwar cause. They will, though they may not admit it, be secretly hoping for catastrophe."

Jeffrey Hart award nominee for right-wing hysteria: "When I was a kid in England I spent a great deal of time studying imperialism, of which I approved and got into a great deal of fights about..But I personally am very skeptical about the new imperialism. I don't think you can unmake an omelet. I think obviously it would be better for everybody if the British and French had not left the Middle East. But the fact is that they did leave the Middle East and it is going to be very difficult to go back in. Part of the problem with people like Max Boot is that they are so young. They simply don't remember the Algerian war or what it's like to hold these people down. You have to go in there and kill a lot of people and fight these constant low-level conflicts.''- Peter Brimelow

Urban Fighting

Sometime last term, I wrote in the Free Press: "Either urban warfare will occur and decimate the population centers, or the U.S. forces will have to surround the cities and besiege them by eliminating water and electricity. The urban warfare will, if it occurs, eat our troops alive. There is also the problem that we cannot estimate how supportive the Iraqi citizens and army will be in the face of an American-led attack."

It seemed that my thesis would have been proven wrong with the number of Iraqis who were surrendering as the US-British-(Australian?) forces pushed across southern Iraq. However, the Financial Times reports this morning that the Republican Guard, the only part of Hussein's forces that resisted us in the last war, are leading pockets of resistance.

"The sound of machine gun exchanges and bombing raids by Royal Air Force Harriers was clearly audible on Sunday from Kuwaiti territory, in spite of repeated official assurances in recent days that control of the port had been or was about to be secured. In an ominous sign of the military and ultimately political - difficulties that may lie ahead for the invasion force if it seeks to capture urban areas, the word "guerrilla" was used at the weekend by Colonel Chris Vernon, chief UK military spokesman in Kuwait, to explain the unexpectedly stiff resistance encountered in Umm Qasr."

The special coalition forces were 'embarrased' by their performance in the small city. Granted it was only the thrid day of the war, but it doesn't seem that we are going to top Israel's performance in the Six Day War of Redemption at this rate. However, the Financial Times cautions undue pessimism: "Whilst, following the loss of a RAF Tornado from ‘friendly fire’ on Sunday morning, there is concern of the number of self inflicted casualties among the US-led troops, the overall campaign is unquestionably going well. Reports suggest the 3rd Infantry Division, having secured a number of bridges over the Euphrates, is in the vicinity of Najaf, some 150km to the south of Baghdad. British and US Marines now virtually control in the entire south-east."

So the question still remains: what are we going to do when we get to Baghdad if our anti-Hussein revolution doesn't materalize?

"Militarily, the outcome of the battle is not in doubt, since the coalition has complete air superiority and an overwhelming advantage in firepower. But events in southern Iraq since Friday when US marines briefly raised the Stars and Stripes over Umm Qasr before realising the gesture made them look more like occupiers than liberators suggest the war will be much more complicated than President George W. Bush had hoped. One problem for the Americans is that however much the Iraqis hate Saddam Hussein, they do not appear to be overjoyed in the Shia Muslim south, at least about the prospect of a US occupation."

"Historical precedent from city sieges like Stalingrad and Berlin suggest that this figure soars to a ratio of around nine to one when the attack involves street fighting at close quarters against a determined enemy."

Thursday, March 20, 2003
In Fighting

The National Review is weighing in on the anti-war Right and discussing the conservative split. Since I am a leftist now, I find this squabble quite amusing. Personally the paleos do scare me with their anti-semitism, anti-Zionism, homophobia, ethnic nationalism adn all the pet peeves from the far Left without any of the benefits. Thanks to Drew Sullivan for this one. Speaking of Drew Sullivan, he just wrote a piece in the The New Republic, a first class political magazine, on the Texan sodomy law. I didn't get to read it yet so I was wondering if anyone has.

And so it begins

The continuation of the Persian Gulf War has brought me back from vacation to the Internet once again. (Along with some heavy handed berating by ChienWen from Ireland. He gets a vacation but I have to post to the Observer. I see how it is now.) The days leading up to this war have been sad and utterly disgusting.

1. It all began with September 11th 2001. Reactions to that event have dampened the lofty idealism that characterized the discourse surrounding American foreign policy. 'Long scorned by Europe for being too idealistic, the American people are now scorned for being realistic. In a sense, when the World Trade Towers fell from the sky, the scales fell from America's eyes, and America finally saw the world the way it was. It is not hopeless or beyond repair. However, nor is it the seamless network of economic partnerships, good neighbors and enlightened actors we pretended it to be in the 1990s. As before, it is a world where force defines behavior, where freedom and civilization must be defended with weapons, not words.' The happy and naive idealism of the 90s was finally over.

2. The immorality of the extremist opposition to the war has been nothing short of uncivilized behaviour. On the Right, charges of a Jewish-Zionist conspiracy cleverly manipulating a gullible goy into making the Middle East safe for Israel was quite disturbing. On the Left, radical elements merged into a solid, but ineffacious, popular front. It is nice to see the 'power of the people' falter once again. Their callous use of humanitarian propaganda as a scare tactic towards appeasement at all cost is beyond my comprehension. Yes, wars will kill people and yes, Sadaam has killed people. Whether we acted or whether we didn't people were going to die. Suggesting, then, that the US would bear the moral cupability if civilians died isn't even clever a manipulation of the truth; it is specious logic that has two feet firmly planted in the air. With current interpetations of the just war doctrine, one can only wonder when the war part of 'just war' was ever justified or necessary. It is not the case that this war can't be justified to the extremists; it is actually the case that war, as a nasty fact of the brutal and utterly depraved condition of man, can never be justified to them.

Peace all cost, though seeminly in harmony with the just in 'just war', is a violation of the principle of the idea. What just war suggests is that war is an evil from which we cannot escape before the Second Advent. (In fact before the Second Advent, there will be at least six more wars. One will kill 1/3rd of the world's populationa and the next four will establish the power of the hegemon to come. The last is the infamous 'Battle of Armaggeddon', which is going to be a spectacular and grusome piece of divine intervention.) Since warfare and warcraft aren't going anywhere in the 'City of Man', we need standards by which war would be justified, not a theorectical doctrine that completely robs nations of warmaking legitimacy. What academicians need to develop, and what I wish to contribute to the field if I can get my PhD in International Relations, is a just peace theory as a corollary to just war. We must be mindful of the inherent tensions between peace and justice; we must also try not to priveldge pacificism over non-aggressive approaches. The gavel does not fall often; when it does it should not fall lightly.

3. The tragedy of the 'Once Great' powers realpolitick was equally condemnable. France and Germany used the UN to ensnare the US and Great Britain into a endless loop of vapid threats and Security Council resolutions much to the detriment of the UN. It was France who worked to undermine the sanctions regime that she considers so sacrosant now. The fact the US, Britain and Spain et al. have decided to redress the dilemmas of containment which benefited France in a manner that most likely would show the moral bankruptcy of the decrepit WWI power in a world where power and credibility (two luxuries that France does not have) still matter a great deal must have distrubed the French to no avail. It is wonderful that France has found her place in the world: at the bottom of the refuse pile.

4. Lastly, this war put the final nail in the coffins of libertarian approaches to foreign policy. While I am not a raving fan of interventionist foreign policy, I beleive that internationalism is necessary for a great power. The difference between the interventionism and internationalism is: interventionism looks like Bush I on Haiti and Clinton on Kosovo, Bosnia and Palestine; internationalism means being a better freind to every country than any other country possibly could. The US-Russian relationship is more beneficial than to Russia than a Russian-Chinese relationship against the US. Israel and Egypt wish for the prescence of the US more than they do for each other. It's the Kissingerian strategy of detente but on a global scale. The libertarian rejoinder is that if we minded our own business and only cared about our vital interests things like September 11th would not have happened. First of al, what are 'vital interests' when you are a global power? Let's say that we focused only on Central Asia and the Middle East. Troops in Europe are necessary for swift deployment to E. Europe some of the Central Asian republics. Our navy is important to movement of troops and power projection so we keep all our based in S. E. Asia and Japan. Well, now we have to be concerned about India-Pakistan to prevent them from blowing up that region of the world. If you are in the Middle East, we are talking about a region from Morrocco to Iran. That means allies over there and whoops we are talking about Israel and Turkey again. Secondly, what would happen if we 'pulled out?' Is it worth the risk to play the isolationist?

It hasn't all been bad though. Much laudations must be given to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He defied his party and a minority of his people to do what he considered to be right. President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have also patiently made the case for war. Even if one were to suggest that Rumsfield, Wolfowitz and Bush have been scheming a war from day one (an allegation that a number of the so-called enlightned professors have made), one could observe that Powell making the case for war means that he has seen evidence sufficient to change his mind. Now some of my leftist colleagues suggested that they were 'disappointed' that Powell sounded like Jack Straw and Tony Blair. They felt betrayed. Did they ever stop for a moment to think that he had changed his mind because he had seen sufficient evidence? Nope, clearly he had been duped by the war machine or something like that.

So the war has started. Let's hope that by Memorial Day this is over and by the Fourth of July America has another victory under its belt. Live from Hanover, NH, this is John Stevenson signing off.

Thursday, March 13, 2003
Ran Across This...

A nice, succinct presidential quote about Iraq:

“What if he [Hussein] fails to comply [with disarmament] and we fail to act? He will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then go right on building up his arsenal. Someday, someway, I guarantee you, he'll use that arsenal.”

States the case well. And, by the way, the president in question is Bill Clinton, who said this back in 1998.

Abortion Rights In Trouble?

Has the NY Times gone to far in suggesting that a ban on partial birth abortions would reverse Roe v Wade? I was under the impression that partial birth of primarily 3rd (and sometimes 2nd) trimester operations. From what I understood us pro-choice activists were more comfortable with first trimester opreations, but the brutality of partial birth abortions leaves some of the best of squeamish. Is this another vast right-wing conspiracy? Or is the NY Times indulging itself a bit too much again?

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Chien Wen: Coulter's referene to 'swarthy males' was probably in the context of who she thought the U.S. should racially profile (I think she was actually more extreme in what the U.S. should do to muslims in the U.S.) I think Jonah Goldberg is the one she called a 'girly boy'. By the way, if the Signaporean government is squashing reativity, do you think this a violation of human rights? Is freedom of expression a universal rights (or should it be)? Why? Is it acceptable for a society to trade off boredom with order (though the ultimate goal seems economic growth)?

Meanwhile, back home...

Now this is absolutely hilarious. Money quotes:

"I do not believe it is possible to be creative if you do not know how to enjoy yourself" - is that really sexual innuendo by a government official?

"We need to reach deep inside ourselves to find out what turns us on" - see above.

"...boredom is very corrosive to the human spirit" - oh dear, oh dear...coming from a minister, of all people...

"In recent years, officials have taken small steps to spice up the nightlife, such as allowing some explicit language in plays" - egads! Nothing could improve the nightlife more than explicit language!

Okay, seriously now. I find it incredibly ironic - but not terribly surprising - that the Minister of State for National Development (read: Minister for State Propaganda) should be telling people to loosen up and enjoy themselves. I find it equally ironic that the government should be trying to foster creativity and artistic expression. The Singaporean government, efficient though it may be, is as dull as dishwater. It's representatives, trained in exciting disciplines such as Biophysimechanical Engineering, have no idea what it means to be creative, and I speak from personal experience here. Even if they do, does anyone really believe that a state-sponsored program to increase creativity will succeed? Especially when the aim of such increased creativity is not increased creativity in itself, but reviving "the country's flagging economy as it faces rising competition from other Asian countries in its staple industry, high-tech manufacturing." As Reagan said, government is not the solution, it's the problem. If the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) is really interested in bringing about a cultural renaissance, Southeast Asian-style, then it needs to stop being the arbiter of taste and the vanguard of the people. It needs to increase personal and political freedoms, and stop censoring the press. In short, it could afford to be more American.

Point taken, Mr. Waligore! It's still one of the worst pieces of writing I've ever come across, left or right. I believe the "swarthy males" reference was to Jonah Goldberg...

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Coulter and National Review

Coulter was not fired by National Review because of the convert-them-to-Christianity article. They stood by her. But when she turned in her next article, with references to "swarthy males", National Review editors said they told Coultier it wasn't well written. Coulter then lambasted National Review editors in the press, calling them girly boys (or maybe she just called one of them that). In any case, National Review claimed they didn't fire Coutler because of her ideas, but because of her lack of professionalism (they noted articles have appeared in NR advocating colonialism).

Stupidity ahoy

1) Freedom fries, anyone?

2) Not the way to solve the current problems, Ms. Coulter. By the way, this article got her fired from National Review.

Pious Nonsense

Another great piece by Chris Hitchens. (Thanks to Mr. Andrew Sullivan for this one.)

"But one wonders how the theory of "just war," largely evolved by Catholic intellectuals such as Augustine and Aquinas, ever managed to endorse the use of force. As applied these days, it appears to commit everybody but Saddam Hussein to an absolute renunciation of violence. Under that condition, there are no circumstances in which a military intervention in Iraq could be justified. Someone could get killed. Then again, a man so deeply committed to Habitat for Humanity might ask what kind of habitat this is, where civilians are used as human shields and weapons of poison and disease are concealed under places of worship."

Only slight problem with the piece for which I nominate his for the Ted Turner award (for extreme anti-religiousness and unnecessary roughness): "As a member of Atheists for Regime Change, a small but resilient outfit, I can't say that any of this pious euphemism, illogic, and moral cowardice distresses me. It shows yet again that there is a fixed gulf between religion and ethics. I hope it's borne in mind by the president, next time he wants to make a speech implying that God is on the side of the United States (and its godless Constitution). The leading experts in the supernatural, including also the Archbishop of Canterbury, many rabbis, most imams, and Bush's own "United Methodists" appear to agree that this is not so. The Almighty seems, if anything, to have smiled on Saddam Hussein for a quarter of a century. If we want to assure ourselves of a true "coalition of the willing," we might consider making a pact with the devil."

It's not the religious that are the problem: it's the religious left and right. Those who don't mind mixing politics with religion much to the detriment of their faith. So many of the so-called experts haven't a clue about religious fervor and would be offended at the suggestion of external, objective truth or something as neanderthalish as prosyletizing. Regardless, the Dartmouth Independent Forum should work on getting him here at Dartmouth.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Is John Stevenson really so deluded to think he's a moderate? He asked, so I'll give my view. Perhaps he confuses temperment with ideology. In terms of ideology, in most other Western countries, I would be a moderate on the political spectrum. In this country, John's post are often indistinguishable from other conservative commentators. That's not a problem (few thoughts are original), but it gets a little tedious when John claims piously to be 'independent'. If John wants to say moderate conservative, whatever that means, fine. But he's no 'moderate'.

I have no problem with polemics and partisanship within a certain range. But don't pretend you are what you're not, or else change to act like the person you are pretending to be. If you want to appeal to 'progressives', appeal to them by listening and engaging on their own terms, without sounding similar to the talking heads on Fox News (or more generously, the folks at the Weekly Standard, New Criterion, or Commentary, etc.). A lot off John's comments and basic schitck seems that be that those on the left have basic mistaken assumptions. That fine (though I'm not convinced: it's either the same old stuff I've heard before, or similar thoughts dressed up with misused jargon and the sometimes misapplied thoughts of others). If you don't want to appeal to progressives in another way, fine, but don't say you have "searched the face of the gods for ways to appeal" to them (perhaps turn way from gods and towards reasons?). I only dispute your professed self-understanding because you publically question others about it.

Just to clarify, John's not rabid (generally), but pointing to the Review guys and saying 'at least I'm not like them' isn't a great way to establish your moderate bonafides (a worse way can be to point to a discourse you've had with them). If all he is asking about is temperment, he can call himself a moderate (it seems talking about levels of civility is more appropriate). John (and some other observer posters) are often generous with their praise, and that can be a very good quality. But John should realize he also makes brash, silly conservative statements he doesn't even seem to realize are polemical and thoroughly unconvincing to those who do not share his assumptions. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

People like Jimmy Carter and Jordana Steinman, as cited by John, of the Free Press claim that we have won our global legitimacy by working through mechanisms of international law. Not true. Guatemala in 1954, Cuba in 1961, Grenada in 1983, when the Security Council voted 11 nations in favor to 1 against the United States to condemn the American intervention as a "flagrant violation of international law," and Panama in 1989 immediately come to mind. Do I think that the Bay of Pigs should serve as a model of American diplomacy? Of course not, but no nation, as John said, when faced with a choice between international law, which can hardly be called law in the absence of any punitive element, and its own interests, has ever chosen the former. Assertions to the contrary are wishful thinking. The sign on Free Dartmouth, "Another World is Possible," expresses the illogic behind such claims. Man, however, is not "infinitely malleable," and so long as we create international institutions for men and by men, realist theories will retain their applicability. The Westphalian nationstate will not fade away overnight, and globalist phenomena such as increased economic, political, and cultural interdependence and expansion in transnational movement of people, investment, and trade will modify the outputs of realpolitik, but will not change its underlying principles or make it disappear.

What's My Motivation?

I would like to make some technical clarifications for Laura.

1. The first is this: while Laura often did bring up issues of gender on the Observer, she was not alone. Just the other day ChienWen and Christian Hummel engaged in debates about the new Women's Studies prof. I beleive that CW often opined on the subject of gender-- and academia. In fact I believe that CW often talks about academia and all its revelant aspects. Hopefully, he will post his comments, regarding the latest article on Women's Studies in the Free Press, on the Observer.

2. As CW prefers the academy and its contents, so do I prefer justice (a system of distribution) and political philosophy (a system of governance). All issues regarding these, including *gasp* race, are covered in my broad sweep. I generally try to limit my comments to deprogramming the buzzwords and buzzphrases that often obfuscate clarity in these discussions, casting away the shroud of lies such that the light of truth can pour forth purifying essence. (How's that for excessive prose at 430 am?) I would offer that my commentary relates more to my interests as a scholar persuing conceptions of justice, a philosophy of right and corrolary philosophy of the good and less to my 'racial status.' I would hope that the melanin levels in my skin doesn't have the deep effect that Laura suggests that it does; otherwise, were the levels to change, I would loose my current thoughts for another worldview.

3. Am I not moderate? I have searched the face of the gods for ways to appeal to the 'progressives.' Yet I always come off as someone who is not moderate. (For my sake, I would prefer a definition of the term and reasons why I don't fit the definition.)

You are the Weakest Link...Goodbye

The Supreme Court has upheld California's infamous three-strikes law. I remember talking to Karsten once and remarking that it most likely wasn't fair in so far as one could steal three packs of gum and be locked away for life. Well, an interesting debate occurred among the Court, which has led me to reconsider my opinion a bit. The first comes in this New York Times article which provides a summary of the majority and dissenting opinions. This quote is from the majority opinion, penned by O'Connor: "Our traditional deference to legislative policy choices finds a corollary in the principle that the Constitution "does not mandate adoption of any one penological theory." A sentence can have a variety of justifications, such as incapacitation, deterrence, retribution, or rehabilitation. Some or all of these justifications may play a role in a state's sentencing scheme. Selecting the sentencing rationales is generally a policy choice to be made by state legislatures, not federal courts."

Breyer maintains in dissent " The constitutional question is whether the “three strikes” sentence imposed by California upon repeat-offender Gary Ewing is “grossly disproportionate” to his crime. Ante, at 1, 18 (plurality opinion). The sentence amounts to a real prison term of at least 25 years. The sentence-triggering criminal conduct consists of the theft of three golf clubs priced at a total of $1,197. See ante, at 5. The offender has a criminal history that includes four felony convictions arising out of three separate burglaries (one armed). Ante, at 5—6. In Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277 (1983), the Court found grossly disproportionate a somewhat longer sentence imposed on a recidivist offender for triggering criminal conduct that was somewhat less severe. In my view, the differences are not determinative, and the Court should reach the same ultimate conclusion here...Outside the California three-strikes context, Ewing's recidivist sentence is virtually unique in its harshness for his offense of conviction, and by a considerable degree."

Scalia in his concurrence notes "Proportionality–the notion that the punishment should fit the crime–is inherently a concept tied to the penological goal of retribution. “[I]t becomes difficult even to speak intelligently of ‘proportionality,’ once deterrence and rehabilitation are given significant weight,” Harmelin, supra, at 989–not to mention giving weight to the purpose of California’s three strikes law: incapacitation. In the present case, the game is up once the plurality has acknowledged that “the Constitution does not mandate adoption of any one penological theory,” and that a “sentence can have a variety of justifications, such as incapacitation, deterrence, retribution, or rehabilitation.” Ante, at 12 (internal quotation marks omitted). That acknowledgment having been made, it no longer suffices merely to assess “the gravity of the offense compared to the harshness of the penalty,” ante, at 15; that classic description of the proportionality principle (alone and in itself quite resistant to policy-free, legal analysis) now becomes merely the “first” step of the inquiry, ibid."

The debate hinges on whether harsher standards for repeat offenders violates the prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishments in the Eighth Amendment. My question is this: should a punishment be 'proportionate' to a crime? Or can justice consider other factors like deterrence and rehabilitation when decided the punishment? I am hoping that Free Dartmouth will chime in.

Sunday, March 09, 2003
Another Reason to Abolish the Stupid Awards

John writes:
The Austrian ambassador she was quoting in the first paragraph needs to be nominated for the Noam Chomsky award (for the opinion least unencumbered by knowledge: "He suggests that Europe represents the peaceful, feminine side of the symbol, characterized by Yin, and that Yang best describes the more martial, masculine United States."

Watch the double negative, there, John. You just called Noam a sage.

Europe, America and the International System

In the issue before last of the Free Press, there was a particularly good article by Jordana Steinman.

The Austrian ambassador she was quoting in the first paragraph needs to be nominated for the Noam Chomsky award (for the opinion least encumbered by knowledge: "He suggests that Europe represents the peaceful, feminine side of the symbol, characterized by Yin, and that Yang best describes the more martial, masculine United States."

Jordana adequately deprograms (Tom Sowell nominee) the excessive and empty rhetoric throughout her piece: "It does not do justice to one of the most important and likewise tumultuous relationships in modern world history, and it need not be stressed that the chances of world peace and prosperity are at their best as long as the US and Europe pull together. It is an unavoidable reality that ever since the Second World War, Europe has been militarily dependent on the U.S. Even with some of the most powerful economies in the world, (and the E.U. to make it even easier to share the costs of a strong military) Europe seems to refuse to build up a significant military force of its own, and as a result, it cannot take any major military actions without American assistance.
Europe’s flaw is...its inability to remain a strong player on the global level, failing to adjust its more idealistic approach to fit the political realities of today’s world. The eagle in the US seal has arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other. Perhaps that is the American version of Yin-Yang, not as old or ideal as the Chinese concept, but old enough, nevertheless. It symbolizes that in some cases, peace must be defended."

However, the intellectual clarity seems to end when confronting the US's role in world affairs. (Hemant Joshi award nominee for exessive leftist rhetoric) "The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in a tediously outdated, realpolitik world of its own perpetuation—a world where international laws are deemed unreliable and where true security, and even promotion of liberal ideals in general, depend on having and using military might. Concepts like the interrelatedness of all nations mean little to this American mindset, which still clings to notions of world domination through proverbial games of political cowboys and Indians."

Some problems for those on the left and those critical of realist approaches to foreign policy is 1. the use of force in international politics, 2. the inefficacy of international laws and norms, and 3. the morality of war and peace.

Jordana suggests that realpolitick is tediously outdated. If anyone knows of any empirical evidence that would demonstrate that a situation has existed where a nation had a choice between realpolitck and international law, chose international law and prospered better than if it had chosen realpolitick. Since I am considering doing a thesis on this, I had run this question by a few IR profs and they were unable to suggest any examples were the international law was strong enough to prevent realpolitick in a situation where they was choice. For those who have invested their faith and hope regarding prospects of peace in the power and relevance international organizations, lawyers and jurists, the suggestion that the world is a messy place is disturbing. Since nations do exist in a state of anarchy (their exists no overarching body of governance over the international arena), it is difficult to see how force, mechanism of self-help, are not relevant today and will always be relevant minus the creation of a world government.

Moreover, international norms are not very strong in the sense of being able to modify state behavior in any meaningful way. A non-proliferation norm exists, incarnated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but that hasn't prevented certain states from building and/or pursuing nuclear technology. These countries include but are not limited to North Korea, India Pakistan, Iraq and Israel. If we lived in a world that wasn't dominated by 'cowboys and Indians', why do these states feel it necessary to build nuclear weapons?

Now some would respond to this argument by suggesting that the internal composition of the regimes in question, whether they are liberal or not, to a large part determines whether they do these things. I would have to disagree. The material capabilities of states, that is their power arrangements relative to other states, explains more about state behaviour that the values they expose. I call upon one example to show that while values and ideational factors are important, they ultimately have very little effect on the international system unless the material capabilities are there. In the 1830s, there were many factions within Britain that wanted to end the slave trade. The basic story is that a British government is elected by the Religious Right and began to stamp out the slave trade using its Navy and military forces. Whereas the ideas came from matters of religious identity, the actual ability to affect change was largely dependent on the fact that Britain was top dog among the naval powers at this time. Had Portugal opposed the slave trade, I'm not sure much would have been done. In summary, the material capability of states explains more than the ideational factors present, regime type in power and international values espoused.

Lastly, the opposition has a tough time with the morality of war and peace. As Jordana pointed out, the American eagle has both an olive branch and arrows in its claws. War is sometimes the only moral option available. In terms of the specifics of the Iraqi war, I am not sure that the Administration has made a compelling case that war is the sole moral option but the facts on the ground do heavily suggest that war is a high moral option. While it would be nice to have peace, we must ask "Peace at what risk? Peace on whose terms? Peace for how long?" Using this framework it is easy to see how war is the moral option for countries like Israel whose participation in negotiations to end the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict is undermined by the strategic realities of enemies bent on its destruction and elements within it whose post-war vision isn't entirely consistent with the facts on the ground.

It is less obvious where Sadaam fits in. However, the past twelve years of obfuscation by Iraq and sabotage by France and Germany on the inspections regime have proved that non-war alternatives are becoming increasingly untenable, immoral and costly. So I would caution Jordana to temper her rhetoric and take a hard look at how the international system works. We may be surprised to find that peace and justice are often opposed; that war is sometimes necessary and that the lines between war, peace and diplomacy are not as hard and fast as we would like to think. Reality is, alas, such a murky subject.


I would just like to clarify for some of my fellow amatuers in the 'Greater Dartmouth Blogosphere' that the phrase is 'unemcumbered by knowledge.'

I was wondering two things. The first has to do with Mearsheimer. Is realism a constructive outlook through which to analyze the behaviour of nations? Are nations necessarily trying to maximize their position in the international system (Mearsheimer's offensive realist proposition) or if you follow the other school of realism, trying to maintain their position in the system? It seems intuitive that nations at war would believe in the dictum 'For every neck, there are two hands to choke it.' (Think Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict for example.) How about nations who are not necessarily at war?

The second question(s) have to do with the Free Press and the Review which have recently come out. Laura wrote an interesting piece on Women's Studies in the academy and I was wondering what people's thoughts were on that. Concerning the Review, what did people think of Larry's article 'Open Season on the Review'? Anyone honest has to admit that it is chic to make fun of the Review in polite circles to increase one's stature. However, did I criticize the Review because I misunderstood its mission ( a newspaper first and a conservative voice second) or was my criticism justified becase 1. The Review is actually going downhill and 2. those who run it are not real conservatives. I will clarify what my criticism was supposed to mean as soon as I can find another copy of the newspaper.

Friday, March 07, 2003
Just Plain Scary

The before his recent capture, al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave an interview to an al-Jazeera reporter, along with fellow al-Qaeda member Ramzi bin al-Shibh. The reporter asked bin al-Shibh how he felt about being called a terrorist. All I can say is that bin al-Shibh’s response is chilling:

“They are right. That is what we do for a living. If terrorism is to throw terror into the heart of your enemy and the enemy of Allah, then we thank Him, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, for enabling us to be terrorists.”

Wow. Someone should copy that to Reuters and those other news agencies that decline to identify al-Qaeda terrorists as terrorists.

Thursday, March 06, 2003
On Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer's The Tragedy Of Great Power Politics is a good read and a rather complete realist's manifesto. It also contains quite a few good phrases. One favorite:

"For every neck, there are two hands to choke it."

(Kind of a dead give-away that Mearsheimer's a realist.)

On Huntington

One of his contemporaries, Stephen Walt (who has come out against the war along with John Mearsheimer) has declared Huntington the master of the clever and most memerobale phrases. From Huntington "Islam's innards are bloody; so are it's borders." Walt also quotes the God to Ceaser realtionship.

Quote 'o The Hour

While I disagree with much of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" paradigm, he does turn an excellent phrase in his book, The Clash Of Civilizations And The Remaking Of World Order:

"In Islam, God is Caesar; in China and Japan, Caesar is God; in Orthodoxy, God is Caesar's junior partner."

Make of it what you will, but it's a nice piece of prose.

Wine and Cheese

It has come to my attention that the fine folks at Why War, in conjunction with the French Department, will be holding a "French Diplomacy Awareness Party" this Friday, 5 pm, in the Faculty Lounge at the Hop. Students are encouraged to show up to sample free French food, take a break from studying for finals, and, I quote, "celebrate and discuss France's anti-war, pro-inspection, pro humanity stance."

"Few discoveries are more irritating than those that expose the pedigree of ideas." - Lord Acton

On Ethnic/Gender Studies (cont'd)

Responding to an earlier post of mine (scroll three postings down), Chris Hummel on Dartlog explains why he is skeptical about the College's decision to hire Laura Liu, an Asian-American Studies/ Geography/ Women's Studies professor. (Update: Dartmouth students can find the blitz on the Dartmouth Asian Organization bulletin.)

I pretty much agree with everything Mr. Hummel says, as anyone who's read my op-eds will realize. Some additional points:

1) On student involvement in shaping the curriculum and hiring decisions: if you think professors don't know what it means to be liberally-educated, then what about students? As I've said many times before, "liberal" has less to do with the freedom to do what you want with your four years, and much more to do with the freedom from dogma, ideology, and ignorance. Mr. Hummel and myself share the view that the classics are the way to go.

2) The history of ethnic studies in the US needs to be made known. I'm currently writing a paper on the armed takeover of the Cornell student union in 1969 by black militants. One of the demands of those militants was for a Black Studies program whose goal was black self-empowerment (the militants also wanted a separate Black college and a separate judicial system). Such were the circumstances out of which Black Studies in the US emerged, and they make for troubling reading for anyone concerned with questions of academic freedom. The programs were politicized from the start; have Ethnic Studies programs today divorced themselves from this legacy? I am not sure...

Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Continuing the metaphor...

If God has a sense of justice, Bill O'Reilly will be pouring the water on the coals for those two bastards.

Damn Dictators

Bravo, Chien Wen!

To borrow an idea from Bill O’Reilly: if God has a sense of humor, Stalin and Hitler will be sharing a sauna in Hell – a sauna with only one thermostat control. Here’s to eternity, guys.

Rot in Hell, Joe

Today, in case you didn't realize it, is the fiftieth anniversary of Joseph Stalin's death. You can read the New York Times's 1953 obituary of him here. If indeed there is a Hell out there (I am, alas, an atheist), then I sincerely hope Stalin's in there somewhere - somewhere deep. Where would he belong? Take a look at Barry Moser's rendition of Dante's Hell and decide for yourself. Better still, read the damn (no pun intended) poem. I'd place him, just for the sake of irony, in the Ninth Circle, along with those traitors to homeland or party.

From Christian Hummel on Dartlog:


DARTMOUTH HIRES New Asian American Studies Professor LAURA LIU

I am happy to report that I just received official notice that LAURA LIU has just been hired as a joint tenure track professor in the Geography Department and Women's and Gender Studies Program.

Laura is finishing her Ph.D. from Rutgers University where she has been studying labor organizing in New York City's Chinatowns.

I am confident that Laura will be a wonderful addition to our academic community. I would publicly like to thank the search committee (particularly the Co-Chairs, Susan Ackerman and Mona Domosh) for all of their hard work in bringing such a strong candidate to Dartmouth during the faculty search. I would also like to thank Morna Ha '04 for her involvement in promoting Asian American studies and communicating student's expanding academic interests at Dartmouth.

It is an exciting day for the entire Dartmouth community! Please join me in this celebration.


Nora Yasumura
Assistant Dean of Student Life
Advisor to Asian and Asian American Students


See here, here, here, and especially here. Unlike Mr. Hummel, who assumes, a priori, that the appointment will prove to be a bad one, I believe we should give Prof. Liu the benefit of the doubt. Nora Yasumura, on the other hand...but that's another story.

Twenty (Thousand) Paces

Along those lines, maybe Bush should have just accepted Saddam’s earlier invitation to duel to the death. After all, by tradition the challenged party is allowed the choice of weapons.

Very well, then – the United States chooses Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Bush should've accepted Saddam's debate challenge. If he thinks it was a joke, the bluff would be called. Fine. If it was serious, Bush should be able to win a debate on something if he plans to fight a war over it. Bush loses the debate because Saddam somehow musters better rhetorical skills? Also fine, it isn't as if Bush listens to anyone else's opinion (if he doesn't want to hear it) anyway.

It just occurred to me that I haven’t yet thanked Chien Wen and John for inviting me to post on the Observer and share my two (or perhaps three or even – gasp! – four) cents from time to time. Well, gentlemen, thanks.

A Dubious Honor

It may be a bit presumptuous to create a new award with only my second Observer post, but a little gem proffered today by Saddam Hussein just begs for recognition. So I hereby nominate the following snippet of wisdom for the first-ever Autonomic [Nervous System] Rejection award, a prestigious honor to be bestowed upon those rare statements that are such blatant and obvious (and, frequently, offensive) falsehoods that the brain recognizes them as BS without even energizing the frontal lobe.

Quote the Butcher of Baghdad:

“The tyrant [America/GWB] thinks he is capable of enslaving the people and hiding the decisions, freedoms and legitimate choices (they were born with) when their mothers delivered them as free people... Tyranny will be defeated.”

Oh, where to start... Let’s keep this short and sweet.

1) The Iraqi people are enslaved – by Saddam Hussein. It is Saddam who has exterminated over a half-million of his own citizens, systematically killed Kurdish and Shi’ite groups, used torture and chemical weapons against dissenters, and... the list goes on and on.

2) The idea that the Iraqi people are “free” in any sense of the word, or have “legitimate choices” is laughable. The Iraqi people have one choice: follow Saddam, or die. Maybe by gassing. Maybe by decapitation. Maybe by slow, painful torture. Maybe by starvation in an Iraqi prison. Or maybe you just disappear, never to be seen again, as has happened to many who dared question Saddam’s rule (or were merely unfortunate enough to be suspected of such treason).

3) Tyranny will be defeated – just not the one that Saddam is talking about.

On Justice and Judges

I ran across an excellent article today on the American Enterprise Institute's website excerpting comments by Justice Thomas made upon his receipt of the Francis Boyer Award for individuals who have made exceptional practical or scholarly contributions to improved government policy and social welfare. The award was established in 1977 by SmithKline Beecham in memory of Francis Boyer, a former chief executive of SmithKline and a distinguished business leader for many years. Justice Thomas is distinguished for his jurisprudence regarding federalism, civil rights, criminal justice, and business regulation.

Good quotes:

"If we are to be a nation of laws and not of men, judges must be impartial referees who defend constitutional principles from attempts by particular interests (or even the people as a whole) to overwhelm them in the name of expediency.When deciding cases, a judge’s race, sex, and religion are not relevant. A judge must push these factors to one side in order to render a fair, reasoned judgment on the meaning of the law and must attempt to keep at bay those passions, interests, and emotions that beset every frail human being. A judge is not a legislator, for whom it is entirely appropriate to consider personal and group interests. The ideal of justice is to be blind to such things."

"A judge who strictly adheres to the rules of impartiality and judicial restraint is likely to reach sound conclusions. But as I have said, reaching the correct decision is only half the battle. Having the courage of your convictions can be the harder part."

"We best arrive at truth through a process of honest and vigorous debate. Arguments should not sneak around in disguise, as if dissent were somehow sinister. One should not cowed by criticism. Those who engage in debates of consequence and who challenge accepted wisdom should expect to be treated badly. Even if one has a valid position and is intellectually honest, he has to anticipate nasty responses aimed at the messenger rather than the argument. Those responses aim to limit the range of the debate, the number of messengers, and the size of the audience. The objective is to pressure dissenters to sanitize their message."


Monday, March 03, 2003
The Secret Life of Arabia

Is democracy possible in the Middle East? I certainly think so; I think that to assume Middle Eastern culture or Islam is incompatible with democracy – as some on both sides of the political spectrum have suggested, although in an attempt to further widely different points – is to do a disservice to the many good (and often oppressed) peoples in that region who desire self-government but are denied the means to achieve it. The long-suffering citizens of Iraq, for example.

I respond to this point largely to bring attention to the excellent series of articles that Amir Taheri, an Iranian-born author, has been writing for the Wall Street Journal Europe (many of which have been reprinted on National Review Online). Taheri has done an excellent job of calling attention to the true desire of the Iraqi people: they don’t want to be pandered to by France or the U.N., they don’t want to be Americanized – they just want someone to defend them, liberate them, and give them the chance to pursue freedom.

And democracy is not a foreign notion to the Middle East. As Taheri notes:

“By the start of the 20th century the constitutionalists had won in both Constantinople and Tehran, establishing the first Western-style parliaments in the Muslim world. A Martian visiting the Islamic world in the final years of the 19th century would have noticed the almost unanimous support that the democratic ideal enjoyed among Muslim elites.

“Muslim writers, scholars, and reformers in British India, the czarist empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia tried to understand why it was that Islam, once a global civilization that ruled in three continents, had become what the reformist leader Jamaleddin Afghani described as ‘an abyss of misery and terror.’ By the end of the 19th century only three Muslim nations, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, were independent, and then only nominally.

“Muslim thinkers who pondered what had happened concluded that the answer lay in centuries of despotic rule that devastated civil society. ‘A nation whose government does not depend on its people is bound to become a slave of other nations,’ wrote Ismail Agha, a Muslim reformer from the Crimea in the 1880s. His near contemporary Mirza Agha Kermani was more specific: ‘The rise of the Western powers as masters of the world, and the decline of Muslim nations into abject servitude, are due to one fact only. In Europe, governments fear the people. In Islam people fear the government.’”

It is one of the great tragedies of history that this emerging democratic movement was squeezed to death before it could take off. In the early twentieth century Muslim democrats became trapped between the opposing forces of communism and Islamic fundamentalism; these two ideologies waged a battle for control of the Middle East, but both were hostile to democracy, which was pushed aside and marginalized.

But is the Middle East lost to democracy? Far from it. New democratic movements are emerging in even the most fundamentalist Islamic nations – perhaps highlighted by pro-democracy student demonstrators in Iran and the new, pluralistic government in Afghanistan. Taheri concludes:

“In every Muslim country, including the still hermetic Saudi Arabia, the democratic discourse is finding growing audiences. The West, understandably focusing on monsters such as Khomeini, Saddam, and bin Laden, has persuaded itself that democracy is a lost cause in the Muslim world.

“But it is not. The West would do well to get to know ‘the other Muslims,’ those who are trying to revive the democratic tradition within Islam, often at the risk of their lives. The world of Islam is certainly the last area of despotic darkness in the contemporary world. But some light is penetrating.”

The “light” of democracy could hardly come at a better time.

Is Israel a Third World Country?

A popular subject of debate is whether democracy is possible in the Middle East. Israel is often cited in support of the thesis that it is possible. However, many would suggest that Israel is not ‘representative’ of the Third World experience; it would be enlightening to explore the competing theories of one, whether Israel is first world or third world country, and two, whether the Israeli model is applicable to other Middle Eastern nations. I would definitely be interested to hear the opinions of other blogs.

The evidence for granting Israel first-world status refer to in general to three unusual features of the Israeli experience: the Arab-Israeli conflict, its democratic institutions and vibrant private sector. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, both radical and moderate Arab historians suggest that Israel is at best an alien society and at worst, a Western /American imperial imposition. Moreover, Israeli historians always have maintained that Israel’s true peers exist in the West: civilized, stable and economically successful nations. Lastly, Israel has a vibrant private sector despite the large centralization of its governing bodies. Of the other Middle Eastern nations, Iran and Turkey are developing private sector services and groups; the notions of civic life are still somewhat foreign there due to the institutional power of the anti-progressive forces: in Iran, the political religious powers and in Turkey, the military.

However, an equally compelling case can be made the Israel should be classified in the ‘Third World’ category despite these advancements over their peers. Israel is a post-colonial state: its territory was in the last century ruled over by the decaying fragments of the Ottoman and British empires. Israel is also a highly militarized due to border conflicts, extra-territorial aggression and counter-insurgency movements. Its civic society, though vibrant and present, is still highly fragmented along ethnic, tribal and religious lines. Its economic system, an improvement over the original Zionist socialism, is still not completely liberalized: great and expansive governmental controls still exist over the economy and depress many of Israel’s profits. The role of judiciary is unclear and the governments post-Menachem Begin have been highly unstable. Elections are not truly democratic; a small party elite determines the lists and policies regardless of public opinion. (Though granted, the extensive primaries are starting to change this.)

My question is this: where does Israel fit and is the Israeli model applicable to other Middle Eastern nations as a path to democratization?

Pass the Collection Plate: Here's My Two Cents

One of the major arguments propagated in anti-affirmative action rhetoric today is the belief that affirmative action is a biased policy that perpetuates racial inequality and, by dismantling the policy, America will somehow return to the colorblind and fair society it never was.

(john) This is not true at all. What the colorblind argument says is that color conscienceness has led to many of the problems in post-Civil War America. The way to remedy those problems, the argument contends, is to realize that the constituion IS colorblind and begin applying the principles of justice indiscriminatinately. They point out that the way to bring down the color divides is through color blindness, not through enhance color perceptions. As Justice Scalia opines, "We are all one race here. It is American."(/john)

According to APA Online, "It was racial classification, not socio-economic status that prevented Thurgood Marshall's admission to the University of Maryland's law school."

(john> Yes, but regardless of the racial discrimnation against Thurgood Marshall, he suceeded in becoming one of the most brilliant litigants and NAACP strategy lawyers in the 20th century. He also become a Supreme Court justice, no small distinction in itself. What does this show about affirmative action? That Thurgood could have, and did, suceeded without it even in the face of rampant discrimination. It also shows that the if the law were to remove barriers, a negative action against discrimination, rather than persue preferences, a postive action of discrimination, the brilliant people, regardless of race, rise to the top. (/john)

This country has always considered race when admitting college students or hiring employees, thus affirmative action is by no means a new policy. (john) Just because some wrong X was committed in the past, it does not justify updated versions of X in the present.(/john)

According to Julian Bond, "White males make up 92 percent of the U.S. Senate, 80 percent of the U.S. House, 90 percent of the nation's newspaper editors and 80 percent of the tenured faculty at the nation's colleges and universities." Something is wrong in America when approximately 40 percent of its inhabitants are minorities, but government intuitions, businesses and academia continue to be white-washed.

(john) Statistical variations between population size and 'representation' have always existed and will continue to exist across human societies. Moreover, showing statistical variations does not conclusively and incontrovertiably prove discrimination. Lightning strikes men more often than women even though women make up a majority of the world's population. To use this statistic to 'prove' that lightning has gender bias is as fallacious as quoting numbers from Bond on the government's racial composition. Instituions of governing and learning do not exist to paint pretty statistical pictures for those who are interested in seeing pretty statistical pictures; they exist primarily to better equip everyone to persue his conception of the good life. (/john)

but why all of sudden when race is considered for the minority do all these assumptions that the bar of academic and intellectual excellence has somehow been lowered? (john) This is because for elite colleges there exists a very small pool of non-Asian minority applicants. The limited supply and the high demand creates a situation known as a 'shortage.' Colleges, in their infinite social wisdom, are relatively unconcerned about the underlying reasons for those shortages: failing schools, broken homes, lack of drive, lack of divine blessing, etc, but are very very concerned about fixing the shortage in the short-term through mismatching applicants. They take what would otherwise be first-rate students, were they competing at the right level among their peers, and place them in universities that are above their level. (/john)

I contend that these very assumptions illustrate the perpetuation of discrimination in America. (john) Actually data shows that there actually exist an acheivement gap betwen Asian and whites, whites and non-Asian minorities, and between Asian and non-Asian minorities. Professor of Lingusitics John McWhorter has done some excellent research into the field of the 'achievement gap thesis' and Professor of Economics Thomas Sowell has used empirical analysis to offer some competing theories of why this gap would exist. (/john)

The age of white male superiority is over, so get over it. It is time for this country to live up to the hypocritical rhetoric of equality and justice for all that it has proposed for so long. (john) It seems bad that an otherwise uniformed yet innocous article could so easily turn into junior varsity race-baiting and the good ole 'One Minute of Hate' against THE MAN (always trying to keep us down). Not only has the author of the piece pontificated unemcumbered by knowledge, she confesses in the pages of the D that at her core, she is at best, self-decieved and hateful and at worst, a mere echo of an opinion that could have been intelligent. (/john)

Construction Work

Chien Wen quoted some stuff from a "loud" op-ed in today's D, ostensibly so that someone here might comment on it. I pick this one:

"Education is a social construction, thus the linking of race, geography, etc, to intelligence or merit is a direct result of this social constructionism as opposed to biological determinism."

This is an elephant that could never cross the Alps. The purpose of a line of argument like this is to "win" a Pyrrhic victory for the viewpoint it espouses. In my research I often find people make it against the underlying epistemological structures of other groups (i.e., anti-Darwinians v. "scientific establishment"). I guess rather than build a good model of that argument, I will just point to the problem in this one. Regarding education, it makes one -ism, "social constructionism," the equivalent of another, "biological determinism." The purpose of claiming "all -isms are equal" is to clear the field of all offending -isms, often to bolster the claimants own claims further down the road. However, people making these arguments often commit a sort of logical faux pas, in that after sweeping the field with these bits of Pyrrhic reasoning, that should logically also sweep away their own charges, they allow their ideas to stand. What -ism is being substituted here? There isn't one. The author is merely claiming that both -isms are equal at some basic level, and moving on. Unfortunately, pragmatists, rather than accepting a relativist's attack on core principles as being merely necessary by their own proclamation (i.e., the necessity or "value" of one's core principles is established circularly after one has adopted those principles), will evaluate the competing claims in the real world to see which is more productive. The conclusion, I suspect, would be that if education is a "social construction" it is one that is manifestly useful, and not just another equal choice to be made in a relative world.

Strangely, though, as I continue to reread the author's quote, I find that my charges against it are deflected by the mere fact that it doesn't make much me, at least. In fact, it seems to be a better argument against affirmative action. The author seems to

1) Liken social constructionism to biological determinism, the latter being seen as "bad"
2) Claim that linking race or some other standard to intelligence or merit is a result of this "bad" constructionism
So we should conclude that we need a race- or geography- blind system? That seems to be the logical result, but again, I'm very confused by this argument in general. Either it is making a sloppy attempt to employ the fallacious reasoning I've tried (poorly, I know, but I don't want to put more time into this) to describe above, or it is a better argument for that which it opposes than for that with which the author wants it to agree.

Sample quotes from an op-ed in today's D about affirmative action:

"If the minority is guilty of anything it's guilty of trying to succeed in a society that is designed to perpetuate their misfortunes through a biased educational system, media and political institution."

"Education is a social construction, thus the linking of race, geography, etc, to intelligence or merit is a direct result of this social constructionism as opposed to biological determinism."

"For those who dare dispute the success of affirmative action, I challenge you to research minority enrollment statistics in colleges and law schools in states like Texas and California, which have banned affirmative action."

"The age of white male superiority is over, so get over it."

"It's time to really give meaning to the superficial and fallacious notions of racial equality that now permeate American society."