The Dartmouth Observer

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004
New blog II

Nobel laureate Gary Becker and Judge Richard Posner have a blog. Nothing there yet, but expect good things to come of it.

New blog

Brad Plumer '03, now of Mother Jones, has a blog (well, he's had it for a few months now). Brad's one of the smartest and most well-read people I've run across, as his considered and detailed posts suggest. Check him out.

Monday, November 22, 2004
"Special circumstances"

It's time to turn our attention once again to my dear old country. A recent report by Reporters without Borders has ranked Singapore 147th out of 167 countries in a list of global press freedoms, behind such specimens of enlightened thought as the Palestinian Authority, Liberia, and Kyrgyzstan. (A similar list by Freedom House has us slightly better at 135th out of 193.) For a country whose GDP per capita is 29th out of 231, this is really not good at all.

Typically, the government is protesting - and typically, doing a bad job at it. The Information Minister says that the Reporters Without Borders index "is based largely on a different media model which favours the advocacy and adversarial role of the press." By contrast, "We have a different media model in Singapore...This model has evolved out of our special circumstances and has enabled our media to contribute to nation building."

Of course, the whole point of a global ranking system is that it has to employ the same criteria across the board. "Special circumstances" of the sort the Information Minister mentions can't be taken into account, particularly if the alternative model proposes a "different media model." Otherwise, what's the point of a unified ranking systems? Perhaps Singapore would prefer to be compared to countries like North Korea and Iran that would have similar views on the role of media in society. (NB: I'm not drawing a moral equivalence here between my country and North Korea.)

In fact, if you look at these comments in a slightly different light, you'll notice that the Information Minister, in setting out to refute these claims, merely lends weight to the argument that Singaporeans enjoy very little press freedom. He says quite clearly that the media contributes to nation building in Singapore, that it has to be sensitive to the government's interests. If so, then the media ain't free, because freedom of the press means, by any reasonable standards, the freedom to pursue truth and fairness without having to worry about political pressures. It would have been more honest of the Information Minister to admit that Singapore employs a different media model, and therefore deserves its low ranking.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004
The Academic Imagination

Mark Bauerlein (who debated James Panero today) has a must-read piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on liberal academia. Sample:
The first protocol of academic society might be called the Common Assumption. The assumption is that all the strangers in the room at professional gatherings are liberals. Liberalism at humanities meetings serves the same purpose that scientific method does at science assemblies. It provides a base of accord. The Assumption proves correct often enough for it to join other forms of trust that enable collegial events. A fellowship is intimated, and members may speak their minds without worrying about justifying basic beliefs or curbing emotions.
Bashing the academy for its left-leaning tendencies has been a cottage industry for some time, but to date no one, whether inside or outside academia, seems to have found a reasonable approach to enhancing intellectual diversity on campus. Conservative professors like Harvey Mansfield at Harvard and Robert George at Princeton seem content to let things be and play the role of the lone maverick. The folks at Campus Watch aren't going to achieve their goal of injecting sense into Middle Eastern Studies by publishing dossiers of "errant" professors on their pages (a practice that's since been discontinued). David Horowitz's activism looks similarly doomed to aggravate rather than result in reform. Writes Bauerlein,
That doesn't mean establishing affirmative action for conservative scholars or encouraging greater market forces in education -- which violate conservative values as much as they do liberal values. Rather, it calls for academics to recognize that a one-party campus is bad for the intellectual health of everyone. Groupthink is an anti-intellectual condition, ironically seductive in that the more one feels at ease with compatriots, the more one's mind narrows. The great liberal John Stuart Mill identified its insulating effect as a failure of imagination: "They have never thrown themselves into the mental condition of those who think differently from them." With adversaries so few and opposing ideas so disposable, a reverse advantage sets in. The majority expands its power throughout the institution, but its thinking grows routine and parochial. The minority is excluded, but its thinking is tested and toughened. Being the lone dissenter in a colloquy, one learns to acquire sure facts, crisp arguments, and a thick skin.
Bauerlein doesn't actually offer any specific prescriptions, but his approach is essentially correct. Conservatives have to stop whining and ridiculing liberal professors, no matter how silly things get. Those outside academia need to engage sensible leftist professors, not all of whom are somewhere to the left of Che Guevara. Those inside academia (especially those with tenure) need to do the same, both in private and in public. Conservative students ought not to be afraid to speak out -- respectfully -- against professors whom they disagree politically with, and more of their kind should be encouraged to pursue tenure-track positions in the humanities and social sciences.

Saturday, November 06, 2004
The Election

More coming from me on the election soon. However, I would just like to note a few things from the outset for some of my very confused liberal and conservative friends at the moment.

1. This is election is not the end of the world as we know it. Unlike what you hear from the embittered members of the opposition party, or from the triumphalist Bill Bennects of the world, the election of President Bush with solid Republican majorities in both houses is not going to so completely transform the American landscape that fleeing to Canada will be a necessity. The Republican is not going to legislate 'proper morality' into the American people.

2. The Democratic party is not the party that a majority of Americans would vote for if they weren't being duped by Republicans. Higher turnout in the electorate did not necessarily mean a Kerry victory, nor are millions of persons voting "against their interests" when they cast their votes for President Bush. The Dems do not have the philosophical and moral superiority to Republicans that the masses are just missing. Any advice given by any person telling the Dems that the reasons they lost is because they aren't liberal enough (far left), or have the right ideas but need to dumb them down/ dress them up for the general population (DLC), is just wrong.

3. The election was not inevitable. It literally came down to Ohio, and regardless of the spin to the contrary, the nation is quite "divided." The Democrats are just as confused as now as they would be if Kerry had won. The "anyone but Bush" strategy isn't really a viable, though cogent, strategy if the Democrats want to re-emerge as a major player in national politics. The outcome of the election was never even clear or inevitable.

Monday, November 01, 2004
Tom Wolfe

I'm not the biggest fan of contemporary fiction, but am willing to make the exception for books like Tom Wolfe's upcoming I Am Charlotte Simmons. If only because 1) the book sounds suspiciously similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise (which I have read), right down to the "roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition" that serve as the setting for Wolfe's novel; and 2) Wolfe's a man after my own heart:
So what is it about his liberal neighbours and fellow diners in his adoptive New York that Wolfe cannot abide? "I cannot stand the lock-step among everyone in my particular world. They all do the same thing, without variation. It gets so boring. There is something in me that particularly wants it registered that I am not one of them."
I'm not from New York, and don't live in a particularly liberal world at the moment, but the pleasure that one gets from standing up to conformity and conformism is too great to be discounted.