Saturday, May 31, 2008

Leon Hadar on Sexism

Dr. Hadar scores a few telling points in his argument that sexism has nothing to do with Mrs. Clinton's bumpy political road.

...her rise to political power as a democratic senator from New York and now as a leading presidential candidate had everything to do with her being a woman - the wife of the popular man who occupied the White House for two terms and the sympathy that many Americans, and especially women, have felt towards her in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky affair (during which many of them accused her husband of being a misogynist).
In fact, most political analysts would agree that if Hillary Clinton had been a male Democratic presidential candidate with no chance of winning enough delegates to be nominated by his party, he would have withdrawn from the race a long time ago and pledged his support for Barack Obama. The reason that the Democratic Party's leaders continue to tolerate Mrs Clinton's behaviour is because she is a woman and they, indeed, don't want to be accused of sexism.

More at the link, including...

...male public figures have always been mocked by hostile voters and a cynical press, claiming that they had no hair on their head or too much hair, they were too short or too heavy, too macho or too pretty or too 'wimpy'.

It goes with the territory of dirty politics. Male and female candidates don't win brownie points by playing the role of the victim. No one expects that a male politician losing an election would accuse his opponents and the media of sexism or 'anti-manism'. That would sound as either pathetic or ridiculous, or both.

James Fallows -- Obama minutia

Fallows, a man who pays attention to a multitude of details, credits "reader Rachel" with noticing an unmistakable parallel between Obama's Weslyan graduation speech and another speech delivered by Senator Kennedy years ago.

...Obama was there in place of the ailing Teddy Kennedy. Kennedy had given Obama a huge boost in the legitimacy-and-legacy category by endorsing him, even if it didn't help much in the MA. primary. And Kennedy's most famous speech was his "concession" speech at the 1980 Democratic convention in New York, when he brought the house down (I was there) with his defiant reassertion of the liberal values that he thought the doomed incumbent, Jimmy Carter, had abandoned. His speech ended with these words:

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

The structure of Obama's speech, these 28 years later, built toward praise of Kennedy's legacy and record, and ended with these words:

That is all I ask of you on this joyous day of new beginnings; that is what Senator Kennedy asks of you as well, and that is how we will keep so much needed work going, and the cause of justice everlasting, and the dream alive for generations to come.

As Rachel points out, this ending was an allusion so subtle that Kennedy himself might be the only person who caught it. Obama took the speech of Ted's lifetime... and put the three key words - work, cause, dream - into the last line of the text. Poetry into prose, a private tribute to the man whose endorsement took Obama from runner up to winner.

What is so elegant about this touch? Precisely that Obama did not feel obliged to spell out all the links. ("And what I ask of you, in Senator Kennedy's own unforgettable words...")

Politicians shouldn't be obscure. But a willingness to assume good things about the public -- its knowledge, its understanding, its ability to rise above the most immediate appeal to pocketbook or prejudice -- is part of what makes a politician into a leader. Even if the intended audience for this close was strictly the Kennedy family, it is an impressive bit of craftsmanship.

This guy is too good to be true. I'm starting to think he doesn't have a chance because he's simply not dull enough or deceitful enough to act plebeian and make it look convincing. This kind of subtle intellect is almost impossible to hide. He's courting the wrong bunch. Dog whistle politics is supposed to appeal to a different population.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fr. Michael Pfleger and the latest flap

I already blogged about that guy, back in April when he took a Fox reporter to the cleaners.

So here's a clip of part of his sermon at Jeremiah Wright's church. Obama is running for president so he can't say it, but I'm not and I can:

Get over it.

Pay attention to all the people in the congregation. They loved what they heard.
And so did I. I've heard much more offensive stuff on television.
But that's not real, you say. Right?
Think about it.

To quote Fr. Pfleger from the Fox News interview, "...when white people criticize America they're critical...when black people criticize America they're haters of America."

Resurrection and faith as a love story

I stole her post title because I'm in a hurry.
Good post.
Go read.

And drill into the links.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Brzezinski on Iran

Zbigniew Brzezinski has been around for a long time. I first became aware of the name from a footnote in Alvin Toffler's Future Shock about 1970, a brilliant book that deeply impressed me at the time. Brzezinski's Between Two Ages has been in my library since it was published and I may be one of the few people who cast a vote for Jimmy Carter in part because he had selected Brzezinski as an advisor. Yeah, I'm that kind of old-school liberal. Get over it.

If the reader hasn't yet slammed the door in the face of these revelations, I now refer you to a column in the Washington Post. Thankfully I'm not alone in regarding this man's opinions as worth noting or he wouldn't still be publishing and writing.

A successful approach to Iran has to accommodate its security interests and ours. Neither a U.S. air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities nor a less effective Israeli one could do more than merely set back Iran's nuclear program. In either case, the United States would be held accountable and would have to pay the price resulting from likely Iranian reactions. These would almost certainly involve destabilizing the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan, and serious efforts to disrupt the flow of oil, at the very least generating a massive increase in its already high cost. The turmoil in the Middle East resulting from a preemptive attack on Iran would hurt America and eventually Israel, too.

Given Iran's stated goals -- a nuclear power capability but not nuclear weapons, as well as an alleged desire to discuss broader U.S.-Iranian security issues -- a realistic policy would exploit this opening to see what it might yield. The United States could indicate that it is prepared to negotiate, either on the basis of no preconditions by either side (though retaining the right to terminate the negotiations if Iran remains unyielding but begins to enrich its uranium beyond levels allowed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty); or to negotiate on the basis of an Iranian willingness to suspend enrichment in return for simultaneous U.S. suspension of major economic and financial sanctions.

Such a broader and more flexible approach would increase the prospects of an international arrangement being devised to accommodate Iran's desire for an autonomous nuclear energy program while minimizing the possibility that it could be rapidly transformed into a nuclear weapons program. Moreover, there is no credible reason to assume that the traditional policy of strategic deterrence, which worked so well in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and with China and which has helped to stabilize India-Pakistan hostility, would not work in the case of Iran. The widely propagated notion of a suicidal Iran detonating its very first nuclear weapon against Israel is more the product of paranoia or demagogy than of serious strategic calculus. It cannot be the basis for U.S. policy, and it should not be for Israel's, either.

He concludes the piece with a passing reference to gas prices, noting that...

...American sanctions have been deliberately obstructing Iran's efforts to increase its oil and natural gas outputs. That has contributed to the rising cost of energy. An eventual American-Iranian accommodation would significantly increase the flow of Iranian energy to the world market. Americans doubtless would prefer to pay less for filling their gas tanks than having to pay much more to finance a wider conflict in the Persian Gulf.

Yo, Mr. President...Senator McCain...ya'll getting this?
Appeasement, you say?
Better mention that to Israel. Sounds like international diplomacy to me.

Confident Ignorance vs. Confident Confusion

Two unrelated links in my surfing merit coupling. The first is a post from 2006 by Fr. Karl at Summa Contra Mundum. The other is a YouTube video. Both underscore the same point. See what you think...

I teach Plato for a living. One of the main points to be made from any reading of the early Socratic dialogues is the benefits of confusion. Socrates doesn't pretend to know what piety is, but he knows that he doesn't know, and he wants to get Euthyphro to join him in a productive confusion. He doesn't claim to know what virtue is or if it can be taught, but he wants to play torpedo fish and get Meno as confused as he is. This is because confusion is better than confident ignorance. I diagram it like this:

Confident Ignorance

Wisdom is the best state, of course, and confusion is good because it is directed toward wisdom. Once I know that I don't know, I will ask questions in order to know. The slave boy doesn't know the answer to the geometry problem, butas long as he thinks he knows, he will never really know. Confident ignorance is the worst state, since one is likely wrong, and will never come out of the ignorance because of the confidence. "Yes, I know all about piety. Just ask me!" says Euthyphro. As long as he thinks this, he will always remain ignorant about piety, and will never have any hope of wisdom.

I was thinking about this the other day, and I think I have made a discovery. We do not have many people in states of Confident Ignorance anymore. No-one claims to know anything about the forms, about moral matters. We all claim confusion. In fact, we are Confidently Confused. We don't know anything except that it is impossible for us to know anything. It is, as Cardinal Ratzinger put it somewhere, the unquestioned dogma of the age.

Confident Ignorance was better, because Socrates could shock people out of that state by dismantling their confidence. What would Socrates do today, when people are so confident that they are confused? To reduce them to confusion via the Socratic method only confirms what they already think! I don't know the solution. How does one puncture dogmatic doubt? Perhaps like the rabbi who, when confronted by an atheist, says "Despite all that, perhaps it is true." (I get the rabbinical story from Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, where he quotes Martin Buber.)

You can color me, by the way, "confidently ignorant." It seems to get worse the older I get, but redemption is always a possibility. God save me from confident confusion.

H/T Scott Ferguson for the YouTube link

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Women in Films

And in your memories...
Via 3Quarks Daily (Which won another award for excellence, this time "Favorite Blog to Embrace All That’s Smart" from The Morning News, online magazine.)

Okay, then.
I wanted to know, too.
Here's a list from someone in the comments thread:
Ann Margaret

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Biggest drawing in the world by Erik Nordenankar

After ignoring this video for several days I decided to take a look.
More impressive than I anticipated.

(Somebody has too much time and money on their hands...)
He's getting beat up pretty bad in the comments. Some are calling it a hoax, marketing ploy, etc.

Link to the main site.

Adland general comment (not specifically about this video)...
The reason marketeers want to do viral ads is because you can do it cheaper, reach more people (perhaps not the right ones however) and be a little naughtier than you can on TV... And for all those reasons it's so easy for people to grab their own camcorder and create a hoax viral of their own. The spread of fake virals - which to the end viewer looks exactly the same as a real viral - ends up threatening the integrity of everything else. Especially when even industry commentators fall for them. I don't blame the adbloggers for that - I do blame the creators of viral ad campaigns and their need to be secretive. We never wrote about the Beta-7 viral campaign here as the only way it was submitted was by one single link. No word on who created it. No explanation. Nothing. I understand that the creators of Beta-7 wanted people to get sucked into the story - and many did - but don't expect adbloggers like myself to be your seeding tools when you don't give us the full story.

...but Adland looked at the project and was impressed.

Erik Nordenankar doesn't do things half-assed. In fact, he's created The Biggest drawing in the world with a little help from a GPS device and DHL. This was his end of school project at Beckmans and I'm willing to bet money he'll land an awesome job pronto. In fact, if DHL doesn't pay him some money to us this as the viral campaign it already is, I'm going to get mighty peeved. YOU HEAR ME DHL?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend, 2008

Welcome New York Times readers. I'm honored to be linked. What you have found is a trove of stuff written over the last four years, by me and a few other people, all of which resonates in some way with the idea of memorializing the dead. It will take a long time to read it all, especially if you drill into all the links. So if your time is limited I recommend skipping to the last two links.

If time permits, please look around. Check the sidebar post titles and if any catches your interest, give it a click. Thanks for visiting.

I have said enough about this observance. Here are links to past posts inspired by Memorial Day.

2005 Memorial Day Post

2006 Memorial Day, 2006

2007 Memorial Day Weekend

2007 Memorial Day, 2007

Inasmuch as we are remembering the dead, here is another link to one of the most moving accounts of military sacrifices I have come across, the personal remembrance of LtCol George Goodson, USMC retired, whose Burial at Sea is worthy of a TV series.

Christmas Eve, 2005 (reposted in 2006)

The Donald Sensing link is broken. In case I don't get around to fixing it, Death notifications is his post from 2005. Highly recommended reading.

Friday, May 23, 2008

"5 reasons to love high oil prices"


Good things that could come from $200/barrel oil:
1. Your Prius is actually appreciating in value. Maybe even more than your house!
Gay marriage in California? I have not a care for that of which you speak.
3. We’ll all be able to talk fondly of the good ole days when
oil was only $133/barrel
4. Congressional Democrats get to
go all butch and kick some oil executive ass
5. It’s past time for
Mad Max fashions to come back in style. And who doesn’t love the Thunderdome!

Of Tigers and Tides

This morning's reading and reflection led me to a string of trivia. One comment following the tragic flooding that continues to devastate Myanmar mentioned that the tragedy was made worse by the destruction of the mangrove forests that once offered some protection from tidal waves and winds that come with tropical storms. The reason given was that much of the delta was converted to shrimp farming. Shrimp for affluent tables makes a better cash crop than the subsistence fishing that comes with the mangroves.

Bangladesh, by contrast, is among the most impoverished of the world's countries, but following a similar national tragedy three decades ago that cost the lives of millions that country took measures to restore and preserve mangrove coastal forests which offer more protection against typhoons as well as a more diverse economic base. The forests of Bangladesh are habitat for the largest population of Bengal tigers in the world, once a threatened species.

The phrase "rise of the rest" is a phrase I heard several times lately, referring to economic and social improvements made by developing countries as their leaders and populations develop ways to swim better with the sharks in global waters which historically have advanced more exploitation than development. Rhyming with rise of the West, the line was made current by a book by the same name published a few years ago. The contrast of Bangladesh and Myanmar can be seen as a case in point, at least regarding the protection/devastation of mangrove forests.

The Bengal tiger reference comes only days after hearing a great review of The Life of Pi by Yann Martel which I read the year after it was published (2001). It is the unlikely story of a teenage boy who finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for several months in the Pacific. (Don't ask, but believe me when I say that Yann Martel makes this totally incredible story line plausible...but that's not why I'm writing about it.) Two unrelated references to Bengal tigers don't occur often in the same week, so I did some research. This is what I came across at Wikipedia...

The Sundarbans [the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world] are home to approximately 500 Bengal Tigers as of 2004, one of the largest single population of tigers. These tigers are well-known for the substantial number of people they kill; estimates range from 100-250 people per year. They are not the only tigers who live in close proximity to humans. In Bandhavgarh, villages encircle the tiger reserves, and yet attacks on people are rare. However, owing to various measures taken for safety, there is no report of single death since 2004 in Indian portion of the Sundarbans.
There are several speculated causes as to why these tigers maul humans:
►Since the Sundarbans is located in a coastal area, the water is relatively salty. In all other habitats, tigers drink fresh water. It is rumored that the saltiness of the tiger's water in this area has put them in a state of constant discomfort, leading them to be extremely aggressive. Freshwater lakes have been artificially made but to no avail.
►The high tides in the area destroy the tiger's scents which serve as territorial markers. Thus, the only way for a tiger to defend its territory is to physically dominate everything that enters.
►Another possibility is that these tigers have grown used to human flesh due to the weather. Cyclones in this part of India and Bangladesh kill thousands, and the bodies drift out in to the swampy waters, where tigers scavenge on them.
►Another possibility is that the tigers find hunting animals difficult due to the continuous high and low tides making the area marsh-like and slippery. Humans travel through the Sundarbans on boats gathering honey and fishing, making an easy or accessible prey. It is also believed that when a person stops to work, the tiger mistakes them for an animal, and has, over time, acquired a 'taste' for the human flesh.
►It has also been hypothesized that the tigers in this area, due to their secluded habitat, avoided the brunt of the hunting sprees that occurred over the course of the 20th century. ►Tigers inhabiting the rest of Asia developed a fear of humans after these events, but tigers in the Sundarbans would never have had reason to stop seeing humans as a prey item.

Pretty grim, huh?
How about this?

I have no deep reason for this post other than to keep track of that string of tiger trivia. Like empty coffee cans that pile up in the garage, one never knows when they might come in handy. After all, they make for an interesting footnote to an otherwise mundane story of yet another tragedy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Typhoon vs. Huricane -- Compare and Contrast

Crawford Kilian looks at the Chinese response to the earthquake, comparing that country's impressive response with the mind-blowing stupidity of the state-controlled non-response, that of the Burmese authorities, to another national tragedy resulting from a different natural disaster.

Before we start wagging our heads judgementally, it might be prudent to recall Washington's non-response to Katrina three years ago. Here's another post to check.

There may have been an effort to erase the evidence. The Army Times link from Crof's blog now says "The story you are looking for cannot be found" but take a look at this Google search:

"This place is going to look like Little Somalia"

I got over eight hundred responses.
The comparisons are worth noting.

(Incidentally, I also found the Army Times link via a different search. It didn't get erased...just moved.)

Negotiation or Appeasement?

The air is polluted with accusations of appeasement hurled at those favoring negotiation rather than military strikes. The president's oblique remarks to the Knesset...

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)

...quickly snatched up by Senator McCain and tossed at Barack Obama, who picked it up like a snowball and threw it back, have poisoned the well in the presidential campaign.

Read now what the Israeli's are saying and doing as Tony Karon points out in today's post.

...Elsewhere, Hamas and Israel are negotiating a truce, with Egypt playing the mediating role once adopted by the U.S. in talks between Israel and its neighbors. The Israelis won’t call it a truce, or admit to talking with Hamas — which Bush, in his fantasy world, likens to talking with Hitler, despite the fact that two thirds of Israelis support such talks — but everyone knows that’s what they’re doing. Bush’s posturing is all very well, but Israel needs a truce with Hamas, so in the realm of practical politics, Bush must simply be sympathetically humored, and ignored.
Israel is also forced to ignore Bush’s adolescent militancy when it comes to Syria. Washington has, under Bush, refused to engage with Damascus, insisting that it be isolated. But despite Bush’s reservations, the Israelis have opened peace talks with Syria, using Turkey to play the mediating role traditionally assumed by the U.S. — but vacated under the Bush Administration.

I report. You decide.

Pop TV Talks Immigration

David Neiwert posted this video at his blog today together with another lengthy column describing the panic-mongering popular media voices from both Fox and CNN.

Sometimes I wake up in the wee hours of the moring and watch a little TV waiting for sleep to return. If I'm tired enougn, C-SPAN is normally boring enough to make me go back to sleep, but I also check out ABC and CNN in case anything important might have happened since I went to bed. Whenever I see the faces of Glenn Beck or Lou Dobbs I can't keep watching. I cannot believe there is a market for that swill, but what do I know? I'm part of the lunatic fringe.


Lou Dobbs replies, more or less:
If I write a book and 98 percent of it is good material, but 2 percent of it contains libelous and false material, perhaps plagiarized material taken from a white-supremacist website, then it should not surprise me if the public and critics decide to discard the remaining 98 percent as unreliable. Journalists should always strive for complete accuracy and reliable, responsible sourcing, and understand that when they fail, it mars the rest of their work -- and moreover, good journalists recognize that, cop to their mistakes, and move immediately to correct them.
But with Dobbs, the equation is actually reversed. His show is such a major font of misinformation on immigration that it's fair to say that probably only about 2 percent of it is either reliable or responsible. And Dobbs not only never cops to his mistakes -- he says he does, but in fact the record shows otherwise -- but he badgers and attacks the people who call him on them...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

David Archuleta - Final Performance

In case you missed it as I did.
Yeah, I'm a sap for the song as well.


When the public voted the other "David" (David Cook) won the competition. No comment from me about that. At this point in the "competition" they're all very high on the talent charts and differences among them is a matter of individual taste. All of the top twelve competitors participated in the final two-hour show last night...which made me tired so I went to bed after the first hour. I learned this morning (5/22) who won.

I've never been terribly impressed with the collective tastes of large numvers of people. This brings to mind whether our politics is an echo of popular ignorance. In some way I think it is. There are many differences, including intelligence levels and attention spans, but when all the smoke clears, in either case -- politics or entertainment -- we receive collectively what we seek, deserve or permit. There is a saying in business that What you permit, you promote. Lots of truth there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

James Fallows on China (Updated)

James Fallows lived in China several months last year putting together the Atlantic story about manufacturing in that area. His blog today has pictures and commentary about the schools.

Here, from a middle school, is a dormitory room where 18 girls sleep each night and eat all their meals. They sleep side by side, nine on the bottom bunk and nine on the top, with their heads to the left of the picture and their feet to the center. All of their clothes and belongings are in the gray lockers in the right background.

Since this was first posted last week James Fallows has added several posts to his blog about the earthquake's aftermath.

Earthquake update #1: USGS

Earthquake update #2: Media

Earthquake update #3: Pandas

Earthquake update #4: Middle school pictures

Obama in Portland, Oregon

Fantasy: 1964 Redux

As a child of the Sixties I have harbored no small resentment in my adult life of the swelling popular ignorance that passes for Conservatism. Real Conservatives, like "Classical" Liberals, know better, but the populist (read demagogic) appeal of Fox Broadcasting and it's Talk Radio children has grown to the dimensions of Limbaugh's old belt size.

Comes now the rise of Carl Rove as he slips into the ranks of the broadcasting cognoscenti. Can we say a sheep in fox's clothing?

My fantasy is that the next general election will no even be close. I want it to be an avalanche, an unbalanced swing of the pendulum, that once and for all renounces the failed social policies of the last forty years. I want a replay of 1964.

Yeah, I know West Virginia and Kentucky will be red. Probably Michigan as well. But this comment by Ron Beasely at Newshoggers gives me a chill:


If McCain is to have any chance of victory in November he must distance himself from the Bush administration. On a daily basis FOX viewers will see the man who as much as anyone represents the failed and morally corrupt Bush administration shilling for John McCain. This may help McCain with the remaining Bush cultists but will hurt him with the 82 percent who think the country is on the wrong track. So it may be wrong but from the partisan hacks at FOX this comes as no surprise and ultimately in will be John McCain who is hurt. Maybe if we are lucky FOX will hire Rumsfeld too.

Hootsbuddy on Politics

Someone linked a post I wrote a year ago. It's amazing how much I have written and forgotten. But a year later, some of it still reads well.

To wit:

It hit me yesterday: the difference between Democrats and Republicans is the difference between being raped or seduced. In both cases you get screwed, but there's that little matter of consent.

It's in a comment, way down a shaggy dog saga about Paul Wolfowitz.
Dr. Hadar's original column also still makes a good read...

Mr. Wolfowitz, serving in the Pentagon in 1992, authored a policy paper that called for the establishment of a global Pax Americana, which was rejected by the first President Bush and President Bill Clinton.

His unipolarist approach to global affairs was eventually adopted by the second President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11, with the war in Iraq, and has been seen as the first stage in the implementation of a unilateral strategy aimed at remaking the Middle East under American hegemony.

He was one of the sponsors of the infamous Ahmed Chalabi and predicted (among other things) that the United States would discover in Iraq weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and evidence linking Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden; that Iraq would be pacified by a few American troops; that Iraqi oil revenues would help pay for the occupation and reconstruction of the country.

As New America Foundation scholar Michael Lind has written recently, Mr. Wolfowitz has been "the Mozart of ineptitude, the Einstein of incapacity," proving to be "consistently, astonishingly, unswervingly wrong" about foreign policy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Charles Murray on "Educational Romanticism"

Cyber-buddy M. Simon points to an excellent piece in The New Criterion. (Fascinating name for a magazine looking to the past for guidance. Sorry. I couldn't resist.) The thrust of the article is that what passes for public education in America is infected with the romantic idea that if we try hard enough we can discover the alchemy that will make scholars of even the dullest and most disadvantaged among us. This is a hobby horse that I love to ride. Despite its provenance, this article is one that I wish everyone would read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

Mr. Simon's comments are good.
I love this:

Then comes a discussion of No Child Left Behind where by the government intends to make us all above average. Or at least 70% of us. You can pass a law and do that? Who knew?

Snark aside, there is a lot of meat in the piece.

It is difficult to convey to readers who came of age in the 1970s or thereafter the emotional power of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. The ambiguities associated with affirmative action and the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws were still in the future. The Civil Rights Movement prior to 1964 created a change in the consciousness of white elites that was felt viscerally, and it included an embarrassing awareness of just how unremittingly whites had violated every American ideal when it came to blacks. With that awareness came elite white guilt —honest, deeply felt, and warranted.

Elite (There's that word again.) white guilt explains much about all kinds of social policy from the last half of the 1960s onward, but especially about education. Until the 1960s, white educators and politicians could look at a class of white children in which a number of students were doing poorly and shrug. The schools try to teach everyone, but some kids can’t handle the material. That’s just the way the things are; it is not a problem that can be fixed. But when the class consisted of black students who were doing poorly, that reaction was not acceptable. These were children growing up in a society where all the odds had been stacked against them, and their failings couldn’t be passed off as “just the way things are.” Elite white guilt made it impossible to say that a lot of black children were going to continue to fail in school and there’s nothing anybody could do about it. Once it could not be said of black children, neither could it be said of white children. In that context, educational romanticism did not just become fashionable during the 1960s. It became emotionally mandatory.

And so, beginning with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the federal government embarked on a series of major efforts to improve education for disadvantaged children that culminated in 2002 with the No Child Left Behind Act. Surveying that history, an analogy occurred to me that I offer as a speculative proposition: America’s federal education policy as of 2008 is at about the same place that the Soviet Union’s economic policy was in 1990.

The parallels between the trajectory of the Soviet Union’s attempt to reform its economy and the trajectory of the federal government’s attempts to reform the public education system are striking. By the mid-1980s, Soviet leaders knew that they had to introduce supply and demand into the economy, but they couldn’t bring themselves to try honest-to-God capitalism, so they tried to decentralize decision-making and permit some elements of a market economy while retaining central price controls and government ownership of the means of production. The reforms were based on premises about human nature that were patently wrong. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the educational romantics—and George W. Bush is the Percy Bysshe Shelley of educational romantics—knew that public school systems everywhere had become bureaucratically top-heavy and that many inner-city schools were no longer functional. They knew that the billions of federal money spent on upgrading education for disadvantaged children had produced no demonstrable improvements. But they thought they could fix the system. Bush’s glasnost was to implement accountability through measurement of results by test scores. Bush’s perestroika was a mishmash of performance standards and fragments of a market economy in schools, while retaining public funding of the schools and government control over the enforcement of the new standards. The reforms were based on premises about intellectual ability that were patently wrong.

Unlike the Soviet economy, American public schools are still in business, but scholarly analyses of the administration of No Child Left Behind are documenting a monumental mess. In the early years, I didn’t need the experts to tell me. I was watching the demoralized teachers in my children’s school, wearied by endless preparation for the exams and frustrated by demands from on high to concentrate on students who were at the cusp of being able to pass the state’s proficiency benchmark at the expense of everyone else. In subsequent years, the demoralization and frustration may have eased—not because No Child Left Behind got better, but because teachers, principals, and state departments of education have learned all the ways that the Act and its compliance requirements can be gamed.

The good news is that educational romanticism is surely teetering on the edge of collapse. I am optimistic for three reasons. First, the data keep piling up. It takes a while for empiricism to discredit cherished beliefs, but No Child Left Behind may prove to have done us a favor by putting so much emphasis on test scores and thereby focusing attention on how hard it is to budge those scores. Second, we no longer live in a romantic age. Educational romanticism was born of forces that have lost most of their power, and façades collapse when the motives for maintaining those façades weaken. Third, hardly anybody really believes in educational romanticism even now. No one but the most starry-eyed denies in private the reality of differences in intellectual ability that we are powerless to change with K-12 education. People are unwilling to talk about those differences in public, but it is a classic emperor’s-clothes scenario waiting for someone to point out the obvious. Starting that process can be as simple as more articles like this one.

For the good of our children, educational romanticism needs to collapse, and quickly. Its effects play out in the lives of young people in devastating ways. The fourth-grader who has trouble sounding out simple words and his classmate who is reading A Tale of Two Cities for fun sit in the same classroom day after miserable day, the one so frustrated by tasks he cannot do and the other so bored that both are near tears. The eighth-grader who cannot make sense of algebra but has an almost mystical knack with machines is told to stick with the college prep track, because to be a success in life he must go to college and get a B.A. The senior with terrific SAT scores gets away with turning in rubbish on his term papers because to make special demands on the gifted would be elitist. They are all products of an educational system that cannot make itself talk openly about the implications of diverse educational limits.

NPR sometimes airs guest contributions from Youth Radio. A few weeks ago I heard Emma Alexander (see February 16, 2008) from Grady High School in Atlanta advance the perfectly reasonable and simple idea that attendance in public schools should no longer be mandatory. If a students don't want to be there -- for whatever reason -- then let them go missing and not be a drag on other students motivated to learn. This strikes me as a brilliant, if politically unfeasible, idea.

Crawford Kilian on Obama

Who is Crawford Kilian?
Glad you asked. He's a Canadian journalist with a wide range of interests and thoughtful opinions I respect. His
H5N1 blog has been a staple of my blogroll ever since I found it. His review of Naomi Klein's book dog-and-pony-show was as clear a summary as I have found. My post about The Shock Doctrine gets an occasional Google search hit.

This morning he talks about Barack Obama.

If visitors here ever check out The Tyee, they know that I'm one of the billions of non-American fans of Barack Obama.
I've judged him
as a writer, and as an online politician, and found him brilliant on both scores.

He's way too right-wing for me, but I can also see that he's the most remarkable politician North America has seen since Pierre-Elliott Trudeau swept us Canadians off our feet 40 years ago. Like Trudeau, Obama wants to unify a country that would rather break up in a fit of pique. Like Trudeau, Obama may not entirely succeed.

But Trudeau bought us time, when we might not have lasted long into our second century. Obama could help ensure that America reaches its tricentennial as a united and constructive world power, rather than as a hamstrung sumo wrestler. At the very least, he offers the world a chance to be more disappointed in an American president than it has been since James Buchanan.

On top of his other attributes, Barack Obama has been pushing his country to prepare for bird flu for the past three years. I'd be grateful to know what Hillary, McCain, and Ron Paul have said on this subject.

I love this blog in large part because I couldn't care less about the politics about my fellow Flublogians. No doubt some of my visitors and fellow-bloggers would love to shake me warmly by the throat for my antique left-wing opinions. Well, we've all had unique experiences that shaped our politics, and some of us might even be correct in our views.

It's no accident that the Obama support curve is heavy on the education achievements end. That whole flap about his being an "elitist" seems to have gone sotto voce. The reason is simple: he was merely saying in plain words what the bulk of his peers in politics, both local and national, already believe but dare not speak.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Like Tom Watson I'm also an Obama fan. But this video drives home the reality that he is the beneficiary of a lot of sexist crap aimed at Hillary Clinton. My hope is that at some point in the not too distant future, hopefully before the main even gets underway, he will address this issue. He's too smart not to do so. This is like a pile of poop in the street that needs to be cleaned up.

Or maybe not.
We'll see.

Bird Flu Hits Korea Hard

Via H5N1 blog...

President Lee Myung-bak and many top government officials ate samgyetang in front of the cameras in a gesture to ensure the public of the safety of boiled chicken. But most citizens are staying away from dishes made of chicken, duck and any other bird-related foods.

Experts as well as the government say that it is safe to eat boiled chicken and duck as the virus cannot survive high temperatures of 80 degrees Celsius. But their appeal has failed to regain diners.

"I know it's safe to have chicken. But seeing chickens and ducks killed and buried every day on television doesn't stimulate the appetite for chicken or duck,'' Kim Hye-kyoug, a 34-year-old office worker, said.

Korea Times link...

Millions of chickens and ducks are being exterminated as the virus spreads. Military personnel have been deployed to assist in the effort.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Talking with terrorists

Looks like running for president sometimes brings out the worst in even the best people.
Tony Karon says it well...

Someone ought to tell Obama that two thirds of Israelis support talks between their own leaders and “terrorists like Hamas.”

Uh, they might want to mention it to the president as well. He seems not to be in the loop either.

Michael J. Totten on Lebanon

The Lebanese Civil War (I think it's accurate to call it that) has many wrinkles. I've been reading about Lebanese politics and conflicts for years and still have no clear idea what's going on there, but this brief piece by Michael Totten in Commentary is as good as it gets for anyone trying to make sense of a chaotic situation.

The Druze are among the fiercest of warriors, and everyone in Lebanon knows it. They are well-known in Israel, too, where they often serve in elite units of the Israel Defense Forces and suffer lower-than-average casualty rates in battles with Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups. Most of Israel's Sunni Arabs abstain from military service, but Druze Arabs are as loyal to the Israeli state, and are as willing and able to fight for it, as their Lebanese counterparts are in their own country. There's a reason two of the Middle East's religious minorities--Maronite Christians and Druze--live in Lebanon's mountains in significant numbers: attempts to invade and subjugate them are ill-advised, very likely to fail, and therefore rarely attempted by even large armies.

It's debatable whether or not Lebanon's Sunnis are organized and well-armed or not. Certainly they are not compared to Hezbollah. No one in Lebanon is. But Druze chief Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party proved they have no shortage of weapons, and they fought off Hezbollah's invasion even though he told them not to. A tiny percentage of Druze are partially loyal to Talal Arslan, Hezbollah's only Druze ally, but they defected in large numbers when Hezbollah launched its attack. They fought on the same side as the rest of their community. Political alliances have their limits, and Arslan's people and Hezbollah discovered theirs. It is now almost safe to say that Hezbollah has no friends at all in the mountains overlooking the dahiyeh, their “capital” and command and control center in the suburbs south of Beirut.

Lebanon's mainstream Sunnis in relatively liberal and cosmopolitan West Beirut basically threw up their hands and let Hezbollah take over, in part because they were ill-prepared to do much about it, and in part to make their Hezbollah enemies look like the aggressors and thugs that they are. Don't expect that dynamic to last very long if the violence resumes, however. The Sunnis, as a community, are likely to follow the Druze example even if their leaders--Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and Future Movement MP Saad Hariri--instruct them not to. Former Prime Minister Omar Karami is one of Hezbollah's few Sunni allies. But as Lee Smith pointed out, he “told Hezbollah that if this becomes a sectarian fight, then we have two choices: to either stay home, or fight with our sect.”

More at the link...

Levantine Humor

Replay post here.
First published in March, 2006.
Found this list of illustrations at UAE Community Blog.

The Moo Story

SOCIALISM:You have 2 cows and you give one to your neighbor.

COMMUNISM:You have 2 cows; the Government takes both and gives you some milk.

NAZISM:You have 2 cows. The Government takes both and shoots you.

AN EGYPTIAN CORPORATION:You have two cows. Both are voting for Hosni Mubarak!!!!

DUBAI SYSTEM:You have two cows. You create a website for them and advertise them in all magazines. You create a Cow City or Milk Town for them. You sell off their milk before the cows have even been milked to both legit and shady investors who hope to resale the non-existent milk for a 100% profit in two years time. You bring Tiger Woods to milk the cow first to attract attention.

QATAR SYSTEM:You have two cows. They've been sitting there for decades and no one realizes that cows can produce milk. You see what Dubai is doing; you go crazy and start milking the heck out of the cow in the shortest time possible. Then you realize no one wanted the milk in the first place.

SAUDI SYSTEM:Since milking the cow involves nipples the government decides to ban all cows in public. The only method to milk a cow is to have a cow in on one side of the curtain and the guy milking the cow on the other.

BAHRAIN SYSTEM:You have two cows. Some high government official steals one, milks it, sells the milk and pockets the profit. The government tells you there is just one cow and not enough milk for the people. The people riot and scream death to the government and carry Iranian flags. The Parliament, after thinking for 11 months, decide to employ ten Bahrainis to milk all the cows at the same time so cut back on unemployment.

LEBANON SYSTEM:You have two cows. One is owned by Syria and the other is controlled by the government.

And from the comments thread...

Zionism: You had had no cows since the Romans took the last one from your ancestors 2000 years ago. One day you have a vision of Jewish cows mooing in Jerusalem, so you sell your jewelry business and move there. You force yourself into your neighbor’s farm and you kick the Arab family out at gunpoint. You call the place home, change the farm’s name from Mazra’at Mahmoud Abdulhadi to Blooming Desert kibbutzim, and the cows’ names from Fatima and Leila to Rachel and Shoshana. You train one cow to work as an assassin with the Mossad and you give the other cow to your relatives who just arrived from Russia and decided to settle into yet another Arab farm nearby. You then go to America crying for help and generous Uncle Sam gives you 40 cows and a kiss on the ass.

Yemen - You had a cow. It got kidnapped.

Palestine: You have 1 holy cow. Christians, Jews and Muslims couldn’t agree on how to share the blessing; they ripped the cow to pieces. You now have milk and blood spelled everywhere and a very dead cow.

Friday, May 16, 2008

...and this guy was running for president!

Stolen from digby's blog:

Hey, before you go off on this, just lighten up, 'kay? Mike Huckabee was only joking about the assassination of a leading black candidate for President in front of the NRA.

During a speech before the National Rifle Association convention Friday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee — who has endorsed presumptive GOP nominee John McCain — joked that an unexpected offstage noise was Democrat Barack Obama looking to avoid a gunman.“That was Barack Obama, he just tripped off a chair, he's getting ready to speak,” said the former Arkansas governor, to audience laughter. “Somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.”
Why can't you libruls take a joke? Sure, the jokes normally take the form of violence against political opponents, but it's not their fault if you don't know what FUNNY is!

Yuk it up, you bastards! You know you love it!

The Dove on Forgiveness...again

Leila Abu-Saba's excellent essay on forgiveness is being tested. Her post today is a star in her crown.
Check it out.

I am here to tell you that forgiving the sins of your brothers and neighbors will make you feel good, will make the air sweeter and the sky brighter. Forgiving your enemies will make the worst burdens feel like air. The cancer diagnosis they give me is extremely grave, but yesterday I found myself laughing, joking and feeling elated - in the chemo lounge. My social worker said I am radiant. I spent the day happy, even though I am bald, even though my fingernails are falling off, even though I have no eyelashes. This world looks very good to me and I am surrounded by love.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Assistive Technology -- Finger Splints

Amanda Baggs posts a clear description of her newly acquired finger splints. Years ago I saw a woman with arthritis who wore custom-made finger splints that looked very much like these to help her hands work better as the disease progressed. (This would have been almost thirty years ago and hers were custom-made of silver by a jeweler/artist.)
If you think this is an obscure problem read the comments thread.

Check it out.

This also makes a difference in handwriting. Here’s one of my versions of a grip on a pen without a splint (sometimes I use 3 fingers to stabilize things, sometimes 2, but same result):

It hurts just to hold a pen like that for less than a minute.
And here’s my grip on a pen with the splint:

So there’s a big difference there.
And the difference it’s making for me is less pain while handwriting, less pain while typing, less pain in general. The actual bending itself doesn’t directly cause the pain. What does cause pain is the constantly having to press harder and further on everything because if I press more lightly my fingers just bend back instead of accomplishing whatever they’re supposed to accomplish.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Burma/Myanmar blogger

Here is a link to a blogger living in Yangon with a first-person account of the Cyclone.

On May 2nd, we got news that the storm was heading directly into Yangon, so the employees were released to go back home early at 2pm. Even at that time, I was planning to stay until office hour was over because looking outside, the sun was still shining. But later, after being urged by friends online to go back home early, I went back home. When I got home, electricity was still on, so we opened TV, and on MRTV 3, there was a news flash scrolling, saying that the storm had passed Hi-gyi Island and is on its way towards Ayeyarwaddy, Yangon, Bago, and Mon States. The radio station was also broadcasting warnings of this. Electricity was cut off at 6:30pm according to ration schedule, so we just sit around with emergency lights. It had started raining, but it was not very windy yet. So I went to bed around 9pm. I hardly ever wish anything whenever I prayed, but that night, I prayed that the storm will not cause many casualties. I wasn't able to fall asleep quickly, because of the noises of the rain falling on the roof, but I think I did nodded off.

When I woke up, it was around 2:30am, and the wind was howling now. I can hear noises on the roof, and I was afraid that the roof, even though it's one of those big one-piece roof that covers the whole house, will fly away with the wind. So I got my pillow and a blanket and went into the living room and found my mom and my cousin sitting on the seats with a candle lit. They couldn't sleep either, I guess. My father was praying in the shrine room, and my brother was awake too. It wasn't raining heavily at that time, but there was very strong wind. I can hear the next door house's windows slamming shut and open again (no one was at home) and hear shattering sounds - the charms and the decorative lamps on that house falling down on the ground, and some windows breaking. Even though I thought I had closed my room's window tightly, I guess it wasn't, cos it flew open and slammed the walls and back again, and 3 glass panes shattered. So we had to tie the windows with the ropes to be sure they were closed. We just sat on the chairs in the living room, wrapping our blankets around us to keep out the mosquitoes, and tried to get some sleep. I think I got some sleep for about an hour until I woke up again around 5am.

...and about the official name:

Wikipedia has a long page dedicated to the discussion of what the official name of the country should be. Either way makes little difference to me, but for a lot of people the way one says tuh-MAY-toe or tuh-MAH-toe is a big deal. Those arguments may bore me, but those involved take the matter seriously. Defensively, even...I'm thinking of the French language police as well as the Quebec separatist movement. (We in America are above such provincial thinking, you know, as long as no one tries to converse in another language. Spanish, for instance.)

I came across this line at Wikipedia that helped me understand the discussion better.

Within the Burmese language, Myanmar is the written, name of the country, while or (from which "Burma" derives) is the oral,colloquial name. In spoken Burmese, the distinction is less clear than the English transliteration suggests.

I imagine a spoken transmorgrification going something like...


Etc. You get the idea. As the article said, the distinction is not as clear in the language of the country as it becomes when transliterated into English. It is easier to hear how Rangoon (the old name of the capital) becomes Yangon.

I was in Korea long enough to learn to hear a few subtleties in that language. The formal greeting "An-yang ha-shem-ni-kah" normally shrinks to "An-yah-'say-yo." And Roman transliterations of Asian languages typically use the letter "L" when there is no equivalent in the language being described. The problem is a special non-English sound that falls between an "L" and an "R".

Friday, May 09, 2008

Southern Strategy...Is Hillary a Republican after all?

The center of gravity after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries has shifted to make Obama his party's nominee. Several primary races remain, so it is not politically prudent for either Clinton or him to fold the tent. West Virginia is expected to make a big showing for Hillary Clinton which would look bad if Obama were trying to bask in the glow of an already decided contest. No reason to make voters who might not like him feel as though they are being disregarded. Same goes for the Florida and Michigan voters. I look for the big tent to be unfurled sometime before the convention and welcome any and all who want to call themselves Democrats, including those who supported Hillary Clinton...for whatever reason.

Which brings up the question of how many former Democrats will now vote Republican in the general election. Mrs. Clinton's heavy play for "hard-working white working-class voters" is a hair's breath away from playing the race card, which thanks to both her and Bill Clinton's shrewd politics they may be the only two white people in America who can get away with such remarks.

I remember well the Republican Southern Strategy of the Nixon years and I look for a revitalization of that same ploy to raise its ugly head this year, thanks in part to Mrs. Clinton's last-ditch effort to win the nomination. She may not have done so deliberately, but she pushed the right buttons to inspire white voters with a streak of racial prejudice to look favorably toward John McCain.

I'm not alone. A Google Blog Search turns up a raft of others making the same observation.

All of us in the South have known what is going on from the beginning and we have failed to bell the cat. Whatever else the Republican Party may be, and much of it may be quite worthwhile, the fact is that it has turned its back on the legacy of Lincoln for a constituency of racists.
LINK (Outstanding post, by the way)

Formerly the dominant party in the U.S. south, the Democratic Party welcomed Civil Rights by the 1960s and lost the support of very large numbers of southern whites. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”, built on racist rage against Civil Rights, and in view of the electoral significance of the south, helped the Republicans build a majority that has lasted for a generation.

"This kind of comment is less a description than an agitator, it's meant to give white voters the impression that they would be "disenfranchised" by an Obama win. It's a not so subtle effort to evoke racial resentment over Obama's success.

And sure enough, Peggy Noonan made the same observation in her column today.

White Americans? Hard-working white Americans? "Even Richard Nixon didn't say white," an Obama supporter said, "even with the Southern strategy."
If John McCain said, "I got the white vote, baby!" his candidacy would be over. And rising in highest indignation against him would be the old Democratic Party.
To play the race card as Mrs. Clinton has, to highlight and encourage a sense that we are crudely divided as a nation, to make your argument a brute and cynical "the black guy can't win but the white girl can" is -- well, so vulgar, so cynical, so cold, that once again a Clinton is making us turn off the television in case the children walk by.
"She has unleashed the gates of hell," a longtime party leader told me. "She's saying, 'He's not one of us.'"

Bush's Second Biggest Debacle

Love that title. Wish I'd said that but Deborah White beat me to it. She refers to No Child Left Behind, the domestic smoke screen calculated to distract from the president's first biggest debacle: the Iraq adventure.

She ticks off the shortcomings...

►Teaching to tests, rather than teaching to facilitate learning
►Excessive testing of almost all grade levels
►Elimination of art, music, foreign language study, even sports in many schools
►Reduction of teaching subjects not on the tests, including science and civics
►Labeling tens of thousands of schools as chronic failures, but offering little additional support
►Targeting thousands of schools, mainly in low-income areas, for closure due to failure to meet stringent federal standards, with the teachers and principals targeted for firing
►Attempting to force districts with failing schools to support charter schools or fund students at private schools

Deborah White has done her homework. Drill into a string of links for details. Here are the punchlines to this column:

Some legislators, including Sen. Kennedy, believe that with sufficient funding, the original aims of No Child Left Behind can be met. But those voices are dwindling to a minority.
Many Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, believe that with a major overhaul, NCLB is salvageable. Others, such as former presidential candidate Gov. Bill Richardson propose to entirely scrap it and start over with a program more supportive of teachers.

Sen. Barack Obama would consider public education of his top presidential priorites, and has put forth plans and spoken of it extensively and passionately. For details, see:

***Obama's Education Plan to Reform Schools & Reward Teachers
Obama Slams No Child Left Behind, Speaks Out for Teachers

Look for education reform to be loom large in the 2008 presidential election as John McCain desperately strives to avoid the issue. Check back here for my coverage of this urgent issue.

One thing is certain about George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act: As is, it's a destructive, convoluted and expensive mess. Just like the Iraq War.

Tony Karon: "Israel is 60, Zionism is Dead, What Now?"

This morning's essay by Tony Karon is excellent. I don't have time to read it closely and parse a blogpost but at a glance I know it will be mandatory reading for later. Tony Karon is a journalist (currently a senior editor at with a mind like a steel trap. I appreciate his candor.

Get a load of these two sentences:

So confident are the Israelis in being able to withstand whatever the Palestinians throw at them that they are able to turn away from the hellish life they have created for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Sure, let Olmert – a weak and skittish leader whose domestic political standing is comparable to that of President Bush, except that the Israeli prime minister can’t seem to shake off the whiff of corruption – engage in the charade of negotiating a hypothetical peace (let’s be very clear about this: the current talks between Abbas and Olmert are aimed only at designing a “shelf” agreement, the elaboration of an “horizon” not unlike the Geneva exercise by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed-Rabbo a couple of years ago – not a series of steps or deadlines that anyone plans to implement — this is its most optimistic outcome; even that seems doomed to fail, though…) with a hypothetical Palestinian leader.

More... takes an optimistic imagination to conceive of a viable independent state comprising of Gaza and those West Bank cantonments that lie between the major Israeli settlement blocs and the roads that connect them.
...the majority of Jews quite simply don’t want to be part of a Jewish nation-state in the Middle East. And so the very purpose of Israel has come into question. ...the simple fact is that almost two thirds of us have chosen freely to live elsewhere, and have no intention of ever settling in Israel.
Quoting one Israeli politician:

We live in a thunderously failed reality. ...We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.

Israel, then, rather than some kind of Jewish achievement or prophetic triumph, looks to me more like a huge monument to Western anti-Semitism. Zionism had demanded that the Jews have a nation-state of their own, claming that for Jews to live among others was simply unnatural and untenable, and that anti-Semitism was a natural and inevitable consequence of gentiles having Jews in their midst.
The premise of Zionism has been that anti-Semitism is inevitable and immutable when Jews live among gentiles, allowing Jews only a truncated and perennially threatened existence in “exile.” This was the very basis of their case for creating a separate Jewish nation-state, in order to achieve “normality” alongside other nations and nationalisms.

This premise, of course, was never accepted by a majority of Jews... turns out, we’re able to live quite comfortably among others, which is where the majority of us choose to spend our lives. Israel has emerged as one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, but it seems a little wishful to imagine it the sine qua non of Jewish life on the planet — we managed without it for 2,000 years, after all.
He closes with a longish quote from Rami Khouri.

I wish Israeli journalists would apply to their writing and analysis the moral dictates and divine exhortations that their Jewish forefathers passed down from generation to generation: obey the law, treat others equally, pursue justice, choose life. Journalists should identify the legitimate rights, grievances and needs of both sides by providing facts rather than propaganda.
Moses had it right, perhaps because he accumulated much wisdom during his 120 years of life. Meet the legitimate demands of both parties to a dispute, he said, and a fair, lasting resolution will emerge. Ignore the centrality of justice and equal rights for both parties, and you will be smitten by divine fire - or fated to fight your adversaries forever, as Israel seems to have opted to do.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Found on today's "Most Blogged" Google Videos...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Naomi Klein -- The Shock Doctrine (Updated)

(This is another Naomi, readers. Don't confuse Naomi Klein with Naomi Wolf. But don't think for a moment that these two unrelated writers are not telling the same story. The inciteful reader sees that at different levels both make many of the same points.)

In a Huffpo column, My Unrequited Love for the Business Press, Naomi Klein responds to some of her critics, most of whom are financial specialists trying to marginalize her in the same way that the chemical industry marginalized Rachel Carson when she wrote Silent Spring. She's fighting the good fight, though, and I stick with my original conclusion that when the dust settles her insights will outlive their critics. The comments thread is instructive.

September 16, 2007

No, I haven't read it yet, but I already got the point. From the many passing references I am coming across I predict that by this time next year a majority of readers will also have got the point. That is not to say they like or agree with the point, incidentally...just that The Shock Doctrine is fast becoming a household word. It's not there yet, but it will be.

I came across the trailer last week and almost grabbed it for the blog. But it struck me as a bit over the top, a passing meme that makes sense at some level but not likely to get any traction. I'm starting to change my mind. It's getting traction and getting it fast.

It's a simple idea that will in the end be deeply offensive to true believers in what is reverentially called capitalism. But this is not a snapshot of your Daddy's capitalism, folks. This is capitalism at its most manipulative best. This is capitalism with a conspiracy twist. This is a reincarnation of what once was known as class warfare. But this time there is a new and improved model with all the bells and whistles that technology, information science, smart bombs and covert operations can provide.

Not since Toffler's Future Shock as the word been applied so effectively. And in the same way that that book became a touchstone for the Sixties and Seventies, Klein's book will be an anchorpoint for the next few years. Wait and see.

There will be more to talk about later. Much more. But for the moment, here is the post that inspired mine. Crawford Kilian knows something about how viral transmission operates. It is no accident that the blogmaster of the truly excellent and always on task H5N1 blog should notice this book and meme. Here is a snip from a book review he submitted.

The birth of the Chicago Boys

In effect, Klein argues, we are living with the results of a decision of the U.S. government in the 1950s. Its original intent was to import Chilean students to the University of Chicago, pay their way through studies with the "Chicago School" of economics led by Milton Friedman, and then send them home to change Chile's mixed economy with its high tariffs and expensive social programs.

Scores if not hundreds of "Chicago Boys" went home to Chile but had zero impact on their country's politics and economy. Then Salvador Allende was democratically elected, and the U.S-funded the coup that killed him and put Augusto Pinochet in power. On the day he took over, the Chicago Boys gave Pinochet a 500-page "brick" of plans to establish a free-market utopia in Chile.

By now, Milton Friedman had been a voice in the wilderness for a generation, evangelizing against the mixed economy that Keynes had promoted in the 1920s and '30s. Friedman's ideas were politically impossible to establish in democratic countries, but a great many conservatives loved him. Even Richard Nixon, while he publicly endorsed Keynes in the U.S., authorized the coup that put Pinochet and the Chicago Boys in power.

Killing chickens to scare monkeys

Klein makes her narrative a kind of Bildungsroman, the story of the education of the Chicago School and its political allies. Chile (and then Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Bolivia) taught Friedman and his students that nothing changes until a crisis -- an economic or political shock -- throws a society off balance. Disoriented, the society accepts whatever solution is presented to it -- or forced upon it.

They quickly learned that brutality was key to free-market success. The persons and groups benefiting from the old order had to be suppressed, suddenly and violently. When the Brazilian generals tried to run a "gentlemen's coup," they nearly lost power. Not until they began to imprison and "disappear" their opponents did they re-establish themselves. Conspicuous kidnappings and public murders added more shocks; as the old Chinese saying goes, "Kill the chicken to scare the monkeys."


Followup May 4, 2008:

3Quarks links a review of Klein's book in Left Business Observer #117.

The shock of 9/11 had little effect on U.S. economic policy; sure, military contractors have made a bundle of Bush’s buildup, but that’s a story at least as old as Eisenhower’s military–industrial complex speech, and it’s hardly become the driving force of the U.S. economy. She cites contracts of $150 billion handed out over five years, but at $30 billion a year that’s the equivalent of three or four days worth of retail sales.

Klein explains Thatcher’s re-election in 1983 as a result of a nationalist mania after the Falklands War, but that was only a small part of the reason. As Stuart Hall wrote during the early days of Thatcherism, she was able to tap into genuine popular resentment of union “excesses” and gain support for a huge anti-working class offensive. (If you doubt that a critique of the intrusiveness and tedium of the welfare state had popular resonance in Britain, listen to some
Kinks songs from the 1970s.) Ditto talk about crime, standards, national prestige, discipline, family values—many of them irrelevant or even antithetical to her radical market agenda—the standard fare of what Hall called “authoritarian populism.”

Neoliberalism, a word that Klein uses a lot, has consistently gained electoral victories in the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India. Not all the practitioners belonged to right-wing parties: names like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Paul Keating, and Roger Douglas come to mind. Clinton and Blair barely appear in the book, and Keating and Douglas not at all.

More criticisms at the link.

In retrospect my initial excitement has cooled but I still think she makes good points.

►* * *◄

May 21, 2008


Looks like her thesis is not holding up well.

Pejman Yousefzadeh has a string of links to negative reviews.


This is a favorable review of Naomi Klein's latest thing-resembling-a-book. If the author of the review had read this or this or this or this or this or this or this or this, then the review may not have been so favorable.


Methinks the critics doth protest too much. But hey, what do I know?