May 31, 2002
HYPOCRISY ALERT: Despite being an excellent magazine, Liberty has its share of silliness due to the intellectual diversity in (some might say "crackpots among") the libertarian community. But the June issue has an item, not borne of any particular dogmatism, that is downright hilarious in its stupidity.
For those of you who've never seen Liberty they have a monthy section called "Reflections," which is basically a print version of a group blog like The Corner or Libertarian Samizdata; contributors toss out short-to-medium length comments from the month. Here is the item of note:
The vanity Web -- The worst part of the Internet is not the hate sites or the sappy family sites, but those sites maintained by the bloggers. This is a collection of pompous wannabe pundits, all across the political spectrum, who believe the world cannot sleep until it knows what they think of every possible public issue-- and the precise time that they recorderd their thoughts. Oy! Are we to be spared nothing? --Sheldon RichmanI'm sure the hilarity is evident. "Reflections" is exactly like a blog, only slower. Mr. Richman, listed in the Contributor Notes as the editor of something called Ideas on Liberty, is self-evidently not one iota better qualifed to share his thoughts than any blogger. Perhaps the funniest part of this is that Glenn Reynolds gets more unique visitors a day (around 18,000) than Liberty has copies in distribution (around 11,000).
THE CHINA SYNDROME
THE CHINA SYNDROME: Reader Mark White points out on the Comment board below that William Safire is also concerned about China's role in the nuclear tinderbox. Safire argues that Pakistan could pull China into a war on India, who could in turn call on Russia. (This seems plausible to me partially because it happens all the time in Civilization III, but lest you think I'm now making geopolitical judgements based on a computer game, I should note that this happens in History a lot, too-- see especially the First World War.)
Asks Safire regarding cooling the tension, "where is diplomatic help from the nation that made Pakistan a nuclear power, and with most influence on its leaders? That's China." Well, as I've said, I certainly hope I'm wrong that China wants nuclear war on the Subcontinent.
Safire commits a moral-equivalence faux pas, in my book, in the next sentence: "Time for a call from Dick Cheney to his counterpart in Beijing, Hu Jintao, the man chosen by China's rulers to take over from Jiang Zemin."
His counterpart? Half the American electorate voted for Cheney's ticket. No Chinese ever cast a single ballot for Hu. I guess it's considered impolite to very loudly tell (mostly) friendly dictators that their rule is illegitimate, but come on, "counterpart?"
May 30, 2002
YOU ARE SPYING
YOU ARE SPYING: Matt Drudge billed this Washington Post article as a civil liberties nightmare: "Department of Precrime: Government will ease limits on domestic spying."
Really? The new policy allows agents to search public places, which you'd think they could do anyway. In implying that churches, synagogues and mosques are public may it be setting a worrying precedent. Given how likely it is that terrorist plotting could be going on inside mosques, though, it seems like a it would simply be good enough to plan on re-evaluating the FBI's treatment of relgious sanctuaries somewhere down the road (in five years, say). But this is the real shocking part-- not because of what the new policy is, but what the old policy was:
The new rules will allow agents to surf the Internet for Web sites that might give hints to terrorist activity, according to the description. The new guidelines will allow investigators to seek out and "identify sites and forums in which bomb-making instructions, preparations for cyberterrorism, child pornography, and stolen credit card information are openly traded and disseminated."Read that again. Until today, FBI agents were mostly not allowed to surf the Internet. This is like having a local cop not being allowed to patrol a neighborhood without getting a 911 call. We're not talking about private emails-- the Orwellian "Carnivore" system, which is supposed to do that, is constitutionally questionable and technically haywire (its glitches apparantly sent agents the emails of innocent people and not terrorists). We're talking about the Internet in general-- by the definition in Drudge's breathless headline, you are right now "spying" on me by reading my publicly posted thoughts.
Under the existing policy, agents could pursue online searches only when they could characterize them as checking leads or otherwise furthering an ongoing investigation.
"Pure surfing or searching for the purpose of initially developing leads was not allowed, even in relation to publicly available information that anyone else is free to access and observe," according to the new policy statement.
Agents will also be permitted to do topical research not directly related to a specific crime under the new guidelines, such as research on a biological agent.
Civil liberties are vitally important-- and crying wolf about imaginary threats does a major disservice to their protection.
GOOD AS GOLD
GOOD AS GOLD: Larry Kudlow says the rally in gold indicates reflation; monetary policy appears to be succeeding at getting the economy back on track. Gold is a leading indicator, though; I'm guessing that the really noticeable upswing could be several months off, with somewhat sluggish growth until then. Of course, this sort of thing is impossible to time, and anyone who says differently is lying.
I first learned of the importance of gold as a monetary policy indicator from Jude Wanniski, who takes a welcome break today from his crackpot geopolitical writings (he's a Saddam-apologist, among other things) to write about how a gold-anchored dollar would help the third world more than anything rocker-cum-debt-relief-expert Bono and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill talked about on their trip to Africa.
Wouldn't it be nice if the know-nothing protestors against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank actually understood why the IMF/WB economists screw up everything they touch? Wanniski is great at explaining how IMF poison works. Sound money and pro-growth tax structures are verboten under the terms of their loans. The anti-globalists understand such things even worse than Keynesian economists.
Jude's "Memo on the Margin" today also touches on what a great finance minister Charles McCreevey of Ireland is, lauding him "for his courage in fighting the eurocrats and putting Ireland on a fast supply-side growth track." Ireland in the past few years has gone from the worst economy in Western to by far the best; we're talking 10% annual growth. If you want to start a business or a open a corporate branch office in Europe, Ireland is the place to do it, since no other country is both part of the Euro community and has a low-tax environment. My parents just got back from the Emerald Isle where, as soon as they left the airport, their cab driver greated them with "welcome to the Celtic Tiger!"
May 29, 2002
ADAM SANDLER, SERIOUS ACTOR?
ADAM SANDLER, SERIOUS ACTOR?: I guess I missed the news from the Cannes Film Festival in the Memorial Day lull. Blogger Leo Le Brun is my best source for news from France, and he reports that Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) snagged Best Director for his newest, Punch-Drunk Love, which stars, yes, Adam Sandler. I'm really having trouble picturing the Waterboy pulling off Anderson-caliber acting. We'll have to wait until next fall to see this.
SITE TWEAKINGS: A reader wrote to say he couldn't find the Comment board; I guess since the link is usually at the bottom of each item, and on this site until very recently it was at the top, he overlooked it. Regulars know that I've played with having the Comments link above and below the post. Today I moved the entire byline, Comments and all, to the bottom.
May 28, 2002
IRANWATCH: Shortly after his government imprisoned a dancer for "inciting and encouraging corruption among young people," Iranian Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani said that Bush is acting like a Wild West sheriff.
That would make the Iranian government one of the bandits. Sounds about right.
WELCOME INSTAPUDIT TRAFFIC
WELCOME INSTAPUDIT TRAFFIC: Stay awhile.
THE ASIAN TINDERBOX
THE ASIAN TINDERBOX: Everyone is nervous about the Indians and Pakistanis wiping out 12 million of each other. The New York Times reports that senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are most likely in anarchic Western Pakistan-- which the Musharraf government has even less control over now that they're preoccupied in Kashmir. Of course, the Ladenist veterans are no doubt filtering through Pakistan to toss gasoline on the Kashmir fire, eager as they are for apocalypse.
One angle I haven't seen: how does Nepal's Maoist insurrection fit in? Nepal is a constitutional monarchy (though the King currently has emergency powers to deal with the rebellion), and is Hindu and Buddhist-- which means it has cultural and trade connections with India and especially with the semi-autonomous region of Tibet. Nepal's trade agreements with China are designed mostly to maintain the relationship with Tibet. (They trade yaks-- seriously.)
If the Maoist insurrection succeeded in Nepal, it would give Beijing a Himilayan flank to contain the "Free Tibet" movement and reassert hegemony in the Western region. In addition to the Buddhist separatists in Tibet, China also wants to thwart the Muslim Uighar seperatists in Xinjiang, another Western province.
The Uighar seperatist movement, like the fundamentalist-usurped Chechen nationalist movement, is supported by Ladenist elements. If those elements were consumed in a nuclear inferno in Kashmir, Beijing's control over Xinjiang would be strengthened. Likewise, if massive tragedy in India disrupted tourism and trade with Nepal, the constitutional monarchy in Kathmandu might become weak enough for the Maoists to topple it and establish a Chinese satellite-- which would increase China's control over Tibet.
In other words, from Beijing, Armageddon on the Sub-Continent might look like a pretty good deal, and not so hard to surreptitiously encourage. Boy, I hope I'm wrong about this.
UPDATE: Don't miss the comment board for some better-specialized knowledge (hint: I am wrong, at least partially).
May 23, 2002
I WATCHED IT
I WATCHED IT: The horrifying Daniel Pearl video, that is. The FBI is crazy to try to ban this-- if the Pearl family wants to keep their privacy that's one thing, but on balance I think it's good to see what monsterous forces we're fighting. You'd better have a strong stomach if you want to look evil in the eye, and I don't think most people want to see this. Pearl is forced to repeat that he is a Jew, that his parents are Jews, that the US must stop fighting Islamofascism-- and then his head is sawed off and raised in the air. I think the words he's forced to say are more disturbing than the violence itself.
I'm struck by the number of bloggers who've said "I googled for it, and watched it, but I'm not going to link to it." I think this is a bit hypocritical, especially since they essentially provide instructions for finding it (Google can find anything pretty easily). I can understand not wanting to be directly responsible for someone seeing this who might later regret it-- like I said, it's really disturbing stuff, images that you'll have trouble getting out of your head. I won't be directly linking, either, but only because the WiredNews article I linked to (up at "ban") has several links to versions of it, including one with the most gruesome scene edited out. Let me say again: this is really horrifying, and if you choose to watch it, don't say I didn't warn you.
REVOLUTIONARY UN-CHIC: If the numerous horror stories of torture by the commie regimes he spent his life setting up weren't enough to make those Che Guevara posters and t-shirts uncool, maybe this revelation from his Congo diaries will be: "The beloved revolutionary icon sounds pretty much like an old-fashioned racist when it comes to evaluating his black brothers in arms."
INTRODUCE YOURSELF: I moved the Comment link to the top of the post by the byline-- I think the site looks a bit less cluttered that way. Please use the comment boards, as I'm particularly interested in meeting the regulars I see in my site log. Who has me bookmarked on the West Coast? Who visits frequently from a server based in Singapore? Stand and be counted!
BURNED TO THE GROUND
BURNED TO THE GROUND: Well, there are some walls standing, but basically there's no more Israeli embassy in Paris. They can't rule out terrorism yet-- though they say it is "appears to be accidental in origin." Given what's gone on lately in France, I'd give its accidental origin even odds. Smart French blogger Leo Le Brun sent a letter to Glenn Reynolds arguing against a boycott of France, and London libertarian Perry de Havilland seconded and strengthened the argument. Of course, if boycotting France is at best ineffective and at worst hurts all the wrong people, there's always the movement to pave it. ("Where will you move the French? To Belgium.")
A RELIGION OF PEACE
A RELIGION OF PEACE: According to this story, a Muslim named Patrick Gott claims he overheard people mocking his turban at the New Orleans Airport-- so he went to his car to get his shotgun, and, carrying a Koran, invoked the name of Allah and openned fire in the terminal, wounding two. Way to break down those stereotypes, Pat!
May 22, 2002
SPEAKING OF SEPTEMBER 10
SPEAKING OF SEPTEMBER 10: Chandra Levy is officially dead, her skull and bones, identified by dental records, found in a DC park. A guy walking his dog found the remains (you didn't think the D.C. police would, did you?)-- perhaps the proscription against dog-ownership in the Muslim world is what is really inhibiting the search for Osama. (Thanks to Ryan for first planting the image in my head of finding bin Laden this way.)
SEPTEMBER 10-THINK: The Feds keep airline cockpits a terrorist-friendly zone by refusing to arm pilots. Even the knee-jerk gun-grabbers at Tapped, The American Prospect's blog, are starting to think this may be mind-bogglingly stupid, since according to the Feds' plan, rather than arm pilots to prevent hijackings, they'll just shoot down hijacked planes. Feel safer yet?
There's a move on the Hill for legislation to override this bit of bureaucratic idiocy. If you happen to write to your Congressmen to support this, you might also write to the Bush administration and ask them to fire Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, who's anything-but-profiling, window-dressing "security" measure have earned him the well-deserved nickname "Underperformin' Norman." (Mineta was the token administration Democrat back when we were healing from a split election and couldn't concieve of Transportation being particularly important. Whoops.)
UPDATE: Eli Lehrer has a nuanced discussion on NRO about the mechanics of arming pilots. He weighs the dangers carefully, and makes the good point that it'd be wise not to arm every pilot, so terrorists don't know for sure if they're'll be a gun or not.
WHERE I'VE BEEN
WHERE I'VE BEEN: I've been tempted lately to buy Civilization III-- I was a big fan of the orginal Civ game, and after taking Part 3 for a spin at the Internet cafe, I wasn't sure how much longer I could hold out. This piece by Garrett Epps was the final straw-- and I've been absorbed in the game for unhealthy amounts of time since I bought it. Epps thinks that Civ III is a window into the minds of our leaders. I think his article is a window into the mind of a guy who writes for The American Prospect and uses "a combination of Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft" as shorthand for "hater of The People." Epps writes:
when my neighbors show up demanding tribute, I'm meek as a lamb and go to humiliating lengths to avoid giving offense. It doesn't matter: When the time comes, for reasons of their own, they attack me anyway. Of all the words I have read on a computer screen, "The Babylonians have declared war on us!" are probably the saddest. And I have read them a lot.That pretty much sums up whats wrong with weak foreign policy. I never pay tributes that are demanded without getting something in return, nor has it ever occurred to me to do so-- which is part of the reason why I vote for Republicans.
Incidentally, TAP, or at least its website, has become actually worth reading lately. (Those in the know credit online editor Chris Mooney.) It's the smartest publication I know of to the left of New Republic-- sort of like being the tallest midget, but still.
May 20, 2002
IRANWATCH: Pejman Yousefzadeh has the goods in this TechCentralStation column-- a must-read if you're interested in this topic.
COMMENTS AHOY: I've finally added comments. Let me know if you think the Comments link would look better at the bottom of the post, where I have it now, or on the top next to "...by John Tabin."
May 19, 2002
IS HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN GAY?
IS HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN GAY?: Enquiring minds want to to know, judging from my site trafffic. I've gotten several Google searches for "hayden christiansen gay"-- I won't be correcting the misspelling in my Star Wars post, since it's bringing traffic. Apparantly, some gay-oriented magazine said that he's gay-- but he's said publicly that he's not, according to his fansite (see Thursday, May 9, "Hayden puts Gay Rumors to Rest").
I could hardly care less about this, but I'm not above shamelessly trolling for Google-hits, which there's certainly nothing wrong with as long as I am providing the info people will be looking for. Now that you've learned what you wanted to about the sexual orientation of a horrendous actor, please stay a while and enjoy my website.
WELCOME, POSTWATCHERS: PostWatch, a Washington Post-focused blog by a man-of-mystery pseudonymously called Christopher Rakes, has a nice link to yours truly-- the "terrific read" (you're too kind, Mr. Rakes!) is here. If you didn't come from PostWatch, check it out and help me return the favor of web-traffic.
May 17, 2002
IRANWATCH: A "conservative cleric" (the BBC loves using the word "conservative" to describe psychotic Ayatollahs, as they feel insanity is the proper connotation of "conservative" in all contexts) says Iran is on the verge of "social explosion." Bring it on. The reformists aren't interested in real reform (of the type in which they couldn't hand-pick the government). Meanwhile, it turns out a lot of young educated Iranians, are just leaving the Islamic Republic at the first opportunity.
IRREGULAR, YODA'S GRAMMAR IS
IRREGULAR, YODA'S GRAMMAR IS: But what he lacks in standard English sentence construction, he makes up for in ultra-cool photogenic Jedi mastery. The lightsaber battle in the new Star Wars, in which Yoda does Matrix-esque footwork, is the coolest yet. Ryan Vooris's blog is a good clearing house for SW geekdom, if that's what you're looking for. It strikes me that what Mark Hamill, Jake Lloyd, and Hayden Christiansen all have in common that they are the center of Star Wars movies, and are all the worst actors in their ensemble. I think Lucas casts a bad actor in the lead on purpose to maintain the signature flat, old-time serial style of acting that marks the series, even if he populates the rest of the ensembles with good to very good performers (Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee and Alec Guiness, for example), and strong voice performers (Frank Oz, James Earl Jones).
VodkaPundit Stephen Green points out that Roger Ebert liked The Phantom Menance better than Attack of the Clones, proving once again what an abject moron Ebert is.
Virginia Postrel's fears that this movie might change biotech politics for the worse are unfounded. The attacking clones are the good guys (even if they get taken over by the Dark Side in Episode III, it'll be a wash with public attitudes), and it turns out that one of the favorite characters in the saga, Boba Fett, is in fact a clone. (Boba Fett is so popular that his apparant inglorious death in Return of the Jedi is reversed in the subgenre literature; he escapes from that pit and goes on more adventures.) Criminalizing science won't be very popular if it prevents the birth of the universe's coolest bounty hunter.
The most interesting Star Wars punditry I've seen is Weekly Standard online editor Jonathan Last's neocon case for the Galactic Empire. Check it out.
DREYFUSS REDUX: Instapundit points out BoycottFrance.com, a response to the resurgence of French anti-Semitism and the French government's refusal to acknowledge it. My father has already joined the movement by changing his vodka-- he'll be toasting his upcoming retirement (congratulations, Dad) with the Polish Belvedere, not the French Grey Goose he'd previously preferred.
May 16, 2002
PRO-PEDOPHILIA PIM: Rod Dreher says he certainly would not have voted for Fortuyn (were he Dutch), as he'd said he would in his election analysis, if he'd known of Fortuyn's "pro-pederasty views" reported here. In my tradition of delving intellectually into the unthinkable and disgusting, I'll actually examine what Fortuyn said. I think what he missed is that society's disgust with pedophilia, far from being just another sexual more, serves a fundamentally rational purpose.
Fortuyn wrote that "paedophilia is just like hetero and homosexuality. It is something that is in the genes. There is little if anything that you can do about it or against it. You are who you are… sooner or later the proclivity makes its irresistible appearance. It is not any more curable than hetero or homosexuality." This may not be an unreasonable assertion (that pedophilia may be uncurable does not imply that it must be tolerated). Here comes the odd bit:
After the invention of the Pill came sexual liberation. Gay sex became accepted, and why then should paedo sex not be allowed – under the strict condition that the child is willing and that there is no coercion?The answer, of course, is that the child is not considered competent to consent to something he or she probably doesn't even understand. Fortuyn had sexual encounters with men as a small child and felt he wasn't hurt (which is why he held these views), but not every child would react the same way to his experiences. Though it is true that the trauma from pedophilia often comes more from adults' horrified reactions than from the incident itself, many adults, looking back on childhood encounters like those Fortuyn described, would also feel traumatized in retrospect after being conditioned against adult-child sexuality.
Society builds in this conditioning for a very good reason. Over thousands of years, the family unit has emerged as the most efficient format both for consummation of sexuality and propogation of children. Recently, as population growth has reached a plateau in the developed world and the nature of marriage has changed for better or for worse, variations have emerged-- childless couples both gay and straight for sexual fulfillment and companionship, and single parents or same-sex couples for raising children (not to mention polyamorous groups). But an adult-child relationship can never be a viable unit for stable companionship and/or sexual fullfillment. Serial monogamy or even serial polyamory is leading, if by trial and error, toward something stable, but because children are becoming different people, so to speak, at a faster rate than adults, they can never be a stable member of a couple or group. The physical ability to bear children is almost beside the point-- psychological development has to be mostly complete for a person to be part of any stable sexual unit, whether for companionship or child-rearing.
It is true that adults can have flings not meant to lead to anything more substantial, but because the coupling or grouping is a facsimile of a viable unit, it can be accepted as an outlet for sexual fulfillment. But a fleeting sexual encounter with a child resembles nothing viable at all. Society finds it revolting because it has no place-- it can have no place-- in society. A child might be more likely to survive a sexual encounter unscathed if society did not project its revulsion, but for all practical purposes this is impossible; society will be perpetually disgusted. Unlike gay sex, this is not something that can be subject to any cultural evolution-- the gay man can become part of a stable unit, but the child cannot because a child is not a stable person. A society that accepts sex with children is irrevocably depraved because it has accepted something fundamentally different from any other sexual permutation; the fundamental difference is instability, and one suspects that a society that cannot organize itself into stable units cannot, ultimately, be a stable society.
(This is one of the few times you will see me make a communitarian argument, but I think this one is very strong.)
PIM LIVES: What an amazing Dutch election: the Christian Democrats walloped the socialists and liberals, and the Lijst Pim Fortuyn leaped into second place. The borders won't be closed as Fortuyn suggested, but active steps will be taken to assimilate immigrants, which is clearly important. The Christian Democrats won't try to reverse gay marriage and euthanasia, but may try to crack down on marijuana-- but they'll have a tough time of that, with the libertarian LPF in their coalition. That's right: the party demonized as "far-right" may very likely be the key in preserving those famous, uniquely Dutch social liberties in the new government.
STILL ALIVE!: Sorry to disappear for over a week; got unexpectedly busy. Will be back with commentary on the Dutch election results et cetera later today.
May 07, 2002
MORE ON PIM, RIP
MORE ON PIM, RIP: The Pim Fortuyn murder now appears to be the work of the far left. Andrew Sullivan leads the way with round-ups of news on this event, the importance of which it would be difficult to over-state-- not that you'd know it from the infuriatingly obtuse press, which is both under-playing the story and distorting Fortuyn's views.
IRANWATCH: Mohammad Khatami is still posing as the "reformer." One wonders, then, why only his hand-picked candidates are allowed to run for office. "Fear of unrest, he said, has forced a slower pace" to reform. Huh? The people are restless because the "reform" is not real-- it's an illusion for the benefit of foreign governments that the Iranian government would like to court diplomatically. The slower it is, the more obvious it becomes that real reform is not possible under the current government.
One thing shows in Khatami's words: fear. If the mullahs, who have the final say over all "his" policies, thought he were actually going to replace their rule with a secular democracy, he'd be exiled, imprisoned, or killed. When pro-democracy forces are organized well enough (something the U.S. should help facilitate, as Michael Ledeen has cogently argued), anyone who stands in the way of secular democracy will be exiled, imprisoned, or killed. Khatami's sword of Damocles hangs more precariously than most.
May 06, 2002
DUTCH HORROR: Don't believe any obituary of Pim Fortuyn, just shot dead, which calls him "hard-right." He fully supported the liberal Dutch policies on prostitution, drugs, and gay marriage, but was lumped in with fascists like Jean-Marie Le Pen for questioning the welfare state and, more importantly, the wisdom of unchecked immigration given an immigrant population that would not assimilate, clinging to anti-gay, anti-woman Muslim traditions and expressing open contempt for the West. The character assassination of the gay sociology professor may have helped inspire the actual assassination. We don't know yet whether he was killed by a radical Muslim, a leftist, or a homophobic rightist. When we find out, one wonders what questions this, the first political assassination in modern Dutch history, will force Europeans to ask themselves. TUESDAY UPDATE: Rod Dreher has an excellent Fortuyn obit today.
May 04, 2002
THE BATTLE FOR HEARTS AND...
THE BATTLE FOR HEARTS AND MINDS: It's not often that I can say I feel like I've made the world a slightly better place, but today I do. Just got this note, regarding that exchange about my latest Chron piece:
John,This was from Austin Harvey, the head of Amnesty International at Northwestern. For all it's faults, Amnesty International is a vitally important organization. Unlike some Non-Governmental Organizations that I write off as a bunch of nuts, when I see A.I. supporting a silly cause I find it gut-wrenching, because I fear that if they are associated with frivolous pursuits, something else they put out on an important issue (torture of Chinese dissidents, for example) might not be taken seriously. Better-informed organizers in Amnesty International, therefore, are important to all the world's suffering people. Thanks, Austin, for listening.
I am very glad that we can actually have an open dialogue and can feel free to express our opinions to one another. You told me some things that I did not know, and for that I feel more informed about a conflict that certainly has a more detailed history than most realize. I feel like we both agree that the terror must stop. Peace is only possible when people feel safe, and those conditions have obviously not yet been met.
THE HORRIBLE PEANUT FARMER
THE HORRIBLE PEANUT FARMER: Though I've always been aware that Jimmy Carter was a disastrous president, I'd sort of half-bought into the goodwill-bringer image of his post-Presidential career--- until I read this Jay Nordlinger piece which details just what a malign influence and friend-of-scoundrels he's been. He gives advice to Arafat on PR for Western consumption!
THAT WAS SWEET
THAT WAS SWEET: Just got out of Spider-Man. For the most part, it rocked. (It was a hopeful sign the Ebert was the only major critic who found it at all disappointing-- and Ryan, naturally, agrees.) It suffers from a bit of cheesy acting (especially at the end), but lots of great comic book action-- Willem Dafoe acquits himself nicely as the villain. In fact, the Green Goblin is a bit scary-- I might be hesitant to bring small children to this one (though if they insist, I suppose it's not the end of the world-- nightmares can be character building). One sign that this movie was in development hell for 15 years is the circa 1994 dialogue toward the begining about downsizing and all the jobs being computer-related.
I think the best part of the movie, that which drives it forward emotionally and dramatically, is the score. I was impressed with it within the first few measures, and then came the credit: sure enough, Danny Elfman, who is arguably the greatest living composer. (Multi-talented, too-- that's his singing voice as Jack Skellington in Nightmare Before Christmas.)
As the big comic book movies of my lifetime go (not counting the Superman sequels I was too young to see in theaters, or at least to remember), this falls just below the Tim Burton Batman movies (the first and second), but above the Joel Schumacher ones (the third and the awful fourth). Of course, all of the Batman movies do have the advantage of being able to design Gotham city (as more and more elaborate fantasy-Manhattans, until Batman & Robin where the scenery out-performs all of the actors combined); Spider-Man has to make due with the real New York, where the comic book is set. She's a beautiful city, though, and the real setting gives the movie a certain immediaccy-- though the "Daily Bugle" sign running down the Flatiron building illicitted quite a chuckle, which I think was intentional. (Incidentally, the much-talked about World Trade Center shot goes by so fast I didn't notice it, unlike in Changing Lanes, where it's a major distraction early in the movie-- the least of that film's problems.)
May 03, 2002
IRANWATCH: Reporters Without Borders protests the sentence against an Iranian newspaper editor for "insulting values of the Islamic revolution and false reporting." Interestingly, the editor's sentence was suspended-- perhaps the regime isn't confident enough to flex its muscles at this particular moment (even if the farcical, despot-dominated U.N. Human Rights Comission won't condemn them). The Islamic Republic has banned 21 daily newspaers and 40 other publications, and jailed 15 journalists, in a crackdown on the reformist press these past two years. They can't shut down the Internet, though-- which is why helping get Iran online (Michael Ledeen suggests wireless PCs for the opposition) is so important.
WORLDWIDE WEB-SLINGER: Analysts predict Spider-Man could top $100 million this weekend, breaking Harry Potter's three-day record. Given that it was completely sold out all the way through the midnight showing by 7:45 at my local multiplex (where it's playing on four screens), this won't surprise me a bit.
EVIL'S ENABLERS: I've got a new piece in the Northwestern Chronicle (well, on the website at least-- too late-breaking for the current print edition). In it, I size up the local chapter of the anti-Israel "international community" and it brings out my Sonny Corleone side. Enjoy. (For the numerous newbies, I don't nor have I ever attended Northwestern, but I live nearby, I'm friends with the guys at the Chron, and they publish my stuff sometimes.)
WOW!: Topped 200 hits yesterday, and even got my first real fan mail (from Hilda Hartling, who shares my dislike of vast tracts of italics). Interestingly, more of the referrals are coming from Stephen Green than Glenn Reynolds, even though the latter no doubt has much more traffic-- lending credence to the Eric Olsen Rule of Links: a short and vague item yields more clicks than a long and detailed one. (Glenn excerpted a highlight and discussed the topic at length, while Stephen just said "John Tabin gets it, too.")
May 02, 2002
STOP THE PRESSES
STOP THE PRESSES: Rich kids are more likely to be medicated than poor kids! The Chicago Sun-Times dedicates an entire special section today to their report on the milligrams per child of Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine in each Chicago area zip code. (Highland Park, where I grew up on Cylert-- a related stimulant that is no longer prescribed due to a statistical link with liver damage-- consumes 9.12 milligrams of stimulants per child.) How shocking that ADHD medications, which are expensive and often not covered by insurance, would be more widely prescribed in more affluent communities. Yet another in a long series of amazing findings.
ON "PASSING": Zen Flea (first I've heard of her) meditates on being able to "pass," i.e., as not Jewish, which prompts Asparagirl to reflect on looking very Jewish. I threw in my two cents on my goyishe punim on Asparagirl's comment board:
I can "pass" for sure; my lineage is half-WASP (and I have a New Testament first name). Sometimes it's like being a spy-- you get to hear the casual antisemitism that goes on when gentiles think the Tribe isn't looking. It's not that bad, generally limited to relatively harmless (if tasteless) jokes.There's another paragraph, but it'll only make sense after reading Asparagirl's post. (How strange to blockquote one's own words... but I couldn't think of another way to do it. I don't like large amounts of italics.)
The flip-side is feeling physically out of place in Hebrew school. I've always been proud to be Jewish and sometimes wished it was more obvious.
LIBERTARIANISM IS DEAD, LONG LIVE...
LIBERTARIANISM IS DEAD, LONG LIVE LIBERTARIANISM: Francis Fukuyama is playing semantic games in his gleeful obituary for libertarianism in today's Wall Street Journal. He distinguishes between "classical liberalism" and "libertarianism," defining the latter as "a far more radical dogma." In common usage, the terms mean the same thing-- the neologism "libertarian" dominates because, political savvy being what it is, the average person probably thinks Ted Kennedy is a "classical liberal." The foreign policy critique Fukuyama is making has already been made by many who march under the "libertarian" banner. Cato analyst Brink Lindsey has attacked today's anti-war libertarians, and former Reason editor Virginia Postrel has criticized their Rothbardian intellectual roots.
(The semantics get especially confusing when you cross the Atlantic. In Europe, "libertarian" sounds like "anarchist"; they say "neoliberal"-- not to be confused with American New Republic-style neoliberals.)
"It was only the government," says Fukuyama, "and not the market or individuals, that could be depended on to send firemen into buildings, or to fight terrorists, or to screen passengers at airports." One at a time: Firefighters are municipal officers, hardly big-government figures. Many libertarians are quite friendly to the military; apart from Anarco-Capitalists, who favor private defense companies over governments, most understand defense to be the valid function of the government. And if Mr. Fukuyama thinks that Federal screeners will make airports safe and efficient, I wonder if he's ever dealt with a government in any compacity. (The problem with pre-9/11 security was diffused liability-- the airlines were collectively instead of individually responsible for security. Government screeners will not change this, though some simple legal restructuring, which would not have required hundreds of new federal employees, would have.)
The bulk of Fukuyama's piece is actually dedicated to biomedical questions, which it would be hard to argue are in any way settled. (Incidentally, I just signed Postrel's Franklin Society Petition-- I'm at the bottom of this page-- against criminalizing embryonic research cloning. Look into it.) Fukuyama's arguments against biotech in general is, in a word, bizarre.
He plays so fast and lose with his rhetoric, setting up straw men and resorting to the always unconvincing slippery-slope argument, that it's hard to know exactly how he does it, but he seems to roll research with embyros, research with cloned embryos, reproductive cloning, genetic engineering, and Hitlerian eugenics into one big ball. Apparantly, we shouldn't attempt to cure cancer, because someone might some time in the future change his child's eye color.
This is Luddite claptrap. The only valid (though to me unpersuasive) argument against stem cell research, embryonic cloning, etc. is based in a belief-- often, but not necessarily, religious-- that ascribes a certain moral status to embryos. To say we shouldn't allow something because it may lead to something else which could be used immorally is nonsensical; the same argument could be applied to fire.
Fukuyama's wishful thinking notwithstanding, the mainline, "sensible shoes" (as opposed to "combat boots"-- Stephen Green's term) libertarian movement is extremely strong these days, fueled by the blogging phenomenon, and the vast majority of libertarian bloggers see no contradiction between their support for the war on terror and their suspicion of government.
IRANWATCH: After Michael Ledeen's latest amazing column reporting on the coming revolution in Iran (which the U.S. ought to do more to help foment), I emailed to ask him where he gets his information (since it seems no one else reports it). Ledeen has some Iranian friends that give him info that is totally exclusive, but he was still able to give me a few sites (notably Payvand.com and IranMania.com) that have English-language news from Iran. First in a series of highlights from those sites:
While rioting Euroweenies indulged Marxist fantasies for May Day (or "International Labour Day," as the U.N. calls it), underpaid workers in Iran had real complaints about wages and inflation. Their rallying cry: "forget Palestine and think about us instead."
A post-mullah Iran might be a natural ally of Israel against Arab agression. When John Derbyshire wrote about Middle East Jew-hating, several Iranians wrote to say they don't so much mind Jews, but hate Arabs. See also the second letter here to Tal G. in Jerusalem. The writer's note that Tal's blog was the first Israeli point of view he's ever been exposed to underlines how pervasive communication technology is undermining tyranny.
James Taranto wonders, "Would the West be better off if the Arab world did modernize? After all, the 20th century gave us an example of a regime that was both murderous and efficient: Nazi Germany. Could it be that the only thing saving us from the Arabs' ideology is their inefficiency?" But the 2000s are different from the 1930s; in the age of the Internet, where modernization is marked by wide access to lots of information, a fully modern totalitarian state is impossible. As soon as you've modernized to the point where news of the outside world is widely available and dissidents can easily and safely communicate with one another, totalitarianism becomes untenable.
May 01, 2002
MAY DAY IN AMERICA
MAY DAY IN AMERICA: The always delightful Deroy Murdock reports on a National Taxpayers Union study that observes the various facets of the contemporary United States-- progressive taxation, vast tracts of federally-owned land, etc.-- that echo Marx. The most striking note is on the Fed:
The Communist Manifesto also counsels "centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly." Karl Marx, meet Alan Greenspan.
The Federal Reserve, worshipped as a cornerstone of capitalism, in fact is a spectacularly statist institution. It wields the power to create money and control interest rates and inflation. The 12-member Federal Open Market Committee is essentially a financial Politburo that secretly meets to fix the cost of capital.
I once explained Greenspan's function to an intelligent person with a limited grasp of economics. Her reaction was perceptive: "That seems like too much power for one guy to have." She was right; the notion that the judgement of one person (or a few people, though my impression is that the FOMC is very defferential to the Chairman) should direct the economy is a bad one. The best alternative: "A Gold Polaris" (long, but worth it if you're interested).
WHAT'S THE DRUG CZAR SMOKING?
WHAT'S THE DRUG CZAR SMOKING?: This anti-pot op-ed in the Washington Post by Drug Czar John P. Walters is so stupid it makes my head hurt.
First, there's the litany on the potential harm of marijuana abuse. You can pretty much substitute "alcohol" for "marijuana"-- it's essentially the same prohibitionist case that the temperance movement made at the turn of the century.
Next, there's the dismissal as "pseudo-science" of the case for medical marijuana. Hmmm... I wonder why those fringe cranks at the FDA approved Dronabinol, a.ka. Marinol, which is THC in pill form, for treatment of nausea. Andrew Sullivan has a bottle of it for nausea associated with his HIV medication. "The relief from nausea quickly dissipates; even the docs prescribing the stuff don't believe it's as effective as the real thing." (I highly recommend this old Sullivan article, by the way.)
In the last paragraph, though, he does violence to logic so heinous it almost (unlike pot) should be criminal:
Skeptics will charge that this kind of violence is just one more reason to legalize marijuana. A review of the nation's history with drug use suggests otherwise: When marijuana is inexpensive, as it would be if legal, use soars -- bad news for the District's schools, streets and emergency rooms.Huh? The local liquor stores haven't had any gang warfare between them lately. Apparantly, Walters feels that violence is inherrent in "killer weed," and the fact that dealing drugs is illegal has nothing to do with the fact that it tends to be done by criminals.
EBERTOPHOBIA: I don't like Ebert, Ryan does. I also think if Scream is Ryan's idea of a good horror movie, then he might appreciate Jason X, particularly the scenes which overtly take the genre-parodying pose that the Scream series pioneered.