Tuesday, May 30, 2006

John Lennon, Radical Conservative

The conservative National Review just put out this list of the fifty best rock "songs to be conservative to." Included in the list: songs by U2, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Everclear, and CCR. Only the National Review could include songs by a communist, two well-known liberal activists, two members of the Vote for Change tour, and a DNC delegate on a list of conservative songs.

And yet oddly enough, there's no Ted Nugent.

That's not it: the list includes Ben Folds Five's "Brick," an emotional account of a girlfriend's abortion, and The Pretenders' environmental rocker "My City Was Gone." Not exactly standard conservative fare. My personal favorite is the Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands To Yourself," which is less a song that "affirm[s] old-time sexual mores" than one that complains of sexual frustration.

To be fair, my top 50 liberal songs would include tunes from conservatives Garth Brooks ("We Shall Be Free") and Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Saturday Night Special"). But seriously, only about half of these are truly conservative. NatRev - come on. Tammy Wynette as a rocker? You can do better.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Don't Go Making Phony Calls

Barnaby first tipped me off to this - ABC News reports that the government isn't just using the phone company records to track terrorists. They're also tracking journalists. Let's hope this story gets legs, because this is wiretap thing is reaching absurd proportions. In the words of Larry the Cable Guy, "What is this, Russia?"

Of course, TV news folks are well-known serial exaggerators. So stay tuned, I'll let you know if any other media outlets pick up the story.

Also, here's an interesting read - the Post's Bill Arkin ably defends the wiretapping programs (sort of). I'm not sure I buy what he's saying for reasons I outlined in the last post, but it's still a good argument.

And a question to ponder: why did the NSA ask for all phone records, instead of just those of actual terrorism suspects?

My Phone Bill Is Late... Call The NSA

Why do people support the wiretapping program?

As a product of the 1990s, I often find myself asking this question. Certainly if Clinton had instituted such a program, he would have been raked across the coals by everyone from Bob Barr to Russ Feingold - and rightfully so.

The Post's Eugene Robinson has a fairly good answer for the question he asks: what the hell is going on? He thinks it boils down to fear, sort of a national psychosis brought on by the war on terror and an economy that's not helping them out.

I think there's something else at work - a lack of good historical education. I have a hunch that most people come out of high school thinking that repressive regimes just happen. Maoist China? Third Reich Germany? Khmer Rouge Cambodia? Tragic. Horrifying. But we're reassured that it can't happen here by the foreignness of the study. Unlike most other nations, America has never really experienced a truly repressive regime (though Wilson and McCarthy tried their damndest). So we don't analyze how repressive regimes get their start, instead writing it off to some vague rationale like cultural differences or evil, manipulative people.

But people who know their history know that repressive regimes (or at least repressive regimes that replace free ones) galvanize themselves around emotions of fear, usually whipped up by some cataclysmic event. For an extreme example, recall how the Reichstag fire in Germany gave Hitler the ability to dismantle the Weimar Republic. Or how the Maoist revolution somehow mysteriously gained steam after Japan's invasion. Perhaps if people understood this about history, they would be less confident about the immunity of America from such repression.

Of course, I don't think Bush or anyone up there has dictatorial dreams. I have no doubt that Bush has the best interests of America at heart. The point is that I'm fairly certain that all repressors took power wanting to "save" their country from some threat or another, and if we allow the erosion of freedom to continue, it's only a matter of time before someone starts viewing Congress as a minor inconvenience. (Oh, wait, that's happening too.)

My point is this: people simply don't realize how dangerous it is to say "go ahead, I have nothing to hide" when it comes to unwarranted snooping. If civil liberties such as freedom of the press and the right to privacy cease to become sacrosanct, it endangers the well-being of a free society. There ought to be no "free passes" in the name of security, for such exceptions threaten the structure of our government far more than a terrorist attack ever could.

But not only are people not concerned with the erosion of their civil liberties, but they're also actively participating in the limitation of public debate. Already it has become unacceptable for public figures to voice certain opinions; would a pundit not named Stephen Colbert dare to point out that Ahmadinejad's letter was not just mindless drivel? Those of us who have ideas outside of the mainstream are scared to voice them for fear of being branded a terrorist sympathizer. This, too, is dangerous. Those who shout epithets in place of reasoned debate are to be condemned, but just as culpable are those in power who do not stand up to such reprehensible behavior. Take from that statement what you will.

Also, this is entertaining - though, sadly, it comes with no pictures.

Update: This is both scary and hilarious. If there were one of these in Nashville, I'm sure that I and many of my friends would have ended up on there several times over. (Okay, maybe not Ben.) I wonder if current Boulderian Mike Levy has made it on there yet...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

And You Thought It Was Only A-Train

Why do the nuts seem to congregate in Alabama? And how can 12% of Alabama Democrats be supporting this moron?

One choice quote, said after the candidate claimed that the white man was being discriminated against and held down: "I am astonished as anyone has ever been that anyone is running for public office in Alabama on that platform." You know, of course, that fifty years ago you would have been equally astonished had someone not been running on that platform.

Friday, May 12, 2006

An Economist I Didn't Ignore

Blogging from the Old Dominion. Happy birthday, Mom.

I have a nasty habit of ignoring economics. Part of it is because I can't understand drivel like gross GDP as a percentage of my left foot on Tuesdays. I think when I listen to economists blather on, it makes me understand how most of the world feels when I discuss the effect of head block-head block interactions on the encapsulation of square-well spheres in a simulated block copolymer micelle.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up April's Scientific American and found an article on globalization and poverty written by an economist that I found very easy to read. I can't figure out how to link to it, but if you can get your hands on the article, read it. It's titled "Does Globalization Help or Hurt The World's Poor?" and is written by Pranab Bardhan. It doesn't answer all your questions about the effect of globalization on world poverty, but it's a good starting place. The general argument: globalization can help alleviate poverty, but it's not the silver bullet. You need social programs too. The money quote (which comes after mentioning several pairs of similar countries that suffered diverging fates in the past half-century):

"The experiences of these and other countries demonstrate that antipoverty programs need not be blocked by the forces of globalization. There is no 'race to the bottom' in which countries must abandon social programs to keep up economically; in fact, social and economic goals can be mutually supportive. Land reform, expansion of credit and services for small producers, retraining and income support for displaced workers, public-works programs for the unemployed, and provision of basic education and health can enhance the productivity of workers and farmers and thereby contribute to a country's global competitiveness. Such programs may require a rethinking of budget priorities in those nations and a more accountable political and administrative framework, but the obstacles are largely domestic. Conversely, closing the economy to international trade does not reduce the power of the relevant vested interests: landlords, politicians, and bureaucrats, and the rich who enjoy government subsidies. Thus, globalization is not the main cause of developing countries' problems, contrary to the claim of critics of globalization - just as globalization is often not the main solution to these problems, contrary to the claim of overenthusiastic free traders."

Interesting stuff. I'd say it ignores the influence of the IMF and World Bank, which until recently made the elimination of social programs something of a requisite for aid if I'm not mistaken (though I very well may be). It also ignores the geopolitical power struggles occurring in the background and how taking the necessary domestic steps may be met with resistance by powerful governments. But it's a good starting point for discussion of the issue.

I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of the peanut gallery. If I find a link, I'll post it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

My Baby Just Wrote Me A Letter

So everyone's favorite Holocaust-denying psychopath has caught the correspondence bug. Personally, I think he should start a blog.

In the letter, which I read because I really don't want to do prelim-related stuff right now, he sounds... remarkably less psychopathic. (Except for that little bit where he says something to the effect of "let's assume for a minute, strictly as an exercise, that the Holocaust actually happened." And that quixotic rant about the American media.) He writes some good things and makes some good points. But that doesn't make him any less of a hypocrite.

Bush is planning to relegate the letter to File 13. I wouldn't. Not replying makes A-Train look like the good guy and makes Bush look like he's rejecting an honest overture. My strategy? Call his bluff. Ahmadinejad needs to be encouraged to put his money where his mouth is. I'd write back to him something like this:

Mr. President,

I read your letter. In it, you relate to me your desire to build a world where peace and justice reign supreme. This is a vision I share with you. As you said, the followers of Jesus Christ, Mohammed, and Moses (peace be upon them all) all seek to build such a world.

Your criticisms of America's past actions are well taken, especially with respect to your nation. The West has not been kind to your nation, and I understand that. There are many things that our country has done that future leaders have regretted. I am sure that many of my policies will fall under the same category, as will many of yours.

You accuse me of failing to live up to our nation's high ideals. This is perhaps true. But as Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) once said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

You claim to believe that "the killing of innocents is deplorable and appalling in any part of the world." Yet you give material support to groups such as Islamic Jihad, who recently slaughtered over twenty innocents in Tel Aviv. You decry the banishment of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, yet it is this same banishment that you seek to inflict upon the Jews who have made the shores of the Mediterranean and the hills of Jerusalem their home. You criticize me for the prisons in Guantanamo, but your regime routinely imprisons those who simply disagree with its policies. Is this - any of this - consistent with the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)?

How, Mr. President, can you claim to pursue peace while you contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and support terrorists? How can you claim to respect your brothers in the Book while denying the Holocaust, seeking the destruction of Jewish homes, and encouraging the spread of anti-Semitism? How can you serve the cause of human rights if you do not afford such rights to your own citizens? And how is any of this serving God?

Your knowledge of history is extensive. Your obsession with it, however, is self-defeating. We cannot take back that which we wish had never happened. We cannot offer restitution for wrongs long past. We cannot concern ourselves with what should have been. We can only look at our present situation and determine what we can do now to pursue justice.

And so it is in this spirit, Mr. President, that I offer you a shovel, that we may bury our hatchets once and for all. To work towards peace, we must not build nuclear weapons but seek to disarm ourselves and our friends. We must not saber-rattle regarding Israel, but help create a situation where Jews, Muslims, and Christians of all colors can live together in peace in our shared Holy Land. We must, as Gandhi once said, become the change we wish to see. And if that change is peace, justice, and brotherhood, then we must become peaceful, just, and brotherly to ourselves and to those who we perceive as our enemies.

One of our Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, once said this: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection." Mr. President, the bonds between our nations are surely strained. But let us not continue to sink into recriminations. We are both but men - we cannot be perfect purveyors of God's will. Though we will both falter, I believe strongly that by burying the bitterness of the past and working together peacefully, we can help create a world of which God and all our prophets would be proud.


If he's bluffing, such a letter would make him look like the bad guy for offering an olive branch and then withdrawing it. If he's serious, we have ourselves a resolution. It's a win-win situation.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Super Inevitable Lag B'Omer Post

In honor of Lag B'Omer, the scholar's holiday, I present to you the story of Brad Seelig, a Jewish teen who stepped into the minefield of West Cary religious intolerance when he decided to wear a yarmulke to school. (Hat tip to Jamie, who used to live down the street from Green Hope High.) I knew a couple of students who wore yarmulkes to school in NoVa and got nothing more than a couple of raised eyebrows.

You know, I love the South, but sometimes it's a rocky relationship.

Brad, here's my advice to you. Wear the kipa. Without the cap. And if someone tells you you're going to Hell, smile and say: "I'll be seeing you there." (They don't have to know that you probably don't believe in Hell.) And to the assistant principal: no means no.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Since Mike's Not Doing It

A commenter on Mike's blog requested a debate on age limits. Since Mike hasn't put it up yet, I will. So.

A recent study showed that under-21 college students were likely to binge drink on all campuses studied except one: McGill in Montreal, where the drinking age is 18. Age limits on drinking are obviously a spectacular failure. Age limits encourage immature behavior in those under the arbitrary age selected and should be abolished. This goes for things like drinking, sexual consent, contracts, R-rated movies (not the advisory rating system, just the laws), etc. (In the case of sexual consent, I could get behind a limit that coincided with the one that God has imposed upon us.)