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Friday, August 09, 2002

 
DELAWHORE EXPOSED.

Mucho kudos to Jonathan Chait for this New Republic piece exposing the first state for what it is: a fetid swamp of corruption and evil.

Delaware is the lowest state in both altitude and morals. A cesspool of Superfund sites interspersed with bland prefab housing developments outside of any incorporated town or sense of real community.

This tiny slut of a state spreads its legs wide for any corporation, bank, unsecured-lender or toxic-dumper it can lure in. When the prophet Ezekiel wrote the following, he was probably thinking of Delawhore:

"Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you" (Ezek. 16:33-34).

Delaware is, in short, an awful place. And I'm headed there now.

Have a nice weekend, folks.



posted by Fred Clark 3:05 PM

 
MICKEY SWALLOWED THE HOOK.

Tony Campolo has a nasty little trick he pulls once in awhile to slap-down the self-absorbed and self-righteous. From the pulpit of wealthy, white evangelical churches he will say:

"Today, while you sit here in this lovely building, 30,000 children are dying from hunger and preventable disease and you don't give a f**k."

He pauses just enough for them to take the bait, then says, "And you're more upset that I just said 'f**k' than you ever will be about those 30,000 children. 'What would Jesus do?'"

You have to be a puritanical jerk with an utter lack of ethical perspective to fall for that trick.

And Mickey Kaus fell for it.

In an August 5 post, he attacked the Washington Post for running a story on a poll by The Alliance to End Hunger, a project of Bread for the World. In an earlier post, we pointed out that Bread conducts polls like this more or less annually, and newspapers report on them because they provide a news handle for mentioning the tragedy of world hunger.

World hunger is a scandalously under-reported story. Bread's polls allow newspapers to ameliorate this appalling absence in journalistic business-as-usual. This is the function of such polls. Reporting such polls corrects a failure of journalistic standards and ethics.

It is extremely implausible that Mickey Kaus was unaware of this function of these perennial polls, which makes his feigned surprise at the story seem disingenuous and condescending. (Brad DeLong takes this incident as evidence that Kaus has shifted further to the right. Mickey responds with evasive good humor.)

In Slate's Today's Papers, Eric Umansky tag-teams to criticize the Post and the poll. This is even more curious -- since Umansky had no comment in TP on the earlier USA Today article on the same poll. (Umansky's alleged "gotcha" of the Post actually follows the same reasoning of the USA Today article. Is he failing to cite this? Or is "Today's Papers" not really reading the day's papers?)

But what of the substance of the Kaus/Umansky critique? Both suggest that the Post should've been more skeptical in reporting on a poll commissioned by an interest group. Here's Umansky:

" ... the poll was sponsored by a group called the Alliance to End Hunger. That kind of seems like it should trigger a red flag that the poll might have contained leading questions. But the Post doesn't mention that possibility, nor does it look like the paper actually looked at the poll questions: The only voter figures cited by the paper are those highlighted in the poll's press release."

Fair enough, but "might have contained" is not the same as "contained," and Umansky doesn't bother to find out which is true. Mickey, however, claims the poll was bogus because it reported that people selected "fighting the hunger problem" from a list of potentially important issues, rather than as a spontaneous response to an open-ended question. This is, at best, a quibble -- but you wouldn't know it from Mickey's crowing triumphalism -- "Are all the Post editors on vacation? WaPo falls for a paradigmatic bogus interest-group poll story."

By "paradigmatic" Mickey means: I will now engage in gratuitous question-begging and demonstrate that the interest-group poll is bogus because it is a bogus interest-group poll. Besides, Mickey says, "Who's going to say [world hunger is] not important?" Thus, Mickey expresses his disagreement with the poll by strenuously agreeing with the poll. He attacks it's credibility by declaring that it's findings are self-evident. He seems afraid that this kind of poll will give misplaced-concreteness a bad name.

30,000 children will die today of hunger and preventable disease and Mickey Kaus doesn't seem to give a flying f**k. ... He's way more upset about a Bread for the World poll than he will ever be about those kids. That's ethical Magooism masquerading as journalistic integrity.
posted by Fred Clark 12:44 PM


Thursday, August 08, 2002

 
PROPORTIONALITY.

Joshua Micah Marshall picks up the question of Iraq and frames the question well:

Assume that you believe, as I do, that deposing Saddam Hussein by force is in America's national interest. Under the present circumstances, believing this forces upon you a second question which is in many ways more difficult than the first.

Here is how I would frame the question:

Is it possible that regime change by force is the right thing to do, but that
this administration is inclined to do it in such a reckless, ill-conceived and possibly disastrous manner that, under these circumstances, it is better not to do it at all?

Marshall's apt statement of the question at hand underscores the prudential questions involved in following just-war principles. Keith Pavlischek neatly summarizes these:

The criterion of just cause classically and explicitly included one or more of three possibilities: defense against wrongful attack, retaking something wrongly taken, or punishment of evil. ... Right intention negatively meant that war should not be undertaken with a lust for battle, personal glory, bloodlust etc. Positively, right intention insists that the aim is to bring about peace, not a utopian peace but a tranquility of order.

As the tradition developed, other "criteria" (if that is the right word) were added to the jus ad bellum as prudential considerations to guide statesmen when they considered the use of force: Is there a reasonable chance for success? Will the overall good exceed the harm done (proportionality)? Have other means to redress a harm been attempted or are they possible (last resort)?


Marshall is raising the question of proportionality, which is bound up with the question of likely outcomes. Such questions are, as he says, "devilishly difficult." Another way of putting these questions is this: Will this war likely make things better or worse?

Answering such a question involves more than merely applying abstract ethical principles. It involves weighing matters of fact and probability, prudence and judgement, learning from history to project our best guesses onto the future.

And my best guess is that Marshall is right: the "reckless, ill-conceived and possibly disastrous" manner in which the Bush administration is pursuing this effort seems likely to make things worse. That's not a just war.


-s-s-s-S-s-s-s-


MORE ON JUST WAR.

Lawrence Hinman, at UC San Diego, offers a nice page of links and resources on Just War theory, while the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy will tell you more than you probably wanted to know about jus ad bello and jus in bello criteria.

I cite Keith Pavlischek in the post above. Keith is a Calvinist, a marine and a Republican (in that order) -- three things I am not. He's also a gracious mentor to students and a principled thinker. Here's another piece of his on the war on terror. I unfortunately cannot provide a link for his article "On the 50th Anniversary of Hiroshima: A just warrior explains why we should not have dropped the bomb." It's in the November/December 1995 issue of PRISM magazine, Adobe files of which can be found by the very patient and determined here.

The must-read book the topic is Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars. See here for a reevaluation/review by Gilbert Meilander. And see here for an essay by Walzer shortly after September 11.
posted by Fred Clark 2:13 PM


Wednesday, August 07, 2002

 
YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO KILL CIVILIANS. V.

HIROSHIMA DAY.

It's Hiroshima Day, and I'm reading the Guardian interview where Studs Terkel is getting Paul Tibbets, the man who piloted the Enola Gay, to tell the story of the only people in the history of the world to annihilate a city with a nuclear bomb.

Now Paul Tibbets is 87 years old and an American hero and I'm thinking how best to tactfully link to this interview while still respectfully pointing out that the bombing of Hiroshima was absolutely irreconcilable with any notion of a "just war" -- you're not allowed to kill civilians. But then I read this quote, as Tibbets speaks of how he would conduct the war on terror:

I'd wipe 'em out. You're gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we've never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn't kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: 'You've killed so many civilians.' That's their tough luck for being there.

That sounds less like an American hero than like a bitter old man who's spent 50+ years justifying the instantaneous slaughter of thousands and thousands of noncombatants. Tibbets' bad-ass posturing of profane realism comes across as the forced bravado of a man who realizes that being a soldier implies a code of honor, without which a soldier becomes something less. Soldiers do not intentionally kill non-combatant women and children by the thousands. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

The most famous, and apt, profanely realistic statement about war is this: "War is hell."

True enough. And in any war even the good guys will end up doing things of which they shouldn't be proud. One can acknowledge sorrowful deeds with regret while still holding up one's head. But to take pride in the most sorrowful and shameful of war's hellish actions -- to boast of them and glory in them -- is the difference between saying "sometimes you have to break the rules" and "there are no rules." The former can be said with honor and humanity. The latter cannot. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

-s-s-s-S-s-s-s-

Q: But didn't dropping the bomb save lives because it kept us from having to invade Japan?

A: Why, exactly, would we have needed to invade Japan?

An invasion was not necessary for victory, only for Total, Absolute, Crushing Victory and Unconditional Surrender With Humiliation. It's possible that there is a compelling moral argument for why justice demanded this kind of crushing total victory, and that the distinction between this and mere military victory -- as in Europe -- was somehow substantial enough to justify the annihilation of thousands of noncombatants. But if anyone has made such an argument I haven't seen it. What I have seen is way, way too much of the self-justifying, adolescent, Nietzschean rationalizing that Tibbets offers above. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

posted by Fred Clark 12:13 PM

 
POP AND POPULISM.

Eric Boehlert gives us some good news: Clear Channel Communications may be stumbling. Boehlert deserves some kind of award for his thorough coverage of:

Clear Channel Communications, the little-noticed media giant that has quietly taken over the country's radio and concert industries. The company owns nearly 1,200 radio stations and effectively controls the rock radio market. It also owns SFX Entertainment, the nation's dominant concert-venue owner and touring promoter.

In a series of excellent articles in Salon:

Boehlert has detailed the corporation's evolution under the aegis of Randy Michaels, the one-time shock jock who has turned the industry upside down with rampant cost-cutting and a good-ol'-boy approach to management.

And in "Pay for Play" Boehlert details the new payola -- the complex arrangements under which the world's major record companies pay for virtually every rock song broadcast on commercial radio.


Boehlert's crusade against Clear Channel hasn't received the attention it deserves -- partly because as a giant media corporation, Clear Channel controls much of what is said about them; partly because Salon is an online journal, and Web-savvy music fans gave up on radio ages ago.

Al Gore issued a populist challenge in Sunday's New York Times:

In 2000, I argued that the Bush-Cheney ticket was being bankrolled by "a new generation of special interests, power brokers who would want nothing better than a pliant president who would bend public policy to suit their purposes and profits." Some considered this warning anti-business. It was nothing of the sort. I believe now, as I said then, that "when powerful interests try to take advantage of the American people, it's often other businesses that are hurt in the process" — most of all, smaller companies that play by the rules.

Gore's vague references to unnamed "powerful interests" perfectly describe the monopolistic machinations of Clear Channel Communications -- yet Gore's salvo isn't as convincing as any one of Boehlert's articles, because where Boehlert is concrete, particular and specific, Gore is abstract, general and vague.

Gore's op-ed has provoked a great deal of chatter about the merits and demerits of a populist approach. (For those keeping score: Saletan and Kaus think Gore's populism seems phony; Josh Marshall finds it more authentic.) But much of this discussion has been, like Gore's op-ed, too abstract to be compelling.

"Populism" does not exist in a void. Like love, it is meaningless without an object to which it can be affixed.

Populism-in-general seems to me bound to fail. Populism-in-particular -- a specific candidate taking a specific stance supporting the majority against a specific powerful interest -- seems promising, but it depends upon the context and the actual substance of the effort.


posted by Fred Clark 10:59 AM

 
WHEN IS A TRUCK NOT A TRUCK?

Federal "CAFE" (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards govern the minimum average mileage of an automaker's fleet of cars. In recent years, these automakers have added increasingly huge, gas-guzzling "SUVs" (Suburban Use Vehicles).

One would expect these inefficient behemoths would put their makers in jeopardy of violating CAFE rules -- after all, a half-ton Jawa sandcrawler that gets 14 m.p.g. has got to pull the average down a little bit. But SUVs have exactly no effect on corporate average fuel economy, because SUVs are not "cars."

By classifying SUVs as "light trucks" and not cars, automakers ensure that these Saudi-subsidizing dinosaurs are not part of the fleet of cars measured in CAFE rules.

SO ...

Why is it that when the Jersey Turnpike divides and I'm driving in the "Cars Only" section, I'm still surrounded by dozens of these "light trucks"? Why is an SUV a "truck" for CAFE totals, but not a "truck" when in traffic on the turnpike?

You can't have it both ways.

P.S.: Also annoyingly disingenuous is the repeated claim from American automakers (when lobbying against CAFE rules, emissions standards, safety rules, public transportation, etc.) that they're only producing so many SUVs because it's what consumers demand. If so, why do they also spend gazillions on prime-time advertising that desperately seeks to equate wheelbase with penis-size?


posted by Fred Clark 8:47 AM


Tuesday, August 06, 2002

 
THE DEADLY BATHTUB.

Here's a piece of patently ridiculous nonsense from last Tuesday's Washington Times:

Did you know that water is 19 times more dangerous to a child than a firearm? ... Bathtubs are twice as dangerous to children as guns. Fire is 18 times more dangerous to children than guns. Cars are 57 times more dangerous. Household cleaners and poisons are twice as dangerous.

The NRA is slipping. They used to have a higher-quality lackey. Before they pay Paul Craig Roberts another cent to propagate their Yosemite-Sam-ish line, they should require him to read Darrell Huff's classic How to Lie With Statistics. If you're going to promote specious claptrap, you should at least try to do it semi-convincingly. If your goal in life is to be a lying lobbyists tool, then try to be the best lying tool you can be.

Is "lying" too strong a word?

Not at all. To demonstrate, I invite Mr. Roberts to jump out of a high-flying dirigible without a parachute.

Far fewer people are killed every year by plummeting from dirigibles than by firearms or bathtubs, so leaping from the gondola of the Good Year blimp must be "safe" -- or, at least, "safer" than bathing or carrying a firearm. And since Mr. Roberts has no qualms about toting his gun or bathing on at least a semi-regular basis, he should have no hesitation to engage in the far safer activity of jumping from a dirigible.

(Ed. note: Of course, Mr. Roberts could be defended from the charge of corrupt dishonesty if you could demonstrate that he's actually just really, really stupid. Does he leave us a third option?)

posted by Fred Clark 9:43 AM


Monday, August 05, 2002

 
FIGHTING ANTI-HUNGER.

Mickey Kaus is bravely fighting to keep the world safe from the nefarious "Alliance to End Hunger." He does so with a sneering zest not seen since Christopher Hitchens offered his dubious "expose" of Mother Theresa.

Mr. Kausfiles is upset over this Washington Post story, published three days after USA Today ran a story on the same poll.

Mickey is upset over what he calls the Post's falling for "a paradigmatic bogus interest-group poll story." What's bizarre here is not just that Kaus hasn't noticed that dozens of dailies ran the story before the Post got around to it (see here) -- what's bizarre is that after many years covering Washington politics, Mickey Kaus seems never to have heard of Bread for the World, or former Sen. Paul Simon, or Rep. Tony Hall, or Rep. Mickey Leland, or the Congressional Hunger Center.

Such a vast body of ignorance might be excusable -- none of these are exactly household names -- were it not for the fact that Mickey Kaus has spent so much time and energy on issues of welfare and poverty. Bread for the World has done more or less the same damn poll every year for decades.

But doesn't Kausfiles show that the poll presents leading questions? Possibly, but that's so far from the point you can't even see the point from where Kausfiles is sitting.

The point is this:

World hunger is a staggeringly huge story that gets almost zero coverage in the press. This is partly due to the constant, and therefore not "new," nature of the problem. The death of 3,000 kids in an earthquake would make page 1. The quotidian, business-as-usual death of 30,000 kids every day after day after day including weekends and holidays is not, strictly speaking "news."

Diarrhea kills about 10,000 - 15,000 children every day -- that's three to five times as many deaths as occurred on September 11. Utterly preventable deaths. Every day.

"Hmmm," the editor says, "there might be a story in that. Do you have a local angle? Something to hook our readers?"

This is the point of those perennial polls. To allow editors and producers to remind their readers and viewers of this "gigantic inevitable famine stalking in the rear" of our minds. It's a nightmare with a body count "more than any of us will be able to bear." Or at least it should be, except that we can't bear even to look.

Kausfiles suggests that journalistic standards somehow require us not to look. Or, at least, that journalistic standards require us to be "balanced" in our coverage of world hunger. This misuse of ethics and standard is perverse.

Groups like Bread for the World conduct a kind of dance with the media. This dance is governed by several unspoken conventions, one of which is that they have to provide some credible facade of "newsworthiness" to justify expending valuable column inches on the death of thousands of dark, poor, anonymous children far from where our subscribers live. Because the editors are (often) decent people, and because the problem is so vast, this newsworthiness need not be ironclad. A poll about "fighting the hunger problem" will do.

The Post's editors were not on vacation. They were doing their job. 30,000 deaths -- even in Potter's Field, even in Africa -- is newsworthy, even if it means running the occasional interest-group poll. The poll is not social science (neither is social science). It exists only to allow us to talk about those deaths in the newspaper. Not to do so would be a shameful lapse in journalistic ethics.

(P.S.: I've assumed that Mickey Kaus is unaware of the perennial media rituals surrounding Bread for the World's polls and those of other anti-hunger groups. This is implausible, but more charitable than the alternative: which is that Bread's opposition to some of the welfare-reform components championed by Kausfiles have spurred him to attack the media conventions that provide what little coverage these groups can muster for the world's hungry. Mickey can be monomaniacal about welfare reform, but I don't read him as petty or spiteful. I hope I'm right about that.)

posted by Fred Clark 5:28 PM

 
VACATION SEASON.

Forgot to say this in the post below: "Welcome back." I missed Tapped during its vacation. Despite its preachy (anti-)religiosity, I'm glad to have it back, letting us know about things like Bush's sucking-up to the rescued coalminers, while simultaneously undermining their safety.

And speaking of vacations -- Andrew Sullivan's time-off this month should provide a much-needed respite (for the rest of us).



posted by Fred Clark 12:56 PM

 
TAPPED: A FUNDAMENTALIST.

Tapped returned from vacation and was able to write 44 words before launching into one of his trademark proselytizing, Hazel-Motes-ish rants against religious belief.

Tapped apparently spent his vacation last week camping and muttering angrily under his breath about the grossly offensive theism of John Milton and M. Night Shyamalan. Are other Tapped readers as curious as I am about why he seems to have such a huge chip on his shoulder about the whole God thing? (He can't seem to hear Christians pray the "Our Father" without picturing John Huston in Chinatown.)

We Baptists are dogmatic about tolerance and pluralism -- "soul freedom" we sometimes call it -- so I've got no problem with Tapped believing or disbelieving as he sees fit. Atheism is, after all, one of the world's great religions. (And I wouldn't think it fair to view all atheism with suspicion just because of a few bad apples like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.)

And I have a certain affection for Tapped's religiosity, having grown up among people just like him. At the fundamentalist Baptist church my family attended, I saw the same pre-postmodern epistemic arrogance -- the same white-knuckled assertion of faith-as-fact. Fundamentalists -- be they Baptist, Islamic or, like Tapped, atheist -- always seem irritable on this point, because it's extremely important to their self-understanding that their belief system is a matter of fact and reason, not a leap of faith.

Tapped's fundamentalism makes no distinction between religious belief and mere superstition. Wendell Berry, the mad farmer of Henry County, Kentucky, frames that distinction thus: religion is belief in that which cannot be proved; superstition is belief in that which can be disproved.

Atheism cannot be proved. It is a religion, a faith claim. Tapped is in the same boat as the rest of us believers:

This is our true state; this is what makes us incapable of certain knowledge and of absolute ignorance. We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.

Let us, therefore, not look for certainty and stability.

(Pascal, Pensees, #72)


Welcome aboard.

(NOTE: Judge's should deduct 2 points from this post for failing to include Walker Percy in the above roll-call of southern writers.)

posted by Fred Clark 12:10 PM


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