Saturday, January 24, 2004

SO, APPARENTLY 18% of the British people I see wandering around me would be strongly opposed to my being their PM, and 47% would sort of rather have a non-Jew as PM than me. (This according to a poll commissioned by the Jewish Chronicle, reported on by Ha'aretz, and brought to my attention by my Oxbuddy Patrick.
Well, that's ok. I would be strongly opposed to about 1/5 of the Brits I see around me being PM, and wouldn't be so excited about 1/2 of them being PM. And the people who wouldn't want me to be PM, and whom I wouldn't want to be PM, probably match up reasonably well. So the feeling's mutual. (Besides, a Jew -- albeit a baptized one -- HAS been PM, and two unbaptized Jews have been head of major British parties. That's a better record than the US has.) Somewhat more troublesome are the 15% who think that the Holocaust has been exaggerated.
Um, yeah. The horribleness of industrialised mass-murder is SO over-blown. What a bunch of ... nevermind.
Still, that aside, I can't say I find this all that troubling (and I like to think that the percentages are rather different among those people here I actually know and spend time with).
Nevertheless, there are less forgiving and tolerant souls out there, who might take more umbrage at this. And what with the poll, and the Jenny Tonge thing (Jenny Tonge: neither very liberal, nor very democratic, in spirit. Discuss.), it hasn't been a good week for Britain vis a vis the Jews.
Seems to me the nation could use some help managing its image as far as anti-semitism goes. Perhaps they can employ an advertising firm to help. The name Saatchi springs to mind.
Oh, wait ...

Friday, January 23, 2004

MORE SID: Two more Sidney Morgenbesser jokes, courtesy of Jerry Cohen:
SM's first law of Jewish logic: 'If P, so why not Q?'
SM's first law of Jewish deontic logic: 'Can implies don't.'

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

IOWA POSTSCRIPT: I continue to think about the Iowa Caucus and what it all means -- as apparently do a number of others. I'm not sure how big a difference it'll ultimately make -- though it does at least keep Edwards and Kerry in the race, and may give Kerry a boost in NH, allowing him to overtake Clark. Maybe.
It could also mean a 3- or 4- way runoff at the Convention. Not sure what I think about that. I tend to dread it; the only good outcome I can think of would be that it'd allow the Dems to choose the by that point least-bloodied of the candidates.
Now for others' views. TNR has, of course, been all over this. After a period of noticeable neglect, they've finally begun covering Kerry, with this nice account of Kerry's moment of triumph among other things. I remain ambivalent about Kerry (who was my favourite early on, and still is policy-wise, I think); but it's nice to see him basking in the glow of a resurgence. The main topic of conversation at TNR and elsewhere, however, seems to be: what the hell happened to Dean? Jonathan Chait manages to not gloat too much (though, having been going against the Dean-is-inevitable tide all this time, I think he's entitled); at first he was fairly pessimistic, but now seems to have reconciled himself to more or less accepting the results as good news. See the Deanophobe, passim. Elsewhere, TNR has a piece, both amusing and saddening (unless you're a diehard Deaniac-hater -- which I am not, despite having my moments of irritation) on the online response of Dean's supporters to his defeat. The funniest part has to be the reactions to Dean's post-defeat TV appearance. Now, everyone seems to be talking about this, and I take it it was quite something. I didn't see it myself, but I can't believe it was a good thing when I read comments like these from Dean SUPPORTERS:
"What is a guy with a doctorate doing screaming like an unhinged animal for?" (I take it the poster who wrote that doesn't have extensive familiarity with academia, which is full of people with doctorates who scream like unhinged animals)
"I've given money. I've hosted a house party. I've put up signs. But ... That speech was the most unpresidential thing I have ever seen. That was awful. I'm distraught. I'll still work hard, but my heart is no longer in it."
And, from the poignant to the hilarious:
[Dean was like a ] "chipmunk on crystal meth."
(This last is the best piece of political description I've seen since one friend and fellow-blogger described Wes Clark as 'having ambition like a naked mole-rat has nakedness' in an e-mail to me.)
One interesting conclusion drawn by a number of observers is that Dean's much-vaunted organisation was not really that great. The Edwards and Kerry campaigns seem to have just done better jobs getting out the vote, and winning over undecideds and Gephardt/Kucinich supporters. The Dean campaign, which has been so excitingly innovative at mobilising supporters over the internet and getting college kids involved, seems to have fallen apart when it came to more traditional, and as it turned out still more important, sorts of mobilisation. Of course, this may have a lot to do with Iowa's caucus system, which is pretty unique; and the Dean campaign's poor handling of that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll do similarly badly in regular primaries (or in a general election). Still, the argument that the Dean campaign is has the sharpest and best political tactics, and that a main reason to support Dean is that he has the best shot at defeating Bush because of this tactical/organising/mobilising superiority, seems pretty weak now. (Many of those who I've heard tout Dean's mobilising ability are involved with the labour union movement, and are veterans of college campus student activism, and seem to like the fact that Dean seems to have learnt from their tactics. At the risk of sounding like I'm taunting some dear friends I very much respect as my superiors when it comes to knowledge of practical political action, I have to say, this never convinced me, and does so even less now. As I pointed out before, in Iowa -- IOWA! -- the two candidates who had the strongest backing from the unions came out on the bottom of the top-four. And, generally, unions just aren't as powerful as they once were, and despite some hopeful signs of revival in recent years, are unlikely to be. And student movements have very rarely translated into succesful national political movements (even when their causes ultimately win -- as with the anti-Vietnam war movement -- their candidates tend to lose).
One of the foremost friends I was thinking of in that last paragraph is, of course, Jacob Remes, who has posted a thoughtful set of post-Iowa reflections. Jacob continues to describe Dean as having one of the best organisations, and I'm wondering what exactly he means by that. He also suggests that one of Dean's problems was a failure to bring in "newly-organized, fresh-faced, excited newcomers." This could well be; but I wonder if Dean's campaign also made a mistake in relying too much on these (to describe the same people rather differently) inexperienced, youthful, largely college-educated and culturally remote (from much of Iowa) campaign workers. I agree with Jacob that mobilising such people is important, both to the upcoming election and the future of the party; but I think that it's not enough, and too much of an emphasis on it could backfire.
Jacob also makes some very good criticisms of Kerry, which may be right as it happens, but by themselves aren't conclusive. The crux of his point is that Kerry has been a life-long peacenik who suddenly and opportunistically reversed himself in supporting Iraq because he was about to embark on a Presidential campaign. Now, two things. First, there were a number of people who opposed Vietnam and other earlier wars, but supported Iraq, and did so for entirely honourable and heart-felt reasons. That politicians should change in response to a changing world isn't a bad thing; it shows flexibility and openess -- that is, good political judgment. Dean, after all, reversed himself on NAFTA when he saw it having consequences he thought appaling; and though I don't agree with all of his trade policy, I actually admire him for doing so (the fact that he's tried to claim that he never supported NAFTA, on the other hand, is one of the things that makes me quite dislike him). A lot of people have viewed the world differently since 9/11/01, and I don't think this is a bad thing in itself (it is if it leads them to want to throw away civil liberties or international law, but so far I don't see Kerry doing that). US military intervention looks a lot different after Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo, as well as 9/11, than it did in the '70s and '80s.
But I do think that political considerations played a large role in Kerry's thinking. Now, I find that troubling. But I also can see why he'd act as he did. If the war and its aftermath had been a smashing success -- or if we had actually found WMD or evidence of a Baath/al-Quaeda link -- anyone who opposed the war would've been political toast. THis of course hasn't happened, and one can argue -- I think rightly -- that there was good reason to foresee this a year ago. But I can see why someone wouldn't want to take that chance. To have a shot at winning the Dems are going to have to convince people they're tough on defense and willing to use force; and continuing to vote and speak as a lifelong peacenik seems to me a pretty sure recipe for defeat.
On the other hand, the fact that Kerry can be painted as vacilating and dishonest, as well as remote and charmless, is worrying; he could come off as a cross between the worst qualities of Gore and Dukakis.
So, Jacob winds up leaning towards Edwards. I've also been leaning towards Edwards, despite being quite worried by his lack of experience or clear foreign policy vision, which remain big hang-ups for me (also, he supports the death penalty. Which isn't a big deal, as none of the candidates are, if elected president, likely to have much impact on the matter. But Kerry has always opposed the death penalty, and continues to; and this seems to me admirably politcally courageous -- which is one reason i still like Kerry, and don't totally accept Jacob's suggestion that he's a complete opportunist). And some of my neo-liberal friends have also been leaning towards Edwards. Of course, my friends and I are by no means representative of (or, I sometimes think, very in touch with) the better part of the American electorate, so what we think shouldn't carry that much weight in considering candidates' likely appeal to the public. But any candidate who can bring together a leftist like Jacob, a liberal, social democratic semi-hawk like myself, and a neo-liberal hawk like my friend JR, would seem to me to have a decent shot at uniting the party, as well as winning over some non-party loyalists. Which could be a very important thing indeed.

P'TOWN: The NY Times has a story today about how one of my favourite places, Provincetown, MA, is gearing up for an expected tourism boom as gay and lesbian couples come there to get married (Pres. Bush's saber-rattling against activist MA judges notwithstanding). I spent one of the happiest weeks of my life in Provincetown with a bunch of friends right before we graduated from college; it's a really wonderful place, to which I'd like to return (and sociologically quite interesting, being composed heavily of fairly well-off homosexual people and working-class Portugese-Americans. And everyone we met there seemed to be both really friendly and kind, and intelligent and well-informed. THis is no doubt an idealisation, but I cherish my overly-glowing impression).
Anyway, if anything can make the prospect of homosexual couples finally being able to get married thanks to those activist judges in MA, it's the thought of Provincetown being lit-up with nuptial joy.

THE STATE OF THE STATE OF THE UNION: My buddy Patrick at Oxblog has a good analysis of Pres. Bush's State of the Union Address; showing the skills he's learnt as a DPhil student in politics at Oxford, Patrick even includes some interesting statistical analysis.
I'm going to offer no such insight. I can only report my own reactions, which were: irritation (the part about the war), mixture of incredulity, amusement, and irritation (refering to the edicts of the international community as a 'permission slip'), frustration mixed with a growing sense of despair (the domestic/economic agenda) punctuated by bursts of exasperation verging on outrage (the description of Bush's education policy: how the hell is merely testing kids going to help schools do better jobs? Sure, it's nice to have higher standards -- but without more innovative thinking about, and commitment to, ways to really improve education, that's not going to do much good. But education policy is a topic for another post), to intense irritation combined with smug superiority (abstinence promotion) -- to being really scared (defense of marriage bit. Yowsa! We knew it was coming, but I at least was expecting something a little less, er, blunt. Who'd of thunk W. would actually start channeling Orville Faubus?), to exasperation mixed with a grudging admiration mixed with queasiness at the concluding religiosity-and-schmaltz fest.
One liberal American commentator on the BBC after the speech refered to the President's lack of respect for the rule of law. Um, yeah. Is this what's become of American conservatism?
The one good thing: increased funding for programs for released prisoners. Oh, and the applause for the head of the Iraqi governing council was quite moving.
I note that no mention was made of Africa; all other mentions of the rest of the world were pretty much restricted to discussion of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

SID. Norm Geras has linked to a number of Sidney Morgenbesser anecdotes on blogs, as well as running an excerpt from an article by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair offering further anecdotes. This pleases me, as well as filling me with unmerited pride that I helped start off the Sidney Morgenbesser blogging fashion way back before it was cool, through an e-mail to my fellow-blogger Tristero, which helped inspire this post on Tristero's part -- still the best compendum of Sid-isms I know of, and a touching tribute to a great teacher.
Morgenbesser also inspired a poem, by Loren Goodman, quoted here:
This is when I begin my discussions with Sidney
Morgenbesser. "Sidney" I say. "Morgenbesser"
I say. "Sidney Morgenbesser" I say. He looks up
And nods. Everyone nods. I stand up, my voice
Stands up. "Sidney Morgenbesser," I say. Now he is
Nodding, nodding and smiling, "Morgenbesser,"
"Sidney, "Sidney," "Morgenbesser." "Morgenbesser,"
"Morgenbesser," "Sidney," "Sidney." Then we discuss
Shloymee . .
Now, a quibble about Hitchens' recounting of one of the best-known Morgenbesser stories -- that of Morgenbesser's offering of a 'double positive' (which actually has a negative connotation) in response to a claim by a hapless philosopher (the double-positive being 'Yeah, yeah!') Hitchens identifies Morgenbesser's victim -- er, I mean, interlocutor -- as J.L. Austin, whom he describes as 'pompous'. Now, I've read a good deal about Austin's personality, not all of it positive: he was austere, and could be intellectually hectoring and brutal. But pomposity is not a charge I've seen made by those who knew Austin, nor is it the impression I get. But it isn't clear that it WAS Austin who was the butt of Morgenbesser's quick wit. Other versions of the story identify Stuart Hampshire (who, based on my own contact with him, is very far from pompous) as the unfortunate speaker, while others refer to a nameless as well as hapless grad student (it's always safe to pick on grad students).
Does any of this matter? Likely not. Anyway, it's nice to see so much attention being paid online to one of the great philosophical characters of recent times.

CAUCUS BELLI: Up watching the Iowa results coming in on CNN online, while pretending to do work on my DPhil and listening to Ryan Adams' impressive chanelling of a gonad-less Morrissey (more power to the guy).
It's great. By which I mean both the fact that the two candidates I like best (or dislike least, depending on whether you're one of those glass half-empty people or not) seem likely to be the two big winners, and that it's just a great example of political drama -- and an enjoyable exposure of the limitations (shall we say) of pundits and the press and those who put their faith in them (mea culpa -- though not, I think, maxima culpa in this one case). The CW a couple of weeks ago, and for some time before that: Dean's indestructable. Iowa is Gephardt's state. Kerry's run one of the worst primary campaigns in recent if not living memory, and Edwards never properly got out of the gate and never will. And now Gephardt's pretty well wiped out, Dean has been humbled by coming in a distant third, Edwards has gone from trailing Carol Mosely Braun in some polls to being in the big league, and the initial front-runner turned big loser and all-purpose political joke is the big winner. (Kucinich and Sharpton however, are still nowhere).
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles. Sort of. (Well, ok, so maybe Kerry doesn't count as foremost among the humiles of the earth.)
All of this provokes a number of thoughts:
Fallibilism is right.
I feel badly for Gephardt. I was never much excited by him, but he strikes me as a thoroughly decent guy. Well, ok, so he's switched positions over the years in a disturbing way; but I'm willing to charitably chalk that up to changes of heart. And, anyway, this is just really painful to see. Poor guy. But I'm also sort of glad he's likely out of the race; it simplifies matters.
I don't know what this'll ultimately mean for the Democratic race. Jonathan Chait has floated the idea, developed by Matt Yglesias (and when Deanophobes and Deanophiles agree, one should take note) that this could actually be good for Dean: Edwards, Clark, and Kerry could split the anti-Dean vote, letting people-powered Howard ultimately clinch it.
Now, this is the thing. I really dislike Wes Clark, I think. I'm not sure he'd make a good candidate, and I think he wouldn't make a very good president (though I think he'd be better than Bush). But I can work up no enthusiasm for him. On the other hand, as a Southerner and career military man -- indeed, a 4-star general -- he seems to have a better shot than the others (yeah, I know the Dems aren't going to carry the South; but a Southerner -- and a military man -- seems likely to be able to overcome the disadvantages in winning over Midwesterners that a Yankee would have. I say this as a proud would-be Yankee. Of course this is all cultural reductionism/determinism, and personality matters greatly. But I can't help but be worried by the thought that the last Dem from above the Mason-Dixon line to win the White House was Kennedy.) And I really want the Dems to beat Bush.
The other two possible anti-Deans, Kerry and Edwards, are both more likable by me than Clark; but each has his own drawbacks. Edwards is by far the most attractive personality. But his inexperience is worrisome. I have an idea, good or not, of what the others might look like as President (not a happy thought in most cases); I have no idea what an Edwards presidency would look like. Kerry is probably the closest to my ideal of a Presidential candidate policy-wise (though Clark and Edwards have some good ideas about education that Kerry ought to pick up). But whenever I see him on TV he strikes me as cadaverous. And awkward, unnatural cadaver. He's also a liberal from MA. Now, I really like liberals from MA. I aspire to be one, in fact. But I have my doubts about their electability. I'm not saying it's impossible -- given the right circumstances and personality, of course it is. But we're not looking at promising circumstances or personality in the case of a Kerry bid in '04. Unless things change dramatically -- which as tonight suggests, they can.
Then there's Dean. He's a skillful politician. He can mobilise the base, as my friend Jacob never tires of pointing out to me and his readers. He's fiscally sane. And he proved more prescient on Iraq than many of us like to admit, though his apparent lack of pleasure at Saddam's ouster and capture is as off-putting as it is disturbing. And I for one like the fact that he's a secular Vermont social liberal who's read, or heard of, Harold Bloom's writing on the Book of Job.
But he sort of pisses me off. And contra Jacob, I don't think he's really electable. I'm not sure anybody is. So I think the thing to do is to root for the one(s) I'D elect if I could. Which at present pretty much means Kerry or Edwards.
One final thought. The unions are pretty powerful in Iowa. It's a midwestern industry-and-farming state. It tends to be protectionist. So what are we to make of the fact that the top four candidates in Iowa are ranged from first to fourth place -- Kerry, Edwards, Dean and Gephardt -- in order, from greatest to least, of their SUPPORT for free trade? (Kerry so far as I know is pro, Edwards is waffly, Dean used to be pro but is now leaning protectionist, Gephardt's the uber-protectionist).
Makes ya think. And treat all predictions and generalisations about voter preferences with a modest scepticism.

CATHARSIS: This is a pretty good pastiche of Aristotle's analytical approach to all human things -- in this case, sex. Amusing, too.
But Aristotle's actual writings on sex are much funnier.

Monday, January 19, 2004

GETTING THEOLOGICAL: Via the indispensable Normblog (which now is at a spiffy new site, NB), a one of the numerous which-x-are-you? quizes, this one on Christian theologians (Norm's Augustine). I, indecisive sort that I am, took it several times, and was variously Augustine (the first time 'round), Erasmus, and Karl Barth. Which, given that those are the three theologians of the possible 6 (I think) results, pleases me well.

OXFORD/POLITICAL THEORIST INCESTUOUSNESS: As soon as I return to browsing the blogosphere, I of course find all sorts of interesting tidbits. There goes that plan to write a DPhil thesis.
My favourite comes from Marc Mullholand's blog, by way of Chris Brooke -- so this is an all-Oxford affair, I fear. At least it concerns German social scientists (which makes good sense, actually). Marc has a wonderful anecdote up at his blog about a heated argument in a coffeehouse between Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter over the then-recent Russian Revolution. Schumpeter expressed his pleasure at the opportunity the Revolution presented to social scientists, and ... well, go read for yourself. The anecdote nicely encapsulates for me the reason why I greatly admire Weber personally as well as (and perhaps even more than) intellectual, and have never been able to warm greatly to Schumpeter. It also seems to me to serve as a nice parable about two very different ways that theorists can view the world, and about what I'd regard as the dangers of an overly detached, amoral attitude (the other side would no doubt suggest that it shows the dangers of moral over-seriousness and emotionality).

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