Sunday, June 09, 2002

# Posted 1:37 PM by Dan  

AMERICAN EXCESS. In a thought-provoking piece for the LA Times Magazine (free registration required), Patrick J. Kiger discusses the role of excess in Southern California, but uses it to tell a story about America in general. His overall point: America loves things large. He's right: I find the portions at British restaurants woefully inadequate. A French Anthropologist says the desire for excess comes from the earliest, most primitive structures in our mental evolution: the reptilian brain. "The reptilian wants to grab as much food as possible, to be as big and powerful as possible, because it's focused on survival. When it comes to a choice between the intellect and the reptilian, the reptilian always wins." This does not explain why it is a uniquely American phenomenon. Near the end of the piece, Kiger quotes Benjamin Barber, who said, "One of the reasons America's in trouble now...is that we're perceived as materialists and secular." Really? Our materialism explains global anger toward us? Why, then, does Mullah Omar drive a Limited Edition Toyota Land Cruiser with a CD player, despite the Taliban's prohibition of music?
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Saturday, June 08, 2002

# Posted 1:29 PM by Dan  

JAMES BENNET WRITES a revealing piece about a failed Palestinian homicide bomber in a hospital bed a few rooms away from wounded Israeli soldiers. Zaydan Zaydan said he had "sought to kill soldiers." To put it mildly, I find that hard to believe. An Israeli Sergeant captures the clear moral distinction between the two sides when he notes, "He's also a human being, despite all of this. That's the difference between us and them, at least in our thoughts." Could you imagine what would have happened if Palestinians had caught in Israeli in the West Bank or Gaza? Another interesting point: while the international community villified Israel for its West Bank incursions, these raids did serve their purpose, which was to disrupt and prevent terrorist attacks. Only after the Jenin raid ended could Zaydan (I'm not calling him Mr.) get in contact with members of Islamic Jihad. But....the fact that Zaydan found the checkpoints so easy to to evade highlights another problem--as long as Palestinians have access to Israel, the terror attacks will continue, and the incursions will only serve as short term solutions. Unfortunately, a viable long term solution cannot involve Arafat, despite Mubarak's pleas to "give this man a chance." He had his chance at Camp David and Taba, it's time for him to go. We need to reach out to newer Palestinian leaders.
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Thursday, June 06, 2002

# Posted 6:17 PM by Dan  

Nicholas Kistof and Mark Steyn discuss racial profiling and political correctness. Where do we draw the line? Kristof criticizes the Bush administration for "widespread detentions of Muslims, twisting the law to keep them behind bars while denying that civil liberties have been abused....the administration has wallowed in precisely the kind of hysterical wartime infringement of civil liberties that history always ends up judging harshly." A few lines later, he acknowledges that "young Arab men are more likely to ram planes into nuclear power plants than are little old ladies, and as such they should be more vigorously searched." So it's okay to detain Arabs but not Muslims? Kristof states that "we who care about civil liberties need to realign balances between security and freedom." Where do Ashcroft's proposed rules for foreign visitors fit into this new realignment?
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Thursday, May 30, 2002

# Posted 7:45 AM by Arielle  

MORE ON CLONING. In the Washington Post, Richard Cohen's op-ed makes the somewhat obvious but rarely discussed point:

"In general, if you scratch an anti-cloner you will find someone opposed to abortion."

What the current debate over the Brownback Bill and surrounding issues of human cloning leave out is open, candid debate over the real topic at stake.

However, while the debate has strong undertones of abortion politics, a large factor is language used. Like the pro-choice groups that freak out every time a new bill reaches the floor, insinuating that a fetus has a higher person-status than a group of cells, the anti-cloners freak out that allowing medical research using human cells will necessarily lead to the destruction of our understanding of babies as with rights. But not all slopes are slippery. Just because you use politically-charged language in one bill doesn't revoke a Supreme Court decision. And really, neither does it change public opinion. Allowing cloning for research on human cells doesn't mean that human life has lost all its value. It's not that it's unimportant whether a fetus is given fourteenth amendment rights or whether we allow human cell clusters to be cloned, in fact in certain ways, it is. It is that these semantic debates are not really about what they are about. There are much larger (and more significant) ideological issues at stake, and it's high time we stop pretending that it matters whether a "fetus" was "conceived" when DNA was inserted into its nucleus, or what we should really call a cluster of cells.
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Tuesday, May 28, 2002

# Posted 7:56 AM by Arielle  

RICHARD COHEN ARGUES that substantial racial inequality and anti-Semitism are over and that it's important to "insist" that different racial/ethnic/religious groups are not the same. Of course, he notes that equality before the law should be upheld. However, the examples he gives of different-ness all have to do with the law. (Blacks apparently are more likely to speed and those who pose a threat to airline security tend to be Muslim.) Still, despite Cohen's reassurance that he is not proposing doing away with the fourteenth amendment, his arguments are, to say the least, unsettling. I think we can all admit that certain racial, religious, cultural, etc. differences exist. What troubles me, however, is Cohen's call to "insist" on these differences. Sure many complain that they are tired of going out of their way to avoid offending others, and perhaps we can even all agree that admitting certain differences doesn't mean we have to throw affirmative action out the window, but I'm not quite sure what benefits an insistence on differences will bring. Assuming that questions of equality before the law are off the table, what form, exactly, would this "insistence" take? Cohen's examples of differences were, after all, both legal questions, essentially of racial/ethnic profiling. I think we can pretty much all agree that there are some differences between groups, however, I think that in light our spotty past, it's not really the worst thing in the world to stress that really, we're more the same than different.
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# Posted 7:03 AM by Arielle  

IN AN OP-ED in the New York Times, Michael Sandel argues that the middle-ground position on using embryos for research is untenable. This position--holding that using soon-to-be discarded embryos left over from fertility clinics is morally justified since the the embryos will be destroyed either way--makes a dubious distinction. Of course, as Sandel argues, the means as well as the ends have moral content, but the argument tries to have it both ways. Indeed, it refuses to look at where the zygotes have come from--if it is morally objectionable to create embryos for the purpose of medical research, isn't it also objectionable to create them with the knowledge that they will likely not be used? This middle-ground position has been used as an easy escape for senators to squirm their way out of grappling with a politically-charged moral question.
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