OxBlog

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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Thursday, May 23, 2002

# Posted 3:55 PM by Dan  

KAREN ARMSTRONG, AMERICAN CULTURE EXPERT. I just got back from a talk by the author, who wrote "A History of God," and "Islam: A Short History." Be sure to avoid any book she pens with the word "America" in the title. Asked about her time in America post 9/11, Armstrong said, "they say there is no state religion in America, but there is: it's called patriotism. You should see it, with the flags and everything. The country really has a 'kill 'em all' mentality....The media and government really distort Islam." I could go on, but you get the point: America is what is misunderstood here.
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# Posted 11:34 AM by Arielle  

HIGH SCHOOL SECURITY. An article in the New York Observer discusses the recent hikes in security measures in New York's private schools. My former high school, Dalton, was cited as insisting that parents and even babysitters get photo IDs and subsequently raised tuition to (over) a staggering 23 grand.

While many private schools dealt with a slew of bomb threats in the aftermath of September 11th, many seem to be taking security a bit too far. Moreover, the measures are misguided, and deal only with a general sense of fear rather than any actual problems. Indeed, students at Spence can now take self-defense, learning how to fight off an attacker. Regardless of the benefits and dangers of teaching middle-schoolers supposed moves for defending themselves, in truth, being attacked on the street or in a dark alley is not more likely since the World Trade Center attacks. It seems that in an attempt to feel as though they can in some way control their safety, schools are dealing with unrelated security problems that remain no more a threat than they did 8 months ago.

Of course, since September, schools have perfected their emergency response plans which may be the only way they can effectively prevent the panic that could come with another WTC-like tragedy.

In my days of a more innocent Dalton School that didn't have a plan to deal with bomb threats and anthrax, we wandered in and out of the building at our leisure. Now, in the name of security, students and parents alike must display photo identification, and schools like Spence even have computerized mechanisms for attendance. It seems like more has been lost than our twin towers and much-mourned sense of security--we have also lost, on some level, our youth and a taken-for-granted, lackadaisical and and happily-unappreciated sense of freedom.
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# Posted 10:56 AM by Arielle  

AS ANAND NOTED BELOW, he and I attended a discussion on the biases of the British media against Israel. After a very weird encounter where an orthodox jew went very far out of his way to shake Anand's hand (he maneuvered down a very narrow staircase and around a large chair he was holding) and then refused to shake mine (I had forgotten why I hate religion), we were privy to a very strange--but at the least, educational--discussion.

Most of discussion, though by no means all of it, related to the question of why the British media takes such a pro-Palestinian stance on the middle east conflict. Peter Hitchens, to his credit, posited the unusual claim that it was not, contrary to popular belief, based on anti-Semitic views. I appreciated his attempt to separate British journalists who are perhaps less than objective with real, full-out anti-Semites, but his alternative explanation seemed less than adequate to me. He argued that the journalists have a particular world view that can't be shaken up. This view, based on the desire to root for the underdog, would be believed and propagated until proven otherwise by some sort of Israeli PR organization that he was advocating.

What I found most interesting about the discussion was the insistence and sort of assumption that reporters shape public opinion and that public opinion could have no conceivable impact on reporting. Indeed, Hitchens argued that there were interesting film clips to show and that the reason that the BBC and the Guardian weren't showing them was that they were too wrapped up in their own views to recognize the validity and superiority of others. However, there is a very good market-economy argument to be made against his claims. Perhaps British media doesn't print or broadcast segments that will be unpopular. It just seems a little simplistic to remove all market-economy concerns and insist that no, really the Guardian is only concerned with it's own world view, because this is simply not how the economy functions. I mean sure, to some extent both explanations are irresponsible reporting, but I don't think many of us expect much more from the British media. Indeed, there is an argument to be made that public opinion affects the media to the same extent that the media affects public opinion.

The zionism, which I'll try not to harp on for too long, was based on the premise that Anand wrote about--that it's better to be an Arab living under Israeli rule than vise versa. He argued that the declining birth rate and growing arab population in Israel called either for a mass jewish migration to Israel or more Israeli babies. Um, yeah.

After leaving Chabad, one question still plagued me. Somehow, without my knowledge or consent, my name has been added to Chabad's mailing list where I get announcements that even signed-up members don't seem to get. I sure didn't sign up to be on the jewish registry. That, perhaps, was the most perplexing piece of information all night.
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# Posted 8:57 AM by Arielle  

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, MATTHEW YGLESIAS, makes the shocking discovery that one of Harvard's Commencement speakers, "American Jihad" enthusiast, Zayed Yasin, has apparently funded Hamas and continues to speak out against freezing terrorist assets. In addition, he is expected to propose incorporating concepts of Jihad to the lives of graduating seniors. Check it out.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2002

# Posted 9:44 PM by Anand  

WHAT IF A VEIL OF IGNORANCE were tossed over the fury of the Middle East?

With Arielle I attended a talk here in Oxford tonight by Peter Hitchens, a columinst for the Mail on Sunday. He uttered many things of interest, including my new favorite phrase: “Proto-Marxist-Guevara infantilism.”

But his most striking idea reminded me of John Rawls. Rawls is the Harvard professor and twentieth-century political theorist who spoke of the veil of ignorance. It was his answer to the elusiveness of objectivity in constitution-making. Nations like France and America, born in the eighteenth-century heyday of enlightenment rationalism, held that all people could share a sense of the common good; a constitution was an effort to capture that on paper. After Marx and others, that view was impossible: if class determined interest, there could be no common good. Rawls stepped into this pluralistic milieu. How was one to think objectively about the ideal state when everyone was conceded to be subjective? Rawls’ answer was: if every citizen imagined himself behind a veil of ignorance, in a condition of not knowing to which class he would belong, where he would stand on the social ladder. He would then, Rawls said, choose the most just constitution, by resort to an objectivity which cannot, in practice, exist.

That digression into a seminar was conjured by something Hitchens said about objectivity in the Middle East. It is hard to come by. But consider this West Asian veil of ignorance: would you rather be an Arab in a Jewish state, or a Jew in an Arab state? It’s a good question – one, in my view, with a simple answer. And it is one way to shine moral clarity on a subject that too often inspires only base moral equivalence.
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# Posted 8:29 AM by Arielle  

WHILE JOSH'S POST below on the Laws of Dowd isn't totally off the mark, his description of Dowd as "whining" is as bad at the New York Times' description of Fortuyn, in the wake of his murder, as "flamboyant." Not to belabor this point, but I expect better from both sources than the throwing around of misogynist/homophobic attacks merely to get their larger political points across.
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# Posted 8:22 AM by Arielle  

THANKS TO TOM FRIEDMAN for this sobering response to the jumble of vague F.B.I threats that have been made over the past few days.
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Tuesday, May 21, 2002

# Posted 8:58 AM by Anand  

WHAT IF TERRORISM REFLECTED a cultural phenomenon in which much of the world, not only religious fanatics, participated: a growing rejection of big organizations as effective channels to reform; the resort to extra-institutional means; the taking of global affairs into personal hands; the turn to solitary political exertion as the world becomes increasingly complex – and its institutions distant and alienating?

That’s a big thought, a generalization liable to thousands of objections. But I’m airing an idea in order to refine it; I’d like to trigger some discussion. In the meanwhile, let me continue with a bit of elaboration.

It seems to me that if one retreats from the particularities of a number of stories coming in from around the world, there are patterns. Events and trends that appear unrelated at first – from the proliferation of high-school dropouts in Japan to the popularity of home-schooling among Christian conservatives, from the ground-up reinvention of the family in France to the volunteerism of my apathetic generation.com – reflect an underlying dissatisfaction with the way things are; but, more than that, a confidence that they will not be fixed by traditional means, by bills and proposals and commissions and papal promulgations. And the result seems, almost uniformly, to be a rejection of those means, and a resort to Do It Yourself.

In equating this with terrorism, the obligatory must be said (though we ought to live in a world where it need not be): the frustration with the failings of institutional reform does not explain away murder. And Japanese high-school dropouts, truant though they may be, are not Marwan al-Shehhi or Mohamed Atta. But for all the time we spend isolating the variables that make the zealots of al-Qaeda so different, it is worth appreciating that they nevertheless inhabit the same moment in history as we do, the same climate of thought, however separated by distance and by faith. What makes them different, in the end, is not an alternative source of stimuli, perhaps, but a twisted response to stimuli experienced by all of us. To grasp their evil, we must understand how grievances known to millions refract perversely through their lenses.

It might be said that, as democracy has spread in the Cold War’s wake, it is has been quicker to spark the consciousness of self-government than the reality of self-government. There are two reasons for this. Democracy has moral prerequisites – the faculties to be free – that are just beginning to germinate after a season of hibernation. But more than that, globalization has had contradictory effects: while diffusing the idea of popular sovereignty (in the last decade, for the first time, half the world enjoyed it), it has also entwined governments in world bodies and corporate affiliations that dilute the voice of lay participants, while increasing the general level of social complexity, inflating bureaucracies and transferring decision-making centers in Europe, for example, to distant netherworlds like Brussels, Strasbourg and Frankfurt. The result, in short, is a misalignment: a swelling chorus of citizens eager to exert control over their lives, and governments – shackled by treaties and free trade and supranational bodies – unable to cede control.

Some examples: this is the gripe of the anti-globalization rock-throwers, whose views I find simpliste, but whose anger is real, if misshapen. The smart ones are not really against globalization, perhaps because they have understood it is not something that will soon be voted upon, but rather a foregone conclusion. They are for fair labor standards and democratic bodies to represent poor workers and environmental safeguards – things the marketplace alone will not provide. However intelligent or practicable these ideas are, it is important to note how they have evolved from political agitation to angry protests and rants. It is the belief of the anti-globalization crowd that their voices, and the voices of the third-world workers they claim to represent, are drowned by companies, who block conventional corridors to reform. That’s why they throw rocks; that’s why my generation is generally so apathetic; but they nevertheless have a civic sense, for people my age are said to volunteer at among the highest rates ever. They are challenging a failure to fix the world through the old ways, and taking their ignored proposals into their own hands. The most extreme example of this worldview was supplied by the college-student-turned-pipe-bomber.

The phenomenon manifests itself in other ways too – not all of them having to do with globalization. The French – more than others, but not unlike others – have reinvented the family. Since the creation of PAC’s in 1999, the civil unions largely intended for gays but quickly swallowed up by straight couples as well, some 43,000 couples have registered, says the venerable Le Monde. Another 545,000 French couples are raising a child that does not belong to both members of the couple. Thirteen percent of the people live alone. Nearly a fifth of all couples live together without being married. More than half of all first children are born out of wedlock. And 16 percent of households with children have only one parent. Clearly, the old pattern – courtship, followed by marriage, followed by children, and then tranquil bliss – is not working for millions of people. But how is marriage to be reformed? Never mind: Do It Yourself!

The same thing in the media. The rise of blogdom is not random; it is a reflective cultural phenomenon. One of the signal developments of the past few years is the near-incestuous absorption of media firms by one another. There is a widespread sense, I think, that one is not hearing all sides, because some sides own more channels than others. That is the genesis of bloggers like Matt Drudge, and the reason he can draw more than 4 million hits a day. It also explains his bizarre obsession with media conglomerations. When you grow alienated from vast organizations like AOL Time Warner, you Do It Yourself – you blog.

This is about escaping from a sense of impotence – about agitating to reassert power over one’s affairs. I think back to conservatives in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s, who grew disaffected and disillusioned by the succession, first, of civil rights and integration rulings by the Supreme Court, and then by the holding in Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to abortion. There was a feeling that morality had been hijacked by distant, manipulative elites; not a sense of slipping from the majority into the minority, but rather of the majority losing control over the levers of power. That was the spark for a conservative revival, but it was accompanied by quieter acts of protest and solitary exertion: a growing fraction of kids taught at home, raised in Church and barred from the culture of Hollywood in movies and on TV. There was a real sense that virtue was slipping away and could not be restored; so depravity had to be escaped.

The frightening wave of populism across Europe reflects this, too. Le Monde writes: “It was not long ago that François Mitterand got himself elected with a promise of ‘changer la vie.’ Today by contrast, politcal elites seem impotent: between the constraints of globalization, of our European engagements and the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, the game seems blocked.” As has been argued, the millions who voted for Le Pen and Fortuyn could not all have been racist fanatics with a penchant for Moroccan-baiting. There is a deeper disaffection with the increasing length of the leash on which European governments operate. Think of the populist gains as positive, nor normative – as a critique of inefficacy, not a utopian dream.

There are less momentous but equally revealing signs of this cultural climate. The popularity of rap and tattered clothes and “independent” music and films among the rich suggests how nonconformity – the a priori rejection of tradition – has become mainstreamed even among those who actively uphold tradition. Even the culture of self that so absorbs Americans these days reflects an underlying dissatisfaction with discussion of the alternative – public life. Once upon a time, ordinary people would talk in private about public things; now powerful people talk in public about private things. Oprah tried to get serious: no one would watch. When people feel they can’t reform the world, they fall prey to “remembering your spirit.”

Which brings us to terrorism (no offense intended to Oprah in that admittedly rough transition). The virgins-bound (or raisins-bound, as proper Koranic exegesis might dictate) 9/11 hijackers were only the most extreme and heinous participants in this global culture. Though their hatred of the West is blind, it did not spring from nowhere; it has flourished in moments when Western power has stifled local control. In my view, most such moments were plainly justified. But that doesn’t relieve Arab frustration.

From the Soviet presence – in which this recent round of jihad has its origins – to the Gulf War angry Muslim zealots like Osama bin Laden began to complain of alien rule, of foreigners depriving them of government by their native traditions – in their case, unvarnished Islam. It is important to note, though, that bin Laden’s effort is not just against infidels, but heretics, too – in his mind, the secular, moderate, corrupt states of Arabia who have given in to the machinations of the West. There is a reason America is called the Great Satan in Iran – the Devil does not conquer by force, but by temptation; however guilty Americans are of penetrating the Middle East, Islamist fanatics blame their own for being seduced by the allure of “Friends.” The result, in the minds of fanatics, has been the departure of Arab states from Islam – the substitution of Western morality for a home-grown variety, and the demise of local control.

Terrorism, then, is not a simple demonstration of anger, but a carefully calibrated rejection of political solutions: such solutions are hopeless for the zealot, because politics is dominated by the West. Suicide bombings in Israel are often timed to stall or cancel peace settlements. Of course, the Jewish settlements, too, show a determination not to hold out for an institutional solution, but to Do It Yourself. When Colin Powell, in the recent aftermath of September 11, called President Musharraf of Pakistan and told him, one general to another, that he would have to cooperate with the American war on a regime his country helped to create, with seven specific demands, he acceded on the spot. It is crucial to think about that for a second. For all the right reasons, Musharraf admirably changed Pakistani policy overnight to satisfy America. But what is the effect of that if you were a Pakistani who, perhaps, liked bin Laden. You are, in such a case, an objectionable human being, but you are now also an angry one, and you might not have patience to wait around for the next referendum; you might just Do It Yourself.

If you do, you will be only the most vile exemplar of an attitude exhibited far beyond the Hindu Kush.

Let’s talk – docsmiley@aol.com.
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# Posted 7:15 AM by Arielle  

THE PARTNERSHIP FOR A DRUG-FREE AMERICA--the organization responsible to all those silly commercials from the 1980s comparing your brain on drugs to a fried egg--is at it again. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Jim Burke, chairman of the Partnership, agues against cutting federal aid for this "educational" campaign. The problem, Burke argues, is that the Partnership "has fallen into a bureaucratic trap, and only strong legislative action can get it out." But the problem with the program--the reason it's been called a flop--has nothing to do with bureaucracy. It's that it doesn't make any sense.

Over the years, the Partnership has run what is essentially a propaganda campaign, complete with scare tactics and threats, meant to frighten America's youth away from drug use. But anyone can see the obvious exaggerations of the ads--clearly marijuana and heroin don't have the same effect on your brain. Obviously smoking a joint doesn't drag you down the road of crack whores and perpetual junkies.

Under the guise of "education," the Partnership has used millions of dollars in federal funds to propagate myths of drug use--the same myths that maintain our repressive drug laws. And who is really surprised that studies indicate that the ads have made little-to-no impact on the rates of drug use?

If the purpose of the Partnership is really to decrease teen drug use as it claims (and let's assume their intentions are pure for the moment), it is completely mistaken over the best way to accomplish its goals. Is it really possible that they believe that the reason people do drugs is that they don't know that it can be dangerous? How, then, would they explain teen smoking? Instead of running these ridiculous propaganda organizations, if the government really wants to reduce teen drug use--the kind of use that is actually dangerous--they should put the money into effective treatment programs, not bombard their children with exaggerated lies that aren't fooling anyone.
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Monday, May 20, 2002

# Posted 12:53 PM by Arielle  

TO UPDATE AN EARLIER POST, apparently Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book, reportedly at the whirlwind of a "baby panic" that is sweeping the nation, simply won't sell. This article in the New York Times argues the shocking thesis that people don't want to buy a book that will make them feel bad about their lives.


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# Posted 5:40 AM by Arielle  

THE GUARDIAN REPORTS that a twelve-year-old girl has been tagged, or attached to an electronic monitoring device in an attempt to drag her out of an otherwise miserable life of crime. The girl, apparently the youngest so far to sport this new device, broke bail conditions after mugging another twelve-year-old in the West Midlands. Now she must face a new brand of law enforcement called, "caring monitoring."

Reading this article, I couldn't help but be reminded of I woman I saw in the airport last week when I was stranded from a delayed flight. She had two children, each attached to her wrists via leashes. While the eight-year-old was only bound by a wrist attachment, the toddler had a full-body harness, by which she was pulled when the master, er, mother, so much as turned. Anyway, whether this is all part of a growing trend of British child-monitering it is too early to tell. However, the contention that a smotheringly close watch over a twelve-year-old delinquent, and a tight leash on one's offspring, might result in better behaved children seems dubious, and not a little overdone. This new brand of British parenting, whether it be genetic or governmental, is decidedly disconcerting. I'm just glad I'll soon be returning home to America, where we have "rights."
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Sunday, May 19, 2002

# Posted 7:05 PM by Arielle  

27-YEAR-OLDS FREAKING OUT because their biological clocks are ticking louder and louder? Call me crazy (or post-post feminist) but I'm heading towards the big 22 and my biggest concerns include writing my essay that's due tomorrow and finding enough coins to do some laundry. I just read an article in New York Magazine discussing the newest "baby panic" all started by writer, Silvia Ann Hewlett (also the mother of one of my classmates in high school). Hewlett's new book (Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children) which asserts that there is a huge drop in female fertility at 28, followed by another at 35 and that by the time we are 40 we might as well forget about pregnancy, is at the center of the controversy. This, apparently, has sparked chaos all over Manhattan where women are going off their birth control and hopping on the baby wagon; as one ob-gyn notes--there's going to be a small baby boom nine months from now.

We spend so much time in high school prepping for college, and in college prepping for grad school and this illusive thing they call "the real world" that baby-having hasn't even crossed our minds. If Hewlett is correct, and we should really be having babies in our twenties, a woman who wants two children spaced two years apart should start trying to get pregnant at 24?

But will women really want to return to careers that were barely begun at 38? Entry level jobs are bad enough, but imagine working for someone 15 years younger. Sure, people do it, but people bungee jump too, so there will be things I'll never understand, but I can't help but question Hewlett's motives. Pregnant at 51, Hewlett underwent expensive and lengthy fertility treatments so that she could be a mother--for the fifth time. I'm not going to call fertility treatments narcissistic, though there's an argument to be made, but Hewlett's willingness to go through so much for another pregnancy places an emphasis the importance of child-bearing that I'm not willing to accept. If we give up all the advantages our mothers worked for--such as the ability to do other things with our lives than simply baby-making (see my post on feminism, below)--in order to assure motherhood, what are we left with? Clearly, child-bearing can be an extremely important and wonderful life experience, but how much are we willing to give up to fulfill our maternal destinies?

So I guess the lesson Hewlett tries to teach us is that we can't have it both ways. Still, there is something unsettling about it. Not so much the information--none of it, in fact, is really new--but the message she is trying to send. We all knew that. We've seen our mothers struggle to balance work and us. We don't need reminding. What we need is encouragement. I may be reaching my fertility peak, but there are simply too many things I want to do in my life, so I guess, like most other women out there, I'll just press my luck. And something tells me that it'll probably all work out.


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# Posted 3:41 PM by Dan  

CORY BOOKER WILL BE BACK. Sure, Mayor James defeated him last week by about 7 points. But as Daniel Baer notes in his CS Monitor Op-Ed, Booker has established himself as a major Democratic contender. The next question is, will he wait around in Newark to run again in four years, or use the momentum provided by this campaign for a Congressional run? He's 33, which is relatively young in political terms. He has also demonstrated his commitment to Newark. But he is also ambitious. My call? He will run for office elsewhere before 2006. I wholeheartedly agree with Baer's assertion that "Booker provides a sort of collective vindication for younger Americans, who have been stereotyped as apathetic, apolitical, and lazy." This is not the last we have heard from Cory Booker.
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# Posted 7:47 AM by Arielle  

IN THE WASHINGTON POST, George F. Will writes a scathing criticism of women's studies textbooks and the debasement of feminism. His assertions, based on a book by Christina Solba, (Lying in a Room of One's Own: How Women's Studies Textbooks Miseducate Students), range from a criticism of one textbook's embracement of postmodernism to another's insistence on the importance of the wage gap. Indeed, Will is correct to point out that the calculation of the wage gap is incomplete-it fails to note the conscious choice that many women make to take lower paying jobs in favor of more flexible schedules. Still, there exists an undeniable wage gap and while it is probably less pronounced than many feminists admit, it seems a bit callous to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Sure women's studies textbooks still have antiquated assertions about "the patriarchy" and "internalized oppression"--two with which Will takes particular issue--but given the relative shortness in length and history of the contemporary women's movement, is it really so surprising (and so horrible) that the women writing these books are still wrapped up in a wave of the feminist movement that has since passed? The women writing these textbooks are of course the same ones who burned their bras and marched on Washington. They are the ones who attended consciousness raising meetings when they still actually meant something. Perhaps their language seems a little outdated and militant in our current power-woman age of equality, but can you blame them?

While Will makes the important point that this information should be taken with a grain of salt, it needn't be overstated. Indeed, his article is condescending at times. We shouldn't underestimate the feminists of today-the college students who will be "miseducated" by these books. We can think for ourselves, thank you very much. Although feminist ideas have certainly shifted, it's not so bad to remember how it all started. Indeed, it reminds us how far past generations have taken us. And that while today it is unnecessary to raise consciousness or speak of the myth of marriage, it is important not to take that fact for granted. Sure, these books overstate the obvious. But feminism has not fallen as Will argues--only our image of what it once was.
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# Posted 6:36 AM by Arielle  

IN A SHOCKING DISCOVERY, a study finds that quitting smoking can extend your life. It also found that quitting can even prolong your bitter, cancerous death.
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Saturday, May 18, 2002

# Posted 9:10 AM by Arielle  

WHAT'S IN A QUORN? In an article published on May 14th that has mysteriously disappeared from the New York Times wesite ("What's in Those Nuggets? Meat Substitute Stirs Debate,") Denise Grady explores the wonderful world of Quorn burgers. Quorn, a British-produced meat substitute is marketed in fake chicken patty form and has recently bombarded the US fake meat market (and yes, there is one). As a former vegetarian, I know the joys and horrors of soy "meats," that can be purchased in many varieties from "burgers" to "smart dogs" to "streaky strips" (I suppose they're legally not allowed to call it bacon), but Quorn is in a class all its own.

The Quorn controversy revolves around the way the product is described. The Quorn people want to call the patty a "mushroom burger" but the mushroom people are up in arms. Quorn, like a mushroom, is a fungus, but according to scientists, the two are quite distinct. Quorn, apparently, is more like a "mold" than a mushroom, and according to the mushroom enthusiasts, should be described as such.

As scientist Dr. Michael Jacobson notes, "I think they're concerned about the debasement of veggie burgers. Jay Leno is going to call them fungus burgers and ultimately that could hurt them."

Lest the veggie burger or mushroom be debased, scientists and meat substitute manufacturers are insisting that Quorn be labeled as a "fungus," or if they prefer, "mold."

I feel like if you're willing to ingest something called a "meat substitute" whether it is a mushroom or fungus seems like the least of your worries.

"But Dr. Jacobson said that many adverse reactions to food were never reported, and that the real rate of problems from Quorn was probably higher. He said his group had already received about half a dozen complaints from people who had eaten Quorn. Four had vomiting or diarrhea, one had facial tingling and numbness, and one had a potentially more serious reaction involving hives and breathing difficulty."

For god's sake, eat some meat!
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# Posted 8:55 AM by Arielle  

AN ARTICLE IN THE American Prospect (sorry it's not available online), by Robert Maccoun and Peter Reuter, arguing that the problems with the war on drugs, severe as they may be, do not warrant widespread legalization and commercialization of the industry, notes:

"The Dutch decision to allow the sale of small amounts of marijuana and hashish in specially regulated coffee shops provides the best available evidence about the advantages and limitations of such an approach. Dutch law unequivocally prohibits possession of any form of cannabis, the plant from which both marijuana and hashish are derived; international treaties signed by the country require that. Yet in 1976, the Dutch adopted a formal written policy of nonenforcement for violations involving possession or sale of up to 30 grams. Since 1995 that's been changed to five grams, but either is a sizeable quantity given that few Dutch users, according to research done at the University of Amsterdam, consume more than 10 grams a month. The Dutch implemented this system of quasi-legal commercial availability in order to prevent excessive punishment of casual users, and to weaken the link between soft- and hard-drug markets by allowing marijuana users to avoid contact with illegal sellers."

Having recently returned from Amsterdam, I would like to attest to the strange coffeeshop culture that has emerged. While it is only legal to smoke marijuana or hashish in a government registered coffeeshop (and in many cases from someone sporting a t-shirt with the phrase: "legal drug dealer") or in the privacy of your own home, in fact the law is rarely enforced. In Centraal station, for example, I saw more than one blunt alit. The point here is that the Dutch government is not really interested in regulating pot. In fact, the only reason the legal limit was diminished to 5 grams was to avoid international criticism, largely--or at least most loudly--coming from Jacques Chirac.

And indeed, it's not just marijuana and hash that are legal in the Netherlands. You can buy mushrooms and a variety of other "herbal" drugs at what is called a smartshop.

Interestingly, one of Maccoun and Reuter's concerns in the legalization of certain drugs is the potential for alcohol and tobacco industry-like advertising. In the Netherlands, advertising for any kind of drug is quite regulated. In fact, when you enter a coffeeshop, you often have to specifically ask to see a menu-any menu posted never mentions the drug by name. Similarly, smartshops can advertise that they have the best "smart products" but you have to be in the know to understand what that is supposed to mean. Of course, everyone is, so it's a little unclear what the difference between full-out advertising would be. Sure it's more unseemly to have your city plastered with ads for the best hash around, but still, that seems a little superficial.

Drugs, in the Netherlands, hold a funny place. They're technically not quite legal, but you'll never be stopped from doing them. However, to smoke pot, you can't sit in nice cocktail bar. You are restricted to the Pink Floyd-sketchiness of the government-approved coffeeshop. And you feel--sort of--like you're getting away with something. Mostly, I think all this has to do with the pressures from the international community to more heavily regulate the drug trade, but either way it leaves drugs in a funny purgatory of sort of legal, sort of OK behavior. Sure, it seems to work out, but I'm not convinced that the best public policy is one where the government sort of turns a blind eye.

Maccoun and Reuter's contention that drug decriminalization with regulation might be OK but that total legalization (such as we have for, I don't know, asparagus) wouldn't. I'm willing to concede that point. However, I'm having a little trouble finding the place where anyone said that'd be a good idea.
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Monday, May 13, 2002

# Posted 9:43 AM by Dan  

A pundit weighs in on the Middle East conflict:

A brief overview of the situation is always valuable, so as a service to all Americans who still don't get it, I now offer you the story of the Middle East in just a few paragraphs, which is all you really need. Don't thank me. I'm a giver. Here we go:

The Palestinians want their own country. There's just one thing about that: There are no Palestinians. It's a made up word. Israel was called Palestine for two thousand years. Like "Wiccan," "Palestinian" sounds ancient but is really a modern invention. Before the Israelis won the land in war, Gaza was owned by Egypt, and there were no "Palestinians" then, and the West Bank was owned by Jordan, and there were no "Palestinians" then. As soon as the Jews took over and started growing oranges as big as basketballs, what do you know, say hello to the "Palestinians," weeping for their deep bond with their lost "land" and "nation." So for the sake of honesty, let's not use the word "Palestinian" any more to describe these delightful folks, who dance for joy at our deaths until someone points out they're being taped. Instead, let's call them what they are: "Other Arabs From The Same General Area Who Are In Deep Denial About Never Being Able To Accomplish Anything In Life And Would Rather Wrap Themselves In The Seductive Melodrama Of Eternal Struggle And Death." I know that's a bit unwieldy to expect to see on CNN. How about this, then: "Adjacent Jew-Haters."

Okay, so the Adjacent Jew-Haters want their own country. Oops, just one more thing. No, they don't. They could've had their own country any time in the last thirty years, especially two years ago at Camp David. But if you have your own country, you have to have traffic lights and garbage trucks and Chambers of Commerce, and, worse, you actually have to figure out some way to make a living. That's no fun. No, they want what all the other Jew-Haters in the region want: Israel. They also want a big pile of dead Jews, of course--that's where the real fun is--but mostly they want Israel. Why? For one thing, trying to destroy Israel--or "The Zionist Entity" as their textbooks call it--for the last fifty years has allowed the rulers of Arab countries to divert the attention of their own people away from the fact that they're the blue-ribbon most illiterate, poorest, and tribally backward on God's Earth, and if you've ever been around God's Earth, you know that's really saying something. It makes me roll my eyes every time one of our pundits waxes poetic about the great history and culture of the Muslim Mideast. Unless I'm missing something, the Arabs haven't given anything to the world since Algebra, and, by the way, thanks a hell of a lot for that one.

Chew this around and spit it out: Five hundred million Arabs; five million Jews. Think of all the Arab countries as a football field, and Israel as a pack of matches sitting in the middle of it. And now these same folks swear that if Israel gives them half of that pack of matches, everyone will be pals. Really? Wow, what neat news. Hey, but what about the string of wars to obliterate the tiny country and the constant din of rabid blood oaths to drive every Jew into the sea? Oh, that? We were just kidding.

My friend Kevin Rooney made a gorgeous point the other day: Just reverse the numbers. Imagine five hundred million Jews and five million Arabs. I was stunned at the simple brilliance of it. Can anyone picture the Jews strapping belts of razor blades and dynamite to themselves? Of course not. Or marshalling every fiber and force at their disposal for generations to drive a tiny Arab state into the sea? Nonsense. Or dancing for joy at the murder of innocents? Impossible. Or spreading and believing horrible lies about the Arabs baking their bread with the blood of children? Disgusting. No, as you know, left to themselves in a world of peace, the worst Jews would ever do to people is debate them to death.

Mr. Bush, God bless him, is walking a tightrope. I understand that with vital operations coming up against Iraq and others, it's in our interest, as Americans, to try to stabilize our Arab allies as much as possible, and, after all, that can't be much harder than stabilizing a roomful of supermodels who've just had their drugs taken away. However, in any big-picture strategy, there's always a danger of losing moral weight. We've already lost some. After September 11 our president told us and the world he was going to root out all terrorists and the countries that supported them. Beautiful. Then the Israelis, after months and months of having the equivalent of an Oklahoma City every week (and then every day) start to do the same thing we did, and we tell them to show restraint. If America were being attacked with an Oklahoma City every day, we would all very shortly be screaming for the administration to just be done with it and kill everything south of the Mediterranean and east of the Jordan. (Hey, wait a minute, that's actually not such a bad id . . . uh, that is, what a horrible thought, yeah, horrible.)

I got this emailed to me from three friends as "Dennis Miller's View on the Middle East" but in fact it is comedian Larry Miller's take. Here are some details on the matter. This just shows how quickly rumors and urban legends can spread around the web.
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Sunday, May 12, 2002

# Posted 9:46 PM by Dan  

LIKUD SAYS NO STATE. The resolution to never support a Palestinian state is a step backwards, but of course Saeb Erekat blew matters out of proportion. He claimed the vote ``just shows that the war being waged by Israel against the Palestinians is not a war against what they call terror, it's really their war to maintain the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.'' No, Saeb. Israel is responding to and preventing future attacks against its civilians. The vote merely reflects the growing anger towards Arafat's failed leadership and encouragement of violence against innocent Israelis.
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Thursday, May 09, 2002

# Posted 8:36 PM by Dan  

JOHN EDWARDS GETS SLAMMED. Remember folks, it's May of 2002. The next Presidential election is over two years away. Yet based on his appearance on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, many in the punditocracy have decided that Edwards is not a viable contender for the Democratic ticket come 2004. Stuart Rothenberg declared, "he set the bar pretty low for himself with Tim Russert on Sunday." Edwards made the following foreign policy "gaffes":

1) He said Afghanistan was returning to Taliban control, but opposed a U.S. troop buildup there.

2) He would not criticize Israeli settlements or military incursions in the Palestinian territories, and could not explain how the United States as an uncritical supporter of Israel could help achieve Middle East peace.

Let's go back to November 1999, one year before the Presidential election:

"Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?"

"The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected - not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the sub-continent," the Republican candidate offered.

Good news, but not an answer, and the interviewer insisted: "Can you name him?"

"General. I can't name the general. General"

So Bush benefited from the "soft bigotry of low expections." Is Edwards harmed by the "soft bigotry of high expectations?" It's too early to count him out. Do we expect more from Edwards because of the elevated importance of foreign policy post 9/11 or did we expect less from Dubya?
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Monday, May 06, 2002

# Posted 8:17 PM by Dan  

DAN’S REPORT ON THE RALLY. Like Josh, I found it to be an uplifting and positive experience. He has already described most of what transpired, but I will add a few details. I also walked past the “counter-demonstration” which could not have been more than 400 people. The mounted police officers provided a 50 yard “buffer zone” which prevented any violence between the two groups of demonstrators.

We arrived about two hours early, and listened to various crowd chants. Some people tried “Down with terrorism” but it never really rolled off the tongue so they stopped. Some others repreated, “Bin Laden nine-eleven, Arafat twenty-four seven!” One group chant went as follows: “2, 4, 6, 8, Israel is a Jewish state! 3, 5, 7, 9, never was a Palestine!” A woman calmly approached the group and remarked, “The point of this rally is not to deny the existence of Palestine” and quietly walked away. Despite differences like these, rally participants stood unified in their support for the state of Israel.

The first speaker called for peace and security for Israel, and informed the crowd that he had just returned from Jenin. He bellowed, “The massacre of Jenin was a myth. Why does the world believe it? The media tells them so.” I couldn’t help myself, so I quickly let out a “Down with the Guardian,” which elicited some nods and smiles. Importantly, he expressed concern for “our Muslim brothers” and stated “anyone saying kill Muslims should be arrested.”

Josh is right: Bibi was certainly the main attraction. He thanked Anglo Jewry for its support of Israel. Sounding like Bush immediately after 9/11, Bibi argued that the world faced a choice between two paths: appeasing terror or confronting terror. He pulled no punches when referring to Arafat. His views toward Arafat, that legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, can be summed up in three words: He must go. Some memorable quotes:
· Arafat is “an Osama Bin Laden with good PR.”
· “Sadat and King Hussein wanted peace and spoke peace. Instead of becoming the Palestinian King Hussein, Arafat became the Palestinian Saddam Hussein.”
· The Palestinians asking for a UN investigation of Jenin is like the Taliban ordering an investigation of Kandihar. The Palestinian request is in the “theatre of the absurd.”

Netanyahu did not mention Sharon’s name once, and I don’t recall any of the speakers referring to the current Prime Minister. However, Bibi’s call to “go over Arafat, not around or through him,” seems to match Sharon’s position. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, Arafat stands for the same twisted cause as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, the Ayatollahs, and Osama Bin Laden. The Bishop of Oxford had noted the “conditions of despair” which lead to suicide bombings, which elicited the only boos of the afternoon. Netanyahu pointed out that plenty of groups have historically been deprived of their national and civic rights but do not always resort to violence. He noted Ghandi-led India, Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and Martin Luther King. His overall message was that we must never appease and must always confront terrorism.

I too am happy to have witnessed and participated in what the event’s organizers claimed was the largest pro-Israel demonstration in England’s history. As I walked past the “buffer zone” on my way back I thought about the fact that no speaker had mentioned a wall or unilateral withdrawal. The message of the day seems to be “he must go.” But who will replace him?
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Saturday, May 04, 2002

# Posted 9:28 AM by Dan  

ERNEST F. HOLLINGS DISAPPOINTS ME. He and Robert Byrd were the only two Senators who voted against the Senate's resolution against Israel. Holling's reasoning? He said it was a "simplistic, one-sided proposal that was political in nature and not in Israel's best interests." Not in Israel's best interests? Israel is defending itself as would any other democracy, and Congress was right to express its support for Israel's fight against terrorism. It's not a tough decision to make when 80% of Palestinians support murder suicide bombings and even a higher percentage cling to the delusion of return to their pre-1948 homes. Israel is and was ready for a two-state solution; it's up to the Palestinians to demonstrate that they too are ready. 94 Senators did not issue an endorsement of Israel's offensive. They merely expressed their support for Israel's self-defense.
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Friday, May 03, 2002

# Posted 4:41 PM by Anand  

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA’S OBITUARY OF LIBERTARIANISM met its own death yesterday at the hands of bloggers. It was just one day old.

He has been roundly and elegantly chastised already. On this very page, Josh makes the point that the heroism of cops and the necessity of war do not automatically impugn low taxes and trim bureaucracy. Libertarianism is not, as Fukuyama says, “an ideological hostility to the state in all its manifestations.” It is, instead, the view that the state must be large enough to preserve a free way of life, but not so large as to sap citizens of the capacity to be free. There is a difference between having firemen and FICA taxes.

But the point can be taken further. Fukuyama casually assumes that an attack on the country, namely on her symbols, made Americans think collectively and revere the collective institutions of state. “[I]t is not surprising that Americans met this challenge collectively with flags and patriotism, rather than the yellow ribbons of individual victimization.” The result is that Americans turned their backs on libertarianism: “Sept. 11 ended this line of argument. It was a reminder to Americans of why government exists.”

Wait a minute.

Patriotism makes us statist? Perhaps it makes us think about what makes us unique – about the essence of our patria. For millions of Americans, that essence is the system of limited government. 9/11 did not make everyone revere Washington. For many, it was a reminder to cherish a free way of life. People uttered “liberty” five times more often on CNN in the week after the attacks than the week before.

Americans also bought guns in droves. In Texas, applications to purchase concealed weapons tripled in the two months after 9/11, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of the FBI performed 937,042 checks in the month after the attacks, 20 percent more than in the same period last year. Even as we placed more faith in state institutions, Americans were deploying a right to take their defenses into their own hands. As Fukuyama surely is aware, U.S. gun owners tend not to be statists.
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Thursday, May 02, 2002

# Posted 12:53 PM by Dan  

IS IT ABOUT THE SETTLEMENTS? Tom Ackerman's column today from the Baltimore Sun correctly asserts that setllements no longer provide a buffer or a bargaining chip. But he is incorrect when he claims that they remain "a central obstacle to political agreement with the Palestinians." Settlements are deplorable, but from my understanding of the Taba talks, Israel was prepared to hand over 100% of post-1967 territory--97% of the current West Bank and Gaza Territory plus a 3% land swap to compensate for settlements. Arafat's cowardice and encouragement of violence, and delusions over the right of return brought us here today. Sharon did not emerge from thin air.
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Wednesday, May 01, 2002

# Posted 7:20 PM by Dan  

DESPITE WILLIAM SAFIRE'S CLAIMS, we can pretty sure who is in charge in Riyadh. In his last column, he suggests that since a source "close to Abdullah" declared that the Saudi crown prince would take a firmer stance with Bush than he actually took, "we can no longer be certain which faction is in charge in Riyadh." So a leak is indicative of a power struggle? Hardly. Sure, after deputizing Abdullah in January 1996, other members of the Saudi family revoked some of his authority. But his powers have since been restored, perhaps even enhanced. This deliberate leak occurred on the eve of Abdullah's trip in order to tell Bush he was reigning in these more radical forces.
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