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Archive for June, 2008

Serious Question

Is this how some (many?) men see labor?


One Solid Way to Ensure Inequality

There’s news today that major private banks are refusing to give loans any longer to students at community colleges and at “less prestigious” universities. Led (not surprisingly in many ways) by Citibank, some of the big private banks are pulling their loans, even though the loans are guaranteed 95% by the government.

And I have to say, I can’t think of many more effective ways to ensure continuing inequality between the rich and the poor. Making it harder to afford college, and the community colleges that so often catapult kids to 4-year institutions, means that kids who need loans will have a harder time getting BAs and thus a harder time getting jobs.

Happy Monday, everyone.


[ 0 ] June 2, 2008 |

Sorry for the light blogging, as along with a massive pile of Real Work I’ve been at weddings and conferences in Montreal and Michigan, which may at least lead to relevant blogging. To come full circle, however, I found out that a hot dog with some kind of meaty sauce in Michigan is called a “Coney (or Koney) Island,” while I was reminded that in Quebec it’s called a “Michigan.” If Nathan’s can just start selling “Fleur de lis” dogs or something it will all come together…

Sunday Book Review: From Beirut to Jerusalem

[ 20 ] June 1, 2008 |

Back in the late 1980s, a journalist named Tom Friedman worked as a Middle East correspondent for the New York Times. He served in both Israel and Lebanon, and near the end of the 1980s he wrote a book. Later in his career, he wrote several more books. These later books are all unspeakably horrible, as is the column that Friedman currently holds down at the Times. Because of this, I have never been able to believe that the first book, called From Beirut to Jerusalem, could actually be worth reading. Having now read From Beirut to Jerusalem, I am forced to conclude that there was not one, but two Tom Friedmans, and that they collaborated on this first book.

The good Tom writes compellingly about the death in an artillery attack of almost the entire family of a close Lebanese friend. The good Tom writes insightfully of the IDF practice of bringing wealthy American donors to the front in Lebanon, equipping them with flak jackets, and enabling them to follow the course of the artillery bombardment. The good Tom writes of the chaos that afflicted Lebanon during the 1980s in a manner that is clear-headed and sensible. He recognized the presence and strength of sub-national organizations, the dangers of identity-based conflict, and the peril associated with the collapse of national institutions. The good Tom wrote about how the chaos of civil war inevitably produces a perverse incentive structure that kills commerce, civil society, and culture. It is difficult to imagine how anyone who read those pages, much less the man who wrote them, could have ever considered the invasion of Iraq a good idea. The good Tom wrote, as even-handedly as imaginable, about the peril felt by the Israelis and the loss of dignity felt by the Palestinians. Moreover, the good Tom was a fine writer and journalist; he understood that depositing himself judiciously within the narrative made the story more compelling and understandable.

But then sometimes the bad Tom reared his ugly head:

The rhythm of life in the Arab world was always different. Men in Arab societies always tended to bend more; life there always moved in ambiguous semicircles, never right angles. The religious symbols of the West are the cross and the Jewish star- both of which are full of sharp, angled turns. The symbol of the Muslim East is the crescent moon- a wide, soft, ambiguous arc. In Arab society there was always some way to cushion failure with rhetoric and enable the worst of enemies to sit down and have coffee together, maybe even send each other bouquets.

The bad Tom also mucked around with noodling about solutions in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, and wandered into the kind of self-important analogic swamp that has characterized Friedman’s writing since the early 1990s. The bad Tom is definitely in From Beirut to Jerusalem, but the good Tom, for the most part, holds him at bay. Sadly, the bad Tom murdered the good Tom sometime in 1993. I suspect that the bad Tom beat the good Tom to death with a blunt object, probably the very same National Book Award that the good Tom won for From Beirut to Jerusalem. Jessica Fletcher is on the case. Anyway, we’re far enough down the road now to recognize that the good Tom ain’t coming back, but not so far as to feel no sorrow for the fact that all we have left is the self-parody.

Crowdfunding Reporting

[ 1 ] June 1, 2008 |

In association with Guerrilla News Network, David Axe is raising money for a month long expedition to Chad. It’s a good subject and he’s a fine reporter, so drop a quarter in the cup if you have a chance.

Great Minds etc.

[ 25 ] June 1, 2008 |

Kingdaddy visited the WWII Memorial, and wasn’t impressed. Here were my thoughts.

Forthcoming is a post about my visit to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, which is awesome….

"Thousands of Robots"

[ 8 ] June 1, 2008 |

If Hillary comes out with a proposal for a Department of Anti-Robot Affairs, I’ll switch my support.

More seriously, the overall effect of “robot surges” seems to be to shift the cost of war from the blood side of the ledger to the treasure side. This doesn’t necessarily make wars a better idea; paying from the treasure side means higher taxes, fewer hospitals, etc., but it does have an impact on the political interpretation of a war, since the deaths of soldiers are far more salient than the destruction of robots.

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