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[ 96 ] November 14, 2015 |

Marche-des-marseilloisSome similarly barely organized thoughts on the Paris attack:

  • The French government has made it clear that it believes ISIS to be responsible, but the tactics bear much greater similarity to Al Qaeda. The French undoubtedly have good reasons to believe what they do, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the verdict on responsibility evolve over the next few days.
  • I think it’s clear that the biggest impact is going to be felt in the domestic politics and France, and the broader internal politics of the EU.  A few folks yesterday were tweeting about “President Le Pen,” and I have to concede it’s a serious concern.  Anti-refugee and other right wing groups will undoubtedly derive a great deal of support from the attacks, as well.
  • It is no easy thing to assemble an arsenal and set up a planned, coordinated series of attacks under the noses of the French security and intelligence services.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the attackers managed to find a seam in French intel, and how they managed to keep their planning efforts secure.
  • Not obvious yet what the French response will be, but if they do decide it was ISIS, I expect it will go beyond adding a few additional French aircraft to existing coalition efforts.  This may be the incident that precipitates an expansion of special forces efforts against ISIS, both by the French and potentially by other European governments. 


[ 162 ] November 14, 2015 |

I peeked into one of the recent long angry threads just long enough to notice a back-and-forth about calls for a return to civility, and the appropriateness thereof. Obviously, of course, context is everything; there rather obviously are some circumstances where a call to civility is a reasonable thing to do. (As an instructor in a college classroom, for instance.) In the context of most heated political discussions, through, such calls seem like a bad idea, for two reasons. Assuming good faith,* it’s just a poor strategy for actually producing more civility in the world. Presumably, the uncivil person is that way for a reason, and scolding them doesn’t make that reason go away, and is as likely to make them angrier than not. A wiser approach, which I aspire to but don’t always succeed in following, is to just be the civility you want to see in the world. If someone is making arguments you deem worthy of engagement, reply to the substance, as if they were making their point civilly. Perhaps this will interpellate them into civility, perhaps it won’t, but that’s largely beyond your control anyway, so don’t fixate on it. If the lack of civility on the part of your interlocutor bothers you to such a degree that you can’t manage to follow this strategy, you probably shouldn’t engage. (Or, if you do engage, recognize that you’ve effectively removed yourself from the role of civility advocate.)

The origin on this conversation, of course, is the video of angry Yale students confronting Christakis. My own first reaction to that video is to very ardently wish the students were being more civil. The reason for this reaction obviously isn’t an ideological, abstract commitment to civility, but instead because I can more easily place myself in Christakis’s position, which is an unpleasant thing to contemplate. But that’s not a good reason to double down on that gut reaction, reaching for a set of arguments about the proper bounds of civil discourse to adorn and bolster it as something more than an identity-driven gut reaction. There are some very good reasons to resist the temptation to double down on that reaction, one of which is that I simply have no idea what it’s like to be part of an institution and a community that is simultaneously and constantly openly sending both the message that you’re a valued member of the community and belong here, and (usually less openly and directly) that you’re not, and you don’t. The less capacity for empathy I have, the less it makes sense for me to sit in judgement of the proper ratio of civility to anger in the response.

*This assumption is probably not warranted in many, if not most, cases. The public call for civility in discourse usually strikes me as an act of image-maintenance; seeking rhetorical advantage from such a call, such as demonstrating to third parties how reasonable you are. It’s usually performative; an act of public identity maintenance.

The Wishy Washy Centrist Post You’ve Been Waiting For!

[ 86 ] November 14, 2015 |

solomon1Some barely collected thoughts on student activism, presented in bullet form. The italics represent sub-bullets, because apparently our bulleting doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped:

  • 18-22 year olds are, as a rule, stupid; they do stupid things, both individually and collectively.  They have not been trained in the various ways that effective political actors develop, publicize, and enforce claims; they are exceedingly prone to over-reaction, in-group thinking, and a variety of other tactical and strategic errors
    • You’ll never find me saying that I “unconditionally” support a student activist movement.
  • The particular movements that have arisen at Missouri, Yale, Amherst, et al display some distinctly anti-liberal tendencies that, while almost certainly positive for in-group cohesion and concerted political action, will make it difficult to formulate long-term goals and build long-term alliances with relevant stakeholders in the university reform process.
  • It is quite likely that positive answers to student claims will come in the form of “administrative bloat,” the expansion of administrative authority over faculty and student life, and that this administrative bloat will have some negative effects on campus life. In particular, the establishment of broader support and monitoring networks within the university system will likely erode faculty authority and faculty governance.


  • Headlines notwithstanding, almost all of manifestations of this most recent wave of student activism arise from *some* foundation of genuine, reasonable grievances about how their institutions are operating, how these institutions relate to the past, and how these institutions are managing (or failing to manage) technological change. While some of the demands are expansive, others are specific and on point; the change of particular administrators or administrative policies, and the expansion of particular administrative support capacities.
    • Jeffrey Amherst and John C. Calhoun are not humans who should be memorialized on an American university campus.
    • The expansion of services and support designed to reduce attrition rates for minority students should be utterly uncontroversial.
  • A liberal society can (and indeed, must) tolerate the existence of a wide variety of illiberal spaces. The internal functioning of organizations and communities within liberal society necessarily requires illiberal, hierarchical, and authoritarian measures. This is true whether we’re talking about a fraternity, a corporation, a political party, or a university.  This has always been the case, and is so obvious to me that it hardly seems worthy of bearing mention. Consequently, simply noting the illiberalism of activist demands in neither here nor there; the question is whether these particular illiberal manifestations are uniquely harmful to the organizational (university) mission, or the liberal project more broadly.
    • It seems abjectly silly for a blog that actively moderates its comment threads to claim that it is inherently wrong for universities, as well as specific groups within universities, to call for and establish both form and substance limitations on speech.
  • Faculty governance ain’t all its cracked up to be. There are big downsides to administrative bloat, but the process has come about through a recognition that the 4-7 years of undergraduate education represent a personal transformation that involves something far more important that the collections of grades and classes that constitute a transcript.  As the American university system has expanded beyond its pre-war base of young, middle- and upper- class white men, it has become clear that the university community requires a degree of support, management, and administration that goes well beyond what was available fifty or sixty years ago. Much of this fight is about the precise contours and responsibilities of that administrative bureaucracy.
    • The faculty aren’t the only stakeholders in this process, and it’s not even obvious to me that they’re the most important stakeholders. 
    • It should be painfully obvious to anyone who has ever darkened the halls of an academic department that faculty are not selected for administrative talent or vision, and that a significant portion of faculty only grudgingly acquiesce to regular administrative responsibilities.

The biggest problem for the future of this particular wave of student activism isn’t Jonathan Chait; it’s the vengeful state legislatures that have been salivating about ways to break the public university system. Freddie is utterly correct about this, and I am far less hopeful than he that there’s any positive outcome to be found in that arena.

A study in contrasts

[ 15 ] November 14, 2015 |


Étroit d’esprit

There are many ways people respond to catastrophe. Some responses show a generosity and bravery that is truly humbling.

And then there are those who squat on the “Use a tragedy taking place several time zones away to snipe at underprivileged people who had absolutely nothing to do with it,” end of the spectrum. They make one wish Evolution would hurry up and put the lobsters in charge.

In addition to reading about #porteouverte and similar efforts around the globe, perusing the responses to Free Speech Miller’s Bleet might give your spirits a needed lift this a.m.




What is ISIS?

[ 130 ] November 14, 2015 |

A useful primer from Graeme Wood.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million. . .

Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Westerners have greeted news of the theology and practices of the Islamic State. Many refuse to believe that this group is as devout as it claims to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as its actions and statements suggest.

Their skepticism is comprehensible. In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Edward Said—who pointed out that calling Muslims “ancient” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil.

Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.

Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

What to do?

Chastened by our earlier indifference, we are now meeting the Islamic State via Kurdish and Iraqi proxy on the battlefield, and with regular air assaults. Those strategies haven’t dislodged the Islamic State from any of its major territorial possessions, although they’ve kept it from directly assaulting Baghdad and Erbil and slaughtering Shia and Kurds there.

Some observers have called for escalation, including several predictable voices from the interventionist right (Max Boot, Frederick Kagan), who have urged the deployment of tens of thousands of American soldiers. These calls should not be dismissed too quickly: an avowedly genocidal organization is on its potential victims’ front lawn, and it is committing daily atrocities in the territory it already controls.

One way to un-cast the Islamic State’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. Al‑Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding. Former pledges could of course continue to attack the West and behead their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of the caliphate would disappear, and with it the supposed religious duty to immigrate and serve it. If the United States were to invade, the Islamic State’s obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.

Abu Baraa, who maintains a YouTube channel about Islamic law, says the caliph, Baghdadi, cannot negotiate or recognize borders, and must continually make war, or he will remove himself from Islam.

And yet the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options.

The whole article is fascinating, sobering, and well worth reading.

. . . Dana Houle in comments notes this alternative interpretation, which argues that the ISIS phenomenon remains fundamentally unexplained and mysterious.

The Best Response

[ 104 ] November 14, 2015 |

Ces Prises Sont Torride

[ 71 ] November 14, 2015 |


Many winger third-raters from various walks of life had some SCORCHING HOT TAKES on the terror in Paris. I think this one is my favorite:

It’s not easy to get that much wankery into 140 characters or less, but he Bush administration’s favorite stenographer can pull it off.

…and, yes, Weigel FTW.

…Rod Dreher’s take might singe your eyebrows.

Students at Amherst protest outbreak of free speech, demand offenders undergo “training for racial and cultural competency”

[ 396 ] November 13, 2015 |

free speech

Students protesting at Amherst College have issued a list of demands to administrators that includes making them apologize for signs that lament the death of free speech.

A group calling themselves the Amherst Uprising listed 11 demands they want enacted by next Wednesday. Among them is a demand that President Biddy Martin issue a statement saying that Amherst does “not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the ‘All Lives Matter’ posters, and the ‘Free Speech’ posters.”

The latter posters called the principle of free speech the “true victim” of the protests at the University of Missouri.

Going further, the students demand the people behind “free speech” fliers be required to go through a disciplinary process as well as “extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

The protests at Amherst come on the heels of protests at the University of Missouri, Yale, and Claremont McKenna College. At Mizzou, officials resigned after criticism of how they reacted to alleged racist incidents on campus. Students at Yale protested an email sent by a college administrator about Halloween costumes, saying it made them feel unsafe. And at Claremont McKenna, a class president resigned her post after appearing in a photo with two students dressed in ponchos and sombreros.

Amherst students also asked administrators to excuse them from coursework and classes so they could participate in protests and sit-ins—and they want the school to warn alumni that racist or critical responses of the protests will not be tolerated.

The full statement from the Amherst Uprising is here.

I’m currently working on a long piece regarding the goings-on at Missouri and Yale, so I’m not going to respond at this time to any of the questions that were raised in the 500+ comment thread accompanying my earlier, admittedly cryptic, post. Many of the responses provided further impetus for writing the piece, which I appreciate.

You Can’t Keep Your Mind Off the Crimes of Paris

[ 82 ] November 13, 2015 |

This is horrifying.

Bobo and the Ivory Backscratcher

[ 64 ] November 13, 2015 |


The Maoists who edit the New York Times style and real estate sections and T Magazine turn to their best unintentional propagandist yet, Mr. David Brooks:

I went back to my long-distance conversation and heard him busying himself in the other room, perhaps having discovered that one of the nuts in the nut bowl was misaligned. Sometimes it is the structure of things that you shall be pampered and you have no choice but to sit back and accept that fact.

I was in Turkey as a temporary member of a 52-person group that was bouncing through Four Seasons hotels on a round-the-world tour. You put down roughly $120,000 a person and for 24 days you fly around the earth in a Four Seasons-branded private jet, taking off in Seattle and stopping in, among other places, Tokyo, Beijing, the Maldives, the Serengeti, St. Petersburg, Marrakesh and New York, going from Four Seasons to Four Seasons, with various outings off campus offered at every two- or three-night stop. I was joining the tour for days 15 through 21, which would take me from Istanbul to St. Petersburg to Marrakesh, after which I would return to New York. If Magellan had had his own 757 and a global archipelago of sumptuous breakfast buffets, his trip would have been something like this.


What sort of people go on a trip like this? Rich but not fancy. It is a sign of how stratified things have become that even within the top 1 percent there are differences between the single-digit millionaires and the double- or triple-digit millionaires. The people on this trip were by and large on the lower end of the upper class. One had a family carpet business. Another was an I.T. executive at an insurance company. There were a few law partners. There was a divorce coach who’d worked in finance, a woman who’d started a telecom business with her ex-husband and the vice chancellor from a medium-size university. Very few of these people were born to money. They did not dress rich, talk rich or put on airs. They have spent their lives busy with work and family, not jet-setting around or hanging out with the Davos crowd.


But sometimes money allows you to see too many things, too quickly. Sometimes if you seize all the opportunities your money affords, you may end up skimming over life and nothing is deep enough to leave a mark. There is a piece of travel literature wisdom, of uncertain attribution, that reads, ‘‘He who has seen one cathedral 10 times has seen something; he who has seen 10 cathedrals once has seen but little; and he who has spent an hour in each of a hundred cathedrals has seen nothing at all.’’ If you’re in a major city for 48 hours, is it best to sample the highlights, or drill down? I really enjoyed tagging along with this gang for part of their journey. But some of the most memorable moments came from breaking away, wandering alone through the astonishing streets of St. Petersburg, one of the world’s great cities.

There are many, many more Deep Thoughts were these come from.

I long for my innocent youth, in which David Brooks pretended he couldn’t figure out how to spend twenty bucks at Red Lobster.

Cool Story, Brogressive II: The Search For Rand Paul’s GOLD

[ 185 ] November 13, 2015 |
U.S. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb gestures while talking to journalists during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

U.S. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb gestures while talking to journalists during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

This H.A. Goodman guy is a national treasure. You read one of this Salon editor’s choices and it’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever read on a website that has regularly published Camille Paglia. And then you read another one and see that he’s entirely capable of topping himself. The opening sentences guarantee its status as a monument to idiocy:

First and foremost, the latest unscientific poll out of Western Illinois University has Bernie Sanders winning the presidency. Therefore, if polls are gospel, we’ll have a Democrat in the White House who plans on fixing the structural issues plaguing Wall Street and the U.S. economy.

If you click through his link, you’ll see this “poll” is…a mock election among students at Western Illinois University. And I would bet Rand Paul InTrade futures to dollars that even the “unscientific” qualifier was added by an editor, since the subsequent text discusses it as if it was an actual poll.

If you support Sanders in the primaries — entirely reasonable! — why shouldn’t you support Clinton in the general? I’m sure you will find his answer compelling:

One must vote for any Democrat, regardless of how they treat a core constituency.



But think about Supreme Court nominees! Selfish! Infantile!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is fine and the New York Times writes that she has “no interest in retiring.” Justice Scalia isn’t stepping down from the U.S. Supreme Court soon and will only contemplate retirement when he “can’t do the job well.” Anthony Kennedy is in “no rush” to leave the Supreme Court. Justice Breyer has no plans to step down but will “eventually” retire one day.

The paranoid legions, frightful of voting their conscience and actually upholding our democracy, can rest assured that all four Supreme Court justices mentioned are still capable of lasting four more years.

When the next president is inaugurated, Antonin Scalia will be about to turn 81, Kennedy will be 80, Breyer will be 78, and Ginsburg will be about to turn 84. Are all of these justices “capable” of being on the court for 4 or 8 more years? Sure! Would you want to count on it? Of course not! Is the idea that Supreme Court nominations are the only difference between a Clinton administration and a Rubio administration idiotic? You betcha!

Of course, his logic for a Bernie Sanders write-in in the general is highly compelling:

If by chance Sanders loses the nomination, I’ll write him in, and if Democrats lose, then the Democratic Party will evolve to cater to progressives tired of moderate Republicans posing as Democrats. The Democratic Party will learn to uphold its ideals and evolve toward progressive views on war, foreign policy and other topics integral to the presidency.

So, to be clear, Clinton is not worth supporting because she has merely “evolved” towards progressive positions. But throwing an election to a wingnutty Republican president would be salutary, because it might cause the Democratic Party to undergo the “evolution” that, according to him, the party has already undergone.

By the way, a link helpfully provided by a reader might help to explain why issues involving women’s rights are entirely ignored in these Goodman’s peans to refusing to support Clinton in the general:

Therefore, the more Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire, and around the country learn about Jim Webb, the more they’ll see that he offers a great deal more than Hillary or any other Democratic candidate in 2016.

Democrats must evolve towards a progressive agenda, and that agenda is Republicans on the Supreme Court and Confederate flags for all.

There are entirely sound, non-sexist reasons to prefer Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton in the primaries (although when you’re writing Sanders in in the general you’re attacking the rights of women whatever your intentions.) When you prefer Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, and Rand Paul to Hillary Clinton, you’re a misogynist.

Really, Salon should consider investing in Freddie deBoer instead. I mean, say what you will, his argument — “leaders of major brokerage parties are worth supporting only if they precisely agree with my unassailably correct positions on each and every issue” — is coherent. Very foolish and pathetically narcissistic and profoundly dangerous if it had any chance of attracting a meaningful number of adherents, but at least coherent. Goodman is just evidence that it’s literally impossible for an anti-Clinton article to be too stupid for Salon‘s editors not to put it at the top of the front page. Come back Matt Stoller, all is forgiven.

He Kept Us Safe!

[ 91 ] November 13, 2015 |

Farenheit 911 still

With notably rare exceptions:

When Donald Trump impugned the honor of his brother earlier this year, Jeb Bush proudly fell back on the achievement of the Dubya administration that has endured in public memory, despite his other failures: “He kept us safe.” Even in 2008, at the nadir of Bush’s presidency, Americans still gave him a fair measure of credit in this area. But the impression that Bush was successful, or even especially well-focused, on protecting Americans from terrorism is an inversion of reality, and the fact that it can still be asserted with a straight face is the residue of one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in American history.

Chris Whipple’s revelations about the CIA’s urgent, ignored pleas to focus on the threat from Al Qaeda before 9/11 flesh out an increasingly consistent portrait drawn by Kurt Eichenwald and other reporters. A broad and consistent body of evidence had persuaded intelligence officials that Al Qaeda was poised to carry out a devastating attack against the United States. It was not just the famous August memo, “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” — the one Bush dismissed at the time as ass-covering — but a much longer and more desperate campaign to wake up Bush’s inner circle. Whipple reports, “Months earlier, starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.”

But the Bush White House was dominated by neoconservatives, who were ideologically fixated on the threat posed by states and dismissed the threat of non-state actors. The administration’s defenders tend to gloss over the wee problem of Bush’s abject failure before the attack by treating it as a passing transitional problem, a matter of getting one’s feet wet, often speaking of the Bush presidency as if did not really begin until September 12. This willfully erases the administration’s gross negligence before the attacks.

It also ignores the reality that Bush and his closest advisers clung to their state-focused neoconservative dogma even after the attacks.

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