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Shifting the Boundaries of the Acceptable

[ 0 ] December 4, 2008 |

Loomis, in reference to a post at the NYT’s green blog:

After taking Bank of American executives on a helicopter tour of mountaintop removal sites, the NRDC convinced the bank to stop funding such projects. In an atmosphere where Bush is implementing all sorts of new rules allowing for mountaintop removal to expand and dump its soils into rivers and creeks around southern Appalachia, new, aggressive strategies are necessary. This is such a reprehensible practice and the only way it survives is because nobody sees the incredible damage to the landscape it causes. If you can take away the funding for these projects by exposing people in power to these hellish operations, you can go a long ways toward putting a stop to it.

On a slightly different topic, it’s nice to see that the anti-transit ideologues in the Bush administration can no longer strike fear into the hearts of men, thus allowing the Silver Line to go forward:

State and airport officials have been careful to temper their enthusiasm about the project’s chances for approval because it came so close to extinction early in the year. Their caution also reflects the widely held view that politics and ideology played a role in the project’s problems within the Federal Transit Administration and the Department of Transportation. Leaders in Virginia have sought to avoid alienating administration officials who didn’t believe in the value of such an enormous public investment in transit… Moran said the national credit crisis probably helped the project’s chances, because it “dried up” interest among private purchasers who had been eyeing the toll road. “But more importantly,” he said, “the ideologues in the administration have given up.”

Bombay or Mumbai?

[ 0 ] December 4, 2008 |

Ezra Klein and Tim Fernholz are having some fun kicking around Christopher Hitchens argument that we should defiantly refer to the city currently known as Mumbai as Bombay. See also Isaac Chotiner. When you’re siding with Hitchens against Klein you should probably be careful, but I think, at a minimum, the issue is a bit more complex than Hitchen’s critics suggest (a common feature of controversies cultural and religious issues in India). Klein, relying on Wikipedia, notes that Mumbai has a long history of the name in the local language of Marathi, and Bombay is the colonial name of the city. Klein makes the mistake, I think, of focusing on the history of the names, but not the specific historical context of the name change itself. Why and how it was done might be important in our evaluation. Chotiner sums up two positions succinctly:

And if a democratically elected government wants to institute a name change, then it seems like the rest of us should “go along” with the decision. On the other hand, it does seem wrong–and even perverse–to accept something that was done in large measure to make Muslims (and non-native Hindus) feel unwelcome.

Procedurally, the Mumbai name change is a lot less problematic than, say, Burma to Myanmar (as Kevin Drum notes). But we shouldn’t only evaluate on procedure.

In his excellent book The Multiculturalism of Fear (amazon, PDF of the first chapter) Jacob Levy defends a theory of multiculturalism that draws on Judith Shklar’s notion of a “Liberalism of Fear” to supplement the much more common liberalism of rights. Shklar’s theory is in many ways pessimistic, as is directs us to focus on government’s dangerous capacity to serve as a conduit for cruelty. The renaming of Bombay to Mumbai may express a democratic majority’s will, and it may not in itself violate anyone’s rights, but what we know about the connection between cruelty, disrepect, and violence, especially in the context of a country with such a history of religious violence, should give us pause. Levy:

[T]he Hindu nationalist government of Bombay has changed the name of that city to Mumbai, a change which is commonly understood to reassert the city’s identity as Hindu and Maharashtri at the expense of its recent history as cosmopolitan and pluralistic. ‘Mumbai’ is arguably a more accurate rendition of the city’s precolonial name than is ‘Bombay,’ and the change is publicly defended as a rejection of colonialism. Although it is an assertion of Hindu dominance, it is not as overtly religious a name as Providence, Rhode Island; Corpus Christi, Texas; or Los Angeles or San Francisco, California. If there is something wrong in the name change, it cannot simply be that it violates the separationist requirements of a liberal secular constitution….The name Mumbai is an ongoing taunt in a society in which violence along religious lines has been all too common. The multiculturalism of fear refuses to say to Bombay’s non-Hindus that they should be content because, after all, none of their property has been taken, none of their liberties infringed. The government intended to humiliate them, and the multiculturalism of fear is willing to say that they have been wronged thereby. (Multiculturalism of Fear, pp. 28-29)

That Hitchens is a neo-imperialist who hates religion with a blinding rage cannot be doubted by the sane. Nevertheless, he’s stumbled onto a legitimate concern here. I currently take no position on what we in the west should refer to Mumbai/Bombay as, but the question is a fair bit more tricky. Using the power of government to humiliate and make unwelcome an often persecuted minority isn’t something to be sanguine about simply because the symbolic act has a strong basis in History.


[ 0 ] December 4, 2008 |

I’ve been in transit for much of the week so haven’t been able to say as much about the story as I’d like, but Canada’s Governor-General has permitted Stephen Harper to “prorouge” (or suspend) government to avoid the confidence vote he would almost certainly have lost. So the opposition prevented Harper’s overreaching but I’m guessing won’t succeed in toppling his government in January, and anyway Harper will stay in power for the time being. I’m not sure that waiting until after the Liberals select a new leader in April is the worst thing in the world, although I would have liked to have seen Dion ascend to the PM position, if only temporarily.

Meanwhile, via Yglesias this post is really priceless. Aside from the idiocy of arguing that coalition consisting of a majority of the legislature representing a majority of Canadian voters could represent a “coup,” I particularly enjoyed the argument that “by definition a minority government can be outvoted if other parties gang up on them.” Sounds scary! Just like McCain lost because voters unfairly “ganged up” on him, I guess.

I also note that Shapiro’s complaints about the proposed new coalition requiring support from the Bloq Quebecois are rather difficult to take seriously given that the Conservatives also require the assent of the BQ to stay in power. They’re not part of the current cabinet, and wouldn’t have been part of the new cabinet, and they hold the balance of power either way. So what’s the difference? They would have gotten concessions from the Liberals and NDP — and will also have to get concessions from the Tories in January if Harper intends to stay in power. So this wailing is as silly as the rest of his post.

Does Israel Have a Secure Second Strike Capability?

[ 0 ] December 4, 2008 |

Peter Juul makes the case:

Israel’s nuclear deterrent is shrouded in secrecy, but it is estimated to have between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads. Like the United States, Israel’s nuclear delivery forces are structured to form a “triad” of air, land, and sea-based systems. Israel’s long-range F-15I and F-16I strike aircraft are believed to be nuclear capable, and have the range to reach targets in Iran without refueling. More central to Israel’s nuclear forces are its Jericho-series of ballistic missiles. Israel is estimated to have between 50 and 100 Jericho II missiles with a range between 1,500 kilometers and 3,000 kilometers, and in January tested a new 4,000 kilometer-range missile. This new missile puts all of Iran in Israel’s nuclear reach. Finally, Israel’s three Dolphin-class submarines are reportedly capable of firing Harpoon missiles modified to carry nuclear warheads, and in 2000 Israel reportedly tested a 1,500 kilometer range cruise missile from one of its submarines. Two more submarines are on order from Germany. Israel therefore has a mature nuclear deterrent likely capable of launching a second strike against adversaries.

I’ll agree this far; Israel has now and will maintain for the foreseeable future a secure second strike capability vis-a-vis Iran, but that has more to do with the deficiencies of Iran’s program than with the strength of Israel’s. The reason I caveat is that the Dolphin class submarines, while fine and and capable warships, aren’t large enough or numerous enough to provide secure second strike to the degree enjoyed by France, the UK, Russia, or the US. The French Triomphants and the British Vanguards are each 4-6 times the size of the Dolphins, and carry 16 MIRVed ballistic missiles. I can’t imagine that the Israelis would be able to squeeze more than a very small handful of nuclear warheads onto a Dolphin, or keep more than one boat on continuous patrol. What this means in practical terms is that while Britain and France have roughly 180 or so warheads on continuous submarine patrol, the Israelis have maybe about 5. Now, five or so is probably enough, but you’d like to have more for a genuine deterrent relationship.

Of course, since Iran can’t provide any serious threat to the land or air based components of Israel’s nuclear triad, this doesn’t mean very much in practical terms.

My case for tenure is surely ruined now

[ 0 ] December 4, 2008 |

People are always telling me that I’m only half the man that Rob Farley is, so I’m not bitter that my review of Party of Defeat only earned me half of what Rob got for his. What really hurts, though, is that Horowitz for some vague reason actually refused to publish it at FrontPage. I’m happy to take their money, but the cash won’t plug the hole in my heart. This is nearly as painful as when my high school girlfriend cheated on me with a 15-year-old skate punk.

Anyhow, I posted the review at Edge of the American West, where everyone likes a good panda joke:

In a little less than two months, George W. Bush will leave office as one of the most despised presidents in American history. Taking mild comfort, perhaps, in the fact that he will end his term according to the customary schedule, Bush would nevertheless have much to envy in the presidency of Richard Nixon, who resigned — amazingly — with lower disapproval ratings than George Bush currently enjoys and could, for all his administration’s flagrant criminality, at least take credit for bringing a pair of Giant Pandas to the National Zoo.

And Her Support Was Also Crucial to USC Beating Notre Dame

[ 0 ] December 4, 2008 |

I, for one, am extremely impressed with Sarah Palin’s political skillz. Anyone who can be a part of a Republican narrowly winning a state as liberal as Georgia is clearly the new FDR. (It’s weird; at least Dems generally make fun of Bob Shrum’s 0-fer in Presidential elections rather than praising him for the remarkable feat of getting Democrats elected in Massachusetts…)

The EU and the Pirates…

[ 0 ] December 3, 2008 |

Yoav Gortzak and I have a piece on piracy and the European Union up at Foreign Policy.

Is our presidents learning?

[ 0 ] December 3, 2008 |

I suppose everyone has a punch-the-wall-with-your-face moment in this interview. Here’s mine:

GIBSON: You said you were not going to be in the business of nation-building. And so much of what you had to do was nation-building.

BUSH: Well, what I said was, in the course of a debate, I said the military shouldn’t be used to build nations. In this case, it turns out the military, in my judgment, was needed to remove threats to our security, and after that removal, the military, as well as our diplomatic corps, needed to help rebuild after tyrannical situations.

I’m not sure precisely what Bush means by “our diplomatic corps,” but he seems not to recall that one of the major problems with the Iraq War — aside from its very occurrence — was that the the advice of “the diplomatic corps” was studiously ignored while the US military — or, to be more accurate, the civilians in charge of the US military — were given near-total responsibility for planning its aftermath. I think it’s easy to overstate the likelihood that, say, The Future of Iraq Project would have prevented the country from being thoroughly “cauldronized” a la Ledeen, but there’s no question that by allowing Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith and friends to do anything more complicated than working a toaster, Bush ensured that an ill-advised five-year war would turn into an ill-advised ten year war. It’s also worth noting that if Bush — in his “judgment” — placed such a high value on using armed force to carry out reconstruction projects, perhaps he should not have sat around with his thumb up his ass while Paul Bremer dismantled the Iraqi military.

Of course, rather than follow up on any of this — or, better yet, abandoning the interview for the nearest bar and a stiff drink — Charlie Gibson immediately shifted the conversation to the question of why Bush describes his presidency as “joyful.”

Easterbrook Idiocy Watch

[ 0 ] December 3, 2008 |

It’s not hard to find journalists writing about subjects they know nothing about. Gregg Easterbrook, however, manages to turn ignorance into an art form.

Stuff that Conservapedia Teaches You

[ 0 ] December 3, 2008 |

Who knew?

Bush has presided over a period of general economic growth.

The ethics of living in an unjust world.

[ 0 ] December 3, 2008 |

Last week M. LeBlanc at Bitch Phd wrote about the latest battle in the War against the homeless–Chicago cracking down on “continuous riders” just as the cold of winter settles in. Like M. LeBlanc and Bitch PhD, I was surprised and frustrated by the tenor and content of the comments, which went in one or both of the following directions, either talking about how it’s unpleasant to share public transit with homeless people, or helpfully pointing out that allowing the homeless to ride the MTA continuously through the night was a poor “solution” to the homeless problem. I wasn’t surprised by the sentiments themselves, just that they were so prominent amongst the commenters at that site, from whom I’d generally expect a bit more sympathy.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a bit more about this, and about why I’m bothered as much as I am by the “this is not a good solution” kind of response to this. It’s a dynamic that feels very familiar to me. Obviously, M. LeBlanc wasn’t trying to argue that allowing the status quo (namely, that homeless people shouldn’t be kicked off trains in the middle in the night in the dead of winter) to continue constituted some sort of brilliant public policy solution. Nor did I take her to be arguing that such a policy had no negative effects. Although she was opposing a particular policy initiative, I didn’t take her post to be about public policy solutions at all. Instead, she was expressing a position on the ethics of living in an unjust world. A good thing about progressives is that they see specific social problems as things to be fixed, and they like debating good ways to fix them. This is all good, but I think sometimes it’s used as an excuse to avoid the ethics of living in the unjust world we live in. Homelessness is a problem that can be ameliorated through a bunch of good public policy initiatives, and they should be debated, and the best ideas should be tried. But we should resist the temptation to let these conversations replace challenging questions about what we must do and not do in the here and now, in light of the persistent injustices in our cities and our world.

I have a feeling this dynamic in political conversation has frustrated me before, but oddly I can’t recall good examples, it’s more just a sense of deja vu. I’ll try and flag examples of this tendency and elaborate on the point of this vague post in the future as I spot them.

Stuff that Wikipedia Teaches You

[ 0 ] December 3, 2008 |

I had never realized that Gary Sinise (whose work I very much respect) was a Republican.