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Archive for February 2011



Japan disses diversity

Japan’s slippage from the world’s number two economy to number three will likely unleash more criticism of its highly restrictive immigration policies, especially from the New York Times.  It’s hard to think of a greater repudiation of the American public creed of maximal “diversity” than Japan’s stubborn determination to remain monocultural.  Japan’s economy may well be stifled by its resistance to immigration, though in sophisticated manufacturing for technology and energy, it has few competitors.  However misguided Japan’s hostility to outsiders, the following crime figures, from a forthcoming book by the criminologist Frank Zimring, may explain part of its reluctance to embrace multiculturalism.  The rates are crimes per 100,000 of population in 2007:

New York: 265
London: 610
Sydney (2006): 159
Tokyo: 4.7
Toronto: 133

New York: 254
London: 1290
Sydney (2006): 1008
Tokyo: 137
Toronto: 362

New York: 10.6
London: 30.7
Sydney (2006): 51.4
Tokyo: 1.8
Toronto: N.A.

Update: New York has the lowest crime rate of any big U.S. city, by several magnitudes, thanks to 17 straight years of Compstat policing; put Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Phoenix, Hartford, Newark, or Miami up against Tokyo, and the differences would be even greater.



The ever-renewing terror threat

A Congressional hearing last week on terror threats facing the U.S. was covered by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, both of which told the identical story:  the U.S. is at serious danger from domestic, homegrown terrorists.  Left out of the coverage entirely was the more newsworthy statement during the hearing by the director of the National Counterterrorism Center that Al Qaeda is no longer capable of carrying out a 9/11-style attack on U.S. soil.   The omission of this fact and the emphasis instead on the alleged domestic terror threat is a classic example of terror porn, which works to maintain a never-diminishing level of paranoia about Islamic terrorism.  Every time I have asked a neocon friend if we ever get to ratchet down our evaluation of the terror risk as years go by without a major incident, the answer comes back: No.  There are many interests contributing to this insistence, among which are neocon geopolitical concerns as well as massive economic and institutional pressures.  Though thousands more Americans are killed and injured each year through garden-variety criminal violence than Islamic terrorism on American soil,  we now have an entire bloated federal agency dedicated to combating the alleged terrorist threat, pushing reams of paper by the hour in the effort to look crucial.  To date, no major federal agency has ever been dismantled, so there is no reason to think that the Department of Homeland Security will be, either.  But we still need to continue verbally justifying its existence.  Thus the whack-a-mole nature of the terror threat and the always scary rhetoric around it. 

“In some ways, the threat today may be at its most heightened state since the attacks nearly 10 years ago,” Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, told lawmakers.  

Really?  Why does that statement feel overdetermined to me.  Have we ever heard an official say:  “The threat is diminishing” or “The threat just isn’t as great as we thought it was.”

Last year, there was a spate of predictions echoing throughout the neocon press chamber about imminent biological threats.  Anyone remember them?  Like all such predictions over the last decade, none have panned out, yet their proponents will never be called on their abysmal record of accuracy.



Using the master’s tools….

I have a post up at Discover, The academy is liberal, deal!, where I confirm that yes, academics are liberal, and second, that there’s no profit in changing this situation. A conservative weblog, Kronology, responded:

Khan–like many pat-myself-on-the-back liberals–assumes “conservatives value the remuneration of the conventional private sector more than liberals, who may opt for the prestige and status of the Academy.” I have news for Khan: Outside the Academy itself, the prestige and status of those successful in the private sector exceed that of those in academia.

Khan’s statement, however, illustrates the problem for society with academia’s bias. When one group excludes another, it is tolerable to American society for two reasons: 1) right of association or 2) a reasonable basis exists for the discrimination. We can eliminate the right of association for justifying the liberal discrimination against conservatives in this case because–whatever its members may think–the Academy is not a private club but a group of professions. In excluding conservatives, the liberals are depriving others of their livelihoods, just as though they opted to exclude all Orthodox Jews.

So, I responded in the comments that I’m not a liberal. Back when I started blogging I assumed that reading the full post to which you link and respond was actually the polite thing to do. I conclude in the linked post:




A trip down Memory Lane: Freedom Agenda 2005

If Obama had given the following speech, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and the rest of the knee-jerk venom squad who are petulantly faulting the Obama Administration’s cautious response to the Egyptian revolution would have frothed at the presumption of such grandiose rhetoric.  I don’t recall, however, the right-wing media offering a word of dissent from this overheated Gersonian effusion when Bush delivered it at his 2005 inauguration.   Nor would the Obama attack dogs have offered a peep of protest had Bush, in navigating the moral and political complexity of the Cairo uprising, offered his support to the Egyptian protesters, which would be the least that Bush could do if he really meant these self-righteous pronouncements:

From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth.  . . . Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation . . . and the calling of our time.

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

. . .

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.  . . .

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies . . .

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. . . . History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.

Apparently, the Freedom Agenda had an expiration date: January 2009.

I discuss an article by University of Virginia professor Vesla Weaver arguing that contact with the “carceral state” illegitimately depresses civic and political engagement in this Bloggingheads debate.

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Right-wing sour grapes

The Fox News reporter, speaking from Cairo half an hour ago, did not receive the right-wing-media talking points.  Back in the New York studio, a Fox blonde had been skeptically quizzing Alan Colmes about all the downsides to Mubarak’s stepping down; the reporter instead excitedly gushed about the unforeseen and rapid triumph of people wanting, as Bush might have put it, to be free.   Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, after having spent the last two weeks criticizing whatever it was that the Obama Administration had most recently done towards Egypt—whether supporting regime change (remember that Bushism?) or backing off from regime change (either way, Obama was wrong)—has now lost interest in the story.   After a sour prediction that Obama would try to take credit for Mubarak’s concession in his forthcoming speech about the Egyptian revolution, Limbaugh has been concertedly focusing on Obamacare—which is of course his right, it’s just that the sudden change of focus is rather startling. 

Expect an outpouring of right-wing bile towards whatever Obama says about Egypt, as if any president wouldn’t want to align himself with what at this moment cannot help but conjure up hopes for greater openness in the Middle East—even if those hopes are ultimately dashed,

I am by no means an unequivocal fan of revolutions; I do not believe that human rights are universal and timeless, rather than the product of evolving and contingent political beliefs.  But I could better stomach the right-wing media’s effort to discredit the Egyptian revolution and to portray it as a failure of Obama’s diplomacy if they had not given such unthinking jingoistic support to Bush’s Freedom Agenda, if Sean Hannity’s theme song was not “Let Freedom Ring,” if they didn’t claim a divine mandate to lead the world towards American-style democracy.



Wikipedia and gender bias

Women are underrepresented in journalism and other public fields, a fact which feminists reflexively attribute to sexism.  Wikipedia’s gender ratio demolishes that Womens Studies bromide, as I discuss here.



Remember the babes!

2005's Hope

I’m old enough to remember the “babe revolution” of 2005. How’d that work out? I know that most of my contemporaries are closely following events in Egypt while I’m busy running genetic analyses. Today a friend started IMing me about whatever is happening now in Egypt. I really can’t follow the latest zig or zag, and simply responded, “Talk to me about this in 10 years.” My friend laughed, but that that’s a major issue here: people get caught up in revolutionary fervor as if hope and a dream can actually effect long term change. They can not. You need some major preconditions for a liberal democratic society to be robust to the natural shocks of the world in which we live. I wish the Egyptians well, but what is happening now in Lebanon is a predictable outcome of the structural realities of the religious demography of that nation, and its persistent and chronic sectarianism. The details may differ (e.g., the current alliance between a Maronite faction with the Shia), but the general framework has been invariant for decades. Egyptians will remain Egyptians, even if democracy dawns. And that, unfortunately, is a problem.



Egypt and the Right-wing media meltdown

The right-wing punditocracy’s sputtering reaction to the Obama Administration’s Egyptian diplomacy is a new low point in the melt-down of rationality on the right. 

I am utterly convinced that had Bush been in power and had gently suggested that Mubarak cede power, the right would have loyally backed him.  After all, the Freedom Agenda was a signature Bush policy, if only intermittently realized in practice.  Nothing that Obama is doing now contradicts that policy; in fact the nudge towards Mubarak is something that would seem to have been long overdue under the Freedom Agenda.  The right cheered on the invasion of Iraq to remove a dictator, with its concomitant risk—temporarily realized–of empowering Islamists, in this case, Al Qaeda in Iraq.  The Right is constantly extolling American exceptionalism and our God-given duty to spread freedom throughout the world.  The Right has also proclaimed the need to back a war-time president and to maintain a strong executive control over foreign affairs. 

But the rule on the right now is: If Obama is doing it, it is wrong.  It is as simple as that.  So suddenly Mubarak must not be challenged, because the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood is so great and because Israel’s interests require unequivocal support for Israel-friendly Middle Eastern dictators.  Leave aside the legitimate debate about whether the Muslim Brotherhood in fact remains committed to violent Jihad.  The argument—whether right or wrong–that the longer term protection for Israel is Middle Eastern democracy is now out the window, despite its many exponents among Bush freedom proselytizers.

I am attributing more coherence to the right-wing media’s reaction than it deserves, however.  Although the “prop-up-Mubarak” position has recently solidified on talk radio and Fox News, during the early days of the Egyptian crisis, the only clear principle that emerged from the right was that Obama was wrong.  The terrible complexity of the situation, the conundrums and impossible trade-offs, were never acknowledged. 

Has the Obama Administration been totally consistent from day to day?  No.  Is it driven more by developing facts on the ground than driving those facts?  Yes.  And good luck to anyone who thinks that he can do better in this diplomatic and moral morass.

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Youth and revolution

The New York Times’ print front page has a photo today of a bunch of scruffy Egyptian youth, sitting around their laptops, that encapsulates for me one puzzle of the Egyptian protests and others like them.  These self-consciously hip youngsters, some with Rastafarian-inspired big urban hair, coolly dragging on their cigarettes with a Jimmy-Dean-ian detachment, sporting heavy-rimmed retro black eyeglasses, could easily be planning the next anti-globalization WTO street action if they were in the West.  They appear to be the identical demographic that smashes Starbucks stores in Seattle during international trade meetings or that occupies university administration buildings to demand more ethnic studies courses and affirmative action admissions.  When such youth voice their overheated moral indignation in the West, my view is: Why should anyone listen to them?  They don’t know a thing about the world; they have never had the responsibility of running a business, have only intermittently worked, have no parental duties, and believe themselves to be the first people in the history of the world to feel indignation about poverty or inequality and are all the more proud of themselves for doing so.  The Western press loves to glorify such ignorant protesters in the U.S. or Europe, however, because a. it gives them a story, and b. the almost inevitable left-wing slant of youth protests fits nicely with the press’s own pretensions towards “progressive” enlightenment. 

So why should we take the youth movement any more seriously when it erupts in repressive or totalitarian regimes?  Undoubtedly, youth in Third World or underdeveloped countries are less spoiled than those in the West.  They risk more in facing down constitutionally unconstrained authorities—see Tianamen Square.  And to their credit, the Egyptian youth do not seem to be advocating violence.  I do not know who was behind the looting and destruction of government buildings earlier in the protests.  But is the Egyptian youth’s knowledge of injustice any more grounded than the knowledge of the French students protesting an increase in the absurdly low French retirement age?  The youth demographic seems right this time, but by coincidence or because of true insight?  Obviously, there are other demographics—older adults, professionals—that are out there protesting as well.  Without disputing the justice of their cause (though I may add that there may be some slight validity to the idea that the repressiveness of the Egyptian power structure must be balanced against the threat of an Islamic uprising in its stead) we hear little indications every now and then that the silent majority of middle class Egyptians might not be fully on board the protests—but perhaps only because they rightly fear the break-down of law and order. 

Was there a youth element to the American revolution?  My impression is not.  There was, however, to the revolutions of 1848.  The Peasant’s Revolt?  Anti-slavery protests?  Wordsworth loved the French Revolution (rightly?):
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven!”
It would be interesting to classify revolutions and efforts at mass social change by the presence of romantically-inclined youth. 

Because I have become deeply conscious of the fragility of law and order, I am wary of almost all efforts to disrupt it.  (Again, I recognize that most of the Egyptian protesters are not calling for the violent overthrow of the regime.)  I am frankly no fan of the original Tea Party’s dumping of tea, and find some of the colonists’ rhetoric almost as overblown as that of the current Tea party.  But perhaps when the regime that brings you law and order is a corrupt, authoritarian one, there are worse calamities than the breakdown of the rule of law.  Perhaps.

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