Maybe the nation isn't polarized after all. Argument here.
But do Americans really despise the beliefs of half of their fellow citizens? Have Americans really changed so much since the day when a candidate with Ronald Reagan's soothing message could carry 49 of 50 states?
To some scholars, the answer is no. They say that our basic differences have actually been shrinking over the past two decades, and that the polarized nation is largely a myth created by people inside the Beltway talking to each another or, more precisely, shouting at each other.
When Clinton said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky," we all-- c'mon, admit it-- started speculating about what that phrase didn't deny.
Following soon after the torture memo (conclusion: torture might not violate the law after all, surprise surprise), this doesn't exactly inspire confidence:
The authorization I issued was that anything we did would conform to U.S. law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations," Bush told reporters at the G8 Summit.
Asked whether he has seen the memos, Bush replied, "I can't remember if I've seen the memo or not." But he reiterated that he had instructed that the treatment of terror suspects stay within U.S. and international laws.
For extra credit, discuss: did Bush mean that de dicto or de re?
The real Democratic National Convention.
Oops: simultaneous posts.
I speak, you see, of the Democratic National Convention.
I noted earlier that there's a puzzle concerning the special obligations of medical professionals absent general moral concerns. Another instance is here, in a discussion of physicians' role in executions:
Many of the states that encourage doctors to participate in executions have seemingly contradictory laws that allow doctors to be disciplined by state medical boards for violating codes of medical ethics. Those codes almost universally forbid participation in executions.
The American Medical Association's ethics code, for instance, says that "a physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution."
Strange that the role-based obligations-- doctors may never end life-- would trump general moral concerns (if we're assuming that executions are justified). Of course, there are scolds:
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the director of health research for the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, said Dr. Rao and others like him [i.e., doctors who assist in executions] should be disciplined. "The state medical boards should just yank the licenses of these people," Dr. Wolfe said.
I have a hunch that this is a completely ineffective way to end capital punishment, but it is a fairly good way to produce botched executions.
Weren't the eliminations really arbitrary? The old I-beat-cancer guy had two predictable jokes, and he stays on. The female half of the husband-and-wife team had like half a joke, and she stays on. Crazy. And where's Adam Ace?
Ogged linked to this Balkin post, which details the legal argument from the Torture Memo. But I wanted to admire its craftsmanship in more loving detail. A shorter, sloppier version of the Balkin account:
1. Laws against torture interfere with the CINC's constitutional authority.
2. Hence, either these laws should be construed to be compatible with the CINC's authority to engage in creative interrogation, or these laws are unconstitutional.
3. Thus the CINC is not bound by these laws.
4. Those acting on the CINC's orders can invoke the 'just following orders' defense unless they know or should have known that the orders were unlawful.
5. But there's good reason--i.e., this argument-- to believe (3); hence those following orders have at least reasonable doubt about the illegality of their actions.
6. So those following the CINC's orders are not legally culpable.
7. So close your eyes and think of Lyndie England.
What I really love about this is the way the theorizing changes the data. The argument creates doubts about the legal status of actions then uses those doubts to argue that the actions are not clearly illegal. It's a bit like creationists creating the appearance of controversy in order to say, "look! there's controversy about this! teach the disagreement!" Very shrewd.
"I used a 20-pound brick of uranium as a doorstop in my office," [said] American nuclear physicist Peter D. Zimmerman, of King's College in London....
"It's the equivalent of blowing up lead," said physicist Ivan Oelrich of the Federation of American Scientists.
[Uranium] slowly radiates weak alpha particles, which don't even penetrate skin.Expect a clarification from the Attorney General any day now...
But let me add just one simple point: If America ceases to be a free country, you won't necessarily notice. It won't smell different, dark clouds won't gather on the horizon, the roads will remain open, movies will still play in the theaters, and television will, most assuredly, stay on.
Like the mass of people who lived in the Soviet Union, or who are now living in Iran, you'll go about your business, making accommodations, and trying to get by. In fact, in Iran, you can easily hop in your car, go all across the country, camp where you like, build big fires, leave a mess, and drive like the devil. In many ways, there are far fewer regulations there. But we rightly call it a repressive society because of the way it treats dissenters and the accused, and because there is little accountability and limited democracy.
We're a long way from a mullacracy in the U.S., but we're definitely closer to being one than we were a few years ago, and, I'll say it again: what's most disturbing is how many people are unperturbed. And what those who are upset should understand is that, contrary to what we think we know in our bones, there aren't many effective arguments from self-interest in favor of freedom. Being free just isn't a matter of convenience, and being unfree isn't necessarily inconvenient. It's a matter of principle, and of pride. I don't think many people care about the principle, but, for a couple of hundred years, Americans have been fiercely, even violently, proud of being free. Are they still?
The "torture memo" is (rightly) getting a lot of attention. But this post by Jack Balkin is particularly helpful, because it adduces historical examples of arguments made by other presidents in times of crisis, and shows that there isn't a simple choice between unfettered and putatively infallible presidential power on the one hand, and a hamstrung executive on the other. Definitely worth reading.
Also, Balkin is pissed.
Just in case you thought we were in Iraq for the Iraqis and not for the oil, look what happens when a major oil pipeline in Iraq is destroyed by saboteurs:
Saboteurs blew up an important oil pipeline Wednesday, forcing authorities to cut output on the national power grid by 10 percent, police and Iraqi officials said.... Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told Dow Jones Newswires that the attack would not affect exports from the northern oil fields. However, Jihad said the blast cut supplies to the Beiji electric power station, forcing a reduction of 400 megawatts.
Admittedly, I'm no expert in the logistics of oil transport. Still, it has the unmistakable odor of the crew of the Titanic telling the steerage passengers that they have to wait patiently until Billy Zane & co get their share of the lifeboats. Crises make it clear what everybody's real priorities are.
How was it that a man who could out-debate Kennedy was soon to be described as a moron?
First, Reagan is 56 during this debate (and already using his position as the "oldest one" present to give homespun advice). He wouldn't be elected president for another thirteen years, when he was 69. It's quite likely that the Reagan we had as president just didn't have the faculties of the Reagan on display here.
Second, and perhaps consequent on the first point, Reagan and his handlers quite deliberately projected an image of a hands-off father-figure, partly because that made his age and manner an asset, partly to distinguish him from Carter and Bush, and partly because they were just grasping the benefits of low expectations that the Bushes would use to such great advantage later.
That said, I think it's clear that Reagan was certainly not a "moron," and in addition to not making the charge because it's not true, we also shouldn't make it because it obscures the fact that the current president is unique in his stupidity.
Do you know what America needs? Fans of Rocky Horror will think, "a full-time president! and a full-time vice president!" But that's not what I mean. I'm talking about
Or so I think-- but add your voice to the mix at the American Family Association poll. I'm surprised they keep doing this-- it keeps working out badly for them.
Lord, save me from winding up in Sherry's phonebook.
It would be terribly boring and confusing if I had to page through six "Dan"s and three "Andrew"s and four "Liz"s and five "Steve"s to call someone. So I use nicknames wherever I can, and sometimes the person who has been nicknamed doesn't even know. It makes scrolling through my cell phone a giggle, too: A Plus Burn, Agent 4 Shoe, Bean, Boogie Nicole, Catfish, Dool, Dan517, Duck, Fang, Harp, Luke Skywalker, Meatwhistle, Mighty Mo, Notorious BLT, Pinky, and Scootie Mc are all in there....
I don't even want to know.
Bob links one fat-revisionist strain currently making the rounds: that only the really fat are getting fatter, while most people are staying the same. There's another quite interesting argument: Being fat isn't really bad for you, and fat has been used by researchers as a proxy for what really is bad for you: lack of fitness due to lack of activity. According to Paul Campos, people who are fat but active are likely to be healthy, and healthier than those who happen to thin, but are inactive. It makes a lot of sense, and the details are worth reading.
On a related note, in comments, rc points us to this nifty graph of votes by state in the last presidential election, plotted according to levels of obesity.
campos links via volokh
2. They now have Dri-Weave t-shirts.
3. You need to lose a few pounds. (But maybe not?)
As a follow-up to today's must-read link, here's the full Wall Street Journal article. Really, you have to read the whole thing. Flabbergasting.
Also see Billmon on this.
Here's something nicely done. A thoroughly Foucauldian book review that doesn't mention Foucault and doesn't sound like pomo nonsense.
Look at this graph of presidential approval ratings, Carter-Bush2, superimposed for easy reading. Fascinating, not just for the Clinton/Reagan comparison-- look at the eerie Bush 1,2 parallels at 2.25.
Graphs are cool.
No, that's not why. But this post is an interesting collection of responses to Reagan's passing.
The charges that seem right: (a) fiscal mismanagement, with possible nefarious intent*; (b) Central American foreign policy disasters; (c) AIDS under-reaction; (d) Iran-Contra. Seriously, defend if you're inclined, or point to defenses.
*starve-the-beast strikes me as a strategic appeal to the very worst features of the electorate. An honest policy disagreement is one thing, but this is quite another.
This paragraph, from the NYT editorial page, is half-right:
When Ronald Reagan was elected, the institution of the presidency and the nation itself seemed to be laboring under a large dark cloud. Into the middle of this malaise came a most improbable chief executive — a former baseball announcer, pitchman for General Electric, Hollywood bon vivant and two-term California governor with one uncomplicated message: There was no problem that could not be solved if Americans would only believe in themselves. At the time, it was something the nation needed to hear. Today, we live in an era defined by that particular kind of simplicity, which expresses itself in semi-detached leadership and a black-and-white view of the world. Gray is beginning to look a lot more attractive.
UPDATE: Norman Fine, of Sewell, NJ, takes a different view:
I am 86 years old and have seen many politicians come and go. Ronald Reagan was one of the very few I respected. Most of the others, Republican and Democrat, are windbags.
President Reagan was a simple man who was guided unerringly by two core truths: Communism was evil; America was good. And that made him a great man.
Who edits the NYT letters page? Andy Rooney?
This one is going out to the Heideggerians in the audience (I think there are one or two of you). It's from an article about Whole Foods. Smile or cringe as your mood dictates.
A number of years ago, Mackey and his team bet on a big idea: that mainstream Americans, even those with only the vaguest concerns about the integrity of the agribusiness food chain, would decide that it made sense to pay more for better food -- that is, food with ''whole'' and ''natural'' ingredients, sold by a purveyor they felt confident about -- just as they would pay more for better cars or kitchen cabinets. Harvey Hartman, head of a Seattle-based consumer marketing group who does work for Whole Foods, attributes the payoff of that bet partly to something he calls retrieval: in a society brimming with the ersatz and the inauthentic, where consumers increasingly attempt to save what's soulful from disappearing cultural traditions, Whole Foods' premodern authenticity, or its appearance of premodern authenticity, presents an opportunity to reclaim meaning.
1. Jesus, they're quoting David Broder.
2. Where did that style of political writing disappear to? It's smart, and snarky, and opinionated, and assumes that its readers are smart, and will get it, and know the facts.
Wait, you mean this wasn't the original?
With Mr. Neely's gravelly narration, the movie's tone shifts into darkly comic, pop-culture-savvy territory. Hagrid, Harry Potter's giant, hairy friend, becomes Hagar, the Horrible, and Harry's fat cousin becomes Roast Beefy. As imagined by Mr. Neely, the three main characters are child alcoholics with a penchant for cognac, the magical ballgame Quidditch takes on homoerotic overtones, and Harry is prone to delivering hyper-dramatic monologues. "I am a destroyer of worlds," bellows Mr. Neely at one point, sending laughter reverberating through the warehouse Friday night. "I am Harry" expletive "Potter!"
This story is double-cool. First, because they might have found the lost city of Atlantis, but also because the best way to figure out if what they're seeing is Atlantis is how closely it matches what Plato wrote about it, some 2500 years ago.
The sizes of the "island" and its rings in the satellite image are slightly larger than those described by Plato. There are two possible explanations for this, says Dr Kuehne.
First, Plato may have underplayed the size of Atlantis. Secondly, the ancient unit of measurement used by Plato - the stade - may have been 20% larger than traditionally assumed.
If the latter is true, one of the rectangular features on the "island" matches almost exactly the dimensions given by Plato for the temple of Poseidon.
The features were originally spotted by Werner Wickboldt, a lecturer and Atlantis enthusiast who studied photographs from across the Mediterranean for signs of the city described by Plato.
The definitive obituary from biographer Lou Cannon.
Worthwhile reflections from bloggers:
And someone needs to mention AIDS.
(No speaking ill of the dead in the comments; though discussion of policy is welcome.)