September 28, 2003

The Corruption of the Big Conscience

This is just sublime. Read the whole thing, by Mark Steyn.


Which brings us, as most things do, to Iraq. In the last few weeks, almost all the big NGOs -- nongovernmental organizations -- have pulled out of the country, either partially or totally: Oxfam, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders ... Is it dangerous? Maybe. When I was in Iraq earlier this year, I detected a good deal of resentment at the NGO big shots swanking around like colonial grandees in their gleaming Cherokees and Suburbans. But Iraq's a good deal less dangerous than, say, Liberia, where drugged-up gangs roam the streets killing at random, and the humanitarian lobby -- Big Consciences -- is happy to stay on.

What's different is the political agenda. The humanitarian touring circuit is now the oldest established permanent floating crap game. Regions such as West Africa, where there's no pretense anything will ever get better, or the Balkans, which are maintained by the U.N. as the global equivalent of a slum housing project, suit the aid agencies perfectly: There's never not a need for them. But in Iraq they've decided they're not interested in staying to see the electric grid back up to capacity and the water system improved if it's an American administration at the helm. The Big Consciences have made a political decision: that it's not in their interest for the Bush crowd to succeed, and that calculation outweighs any concern they might have for the Iraqi people.

I have this theory that the NGOs really didn't start out this crazy. I know people in Doctors Without Borders who, although they cheat on their wives with ther brother's wife... oh, never mind. I forgot what I was gonna say. It was a touchin' family saga, though.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Review of Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism

Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism might very well be the first "great" book of the 21st Century, since it's probably the first book that really captures what the 20th Century was about, and what we have carried over into the 21st as unfinished business. But the book may not get the attention it deserves, because it isn't a very scholarly work. It manages to discuss totalitarianism without referencing Hannah Arendt even once, and it doesn't have so much as a minimal Index. What it has, instead, is a coherent thesis. Consider the following passage:

He [Albert Camus] had noticed a modern impulse to rebel, which had come out of the French Revolution and the nineteenth century and had very quickly, in the name of an ideal, mutated into a cult of death. And the ideal was always the same, though each movement gave it a different name. It was not skepticism and doubt. It was the ideal of submission. (p. 46)

This is an enormous insight, and to be frank it does not appear with such clarity in Arendt's work. Toward the end of her massive treatise, The Origins of Totalitarianism, she writes:

What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century. The merciless process into which totalitarianism derives and organizes the masses looks like a suicidal escape from this reality. The "ice-cold reasoning" and the "mighty tentacle" of dialectics which "seizes you as in a vise" appears like a last support in a world where nobody is reliable and nothing can be relied upon. It is the inner coercion whose only content is the strict avoidance of contradictions that seems to confirm a man's identity outside all relationships with others. It fits him into the iron band of terror even when he is alone, and totalitarian domination tries never to leave him alone except in the extreme situation of solitary confinement. By destroying all space between men and pressing men against each other, even the productive potentialities of isolation are annihilated; by teaching and glorifying the logical reasoning of loneliness where man knows that he will be utterly lost if ever he lets go of the first premise from which the whole process is being started, even the slim chances that loneliness may be transformed into solitude and logic into thought are obliterated. If this practice is compared with that of tyranny, it seems as if a way had been found to set the desert itself in motion, to let loose a sand storm that could cover all parts of the inhabited earth.

But this explanation seems grossly inadequate coming at the end of nearly 500 pages that recount the crimes of Nazism and Stalinism. Surely the notion that it's all a matter of loneliness appeals to a sense of profound irony, but couldn't we all just get a puppy? Even though, as I read this passage some 25 years ago, I was inclined to intone it with reverence it still rang a bit hollow. This was the payoff for all that scholarly zeal and industry? This? Somehow I didn't feel that she had quite "got it."

Moreover, Arendt never makes the connection between terror as an organizing principle for a 20th Century form of government, and terrorism as a strategy of totalitarian movements that happen to be out of power. And so she did, in fact, miss a big piece of the puzzle. While it is true that lonely people might be more likely to adopt an ideology of submission, it's a bit thin as an explanation for Auschwitz.

And of course even if Arendt had not completely missed the seeding of the Middle East with the totalitarian ideas of the Nazis and the Stalinists, she still would never have guessed that Islam itself could become the excuse for such a movement. She, herself, had been a product of the German Counter-enlightenment. Her mentor, Martin Heidegger, made a vain bid to become the philosopher of National Socialism, and would have succeeded had not the Nazis been too clever. So the common thread that runs through the writings of the Ba'ath founder, Michael Aflaq, and the Islamist founder, Sayyid Qutb, ought to have been well known to her, and yet she never seems to have perceived the role that this movement played in nearly all manifestations of totalitarianism.

So if Berman lacks some background, he yet manages to perceive a common thread that others missed. And he stands as the first to make this leap. Well, perhaps not the first because I haven't yet read Daniel Pipes. But even today people don't appear to see the connection between Jurgen Habermas' "Lifeworld vs. System World" typology, inherited from Husserl and Heidegger, and the philosophy of Qutb, which simply maps the same concepts into the religious framework of Islam. Like Arendt the philosophers argue that man has become alienated from his own nature, whether through the "false consciousness" of Karl Marx or by our "deluded faith in the power of reason," producing the "tyranny of technology over life." So it doesn't seem strange for Arendt to see totalitarianism as caused by the same sort of malady that Qutb frets over, and to identify loneliness or alienation as the culprit. Of course, it had to be.

There is not such a great distance, philosophically, between Qutb's "hideous schizophrenia" of modern life, and the nostalgic longing for the "Lebenswelt" that drives much of modern European philosophy. The real difference lies mostly in the object of submission, and a certain adolescent permissiveness in the modern European model.

But Liberalism did not evolve as a cure for the condition of mankind. It evolved as a cure for the tendency of mankind to become dogmatic. Hence it looks nothing like a cure for our deepest longings. It is not a way to perfect humanity. One side sees the human condition as tragically fragmented, and seeks a remedy in unity by merging with some transcendent principle or authority. The other sees the remedy as the problem, and seeks to balance the fragments into relatively stable spheres of influence. So ultimately any perspective that sees unity as inherently plural (and minimally "two") must be more or less liberal, while any perspective that can't tolerate the two-ness of unity is probably more or less anti-liberal. Totalitarian ideologies, for all their talk of dialectics, are rooted in a static view of nature and mankind. Liberalism allows that duality must be essential, and natural, and therefore not a source of existential consternation.

Berman reflects this simple insight in his critique of Noam Chomsky, whom he views as "the last of the 19th Century rationalists." But this analysis, though informative, doesn't quite capture the slipperiness of Chomsky, whose philosophy is ultimately counter-rational. While Chomsky does, in fact, tend to see the world in the simplistic terms of a "greed vs. freedom" dialectic, his real problem is that he simply has no response to calamity. To him it's a struggle between good and evil, but the evil is just everyday greed. And, of course, the greedy don't deserve a hearing. Liberalism allows for the fact that humans harbor conflicting impulses within the same individual at the same time. If there were no internal conflicts choice would be unproblematic, and life would be pretty bland.

Berman is probably more clear about totalitarianism than liberalism, which may be why his great book ultimately reaches a sort of impasse.

The whole of the Muslim world has been overwhelmed by German philosophies from long ago--the philosophies of revolutionary nationalism and totalitarianism, cannily translated into Muslim dialects. Let the Germans go door to door throughout the region, issuing a product recall.(p. 208)

But it's not clear that the Germans are even aware of the problem, let alone that they caused the trouble themselves. It isn't the Germans, but the Americans, who recognize the necessity. It's the American faith that the sovereignty of others means security for themselves that's exceptional. And it's their willingness to fight for that principle, that makes a future without either totalitarianism or terrorism even conceivable. And perhaps we need to be as canny as those Germans were, about communicating the antidote.

Ultimately the problem lies in the habit of wishful thinking that afflicts most of America's historical allies, and some of its own deluded clan. Without any capacity to confront calamity the natural tendency is to deny it. Pretend it doesn't exist, or is an exaggeration, and you need not change your worldview, or your mind. (But you may be obligated to hate the bearer of bad tidings.) Thus we find Chomsky's obsessive unwillingness to be impressed by 9/11, an attitude also affected by Michael Moore and even Derrida and Habermas, recently. It's a sort of false bravado that takes refuge in subtly deceptive hermeneutic constructions, or outright lies, and insists that the analysis of text is indistinguishable from the analysis of reality. And it's only this reluctance to lock the horns of the dilemma that represents the impasse. How could there be any problem that can't be resolved by a trick of the tongue, or the eye? Oh, I mean by revealing the tricks, of course. It was all just a trick of the eye that day in early September. Don't be alarmed.

But thanks to Berman's eloquence we are able to see beyond such pretense. We are at last able to perceive clearly the continuity of the monster that replaced chattel slavery as the world's consummate evil, and is destined to one day join it at the top of the ash heap. It is alarming. But not beyond us.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:41 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

September 25, 2003

Chicago Boyz: The Anti-Anti-Americans

Chicago Boyz: The Anti-Anti-Americans. This is a rousing discussion of that other side of French culture, the side that's represented by Bodine, Montesque and Tocqueville during the age of revolution, and by the Third Force of Leon Blum during the World War and Cold War eras, and by Berard-Henri Levy, Jean-Francois Revel, Andre Glucksmann, and Bernard Kouchner in the current phase of the anti-Liberal Rebellion. It makes one remember what there was to love about La Belle.

And after all, there's still the Paris-Brest-Paris and the Tour de France.

Posted by Demosophist at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2003

Not Science Fiction: An Elevator to Space

Not Science Fiction: An Elevator to Space

Well it's a Fulleresque vision, but like so many possibilities it may have to wait until the human tendancy to terrorize and vandalize wanes a bit. I can't imagine a target more tempting than a multi-billion dollor, 23,000 mile high tower. But it does give us a reason beyond mere self protection to put an end to the totalitarian mindset that lies behind mass terrorism. After that, the sky is no longer the limit, and we can just catch a lift out of the Great Gravity Canyon. Why not?

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Andrew's Question

Clark/Kerry Case


The question for Clark and Kerry is therefore: where do you disagree with Blair? If Blair came to the conclusion that there was no way that the French were prepared to sign on to serious enforcement of 1441, why does Clark think otherwise? Is he simply saying that he would have had superior diplomatic skills and talked Chirac around? Superior to Blair's and Powell's? I think history will judge that there was no way on earth that France would ever have acceded to serious enforcement of 1441 by Western arms, under any circumstances. If that's true, would Clark and Kerry have acceded to Paris and called the war off? If so, they should say so. But it would have been a huge blow to American credibility, deterrence and the war on terror. And since they favored the process whereby the French were given a veto, what exactly did the Bush administration do wrong? I wish I knew.

Here's a suggestion. Suppose we had simply insisted, loudly and embarassingly, in the strict observance of 1441 regarding the U2 overflights? Blix had established the preposterous situation, acceding to the request of the Iraqis, that all overflights be announced ahead of time, and that there only be one U2 in the air at a time. Suppose we had insisted on a flexible schedule, no prior warning, and multiple flights? The other members of the security council would then either have blocked us publicly, revealing that they had no intention of actually holding to the spirit of 1441, or they'd have allowed such a schedule of U2 flights. The strategy would have required enormous courage on the part of the U2 pilots, because they'd surely have been shot down sooner or later, but at least it would have been Saddam who commited a blatant act of war, and the French would have been hard pressed to ignore the implications. I can't see that we even attempted such a gambit, even though it was perfectly obvious that we had such an option available. It's hard to argue that the absence of such a ploy was anything other than a glaring mistake.

Not that Clark has even indicated he preceived such a possibility, and he certainly never raised it at the time.

Addendum: Not that anyone has pointed it out, but the only reason I can think of for not at least trying the spyplane gambit would be if Saddam weren't capable of shooting down such a plane. And that's not really a reason for not doing it. It's just a possible reason why it might not have worked as a Saddam-supplied justification for the war.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Political Paranoia

Clifford D. May makes a few quick points about opposition to the US in Europe and the Middle East in: First and Second Thoughts on...


MEMRI reports that the Arabic language satellite television station, al Arabiya, covered the 9/11 anniversary, by repeating the charge that the CIA or the Mossad was behind the attacks. Al Jazeera – generally regarded as an even more radical satellite TV station -- tackled the same theme with a debate between American scholar Jonathan Schanzer and Theirry Meyssan, French author of the book: “The Appalling Fraud,” which also claims that the US government carried out the 9/11 attacks. MEMRI reports that a poll conducted at the beginning of the show found that 74% of viewers believed Meyssan. By the end of the show, the number believing Meyssan's charge that the US had committed the atrocities of 9/11 had risen to 87%.

There appears to be something like a virtual consensus within the Arab Middle East that the 9/11 attack was perpetrated by the US in order to justify imperialist ambitions. In my own experience I'd say that a large part of the European population believes this as well. I think we have to take this seriously, but I'm not sure what it means. I don't see how one can carry on a rational dialogue with people amenable to this sort of distortion. What can you say? Whether we like it or not it makes a good deal of sense to simply regard them as enemies. But perhaps there are subclassifications of enemies? Jerrold Post makes the observation, in Political Paranoia that Hitler tapped into a lie that fit into the collective German psyche like a key in a lock. What we are confronted with in the Middle East, and to a lesser extent in Europe, are populations that are open to a certain kind of suggestion, leading to a group psychosis. One might call these populations "enemies in waiting," and the question is: "What sort of response is appropriate?" The mechanism that made Germans open to such an aggressive suggestion was a "status gap," between what they believed ought to be their due (as, for instance, the inventors of the modern university system) and their actual status after their defeat in WWI and the ravages of the hyperinflation and depression of the 1920s and 30s. The Middle East clearly has such a status gap now, which in turn provides an opportunity for exploitation of a group psychosis. Even the French have such a gap, which partly explains their "gambit."

So the question is, how do we deal with such "enemies in waiting?" It seems to me that they require a strategy at least as determined as, but far more sophisticated than, the one employed against active enemies like the Ba'ath or Al Qaeda. And even though engagement seems to fuel the paranoia, I submit that disengagement would allow it to grow like a cancer. I fear that if I attribute an effective strategy to the Bush Administration at this point I may be indulging in wishful thinking... and there's way too much of that already. I don't think Bush has such a strategy. It is something that the Democrats might be better at than the Republicans... but alas we have no mechanism in the US that would allow the establishment of a coalition or "unity" government. And even though I believe the Democrats more capable in this area I see little evidence of such expertise in their various platforms. They appear to be clueless, so far.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2003

There Are Some Real Conspiracies

Here's a fascinating WSJ article on the origins of that man of peace and freedom, Yassir Arafat. - The KGB's Man . Thanks again to Andrew Sullivaan for pointing to it. This isn't so much a "conspiracy" as a strategy seeking to take advantage of the gullibility of the European and American Left's "anti-Zionism and anti-Imperialism." I wonder how many people know that Arafat isn't even Palestinian either by ethnicity or place of birth. I think it's clear that there won't be any progress on a Palestinian/Israeli settlement until Arafat is pushing up daisies.

I haven't triangulated this information, so I have some doubts about its authenticity, but it does "fit." And it does establish Arafat as a cultivated hothouse totalitarian flower of evil.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

Big Ideas, from FDD

Clifford D. May, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy has a provocative article discussing a few ideas that may be too big for a presidential campaign. Or not. The ones I like the best are "stop funding terrorism" (Isn't this obvious?), "develop a nation-building corps (Isn't this...etc.?), and "reform the UN" (as in, they don't call it the "un-government" for nothing).

I, in turn, have a little idea that might just grow into a big one: lets launch a network of 24/7 forums analogous to Jeffersons' "little republics" that do nothing but develop, brainstorm, promote, and teach the principles of nation-building and maintenance. My God, it could lead to demosophia!

And would someone teach George W. Bush how to play politics, for God's sake?

Posted by Demosophist at 11:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wes Clark's Blog

Here's a fancy schmancy new Wes Clark Web Log, that's linked to the Wesley Clark for President website, but apparently not only has no affiliation with the Wesley Clark for President Campaign, but contains not a single word typed by the inimitable General's fingers.

Leadership, Character, Courage

What left is there to say? I'm astonied.

There's more on Prince Andrew's Blog about the cynicism behind, and in front of, the Clark campaign

Posted by Demosophist at 10:34 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Glass Is Half Full and the Lamp Half Lit.

I was without power for three days, during which my allergies just about floored me, my food all spoiled, and I got really depressed. But I was recovering, my head was clearing, the coughing and post-nasal catastrophe were waning, and I was watching the FOX channel interview the Pres, when suddenly THE LIGHTS WENT OFF AGAIN!!!

But this time there are two outlets in the house that continue to work: the one that powers my computer; and the one that powers my refrigerator. Is this weird or what? I had to run an extension cord to my ADSL modem, but I'm connected and have food... so God is good. But what is this? I have to figure that one of the local lines servicing the apartment complex where I live must have been weakened by the trees that were leaning on it until Dominion Virginia Power sawed them away. And either the rain that's been falling for a couple of hours shorted it out, or it finally broke with a gust of wind..

Well, the lamp is half lit. How much more can one ask?

I hope the Pres gave a good account of himself.

Posted by Demosophist at 08:58 PM | Comments (1)

September 18, 2003

The Whining Clown: A Review of Bowlng for Columbine

The following is my contribution to the growing collection of critical reviews of Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, the most broadly known work in the excitingly popular new field of "whining-clown political commentary." This first section recounts my impressions as I watched the movie, but to be honest I just gave up trying to make sense of the thing after the whacky American History Cartoon. The second section of the review involves a more fundamental question about the work: the film is not about social violence in the US, but is an attempt to hijack that issue in order to borrow some legitimacy for what is basically an anti-liberal and anti-American agenda.

So the CD opens with a black and white sequence about bowling and a queston depicted in large block letters: "Are we a country of gun nuts? Or are we just nuts?" And while you might expect the film to have some answer to that question by time the credits roll you'll find that there isn't much substance, either to the question or the answer. The film is designed to reinforce and amplify prejudices, and it has no intention of enlightening along the way. Moreover, this is far from the only deception in this "documentary."

Another false impression I adopted by assuming Moore had some conception of substance was to buy into the premise implied by the title of the film, that it would have something to do with Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone. Putnam's thesis is that "associational life" in America is declining. In fact Francis Fukuyama touches on this theme as a possible explanation for the growth in homicides and murders, in his book The Great Disruption. But in fact, as controversial as Putnam's theories are (and some make a credible argument that Putnam has it wrong, and that the US is still far ahead of most industrialized nations in both the quality and quantity of its associations), Moore doesn't seem nostalgic for a lost America of bowling clubs. The title is a mere pretense. Moore seems to be arguing, in his characteristically muddled way, that whatever is wrong with America was always wrong with America. Just a little more so, now.

If you couldn't tell that he hates "The United States of America" simply by the mocking tone he uses for the words in the overture to the film, you might guess as he inexplicably refers to the "bombing of another country whose name we can't pronounce" as just another mundane activity in an ordinary day in the good old USA, during the opening montage. So, is it? Just another activity in an ordinary day? Are we that jaded and evil? Isn't it the case that the bombing in Eastern Europe was designed to frustrate and halt the persecution of Muslims, because the Western Europeans shrugged off the genocide? If that's an ordinary day for us, then what the heck is up with France and the other enlightened Euros, who can't be troubled to oppose genocide in their own back yard? Is this the sort of reform that Moore suggests we emulate here? Is this what would earn his approval? I can think of only four instances where we might have bombed a country recently, and I'm not tongue-tied pronouncing their names. Somalia (though not really 'bombed") and Afghanistan are four syllables to be sure, but my three-year-old nephew can pronounce them just fine. And the Sudan and Iraq are only two really simple syllables. I think my neighbor's dog can bark them, without much coaching. So who is Michael talking to, and mightn't they need speech therapy?

I'm 12 minutes into the movie when Nichols gives his "blood in the streets" speech... at which point Moore makes the eminently reasonable suggestion that a nonviolent approach might be more effective. OK, this actually looks sincere. (It is, I think, one of the few sincere moments in the movie.) I mean, I'm not prepared to see Nichols as a typical American, so as long as Moore doesn't require me to make that leap I'm alright with hanging the mass murderer's brother out to dry. But, is this a movie about nutcases? I thought it was about social violence? Oh yeah, that opening queston "Or are we just nuts?" So, I guess I am required to make the leap that Nichols is, in some sense, a typical American. Nope, I don't buy it. I know a few nuts like him, but only a very few. And my grandfather was Cattleman of the Year, and I have an in-law who was Cowboy of the Year, more than once. Well, I take that back. I really don't know anyone as crazy as Nichols. I've just heard about them. So if crazy people like that are rare in cowboy country, I have to assume they're not crawling out of the woodwork on every streetcorner.

The first 10 minutes of the film have been nothing much, beyond an odd little episode in the bank, and an absurdly cute master-murdering pooch. The scenes in the barber shop and with the militia might actually be sort of endearing. The whole thing might serve as a runup to a decent documentary that seriously investigates America's violence, without denigrating the whole society, except for Moore's ridiculously condescending tone of voice as he tediously telegraphs every not-so-carefully-crafted irony. It's as though he expects his audience to be composed of children, or adults too stoned to know what day it is. So, who is he talking to? This is about as heavy handed a treatment of humor as I have ever seen. Why do we even need the sophomoric voiceover to begin with? It's decidedly unfunny. He needs to scrutinize more SNL, or Monty Python. And The Kids in the Hall would be way over his head. Funny? To whom? This got an Academy Award? This??

Twenty minutes into the film and he drives home the fact that Nichols is nuts by having him expose the weapon he hides under his pillow. And there are some "troubled teens" like Brent and DJ with their Anarchists Cookbook, from Oskoda, Michigan where "the planes that dropped 20% of all the bombs dropped in the Gulf War took off from." What does this have to do with social violence? I mean, other than the simple-minded connection that the US is a violent war mongering country that communicates those war mongering values to its youth, who happen to live in the vicinity of military bases. Oh... I get it. Yeah, that's subtle. Real subtle. Like an elbow in the eye.

But what about Eric and what's his name's home life? I mean, if IQ differences are mainly produced by child rearing practices and other risk factors in the home, as researchers like David J. Armor contend, then why are we looking at towns with military bases as the cause of social violence? My cousins grew up on military bases, not just near them, and their religious training and other in-home values made them peaceful, creative and loving people, with a father who was a war hero to whom Ernie Pyle devoted the better part of a chapter in Brave Men. My cousin, Bruce Talkington, won an Emmy for children's cartoons he produced for Disney, including Winnie the Pooh. Why isn't there a theory that military bases produce creative genius, and loving people?

Anyway, apparently Mike's environment didn't produce a great social theorist. And film genius is in the eye of the beholder. Which reminds me, who does Mike have in mind as this film's beholders, because he sure employs that kindergarten-teacher voice modulation as though he's afraid we'll miss something. I've never seen an artist with less faith in his audience.

Next comes another video montage that shifts seamlessly from people firing guns in recreational settings to a sudden and shocking presentation of people (one presumes Americans) commiting suicide and murder. So what's the theory? That recreational gun use leads to suicide and murder? Is this an anti-gun movie again?

Littleton, CO. A scene at Lockheed Martin. And Michael says of the Lockheed executive he's about to interview, again using that incredulous kindergarten-teacher voice: "He told us that no one in Littleton, including the executives at Lockheed, could figure out why the boys at Columbine had resorted to violence." I thought we didn't know that? Are we supposed to take his theory about the military-social violence connection for granted now? When did he establish that? He implied it a lot, asserted it a few times, but did he ever bother to provide the slightest evidence? And immediately following this clumsily revealing voiceover he asks the execucive if he doesn't think the kids "say to themselves, well gee Dad goes off to the factory every day and, you know, he built missiles, uhh..., these were weapons of mass destruction. What's the difference between that mass destruction, and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?" Note the "uhh" as he transitions from "missiles" to "weapons of mass destruction." Is it possible he knows that this Lockheed Martin plant DOESN'T MAKE MISSILES THAT CARRY WARHEADS? In fact, if he had any doubt he could just lift his eyes a little to see a partially obscured banner on the wall refering to the factory's space exploration mission. The poor Lockheed executive looks more than perplexed. It's as though he's thinking to himself: "Well, why didn't you ask me if I see a connection between Lockheed's space projects and the science program at Columbine High?" That, at least, would have made sense.

And then we suddenly shift from that blatant misrepresentation to war scenes of people being shot and civilians being brutally murdered, with some more not-so-subtle subtitles listing America's crimes of complicity in such atrocities, as Louis Armstrong's gravelly voice sings, in the background, It's a Wonderful World. This is just like a Lina Wertmuller movie! What subtlety and profundity! But could you just try to make sense, Mike? I mean, sure, we know you think America is a crappy war mongering country, and lets assume you haven't misrepresented anything with the subtitled information. Let's assume that most of this stuff didn't have the cold war context that you've conspicuously omitted. Let's assume there was no context, and we allowed things like this to happen for no reason. Let's assume that some of it, like the bombing of Kosovo or the establishment of the No Fly Zones in Iraq, were not successful campaigns that saved lives. Let's assume all of that. The thing is, Mikey, you haven't established any real link between any of that and the Columbine shooting. NONE WHATSOEVER. So what's up? What are you doing? Are we nuts, or are you?

Much has already been written about the way Moore deals with Charleton Heston, so I'll only point out that the way Moore juxtaposes the noncontiguous speeches taking place in Littleton, presented as though Heston were duelling with the relatives of the Columbine victims, is an obvious cheap shot, and simply a blatant destortion of reality. The events weren't contiguous, taking place months apart. And the interviews with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, are completely disingenuous. South Park is as irreverent toward the sort of self-congratulatory leftwing-bigotted politically correct rhetoric of Michael Moore and his followers as it is toward the small town mentality that Moore interviews them about. There's a growing group of self-confident conservatives that don't fall into the mold of ignorant nutcases like Nichols, that some have started to call "South Park Repubicans," because they appreciate the irreverent humor of Stone and Parker. And what's the point of this interview? Matt and Trey aren't his ideological kin. Is this relevant to the question of social violence, and if so in what way? Are we supposed to believe that the competition of getting into honors math drove Eric and Dillon to mass murder? The competitive pressure imposed on teens by adults? Seriously? I thought it was our foreign policy that did that to them? What is the social theory here? I'm confused? National Defense and competition for excellence cause mass murder? I mean, if this isn't just an ideological tract, what is it? An indictment of adults?

And again, most of the research into academic achievement suggests that what students bring to school, in the way of values and aptitudes they learned at home, is a lot more important than what they find when they get there. So we can probably just fire that pushy career counselor as long as we have parents who are competent at their job. Mightn't this also be true of other kinds of school behavior? So, why hasn't Michael devoted a single word to Eric and Dillon's home life? I guess it just doesn't fit his wrong-end-of-the-telescope social theories.

The interview with Marilyn Manson is interesting, and a lot more central to the social theory that's really at the core of the movie. According to Manson we're all being seduced by a "campaign of fear and consumption." (And even though he looks consumptive, he's not talking about tuberculosis.) According to Manson, if the powers that be can "keep everyone afraid" then "they'll consume." I guess he's just doing his part. But, in the first place I'm pretty sure that people who are afraid consume less than people who are secure, all else being equal. I know that a few people do impulse buying when they get nervous, but most people are fairly responsible. And anyway, if you really wanted to induce a behavior that helps the economy it'd probably be saving rather than consumption. And Marilyn does sorta make me want to put aside a little money for a rainy day.

But apart from that very fascinating question, does he mean there isn't anything to fear? Would it really just be "good times" if we didn't pay attention to the dangers in the world? Mightn't it be more accurate to say that neither Moore nor Manson, nor Chomsky for that matter, have any coherent response to calamity? So rather than deal with it directly they propose this sophomoric theory that it's all a plot to keep us buying soda pop?

Heck, I think I've finally figured out who the slow learners are that Moore is talking to as though he were a baby sitter. It's the folks that believe that sort of nonsense! It's the people that aren't paying attention enough to know that he hasn't done anything in this film but make implications, and even that only by way of radical distortions of reality as well as outright lies. And of course he has to use baby talk to make himself understood to such people. They clearly have a problem with plain English, and counting past ten.

Michael spends a lot of time shooting down various theories about what's wrong with Americans, in order to set up his thesis. And he ends this little obligatory segment with the central question, posed by the father of a Columbine victim: "What is it about us, that makes us so violent?" And they bat that question back and forth between them for awhile, like it's a tennis ball. If you had only just gotten off the turnip bus from Hollywood this morning, without having read any social science literature other than (possibly) Robert Putnam, you'd think there was some mystery. OK, let's assume there is for the moment. What does Mike propose?

What we get by way of a coherent theory is a completely idiotic little historical shiboleth, in the form of a cartoon. There's a long silly segment about the exploitation of the black population, during which he manages to not take notice of the fact that the folks Moore ought to most identify with, the folks who claimed there was nothing to fear in the 1860s and that Lincoln was just a Repubican War Monger (sound familiar), WOULD HAVE BEEN PERFECTLY HAPPY TO LEAVE A FEW MILLION BLACK PEOPLE IN THE GRIP OF CHATTEL SLAVERY FOR A FEW MORE GENERATIONS. Had George McClellan, the head of this anti-war movement, won the Presidential election of 1864 (as he nearly did), then slavery might have been prolonged until the turn of the century. But let's ignore that flat-earth quality of Mike's thesis that the US is ruled by irrational fear, and that the party would really get rolling in earnest if we were only a little less terrified. Let's pretend there's some merit to it, for the moment.
(see next section)

Posted by Demosophist at 12:16 AM | Comments (9)

Michael Moore's Central Thesis in BFC

What about Michael Moore's central thesis, expressed in Bowling for Columbine, that Americans are violent because they're afraid of their neighbors, of strangers, and of anyone who does't look or act like their white ethnic protestant friends? Well, there are two parts to this thesis. The first is that we are more violent than others, and the second is that the explanation has to do with our irrational fears and prejudices.

It's true that we're more violent than most other Western societies, though Moore vastly exaggerates that disparity by his sloppiness. If you compare homicide rates, rather than just gun homicide rates, you find that other cultures tend to substitute other means of dispatch for the missing guns, and just don't use guns as murder weapons as much as we do. They're more likely to stab you or whack you on the head with a lead pipe, or even poison you. But even with that adjustment we're still more violent than most countries, in terms of homicides (but not bulglaries or robberies, apparently).

So there is an apparent research question. The problem is, we have a perfectly good explanation already, an explanation that is widely if not universally accepted in political and social science. And this theory is explaned very coherently by S.M. Lipset in most of his books (see Continental Divide and American Exceptionalism: A Double-edged Sword). Moreover, this theory has the distinct advantage of elegance and simplicity, something that Moore's theory, shoe-horned into the ill-fitting boot of history, lacks. Americans are simply less deferent toward authority.

The big split between Canada and the US took place during the American Revolution, when Canada became the country of the Counter-revolution. If you visit the Old North Church in Boston you can read the placards dedicated to the Tory church-supporting families of the parrish who skedaddled to Canada when the revolution started. Many, if not most, didn't return. So as you look at the history of the two countries the difference becomes obvious. Where the hero of the American West was a gunslinger and outlaw, the hero of the Canadian West was a policeman. Canadians were told to switch from English to Metric, and they did. Americans were told to switch from English to Metric, and they didn't. Etc., etc. Furthermore this disparity is borne out by virtually all of the cross-national polling data on the topic, including some that I happened to conduct with Lipset in the '90s, administered by the Angus Ried Group.

So, the reasons why the US is more violent aren't mysterious. And that means that Moore is apparently dedicated to solving a riddle that isn't a riddle. Oh, there's a problem alright. The problem is: how do you reduce the violence that's a natural conseqence of low deference for authority without reducing the creativity and vitality of the culture? It's a dilemma that occupied the careers of some of the fathers of sociology, like Emile Durkheim. And the short version of the story is that there's a tradeoff that Europe resolves one way, and we another.

And there's another aspect of the problem that the great Senator and Social Scientist Daniel Patrick Moynihan tackled most of his life: the breakdown of family life. But this is a rich avenue of investigation that is conspicuously absent from Moore's little film project.

However, if Americans really are more fearful than other national groups, that still might explain some part of the problem. And it's certainly worth investigating that possibility, the little cartoon-historical-shiboleth notwithstanding. But (and this is about as big as "buts" get) Americans aren't more fearful. In fact, they're less likely to reject people as neighbors either for their race or their religion than the average European. There aren't a lot of cross-national surveys that investigate the specific question of bigotry, explained as fear of having a neighbor unlike yourself, but one that does is Ron Inglehart's World Values Survey, conducted by the University of Michigan in three waves in 1980, 1990 and 1995-6. And in the most recent wave the World Values Survey specifically asks a question designed to probe whether respondents are fearful about having neighbors in various ethnic or social categories, including a question about whether they'd be comfortabe with a Muslim or person of another race as a neighbor. As the table below shows, people in the US are less likely to reject a neighbor on the basis of either race or being a Muslim. Although Canada is at the bottom of both lists in terms of prejudice, only Spain is more accepting of Muslims amoung European nations than the US. And everyone is less fearful than the Belgians, especially with regard to our Islamic brethren. Ironic that Belgium includes the capital of the nascent Euro-nation.

So the question that arises from these data is not "Why is the US more prejudiced?" because it isn't. The question really is: "Why are Canada and Belgium so different?" In other words why is Canada so consistently accepting of other ethnicities and social groups, and why is Belgium so bigotted? I don't know, to be frank. But one theory that makes sense is that Canada can afford to be accepting, because it has the US as a neighbor. It's a bit like the kid who has the toughest biggest guy in school as a best friend. He can afford to be magnanimous. And Belgium has, historically, been surrounded by neighbors who periodically trample it underfoot, as they make a bid to conquer the European continent, a situation very close to the opposite of Canada's. It's just a theory. But it's a theory that makes a lot more sense than Michael Moore's theory that the US is a nation of 'fraidy cats. And although fear does lead to prejudice and mistrust it doesn't necessarily lead to social violence. The murder rate in Belgium isn't particularly high.

Table I
Q: On this list are various groups of people. Could you please sort out any that you would not like to have as neighbors? (Chi-square for the race and muslim tables are 370 and 388, respectively)
% who reject another RACE as neighbor.                          

% who reject MUSLIM as neighbor.    
Belgium 15.29 Belgium 26.65
Italy 09.74 France 17.47
Spain 09.20 Britain 16.37
Britain 08.73 W Germany 16.29
W Germany 08.07 Denmark 15.44
N Ireland 07.95 N Ireland 14.80
Netherlands 07.91 Italy 14.32
USA 07.87 Netherlands 14.06
France 06.86 Ireland 13.40
Ireland 06.31 USA 13.28
Denmark 05.06 Spain 11.72
Canada 04.36 Canada 10.35
Average 08.53 Average 15.25

So, if this sort of fearfulness were really the explanation for gun ownership and violence why aren't the Belgians armed to the teeth and shooting one another? Because they defer to authority..

In fact, as a general rule there are two things one can say about such nations:

1. They had, at one time or another, a centralized church that left in its wake an institutionalized deference for authority--a deference that ultimately transfered to the secular state as religiosity inevitably waned.

2. They also almost all have at least one relatively powerful and influencial socialist party.

And the US has never had either. Instead it has had competition between various religious sects, and a separation between Church and State that has, among other things, preserved a certain religiosity that waned long ago in Europe (except, for obvious reasons, in Ireland). And it has also had a two-party system that, according to H.G. Wells (who was also a historian), could easily fit ideologically within the British Labor Party. It has never had a viable socialist party, not even during the '30s era. And therein lies the real reason why Moore hates the US. It has nothing to do with social violence.

So, not only does Moore fail to appreciate that his research question already has at least one, and possibly two, elegant and broadly accepted answers, but he provides an unneccesary AND EMPIRICALLY UNTRUE explanation for the phenomenon.

And one has to ask what his agenda must be. Because it clearly isn't social violence.

So, what's the point of this movie, and why is he talking only to the stoners or children who are incapable of skepticism about his message? Well, let's ask Mike: "Michael, don't you really care about the Columbine shootings? Why did you make this movie, anyway? Simply to give your anti-American theories some sort of borrowed emotional legitimacy, by linking them inappropriately to domestic school violence? Doesn't that issue deserve a real documentary treatment, from a real film maker?"

If one simply looks at all the blatantly manipulative emotional content in this movie as the unabashed schmaltz that it actually is, what's left is a really stupid motion picture. I mean, stupid in the technically incompetent and silly sense. All the lying and deliberate deception aside, it embodies the documentary equivalent of what my highschool classmate, Gene Siskel, would have called an "idiot plot."

(Also, check out Kay S. Hymowitz's article on Michael Moore in City Journal.)

Posted by Demosophist at 12:09 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

Isabel, whither goest thou?

My friend, David, has a vineyard out near a place called "Old Rag" on the edge of the Blue Ridge, and is now harvesting. He once said that the way to make a small fortune in the wine business, is to start with a large fortune. So he isn't assured of making a small fortune, and is watching the projected track of the storm with great care. But the maps available at Intellicast and the Weather Channel leave a bit to be desired in the resolution department. And that brings up the question of precision. The precise predicted path of the storm is subject to considerable variation, and it could apparently make landfall anywhere along the North Carolina or Virginia Coast, although it will apparently miss Delmarva (the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia Peninsula, for those not from this area). So, since we aren't sure about the precise path what we have is a probability distribution pattern, not unlike what statisticians call a "confidence interval" (although strictly speaking it's actually a "prediction interval"), for the eye, which is also usually the path of greatest intensity. And if you look at the Intellicast projection you'll see a line in the middle of the probable path. The Weather Channel doesn't bother with the line, which I guess implies that they think Isabel is more like a knuckle ball than a slider. That is, the Intellicast picture implies that there's a probability distribution and the path with the highest probability (and also the greatest intensity) is on the line, while the odds and intensity diminish as you move away from the line, to the southwest and northeast. A curve ball or a slider, while it may give you some surprises, has a path that's probabilistic, whereas a knuckle ball is a bit more like an atomic particle whose precise position no one ever really knows, unless it hits you, or you hit it (largely by accident). So I can see a rationale for ignoring the precision of the underlying map on the Weather Channel's site, but if I were harvesting some Cabernet Sauvignon that could be badly damaged by this storm, and I thought the situation implied by Intellicast's picture was the reality, I might be a bit frustrated by the lack of precision of the map.

I hope I have the science about right. Well, at least in the ball park....

Posted by Demosophist at 06:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 16, 2003

Paul Berman on Noam Chomsky

The following is an excerpt from Paul Berman's excellent book Terror and Liberalism, which I feel is the first "great" book of the 21st Century. So, for the reader's edification:

IN THE MIDST of those other, smaller, suicide attacks came the much bigger one, the 9/11 attack on American targets. And, at once, with the alacrity of firehouse dogs responding to a bell, any number of people stood up all over the world to propose yet another variation on the same systematic denial. There was the same reasoned insistence that nothing unreasonable was taking place, the same argument that everything was rational, the same claim that it was foolish to be shocked, and the same affirmation that ordinary explanations of normal human behavior could account for every last amazing development, if only we would open our eyes. Some of the people with those explanations turned out to be marvelously articulate, too. And no one was more articulate, or quicker into print, or longer-winded, or more energetic, than Noam Chomsky--a peculiar case, you may suppose. But I do not think that Chomsky was a peculiar case. I think that Chomsky and his explanations of the terrorist attacks bring us to the heart of our present dilemma.

Chomsky, it must be remembered, is a scientist, in the specialized field of linguistics [which may not be all that scientific, since it's invariably about the interpretation of the means of interpretation]. He has always maintained that his political analysis and his linguistic theories are separate entities, without a logical bridge leading from one to the other. This seems to me not quite true. A single thought underlies the original version of Chomsky's linguistic theory, and it is this: Man's inner nature can be calculated according to a very small number of factors, which can be analyzed rationally. No shadow of the mysterious falls across the nature of man. Other linguists, Chomsky's predecessors and rivals, have maintained that man developed language as a method of communication, and that language arose in more or less the same way as the rest of human culture. But Chomsky has argued that, on the contrary, no one created language, nor can language be usefully regarded as an element of culture. The fundamentals of language, in Chomsky's theory, are a genetic fact. No murk surrounds those fundamentals, even if we can not yet explain every aspect. Language lies at the heart of human nature; but language is merely a biological code, which we will someday crack.

In later years, Chomsky has backed away from some of his early formulations. John Searle, one of his critics, maintains that Chomsky's theory was always much too simple and that, in his later formulations, Chomsky has abandoned his own ideas. Chomsky, responding to Searle, has argued that, on the contrary, he has merely ascended from one useful hypothesis to the next in the course of his scientific career, on a ladder of research and self-correction--thus proving, in retrospect, the usefulness of his original ideas. I have no way to judge this dispute, except to observe that even Searle, Chomsky's critic, regards Chomsky as not just a scientist but a very great scientist. I do appreciate the point about modifying one's views as the mark of true scientific investigation. Here the gap is undeniable between Chomsky's linguistics, which have changed substantially over the years, and his politics, which have changed barely at all.

Still, if we take Chomsky's linguistics in their pristine version, and then glance at his analyses of international politics, it becomes obvious that Chomsky looks at language and at international affairs in the same light. He sees a possibility of accounting for every last quirk of human behavior by invoking a tiny number of factors--the possibility of analyzing world events according to a handful of identifiable elements. In matters of international affairs, he is the last of the nineteenth-century rationalists, one more thinker with a theory of human behavior that rests on a tiny number of factors--in his case, two factors, in dialectical opposition.

The first of those factors is greed for wealth and power, which is embodied in the giant American corporations--though Chomsky has always recognized that powerful institutions in other countries sometimes draw on that same instinct and behave pretty much the same way that American corporations do. The corporations wish to maximize power and profits. They command the services of government, and they buy and bully journalists and intellectuals to create, on behalf of corporations, a picture of the world that makes the general public bend to the corporations' will. And, with government and the intellectuals and the press at their disposal, the corporations, acting in their own interest, drench the world in blood and misery.

Still, a second factor intervenes in world events, and this second factor, he has suggested, may even be a further genetic trait, not unlike the gene for language. It is an instinct for freedom. The instinct for freedom leads people around the world to resist the giant corporations. and so, a giant battle deploys across the globe, with giant corporations and their intellectual and governmental servants on one side, and people who are animated by a generic or genetic-like instinct for freedom on the other: the greedy instinct versus the freedom instinct. The corporations usually win, due to their immense power. Sometimes, the instinct for freedom wins. Stalemates are not uncommon. But these two factors suffice to explain everything--or very nearly. And world events, upon close examination, turn out to resemble the human ability to speak, as presented in the early version of Chomsky's theory: a seemingly complex and murky phenomenon that can actually be illuminated through a simple accounting of a very few number of predictable factors.

Chomsky unveiled his theory of language in the 1950s, which made his scientific reputation and he unveiled his vision of politics in the mid-1960s, in a series of essays about American policy in the Vietnam War, and the essays made his reputation as a political thinker. He seemed to command a vast army of facts in those essays, seemed to have read everything, and seemed preternaturally self-assured. He demonstrated an astonishing intellectual energy. And he hurled all of these personal traits and achievements at the American policy in Vietnam. In those days, Chomsky's furor against American policy was refreshing to see, at least for everyone among his readers who had despaired of the Vietnam War. Perhaps the emotion of the moment made the extreme simplicity of Chomsky's notion of politics a little hard to see. The blizzard of detail in his polemics tended to cover over the nature of his reasoning, too. Anyway, the simplicity in his argument didn't seem to matter, so long as he was battling against what his readers already knew to be a disastrous policy.

But the American military eventually withdrew from Indochina, and then the difficulties in Chomsky's view did lead to some noticeable problems. It was not so easy to explain what happened in Indochina once the Americans were gone. The million and a half boat people who fled from South Vietnam seemed to suggest, by their sheer numbers alone, that realities in Vietnam were a little more complicated than some of the anti-war arguments had once maintained. And how was anyone to explain the outright genocide that began to take place in Cambodia, under its new Communist rulers? The Communist forces in Cambodia had been thought to represent the instinct for freedom, as opposed to the greed of the American corporations; yet here were the Communists committing unimaginable crimes, with the whole of Cambodian society as their victim.

It began to look as if pathological mass movements do exist. The evidence was plastered across the newspapers. But the evidence could only mean that human motivation is not as simple as Chomsky had said--could only mean that rational analysis of the instincts for greed and freedom cannot account for the role that irrational factors likewise play in world events. It was a devastating moment for the political theories of Noam Chomsky. And he responded by setting out resolutely to demonstrate that, in Indochina, despite everything published by the newspapers, mass pathological movements did not, in fact, exist.

Well-known journalists reported one set of data, but Chomsky assembled immense supplies of alternative data, which he drew from the recollections of random tourists, wandering church workers, and articles in little-known left-wing magazines. The alternative data, in his interpretation, refuted the accounts of the well-known journalists. And, by piling up his data, Chomsky (writing with a co-author, Edward S. Herman, in their two-volume Political Economy of Human Rights--Chomsky's single most ambitious work of political analysis) made two different arguments. He showed that genocide had never occurred; and, conversely, he showed that, if genocide did occur, it was the fault of the American military intervention, which had driven the Cambodians mad.

In either case, the stories about genocide in Cambodia revealed that America's principal institutions were even more guilty than anyone had previously imagined. For the genocide was either a web of lies spun by propagandists for The New York Times and other organs of the giant corporations--in which case, the big American institutions were capable of perpetrating the most hideous and elaborate of deceptions on all mankind. Or, alternatively, if genocide in Cambodia was really a fact (which plainly seemed to him less likely), then the American military was guilty twice over--first, for having made war in Cambodia; and, second, for having provoked the Cambodians into committing their own crimes. Either way, genocide in Cambodia told against the United States. The rational nature of world events was shown to be real--the rational behavior that led America's corporations to behave in sinister and violent ways, and the perfectly understandable response of the corporations' victims in faraway Cambodia. And there was no need to recognize the possibility of another factor--of a mass movement devoted to mass slaughter for irrational reasons.

Chomsky has written many thousands of pages devoted to that particular logic. It is his habit of mind, in regard to world events. That was why, when the 9/11 attacks took place, he did not need to collect his thoughts. He was unfazed. The entire purpose of his political outlook was to be unfazed, even by the worst of horrors. He knew exactly what to say. The notion that, in large parts of the world, a mass movement of radical Islamists had arisen, devoted to mad hatreds and conspiracy theories; the notion that radical Islamists were slaughtering people in one country after another for the purpose of slaughtering them; the notion that radical Islamists ought to be taken at their word and that shariah and the seventh-century Caliphate were their goals, and that Jews and Christians were demonic figures worthy of death; the notion that bin Laden had ordered random killings of Americans strictly for the purpose of killing Americans--all of this was, from Chomsky's perspective, not even worth discussing.

It was because, to Chomsky, movements of that particular nature and style do not exist. What do exist are, instead, the two factors in his political theory; the instincts for greed and the instinct for freedom. How, then, to explain the 9/11 attacks? Chomsky knew what to think because it was what he had always thought. He could hardly deny that the 9/11 attacks had taken place. But his first impulse was to deny that the attacks were especially bad.. He compared the attacks to Clinton's missile strike on the Sudan in 1998--Clinton's feeble effort to attack bin Laden and his enterprise. In Clinton's attack on the Sudan, a pharmaceuticals factory (which the Clinton administration apparently in error, had identified as a bomb factory) was demolished. One person was killed--possibly two people. In Chomsky's interpretation, the damage that resulted from this attack easily outweighed the damage that resulted from the 9/11 attacks.

Clinton's missile strike was exceptionally deadly, Chomsky thought, because it destroyed the Sudan's supply of medicines, destroyed the Sudan's political tranquility, and destroyed the Sudan's economy, all of which led to far more death and misery than were produced by the 9/11 attacks. Such was Chomsky's contention. It was peculiar. Still, in one sense, it was deserving of respect. Who in America or in the other rich countries thinks to tally up the sufferings that descend on people in remote parts of the world from actions taken by the wealthy cosmopolises? Chomsky was proposing to do that. Yet his tally was preposterous, in each of its elements and as a whole.

The Sudan had other pharmaceuticals factories and other ways to buy medicines; radical Islamism and other factors had already destroyed the political tranquility; and the single missile attack was not going to destroy the economy.. Losses that came out of the attack on the United States on 9/11 were, on other hand, simply staggering, if you follow Chomsky's own procedure and tally up the indirect costs alone. For the 9/11 attacks jolted the American economy--the destruction of the buildings alone was an economic blow--the effect on commerce in any number of other countries around the world, in poor countries especially, was bound to be devastating. The damage done to Mexico by itself had to be fairly painful, even if we leave aside the special hopes that Mexico had entertained, prior to 9/11, for sounder and more profitable relations with the United States. Somebody could go from region to region, all over the globe, identifying the miserable effects of the 9/11 attacks that fell upon already poor people.

Still, Chomsky stood by his argument, and did so with his customary blizzard of references to obscure sources. And having made that one argument, he went on to a second theme, which was to rehearse the entire history of American violence toward other people, beginning with the American Indians (who, for his purposes, were considered as non-Americans). He predicted what was likely to come of President Bush's plan--not yet put into execution--to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan and uproot Al Qaeda's headquarters and training camps. Genocide against the Afghan people was likely to result, in Chomsky's estimation. This prediction conformed to Chomsky's picture of the many genocides of the American past. And, with this picture of America and its genocidal past and future in mind, he asked, why would anyone have attacked the United States on 9/11?

He knew the answer. The attacks on 9/11 represented the reply of oppressed people from the Third World to centuries of American depredations. The attacks represented, at long last, an active reprisal, and not just an effort at self-defense. The 9/11 attacks, from this point of view, were entirely predictable--logical events, even if bin Laden was not an attractive figure. Chomsky had no basis at all to attribute those centuries of Third World motivation to bin Laden. The notion of a Saudi plutocrat as a tribune of the oppressed was fairly ridiculous. Still, Chomsky stuck with this argument, too. And both of his arguments--the argument that wildly exaggerated the damage caused by Clinton's missile on the pharmaceuticals factory, and the argument that Al Qaeda was avenging the oppressed Third World--pointed in the same direction. The arguments showed that, if 9/11 was bad, America itself was ultimately responsible. World events could be rationally analyzed. The greed of American corporations, and the long history of American greed in the past, sufficed to explain every last astounding act of suicide terror. For there are no pathological or irrational movements, no movements that yearn to commit slaughters, no movements that yearn for death--and, if such movements do exist, it is because they have been conjured into existence by other forces.

Chomsky said these things in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in a series of interviews and articles, and his publisher gathered them together quickly and issued them as a pamphlet called 9/11. In the United States, the principal newspapers and magazines have tended to ignore Chomsky's political writings for many years now, because of his reputation as a crank. None of the most prestigious journals bothered even to review his book.

Even so, Chomsky's pamphlet became a giant best-seller.

(Berman, pp. 144-152.)

I was initially somewhat taken aback by the implication that Chomsky might be too rational. The problem I had with the observation is the notion that rationality can lead one to adopt such a counter-rational argument. For instance, he appears to take a rational position regarding the secondary and tertiary consequences of the attack on the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, but doesn't consider the consequences of the attack on the World Trade Center in the same light. I'm not quite willing to call this overly rational. I think, rather, that Chomsky's error is that his rationality is dimensionally impoverished. And furthermore, his impoverishment has its origins in his ideology, and what I have elsewhere taken to calling a "good time" attitude about human nature. And this, in turn, isn't very unlike the idea that lies behind a number of Karl Marx's critical concepts, including alienation, primitive appropriation, and false consciousness. The basic ideological imperative is that if we somehow erase or suppress the evil activities associated with greed the human archetype that will emerge will be innately fulfilled, complete, happy, and free, without any impulse to intervene in or interfere with the "true consciousness" of others. Chomsky simply has no conceptual framework for coping with any evil of the sort that isn't a direct result of greed, in the form of a capitalist quest for extraordinary returns. So Berman is correct in identifying the flaw as "wishful thinking." And he is also correct in surmising that all Ur-myths have a similar flaw. It is as though they all hypothesize a certain fundamental quality X, that if allowed to obtain its full potential would correct all imbalances, mistakes, and errors, allowing human nature to attain perfection, or near perfection. For Noam Chomsky X is freedom. For Karl Marx X is true consciousness. For Sayyid Qutb X is submission to a version of Allah crystallized in the Shari`a. They are all the cult equivalent of snake oil.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:49 PM | Comments (5)

September 14, 2003

Naturally Unnatural

The argument of the Marxisant left conspiracy theorists, like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, is counter-rational. Their whole premise implies that there isn't a cadre of enemies ready to die and kill innocents for the sake of destroying liberal Democracy. Or if such people exist, it's because of something we did. So if we just become more indulgent, better comrades those seemingly bad folks, who are really just teddy bears under the surface, will go home and play checkers, or backgammon.

But it would seem that someone who deliberately and proudly murders 3,000 innocent people, and who threatens to murder 30,000 or 300,000 or 3,000,000 without limit (the more the better) isn't quite the sort of fellow one ought to use as the first test case for this optimistic theory of human nature and stealthily concealed goodwill. And the real reason why the individual who directed and produced Bowling for Columbine must insist that real threats are merely contrived subterfuges... the reason why he has virtually no choice but to make that preposterously false claim, is that he has absolutely no philosophical or pragmatic response to calamity. None whatsoever. The good times can't be over, because he wouldn't know what the heck to do if they were.

And that little flaw in the philosophy of denial is as big as the New York skyline.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:37 PM | Comments (7)

The Other Edge

For this first post I'd like to offer a theoretical alternative to the "we had it coming" thesis, that the Marxist-ish left loves to promote. One can find many refutations of this thesis, but it seems to me that, like all big lies, it contains at least one small kernel of truth that gives it unwarranted credibility. And that kernel has to do with what S.M. Lipset calls the "double-edged sword" of American Exceptionalism.

This "other edge" concerns the observaton, made long ago and by many people (including the inimitable Hannah Arendt), that there have been few nations founded on the American example. The price of exceptionalism is, well..., that we're atypical. We are the only nation founded entirely on an ideal, or philosophy, rather than an ethnic identity, for one thing. And for a people seeking a "national" experience, we aren't a short cut.

But the implications are now much more dire than they were during Arendt's time, or when Lipset published The First New Nation. Because now we aren't merely failing to serve as a Lockean model for national foundation. The alternative to the classical liberalism that virtually defines us as a nation, and that we help define for the world, has us in its sights. It is not simply that we've failed to inspire, but that we've inadvertently inspired hatred. Or more accurately we've stood by and allowed the haters to inspire the skeptics. So, although we certainly did not "have it coming" in even the most oblique sense, one might still see 9/11 as the product of our neglect.

Much of the world, taking the lead of the Euro-left, thinks of the US as petulant and arrogant, which may in fact be true to some extent. But arrogance is not a flaw of our ideology, nor is our arrogance as great is it is purported to be. The US is now, and has always been, surfing the leading edge of the wave of history. It is a fact that we were "the first new nation," even though our nation was inspired by the Scottish and even the French liberal movements. So it may be the arrogance of misplaced envy to suggest that this pre-eminance is anything other than a simple fact. There's plenty of room on the crest of this wave were anyone bold enough to join us. And our task, which may be formidable, and which may in fact require considerable humility in the long run, is to inspire a few more peoples to try the crest of this wave. And of course, in that sense at least, cease to be quite so exceptional.

But make no mistake, there's no advantage for us to kick out of the wave and join the crowd on the kiddie beach. Nor do we intend to crawl into the soft cocoon that has become Westen Europe, largely at our expense.

Much more later.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:20 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2003

Scott Talkington's CV

19342 Belleau Woods Dr., Apt. K102
Triangle, VA 22172
(703) 441-0522


1998 Ph.D. in Public Policy
The School of Public Policy, George Mason University
Dissertation: Influence of Political Values and Campaign Contributions in 1996 Congressional Elections

1991 MBA for Business, Government and Not-for-Profit Management
Atkinson Graduate School of Management / Willamette University

1982 BS, Design Science
Columbia Pacific University


2003-Present Arizona Department of Education
Data management and statistical analysis to investigate the impact of socioeconomic status, funding, and other school resources on student achievement. The analysis employs separate analyses of elementary, middle and secondary schools and uses several standardized reading and math tests as measures of achievement (AIMS, MAP and SAT9). School resource variables include expenditures (federal, state and local), teacher salary, class size, and several teacher quality indicators (education, certification, experience). Measures of teacher quality are aggregated from staff files.

2001-2002 Florida State Department of Education
Conducted data management and statistical analysis to determine the impact of school resources and teacher and student characteristics on student achievement throughout the state of Florida. The analysis included creating a comprehensive data source, and charting SES adjusted math and reading scores by various resource and control variables: class size, pupil teacher ratio, teacher education and experience, and per pupil expenditures.

1998-2001 New York State Office of Attorney General
Worked with a large team of researchers to set up and conduct district, school and student level production study analyses of the largest school system in the nation, with about 3 million students. The analysis utilized state and local achievement tests in order to determine the impact of variations in school funding. Independent variables included teacher certification, education and experience, per pupil expenditure (instructional), classroom size, pupil/teacher ratio and free/reduced lunch. Data for individual level analysis included test scores for grades 6 & 8 in New York City using CAT and CTB tests. These data also allowed the use of reference 2nd or 3rd grade scores from the CAT or DRP in a longitudinal analysis. A statewide individual database, employing test data from the Pupil Evaluation Program for Reading and Math for grades 3 and 6 was also analyzed.

1997-2000 Minnesota Office of Attorney General
Conducted dropout and magnet school studies for the St. Paul school district using the data repository for Minnesota The analysis also involved aggregation of teacher and student data to the school and district level to determine the relationship between school resources and various student outcomes, measured in terms of test performance and by end status category.


With Prof. David Armor
Education Policy 1995-1998: Worked on an analysis of the effects of school integration and race on educational achievement. Co-authored a report to the National Center for Education Statistics, US Department of Education. This work involved analysis of NAEP studies from 1988 to 1994 on race and achievement, as well as parental education, residence status, and socioeconomic conditions in the home and neighborhood. Techniques included multiple regression analysis and analysis of variance (see publications list.)

With Prof. Seymour Martin Lipset
Labor and Industrial Policy 1995-1998: Worked on a three year project contributing to the design and statistical analysis of a survey comparing US and Canadian values and attitudes about unionism. Participated in meetings on survey design (choice, placement, and wording of survey items). Carried out analyses of survey data using a variety of statistical methodologies, including multiple regression and factor analysis.

With Prof. Roger Stough & Prof. Jonathan Gifford
Transportation Policy and Technology 1992-1994: Projects examining the implementation of transportation legislation and on a road-pricing model using data on tolls and traffic over the Golden Gate Bridge. Conducted structured interviews with principals from local and state government, citizen groups, lobbyists, and legislative offices concerning the history and implementation of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). Synthesized and interpreted these responses to create hypotheses about the future of transportation and the responsibilities of local, state, and federal governments. Constructed a road pricing model to accommodate serial autocorrelation, using SAS as the primary statistical package. The resulting econometric model was used to determine demand elasticity, and day-of-week cross elasticities for toll prices.


2000 (Summer) George Mason University
Introduction to Database Management (MIS 310): Practical use of database models in business and public policy focusing on relational database and SQL in MS Access and Oracle.

1996 (Spring) George Mason University
Public Administration and Decision Making (GOV 241-005): Complex problem solving and decision making in a group context.
1991 (Spring) Western Oregon State College
Introductory course in Organizational Behavior (two sections).
Introduction to International Management.


1982-1986 The Icarus Corporation - Salem, OR
Research and Development
Helped establish an electronics and satellite communications firm.

1986-1990 Oregon Fair Share - Salem, OR
Field Manager and Canvass Director
Managed a field canvass and grassroots fundraising operation. During the same period also acted as campaign manager for state and national candidates.


Gifford, Jonathan L., William J. Mallet, and Scott W. Talkington. 1994. "Implementing Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991: Issues and Early Field Data." Transportation Research Record 1466.

Gifford, Jonathan L., and Scott W. Talkington. 1994a. "The Impact of Regional Planning and ISTEA on the Implementation of Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems." Pp. 216 in Moving Toward Deployment. Washington, DC: IVHS America.

Gifford, Jonathan L., and Scott W. Talkington. 1996. "Demand Elasticity Under Time-Varying Prices: A Case Study of Day-Of-Week Varying Tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge." Transportation Research Record 1558.

Gifford, Jonathan L., and Scott W. Talkington. “Demand Elasticity Under Time Varying Prices: A Case Study of the Golden Gate Bridge.” Pp. 503 in Moving Toward Deployment. Washington, DC: IVHS America.

Talkington, Scott. 1993. “Reveille for the Middle Class: A Case Study of Oregon Fair Share.” in Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management Case Study Collection, edited by Kenneth G. Koziol. San Francisco, CA: University of San Francisco.


Armor, David J. and Scott W. Talkington. 1998. Educational Adequacy in the St. Paul School District. Prepared for the Minnesota Office of the Attorney General.

Armor, David J, and Scott W. Talkington. 1996. "Race and Socioeconomic Effects on Academic Achievement." . Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, US Department of Education, National Assessment of Educational Progress Data Reporting Program.


1993-1998 George Mason Graduate Fellowship, Atkinson Graduate Fellowship
1990-1992 Willamette University Graduate Honors Writing Tutor
1986 Semi-Finalist, Christian Science Monitor Essay Contest


Statistical Applications: STATA, SAS, SPSS, Minitab
Other Applications: Spreadsheets (MS_Excel, Lotus, QuattroPro), Relational Databases and SQL (Paradox, MS_Access, Oracle), Word Processors (WordPerfect, MS_Word), Presentation and Publication Graphics. Web Page Design and HTML Formatting
Computer Languages: Assembly Language, Basic, other higher level languages (including FORTRAN), various macro languages.
Platforms: Windows (9x, 2000, XP), Linux, Unix.

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