Thursday, April 19, 2007

Blame Blame

How to Stop Future Massacres - Adam Kushner

A little late to the game on this sure, but considering the growing chorus of people insane enough to think that arming students and teachers will somehow prevent another massacre on a college campus, I thought I might say a few words. First, somehow the thought of arming a group of people who we have trouble letting drive doesn't seem like a winning idea. Sure, technically a college student is of legal age but considering how many car accidents happen to eighteen-year-olds I don't think throwing guns at them is a smashing idea. Second, arming teachers doesn't seem like a hot idea either since most teachers generally abhor violence and more than a few are far too absent-minded to be allow around firearms. Imagine your college philosophy professor or calculus teacher packing heat and then ask yourself if you feel any safer? Third, as my mother keenly pointed out, events like the Virgina Tech massacre are akin to tornadoes or hurricanes. They're acts of God and not something you really can prepare for. And even if you could, all you would succeed in doing is preventing a minuscule number of deaths when binge drinking and suicide are still the most likely ways a college student will die.
None of this is to mitigate the tragedy of the past week because it was a tragedy. But, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out, if this happened every other day then you would be living in Baghdad. They're both tragedies but life in America makes events like Virgina Tech rare and not something we should be overly concerned about. All it does tell us is that we should look out for each other a little more, but we didn't need the deaths of thirty people to tell us that.

To the West and Avalon

The World According to Richard Perle - The Danger Room

"The great tragedy of Perle is that like the Hollywood leftists who defended communism -- ignoring brutalities and crimes committed against the innocent -- Perle, too, glosses over the destruction wrought from a misguided theory that now equates "Islamo-fascism" with Soviet communism. Yes, Perle's nemeses, the Hollywood elite of the 1950s, were wrong about the Soviet Union, but that doesn't make Perle right about the Middle East."

This is what happens when you have someone still attached to the grand narrative of the West. Perle still believes in a sort of teleological history of the West that will see ever increasing progress and prosperity. The West becomes something of an end to itself in this narrative, from the Greeks to today's post-Cold War world. Everything was meant to happen in Perle's mind because we were meant to show the world how things were done. It's a little like the 'shining city on the hill' metaphor in that while it can inspire people to do great things it can also create the false assumption that we need not improve ourselves and any improvement that does happen is an act of God, not man. You can see it in the neo-conservative reaction to the failures in Iraq, the blaming of the Iraqis for being 'uncivilized' and 'incapable' of enjoying democracy. Of course, the West shares no blame for such failures because the West is ever-perfect, ever-perfecting.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cup o' Greg

Damascus: Detente Talk of the Town; Washington: Same Ol' Crapola - Greg Djerejian

I love how deftly Djerejian is able to take down someone like Liz Cheney. While wrapping it in a call for more realpolitik, Djerejian notes the 'sentimentality' of Cheney's piece in the Washington Post. This is exactly the reason why such people should not have a hand in foreign policy. Sometime you have to make deals with the devil in foreign affairs and sometimes those deals will come back to bite you in the ass. The funding of Bin Laden during the 80s is a notable example but should not detract from the larger point. Dealing with Damascus will not yield the pony some in the administration are still looking for. But it might bring Israel and Syria to the table while slowly nullifying Hezbollah's power in Lebanon. Moreover, it might pull Syria further away from Iran, thus isolating Iran even more. Syria doesn't have quite the same track record that Iran does and the weak leadership in Damascus seems ripe for diplomatic picking. But we'll never know that unless we make some attempt at talking to Syria.

That Sliding Scale

Presidential Approval Rating -

Perhaps because there's nothing really interesting about a flatlined polling number but no one seems to want to talk about the president's tepid approval rating. Hovering around 34% for the last two months is not a sign of a president who is responding to the American public. After the last two months of the 'surge' in Iraq and the looming showdown over military spending one would expect to see at least a little bump in the polls. But, to be crass for a moment, I would think that the shootings at Virgina tech would give the president some poll relief.

The Non-story Story

New "Chemical Weapon" in Iraq? Nope - The Danger Room

This really is my new favorite blog for the moment. While generally centerist they do take pride in knocking down the hyperventilating of the more right-wing blogs like RedState. This article is another fine example of these guys looking at a news story that touts some big revelation and simply saying, "Yeah, so?" With the science and expertise behind them, they seem to know what's worth a story and what's not.

We Put the 'Jew' in 'Jewelry'

When I get in Trouble with Language, the Fate of the World is What's at Stake - Spencer Ackerman
Tommy Thompson - Matt Yglesias

Now I'm inclined to believe Yglesias's assessment that Gen. Thompson belongs in the moron category versus the I-hate-Jews category. No one can makes comments like that openly and honestly to a group of Jews and Israelis if they actually hate them. Haters are a little more guarded than that. Still, this was a man who achieved a high rank in our military and now is running for president. Something tells me that his candidacy won't last too much longer. This incident reminds me of, well, just about all of Blazing Saddles. While I imagine it will make a great YouTube segment I doubt it will help Republican self-image any.

The Buzz about Buzz

Mobile Phones Kill Bees - L'inq

I remember reading an article in the Washington Post about two months ago that was on the seeming collapse of bee colonies in the southwest. No one could really explain it except to say that bees were losing their way and not making it back to the hive. Apparently, and I didn't know this until I read the article, bees play an important role in pollinating various crops and there are companies that cart hives around to farmers as a service. So a large portion of our crops depend on bees to keep up the pollination.

The Green Machine

The Green Imperative - Andrew Sullivan

The idea of a carbon tax and a gas tax I think are the best ways of going about weening the American public off of petroleum. Matt Yglesias made a salient point that a carbon tax would, in a way, act as a subsidy for green energies as it would make green energy more enticing as a consumer energy source. A gas tax would go a long way to pushing the auto industry to produce higher mileage cars, trucks and SUVs. Something similar was done back in the 70s and the monies earned off the tax was used to help lower-income families purchase higher mileage cars as well as off-set the higher gas price through a income-tax credit. With the auto industry already moving in this direction, a gas tax would only spur more innovation from the market without imposing a government-laden solution. The linchpin of any such effort though is the oil industry itself. I've found myself saying more often lately that any oil giant worth its salt would do well to look into alternative fuels and I still think that is true. The problem is how do you turn an industry that generally looks at alternative fuels with disdain into a friend of green energy?
While I tend to look at green energy in primarily an environmental way I do think that the national security aspect is important and an excellent tactic to garner support from people who would normally attack such proposals. By denying Middle Eastern nations oil money the U.S. could leverage its position more effectively. The whole goal of such an effort is to push those nations like Iran who are generally antagonistic to U.S. interests into a position where the U.S. is a potential ally in maintaining their prestige and influence in the region. The idea is to move nations about without resorting to military solutions.

Dirty Pool

Why I Declined to Serve - John J. Sheehan, WaPo

This is a perfect example of the difficulty the Bush administration has had in getting traction on any issue it takes aim at. The problem isn't that the administration is oblivious to reality but that there are too many competing interests and agendas to coherently approach reality. It really is more of a personnel issue than anything else. Coherency in strategic approach is essential, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. But from what I have read and heard there are two groups going head to head consisting of people like Secretaries Rice, Paulson and Gates going against Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove and the president himself. While I have not been the biggest supporter of Sec. Rice (and if you read Greg Djerejian's blog you will see why) I do think that she is on the side of the angels in this with her attempts at shuttle diplomacy. Secs. Gates and Paulson seem to get it as well in their efforts to curtail Iran's financial dealings and reasserting the U.S.'s moral superiority. But for all of their efforts they still have the problem of the influence that the 'more rubble, less trouble' crowd has in the White House. To attempt to assign a new position to oversee both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when you have such incoherency is troubling at best and a sign of folly at worst.