Friday, December 17, 2004

Playing the Grinch

UPDATE: 12/18/04 @ 2:30 PM
It's that time of year again...the magical season where I have to explain, for the millionith time, why I don't believe that religious messages (Christian or otherwise) belong in official (IE, governmental) events.

Conservative torchbearer Charles Krauthammer takes up the mantlepiece, writing in the Washington Post on how those evil, secularist liberals want to utterly banish Christmas and kill off the holiday spirit. Krauthammer's column is a pecuilar mix of self-congratulatory moralism mixed with a few blatant falsehoods ("Judaism's seven holidays"?), with the occassional fact sprinkled in to get it past the editorial board (Chanukah really is, as Krauthammer asserts, a pretty unimportant holiday). The crux of Krauthammer's argument (such as it is), is that the only explaination for minority skittishness at Christmas messages is that they have insufficient faith and are afraid the slightest whiff of an opposing message will destroy their spiritual roots.

This may have some truth to it, to be fair. But what Krauthammer misses is that it's equally true of the Christian masses who seem to think that unless Macy's has "Merry Christmas" shouted at it's customers from every angle, the Christian faith will wither away and die. Who's being more unreasonable here? At least the minority religions have historical reason to fear that government sponsered religion will provide cover for religious oppression. By contrast, the disestablishment of Church and State would have very little, if any, negative impact on the majority religion (and might aid it, see the struggles of organized religion in Europe and Iran, where it still enjoys state sponsorship).

Indeed, I oppose governmental support of my religious views (I'm Jewish and I believe in God) because I find them both offensive and demeaning. Religion is something deeply personal, and nothing is more personal than the way one expresses one’s beliefs in the public forum (if they choose to at all). Putting religion in a one-size fits all package commoditizes religion, destroying the very thing that makes it sacred. The court recognized as much in Engel v. Vitale, when Justice Hugo Black wrote "A union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion. The establishment clause thus stands as an expression of the principle on the part of the founders that religion is too personal, too sacred, too holy, to permit its 'unhallowed perversion' by a civil magistrate." My belief in God is demeaned when it exists not as a genuine expression of my own personal belief, but rather as a byproduct of a government mandate.

This doesn't mean that every religious mention has to be expunged from government. Christmas carols can be included as part of a winter concert, if they are chosen for their musical beauty (I'm a big fan of "Hark Go the Bells" personally) rather than their religious message. This is the same reason I had no problem studying The Bible in English class: We were studying it as a literary document, not to gain deep insights into our spiritual core. The problem comes in having religion involved in the public sphere for no other reason than espousing a religious message. That is what people such as myself seek to avoid, both because the risks it poses to religious minorities (risks that might be overstated by church-state militants but certainly are understated by Krauthammer) and because it is demeaning to religious persons such as myself.

Meanwhile over at The New Republic, Michelle Cottle has a much more intelligent article on the same subject. Cottle first provides an excellent set of examples that prove that the Christmas restorationists are hardly as innocent and tolerant as Krauthammer makes them out to be:
This year, the traditionalists are reportedly even more exercised than usual, in part because they see W.'s reelection as a mandate to put Christianity--and with it, Christmas--back at center stage. The California-based Committee to Save Merry Christmas, for instance, has called for a boycott of Federated Department Stores (which ironically include Macy's, the chain whose role in the classic "Miracle on 34th Street" made it the retail embodiment of the holiday for millions of Americans) in response to the company's replacement of "Merry Christmas" signs with vaguer messages of "Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays." The organization points boldly to November 2 as proof that such "political correctness is offending millions of Americans."

Similarly, a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, recently took out a full-page newspaper ad calling for Christians to shop only at stores whose holiday displays include the words "Merry Christmas." (The minister explained the move as part of a "revival" in which "right-minded people" are challenging the nation's "downward spiral to the left.") And down in Louisiana, a group in Terrebonne Parish is not only petitioning to have "Merry Christmas" added to the holiday display outside the main government building but is also selling in-your-face yard signs that read: "We believe in God. Merry Christmas."

This ain't "Miracle on 34th Street" anymore, folks. Meanwhile, Cottle neatly debunks the logical underpinnings of the activist's actions:
It's tough to hear about such antics and not immediately think: What a bunch of nutters. For starters, the notion that anyone who doesn't celebrate Christmas is a godless leftist makes these folks look like total idiots desperately in need of a beginner's guide to Judaism and Islam. And why do traditionalists so often feel the need to ram their beliefs down everyone's throat? Christmas conservationists are free to fill their homes with gaudily garbed trees (my household typically has two) and sing "Silent Night" on the street corner until their voices fail. But why waste so much energy on a point of semantics? I mean, at this stage, you'd think serious Jesus fans would want to distance themselves from the tinsel-strewn retail vulgarity that Christmas has become.

Yet at the same time, Cottle understands where they are coming from. It's disturbing--and upsetting--to many people to see a holiday that has such deep and profound spiritual meaning dissolve into an orgy of crass commercialism and consumer capitalism. Restoring the religious message to Christmas is seen as one way to combat that trend.

Believe it or not, I sympathize with those sentiments (though I'll admit confusion on how putting up "Merry Christmas" in your local department store helps fight this). However, I think that the solution comes in restoring Christmas (and the other religious holidays) back to their place in the private sphere, where people can control the message and instill it with the religious and spiritual message it deserves. Just because Christmas has spiralled out of the control of the church is not a warrant to impose Christian theology on the rest of the population.

UPDATE: Surprising no one, Powerline disagrees.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Weak Assurance

Despite four years of hard evidence to the contrary, CNN is now reporting that George W. Bush supports a strong dollar policy! And not only that, but apparently he's willing to reduce deficits to do it!

You'll have to forgive me if this sets off my BS alarm just slightly. Bush has had four years in office, and he's never once intervened to try and stop or even slowdown the mountains of red ink that currently deluge our budget. And as for alternative methods of strengthening the dollar, CNN notes:
Some economists believe that the administration, while publicly professing support for a strong dollar, actually prefers the decline in the greenback's value against other currencies as a way of dealing with the country's huge trade deficit.
Despite White House expressions of support, the administration has not taken action to prop up the dollar. During Bush's four years in office, not once has the administration intervened in currency markets to support the dollar or done anything else to stop the dollar's slide.

So we're left with an all too common conclusion: Bush is saying one thing and doing another, to dodge having to make the tough and politically painful decisions that come with responsible governance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Mali Miracle

Daniel Drezner has a must-read article up on the situation in Mali. A little background first:
Mali appears at first glance to be one of the most improbable democracies in existence -- life expectancy is at 45 years, infant mortality is higher than 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, it's literacy rate is 46%, and according to the CIA World Factbook, "is among the poorest countries in the world, with 65% of its land area desert or semidesert and with a highly unequal distribution of income."

Not only that, its predominantly Muslim. Your average Democracy skeptic (both liberal and conservative) might therefore be disinclined to think of Mali as an area where Democracy is likely to thrive. But they'd be wrong:
Mali's young democracy is thriving with all of the attendant institutions, including a legal system, however still imperfect, and a free news media that includes 42 privately owned newspapers and 124 private radio stations, the most popular medium in a highly illiterate country. It also is essentially free of human-rights abuses, according to a 2003 State Department report.

The reason I label the post "must-read" is because it covers alot of crucial points about the importance of Democratization around the world--and the American interest in it. Not only is West Africa a key conduit for oil (and one not predominantly under the thumb of OPEC), but it also is a frontline in the war against Islamic extremism. At the moment, the West African brand of Islam is quite moderate. However, as we've seen so many times in the past, US hostility (or even indifference) can drive impoverished and poor citizens to radicalism and violence. The continued instability of the region (made worse by the rapid worsening of the situation in the Ivory Coast) only compounds the problem.

And of course, to top it all off, China has taken an interest in Africa as a region in which to expand its hegemony--primarily because the US has traditionally showed such little interest in Africa in the past. As Stephanie Giry notes in the November 15 2004 edition of The New Republic:
China's efforts don't bode well for African democracy--or for Washington. As the diplomatic wrangling over Sudan shows, China's march into Africa will, at best, complicate African and U.S. efforts to bring good governance and human rights to the continent. At worst, it will hurt the fight against terrorism and weapons proliferation.

The United States must do everything in its power to support fledgling Democracies like Mali. This is a clearcut case where US moral, economic, and realist interests all come into line. Morally, the US must provide direct support to nation's which have overcome the odds to choose the liberal path. Economically, the US needs a stable and secure West Africa to protect our oil interests. And strategically, the US needs to check both Chinese hegemonic ambitions and resurgent Islamic fundamentalism, a cause which could be greatly aided by making Mali a showcase of how Muslims and the third world can benefit if they ally with the United States and align with our values.

Read Professor Drezner's post. It is one of the clearest examples of how democracy can flourish in even the most hostile environments, and offers hope to those of us who believe that all citizens of the world have a future in a liberal, tolerant, modern democratic state.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Are Jews a "Race"?

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh defends his categorization of Jews as a "race" in the context of both legal and practical analysis (while also noting that Jews could be equally labeled an "ethnicity," given the blurring of the two terms).

The objection came from an emailer who claimed:
Jews are not a race, any more than Anglicans or Catholics. Part of the persistence of anti-semitism lies in the thoughtless assumption that there is a race of people known as Jews, instead of a collection of individuals who have certain beliefs.

Speaking as a Jew, I am inclined to agree with Volokh. Jews are ethnically and culturally distinct from mainstream White and Christian America. Certainly, Jews are often mistaken for Whites or Christians, and often actively try and assimilate into White-Christian society. But I think that is more of a function of historical anti-Semitism on the part of the Christian community, Jews hope to dodge anti-Semitism by "passing" as White Christians. Christians simply refuse to see Jews as both unique AND equal, so Jews have been forced to choose one or the other. In many cases (understandably, considering the history of oppression foisted upon them!), Jews have chosen equality, and thus have suppressed the ethnic, historical, and cultural differences they have with the Christian community. (I realize the above is rather inflammatory AND incomplete--not a happy combination. Unfortuntately, the justification for is rather indepth and still a work in process (see below). So I'd ask patience as I try to formulate these thoughts into a broader, more coherent whole that I hope will be provocative without being offensive).

I actually have ALOT to say on this issue, and I'm in the process of writing a large paper on how the Christian construction of Jewish identity contributes to anti-Semitic oppression in general and anti-Israel policies in particular. Since I am still forming my thoughts on the matter, I'm reluctant to write further at this time. If anyone has any good resources or literature on the topic (or generic literature on Critical Theory), I'd be appreciative. So far, the ONLY book I've found on the topic is "Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Seperation of Church and State" by Stephen Feldman, I'd like to branch out a bit.

UPDATE: I should say that categorizing Jews as a "race" only makes sense if one rejects the idea of "race" as referring to something biologically determinate (which I do). Race is a social construction, and, in many of the ways Jews have been constructed, we've been constructed as racially other. Insofar as to many, labeling Jews as "White" is a way of negating their historical differentiation from the dominant White castes, I am leery of chucking out the idea of race with regards to Jews so quickly. I should note that often non-White Jews still are assumed to be White simply by virtue of their Jewishness, or vice versa -- non-White Jews as presumed to be non-Jewish by virtue of their non-Whiteness. This is another demonstration of how the refusal to deal with Jews on their own terms tends to suppress diverse and heterogeneous Jewish experience.

The fluidity and plasticity of race as a concept and category means that we should not expect to be able to lock in how Jews fit in with the concept of race across all different times, spaces, and contexts. The Supreme Court rather wisely acceded to this view in Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 418 U.S. 615 (1987). Obviously, applying old-school racialization schemas to Jews has led to some pretty horrific results, which is why it is understandable that many Jews are quite suspicious of the term as a whole. On the other hand, as the valence of "race" has changed, particularly in progressive circles, it is important that Jews not be caught in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario. Just as Cheryl Harris complained that "at the very historical moment that race is infused with a perspective that reshapes it, through race-conscious remediation, into a potential weapon against subordination, official rules articulated in law deny that race matters",* Jews too should not be racialized only when it can hurt them, then deracialized at the precise moment where race re-emerges as a potential tool for liberal emancipation.

* Cheryl I. Harris, Whiteness as Property, 106 Harv. L. Rev. 1707, 1768 (1993).

Monday, December 13, 2004

Is Connie Making a Comeback?

This gave me a start. Daniel Drezner just got back from a conference in Paris on the US Election. After hearing the speakers, he found someone he'd add to his shortlist of 2008 Republican VP candidates. Who is it?

My former Representative, Connie Morella, who represented Maryland's 8th Congressional District until Chris Van Hollen knocked her out in 2002.
"By contrast, Connie Morella -- a former U.S. Representative for Maryland and currently U.S. Ambassador to the OECD -- was more interesting (though, to be fair, she didn't have to give a talk). Four years from now, any Republican nominee should short-list her for VP consideration. She's a blue-stater, was able to get re-elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic desitrict [sic] until she finally succumbed in 2002, and after her OECD stint will have diplomatic and economic policymaking experience.

My brief thoughts, speaking as someone who worked hard to unseat Morella in 2002. First of all, it isn't going to happen. Morella is WAY too moderate for the GOP. They barely tolerated her when she was in Congress, and her 2002 loss (even though it was in a district that was redistricted to become even more heavily Democrat than it was before) will, fairly or not, tarnish her credentials as someone who can win in the blue states. Plus she has no public profile outside of Montgomery County. Of course, she could just serve as political cover, giving the Republican ticket a moderate persona while still running to the right (see below). But I don't think it will be enough.

As to whether she'd be a good VP candidate...I'm not sure. When she was my Representative, Ms. Morella was legendary for her constituent service work. Everyone, Republican and Democrat, liked and respected her for her deep roots in the community and her geniune commitment to the people she represented. I'm not sure how that will translate to a beneficial quality as a VP candidate (considering VPs don't really have any constituent service work to do). She is a moderate, and could have a positive influence on a party that is racing off to the right. But Connie's (everyone in the 8th district calls her Connie) main problem is that she doesn't have a spine. I don't trust her to stand up to the Republican leadership, which to me negates any moderate credentials she may bring to the table. As a VP candidate, she'll be forced to go negative, something which doesn't suit her well (8th district voters were surprised and angered when "nice Connie" went negative in the waning days of the 2002 campaign). Connie is somewhat emblematic of the state of Republican moderates today--scared of their own party and cowed into submission. Is that really what we need in a VP candidate?

For better or for worse, I think Connie's career is over. I wasn't even aware she was representing us at the OECD, and I don't think she has the political heft to get on the ticket. However, my political opposition not withstanding, I am glad that a talented and dedicated public servant like Morella is still participating in the public sphere. We'll see if this story goes anywhere.

They Might Be Giants...

UPDATE: 12/13 @ 6:17 PM
As anyone with even a pinky on popular culture knows, the motto of the Hogwarts school in Harry Potter is "never tickle a sleeping dragon." And now, the Debate Link stands ready to utterly ignore that wonderful maxim and seek to engage the titanic Powerline Blog in a blogwar. Of course, this has NOTHING to do with the fact that my hit counts triple whenever Powerline links to me.

The story so far: I wrote a piece entitled Left Hook on Peter Beihart's now famous Fighting Faith piece in the New Republic. Powerline linked to me saying that I was on the "right side" of this debate (yay!), and then I wrote a much longer piece called Left Cross on why I thought Democrats were both politically and ideologically better suited to fight terror than Republicans. Powerline then wrote another post on how liberals are captives of the Michael Moore wing of the party (Moore, ironically, isn't a Democrat at all, he's a Green. But that's seperate), to which I responded here and Powerline riposted here.

Powerline writes:
David cites the failure of two joke candidates, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich, as evidence that the Democrats are not dovish. Far more probative evidence, I think, is the party's utter rejection of the only true hawk in the primary field, Joe Lieberman, the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 2000. David dismisses the obvious implication of the Democrats' love affair with Dean by characterizing him as a "a veritable warmonger whose reputation was inexplicably wholly defined around his opposition to the second Iraq war." It's true that Dean was once something of a hardliner on U.S. military intervention, but that was back in the early 1990s. And the fact that Dean's reputation was defined by his opposition to the current war in Iraq is not inexplicable -- this was the niche that Dean successfully carved out in order to rise from obscure former governor of a tiny state to Democratic front-runner. Either that or should demand its money back.

First of all, I think we can fairly label Bob Graham a hawk as well, but I realize that's tangential to the point at hand. As for Dean, maybe MoveOn should get its money back. I think that Dean's dovish credentials were overhyped. Sure, he's partially to blame for this, because it was to his political benefit to do so (if Powerline's redline is politicians who never say anything silly because its to their political benefit to do so, they'll be searching for a candidate for a long time). But what I think Powerline was missing was that Dean appealed to TWO different constituencies. One was the dovish anti-war folks. The second was the folks who wanted to fight the war on terror aggressively but thought Iraq was a distraction to it. For this second group, Dean talked tough on such issues like Homeland Security and US/Saudi relations. No less of an authority than Beihart himself said that Dean might have been able to leverage this hawkishness to an election victory (an idea to which I expressed skepticism here). The second group, whom I partially disagree with but think hold an at least reasonable position, abandoned Dean when they decided he was unelectable and went to Kerry. The position by these voters, who I think hold alot more influence than the rabid peaceniks, is not unreasonable. There is a compelling argument that Iraq was a distraction from the war, and that we should have focused our resources on nailing al-Qaeda to the wall, so I don't think its fair to tag this set of people as dovish.

Let's look at Sen. Kerry right now. Yes, he was a dove for most of his time in Congress (though to be honest, I don't think most Democrats knew that at the time. I'd like to think that I'm somewhat politically attuned, and I wasn't even looking in that direction. Dumb of me, but it at least means the motives were pure(er)). But I think his actions on the campaign trail were revealing. Powerline writes:
Finally, we get to John Kerry, the nominee the Democrats settled for when they concluded that Dean was not electable, and one of the most dovish members of the Senate with a 35 year history of opposing the use of American military power. David cites Kerry's vote in favor of the war in Iraq. But Kerry says he only voted for the war in order to give President Bush leverage with the U.N., so America could pass the global test. In other words, Kerry supported military action against Iraq only if the U.N. would sanction that action. Indeed, after the U.N. refused to sanction our action, Kerry voted to withhold funding for our troops. And during the fall campaign, Kerry most often (though not invariably) took the position that we should not have gone into Iraq. This, perhaps, is the most tell-tale sign of the influence of the Moore wing -- with swing voters dubious of Kerry's bona fides as a hardliner in the war against terrorists and the states that support terrorism, Kerry still had to appease his base by taking a soft line, or at least engaging in double-talk.

I think the above represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Kerry's position. First, as to Kerry authorizing war in order to give the UN credible threat, that's true, but it was Bush's position too (according to, whose server was down when I posted this so I can't get the precise link. Just take my word for it, yes?). Bush specifically said, in the signing ceremony, that this legislation was designed to forstall war, not cause it. So if Kerry flipflopped, so did Bush, but Bush gets the worse end of the deal because he flipflopped AND lied about it.

Then we get to the famous funding bill. I agree this vote was a mistake. However, Powerline (like most of the American media) distorts Kerry's position on it. "I actually voted for it before I voted agaisnt it" may set a record for the worst political justification of all time, but objectively its fairly accurate. Kerry voted for the bill when it had funding, and voted against it after Bush threatened a veto when funding Iraq appeared to jepordize his precious tax cuts. Should Kerry have voted for the bill anyway? Probably. But in a strictly moral sense, isn't President Bush further in the wrong for prioritizing tax cuts over the security of our troops? In all, Kerry's vote was a mistake, but characterizing it as the be-all end-all of Kerry's security position is unjustified.

Then as to Kerry's late summer claims that we shouldn't have gone into Iraq at all. Lawerence Lessig best answers this challenge.
"As with most Americans, at the start, Kerry supported the war in Vietnam. Unlike almost all Americans of privilege (see, e.g., George Bush and Dick Cheney), Kerry demonstrated his support by volunteering to serve in that war. But after his experience, he—as almost all Americans—came to believe that war was a mistake. Our government had lied to get us into the war; it had lied about its prosecution of the war. Based upon the facts, he changed his mind.

The same is true about the war on Iraq. As with most Americans, Kerry supported giving the President the authority to go to war. As with most Americans, Kerry expected the President would exercise that authority in a way that did not unnecessarily put America at risk. But after his experience, he—as with most Americans—came to believe that war was a mistake. Most of us believe our government lied to get us into the war; most believe it has lied about its prosecution of the war. Based upon the facts, Kerry is now critical of a war he supported at the start.

This is not flip-flopping. It is evidence of a functioning brain. When you learn that the premise of your action was false, you should rethink your action. When you learn that the premise of a war was false, you should rethink the justification for the war. Being stubborn in the face of reality doesn't make you principled. It makes you Chairman Mao."

Fareed Zakaria best sums up the validity--and logical consistency--of Kerry's position:
"The more intelligent question is (given what we knew at the time): Was toppling Hussein's regime a worthwhile objective? Bush's answer is yes; Howard Dean's is no. Kerry's answer is that it was a worthwhile objective but was disastrously executed. For this "nuance" Kerry has been attacked from both the right and the left. But it happens to be the most defensible position on the subject.
Bush's position is that if Kerry agrees with him that Hussein was a problem, then Kerry agrees with his Iraq policy. Doing something about Iraq meant doing what Bush did. But is that true? Did the United States have to go to war before the weapons inspectors had finished their job? Did it have to junk the U.N. process? Did it have to invade with insufficient troops to provide order and stability in Iraq? Did it have to occupy a foreign country with no cover of legitimacy from the world community? Did it have to ignore the State Department's postwar planning? Did it have to pack the Iraqi Governing Council with unpopular exiles, disband the army and engage in radical de-Baathification? Did it have to spend a fraction of the money allocated for Iraqi reconstruction -- and have that be mired in charges of corruption and favoritism? Was all this an inevitable consequence of dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein?"

All of this doesn't make John Kerry into Joe Lieberman. But it also shows he's not Michael Moore. Powerline concludes by noting that Hilary Clinton has taken up the mantle of Conservatism on Immigration Reform. A good test of Powerline's willingness to welcome liberal allies on these core issues would be for it to lay off its mantra of "Hilary Clinton = the Evil Incarnate" and recognize that she has been a relatively effective (and frankly quite hawkish) Senator.

But the worst part is, even if one doesn't buy anything that I'm saying, it doesn't mean the Republicans are better. It just means we're all screwed. I've yet to hear a decent response to my arguments in Left Cross about why the Republicans won't be effective in fighting the war on terror. If Democrats are ALSO ineffective, that just means America is dead in the water. It most certainly DOESN'T provide a warrant to keep electing the Republicans who have failed to make our nation safer. Until I see Republicans make bona fide efforts to make our nation safe, rather than coasting on their reputation while taking politically-motivated half steps, my Democratic allegiance is safe.

UPDATE: For Powerline's edification, "They Might Be Giants" is the name of a soft rock/ska band whom I rarely listen to. But I'm glad you like the title (I thought it fit nicely). I also ran a search on Powerline's mentions of Hillary Clinton. One negative mention, alot of tangential stuff, and some neutral gigs. So I apologize for mislabeling Powerline's position on her. Allow me to rephrase: Perhaps Powerline should be more vocal in its support for liberals when they make smart decisions (especially those, like Clinton, who tend to elicit visceral negative reactions amongst the Conservative mainstream). For the record, I've praised Bush before on this blog (here just after the election and here during the campaign season), so any charges of hypocrisy will be laughed at.

I would be interested in hearing a response to my Left Cross article, not because I'm trying to pick a fight (OK, but only a little), but also because its an important conversation to have.

Moore Problems?

Down at Powerline, they're echoing the claim that the Democratic party is a captive of the Michael Moore wing of the left.

I've never much understood this claim. First of all, as a Peter Beihart noted in his much discussed article "Fighting Faith" (linked to by The Debate Link here), the leadership of the party is pretty much uniformly hawkish. Of the main faces of the Democratic party, only Nancy Pelosi can fairly be tagged a dove. Kerry's dovish tendancies have been overhyped (though he's not a hawk either), and Howard Dean was a veritable warmonger whose reputation was inexplicably wholly defined around his opposition to the second Iraq war, rather than his calls for a resurgent war against terror (a worse version of Bob Graham, in my opinion). Democratic primary voters soundly rejected the two major doves in the field (Sharpton and Kucinich), and 3 of the 4 frontrunners (Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt) voted for the war in Iraq. Even Michael Moore himself endorsed General Wesley Clark, who's brief campaign was centered around a more effective war on terror.

There are dovish elements in the Democratic party, to be sure (just as there are dovish/isolationist elements in the Republican party, as Pat Buchanan might like to point out). I just don't think they can indisuptably be labeled in control. One key area of difference is that I think that Democrats are far more likely to view terrorism as a problem beyond states, whereas Republicans are still stuck in the pre-9/11, realist state-centric mentality (you can add this to my longer analysis of why Democrats are better suited than Republicans to fighting the war on terror). I don't think that viewing terror through a state-centric prism allows for effective redress, because the asymetrical, decentralized, and grassroots characteristics of terror make it unlikely that terror can be stopped simply be toppling hostile regimes. Osama Bin Laden survived in civil war torn Sudan and Afghanistan, suggesting that he doesn't need a strong state government to do his work. State sponsers of terrorism (like Iran and Syria) rarely do it directly, because they know that radical fanaticism is a tactic that can rapidly spiral out of their control (ask Israel about their nuturing of Hamas for more on this). Since terrorism can't be addressed top-down, traditional "liberal" remedies that focus on winning the mind game and providing hope to the downtrodden offer more solvency because they cut the rug out from under the terrorists support. TNR's Iraq'd blog gives one good example of where locals hate the insurgents and the US equally. Presumably, this is a problem we could have avoided if we hadn't done an inept job in our occupation.

The Debate Link has Trackback!

The Debate Link now has trackback! No more need to use Technorati to figure out who's been linking to me! A big thanks to Mark Olsen of Pseudo-Polymath for informing me how to do it!

Enjoy your new toy boys and girls (hopefully more than I've been enjoying mine!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The War of the MP3 Player

I just got a new MP3 player for Chanukah. It's a Creative Labs Nomad Zen 40 gigabyte giant. I was really excited. And then I tried to get it to work.

I can only conclude that the designers employed by Creative Labs are miserable little sadists bitter that they got fired from IBM, Apple, Rio, HP, and any other electronics manufacturer of reasonable competence. The organizer tool that goes on my computer was ATROCIOUS, it took me a few hours to even figure out HOW to order my playlists (I like to listen to my songs in specific progressions, tragically, that progression is rarely alphabetical). Some of my songs it didn't even pick up, and I couldn't figure out how to transfer them manually from their current location to the organizer. And heaven help me if I used the "smart" playlists. They'd put all the songs in random order, and then they WOULDN'T LET ME shuffle them around. Nice. Nomad must be the only program who's artificial intelligence makes it dumber.

Then I transferred the music to my MP3 player. What do I find? All the playlist--which I had painstakingly organized by hand over the strenous objections of the organizer--had reverted back to alphabetical order. Oh, and what few smart playlists I had made didn't transfer at all. At first, I couldn't figure out how to change the orders at all. Once I figured that out (it was an option available on one, and only one particular way of viewing what was playing), I happily spent the next few hours reorganizing the playlists by hand (again). Then, when I finished, I started to listen...only to find the lists back in alphabetical order AGAIN! Turns out that there is another obscure, hidden option to save any changes you make (heaven forbid Creative follow the pattern set from Windows 3.1 and ASK if I wish to save any changes if it won't make them automatically). Oh, and the lack of cross-fading, after listening to Itunes for the past few months, is aggrevating. All in all, I felt like I was waging a war on the player, and it put up a very good fight. As one of my friends put it, "a worthy adversary, but Chanukah presents shouldn't BE "adversaries" in the first place!"

Rant over. Thanks for listening. And Happy Chanukah!