Archive | August, 2007

The Real Problem With The New Republic

27 Aug

Although I agree with some of the recent discussion about The New Republic enabling conservative nonsense, I’d also like to draw attention to some of TNR‘s less acknowledged, but nonetheless egregious mistakes.

When the magazine has turned its contrarian attention towards popular culture, the results can be spectacular–train wreck spectacular. There was the post calling for Comedy Central to ax the Colbert Report after just two weeks, written by the otherwise sensible Noam Scheiber. The best part is when Scheiber begins to speculate as to where the blame should fall, citing rumors that Jon Stewart was too preoccupied with fallout from his Crossfire appearance to “mind his own ship.” Because having your secretary field calls about what it was like to call Tucker Carlson a “douche bag” really takes away from writing that handful of dick jokes before lunch.

Keelin McDonell tipped the magazine close to self-parody by writing “The Case Against Sarah Vowell”. That’s right, the case against a woman who appears on This American Life and Late Night With Conan O’Brien.  And who can forget Lee Siegel’s “Letter to Jon Stewart” in which he–in all honesty–wondered if “smelled like ass” was a good thing or bad thing.

The real question you have to be asking yourself isn’t whether TNR has made neocon foreign policy seem sensible, but rather why The Daily Show hasn’t savaged most of the staff yet?

Pennsylvania: Number One!

26 Aug

As a native Pittsburgher, I’m glad to see that Tyler Cowen is on to the many charms of the Keystone State. I’ve always thought of Pennsylvania as a sort-of microcosm of American life: small towns and rural areas mimic the South, with large  post-industrial cities (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) approximating a lot of the East Coast and urban populations.  Cowen’s summation is also great:

The bottom line: Almost certainly, Pennsylvania is better than your state. If you are a foreigner, and want to understand what made America great, study and visit Pennsylvania.

Take that, Ohio.

Aggravate Your Inner Economist

23 Aug

This sentence made my inner Tyler Cowen‘s head hurt:

Poetry doesn’t need promotion. People need time. A revolutionary way to promote poetry might be to criminalize capitalism’s theft of people’s time.

I have no idea what this means. This is from a post about promoting poetry on the consistently nonsensical Harriet, a poetry blog of the Poetry Foundation. What sort of social system isn’t going to exact an opportunity cost? So you have to have to work to make money, time that could be spent writing sonnets and making sly allusions to Rimbaud. Yeah, it’s rough. On the other hand, in the socialist utopia you have to write verse about the noble workers, and the vanguard, and wear severe looking coats that go past your knees. Tough call.

Against Torture?

22 Aug

I think Megan McArdle needs to define some of her terms in this post questioning the dismissal of torture:

One of the most facile dismissals of torture is that it doesn’t work, so why bother? That’s tempting, but it’s too easy. Torture seems to me very likely to work provided that you can verify the information, which I assume interrogators can in at least some circumstances.

As some of her commenters noted, if you can verify the information, why are you torturing in the first place? The much hypothesized “ticking time-bomb” scenario works on the premise that you won’t be able to verify the information (until, likely, it’s too late) so the “lie-detecting brain scans” McArdle posits are the most probable candidate. Again, though, Asymmetrical Information readers respond:

As for lie detecting brain scans…really, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. I find it hard to believe that “lying” is actually a category of activity that matches up to a discrete brain pattern; it’s too similar to “telling a story”. My 3-year-old’s lies and fantasies are mixed up with his accurate reporting in a totally indistinguishable fashion, and I’m not sure he even knows which is which.

The greatest problem with going Torquemada on terrorists is that 1) they may totally believe what they say (because of fanatical dogma or operational ignorance) and 2) given a time-sensitive scenario (like an A-bomb in New York set to go off in 24 hours), the same dogmatic extremist wins merely by holding out, not by never giving up information. At this point, verification, or even the effectiveness of torture, becomes a moot point.

The larger moral question (which may be of greater import) isn’t really clarified by the back-and-forth of utilitarian moral calculus. Once again (I’m still in English dept. meetings, so I’m leaning heavily on other people’s work) commenter and Unfogged contributor LizardBreath points us to the crux of the moral quandry:

The real problem with attempting to separate out the moral issues from any practical issues is laid out in Belle Waring’s classic post “By the power of stipulation”. You can get people to agree that they’d do any bad thing at all, say, torturing a three year old child to death, if you can stipulate that something much much worse will happen if they don’t do it. To talk about the question morally, you really do have to talk about the practical issues first.

English Department Meeting Blogging

22 Aug

Brad DeLong freaks me out by noting “Objects in My Calender Are Closer than They Appear…”. How close, you ask? I’m at orientation for teaching George Mason’s composition program right now. Back to school. Get excited.

Yale English Dept. Not the Political Powerhouse Yale Law Is

22 Aug

The bizarre contrarian ramblings of Camille Paglia remind me of the old Larry King USA Today columns, if Larry King were on steroids, a powerful psychotropic, and had an English degree from Yale (for a point of reference, this old Onion parody of King is actually pretty close to the real thing). Belle Waring reads her latest column and identifies everything that is awry in just three paragraphs of Paglia’s musings:

How many things have gone wrong in this passage? From listening to Drudge’s radio show, to facile ecstasies about black people and how they’re so authentic and musical, to finding deep meaning in a Kelly Clarkson song, I can only say: damn, Camille, that was some pharmaceutical-grade sh#t right there.

Her survey of the current political landscape, however, is pure up-is-downism:

The thick-headed Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triad may have grotesquely bungled the Iraq incursion, but Republicans (barring a breakaway third party) will still comfortably retake the White House next year if my fellow Democrats don’t get their act together on the cardinal issue of geopolitics. Terrorism isn’t going to go away if and when we withdraw from Iraq.

They will “comfortably” retake the White House? After two close presidential elections, a fundraising lead for Democrats for the first time in years, and the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006, what exactly leads Paglia to believe that a victory would be a comfortable one? Gotta love political insight from a woman who’s sure the Democrats are going down but voted for Nader in 2000.

Well, It’s a Mighty Zombie Talking of Some Love and Posterity…

21 Aug

I’m not sure why, but this song has been stuck in my head all day: