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12.09.2004

Coerced, Obviously

Japan has re-enlisted in the Coalition of the Bribed and Coerced. I admit it's a little disconcerting to this anglophone that the Japanese defense minister's name is "Ohno."

-D. Brown
Cold Turkey

Yes, I've cut myself off from reading The Nation. It's an experiment. My time is finite, and I had been spending far too much of it at the same website. So what am I doing with my time? Well, I've apparently become a biotechnology blogger. Not my intention.

But this Slate article by Wm. Saletan helped fill in some of the details of the Ponnuru piece I linked earlier. In fact, having read it, I'm less inclined to agree with Ponnuru. The scary graf:
It sounds perfect, until you look up at the projection screen. Hurlbut has modeled his recipe on "aberrant products of fertilization" and teratomas, which, he explains, are "germ cell tumors that generate all three primary embryonic germ layers as well as more advanced cells and tissues, including partial limb and organ primordia." Limb and organ primordia? Yep, that's what's on the screen: a ball of tissue, grown inside some poor creature, full of bits and pieces of what would have been a body. Another slide shows an X-ray image of somebody's back. To the left of the spine, you can see a cluster of white spots that look like teeth. And that's exactly what they are, all dressed up and no place to chomp. You wanted disorganized development? You got it.
Gilbert Meilaender, linked in this space yesterday, also worries about the consequences of the technology, mainly as the potential top of a slippery slope. Like I said, I'm predisposed to agree with Ponnuru, so we'll see what he writes tomorrow.

-D. Brown

Quid pro Quo

Ramesh Ponnuru agreed with me the other day, and I thought I'd return the favor. This article at TechCentralStation (hat tip to K-Lo) discusses some possibilities in embryonic stem cell research that those of a pro-life persuasion may find more palatable than the deliberate creation of embryonic human beings with the intention of destroying them.

It's interesting that Ponnuru shares my distaste for American fertility practices. I haven't met many people who do. Then again, all of the Catholics I know are thoroughly (and somewhat proudly) lapsed. Anyhow, the article promises another installment tomorrow. I'll be watching for it.

-D. Brown

12.08.2004

"The Vice of Compassion"

Given the tendency of bioethicists to hold the corporations that employ them to a very flexible, if not low, standard of ethics, it's good to know that the author of this essay sits on the President's Bioethics Council.

It's a long essay. Here's one of the strong points:
No one can be against compassion, of course, and no one should be against it when it is properly understood. But the debased currency of compassion in our public discourse today is by no means the real virtue itself. The meaning of compassion has been isolated entirely from any larger moral framework which might give it direction and set limits to what can be done in its name.
Glenn Reynolds, take note.

DOC will be glad to know that his favorite author is invoked.

-D. Brown
John Kerry Could Tell Us

Were they bribed or coerced?

The guy is smiling. Must have been the bribe.

-D. Brown

12.07.2004

The Good News

You'll be relieved to read that, according to its about page:
The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.
Whew! So it won't be long until The Nation, in its unremitting war against partisanship, exaggeration, and misrepresentation, conquers such articles this one, which was published three weeks ago. May I quote it at length? Thank you.
. . . [T]he strict-father family model assumes that evil and danger will always lurk in the world, that life is difficult, that there will always be winners and losers and that children are born bad--they want to do what feels good, not what's right--and have to be made good. A strict father is needed to protect and support the family and to teach his kids right from wrong. That can be done in only one way: punishment painful enough that, to avoid it, children will learn the internal discipline necessary to be moral. That discipline can also make them prosperous if they seek their self-interest and no one interferes. Mommy isn't strong enough to protect the family and is too soft-hearted to discipline the children. That's why fathers are necessary.

Apply this, via metaphor, to the nation: We need a strong President who knows right from wrong to defend the nation. Social programs are immoral because they give people things they haven't earned and so make them undisciplined--both dependent and less able to function morally. The prosperous people are the good people. Those who are not prosperous deserve their poverty. Taxes take away the rightful rewards of the prosperous. Wrongdoers should be punished severely. Government should get out of the way of disciplined (hence good) people seeking their self-interest. The President is to be obeyed; since he knows right from wrong, his authority is legitimate and not to be questioned. In foreign policy, he is also the absolute moral authority and so needs no advice from lesser countries.

The so-called "moral issues" are affronts to strict-father morality. Strict-father marriage cannot be gay; it must be between a man and a woman. For a wife to seek an abortion on her own or a daughter to need one is an affront to strict-father control over the behavior of the women in his family. They are not the main moral issues in themselves; rather they are symbolic of the entire strict-father identity as applied to all spheres of life. That's why they are so powerful for conservatives.
The battle is joined, and soon the exaggeration, misrepresentation, and partisanship represented by this recently published article will be excised from The Nation's pages forever.

Of course, the promise to eliminate the stuff was made in 1865. And Katrina vanden Heuvel isn't too hot on Wars against Abstract Concepts (see below).

-D. Brown

vanden Heuvel: Uncanny, Unhinged

I've been after The Nation since I started blogging. Probably 80-90% of my entries have been related to something from either The Nation or the International Herald Tribune. That probably won't change.

Here, for instance, is Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel's latest entry in her blog (I decided against the sarcastic quotation marks), "The Editor's Cut." She is the editor of this periodical. This is her first paragraph:
Music for America (MfA) is Example A of why the future is for the young and MfA-type organizations who are inspired now more than ever to continue to effect positive change. Twenty-one million Americans under the age of 30 cast ballots, 4.6 million of them were new voters. This was the highest youth turnout since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972, and its an important example of what went right in the campaign.
Now, in a sidebar we are warned to "expect no major manifestos or sweeping pronouncements." Would it be too much to expect a coherent paragraph? One with a lead sentence that scanned?

She compounds her difficulty in the second paragraph by beginning:
If only 18, 19 and 20 year olds had been permitted to vote in this election, Kerry would have carried Ohio, Florida and Missouri, defeating Bush by more than 200 electoral votes.
Read that sentence as many times as you need to. I'll wait.

Should she continue writing thus, vanden Heuvel may someday wake to find that "The Editor's Cut" has ceased to be a noun phrase and has become a short declarative sentence.

-D. Brown
Two Views of Politics, and an Application

Otto von Bismark famously described politics as "the art of the possible." This epigram admits of two, and possibly more, interpretations. The sense in which Bismarck probably meant it is that politics is essentially realistic rather than idealistic, dealing in the choice of possible actions (or refraining from action) in a specific situation. The other possible interpretation that I see is its opposite: that politics is tasked with realizing - and making - possibilities.

A recent editorial by Thomas Friedman (via IHT), taking the latter view, suggests a bold vision for the second Bush administration:
If President George W. Bush is looking for a legacy, I have just the one for him - a national science project that would be our generation's moon shot: a crash science initiative for alternative energy and conservation to make America energy-independent in 10 years. Imagine if every American kid, in every school, were galvanized around such a vision.
Energy independence, he argues, would have far-reaching geopolitical effect beneficial to American interests. Specifically, the development of non-fossil-fuel (and presumably non-nuclear, since this this is an alternative energy source that he doesn't consider) energy options would expand the American economy and, by ending the blank check of oil reserves now held by nations in need of reform:
You give me an America that is energy-independent, and I will give you sharply reduced oil revenues for the worst governments in the world. I will give you political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran. Yes, deprive these regimes of the huge oil windfalls on which they depend and you will force them to reform by having to tap their people instead of oil wells. These regimes won't change when we tell them they should. They will change only when they tell themselves they must.
* * *

If Bush made energy independence his moon shot, he would dry up revenue for terrorism; force Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to take the path of reform - which they will never do with $45-a-barrel oil - strengthen the dollar; and improve his own standing in Europe, by doing something huge to reduce global warming. He would also create a magnet to inspire young people to contribute to the war on terrorism and America's future by becoming scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

Now, I agree that American energy policy should include a commitment to the development on non-fossil fuel energy sources, in addition to more efficient use of existing non-renewable resources. I think we should be open to cleaner-burning coal power, to a cautious resumption of nuclear power, and to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. There does need to be a national push for the development of renewable and non-polluting energy sources, in which federal planning and funding would have a necessary role. Energy independence for the United States will strengthen its position in the global economy, and will reduce the capital available to terror groups.

Friedman's forecast, however, is too sunny by half. Infatuated, perhaps, with the "possible," he seems to overlook the law of unintended consequences. "You give me an America that is energy-independent, and I will give you sharply reduced oil revenues for the worst governments in the world. I will give you political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran," he writes. I'm afraid that if I gave Friedman what he asks, I'd get in return not reform but instability. This instability would possibly lead to needed reforms in these oil-producing states, but nothing is guaranteed.

The destabilization of these regimes, despotisms many of them, doesn't amount to an argument against the push that Friedman advocates. I'd view it as part of the case for energy independence, as does Friedman. But alongside an investment in science education, we'd need to prepare for this instability by educating diplomats, policymakers, and intelligence officers in the history and politics of the Middle East. This is something we're far from doing now, as Stanley Kurtz has been reporting for ages. Reform is possible in an unstable Middle East, but wouldn't it be better if the friends of democracy were prepared to help?

I can't say that Friedman is wrong, or even that I disagree with what he's written. I think, however, that he would have written better if, at the top of his page, he had quoted Galbraith's response to Bismarck:
Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
-D. Brown

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