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    SLOW: stimulus area ahead

    Posted by Sean at 23:54, July 17th, 2009

    The newspaper of my Lehigh Valley hometown in Pennsylvania reports that PennDOT, the commonweath’s version of the DMV (as beloved as those of most other states, if not less; when it comes to service, New York’s is like TGI Friday’s by comparison), is spending $60,000 of its stimulus money on signs to advertise projects intended as stimuli:

    PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said Pennsylvania elected to take a ”middle-of-the-road” approach to the federal government’s strong encouragement that the signs be put at every project site around the state, choosing only those that were most visible to the public. The stimulus package is pumping $1 billion into the state for hundreds of road and bridge repairs.

    PennDOT’s not alone in touting the stimulus package. The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority requires all contractors to post the act’s logo on construction sites. ”The logo must be at least six inches in diameter and displayed in a prominent place,” reads a line in the agency’s Recovery Act requirements.

    The state also is paying political strategist and media consultant Ken Snyder $9,090 a month to help with publicity relating to the stimulus package.

    ”Obviously it is important to educate the public about where the recovery dollars are working in the commonwealth,” PennDOT’s Chizmar said. ”The public deserves and has a right to know.”

    I’m not entirely sure this is worth getting exercised over. Depending on the kind of installation, sign crews do dangerous work outdoors no matter how crappy the weather, and their industry’s been hit hard by the recession; so I find it hard to complain that some extra work’s been thrown their way. And PennDOT seems to have forgone the opportunity to put signs up at every last project site. Given Washington’s current spending practices, $60,000 hardly seems worth remarking on.

    The part I find irritating is the flagrantly cynical spin put on the thing by PennDOT’s mouthpiece. The public does, indeed, have a right to know how the tax dollars that happen to wander back here after making their U-turn through sticky-fingered Washington are being apportioned out, but surely that right could be satisfied with a webpage or downloadable PDF file. (Surely not, my experience a few years ago with PennDOT’s online presence suggests, but I’m talking hypothetically.) The idea that the signs in question are about transparency—rather than about conveying a message along the lines of “See, citizens? We’re Getting Something Done!”—is balderdash.

    Regarding the publicist, my main question is whether he’s being asked to work without pay like those on the regular old state payroll. (And yes, I know that the money paid to Snyder probably comes directly out of the stimulus fund and not from the general budget in Harrisburg. The contrast is still a droll one.)

    My parents are hosting a family reunion on my mother’s side tomorrow. A few dozen relatives will descend on Shimerville, and there are now enough sausages cooked in beer, deviled eggs, potato salad, and beef barbecue for all. An uncle is bringing the (handmade) pierogies. My father ventured to ask what those who wanted a vegetable should do. My mother looked at him as if he’d just landed from Mars. “There are peppers in with the sausage. And I think someone’s bringing a vegetable tray.” Talk of a salad surfaced briefly a few weeks ago, then retreated to the dark-green, leafy depths* and has not, to my knowledge, been raised again.

    My job…well, okay, I sort of volunteered…was to attend to the booze list. It would be disrespectful not to have enough whiskey on hand for Ciocia H’s highballs, after all. How frequently I’ll be offering to freshen her drink as a cover for topping my own will depend on how successfully the rest of the family keeps a lid on the passive-aggressive grudge-working. (My mother’s side of the family is Polish Catholic.)

    * Actually, now that I think of it, that’s misleading, since salad in this family refers to a quarter-head of iceberg lettuce covered, Vesuvius-destroying-Pompeii-like, in hot bacon dressing.


    Posted by Sean at 12:32, July 16th, 2009

    Japan has a new organ transplant law, which recognizes brain death as death and could make younger donors possible:

    The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is set to begin discussing the criteria by which doctors would diagnose brain death in children under 15 under the revised Organ Transplant Law enacted Monday.

    The ministry also will examine how to confirm whether potential donors did or did not intend to donate their organs.

    The revised law has paved the way for children under 15 to become organ donors, which is prohibited under the current law enacted in 1997. A bill to revise the law passed at the Monday plenary session of the House of Councillors with 138 votes in favor of it and 82 opposed. Twenty lawmakers were absent or abstained.

    The existing criteria for recognizing brain death apply to people aged 6 and older. A health ministry research team of medical experts prepared a draft of criteria for children under the age of 6 in 2000.

    Not surprisingly, prominent supporters of the revised law include families of potential recipients:

    On June 23, Koki Sampo, from Aoba Ward, Yokohama, and his wife, Yuki, lost their 1-year-old son, Ikki, who had been suffering from a severe heart disorder. He died in the United States after undergoing heart transplant surgery there.

    Ikki was diagnosed as suffering idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy in April 2008, when he was just 6 weeks old.

    “My mind went into a blur the moment the doctor told me the name of the disease,” Yuki, 29, said.

    The couple decided to go to the United States after Ikki’s condition worsened at the end of the year and he suffered temporary heart and lung failure. The family arrived in the United States in April.

    Sampo said he was told several times by medical staff at the U.S. hospital that they should have come to the hospital much earlier, when Ikki’s condition was not as serious.

    Ikki was able to undergo transplant surgery in late May. However, his parents’ dream of being able to take their son back to Japan in a healthy condition did not materialize.

    Ikki’s funeral was held on July 3 in Yokohama. When Sampo, who returned to his job last week, heard the news of the revised Organ Transplant Law being enacted he said, “I hope this means there will be fewer patients and families who have to go through the same kind of sad experience as we did.”

    “I can’t understand why Japan, which has one of the world’s highest standards of medical care, is unable to make progress when it comes to organ transplants. Why did Diet deliberations on this bill take so long? My son wasn’t able to receive a transplant operation in this country, but I hope Japan will become a nation that can save the lives of as many people as possible–even just one life.”

    Opponents include families that have gone through the agony of deciding whether a loved one is brain-dead:

    Akemi Nakamura, 45, from Ota Ward, Tokyo, had a daughter who was declared brain dead by a doctor at the age of 2 years and 8 months. However, with the aid of an artificial respirator, she was able to live until her heart failed when she was 4. During that period, her hair and nails grew, and she grew more than 10 centimeters taller, Nakamura said.

    “My daughter continued to live [after being declared brain-dead]. It was only the form in which she lived that changed. Just to feel the warmth of her body filled me with so much love,” Nakamura said.

    The revised Organ Transplant Law allows people to become organ donors under the premise that people who are brain dead are legally deceased. To transplant organs from people who have been declared brain dead, in addition to a diagnosis of brain death from a doctor other criteria such as confirmation of respiratory cessation also have to be fulfilled.

    Family members of people judged to be brain dead also have a right to refuse the transplantation of their organs.

    However, Nakamura expressed concern. “The enactment of the revised Organ Transplant Law will make families like us who have been living happily feel anxious,” Nakamura said.

    Another woman’s daughter was a teenager who survived a traffic accident in a coma:

    Masako Ide, 60, serves on the board of an association of families of traffic accident victims. One of Ide’s daughters, a third-year high school student, was in a traffic accident on her way to school in 1990. She was immediately taken to a hospital but was declared brain dead 12 hours later. She died after her heart stopped four days later.

    “Urging victims’ family members, who are in a state of confusion following unexpected accidents involving their loved ones, to decide [if they agree to have the victims] be diagnosed as brain dead or agree to organ donations will further confuse families and force them to shoulder even more burdens,” Ide said. “Measures should be taken to improve the emergency medical system and pediatric care system.”

    It’s impossible to avoid pitting the concerns of those who will die without donated organs against those who could live longer if life support weren’t terminated in order to harvest their organs, but it can be (and has been) argued persuasively that the existing Organ Transplantation Law in Japan was extremely conservative and weighted against recipients:

    The enactment of the Organ Transplant Law [in 1997] was greatly anticipated by patients with no other means for survival than obtaining a transplant as well as those involved in the transplanting process. This new law was expected to have a major impact on transplanting in Japan, but its regulations turned out to be extremely stringent. The donations of organs by a brain dead donor is permitted only if “…the donor expressed in writing prior to death his/her intent to agree to donate his/her organs and agree to be submitted to an authorized brain death declarations, and his/her family members (spouse, parents, siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, and live-in family members) did not object to the donation.” In addition, the law states that “only persons 15 years and above can express an intent to donate.” This stipulation has greatly reduced the possibility of transplants to small children; heart transplants to small children have become impossible.

    There are other problems, of course. Japan is very rarely at the leading edge in medical treatments. It tends to let the U.S. and other countries with researchers willing to forge into unknown procedural and ethical territory make the gains (with the attendant instructive mistakes). And the caution means fewer transplants are performed, which encourages people to go elsewhere if they have the necessary resources. This article, to which I was first referred by a friend, is three years old, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate that the information doesn’t remain basically current:

    A survey of Japan’s overseas organ transplants, published by Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare shows that from 1984 to 2005, at least 522 Japanese people underwent organ transplant operations. Among these operations, 151 cases were conducted in 50 foreign medical institutes, of which 34 were carried out in China—accounting for 75 percent of the total.

    According to Japanese media, the number of Japanese patients accepting organ transplants in other Asian countries has notably increased in recent years. A Tokyo doctor who treated nine patients who came back from China with new kidneys complained, “The Chinese hospitals didn’t provide any donor information, nor did they provide the patients with usage of immunizing agents.” He pointed out that four out of the nine patients died within two years of the operation. “The survival rate after organ transplants in China is terrible compared to that in Japan.”

    These incidents have triggered another round of debates in Japanese medical circles over the human rights and ethical issues related to organ transplants. Related medical associations have forbidden doctors from getting involved in the foreign organ transplant trade. Debate has also started in Japan over modifications to laws related to organ transplants first implemented in 1997.

    So getting your transplant in Japan is ideal, assuming you can actually get an organ. It’s not hard to see why Japanese seem to have been flouting the PRC ban on selling organs to foreigners.

    The Japanese patients spent an average of about 595,000 yuan (US$87,000) each for their operations at an unidentified hospital in Guangzhou, capital of southern China’s Guangdong Province, the report said. The patients received treatment in the hospital for up to 20 days, the report said.

    The money covered fees to the hospital and doctors as well as traveling and accommodation costs in China, according to the news agency.

    Some patients were admitted to hospital under Chinese names as requested by the hospital, Kyoto said. Most of the organs they received were probably from executed prisoners, the report said.

    The Japanese official denied it was organ trade as none of the patients had paid their organ donors and no introduction charges were paid.

    The report added that no Japanese had had such surgery since the Beijing Olympics last August because of “international pressure.”

    China banned the trade in human organs in May 2007, and prescribed that foreigners were not allowed organ transplants in China to protect limited resources.

    China is the world’s second-largest transplant nation after the United States, with about 5,000 operations performed in the country each year.

    Even in the United States, waiting for organs is a big problem, of course, but donors might not be as scarce as they seem if the process were reformed. Virginia Postrel had a piece in The Atlantic last week specifically about kidneys:

    For those who survive long enough to get transplants, the wait routinely lasts years. The odds are particularly bad in large cities. Take the nation’s largest transplant center, the University of California, San Francisco. In 2008, its surgeons did an impressive 347 kidney transplants, including 231 with organs from deceased donors. But 5,271 people are on UCSF’s waiting list—meaning that, relying entirely on deceased donors, they would expect to wait an average of almost 23 years. If, like Steve Jobs, who recently got a liver transplant in Memphis, you can travel great distances on short notice, you can register all over the country. But few kidney patients are that flexible. They wait, they get sicker, and, too often, they die.

    Outlawing payments to donors is ostensibly a way to keep the system fair, giving rich and poor an equally lousy chance of getting a kidney. But wealthier people can already more easily register at distant centers with short lists. They’re also more likely to have friends and relatives who can afford the nonmedical expenses that living donation often entails, including time off from work, child care, hotel rooms, or cross-country travel. (It is legal for recipients or third parties to pay such expenses, but, unlike medical costs, they are not covered by insurance.)

    Patients with enough money and the right networks have yet another option. They can go abroad, to countries where the authorities sanction or ignore payments to living donors. That’s how Henry David got his new kidney.

    Virginia discusses donor pairing and chaining in ways that don’t require new legislation but do present practical challenges. The possibility of paying donors for organs may make the gesture seem less saintly, she writes, but it would provide real incentives in line with the transfer of value involved.

    Are you sure / You wanna hear more?

    Posted by Sean at 11:21, July 16th, 2009

    Great. The ore-ore scam is back, according to the Yomiuri:

    The monthly average of all remittance-related fraud this year has been 92 cases. Should such frauds continue at the same rate this month, July’s figure would be about 150–about 60 percent higher than the monthly average so far this year.

    Notable is the increase in the number of “It’s me calling” scams, in which criminals deceive elderly people by pretending to be a relative and asking them to remit money, with explanations such as “I’ve lost money on the stock exchange.”

    Such methods are believed to be similar to those mainly used around 2003, techniques that criminals have used less frequently in recent years.

    Members of criminal groups who were arrested around that time and had been serving prison terms have now been released. The MPD is strengthening its measures to tackle this kind of crime as it believes the same groups could be back in operation.

    According to the MPD, 552 remittance frauds were committed in the first six months of this year–1,909 fewer cases than in the first half of 2008.

    Criminals cheated victims out of about 869 million yen in the first half of 2009–again a sharp decline of about 2.91 billion yen from the same period last year, the MPD said.

    That makes it hard to tell whether this is a new trend emerging, though the part about those convicted years ago being out of prison now isn’t exactly comforting.


    Posted by Sean at 13:44, July 14th, 2009

    The tsuyu rainy season is ending and high summer beginning in Japan, and Atsushi as always has sent me a few pictures of seasonal flowers to keep me attuned to the changes. We used to go see them together when I was in Tokyo. This is a lotus from Sankeien Park in Yokohama (which is near the setting of the opening scene of Ringu, for those who know it.)

    lotus from atsushi

    Now that we’ve established an image of tranquility, we can move on to the restiveness at hand.

    For those who haven’t noticed, electoral politics in Japan are in the middle of a shake-up. The LDP got spanked hard in the Tokyo Metro Assembly election a weekend ago, and Prime Minister Taro Aso is finally calling the snap election people have been trying to press on him.

    They decided the election will be officially announced on Aug. 18.

    The prime minister, who wanted to dissolve the lower house this week, held discussions with senior officials of the ruling bloc to that end.

    However, the prime minister apparently was not able to push back strong demands from many ruling bloc members opposing an early dissolution.

    At a government-ruling bloc meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office later, Aso apologized for the poor coalition result in Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and expressed his wish to have important bills passed through the Diet.

    “I’m very sorry [about the result of the metropolitan election],” he said. “I want important bills, such as the bill to revise the Organ Transplant Law and the bill for implementing North Korea-related cargo inspections [to be passed by the Diet].”

    The prime minister said he would dissolve the lower house once he saw how the deliberations over these bills would go after the Democratic Party of Japan presented a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet.

    Naoto Kan, who’s been back as acting leader of the DPJ, is trying to play Sunday’s results up as not only disaffection with the LDP/Shin-Komeito but also newfound confidence in the DPJ:

    In the election Sunday, Minshuto added 20 seats to bring its total to 54 in the 127-seat assembly.

    The LDP lost 10 seats and ended up with 38, the lowest since the party was formed and only tied in the 1965 election. New Komeito took 23 for the coalition’s combined total that fell short of the majority.

    Minshuto’s victory also snapped the LDP’s 40-year streak of being the largest party in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly.

    “It’s a result of higher trust in Minshuto, beyond the Tokyo administration,” Naoto Kan, Minshuto’s acting president, said on an NHK TV program Sunday night.

    Maybe. The Japanese are certainly unhappy with much of the status quo, and they may see the DPJ (called in these articles by a transliteration of its Japanese name, 民主党 [minshutou]: “democratic party”) as genuinely having a better policy platform. I’m not really sure it goes quite that deep, though. That’s not because Japanese are especially ignorant about “the issues”; rather it’s because they accurately understand their system as one that requires equilibrium. The LDP just hasn’t had enough pushback, and with the post-Koizumi parade of milquetoast administrations, it itself no longer represents a force in the Diet that effectively pushes back against the bureaucrats. And the ever-accruing list of scandals—related to political contributions, bid-rigging, and consumer products—gives citizens much less reason to believe that tolerating wheeling and dealing as usual is worth it in exchange for stability.

    That said, it’s disingenuous to talk about Diet elections as if they were United States congressional elections. The LDP and DPJ have differences in their declared policy platforms, sure, but the legislature and cabinet are limited in their ability to put them into practice. That’s not because the bureaucrats “actually run everything,” as is sometimes reductively claimed (I’ve possibly said so myself). It’s because the Diet is just one competing power center among several, which do include the unelected officials in the federal ministries. It’s helpful to keep that in mind when reading things like the last sentence below, from a Mainichi editorial:

    Through the uncommon practice of making a pre-announcement of the House of Representatives’ dissolution, Aso probably wanted to claim his authority to dissolve the Lower House, with the aim of silencing calls within the LDP for him to step down. Surprisingly, however, such calls have not been tempered. Within the party, some are pressuring the prime minister to step down prior to the dissolution of the Lower House, while others who are not going as far as calling for the prime minister to be replaced are proposing a “separation of LDP president and prime minister.” Under this plan, the LDP president would be replaced so that the party can embark on the next general election with a new frontman, who can then be nominated for prime minister after the election if the ruling bloc wins.

    It feels inappropriate for the prime minister — the very person who initiated the dissolution of the Lower House in order to directly ask the public if they support him — to be replaced right after the election. The public has become distrustful of the irresponsibility of a party that has repeatedly replaced its leaders, as if changing its facade could somehow fool the public. Party members convinced that the election cannot be won with Aso at the top of the party would more easily earn the understanding and acceptance of the public if they withdrew from the LDP and formed a new party.

    The opposition bloc including the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) submitted a non-confidence motion against the Cabinet to the Lower House and a censure motion against the prime minister to the Upper House on Monday. For all practical purposes, the long election race has already begun. A benefit of having the general election in late August is the fact that voters will have the time to scrutinize the policies proposed by different parties.

    The various political parties should hasten to compose and announce their manifestos. Prime Minister Aso and the ruling bloc, who have continued to evade voters’ choices, must avoid any tricks and fight this election fair and square with their policies. Hopefully, opposition parties will come up with concrete manifestos that detail what kind of changes we can hope to see in Japan with a change in government.

    There’s certainly more up for grabs than there would have been twenty years ago, and I have no doubt that DPJ legislators would (will) come into power expecting to be able to make substantive changes. But as with the Obama administration here in the U.S., it’s easier to embrace the idea of change than to put it into practice when the constraints of reality have to be factored in. Even Koizumi, who had the ideal balance of insider networks within the LDP and maverick cachet among fed-up voters, had to compromise again and again on reforms. The snap election promises the most entertaining campaign season since 2005, but it remains to be seen how the throw-the-bums-out energy might translate into long-term systemic shifts.

    Super trouper

    Posted by Sean at 00:13, July 14th, 2009

    At From the Maenianum Secundum, Herself (that’s not my being queeny; it’s her actual blogname) uses Heather Mac Donald’s most recent post about Sarah Palin’s resignation as a point of departure for a rumination about the role of learning in guiding the citizenry.

    All Americans are not required to do the heavy lifting with regard to understanding all of history’s lessons (nor are all Americans capable of doing so), but because there has always existed a small, select group of intellectuals (synonymous with “Men of Letters”) who would warn us if we were walking too closely to the edge of the slippery slope, we were protected. Our culture used to recognize and respect them for the benefits they provided to all of us. But all intellectuals, even those of the right kind, are being tarnished by those of the wrong kind, and are being relegated to the American equivalent of Siberia: irrelevance.

    Herself doesn’t mention her at all in the text of the post, but my interpretation is that she’s aiming her criticism at the Palin cult, if not necessarily at Palin herself. But the point she makes is more generally applicable, and it helps to illustrate why some of us are ready to go berserk if one more person starts in with the “But she has such great instincts!” routine. Instincts, like charisma, are of genuine value. But sometimes there’s no substitute for actually knowing what the hell you’re talking about.

    And while I’m (for what even I myself hope is the last time) gretzing yet again about Palin-groupie-ism, can her defenders please stop expecting to score points in her favor by repeating that Biden is worse and Obama is screwing up the economy? We know. Most of us skeptics who are on the right voted for her and McCain despite our reservations and would not have voted Obama-Biden at gunpoint. Pick-ing ve-ry slow-ly o-ver the syl-la-bles while you ex-plain that Palin was not necessarily the worst ninny on the ballot last year contributes exactly zero new pieces of information to the discussion. And if we’re going to have to get used to hearing “Not at baffled as Joe Biden” as an endorsement from here on, kindly warn me up front so I can stock up on whiskey.

    Over and over

    Posted by Sean at 14:30, July 11th, 2009

    Is it my imagination, or is a lot of the support Sarah Palin is getting kind of patronizing?

    What I mean by that is this: time was when conservatives loved you for your strengths and achievements. Conservatives said that every citizen should know our founding documents, not just love America in a general way. Conservatives said that whatever language you spoke at home, knowing clear, formal, standard American English was the key to advancement in the larger society. Conservatives said that there should be objective criteria for job performance that applied to every applicant. It was liberals who told you you were special just the way you were, that aspiration was a WASP-male construct designed to beat the self-esteem out of women and minorities, and that encouraging people to communicate in standard English was less important than honoring the multiplicity of “voices” in society. Liberals said that the “position” from which you “articulated” your identity within society was a factor in whether you deserved the job.

    And now? Well, I suspect that still holds true—for everyone except Sarah Palin.

    Palin doesn’t need eloquence or ideas—she’s got authenticity. Eloquence and ideas are for conservative women like Michelle Malkin and Kate O’Beirne. If Gertrude Himmelfarb had ever disgorged one of Palin’s unparseables on a history panel, listeners would quite properly have wondered what her BAL was. But coming from Sarah, while she’s trying to convince us she deserves the job of Vice-President of the United States, all this meandering sounds so very winningly earnest that it just adds to her charm. After Palin’s resignation, Roger Kimball—this would be the Roger Kimball who’s won many of us over as a scourge of mangled English and lack of familiarity with great thinkers—made a flippant comment about the “syntactical breakdown” of some liberal guy responding at The Daily Beast.* Interestingly, I don’t recall his taking one of the many opportunities to call on Palin herself to do better on that score last fall. Maybe he did and I missed it, but all I recollect is a curt “I acknowledge that she has performed poorly in some recent interviews.” And yes, I understand that it was important not to undermine the McCain-Palin ticket before the election, but on the other hand, perhaps Palin would have felt more of an impetus to start performing better if she’d gotten more reasoned criticism from avowed supporters. “I place myself firmly in the utterly besotted camp” does not signal a need for improvement. And while I’m picking specifically on Kimball here because of his track record, he was hardly alone.

    With the election over, things don’t seem to have improved a great deal. Cathy Young made the following observation at Real Clear Politics this week:

    Those who believe Palin held her own debating Joe Biden forget that the McCain camp had requested a less-challenging format for that debate, with follow-up questions limited.

    Some of Palin’s followers see her as the second coming of Reagan. But Reagan, despised as a “dunce” by his liberal detractors, had extensively read, written, and talked about the key issues of his day. While not an intellectual, he was a man of ideas. Palin is not known to harbor those. Her appeal is described in terms of “speaking from heart” and exemplifying the virtues of faith and family – which is ironic, given the usual conservative derision of emotion-based liberal politics.

    There are a lot of comments, but this one by Rick Garner (timestamped Jul 08, 05:29 PM) represents what a lot of others have said there and elsewhere:

    I have to disagree that Sarah Palin is not the leader that conservatives are seeking for this reason…stumbling, rambling and incoherent as many elitist, snobbish and boorish critics labeled her announcement to resign… the everyday common, hardworking, God and family centered, middle America conservative citizen understood clearly what she was saying and the reasons behind her decision. She is in everyway…conservative middle America. We know her, understand her, believe what she believes, we too many times speak in a rambling and sometimes stumbling voice, trying to express our hearts honestly and truthfully. To criticize her unpolished manner is to criticize most Americans.

    No, I’m sorry, it is not. Palin, unlike “most Americans,” is the governor of a state and accepted the VP nomination. She didn’t just find herself caught unawares in front of the camera. I’m not denying that the media are out to get her or that they’re doing what they have to to make her look stupid. I’m saying that she’s still to blame when she gives them good material to work with. Honestly, if the Democrats had nominated an unknown black woman politician who insisted on speaking in Ebonics and gave tortuous answers to straightforward questions about foreign policy, would there be a single conservative commentator or commenter who would be applauding her for speaking from the heart? Yeah, right. We’d be hearing all about how her evasive sentence structures demonstrated the bankruptcy of her ideas and how she wasn’t showing respect for the office for which she was campaigning.

    Young linked to her article at her blog, and one of her commenters there illustrated another aspect of Palin love that’s disturbing: the reflexive dismissal of all criticism of his idol as rooted in class resentment or leftist/feminist dogma.

    I think you need to come to terms with your own feelings about Sarah Palin. You don’t like her because she is a powerful woman who is a conservative. You can’t stand it. You feel it is a betrayal to women. You think she needs to be a pro-choice feminist.

    That particular commenter, it must be noted, has been willing to read more about Young—the idea that she’s a feminist party-liner is risible—and is now having an interesting discussion with her. I’m hoping that when things calm down a bit, that will happen more. But right now, his initial reaction is more the norm. Conservatives may reject the leftist attacks on Palin, but they’ve been all too happy to accept the false dilemma on which they’re predicated: that you must either think she’s a genius or think she’s a moron. Victor Davis Hanson, whose blog is at PJM in central Palin-groupie territory, posted the other day about her critics:

    But if, a big if, she decides to become a national political figure, Palin should use these next few years (in addition to making some money to support her family) to travel and read widely in the manner that a Reagan did in his wilderness period. She has natural intelligence and is curious. I think most would like to see her do another Couric interview five years from now after she had time to size up DC insiders, meet more politicians, lecture in front of hostile audiences-and just read and reflect.

    Okay, that’s very reasonable, and it’s a relief to see that Hanson doesn’t think one of Palin’s chief charms is that she’s unsullied by too much book-learnin’. But I’m still not sure that I buy the “curious” part. I mean, look, if the complaints about her intelligence consisted of nothing but grousing that she said “disinterested” when she meant “uninterested,” or that she stressed the second syllable in patina and despicable, her defenders would be perfectly justified in countering that they were elitist. But Palin’s grasp of foreign policy never struck me as matching that which I’d expect from an everyday informed citizen of her age, let alone a politician who could make over Washington. It’s possible to love America and still not have a strong, systematic understanding of how to put its ideals into practice in a complex world, just as it’s possible to be a knee-jerk leftist.

    If Palin were the only issue here, this might not matter much. She’s resigned, after all, and if she does decide to run for office again, we’ll see whether she can take the heat. If she can’t she’ll drop out, and stronger candidates will prevail, as Ann Althouse says. My big worry is that she may not bring it, because there will be too many people telling her that all those naysayers who think she needs to improve are just jealous of how pretty and happy she is.** And even if Palin only stays in politics from behind the scenes as a rainmaker or inspirational speaker, the signal has now been sent that conservatism not only knows how to play identity politics as well as liberalism when an election’s at stake but also knows how to follow through on it afterward. Like Hollywood, politics has a way of latching onto what works and trying to replicate it. I hope the Palin phenomenon doesn’t mean we can look forward to more politicians who score points simply by being on the just-folks side of the culture wars. Persons of ability excel when challenged, not coddled; and America deserves public servants who meet the most demanding standards. Conservatives used to know those things, and I hope they still do.

    * Seriously, how is it possible for someone of Kimball’s redoubtable intelligence not to see the folly of playing the “syntactical breakdown” card in the process of defending Sarah Palin?

    ** That’s not to minimize the drubbing Palin took. Erin O’Connor at Critical Mass was right to call it a witch hunt—like all the abuse the Clintons took over two terms in the White House compressed into ten months. And Eric is right that the snobbery about Palin’s schooling was shockingly low and bald-faced.

    Added after grabbing a long-sleeved shirt (it is July, isn’t it?): Wow. I wish I’d gone to Unreligious Right before posting this, because he links to this column by Peggy Noonan about Palin. I think Noonan goes too far in the cruelty toward Palin, but she gets at something important that I tried to convey above:

    She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful. She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view (in her case a form of conservatism; elsewhere and in other circumstances, it could have been a form of liberalism) and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why.

    In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn’t say what she read because she didn’t read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity. She experienced criticism as both partisan and cruel because she could see no truth in any of it. She wasn’t thoughtful enough to know she wasn’t thoughtful enough.

    As I say, I think this goes too far. Palin can sound lucid on issues—energy policy is the big one—that she’s had to confront on a day-to-day basis while governing Alaska, so I think the contention that she can learn on the job still has potential merit. But she needs supporters who will hold her to the highest standards, not deflect all criticism as some kind of anti-American plot. Unreligious Right says, “[B]y attacking Palin and those who support her, Noonan is doing exactly what she attributes to Palin: sowing discord within the GOP ranks.” Yes, probably. She’s also wrong that the defenses she lists are mostly coming from right-wing intellectuals; Middle-American supporters of Palin seem to be embracing them, too. But I suspect that what’s really getting Noonan going (and maybe I’m just projecting here) is the 180 so many of her fellow travelers seem to have done since Palin arrived on the scene.

    Added still later: Heather Mac Donald has (again) posted about Palin at Secular Right and is (again) getting a good beating-up for floating the gingerly suggestion that a contender for national office should be able to connect ideas dependably.

    Baby, I can’t please you

    Posted by Sean at 13:19, July 8th, 2009

    I’m not sure the exchange Eric remarks on in this recent post (following up on this, a few comments appended to it by “Moneyrunner” and me, and this at Moneyrunner’s blog) is interesting, but it’s certainly symptomatic of something. Moneyrunner says in part:

    What I find most off-putting when I read a lot of Libertarians is their disdain of Christianity or traditional morality. They seem to find a need to put lots of distance between themselves and the 70+% of the American people that go to church and believe in God. Libertarians want cafeteria style morality: small government, low spending, low taxing, free to flout convention but no social constraints even of an informal nature like social ostracism.

    I think there are two points here, one of which I addressed briefly (for me) in Eric’s comments. That one is that the libertarians I know of, pretty much to a person, believe that there are a lot of values that should be enforced by social convention—who, indeed, believe that enforcement by social convention is preferable to enforcement by state power. I think it’s possible to argue that they’re actually too trusting in social convention when it comes to things like drug use. There is a species of anarchist libertarian, and it would be a lie to say that there isn’t, but in my experience most libertarians have no problems with community standards, as long as there’s room for lots of communities people can jump between in search of others who are like-minded.

    The major libertarian vice is not libertinism but a head-up-one’s-own-ass obsession with ideological purity. Too many libertarians want to pretend that you don’t have to compromise in order to participate in practical politics. Eavesdrop on a group of libertarians, and you may find yourself privy to a conversation that goes something like this:

    “But if we have agreed that it ought to be permissible to sell hand grenades through street-corner vending machines—”

    “Produced by private manufacturers.”

    “OBVIOUSLY! Anyway, yes, so, now suppose economies of scale made it possible to mass-produce suitcase nukes. Should they be available to private citizens for self-defense purposes?”

    “From the same vending machines as the grenades? I don’t know that you could really make them fit. I mean, even though we call them ‘suitcase’ nukes, they’re really kind of—”


    “Hmm. And what about registration? We’d have to think about the possibility that someone would propose a nuke registration system.”


    This is the sort of discussion that usually starts, with the best of intentions, about real-life threats to (in this hypothetical case) real people’s Second Amendment rights. It gets derailed because someone in the room is able to guilt-trip everyone else into thinking that taking a position on the problem at hand is illegitimate unless a principle that would cover every last conceivable, Dad-blamed related issue for all time is developed this very minute. So when Moneyrunner equates libertarianism with “cafeteria morality,” my gut reaction is something along the lines of, Hahahahahahahaha…oh, sweetie, if you only knew!

    The second point is related to the “lots of distance between themselves and the 70+% of the American people that go to church and believe in God” part. This makes it sound as if Eric had been freaking out that being lumped in with those nasty Christians would ruin his libertarian street cred or something, which I don’t think was what he was driving at. His point, as I understood it, was that as the popular understanding of what “conservative” means changes, it’s hard to keep up with what beliefs are being attributed to you when you’re tagged with it. Then people get on your case about “inconsistencies” with beliefs you never subscribed to in the first place. Perhaps he could have been less “snarky” about it, but neither the sardonic tone nor the thrust of the argument seems anti-Christian to me. Looking for reasons to tar all libertarians as crazed anything-goes crèche-smashers is no more helpful to the public debate than looking for reasons to tar all Christians as theocrats.

    Added later: One last thing: Moneyrunner implies that Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit is somehow more respectful of conservatives than Eric is. Really? I just don’t see it. Eric takes up the subject of political labeling much more frequently than Reynolds does, so you can probably find a greater number of criticisms of conservatives at Classical Values than at Instapundit. I’m not sure there’s more snark per unit of posting, though.

    Ev’rything’s coming up Dusty (解説)

    Posted by Sean at 13:32, July 6th, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan: Obama is also, at his core, a community organiser. Community organisers do not jump into a situation and start bossing people around. They begin by listening, debating, cajoling, inspiring and delegating. Less deciders than ralliers, community organisers explain the options, inspire self-confidence and try to empower others, not themselves. If you think of Obama even on a global stage, this is his mojo. And those community organisers do not tell you to expect instant results. It takes time when you try to build real change from below. But the change is stronger, deeper and more real when it comes.

    I trust that the last post demonstrated that I could respond to the above paragraph with cool, arch detachment, yes? Good. Now permit me to give a somewhat more off-the-cuff reaction:




    Why is it that I have the distinct feeling that, had President Obama moved more quickly and decisively on gay issues, Andrew Sullivan would not be complaining that he hadn’t expended enough time and energy on “cajoling” or had betrayed his “instinctive conservatism”?

    Also, Sullivan may be right about what community organizers start by doing, but he kind of conveniently leaves out what they usually end by doing: sucking up loads of funding, launching splashy initiatives of dubitable subsequent efficacy, and then sailing on to the next project and leaving others holding the baby. (There are a lot of focused not-for-profit organizations out there that do real good at achieving clearly stated missions; the Annenberg Challenge does not appear to be one of them.)

    Added later: About that whole who’s-a-real-conservative thing, Eric has this to say today:

    Just to be clear, yes, I supported the war, and yes, I ridiculed the idea that Bush was a Nazi and that 9/11 was an inside job. That being the case, I became tagged with the “conservative” label no matter how many times I said I was a libertarian. This debate (in which my libertarianism was attacked as suspect) is typical, and I lost track of the number of times I was called a conservative (and worse) by lefties. But hey, I’m one of those annoying snots who rejects all labels and refuses to be bound by them, so I contemptuously ignored most of these references.

    Times have changed. It now seems that supporting the war, not believing 9/11 was an inside job, and opposing the belief that Bush is a Nazi are no longer conservative positions. Even foot dragging on Gitmo has become suspiciously liberal.

    Where does that leave the previously labeled conservatives?

    Why, they’re supposed to be dragged into a contest. Something involving “conservative principles.” What are they? Beats me, as it seems to depend on whom you ask. To some, it’s enough simply to be against big government, or statism. But to others, you also have to be against all things which are said to threaten “family values.”

    I don’t intrinsically mind labels as much as Eric does, but I do agree that they’re often used as…what’s a good word? Weapons? No, I think more like talismans. Slotting someone into a pre-defined category often seems to mean warding off the possibility that they’ll make you examine your own assumptions too hard. I can’t count the number of times I’ve explained to someone that I’m a libertarian (and for obvious reasons, I’m rarely the one to bring up politics in social situations), only to be answered with a pause, a few blinks, and “Oh. You’re a conservative.”

    “Believe me, honey—the conservatives don’t want me on their team. I’m a libertarian. ‘Classical liberal’ works, too.”

    “You’re a conservative.”

    “If you want to think of me as a conservative, fine. I admire a lot of conservative thinkers, even though I myself am a libertarian. I value existing institutions, but I think the freedom to experiment is way civilization has gotten to—”

    “No, but really—you’re a conservative.”

    There almost always seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance going on: I’m gay but I support gun rights, I’ve spent most of my adult life abroad but I supported the Iraq invasion, I majored in comparative literature but I support Israel, or whatever. There has to be an explanation, and the easiest one to to reach for is “conservative.” And it wouldn’t bother me were it not for the fact that I then become accountable for some nasty thing Glenn Beck (whom I don’t listen to) said the other day, or what have you.

    Added on 7 July: Thanks to Eric for the links back.

    Ev’rything’s coming up Dusty!

    Posted by Sean at 12:36, July 6th, 2009

    Chris Geidner at Law Dork: Many people would say that we shouldn’t need to “wait” for equality, and they would be right.  But let’s be clear that having the patience to take careful, intentional steps that will best accomplish our goals, which is Andrew’s point,  is not the same thing as being told that our issues don’t matter and that we’ll just need to wait on our changes.  This isn’t waiting for waiting’s sake; this is waiting so that solutions are real and permanent.

    People want change and we want it now, but that’s not going to make it reality.  Maybe, just maybe, if we give this President a chance, he could actually come through for us — with real, lasting equality advancements.

    When my friends told me you had someone new
    I didn’t believe a single word was true
    I showed them all I had faith in you
    I just kept on sayin’,

    “Oh, no—not my baby!
    Oh, no—not my sweet baby!”
    You’re not like those other guys
    Who lead you on and tell you lies

    Andrew Sullivan: The more you observe, the clearer it is that Obama is working on an eight-year time cycle. He wants deep structural change, not swift superficial grandstanding and conflict. He is taking his time and keeping his cool. The question is whether a volatile electorate in a terrible economic time will be patient enough to wait.

    My mama told me when rumors spread
    There’s truth somewhere, and I should use my head
    But I didn’t listen to what she said
    I kept right on sayin’,

    “Oh, no—not my baby!
    Oh, no—not my sweet baby!”
    You’re not like those other boys
    Who play with hearts like they were toys

    Andrew Sullivan: Obama is also, at his core, a community organiser. Community organisers do not jump into a situation and start bossing people around. They begin by listening, debating, cajoling, inspiring and delegating. Less deciders than ralliers, community organisers explain the options, inspire self-confidence and try to empower others, not themselves. If you think of Obama even on a global stage, this is his mojo. And those community organisers do not tell you to expect instant results. It takes time when you try to build real change from below. But the change is stronger, deeper and more real when it comes.

    Well, you might have had a last-minute fling
    But I am sure it didn’t mean a thing
    ‘Cause yesterday you gave me your ring
    And I’m so glad that I kept on sayin’,

    “Oh, no—not my baby!
    Oh, no—not my sweet baby!”
    You’re not like those other boys
    Who play with hearts like they were toys

    Oh, no—not my baby!
    Oh, no—not my sweet baby!
    Oh, no—not my baby!
    No, no, no, no—not my sweet baby!
    Oh, no—not my baby!
    Oh, no—not my sweet baby!


    Soundtrack available here.

    Via Instapundit.

    Test anxiety

    Posted by Sean at 13:29, July 5th, 2009

    Claudia Rosett has a one-question quiz up about the DC reaction to the DPRK’s missile firings yesterday:

    The above phrase — “not helpful” — is from a U.S. State Department Spokesman, describing:

    a) A staffer who forgot to turn off the coffeepot

    b) A staffer who spelled Secretary of State Clinton’s first name with only one “l”

    c) A cloakroom attendant who lost the spokesman’s coat

    d) North Korea’s in-America’s-face test-firing, on July 4th, of yet another round of missiles, following illicit missile tests earlier this week, in May and in April (in that case a long-range rocket), plus a sanctions-busting nuclear test in May