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From The Nation’s “Liberal Liaisons” section:

PRISON PICASSO. 48, nonviolent marijuana farmer. Seeks progressive Frida/O’Keeffe for correspondence . . .

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Worthy Adversaries

So Katha Politt unleashed a broadside last week, taking the New York Times to task for daring to replace Kristol with another conservative columnist. She also criticized Ross Douthat’s liberal admirers, many of whom had the temerity to publicly applaud his selection. A few quick thoughts:

  1. It’s a bit dishonest of Politt to not only not provide links to the articles/blog posts she’s criticizing, but to include one excerpt from an old college op-ed.
  2. Several of the blog posts Politt criticizes – on female orgasms, masturbation, gay sheep etc. – strike me as examples of the sort of unformed meandering that makes the blogosphere so interesting. Some of this stuff is stupid; some provocative; some completely pointless, but I don’t think the same rigorous standards of appraisal one might apply to, say, widely-published op-eds should be used to assess old blog entries.
  3. I was a bit disappointed by the reaction of two liberal commentators I respect and admire – Matt Yglesias and Ta-Nehisi Coates – to Politt’s criticism. Aside from the value of sparring with a sharp adversary or filling the Times’ mandatory “conservative columnist” slot with a halfway decent writer, isn’t there something to be said for elevating a thoughtful, persuasive advocate of the other side because he might be right? One of the things that really irked me about the Politt column – and, to a lesser extent, other liberal responses – was her absolute certainty that she has nothing to learn from intelligent conservatism. Maybe this is a product of my own intellectual insecurities, but one of the reasons I enjoy reading intelligent liberal outlets is because they may be right, and moreover I’m willing to be persuaded. I wish Politt was similarly inclined.

Note: I’d comment on more weighty matters (the bank stabilization plan), but right now I’m a bit overwhelmed by the scale of the economic crisis. Arguing over the merits of the New York Times’ latest columnist seems trivial in comparison, but at least it’s something I can discuss competently.

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Filed under Politics, The Media

Exercising Civic Virtue: or, Why Dive Bars Are Best

Obviously, I’m in favor of anyone who defends drinking after work, but the latest from Front Porch Republic goes above and beyond the call of duty:

The news is dreadful: According to the Census, since 2006 we have been living in a republic where, for the first time in the history of the republic, Americans drink more bottled water than we drank beer.Why is this important?  It’s important because beer is a socially oriented beverage, and bottled water is a privately oriented one.

There’s a reason that beer commercials tend to include lots of people hanging out in a room together, and bottled water commercials tend to include lone individuals climbing things and running around by themselves, usually on a beach at sunrise – even though they are not being chased.

Drinking beer emanates, albeit clumsily and with all the familiar risks, from essentially social impulses.  Most people drink beer to lower social inhibitions, to make it easier to have conversations with other people, to assuage loneliness, to grease the wheels for engaging in what my students euphemistically call “relationships” – in other words, to give a form and excuse for social life.  You don’t drink beer to improve your private, individual health.

This is all true, and perhaps the best justification for finding a nice hole in the wall to go relax at is the social aspect. Of course, you want to avoid the cliquish, high school-like atmosphere of most meat markets, so your best bet is to identify a local dive to call home. If you’re in DC, the best option is definitely the Galaxy Hut, a place with the ambiance of ” . . . a grunt’s hooch in Khe Sanh circa 1968.”

Cheers.

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Reasonable People

Over at Shadow Government, Peter Feaver defends the cost of the Iraq War. His “sanctions were falling apart; we had to do something” argument has always struck me as a bit odd – had we invested a tenth of the diplomatic capital we spent on badgering the U.N. and assembling a coalition of the willing on containing Saddam, I imagine we could have done something to shore up the sanctions regime –  but I’m more interested in discussing his broader decision-making calculus:

I believe reasonable people can look at that ledger (or a more complete version of it) and conclude that the Iraq war was not worth it. I also believe reasonable people can look at that ledger and conclude that the Iraq war was a defensible gamble or even the right decision. However, I do not think that reasonable people can seriously look at that ledger and conclude, as so much of the angry-shout part of the commentariat does, that all of the evidence stacks up on only one side of the balance sheet.

Even if you accept Feaver’s (highly-skewed) framework, it’s worth remembering that many war-making decisions involving the weighing of complicated costs and benefits – Iraq included – are discretionary. I admit I have a hard time comparing the abstract risks of regional instability and proliferation to the very real human cost of the invasion, but I suppose Feaver has a point insofar as the Middle East may have been more conflict-prone had Saddam remained in power. At the end of the day, however, this analysis includes untold numbers of independent variables, which makes it difficult for anyone other than an omniscient deity to accurately assess the war’s costs and benefits, which is precisely why “reasonable people” disagree vehemently over these issues.

So, given what should be an overwhelming presumption against war, death, violence and destruction and the difficulty inherent in any comparison that involves tenuous hypothetical scenarios and abstract considerations like stability and proliferation, shouldn’t our first instinct be to stear clear of these arguments altogether? Threats against the United States demand a response, obviously, but Feaver’s argument rests on assessing other, less tangible concepts like “regional stability.” If reasonable people can disagree over the merits of a proposed military expedition that bears no direct relationship to national security, I think it’s best to avoid that debate altogether and mind our own business.

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Amateur Hour

The Times is hosting a fun debate on college athletes’ amateur status. Check it out.

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Really, Mr. President?

The Jay Leno appearance didn’t bother me. Filling out a NCAA bracket for ESPN was kind of cool. But a $500,000 advance for a book deal? Had Bush done something similar, we’d all be braying about gross dereliction of duty. Granted, context matters, and so far the Obama Administration is nowhere near Bushian levels of incompetence. And yet we still don’t have a coherent bank plan. The economy continues to tank. And I’m left wondering why Obama is so consumed with antics more suited to the campaign trail or a post-presidential goodwill tour than a harrowing first-term presidency.

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Moving/Car Towed/Other Stuff

Blogging, as they say, will be light.

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