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Interesting articles on the Internet you might have missed

15 February 2009

If you didn’t read these, you missed some interesting articles.

  1. Congressional Offices Don’t Have the Stimulus Bill, Lobbyists Do“, Paul Bedard, US News and World Report, 12 February 2009
  2. US now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bomb“, Los Angeles Times, 11 February 2009 — “In a reversal since a 2007 report, officials expect Iran to reach development milestones this year.”
  3. Lincoln’s Laws of War“, John Fabian Witt, Slate, 11 February 2009 — “How he built the code that Bush attempted to destroy.”
  4. Lessons From the Gilded Age“, Adam Kirsch, Slate, 9 February 2009 — “What Social Darwinists didn’t get about evolution”

Plus the best economics post of the week, which I strongly recommend reading (it’s funny also, which can seldom be said about economics these days):  “The Education Of Donald Luskin“, Gavin M, posted at Sadly, No!, 11 February 2009 — For those fortunate not to have read his work, Luskin is a contributing editor and columnist both for National Review Online (NRO) and SmartMoney.com.  He wonderfully illustrates the myopic view of our situation that I have often discussed (though never as humorously as Gavin M.).

Excerpts

(1)  Congressional Offices Don’t Have the Stimulus Bill, Lobbyists Do“, Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers at the US News and World Report, 12 February 2009 — It’s OK to be angry about this.  Excerpt:

We’re receiving E-mails from Capitol Hill staffers expressing frustration that they can’t get a copy of the stimulus bill agreed to last night at a price of $789 billion. What’s more, staffers are complaining about who does have a copy: K Street lobbyists. E-mails one key Democratic staffer:

“K Street has the bill, or chunks of it, already, and the congressional offices don’t. So, the Hill is getting calls from the press (because it’s leaking out) asking us to confirm or talk about what we know-but we can’t do that because we haven’t seen the bill. Anyway, peeps up here are sort of a combo of confused and like, ‘Is this really happening?'”

Reporters pressing for details, meanwhile, are getting different numbers from different offices, especially when seeking the details of specific programs.

Worse, there seem to be several different versions of what was agreed upon, with some officials circulating older versions of the package that seems to still be developing. Leadership aides said that it will work out later today and promised that lawmakers will get time to review the bill before Friday’s vote.

(2)   US now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bomb“, Los Angeles Times, 11 February 2009 — “In a reversal since a 2007 report, officials expect Iran to reach development milestones this year.”

Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.

In his news conference this week, President Obama went so far as to describe Iran’s “development of a nuclear weapon” before correcting himself to refer to its “pursuit” of weapons capability. The language reflects the extent to which senior U.S. officials now discount a National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 2007 that was instrumental in derailing U.S. and European efforts to pressure Iran to shut down its nuclear program.

… U.S. officials said that although no new evidence had surfaced to undercut the findings of the 2007 estimate, there was growing consensus that it provided a misleading picture and that the country was poised to reach crucial bomb-making milestones this year.

… U.S. intelligence officials later said the conclusion was based on evidence that Iran had stopped secret efforts to design a nuclear warhead around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Often overlooked in the NIE, officials said, was that Iran had not stopped its work on other crucial fronts, including missile design and uranium enrichment. Many experts contend that these are more difficult than building a bomb.

(3)   Lincoln’s Laws of War“, John Fabian Witt, Slate, 11 February 2009 — “How he built the code that Bush attempted to destroy.”  Excerpt:

One of Abraham Lincoln’s little-noted accomplishments has become his most unlikely legacy. He helped create the modern international rules that protect civilians, prevent torture, and limit the horrors of combat, the body of law known as the laws of war. Indeed, he was probably our most important law-of-war president, having crafted the very rules that George W. Bush and his Justice Department tried to destroy.

… In the spring of 1863, Lincoln’s code was given not just to the armies of the Union but to the armies of the Confederacy. The code set out the rules the Union would follow—and that the Union would expect the South to follow, too. For the next two years, prisoner-exchange negotiations relied on the code to set the rules for identifying those who were entitled to prisoner-of-war status. Trials of Southern guerilla fighters and other violators of the laws of war leaned on the code’s rules for support. The Union war effort became far more aggressive than it had been under McClellan’s rules. As the Union’s fierce Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman put it, Lincoln brought the “hard hand of war” to the population of the South. But this more aggressive posture was not at odds with Lincoln’s new code. It was the code’s fulfillment.

As the code’s Confederate critics noticed immediately, the laws of war Lincoln announced in 1863 were far tougher than the humanitarian rules McClellan had demanded a year earlier. The code allowed for the destruction of civilian property, the bombardment of civilians in besieged cities, the starving of noncombatants, and the emancipation of civilians’ slaves. It permitted executing prisoners in cases of necessity or as retaliation. It condoned the summary executions of enemy guerillas. And in its most open-ended provision, the code authorized any measure necessary to secure the ends of war and defend the country. “To save the country,” the code declared, “is paramount to all other considerations.” Lincoln’s code was a body of rules not for McClellan’s gentleman’s war but for Sherman’s March to the Sea.

In the decades after the Civil War, Lincoln’s rules went global. International norms become international law only when great powers agree to comply with them, and Lincoln’s code seemed to allow the great powers of the world to prosecute war aggressively without descending into wars of total destruction. Translations of the code spread through the armies of Prussia and France and into multinational treaties signed at The Hague. Following World War II, its provisions reappeared in the Geneva Conventions that are in effect to this day. Eventually, Lincoln’s code would make its way into the pockets of men and women stationed around the world, in the field manuals and wallet cards that soldiers carry with guidelines for the laws of armed conflict.

Yet if soldiers still today carry around a little bit of Old Abe Lincoln in their pockets, the appeal of his approach to the laws of war has waned in recent decades. Today, the two leading paradigms for the laws of war are a humanitarian model and a war crimes model. The former would base the laws of war in individual human rights, the latter in the criminal tribunals like the one at Nuremberg after World War II.

(4)   Lessons From the Gilded Age“, Adam Kirsch, Slate, 9 February 2009 — “What Social Darwinists didn’t get about evolution.”  Excerpt:

Appropriately for a book about the impact of Darwinism on 19th-century American life, Banquet at Delmonico’s has a distinguished intellectual pedigree. In his best-seller The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand wrote a group biography of the thinkers and teachers who made Pragmatism the quasi-official philosophy of post-Civil War America. That book proved what Darwin might have called its literary “fitness” by winning the Pulitzer Prize; so it is only appropriate that now, eight years later, it has produced a kind of offspring in Barry Werth’s new book.

Werth, too, is drawn to the Gilded Age, that ruthless forcing-house of modern American capitalism, and to the apparently recondite philosophical debates that helped form the character of the age. His title refers to a once famous, now forgotten event that might be considered the apotheosis of Social Darwinism in America. On the evening of Nov. 8, 1882, some 200 of the country’s best and brightest gathered at Delmonico’s restaurant, at Fifth Avenue and 26th Street in New York City, to raise a glass to Herbert Spencer, the philosopher who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” and transformed the theory of evolution from a biological hypothesis into an all-powerful explanation of human society, history, and psychology.

Spencer is little-read today, now that Social Darwinism—the doctrine with which his name is always, though not quite fairly, associated—looks less like the science of the future than the ideological self-justification of a rapacious and racist society. But that evening at Delmonico’s, Spencer could be forgiven if he imagined himself the most brilliant human being who had ever walked the earth.

As the querulous, sickly philosopher listened, William Evarts — whose career included stints as attorney general, secretary of state, and U.S. senator from New York — announced that

“in theology, in psychology, in natural science, in the knowledge of individual man … we acknowledge your labors as surpassing those of any of our kind.”

Carl Schurz, a Civil War general and Republican reform politician, called Spencer “one of the great teachers, not merely of a school, but of civilized humanity.” Henry Ward Beecher, celebrity pastor of Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church, confessed that Spencer’s works

“have been meat and bread to me. … [I]f I had the fortune of a millionaire, and I should pour all my gold at his feet, it would be no sort of compensation compared with what I believe I owe him.”

… This complacency was what made it possible for Beecher to assure his congregants that they should not worry about workers who earned just $1 a day: “Was not a dollar a day enough to buy bread? Water costs nothing. … A family may live on good bread and water in the morning, water and bread at midday, and good bread and water at night.” The well-heeled Brooklynites greeted this homily with laughter, Werth reports, and surely they would not have laughed less if they had known that Henry “Bread and Water” Beecher, as labor leaders started to call him, earned $1,000 per speech on the lecture circuit.

… Oddly, Banquet at Delmonico’s never really offers a clear explanation of Spencer’s views on social evolution and the ways they differed from Darwin’s understanding of biology. Spencer himself recognized the difference and even insisted on it: He was always reminding people that he came up with his version of evolution years before The Origin of Species appeared in 1859.

… As with so many intellectual buzzwords, from transcendentalism to deconstruction, evolution was not so much the name of an idea as a badge of identity. If you believed in it, you were on the side of science and progress; if you attacked it, you were superstitious or reactionary.

… All this, of course, has a weirdly contemporary feel. The kind of opposition that the theory of evolution provoked in the 19th century — passionate, personal, and wholly unscientific — it continues to provoke today. The difference is that now, no Yale president would be caught dead banning a book for being atheistic. The whole religious, scientific, and intellectual establishment is behind Darwinism now, and the only opposition comes from the margins—from religious fundamentalists and small-town school boards.

Yet Werth’s book reminds us that, in the past, the “progressive” doctrine of Darwinism authorized a very reactionary politics—culminating in the eugenics movement and the forced sterilization of unfit mothers. It is worth remembering that the most advanced members of society, intellectually speaking, are not always the wisest or the best.

Afterword

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. mclaren permalink
    15 February 2009 1:15 am

    Another good one: “High Noon: Geithner v. the American Oligarchs“, Simon Johnson, The Baseline Scenario, 8 February 2009.

    Johnson was chief economist of the IMF, now a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

    Like

  2. Dave permalink
    15 February 2009 1:40 am

    I don’t “get” why Bush destroyed the codes that Lincoln put into place. Doesn’t the Geneva Convention require that an army be uniformed and abide by certain rules? Don’t the muslim extremists hide themselves amongst the civilians, not wear a uniform, then create terror through bombing innocents? Isn’t THAT outside the convention? Why should we have to fight with both arms behind our back?
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: As the author states at the end, he refers to torture. We can shoot people caught fighting without uniforms, but not pick up people we suspect oppose us — then lock them up indefinitely and torture them.

    Like

  3. 16 February 2009 4:32 pm

    I think all these new “rules” are made up by draft dodgers and “conscientious objectors.” Here’s the deal and anyone ever in combat will know it. We shot anybody who surrendered. We couldn’t take care of the “prisoners” who, if let loose behind our lines, would have killed us. This goes for all wars since WWI.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Can you produce any evidence for these claims? Otherwise, we should assume you are just making stuff up.

    While there were many cases in which US troops shoot surrendering troops — surrendering during combat is one of the most dangerous moments for a soldier — by the end of WWII we had aprox 325,000 German and 50,000 Italian POWs in 500 or so POW camps in the US. Total Germans captured by the US grew to 3.1 million after the Axis’ surrender. (source: Oxford Companion to American Military History)

    Like

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