Did the Founding Fathers truly intend for the First Amendment to provide absolute protection for free speech? No, argues First Amendment legal scholar Eugene Volokh on his website, The Volokh Conspiracy.
“Which part of ‘make no law’ don’t you understand?, some people colorfully argue. Well, I understand ‘make no law’ just fine…. The real difficulty is with ‘the freedom of,’” Mr. Volokh writes.
In the Founders’ era, “nearly everyone, as best I can tell, saw ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of the press’ as providing less than complete constitutional protection for spoken or printed words. And this suggests that the term ‘freedom of’ referred to some understanding that there is a proper scope of such freedom (even if the scope was unsettled in some particulars), rather to unlimited freedom to say or print anything one pleases.”
Volokh notes that there are clear problems with absolute protection for speech. “A threat to kill the President is literally speech. So is ‘your money or your life,’ said to someone in a dark alley…. Attempted fraud is often nothing but speech. The list could go on.
“There are, I recognize, arguments for barring the government from punishing any of this speech.… But if one is to appeal to the wisdom of ‘the Founders,’ one should recognize that the Founders almost certainly did not understand ‘the freedom of speech, or of the press’ as embracing absolute protection for speech and press.”
Respected for her ideas
Pakistan is unlikely to be first to spring to mind for Westerners considering gender equality. But in a reflective article written by Hani Yousef for Himal Southasian, the Pakistani journalist notes that she feels better treated at home than in Germany, where she has worked since early 2011.
Ms. Yousef recounts a recent conversation she had with an Austrian woman at a party in Berlin. “When I mentioned I was from Pakistan, her reaction was the oft-expressed assumption that it must be very difficult to be a woman there. I have lived and worked in journalism in Berlin for a year and a half, and the experience has made me appreciate the way I am treated back home as a career woman. I told her as much – that I find that I am more respected back home.
“Conversely, visiting Pakistan this winter after a year of living in Germany, I was overwhelmed by the respect I got for being a woman of intelligence. People – men, women, professors, analysts and relatives – wanted to know what I thought of the Euro crisis, and what my take was on political issues. … At a book festival in Karachi, an important defence analyst, a man, overheard my remarks about British analyst Anatol Lievin’s new book about Pakistan, and sought me out after the reading to ask if I had considered writing my views. The shock and surprise I experienced when he approached me made me realise how my self-esteem as a woman journalist had suffered in Germany."
How modern political campaigns began
A little trivia for the 2012 election season: The first political consulting firm in the world was Campaigns, Inc., founded by former journalists (and eventually husband and wife) Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter in 1933. And the influence of Mr. Whitaker and Ms. Baxter, Jill Lepore writes in the New Yorker, is still being felt today.
“No single development has altered the workings of American democracy in the last century so much as political consulting, an industry unknown before Campaigns, Inc. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, political consultants replaced party bosses as the wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money. Whitaker and Baxter were the first people to make politics a business. ‘Every voter, a consumer’ was the mantra of a latter-day consulting firm, but that idea came from Campaigns, Inc.“
“Whitaker and Baxter weren’t just inventing new techniques; they were writing a rule book. Never lobby; woo voters instead. ‘Our conception of practical politics is that if you have a sound enough case to convince the folks back home, you don’t have to buttonhole the Senator,’ Baxter explained. Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one.”
Epicenter of those online felines
If the Internet has an animal mascot, it is the cat. And of the many, many cats prowling the web – in videos, in photos, even on Twitter – the most famous is almost certainly Maru, a box-loving Scottish Fold who lives somewhere in Japan. Unfortunately, as Gideon Lewis-Kraus discovered when trying to schedule an interview with the feline YouTube star for Wired Magazine, Maru is also a recluse.
“I will never get to pet Maru, and neither will you,” Mr. Lewis-Kraus writes. “Maru’s supervisory documentarian is named Mugumogu, but beyond that fact, hardly anything is known about her. When I write Maru’s US book publicist—you read that right—it turns out that she knows no more than you or I. The publicist loops in Maru’s US book editor, who offers to pass along some interview questions to Mugumogu’s Japanese agent, who could have them translated, answered, and sent back. But I have no questions for the human being called Mugumogu. My interest lies entirely with the cat.”
Though the writer is unable to meet Maru, who has more than 168 million views on YouTube, he still provides an entertaining tour of the “Online Cat-Industrial Complex,” a phenomenon based largely in Japan. And while Maru goes uninterviewed, Lewis-Kraus talks to a satisfactory substitute: the Musashis, “once one of the most important cat bands on the Internet.”
Few events resonate in the British sporting consciousness like the Hillsborough disaster at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, on Apr. 15, 1989. Thousands of fans of the visiting Liverpool soccer club filled the overcrowded stands – little more than cages in that era – in such numbers that they were crushed against the 10-foot-tall metal fences, killing 96 people and injuring hundreds more.
The official line had always been that rioting fans were to blame for causing the crush – much to the frustration of the victims’ families. But last Wednesday [9/12], after a three-year investigation of the disaster, the Hillsborough Independent Panel announced that the disaster was the result of a “failure in police control.” Moreover, the police had been involved in a massive cover-up to hide that fact, altering more than 116 police statements and telling a local news outlet that ticketless, drunk, violent fans were running rampant at the stadium.
The level of anguish over Hillsborough – and the catharsis provided by the new report – may be hard to grasp for those unfamiliar with it. But The Daily Mirror’s Brian Reade, who was at the stadium that day, provides a wrenching, easily understandable account of the disaster. He traces both the events of the day – the growing crush, the dawning realization of what was happening, the doomed efforts of rescuers – and the following years, as victims’ families sought justice in the aftermath. His account lets newcomers easily understand why the disaster has such resonance.
Putin losing touch with the heartland
In the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s disputed election to a third presidential term last December, Russian urbanites took to the streets to protest in numbers unimaginable just a few years ago. But despite the high profile of the protests, it has generally been assumed that Mr. Putin’s rural constituents, who make up the vast majority of the country’s population, stand solidly behind him.
That assumption appears to be wrong. According to new data from the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Research, which surveyed people across the country, rural Russians are bucking the stereotype of “politically apathetic conformist” and may in fact be potential allies for Russia’s urban activists.
“Yes, Russians outside Moscow and St. Petersburg have no appetite for the noisy street politics and abstract slogans of their big-city counterparts,” writes Foreign Affairs. “But they are far from content with the current political system, which they see as hopelessly corrupt and inept at providing basic services. Their support for Putin grows thinner by the month, and a major economic crisis could quite easily provoke them into protests on a massive scale.“
“Although the concerns and cultures of Russia's metropolises and its provinces differ, there is no contradiction between the urban activists' dreams of greater freedom and democracy and mainstream Russians' desires for honest police officers and well-run health clinics. Indeed, a more accountable state would almost certainly be a more effective one.”
Not quite the shuttle, but close enough
While NASA is still capable of incredible feats – witness the recent landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars – it lost a certain je ne sais quoi when it retired the Space Shuttle from service last year. Satellites, rovers, and telescopes are great, but they lack the romance of manned flights in a spaceplane.
Fortunately, there is a potential love interest for shuttle-philes: Dream Chaser.
One of three vehicles being developed by NASA’s commercial space-transportation program CCiCap, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser looks like a snub-winged, wedge-shaped version of the Shuttle, and is meant to fill a similar role as a reusable, small-crew spaceplane able to land at ordinary airports.
Better yet, it has a history that reads like fiction. Sci/tech website Ars Technica writes that “The Dream Chaser is a Cold War product, replete with secret military programs, spy planes, rocket scientists, Russian trawlers, and Air Force test pilots working in the middle of the desert.”
“For 50 years, three clever and highly dedicated groups of dreamers have fed, nurtured, evangelized, refined, and defended the ideas behind the Dream Chaser as it inches toward becoming a reusable! orbital! mini-spaceplane! Those words are heavenly manna for true believers, the dreamers within the space industry and the would-be vacuum visitors in every country. The Dream Chaser has survived so many false starts, and has made so much progress, that the unthinkable now looks almost likely: the Dream Chaser will soon travel all the way to orbit.”
While the US media has been in the throes of the presidential campaign over the past few weeks, in Israel the national debate has been squarely focused on whether to launch a preemptive -- and if necessary, unilateral -- strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Writing for The Times of Israel website, David Horovitz draws out both sides’ arguments, and does so in such a way as to capture the passion with which each faction regards the issue.
On one side are Israeli politicians and insiders who see Iran’s progression towards a bomb as an extraordinarily alarming echo of the German progression toward the Holocaust. They warn: Iran is, very literally, an existential threat to Israel, and alternative solutions to dealing with Iran are wearing thin. If the country is to be safe, they say, Israel must hit Iran hard, even in the face of resistance from the US.
But many of those charged with leading Israel’s defenses – soldiers, security chiefs, and technocrats – argue as strongly against a strike, warning that it might bring about the very end it is meant to prevent. “To these people, [Prime Minister] Netanyahu and [Defense Minister] Barak are deemed to be capable ... of creating the circumstances in which a nuclear Iran really could become unstoppable. By launching an operation to stop Iran, they fear, Israel may end up liberating the Islamic Republic to cast off all constraints and break out to the bomb.”
The strength of Horovitz’s analysis is that it captures not just the rational arguments, but the emotional charge as well. He gets to the fire and the fear driving both sides, making clear why the debate has so gripped Israel.
When the legal serf dictates to the king
The American federal judiciary tends to be a low-profile bunch. With life tenures, federal judges can – and do – eschew the limelight to maintain the veneer of impartial adjudicators. As a result, intrajudiciary debates over judicial philosophy and technique tend to stay in the halls of academia and the courtrooms, and out of the streets and sidewalks where they would draw the public eye. And when they do occur in the courtrooms, they tend to be one-sided: Higher courts dictate to lower, and it is not for lower courts to question what they are told.
That is what makes Judge Richard Posner’s review in The New Republic of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s new book, “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts,” so interesting: it inverts the usual procedure, and in a very public way.
Justice Scalia is one of the most influential conservative jurists of the modern era, being the leading proponent of “textual originalism,” the philosophy of interpreting laws according to what the words of the law meant at the time that they were written. “Reading Law,” cowritten with Bryan A. Gardner, is an explanation of the textual originalist philosophy. And as a Supreme Court justice, Scalia tends to get the final word on the law.
But Judge Posner – one of the foremost conservative legal scholars in the country and an appellate court judge for the Seventh Circuit -– takes the justice to task with a comprehensive dismantling of the rationales Scalia presents in favor of textual originalism. Posner highlights instance after instance of Scalia foregoing originalist readings of laws when they lead to unappealing outcomes, and instead adopting legal approaches that he has previously reviled.
“Justice Scalia has called himself in print a ‘faint-hearted originalist,’ ” concludes Posner. “It seems he means the adjective at least as sincerely as he means the noun.”
It should be noted that while Posner and Scalia have exchanged extrajudicial criticism in the past, Posner told legal blog Above the Law that "There is no personal animosity between Justice Scalia and me, or at least not on my side."
"I suppose it’s unusual for a lower court judge to criticize judicial or extra-judicial work by a Supreme Court Justice in public," he said, but he noted that he is a former academic, "to whom disagreement in print, without personal animosity having engendered it, comes naturally."
Posner’s review is far from the final word, of course; it has naturally spurred further stout defenses of Scalia and originalism. But agree or disagree with Posner, his review is worth a look just for the rare sight of the serf dictating to the king.
Pakistan's pernicious use of blasphemy laws
Pakistan’s ban on blasphemy is a pernicious beast, warns author Mohammed Hanif in a commentary for The Guardian, as it defies being explained. You can’t give examples of it “because reproducing it ... would constitute blasphemy.”
But Mr. Hanif does an admirable job of sketching out the scope of Pakistan’s laws against blasphemy, and how they are largely used as clubs against rivals and minorities, like Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl recently – and apparently falsely – accused of defiling a Quran by Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, an imam with an ax to grind against Christians.
Among the everyday situations that have led to the laws being invoked: misspellings by students, writing a poem for children, refusing someone a drink of water, and throwing away a salesman’s business card (the salesman had Muhammad as part of his name).
“All you need to do to condemn someone for life is to switch on a mosque loudspeaker and make the allegation,” Hanif writes. “Before Chishti was caught in his own trap in the Rimsha case, no accuser had ever been arrested or tried. The laws against hate speech are weak, and almost never implemented. And how can it be considered hate speech when all they are doing is expressing their faith that might include demanding death for all Shias and Ahmedis, and an occasional Christian who may or may not have crossed the line.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, Hanif suggests. “Before the current law came into existence, in 60 years there were six reported cases of blasphemy. Since the current law was constituted there have been more than four thousand.” But the powerful catch-22 of the law is hard to overcome, he adds. “[E]ven pleading the statistics is considered blasphemous.”
Close your eyes. Now, imagine your vision of the happiest place on earth. It’s an island, of course, but it’s a volcanic island, so there is a faint smell of sulfur in the air, and the chance of getting buried in hot ash. You’ll love the long summer nights, but you’ll need a bit of fish oil to see you through the long winters, because you’re close to the Arctic Circle.
Yes, Iceland is the third-happiest place on earth, after Denmark and Costa Rica, according to Robert Lavine, writing in The Atlantic magazine. What makes Icelanders so happy, writes Mr. Lavine, a clinical psychologist from Virginia, is not the lack of challenges – indeed, Icelanders have cold winters, a shaky economy, and the threat of volcanic annihilation – but rather the fact that they meet these challenges with stoicism and a communal spirit. Faced with difficulty, Icelanders know they need each other to survive, and they find that they actually enjoy each other’s company.
In the midst of an American election campaign, where vice-presidential candidates are debating the merits of the self-interest theories of novelist Ayn Rand, what can one make of the happiness of a place like Iceland? Surely the country’s European-style social-democratic policies, with nine-month paid paternity leave, life-time health care, long life expectancy, low crime rates, and expensive clean-energy policies would be a one-way ticket to demographic disaster, right?
Wrong. Iceland’s economy, which crashed in 2008, is now growing at a respectable 2.8 percent. Economists, you have some explaining to do.
Not-so happy people
Here in the United States, Americans might wish they lived in the shadow of volcanoes to get a sliver of Icelandic happiness. America's economic recovery – the subject of much debate in this presidential election year – appears to be slowing, meaning that America’s relatively high unemployment rate of 8.2 percent may be around for a while.
This is a great time for people with calculators and pie charts, but not so great for people who like things explained to them with words. The helpful economists at Deutsche Bank inform us that economic recoveries generally run out of steam after 39 months, so America’s 36-month expansion may be coming to an end.
The Council on Foreign Relations has a handy set of graphs that compare our current economic recovery with past recoveries, which again, is unlikely to make one break out the credit card in celebration.
But the news is not all glum, and Michael Grunwald, a senior national correspondent at Time magazine, writes in this week’s Foreign Policy magazine that the Obama administration’s financial policies have performed better than they have been given credit for by conservative critics. There is no question that times are bad. But without fiscal stimulus, they could be a lot worse.
“…there is voluminous evidence that the stimulus did provide real stimulus, helping to stop a terrifying free-fall, avert a second Depression, and end a brutal recession. America's top economic forecasters -- Macroeconomic Advisers, Moody's Economy.com, IHS Global Insight, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and the Congressional Budget Office -- agree that it increased GDP at least 2 percentage points, the difference between contraction and growth, and saved or created about 2.5 million jobs.”
It could be worse
In times like these, it’s usually a good idea to write a story on how things could be much, much worse. This usually means writing a story about Europe, and especially about France. Even the Europeans themselves do it. In this week’s Der Spiegel, Mathieu von Rohr writes that France is a nation that aspires to be a great northern-European economic power, like Germany, but stubbornly keeps its heels dug in to preserve its easygoing, state-controlled, Mediterranean-paced way of life.
As Mr. von Rohr writes,
If it could have its way, all of France would be one small Gaulish village like in the Asterix comic books, holding out against the rest of the world. But unlike the village in the famous French comic book series, France has no magic potion. At the same time, polls show that the French are the most pessimistic people in the world, which leads to the unusual situation that although they are convinced -- like village leader Vitalstatistix -- that the sky is falling down, they are unwilling to do anything about it.
Cue the man of action
As bad as times are now, they are nothing compared to the days of anger and hunger of late 18th-century France. It was then that France proved it was possible to produce a cold-hearted man of action, a mixture of Dirty Harry and Joseph Stalin. Go ahead, powdered-wig plutocrat, make my day. The man's name was Maximilien Robespierre, and in those times of massive debt, bread lines, and the guillotine, Robespierre used the rhetoric of revolution and the tools of repression to change his country, whether it wanted to or not.
To their mothers or therapists, all dictators are misunderstood idealists. Even Robespierre – a man whose very name is a synonym for madman or dictator – disapproved of the death penalty, and turned to it as a final resort in order to “protect” the greater good of society from those who wanted to stop progressive change. Before his comrades turned on him, Robespierre consigned some 17,000 Frenchmen to death as a member of the terrifying Committee of Public Safety.
Ultimately, it is today’s revolutionaries – from the tame but still ideological Tea Party adherents to the more rigid salafists of post-Mubarak Egypt – who must ask themselves if they have the patience for ideological compromise and slower democratic change. And as Patrice Higonnet writes in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, in a review of Peter McPhee’s biography, “Robespierre's Rules for Radicals,” there are clear lessons from Robespierre’s life for modern revolutionaries to learn.
”… perhaps the most salient lesson Robespierre can offer today's Tea Partiers and Occupiers, Salafists and secularists, is that, contrary to what they might sometimes wish, economic, political, and social problems cannot be solved by simply cutting off somebody's head,” Mr. Higonnet writes.
The shooting of 34 protesting mine workers by South African police has shocked a nation whose leadership sprung from the organized labor movement, and sees itself as the ultimate protector of workers' rights.
Video images of South African police firing straight into crowds of stick- and machete-wielding protesters spread like wildfire over social media and South African news channels, and brought painful comparisons with the previous apartheid government's common use of extreme force with demonstrators. The difference here, of course, is that the apartheid government had represented the interests of a white minority, while the current African National Congress government projects itself as representing a multiracial majority.
Reuters news agency quoted South African police chief Riah Phiyega as justifying the use of live ammunition against the armed protesters, adding that two guards at the mine had been hacked to death by protesters at the mine on Tuesday.
IN PICTURES – Mining: A dirty job
"The police members had to employ force to protect themselves from the charging group," Ms. Phiyega told a news conference.
It is tempting to draw comparisons between the Lonmin Platinum mine shooting and earlier police massacres, such as the 1960 Sharpeville shooting (in which at least 50 pro-democracy protesters were gunned down) or the 1976 Soweto riots (in which 360 student protesters were killed). Even the most crucial difference here – the skin color of the apartheid and ANC governments – makes the comparison more compelling. Shouldn't a black-majority government have avoided the deadly-force tactics against a crowd of black protesters?
Challenges for ANC government
But this week's Lonmin incident is more complicated than that, and it reveals challenges to the ANC government and its ability to speak on behalf of South Africa's impoverished black majority.
The trouble at the Lonmin platinum mine in the northwest province town of Marikana began more than a week ago, when organizers for a small split-away union called for a strike in search of higher wages and better working conditions. Organizers for the more radical Association of Mine Workers and Construction Union argue that the more established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has failed to protect the interests of workers, and that a more confrontational approach should be taken.
It's a message that resonates strongly in a country with an official 25 percent unemployment rate, but where unofficial jobless rates may be much higher, particularly among young black men. While the frustration of poor South Africans has yet to threaten the power of the powerful ANC – which counts the NUM's parent union, the Congress of South African Trades Unions, as a ruling coalition partner – violent street protests are common in South African informal settlements and townships, where access to clean drinking water, sewage service, electricity, and health care remains a problem, 18 years after the ANC came to power.
Such protests don't automatically translate into support for the anti-ANC opposition, because the strongest of the non-ANC parties are seen by black voters as past supporters of the apartheid regime. The Democratic Alliance (DA), which includes black and mixed-race members in its top leadership, many of whom were vocal opponents of apartheid, has positioned itself as a right-of-center, pro-business party, and has struggled to win support among poorer voters.
Those looking for an "Arab Spring" protest movement against South Africa's ANC government – including DA activists – are drawing the wrong lessons from a very real problem. Citizen and labor unrest in South Africa are powerful forces, drawing on longstanding feelings of neglect and betrayal. That anger can be channeled in the future by radical demagogues, such as the ANC Youth League's ousted president, Julius Malema, but it won't coalesce around parties that black voters see as antithetical to their interests.
IN PICTURES – Mining: A dirty job
But for now, citizen unrest is likely to bubble up town by town, worksite by worksite, in the same way that labor unrest sprang up in the United States during the labor movement's heyday, between World War I and World War II. As in South Africa, American mine workers faced deadly police force in numerous wildcat strikes, the deadliest of them being the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado on April 20, 1914.
As with Lonmin, mine workers attempted to form a more radical union in the Ludlow coal mine, but the mine's owners, Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, refused to negotiate with them. As the strike dragged on, Colorado militiamen were called into clear out the protester's tent city. At least 18 miners and family members were killed.
The real danger, thus, is not that South African labor unrest can be channeled to bring down the ANC government. The real danger is that growing frustration may not be channeled toward anything at all, positive or negative, and that it could become as seemingly permanent a feature of life in South Africa as power cuts and cricket matches, family cookouts and crime.
Between two worlds
The shooting at a Sikh Temple in the Wisconsin town of Oak Creek last Sunday revealed an ugly side to America’s pluralistic society. In a country of immigrants, there are still people who hate or fear those they see as “outsiders,” and when those people have access to semi-automatic weapons, they can put their fear and hatred into action.
The shooter, a former US Army soldier named Wade Michael Page, was a white supremacist, and before he was gunned down by a police officer, Page managed to kill six of the temple’s worshipers and to wound another police officer.
The incident is being treated as a domestic terror incident, with Page’s embrace of the “racial holy war” rhetoric of the far right making this more than just another case of American mass murder. But the shock of the event also hit many Americans at another level. Here, the terrorist was white, and a former US soldier. His victims were Asian. The terrorist’s ideology, white supremacy, was every bit as hateful and destructive as the religious holy war (jihad) of the men who hijacked the planes on Sept. 11.
Sept. 11, of course, is the day that changed America forever. Many Americans began to view the outside world (and particularly the Islamic world) as a threat. But what about those Americans who were themselves Asian or Muslim? Jaswinder Bolina addresses this question beautifully in an essay, “Empathy with the devil,” in The State, a print journal based in Dubai. As an American of Asian descent, Mr. Bolina finds himself torn between two worlds, and while he shares no actual sympathy for the goals of radical extremists, he understands implicitly what those goals are and where the motivations come from.
Recalling a conversation with an immigrant, shortly after 9/11, Bolina writes, “He knows that he and I better resemble photographs of the hijackers than photographs of the firefighters. And when he says, ‘they treated us like dogs,’ us means the Indian conflated with the Pakistani, the Pakistani mistaken for the Afghan, the Afghan called an Arab, the Arab indistinguishable from the Persian and the Turk, the Shia and the Sunni and the Sikh all taken for one bearded and turbaned body.”
The American dream
Shervin Malekzadeh, an Iranian-American immigrant and visiting assistant professor at Swarthmore College, makes a different point about an immigrant’s life in America. In an article in the Atlantic, marking the recent death of actor Sherman Helmsley, Mr. Malekzadeh, television was the tool for learning about America, and the 1970s comedy hit, “The Jeffersons” was the show that came closest to identifying the challenges of being an immigrant.
Making it in America, making it in terms of the American dream, was compromised for George and Louise by their loss, and it was here that The Jeffersons showed us where the American and immigrant experiences converged. Because of who they were, and where they came from, the Jeffersons could never feel like they fully belonged in tony Upper East Side, or what my father liked to refer to as Grey Poupon society. The past pulled on them, and although neither ever forgot where they came from, the longer George and Louise stayed away from the old neighborhood the less they knew of their old selves.
The role of religion
If the 9/11 attacks and the Sikh Temple shootings have taught us, it is that we don’t generally understand each other’s religious outlooks and world views very well. On television talk shows, one hears the notion that America is a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values, which presumably means those are the only values worth knowing about, and outsiders should be the ones doing the studying and accommodating.
But Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan and author of Talking to the Enemy and In Gods We Trust, writes in this week’s Foreign Policy magazine that knowledge of another person’s faith can have a profound effect on how different societies interact. In short, studying another person’s faith doesn’t mean that one must adopt it, or abandon one’s own beliefs, but it can improve “the human condition, including a lessening of cultural conflict and war.”
Time and again, countries go to war without understanding the transcendent drives and dreams of adversaries who see a very different world. Yet we needn't fly blindly into the storm.
Science can help us understand religion and the sacred just as it can help us understand the genome or the structure of the universe. This, in turn, can make policy better informed.
Iran seems to be the big bogeyman these days, with its theocracy, questions about its nuclear program, its threats to cut off the Persian Gulf, its support for the embattled Syrian regime, and its continued support for radical militant groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
But the West’s conflict with Iran has been brewing for decades, dating back to the early days of World War I, when British colonial officers arrived in the Persian oilfields to secure fuel for their military fleet. From that day onward, Britain, the United States, and Iran’s ruling elites were locked in a love-hate relationship that leaned heavily on hate.
In a review of Christopher de Bellaigue's biography of former Iranian prime minister Muhammad Mossadegh – a man toppled by America’s CIA in 1953 – Roger Cohen writes in the New York Review of Books that the West not only put Iran into a democratic death-spiral that led to the rise of theocratic rule. It also set a precedent that it clings to today, by overthrowing “troublemakers” and tolerating tyrants who keep the flow of oil to the West. And it is this tendency in US foreign policy that accounts for much of the hostility that fuels leaders like Iran’s current President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and others.
What if we could change America’s economic system? How would we do it? Would we follow the conservative model, and reward entrepreneurs and the wealthy few who create jobs? Or should we try to create a more egalitarian environment, where the distance between economic classes is not so huge that one can pursue the American dream and move up according to one’s abilities?
This was the impetus for an interesting public opinion survey, carried out by Dan Ariely, a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and written up in this week’s issue of The Atlantic.
Recently, he and a team of researchers conducted a survey of 5,522 people, asking them to create a distribution of wealth among five different groups of Americans, sorted from the poorest 20 percent to the richest 20 percent. Respondents could choose a perfect egalitarian society, with even-steven 20 percent cuts of the pie for each group, or a greed-is-good scenario with 100 percent ownership for the rich, and zero for the remaining 80 percent, or anything in between.
The response is likely to shock the pundits on all those noisy talk shows. Respondents voted for a scenario much more egalitarian that what presently exists. And the answer was consistent for men and women, Republicans and Democrats, and for all income levels.
What was particularly surprising about the results was that when we examined the ideal distributions for Republicans and Democrats, we found them to be quite similar…. When we examined the results by other variables, including income and gender, we again found no appreciable differences. It seems that Americans -- regardless of political affiliation, income, and gender -- want the kind of wealth distribution…., which is very different from what we have and from what we think we have….
China’s destabilizing scandal
If the politics of the predominant democratic country seem messy, don’t be fooled by the apparent tidiness of the world’s predominant authoritarian country: China. According to Minxin Pei – a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, writing in this week’s edition of The Diplomat – China’s top ruling elite has been rocked by corruption scandals of one of its rising stars, Bo Xilai.
Now that Mr. Bo’s wife has been charged with murder, the scandal continues to grow, and it is likely to reveal more about the Chinese government’s inner workings than most Chinese leaders would prefer.
…how the powerful lose power and what happens to them afterwards can tell us a great deal about the nature of the political regime in which they thrive and perish. In the case of the current Chinese regime, the ugly purge of Bo reveals many of its dark sides: corruption, lawlessness, hypocrisy, and ruthlessness. Such qualities of a regime make it illegitimate and undermines its durability.
Cleaning up toxic news ethics
It turns out the field of journalism could use a reboot, as well. In our drive to be first – made all the more possible, with the advent of web-based news distribution – news organizations now dish out “content” (formerly known as stories) faster than before, often with mistakes and biases attached.
Some news organizations go beyond mere mistakes and violate fundamental principles of journalism. Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid, the News of the World, was shuttered after its top editors admitted to hiring a private detective to hack into a missing 14-year-old girl’s voicemail, just a few years after doing the same thing to members of the British royal family. But Mr. Murdoch’s not the only one facing ethical scrutiny. ABC news reportedly paid legal fees for Casey Anthony, mother of a murdered girl, a fact verified by Ms. Anthony’s lawyer.
David Carr, media reporter for the New York Times, writes this week that with criminal charges pending in the News of the World case, “the jig is up.” It’s time for the news industry to get serious about its ethics, and its reputation.
A few words about the Boss
Ahmed Rashid, one of the first Pakistani journalists to cover the Taliban phenomenon and writer of that textbook of young "War Against Terror," correspondents, “The Taliban,” turns out to be a major Springsteen fan. In this week’s New Yorker, he writes that one of the things that Springsteen does is create a community around him of fans who share the same love of rock, mixed with social values of hope and charity and progressive politics. As a Pakistani, Mr. Rashid pines for that same kind of community back home, but writes that Pakistan’s long history of military rulers and rich ruling elites have thwarted the country’s ability to create open spaces and concert venues where Pakistanis could gather to honor their own Springsteens.
Rock music, Rashid writes, “is about partaking of a cultural event in the company of others: bringing the maximum number of people into a venue, performing for them, and allowing them to go home with the feeling that they have shared something with other human beings. We want to hug the guy we are standing next to, we want to talk to people we don’t know, we want to keep singing the songs as we leave the theatre, and when the harsh reality of the street hits us we want every taxi driver to turn into an angel while we keep talking to strangers.”
I couldn't agree more.
Spawn of Qaddafi
Mr. Qaddafi was not much liked by fellow leaders in the Arab League or by fellow leaders of the African Union. This may have been because Qaddafi tended to see himself as the only true leader of both Arab nationalism and of a unified African continent. Qaddafi also funded, armed, and trained numerous rebel groups – from Darfur rebels to Malian Tuaregs – to help destabilize neighbors he either disliked, or simply wanted to overthrow.
One could see how that would get old, fast.
IN PICTURES – Libya: Daily life after Qaddafi
Yet overthrowing Qaddafi, and scattering all those armed, funded, and trained rebel groups to the four winds has also had its consequences – most notably in the West African nation of Mali. In April, Tuareg fighters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and their Islamist allies from Ansar Dine swept through all of the cities of northern Mali and effectively declared their own republic. The weapons they used – with the exception of the ones taken from fleeing Malian soldiers – mainly came from Libya.
Self-described realists would say, “fair enough, the Libyan intervention was messy,” but now that Islamists have taken control of two-thirds of Mali – a vast region of rock and sand in the north that is larger than France – it is time to organize another military intervention to ensure that Mali doesn’t become terrorist haven, like Afghanistan, Yemen, or Somalia.
The Islamists, Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, are a dangerous lot, and tens of thousands of Malians have fled to other countries to avoid them. The Islamists have declared sharia law, and set about destroying ancient Tuareg and Arabic monuments, including the tombs of Muslim saints.
But, as Gregory Mann writes in this week’s Foreign Policy, there is no evidence that the Islamists have a larger agenda than northern Mali. Foreign intervention, as in Libya, may simply make matters worse.
Ultimately, Malians themselves will have to take the lead in resolving a crisis that has endangered their neighbors. Outside actors can only help all sides seek an honorable way to make the Malian north safe again, partly by working to get Bamako to accept the assistance of its neighbors. At the moment, foreign military intervention, whether it comes from ECOWAS or elsewhere, will be viewed as an invasion in both the south and the north. That has to change, which means that politics has to come first. A political solution will be harder to achieve than a military one, but you get what you pay for.
Jobless in the USA
In the US, it’s sometimes hard to understand why so much energy is spent solving problems overseas when there are serious problems – like chronic high unemployment – at home. Some folks blame US factory owners for shipping all the good jobs overseas, while employers themselves say they simply can’t find the qualified people they need.
Economists call this a “skills shortage,” but Barbara Kiviat writes in The Atlantic magazine that new studies by Manpower, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and two top universities show that the problem may not be a lack of skills but rather a different expectation for what those skills are worth.
When firms were asked why they have difficulty hiring, 55% picked "lack of available applicants," but essentially the same percentage, 54%, said candidates are "looking for more pay than is offered" (many more than the 40% selecting lack of "hard" skill). This is an important reminder that the labor market is a market. The U.S. conversation revolves around whether workers have the right skills. Whether firms are willing to pay enough to compensate workers for having acquired those skills is rarely mentioned. When firms post job openings at a certain wage and no one comes forward, we call this a skills mismatch. In a different universe, we might call it a pay mismatch.
Multitasking, a case for intervention
Finally, a few words about multitasking. Clearly, it’s the bane of our modern existence, and when your dinner-party guests break out their iPhones to check on the Red Sox score or the spot-price of sorghum, you know you’ve lost their attention.
But Daniel Gulati, writing in Harvard Business Review, argues that while most studies focus on the deleterious effects of multi-tasking on the modern professional – the increased stress, the impact on sleep patterns, poor work quality – the greater effect is on the people around the multi-tasker: the ignored spouse or child, the fellow diner who must listen to a heated phone negotiation over his tapas.
Here may be the one case where an intervention may be justifiable (although probably not one that requires the use of military drones). Mr. Gulati offers three handy tips for getting the multitasker to put down that mobile device and Just. Pay. Attention: call out the multitasker mid-task; reschedule for an uniterrupted time; or just walk away.
IN PICTURES – Libya: Daily life after Qaddafi
Since 2003, the United States and the European Union have maintained “targeted sanctions” against individual members of the government of Zimbabwe, including President Robert Mugabe and many of his closest advisers and cabinet members.
Now, the EU is talking about lifting some of those sanctions – including travel bans and arms embargoes – if Zimbabwe holds a referendum on a new constitution by the end of this year.
Behind the usual chatter about whether it is time to lift sanctions or not is a more fundamental question: How much impact do “targeted” sanctions really have?
In a country like Zimbabwe, where the state and the ruling party maintain tight controls on who can buy and sell land, and on who can profit from the exploration of natural resources, the answer is more straight-forward than it might seem. If most of the country’s assets are indeed owned by the leadership under sanction, then it would make sense the country would suffer. If targeted sanctions were imposed on Bill Gates, for monopolistic tendencies perhaps, it’s likely that the company he founded, Microsoft, and the town of Redmond, Wash., would feel the effects of those personal sanctions.
After the EU announced yesterday that it might lift sanctions, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – a longtime rival of President Mugabe and now a member of a coalition government with Mugabe – was among the first to praise the move.
"Linking the suspension to the successful implementation of the constitution referendum is evidence that the EU is willing to respond to progress in reform of the democratic process in Zimbabwe," Mr. Tsvangira said yesterday.
In truth, by imposing sanctions for so long, the EU and the US may be losing their leverage. Today, Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner is South Africa, and China is its largest export destination, receiving 5.6 percent of all the goods and products that Zimbabwe produces.
These sanctions, though, have effects far beyond their “targets.” When Mugabe’s government launched a brutal “land invasion” campaign, urging militias to use force to push white commercial farmers off their lands starting in 2000, the agricultural economy began to collapse, and Zimbabwe began to run into arrears on its foreign loans. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – which rely heavily on US budgetary support – cut off Zimbabwe from any further aid until 2009, after President Mugabe had formed the coalition government with Mr. Tsvangirai’s party.
Zimbabwe’s coalition government of today is a far cry from the Mugabe government that President George W. Bush imposed sanctions on back in 2003.
Back then, Mugabe’s land redistribution policies helped turn southern Africa’s leading food exporter into its leading food-aid recipient. All the same ugly elements of repression by the Mugabe regime remain today: During the Arab Spring months, Zimbabwe police arrested a professor in Harare for watching a video about the Tahrir Square protesters, and charged him, along with 45 others attending his seminar that day, with treason. But the government has also begun a series of reforms that have helped turn Zimbabwe’s economy around.
In theory, the coalition government formed in Feb. 2009 after flawed elections in March 2008 shouldn’t function at all, and in truth, it doesn’t function all that well. But the coalition government has given breathing room for both of the major parties, and welcome relief for Zimbabwe’s citizens, who once struggled to survive with 1 million percent inflation rates and virtually empty store shelves.
As for those violent “land invasions” that were the cause of all these sanctions, there are signs that they, oddly, may have had some positive effects.
On a recent trip to Harare, Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times and photographer Lynsey Addario found a silver lining in Zimbabwe’s economic storm clouds. In the old days, Ms. Polgreen writes, the faces of the people selling tobacco and other produce to Zimbabwe’s export houses used to be white. Today, the farmers’ faces at export houses are largely black, and despite all the talk about land being given to Mugabe’s “cronies,” most of the new landowners are not members of the political elite.
Polgreen's article – which created a firestorm among Zimbabwe's vocal expatriate community – puts a different face on a policy that has been roundly, and rightly criticized. While the land invasion policies of 2000 were brutal, and certainly extra-legal, they may have given a broader number of farmers among Zimbabwe’s black majority access to land that they couldn’t have had a decade ago.
This creates a political challenge: If a growing number of people have benefited because of Mugabe’s land invasion, and more people have a vested stake in the new status quo, it becomes much more difficult to imagine returning Zimbabwe to the way it was before sanctions.
Have sanctions lost their target? If so, should they simply be stopped?
Being Marie Colvin
The news reports that come out of Syria on a daily basis often leave more questions than answers. How do ordinary people survive in such a war? How can a country’s leader order his military to fire artillery shells into packed urban areas, knowing that such actions will cause civilian casualties by the thousands?
The late foreign correspondent Marie Colvin was obsessed by these questions. Like many war correspondents, she ran toward the sound of gunfire, while everyone else was running away. In February of this year, she had herself smuggled by Syrian opposition members into the besieged city of Homs to document what she considered a terrible war crime, made more terrible by the fact that no one was there to see it, or to stop it. It was an assignment that would cost her her life.
For Colvin, the facts were clear: a murderous dictator was bombarding a city that had no food, power, or medical supplies. [NATO] and the United Nations stood by doing nothing. In a nearby village, hours before they left, Conroy had watched her trying to get a signal and file her story for the next day’s paper on her vintage satellite phone. “Why is the world not here?” she asked her assistant in London. That question, posed by Colvin so many times before — in East Timor, Libya, Kosovo, Chechnya, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka — was the continuing theme of her life. “The next war I cover,” she had written in 2001, “I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will.”
Lawrence of Syria
The black-and-white morality of the Syrian conflict – symbolized by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s overwhelming use of force, and by the cruelty of his intelligence service in torturing opponents and dissidents – doesn’t make it any easier to find a solution to the crisis.
But should the world intervene militarily in Syria? It’s a question that T.E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” had an answer for: No.
For Captain Lawrence, then helping the Hashemite tribes of the Arabian peninsula overturn Ottoman rule during World War I, Syria was a nest of petty political figures, all interested in the gain of their own extended families or communities. And in any case, Franz-Stefan Gady writes in the National Interest magazine, military success would be meaningless if it didn’t lead to a lasting political settlement afterward.
The major lesson Lawrence drew from the history of foreign interventions in Syria, starting from the Ottomans to the British and French, is that they have been marked by disappointment. The defeats have come not so much in military struggles — both the British and French prevailed in that sphere — but in the failure of political settlements and the transition to peace once the fighting ceased.
A grateful son’s tribute
One of the most moving stories I read this week was a tribute, written by David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy, about his father who had just passed on. Mr. Rothkopf’s father was a Holocaust survivor, who fled the Nazis in Austria for the US, where he joined the US Army and returned to Europe commanding a battery of howitzers.
Rather than obsess on his own struggles, the senior Rothkopf focused on the future, and specifically the education of the next generation. As David Rothkopf writes, “We talk too easily of 'the Greatest Generation,' as if their primary contributions were in fighting a great war or building America into a great superpower.”
What the best of them have revealed was that what makes great nations great is always measured not by how much we spend on or our militaries or the edifices of our states but by what and how we invest in our classrooms and our laboratories and in the minds and futures of our children.
Sexual harassment and us
The sexual harassment of women in India is so common, it has a nickname: Eve-teasing. And, as the name implies, there is a prevalent view in Indian society that the real person at fault in such an incident is the woman, Eve, for tempting the men.
The harassment takes place in public, and most people simply look away. The victims largely remain silent, afraid to even confide in their own families. Natasha Badhwar was one of those victims, and she writes of her own experience in The Wall Street Journal affiliated blogsite Live Mint about how this current video scandal has awakened in her a determination to channel her own experiences to make a difference in her society.
“What is the difference between the world that I grew up in and the world our children are growing up in?” she asks. “It’s a one word answer. I am the difference.”
As the father of two daughters, I found this powerful.