Leon Wieseltier – surprise! – blames Obama’s rationality and his belief that others share it for blinding him to the ambitions of Putin’s Russia:
The lack of preparedness at the White House was not merely a weakness of policy but also a weakness of worldview. The president is too often caught off guard by enmity, and by the nastiness of things. There really is no excuse for being surprised by evil. There is also no excuse for projecting one’s good intentions, one’s commitment to reason, one’s optimism about history, upon other individuals and other societies and other countries: narcissism is the enemy of empiricism, and we must perceive differences and threats empirically, lucidly, not with disbelief but with resolve. “Our opinions do not coincide,” Putin said after meeting with Obama last year. The sentence reverberates. That lack of coincidence is now a fact of enormous geopolitical significance.
But opinions don’t coincide with almost all geo-political adversaries and even allies. That doesn’t mean that some common ground on the question of shared interests cannot also be reached, even as one retains no illusions about the underlying conflict. Rich Lowry shakes his head at the administration, which he says should have learned from the Bush era that Putin was not to be trusted:
Of all President George W. Bush’s failings, not giving the Russians a chance wasn’t one of them. He notoriously looked into the eyes of Russian resident Vladimir Putin at the beginning of his presidency and saw sweetness and light. His illusions were shattered by the end, with the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.
Larison counters Lowry’s whitewashing of Bush’s Russia policy:
In a review of Daniel E. Sutherland’s A Life for Art’s Sake, a biography of James McNeill Whistler, Barry Schwabsky considers how the painter’s personality informed his work:
Was Whistler just as belligerent toward his art as he was with the wider world into which he sent it? You might think so, judging from reports of how he went about making it: “His movements were those of a duellist fencing actively and cautiously with the small sword,” according to one witness. But no, the results show very little evidence of Whistler’s aggressiveness. Henry Adams can’t have been the only observer to have noticed the contrast between Whistler’s “witty, declamatory, extravagant, bitter, amusing, and noisy” public manner and his art of “nuance and tone,” though perhaps he was one of the few to speculate that it showed how the painter might have been “brutalized … by the brutalities of his world.” That might be putting it a bit too strongly, but still, something must account for Whistler’s conviction that “the Master stands in no relation to the moment at which he occurs—a monument of isolation—hinting at sadness—having no part in the progress of his fellow men.” Whatever the cause of this inner core of loneliness and sorrow, none of Whistler’s biographers, including Sutherland, has ever come close to touching on it. Perhaps that’s just as well, because the beauty of the art transcends its motivating ache—by communicating it in a homeopathic dosage.
(Image of Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge, circa 1872-1875, via Wikimedia Commons)
Charles Simic recalls a business scheme for a new kind of gravestone dreamed up by the poet Mark Strand when he was down and out:
It would include, in addition to the usual name, date, and epitaph, a slot where a coin could be inserted, that would activate a tape machine built into it, and play the deceased’s favorite songs, jokes, passages from scriptures, quotes by great men and speeches addressed to their fellow citizens, and whatever else they find worthy of preserving for posterity. … One of the benefits of this invention, as [Strand] saw it, is that it would transform these notoriously gloomy and desolate places by attracting big crowds—not just of the relatives and acquaintances of the deceased, but also complete strangers seeking entertainment and the pearls of wisdom and musical selections of hundreds and hundreds of unknown men and women.
While this invention may strike one as frivolous and irreverent, in my view it deals with a serious problem.
[Kansas] has set its tax rate on marijuana at $3.50 per gram and its taxes on other controlled substances at $200 per gram or $2,000 per pill. Drug dealers operating in the state should visit the Taxpayer Assistance Center in Topeka between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm to buy drug tax stamps. Or they can order them through the mail. By attaching the stamps to the drugs, dealers can show that they paid their taxes. They may be busted and arrested, but at least tax evasion won’t be one of the charges.
Kansas is not alone in demanding that drug dealers pay their fair share of taxes. Some 10 to 20 states have (or once had) legislation setting tax rates on illegal drugs.
One problem: the stamps aren’t exactly flying off the shelves:
According to attorney Robert Henak, “Everywhere but four states, I believe, there is no indication that drug dealers are buying stamps.” The majority of states have sold no stamps, or only a few thousand dollars worth in tiny increments. So who is buying?
Stamp collectors. Many of the stamps feature marijuana leaf designs or comical health warnings as Henak, a stamp collector who once shared his collection of drug tax stamps with Playboy magazine, can attest.
On Wednesday, the Massachusetts court ruled that the state had no laws barring someone from taking a photo up a woman’s skirt. Meghan DeMaria notes the court’s judgment that those women were not “completely or partially undressed”:
If you’re wearing Spanx, a thong, or other undergarments that could constitute being “partially nude” beneath your skirt, you’re entitled to legal protection, but women who favor granny panties are out of luck. Good to know.
I agree generally with the principle that something like this should be against the law, but it seems to me that the Court was correct on the law here. As a general principle, people can only be convicted of a crime when they’ve actually committed an illegal act that is specifically defined in the law and, in this case, what Robinson was accused and convicted of did not comport with the statute under which he was charged. If the legislators in Massachusetts want to prevent this from happening again, they simply need to rewrite the law to cover the activities that Robinson was accused of committing.
In response to the case, the legislature quickly passed a bill to ban such behavior. The governor signed it this morning. Nichi Hodgson wonders if it will have any effect:
It’s all in the body language. Christian Jarrett surveys a study that explored whether people pick up on losing athletes’ submissive body language without knowing the score (the above clip is a sample from the study):
The researchers showed adult and child participants dozens of silent, three-second clips of winning and losing athletes in table tennis, basketball and handball, and tested whether the observers could tell, based purely on “thin slices” of non-verbal body language, whether each athlete was winning or losing, and by how much (from “far behind” to “high lead”). The clips were taken from the breaks between play. Scores were concealed. And any clips containing explicit emotion, such as shame or pride, were omitted. … The researchers found high levels of accuracy, among young children (aged 4 to 8), older children (age 9 to 12), and adults. That is, the participants’ estimates of whether an athlete was losing or winning, and by how much, tended to correlate with the actual situation, as measured by the (hidden) score at that stage in the contest.
Harvard epidemiologist Ronald Kessler studied the effects of moving low-income families with children into better neighborhoods and found that these moves led to poor mental health outcomes in boys:
Kessler’s study was conducted using data from Moving to Opportunity (MTO), a decades-spanning housing mobility experiment financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Within this project, 4,604 volunteer families with 3,689 children were randomly divided into three groups. Two of them received different versions of rent-subsidy vouchers that enabled them to move into a better neighborhood. A control group did not move.
In follow-up interviews conducted 10 to 15 years later, boys reported higher proportions of major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and conduct disorder than boys within the control group—rates of PTSD comparable to those of combat soldiers. The opposite occurred with girls, who reported mental health that was substantially better than the girls who stayed in high-poverty neighborhoods.
The results represent something of a conundrum. Over the past few decades, urban policy has focused on breaking up clusters of poverty, planning cities so that poor residents could live in areas that also had middle-class people. Does this new research mean projects like MTO are actually a bad thing?
Megan Garber explains the photo agency’s decision to make 35 million of its photos freely embeddable for non-commercial use:
It’s important to note that, while many millions of Getty images are now available for embed, not all Getty images are. And there seems to be a fairly significant split, from what I can tell, between stock images and photojournalism images when it comes to embeddability. So do a search for “Ukraine,” and you”ll get lots of photos … but that one of John Kerry shaking hands with Sergei Lavrov in Rome yesterday? Nope, not embeddable. …
That distinction is important; it emphasizes, among other things, the bet that Getty is making by opening this new revenue stream. News outlets, after all, will always need news photos. Keeping the newsy stuff out of the “free photo” pool allows Getty to preserve its value for its already-paying digital subscribers, while the embed system could be a way to capture some value from The Rogues. This is Getty attempting to have its cake, and eat it, too.
The Dish has payed for Getty images for many years now, both within larger media companies and into its independence, and we couldn’t be more satisfied with their service and quality. A special thanks to Stephen Hanley for shepherding our account through the stressful period of setting up our own site and company last year. Meanwhile, Pat David points to some downsides of Getty’s new feature:
Walter Russell Mead rejects the premise that the US or even the EU can pressure Putin economically:
Putin does not worry nearly as much about the Russian stock market as western leaders worry about financial markets in their own countries. Putin broke the oligarchs as a political force years ago; in Russia, corporations exist to serve the state and not the other way round. He is not worried that business leaders will lose confidence in him; in Putin’s Russia, it is business leaders who worry about losing the trust of the country’s political master.
As for banking crackdowns and visa limits, it will help Putin, not hurt him, if powerful Russians are unable to leave the country or move their money around in the West. One of his worries is that various oligarchs and power brokers can put enough money in the west to be able to get out from under his thumb. He would like all of his backers to be dependent on him for continued enjoyment of wealth and property. If the West wants to fence his backers in, so be it. (If the west goes after Putin’s own golden horde of ill-gotten simoleons, estimated by many to be north of $50 billion, the calculation might change.)
Daniel Berman notes that, for the governments of the UK and Germany, an economic war with Russia would be political suicide:
Meghan Neal flags a new study finding “that vaping makes adolescents more likely to start or continue smoking tobacco, and less likely to manage to quit”:
That’s after surveying 40,000 middle and high school students, first in 2011 and then again in 2012 to follow up. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco parsed the data and published their grim results in the journal JAMA Pediatrics[yesterday].
Highly publicized research claiming that e-smoking gets teenagers addicted to cigarettes deals a tough blow to e-cig advocates, who strongly believe that puffing on vaporized liquid is a healthier choice than inhaling burning tobacco, and that making the switch from analog to digital cigs can help wean smokers off the habit.
I understand that’s a ridiculously broad question, but it arises from a ridiculously broad analysis:
Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.” This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.
Is it possible things are just a little bit more complicated than that? It could be that the impulse for national power, territory, dominion is now not obsolete, but simply much more attenuated now than it once was (and that argument is easily compatible with Kerry’s phrase). And the case for that is pretty strong. I mean: if nations have one driving impulse – “seeking national power, territory, dominion” – and if the record shows no change or evolution in this eternal truth, how do we explain huge tranches of recent history?
Why on earth, for example, would European countries pool sovereignty in the EU? How could they be deluded into thinking that giving up “national power” could be a good thing? And why, for that matter, would this arrangement remain attractive to other countries as well, not least of which Ukraine? Why on earth did the US invade and conquer Iraq only to leave it a decade later? Why did we not seize the oil-fields with our military might to fuel our economy? What was Krauthammer’s hero, George W Bush, doing – singing hymns to human freedom rather than American hegemony?
Why, for that matter, have military incursions into other countries become rarer over time? Why has the level of inter-state violence in human affairs declined to historically low levels?
The answers to that question are, of course, legion, and I’m not trying to settle the debate here. I’m just noting that if the classic aims of territory acquisition and dominion never change, Krauthammer has a lot of explaining to do.
Even with Putin, I think it’s worth noting that his current Tsarist mojo is not exactly triumphalist. Krauthammer concedes as much:
Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia conquered it 20 years before the U.S. acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot.
So this is less like Hitlerian aggression and more like a sad attempt to re-seize one tiny portion that was part of Russia proper far longer than it was “lost”. More to the point, Putin “got it back” only in the wake of Ukraine deposing its democratically-elected, Russophile leader in a violent, popular putsch. Yes, if your contention is that the desire for territory/dominion/power is “obsolete,” you’re a fool. But if your contention is that this impulse plays a much less critical role in international affairs than in almost all previous periods in human history, you’d be merely making an empirical observation.
The truth is that global interdependence – the immensely complex and proliferating global economy that vastly expanded as communism collapsed under the weight of its own lies – clearly mitigates the classic impulse that Krauthammer approves of. It doesn’t abolish it – but it shapes it.
John O’Sullivan is impressed at how the new Ukrainian government has pulled itself together amid Putin’s provocations:
[I]t has maintained a lively democratic unity; passed a series of reforms leading to a more liberal constitution, fresh elections and a new government; discussed these proposals with great transparency (its parliamentary proceedings are televised); won over the main oligarchs, who prefer even a Kiev regime hostile to corruption to a Putin-esque world in which the government is a rival oligarch; and responded firmly but not rashly to Russia’s invasion of Crimea and other provocations.
It has, accordingly, been accepted as legitimate throughout most of Ukraine even before the elections. Attacks on its supporters, attempts to seize official buildings, demonstrations by crowds calling for Russian intervention there have been seen in some eastern cities, but on a smaller scale than most experts predicted. Most Russophone Ukrainians seem to support Kiev — which suggests that a distinctly Ukrainian nationalism has spread eastwards in the past 20 years. And when they switched sides, the oligarchs ensured that much political and public opinion switched sides, too.
All of which means that there is simply not enough disorder and anarchy in Ukraine to provide [Putin] a pretext for any further incursion.
“Calm,” Massie adds, “even of a relative and tense kind, is Russia’s enemy”:
Olga Khazan has a breezy, smart review of what we know (and mostly don’t know) about the effects of marijuana on the body:
It’s not good for your memory, at least if you start smoking as a teenager. In one study published in December, researchers examined teens who smoked marijuana daily for three years and found that the memory-related structures in their brains appeared to “shrink and collapse inward,” and that they performed worse on memory tasks. The troubling thing? This was two years after the subjects stopped smoking. And the younger the teens were when they started lighting up, the worse the impairment seemed to be.
An earlier study in rats found that THC, the active ingredient in pot, weakened the connections between neurons in the hippocampus, the brain structure critical for memory formation. But another study on human subjects found that the “skunk” strains of pot, which have a greater ratio of THC to cannabidiol, are worse for memory than hashish or herbal strains. And researchers who followed nearly 2,000 young Australian adults for eight years found that any differences in memory and intelligence between those who smoked pot and those who didn’t could also be attributed to gender or education, and the differences disappeared after the individuals stopped smoking.
There is evidence, though, that for older people, THC helps prevent against the brain inflammation that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
My own take-away from this is that the first priority in dealing with marijuana is to prevent its use by teens. Prohibition has clearly failed to do that. And any new legal regime has to pass that test. My other conclusion is simply that we need much, much more research and that that research can only be done properly if the drug is re-classified. And yes, the idea that pot doesn’t affect memory is stupid. Of course it does. It’s not a panacea. And some memory loss is part of why it’s so attractive to human beings. Forgetting is a huge part of our survival as humans. Our brains could not function if they retained everything they absorb. What cannabis has done for humans for millennia is to ease the pain of memory, and liberate us ever so slightly from the past. That’s why it can be so helpful for some people with PTSD. A little oblivion is a far too under-rated thing.
The U.S. added a solid 175,000 jobs in February, despite the nasty spate of winter weather that some thought would put more of a damper on hiring. But the real relief may be that in spite of that growth, the unemployment rate actually ticked up slightly, to 6.7 percent. Why celebrate a rising jobless rate? Because it gives the Federal Reserve an excuse to lean back and let the economy keep gathering steam without worrying too much about inflation.
Bill McBride, who provides the above chart, zooms out:
This graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms – this time aligned at maximum job losses. At the recent pace of improvement, it appears employment will be back to pre-recession levels mid-year (Of course this doesn’t include population growth).
Kilgore wonders if the weather is depressing jobs numbers:
Paul Waldman suggests we stop calling people “pro-” or “anti-Israel”:
Think about it this way: When was the last time you heard the designation “pro-Israel” or “anti-Israel” and found it a useful distinction that added to rather than subtracted from the discussion at hand? Ever? Instead, the terms are used almost exclusively as ad hominem, a way of shutting down debate by proclaiming that someone’s intentions are sinister and therefore their arguments can be dismissed out of hand without addressing their substance.
There’s no other country in the world we talk about in this way. No one asks if you’re “pro-Canada” or “anti-Costa Rica.” Even countries with which we have sometimes adversarial relationships, we don’t use those terms. For instance, The Atlantic‘s James Fallows lived in China for a few years and has written a couple of books about the country. If someone asked, “Is James Fallows pro-China or anti-China?” you’d immediately say that person is an idiot, because the question is meaningless. Framing things that way does nothing but obscure and distract from any actually interesting question we might have.
MPs [in the Crimean parliament yesterday] voted by 78 votes to nil for the territory to leave Ukraine, further escalating what has become the most serious crisis in Russian relations with the west since the cold war.
At the same time, a referendum on more autonomy for the region due on 30 March was brought forward to 16 March, and the question was changed to give residents the option to unify the Black Sea peninsula with Russia. Crimea’s deputy prime minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, said the referendum was now only to “confirm” parliament’s decision, and he considered Crimea to be part of Russia already. He said that all Ukrainian troops on the territory should either leave or be treated as occupiers. Crimea is planning to introduce the rouble and readopt Russian state symbols.
Brian D. Taylor’s sees the referendum as a Kremlin provocation:
[The] fast-tracking of a Crimean referendum on unification with Russia, if Putin is behind it, suggests that he decided to speed right past the “off ramp” and head straight for formal annexation.
Olivia Nuzzi identifies a reason for the governor’s newfound CPAC popularity:
[W]hat’s causing Christie trouble in his home state may be making him fans among many conservatives. In the months since the scandal involving lane closures on the George Washington Bridge became one of the biggest political stories in the country, the liberal media has kept a target on his back. The death of Christie’s political career would be, in part, a victory for a place like MSNBC, which has devoted so much time to covering every little detail and conspiracy of Bridgegate.
The conservatives applauding Christie at CPAC weren’t just applauding another Republican governor, they were applauding the newest enemy of the liberal media.
Charles Pierce believes Christie is still running for president and that he “is beginning to reconstruct his mythology, a brick at a time.” John Dickerson assesses the speech:
On Thursday, the political task before Christie was to get a good reception from a skeptical crowd without saying anything that might be used against him in a 2016 presidential bid. He achieved that modest goal. The Democratic Party, in its instant analysis of Christie’s CPAC speech, couldn’t actually find anything noteworthy in the speech. It criticized him for what he “didn’t talk about.”
I argued that opponents of marriage equality should stop playing the victim and instead of focusing on gays “make a positive argument about the superior model of a monogamous, procreative, heterosexual marital bond”:
There is enormous beauty and depth to the Catholic argument for procreative matrimony – an account of sex and gender and human flourishing that contains real wisdom. I think that a church that was able to make that positive case – rather than what is too often a merely negative argument about keeping gays out, or the divorced in limbo – would and should feel liberated by its counter-cultural message.
Andrew asks us to make a “positive case,” but I submit to him that this is impossible now. The climate that now exists, and that will only grow in intensity, is one in which any dissent from the pro-gay consensus, no matter how nuanced or irenically stated, amounts to “hate” that cannot be tolerated. … If Andrew believes that Christians should tell positive stories, then the best thing he can do for us dissenters, now that he is on the verge of victory (and I can’t think of a single figure who has done more than he has to achieve victory), is to explain to his side what he perfectly well knows from being friends with Ross and me: that not every Christian who opposes same-sex marriage is a hater, and it does none of us any good to pretend that they are.
Well, I have done so on many occasions, did so in my books from the 1990s onward, and will continue to do so. I’ve spent a large part of my career angering gays by insisting that a crude “hater!” response to arguments about homosexuality is both deeply flawed and counter-productive. That was the whole point of Virtually Normal – and why it provoked such ferocious hostility from the left. Here’s an essay I wrote for the NYT attacking the whole concept of “hate” as a legal or political phenomenon. My record against “hate-crimes” is also pretty clear. I’ve aired vital reporting that complicates the iconic case of alleged anti-gay hate, in the Matthew Shepard case. Rod knows all this. He must also know that maintaining my loyalty to the Catholic church has not made my life easier in the gay community these past few decades. Why, given some social ostracism in the gay world for being a believing Christian, would I have clung on to a church that I believe is motivated by “hate”? Human beings – and hostility or opposition to gay civil rights – are much more complicated than that absurdly reductionist label. I am not Mark Joseph Stern.
But it remains the case that hatred and fear of gay people is deep and real and alive among many of Rod’s allies on the Christianist right. Not all, by any means. But it would be crazy not to acknowledge this. Rod wants to divide the anti-gay-rights coalition into a tiny fringe of Westboro Church loons and otherwise reasonable, nice Christians who oppose marriage equality for principled reasons. But this is a whitewash. The way gay people have been denigrated, derided, trivialized and demonized by mainstream figures in the Christianist right is appalling. The Christianist campaign to persecute gay people in Africa is horrifying. The callousness and double standards of Pope Benedict XVI – the man who declared gay people inherently sinful in our nature – cannot be denied.
And the only way to distinguish yourself from these hateful factions is to make a positive case for your position. That’s always possible. From the very beginnings of our faith, Christians have made such a positive case, even as they were being thrown to the lions. And Rod won’t do it because someone might say something mean at the office! How delicate and sensitive these Christianists can be.