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:
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.
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.
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”:
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:
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.
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.
John Cassidy watched McConnell’s performance yesterday:
[W]hen you want to boost your bona fides with conservatives, many of whom regard you as a hopelessly compromised establishment figure, there’s still nothing like putting on your hunting jacket, grabbing your rifle, and paying homage to the N.R.A.
This being the Gaylord Convention Center rather than a rifle range or a field in Kentucky, McConnell went without the hunting jacket. His official purpose was to present a “lifetime achievement award”—that would be the rifle—from the National Rifle Association to Senator Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma senator who is retiring this year with a hundred-per-cent approval rating from the gun-rights lobby. McConnell handed Coburn the gun, they both admired it, and then McConnell delivered a lengthy attack on President Obama and the Democrats.
Paul Waldman is jealous that conservatives get all the cool props:
[C]onservatives have lots of these kinds of identity markers that can easily and quickly communicate a whole set of beliefs to an audience when they’re mentioned, like the Bible or Ayn Rand or country music.
Mark Kleiman, fast becoming the biggest buzz-harsher on the planet, worries that our state-by-state approach to legalization will end badly unless the federal government steps in to regulate the pot market:
The systems being put into place in Washington and Colorado roughly resemble those imposed on alcohol after Prohibition ended in 1933. A set of competitive commercial enterprises produce the pot, and a set of competitive commercial enterprises sell it, under modest regulations: a limited number of licenses, no direct sales to minors, no marketing obviously directed at minors, purity/potency testing and labeling, security rules. The post-Prohibition restrictions on alcohol worked reasonably well for a while,but have been substantially undermined over the years as the beer and liquor industries consolidated and used their economies of scale to lower production costs and their lobbying muscle to loosen regulations and keep taxes low (see Tim Heffernan, “Last Call”).
The same will likely happen with cannabis. As more and more states begin to legalize marijuana over the next few years, the cannabis industry will begin to get richer—and that means it will start to wield considerably more political power, not only over the states but over national policy, too. That’s how we could get locked into a bad system in which the primary downside of legalizing pot—increased drug abuse, especially by minors—will be greater than it needs to be, and the benefits, including tax revenues, smaller than they could be. It’s easy to imagine the cannabis equivalent of an Anheuser-Busch InBev peddling low-cost, high-octane cannabis in Super Bowl commercials. We can do better than that, but only if Congress takes action—and soon.
Kleiman makes some good points about the radical insecurity of the legal regimes in Colorado and Washington, but I have to say I find his worst case scenarios a stretch. This, for example, is Kleiman’s understanding of federalism:
Justice Louis Brandeis’s praise for states as the “laboratories of democracy” has been widely quoted … Dr. Frankenstein also had a laboratory.
Oy. Pete Guither offers a must-read and detailed rebuttal. On the federalism point, is Kleiman honestly saying that the federal government is to be trusted in this area? The entire reason the states have taken the lead is that the feds still can’t change its absurd classification of the drug. Then Kleiman has a bugaboo about marketing, as if nurturing and cultivating a customer base for marijuana is some kind of a crime, or inherently damaging. Guither responds: