Small Government Theocons? Ctd

by Brendan James

A reader writes:

Concerning this post, I think you and Ed Kilgore are talking past each other.  Ed’s talking about the Religious Right; you’re talking about “young evangelicals.”  Not exactly the same thing—indeed, the young evangelicals you’re speaking of seem to be moving away from the Right, or at least modifying it to accommodate what is now clearly a cause as lost as keeping evangelicals from divorcing.

But if you focus on, say, the Tea Party, as Ed does, it’s apparent that the persistent efforts of some clueless pundits to characterize it as a “libertarian” movement miss the point.  It’s not the deficit these people are concerned with; after all, where were they in the oughts?  They’re concerned, as ever, with the federal government taking stuff away from deserving folk like themselves and giving it to undeserving folk like the poor, or the uninsured, or parasitic elites in academia, the bureaucracy, etc.

And for them this is a moral cause; that Obama is in the business of taking from the “right” people and giving to the “wrong” ones isn’t a policy disagreement, it’s proof of his moral perfidy.  That they are utterly clueless about the federal budget and the fact that they are major beneficiaries of federal redistribution policies makes it all the easier for them to strike this self-righteous pose; there’s no “libertarianism” for them if it touches “their” Medicare.  It really is the culture war by another means.

I understand this point, that libertarianism and Christianism are not a priori incompatible (even if it requires some slippery semantics) and so a rise in the former need not lead to perestroika. But the fact is that evangelicals are the core of the religious right, and if the next generation is becoming libertarian on social matters like marriage—we could talk about drugs as well—that’s a big problem for the old guard that organizes much of the base around cultural paranoia. If this generational shift continues, how small is the Christian Right’s tent going to shrink before they lack the clout Kilgore and the rest of us are worried about?

The UN’s Deadly Incompetence, Ctd

by Brendan James

A Zimbabwean cholera patient sits in his

Not long ago we posted on the UN’s cover-up of a cholera outbreak in Haiti, sparked by a peacekeeping mission in 2010. It turns out there was another outbreak on their watch, in Zimbabwe, which left 4,000 dead in 2008-09. A whistleblower in the UN tried to warn his superiors about the growing epidemic, but was fired by his chief officer, on behalf of that officer’s friends in Mugabe’s government. It was an election year, after all. Armin Rosen digs deeper:

The UN and [officer Agostinho] Zacarias’s chief responsibility should have been to Zimbawe’s embattled civilian population. Instead, both failed to live up to their obligations — even as they were conspiring against someone who had exceeded them. That campaign even seeped into the tribunal proceedings, as Zacarias and the UN made specious and unsupported claims in court that Tadonki had been accused of sexual harassment while based in Harare. It didn’t work, but the UN’s efforts are continuing even now: the UN has stated that it is appealing its own tribunal’s decision, and according to [lawyer Robert] Amsterdam, the World Body has taken the first procedural steps necessary to retry the case. At a March 6 press conference, a UN spokesperson refused to comment on the case — except to say that “judgments of the UN Dispute Tribunal are not final until they have been confirmed by the UN Appeals Tribunal,” and that “the Organization intends to file an appeal of this judgment.”

(Photo: A Zimbabwean cholera patient sits in his bed on February 27, 2009 at a hospital in Harare. By Desmond Kwande/AFP/Getty Images)

“Collars for Dollars”

by Brendan James

Harry Levine explains the incentives in law enforcement that produce so many marijuana arrests:

Police work can be dangerous. Ordinary patrol and narcotics police like the marijuana arrests because they are relatively safe and easy. If an officer stops and searches 10 or 15 young people, one or two of them will likely have a bit of marijuana. All police have arrest quotas and often they can earn much-desired overtime pay by making a marijuana arrest toward the end of a shift. In New York City, arresting people for petty offenses for overtime pay is called “collars for dollars.” Every cop in the city knows that expression. From the officers’ point of view, people possessing marijuana are highly desirable arrestees. As one veteran lieutenant said, people whose only crime is marijuana possession are “clean,” meaning physically clean. Unlike junkies or winos, people arrested for marijuana don’t have HIV, hepatitis, or even body lice. They are unlikely to throw up on the officer or in the police car or van. Frequently they are on the way to a party or a date, and if they have smoked a little, they may be relaxed and amiable. Marijuana arrests are a quality of life issue – for the police.

By the by, here in NYC under Mayor Bloomberg, the police round up more pot smokers every year than the total number of arrests under Koch and Dinkins combined.

Iraq Wants Our Drones

by Brendan James

A couple Iraqi intelligence officers say their government asked the US for strikes against jihadis on the Syrian border. Obama declined. Micah Zenko, relieved, provides some background:

In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA had increased its covert training and support efforts to enhance Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service forces that are focused on AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] or [Syrian jihadist] al-Nusrah militants that threaten western Iraq. A senior Obama administration official stated: “This relationship is focused on supporting the Iraqis to deal with terrorist threats within their borders, and not about ramping up unilateral operations.” Training and advising another state’s security forces is a normal component of military to military cooperation, but conducting kinetic operations for them could quickly draw the United States into creating additional enemies out of what are domestic and regionally-focused terrorist groups.

The CIA already serves as the counterterrorism air force of Yemen, and, occasionally, Pakistan. It should not further expand this chore to Iraq.

Extending the drone campaign to Iraq to to combat Syrian insurgents sounds like a profoundly poor idea that, as Zenko points out, could very quickly spin out of control. Given Obama’s rejection of the Petraeus-Hillary plan to directly arm Syrian rebels and his interest in preserving his legacy on Iraq, it’s hard to imagine him touching that border as things stand.

But proof has been mounting for a while now that jihads in Iraq and Syria travel back and forth with ease, and have comingled to the point that State has labled them the same operation. The obvious snag is that we want Bashar’s regime to fold and Maliki’s to hold up. The jihadis, of course, don’t distinguish the two, and right now their success against Bashar contributes to instability in Iraq, and vice versa. It’s quite a nasty cycle, one we’ll have to break at some point soon.

Your Marijuana Resort And Spa

by Brendan James

Matt Brown, one of two guys opening a kind of vineyard tour circuit of Colorado dispensaries, explains why he’s not worried about a visit from the feds:

Colorado has not seen enforcement action like you’ve seen in California, where they’re kicking in the doors of dispensaries. And that’s because Colorado has the most sophisticated medical marijuana regulatory system of anywhere in the world. At this point we have 400 pages of regulations and laws, so it’s very easy to tell if this person is following the rules, and that person’s selling 150 pounds out the back door. But we’re still being cautious. We’re not here to poke our fingers in anybody’s eye or annoy the federal government. We just want to help people and make the process of finding weed more normal.

Normal is what we have in Colorado right now. You buy your weed at a store, and it has hours. I was saying to my friend the other day, “Aw man, it’s 7:30, the weed store’s closed. Oh well, I guess I’ll wait until they open tomorrow morning at 9.” That’s normal. That’s what it should be.

The Daily Wrap


Today on the Dish, readers asked Andrew where federalism begins and ends, Nick Beaudrot kicked off a discussion on blogging as a way of life and Matt Sitman looked at Pope Francis as a Jesuit. Suderman caught up with the hiccups in Obamacare, Weigel measured lack of interest in the sequester and Pareene wondered if we’ve seen the last of the Clinton hacks. We discussed the economic reasons of the “decline” of marriage, checked in on the demise of the Euro, and Adam Alter noticed a connection between a hurricane’s name and how much we give for relief.

We caught Americans running drugs on the Mexican border, kept considering the plight of the snitch, and welcomed terrorism back to the silver screen. We pondered the significance of teacher cheating, asked if we’re hardwired for language and toured a lonely, lonely shopping center. Elsewhere, we updated readers on the Dish experiment, unearthed the very first Face of the Day, and readers sounded off on the restaurant EZ pass. Kate Crawford differentiated data and truth, Calvin Trillin extolled the joys of the floating editor, while Zoe carried on the marriage-surname discussion (and announced some exciting news).

Later, Moynihan cringed at his Wikipedia entry, we eyeballed how many of our fellow citizens go for UFOs and trutherism, and readers shared their experience of sensual sneezes. We reckoned with the power of Wagner and revisited Ware’s broken leg as Evan Selinger opened a drawer of old thank you notes. Andy Greenwald said a good word for bulk watching Game of Thrones while Woodman defended the misuse “literally.”

Finally, we looked out on London for the VFYW, spotted tiny tourists beneath a big Face of the Day, took a somber look back at Fraggle Rock for the MHB.


(Photo: A man kicks a topless activist of the Ukrainian feminist movement Femen as she raises her fist to protest against Islamists in front of the Great Mosque of Paris on April 3, 2013. By Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

Haunted By Wagner

by Brendan James

Nicholas Spice, unnerved by the power that Wagner’s music has always held over listeners, asks if the German composer is “bad for us”:

In the early days, the expressionistic intensity of Tristan und Isolde produced violent reactions in its audiences. The young Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu fainted and had to be carried out of the theatre (he was to die of typhoid from eating a contaminated sorbet a day after his 24th birthday); Chabrier and Ravel both burst into tears while listening to the Prelude. But Berlioz, while reviewing the opera positively, privately admitted to being disgusted by the music, and Tristan became associated in some quarters with loss of self-control and moral atrophy. …

[Composer Claude] Debussy said that it was ‘hard to imagine the state to which the strongest brain is reduced by listening for four nights to the Ring … It is worse than obsession. It is possession. You no longer belong to yourself.’

We don’t tend to give music this much credit anymore, but there’s a reason why Wagner’s music formed the backdrop to some of the most horrific episodes of European history, and, more recently, one of the more chilling depictions of the Vietnam War, seen above.

Proofreading Your Life

by Brendan James

Moynihan braves a glance at his Wikipedia page and confronts some conspicuous errors:

I won’t bore you by cataloguing all the mistakes in my entry (I found about a dozen), but the results weren’t terribly impressive. I’m unsure how long it remained on the page, but according to Wikipedia’s edit log, my biography once claimed that I had a “vagina” and—pardon the language—“love the cock.” The only people who can refute the first point are, I hope, biased in my favor and wouldn’t be trusted by Wikipedia as “reliable sources.” The second point, also difficult to disprove, seems irrelevant to the job of polemicist.

But the damages can go beyond anatomical inaccuracy:

Wikipedia is often the first stop for inquiring minds and so one must vigilantly monitor one’s own entry. Just ask Taner Akçam, a Turkish historian domiciled in the United States, who in 2007 was briefly detained (PDF) by Canadian immigration officers on suspicion of being a terrorist. When he protested that he was an academic, the diligent border agents showed him a printout of his Wikipedia page, which had been defaced by his political enemies. Upon returning to the United States, Akçam was stopped by agents of the Department of Homeland Security who also inquired about his Wiki-reported terrorist connections.

Is Language Innate?

by Brendan James

Jessica Love considers whether the human brain was designed to produce language, or whether its development was more accidental:

The ’90s was the era of the language instinct. Indeed, Steven Pinker’s book The Language Instinct overtook bestseller lists and inspired a whole generation of psycholinguists, including me. “Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture,” Pinker wrote. Bats use Doppler sonar to hunt insects, birds read constellations to navigate, and humans have a “biological adaptation to communicate information.” We must have helpful biases encoded in our genes: What else could explain the fact that the most complicated skill most humans will ever master is acquired by age four?

But during the last decade, the pendulum of scientific thought has begun its inevitable swing in the other direction. These days, general cognitive mechanisms, not language-specific ones, are all the rage. We humans are really smart. We’re fantastic at recognizing patterns in our environments—patterns that may have nothing to do with language. Who says that the same abilities that allow us to play the violin aren’t also sufficient for learning subject-verb agreement? Perhaps speech isn’t genetically privileged so much as babies are just really motivated to learn to communicate.

The Daily Wrap

Port Authority Offers Media Tour Of One World Trade Observatory On 100th Floor

Today on the Dish, Andrew expressed his disbelief on the advances of the gay rights movement while readers vented over yesterday’s guest post from Mr. Rick Astley. Ed Kilgore doubted that the GOP’s libertarians will threaten its Christianists, Frum raised his eyebrow at a Hillary victory, and we sized up the new Democratic coalition. Bernstein encouraged one Supreme Court Justice to step downa and Judis spotlighted the problems with America’s trickledown recovery. On the foreign beat, Graeme Wood took a hyperinflation vacation in Iran, Larison rebuked Jackson Diehl on the legacy of Iraq, and David Bosco warned of a new African intervention for the UN.

In assorted coverage, readers kept up the debate on taking husbands’ names, Oppenheimer demanded conservatives stay consistent on the “decline” of marriage, Dylan Matthews measured the exponential rise of Senatorial support for equality. A reader gave a personal account of narcoanalysis, we measured the benefits of early marriage, and found out that Google is against sponsored content (Vice, not so much). Tahir Hemphill pieced together an almanac of rap and Megan Garber paid respects to the word “whom,’ and Jordan Weissman analyzed Amazon’s buyout of Goodreads. We also looked out from a whale’s eyes and checked in on Ware while Mark Graham did a global survey of Wikipedia editors.

Later, we tested the limits of working out of the office, Steve Mann showed us his proto-proto Google Glass, and we tracked how dull food gets tasty. Ian Crouch muted the blaring Inception trailer music and we detected evidence of the class structure in reality TV. We met some of the activists in Uruguay’s marriage equality movement in the Face of the Day,  sat in awe of another beatboxer for the MHB before visiting Tirana, Albania in today’s VFYW contest and Shannon, Ireland in the regular VFYW.


(Photo: Members of the Port Authority Police stand near the windows in the One World Observatory from the 100th floor of One World Trade Center at the Ground Zero site on April 2, 2013. One World Observatory, which is situated more than 1,250 feet over lower Manhattan, will open to the public in 2015 and will include a pre-show theater, multiple spaces that allow for panoramas of the New York City region and numerous dining options. When completed, One World Trade Center will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1776 feet. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images)