Wednesday, 5 March 2003

Mike has the CA figured out; Bill rhetorically doesn't

Mike Hollihan of Half-Bakered has been tracking the evolution in the Grizzlies boycott story in the pages of the Commercial Appeal over the past few days. Having waged my own quixotic battles against the Memphis media in the past (both the divine ra-ra sisterhood of the CA — the URL isn't the boosterish “” for nothing — and the holier-than-thou Memphis Flyer), I certainly recognize the pattern.

Meanwhile, Bill Hobbs rhetorically asks why the Oak Ridge TABOR story isn't getting any traction. I think we all know the possible answers to that, at least from the CA's perspective (circle the ones you think apply):

  • The CA doesn't want uppity Memphians — or heaven forbid, the dreaded suburban voters — getting any ideas about asking for a charter commission.

  • The CA doesn't think any part of Tennessee exists east of Lebanon.

  • The CA didn't receive a press release on it.

  • The CA isn't as good a newspaper as their fellow Scripps-Howard rag, the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

  • The CA can't figure out how to write one of its classic “we take absolutely no position on this issue, but feel like blathering on for several hundred words” editorials about it.

By the way, you can choose more than one option...

Mike circles all of the above, and adds some possible answers of his own for good measure, while Bill helpfully informs that the CA does at least know about the story, although it wasn't in the form of a press release so technically (c) is still on the table as a viable answer.

More of “The Chris Agrees With Dan Show”

Daniel Drezner describes today as a depressing day for U.S. foreign policy, an assessment I largely agree with, even if it may be a necessary day for our foreign policy — in the sense I'm not all that sure that there's much that could have been done differently*, short of calling the whole thing off. As Dan says:

The U.S. has to deal with the resentment that comes with being the global hegemon, China, Germany, France and Russia acting like spoiled teenage brats, and a lot of trouble spots in the globe. The Bush administration has not been dealt the best of diplomatic hands. That said, today is one of those days when I think the administration could be husbanding its valuable cards a little better.

In a better world, we could do right by the Mexicans, but 9/11 changed the domestic calculus there (erroneously, in my opinion — Mexican immigrants are no more a threat to America's way of life than Canadians are). In a better world, China and South Korea would be stepping up to the plate to deal with North Korea, the latter's bluster aside. On the other hand, American global hegemony is the only viable global order for the forseeable future — and the actions of France and Germany in this crisis, much to their eventual dismay, will perpetuate that hegemony (a hegemony that most Americans would just as soon have no part in leading, by the way) by further demonstrating to the world that the European Union's alleged leaders do not take their responsibilities toward global security seriously.

* We're firmly in the could have been done stage; what we're witnessing now is very much the calm before the gathering storm.

Asimov's Psychohistory: Political science in another guise?

(Prompted by Hit & Run's linkage to the Science Fiction Book Club's list of “The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years”, with the Foundation trilogy making it in at #2.)

Since I spent much of the weekend laid up with the seemingly annual recurrence of my sprained ankle, I finally got around to doing some light reading. My reading choice was the three books of Asimov's original Foundation trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. Much of the plot of the series revolves around the invention and seeming perfection of “psychohistory” by Hari Seldon, and the consequences thereof. From the Wikipedia:

Psychohistory was also the name of a fictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy universe, which combined history, psychology and mathematical statistics to create a (nearly) exact science of the behavior of very large populations of people, such as the Galactic Empire. Asimov used the analogy of a gas, where whilst the motion of a single molecule is very difficult to predict, the mass behavior of the gas can be predicted to a high level of accuracy. This concept he then applied to the population of the fictional Galactic Empire, which numbered in the quadrillions. The character responsible for the science's creation, Hari Seldon, established two postulates: that the population whose behaviour was modeled should be sufficiently large and that they should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.

In some ways (although Asimov came up with the concept before the behavioral revolution in political science, beginning with Voting and The American Voter), “psychohistory” sounds a lot like the work of the quantitative parts of the discipline, particularly in the fields of mass political behavior and international relations, albeit much evolved and with a predictive rather than an explanatory emphasis (we can reasonably predict short-term political phenomena, within limits, but there's nothing in the contemporary political science toolbox that would be able to predict how long the United States will persist, for example).

So it's fun to think about some of the parallels, although I'm not convinced it would be a good thing for the universe to have Jacob T. Levy, Daniel Drezner and myself operating in secret to keep our galactic plan on track. (Plus it would be a bit too close to the whole “Trilateral Commission” nonsense promulgated by the fringe.)

Of course, there's always the case to be made that psychohistory was just a Grade-A McGuffin... even within Asimov's universe!

The Pentagon's New Map

Bill Hobbs links to this fascinating piece by Naval War College professor Thomas Barnett. Rather than selectively blockquote, I'll just recommend that you Read The Whole Thing™.

Civility (or the lack thereof)

Greg Wythe links to this Washington Times piece by R. Emmett Tyrell making a very pertinent point:

The steady drift of Democratic activists away from war with Iraq, despite the president's every effort to accommodate their concerns, is another demonstration of a phenomenon of American politics that I only became aware of in the Clinton years. The phenomenon is this: A sizable proportion of the politically committed in America today are not propelled by principle or by fact but by the deep emotional satisfaction, indeed the peace of mind, that they derive from beating hell out of an opponent. To be sure, it is commonly heard that the politicians, at least those of the finest flower, long to put partisanship aside; but the truth is that without partisanship politics would lose much of its attraction for many politically active souls. Frankly, many of them are itching for a fight and grateful for every perceived enemy.

I think this trend is as present in the Blogosphere as anywhere else — there are clearly some very unreasonable voices that nonetheless gain a wide audience, at all extremes of the political spectrum.

Pæaning for the open road

Jordan Lancaster implores readers of today's Daily Mississippian to pack up and hit the open road. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, although I regret to inform that my spring break adventure will just be driving to visit Dad.

Not to be outdone...

Josh Chafetz at OxBlog has taken up the gauntlet thrown down by Dan Drezner. I think everyone's trying to drive up their Ecosystem ratings.

Anyway, you won't see shameless pandering like that here. Which is probably why doesn't rank very highly...

The more you know...

The more I read about John Ashcroft, the less I like the guy (not that he started on a very high plateau in the first place in my book...). Gary Farber and Kevin Drum have the latest.

And then there's Ashcroft's bong obsession (via InstaPundit).