Wednesday, July 26, 2006

a little rant on facial hair

Here's a diversion (for my non-existent readers) from the news-dominating Israel-Hezbollah fracas: a list of the Most Beautiful People from Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. (and no, its the first time I've encountered it too).

There are some unusual looking women there (for instance see #s 1 and 8, and skip all the beautiful blonde women in suits who look as if they stepped right off a conveyor belt) but really, what's with the men? I mean, yeah, they're all good-looking and pretty in that cute-looking-yuppie kind of way (What were you expecting? They work at Capitol Hill, for God's sake - ed) but they all have

a) short cropped (or Hugh-Grant-foppy) smooth hair
b) gelled, of course, all of it well in place, or deliberately mussed
c) infuriatingly clean-shaven faces(with some carefully calibrated stubbles)

Where are the guys with

a) beards
b) long hair, hell, different hair
c) interesting clothes

And why oh why do most of the men seem to work for Republicans? (Face it, Republicans are just better-looking than Democrats! - ed. No, they're not! It's just media bias!)

ps: another little trifle. A Vatican calendar with good-looking priests. Really!

pps: the Editor tic is shamelessly stolen from blogger Mickey Kaus.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ross Douthat on the Religious Right

Here's a passage from Ross Douthat's review of some books on the rise of the Religious Right in America that I found thought-provoking:

As for why the Religious Right has become so tightly bound to the GOP, rather than becoming as Democratic as the Populists once were, or as bipartisan as the civil rights movement was (albeit ever so briefly)—well, that’s a question that the anti-theocrats rarely address in any detail, beyond dark references to the nefarious activities of Karl Rove. Only Phillips has the honesty to analyze the political trends that have brought about this supposedly theocratic moment—and he does so with almost charming obliviousness, quoting experts such as John Green, Geoffrey Layman, and Louis Bolce, as if unaware that their arguments vitiate his thesis.

What all these observers point out, and what the anti-theocrats ignore, is that the religious polarization of American politics runs in both directions. The Republican party has become more religious because the Democrats became self-consciously secular, and the turning point wasn’t the 1992 or the 2000 elections but the putsch of 1972, when secularist delegates—to quote Phillips, quoting Layman—suddenly “constituted the largest ‘religious’ bloc among Democratic delegates.” Yet having noted this rather significant fact, Phillips sets it aside and returns blithely to his preferred narrative, which is the transformation of the GOP into America’s first "religious party.” But that’s not what happened at all—or rather, it’s the second half of the story, the Republican reaction against the Democrats’ decision to become the first major party in American history to pander to a sizable bloc of aggressively secular voters.

This was very much a strategic electoral move on their part. As Mark Stricherz pointed out last year in a Commonweal essay titled “Goodbye Catholics,” Democrats in the McGovern era were faced with the crack-up of the old New Deal coalition and made a conscious decision to jettison blue-collar voters in favor of what a 1969 memo called “a different political and social group with rising educational levels, affluence, and . . . greater cultural sophistication.” At the time, pursuing a coalition of younger voters, minorities, and affluent suburbanites seemed a better bet than trying to hang on to socially conservative voters, especially given that all the energy in the party seemed to be coming from the Left. But it required the Democrats to identify with a segment of the population—self-identified secularists and nonbelievers—that has grown rapidly over the past three decades and grown more assertive along the way. Which in turn has alienated the devout plurality of Americans and left the democratic party stuck just shy of majority status for the better part of a generation.

So the rise of the Religious Right, and the growing “religion gap” that Phillips describes but fails to understand, aren’t new things in American history but a reaction to a new thing: to an old political party newly dependent on a bloc of voters who reject the role that religion has traditionally played in American political life. The hysteria over theocracy, in turn, represents an attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to suit these voters’ prejudices, by setting a year zero somewhere around 1970 and casting everything that’s happened since as a battle between progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

food for thought

Here's a quote to chew over, from Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts Jr., no less, on Neil Armstrong's first words from the moon.
''It is my recollection,'' Mr. Roberts wrote, ''that he actually said 'one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,' but the 'a' was somewhat garbled in transmission. Without the 'a,' the phrase makes no sense."
What do you think?

[Reported by Linda 'the Dramatic' Greenhouse in the New York Times.]

Sunday, July 02, 2006

india and the free market

Does the free market work? Here's an interesting incident from Clive Crook's Atlantic essay on capitalism:

In the late 1980s, as Mikhail Gorbachev embarked on his perestroika program of economic reform, Soviet officials were sent abroad to see how things were done in the West. One visited London’s main vegetable market. He asked how the market was organized, and how prices were set. He was told that the individual traders bought whatever quantities they wished, and set their own prices, and that these fluctuated throughout the day as the balance of supply and demand changed. At this, the Soviet visitor laughed. He said he understood that this was the official line—but, please, how did the market really set prices?
It is one thing to believe that effective governance consists in being able to balance the demands of social justice (and I mean "social equality" as opposed to just "income equality") with the demands of the free market. But sometimes in mindlessly trumpeting the free market, it seems to me that the folks at TCS haven't done their fact-checking that well.

First there is this statement:

For 70 years, Mohandas Gandhi's myopic vision of backward-looking socialism as a template for national advancement was accepted as revealed wisdom by a string of Indian prime ministers, starting with his acolyte, Nehru.
And then this:

Despite a plenitude of cotton, Gandhi didn't think India should create a cotton industry, believing instead that every family should own a spinning wheel and spin its own. He didn't believe India should develop a manufacturing base, which not only caused the dead hand of "import substitution" to smother native initiative, but the failure to develop factories meant there was also a failure to develop infrastructure like roads and ports to take goods to market.
I should admit that, more or less, the last statement captures Gandhiji's vision correctly. And yet, while the vision of a small self-sufficient village, where everyone lived simply, might have made sense to "authentic" Gandhians like Acharya Vinoba Bhave, it was never the Congress's idea of an independent India at all. As far back as the Nehru Report of 1930, the Congress was clear where it wanted India to go: India would be a secular democracy while paying particular attention to equality, social justice and the rule of law. Above all, the Congress (led by Pandit Nehru, "Gandhiji's acolyte") recognized that a modern India would have to be industrial and compete with the rest of the world. Perhaps, inspired by the success of the Soviet five-year plans, industrialization was to be driven (initially at least) by planned government initiatives a.k.a Planning.

The alliance between the INC and Gandhiji arose from a mixture of idealism and pragmatism. The Congress recognized that Gandhiji's methods his unique moral force were unique, a foundation on which a new India could be built. But at no point did the Congress ever adopt Gandhiji's own economic vision. On his side, Gandhiji recognized this implicit bargain. He was the undisputed leader of the movement for India's independence and the Congress' foremost representative but never its architect for India's future. Think about it, at no point in all his negotiations with the British, did Gandhiji ask for simple self-sufficient villages. When Gandhiji negotiated with the British, the essential vision of India in these negotiations was always the same: a free India, with an industrialised economy, driven by a strong public sector, with an emphasis on social justice.

Whether this vision, with its emphasis on a strong public sector, is still the best one for India, is arguable -- planning and the public sector, led to the development of an entrenched and utterly inefficient burreaucracy which choked any kind of growth. But the fact remains, India-- with its surplus of engineers and the easy availabilty of English-speaking persons -- was in a unique position to take advantage of the turn in the post-industrial global economy, particularly the service-sector, because of the decisions made during our "socialist" days.

Of course, the question really is: what next? How do we negotiate the demands of capitalism with the requirements of social justice? Where does the public sector figure in this? Or does it?