Pointed to by Rebecca Blood, this entry in Jeff Gates’ Life Outtacontext responds to the recent New Scientist item about eccentricity growing with age (to which I blinked) with a list of his own eccentricities. Nice enough; he sounds like someone I’d love to meet. But scroll down to the end for a worthy discussion of his own random acts of kindness… and be inspired.


Funding Difficult Partners:

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Hilton L. Root: The Political Roots of Poverty:

“This essay has two purposes. The first is to lay out some empirical evidence about the relationship between economic aid and systems of governance. The second is to address the problem of how the U.S. government should deal with difficult partners. On the first task there is a wealth of data that suggests some surprising connections between the length of political tenure, the nature of governance, and the role of aid money. That data and those connections, in turn, can help us to think through the second task.”

Does Western-style development fueled by foreign aid defuse the potential for terrorism embodied in the rage of the dispossessed? “In a world where development is state-driven, what will happen to countries without minimally functioning states? What institutional alternatives should we be thinking about where an effectively functioning state is a distant reality?”The National Interest


True Confessions

“… (W)hat tends to do in the wrongly convicted is the kind of evidence that seems clinching, that often is clinching—namely, eyewitness identifications and confessions. But the human memory is not a video recorder; eyewitness testimony is notoriously flawed. And although most of those who confess are guilty, people can and do confess to crimes they did not commit… Two simple measures could go a long way toward ensuring that findings of criminal guilt are genuine“, says Margaret Talbot, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation

. She suggests that lineups of criminal suspects be conducted sequentially instead of en masse, under the direction of police personnel who do not themselves know which of those in the lineup is the suspect; and that all interrogations be videotaped so that later reexamination can detect how much coercion had been used. The Atlantic


Better Fewer, but Better

‘Some books are necessary, some are wonderful, few are both. In that select group belongs Joseph Epstein’s Snobbery: The American Version… With Snobbery, Epstein undertakes a book-length essay in a series of interconnected essays, each of two dozen chapters addressing a different type of snobbery. The amazingly alert and perceptive author pursues snobbishness from its spotlighted stages to its hidden breeding grounds and discovers striking varieties in crannies the rest of us would have overlooked.” LA Times Calendar


"Non scriverò piú."

Reading Cesare Pavese:

“Non scriverò piú.” With these solemn words, which mean “I will not write anymore,” the Italian novelist, short-story writer, and poet Cesare Pavese (1908-1950) concluded his diary, and killed himself nine days later by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.

Of what is a writer’s suicide emblematic? Of writing’s inability to save a life? Ardent lovers of literature may even find it hard to believe that a talent like Pavese’s could not somehow have kept on producing, plunging anew into the toils of composition as a way of resolving perfunctorily (or at least of putting off) the comparatively minor problems of unrequited love and daily living. But of course I am waxing ironic. It is arresting and, I daresay, grimly informative that Pavese’s extraordinarily lucid and pessimistic diary is entitled Il mestiere di vivere (1952), a book translated into English as This Business of Living and all too significantly emphasizing the “métier” or “trade” of living–as in, say, “Mastering the Trade of Living.” Context


Human Development in the Arab World

“Under the joint auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development a recently published report, Arab Human Development Report 2002 (Creating Opportunities for Future Generations), diagnosed human development in 22 Arab countries in a forthcoming and even blunt manner.

The UNDP has customarily measured the Human Development Index (HDI) in terms of four variables: life expectancy, adult literacy, education enrollment ratios and gross domestic product per capita. This report transcends the UNDP’s traditional criteria and measures human development in terms of three deficits: the freedom deficit, the women’s empowerment deficit, and the human capabilities/knowledge deficit relative to income…” Middle East Media Research Institute



Ishle Yi Park: Sa-I-Gu: “Since I’ve written Sa-I-Gu, I’ve performed it in New York, California, and Minnesota. Reading it is always a visceral experience for me–I try to relive the emotions I felt while writing it, so rage, grief, and hope rise to the surface while performing it. It contains fragments of our story–my story–the story that has been ignored or denied by the media. The point of it is to communicate this experience, so people of all backgrounds feel it, with their minds and hearts.” In the Fray


Tolerating Intolerance:

The Challenge of Fundamentalist Islam in Western Europe

…Owing partly to different immigration patterns, but partly also to America’s genius for turning immigrants into proudly integrated citizens with realigned loyalties, Muslims in America tend to be more affluent, more assimilated, and more religiously moderate than their co-religionists in Europe…

…For various reasons, Western European Muslims are more likely than their American counterparts to live in tightly knit religious communities, to adhere to a narrow fundamentalist faith, and to resist integration into mainstream society. The distance between mainstream society and the Muslim subculture can be especially striking in the Netherlands and in the countries of Scandinavia, whose relatively small, ethnically homogeneous native populations had, until recent decades, little or no experience with large-scale immigration from outside Europe….

To an American, such a generation-by-generation perpetuation of outsider status can only make one think of the enduring social marginality of many American blacks. Yet at least we Americans have been taught by our bloody history that “separate but equal” is not a viable democratic option, but a cruel delusion… Partisan Review


"The Truth" About Sanctions in Iraq:

Matt Welch: “Critics of sanctions against Iraq undermine their case by exaggerating estimates of the impact of sanctions in infant mortality, for the truth is bad enough“:

There have been no weapons inspectors in Iraq since 1998. As a result it is exceptionally difficult to know with precision what nuclear and biological weapons Saddam actually has on hand or in development. From the beginning, economic sanctions have been tied to what foreign policy analyst Mark Phythian described in World Affairs as ‘the first attempt to disarm a country against its will’. After September 11, the issue of an America-hating tyrant arming himself to the teeth has seemed more pressing than easing an embargo that blocks his access to money.

Yet the basic argument against all economic sanctions remains: namely, that they tend to punish civilians more than governments and to provide dictators with a gift-wrapped propaganda tool. Any visitor to Cuba can see within 24 hours the futility of slapping an embargo on a sheltered population that is otherwise inclined to detest its government and embrace its yanqui neighbours. Sanctions give anti-American enclaves, whether in Cairo or Berkeley or Peshawar, one of their few half-convincing arguments about evil US policy since the end of the Cold War.

It seems awfully hard not to conclude that the embargo on Iraq has been ineffective (especially since 1998) and that it has, at the least, contributed to more than 100,000 deaths since 1990. With President Bush set to go to war over Saddam’s noncompliance with the military goals of the sanctions, there has never been a more urgent time to confront the issue with clarity. Policy


Decline and Fall (cont’d):

‘There are more votes in vulgarity than in the denunciation of it. Does that mean it is destined to be ever victorious?’ Self-Regulation and the Decline of Civility: ‘Theodore Dalrymple is probably best known for his weekly columns in The Spectator and his essays in the American quarterly City Journal. He is a psychiatric doctor working in an inner city area in Britain where he is attached to a large hospital and a prison. His columns report on the lifestyles and ways of thinking of Britain’s growing underclass, and in his latest book, Life at the Bottom, he warns that this underclass culture is spreading through the whole society. Peter Saunders interviewed him for Policy:

PS: Let me be slightly mischievous. You talk in the book about tattooing and body piercing and studs through the navel. When I was 16 and came home with a pair of Cuban-heel boots my father said ‘I’m not having them in the house, they’re common!’ You’re now saying that navel-piercing is ‘common’. But I wonder if some of what you are picking up on is harmless fads and fashions? Maybe you’re just being a bit crusty?

TD: It would be harmless if people understood that it is just fashion, and that it belongs in its place. But they understand it as a right, so now, for example, in my hospital ward there’s a male nurse, he’s actually a nice chap. But he insists on having his face full of ironmongery, he has 17 earrings in his ear, and it’s probably not very hygienic. Anyway, eventually the hospital administration, which is far from repressive, said ‘Look, you can’t come to work like that’, and his attitude was, ‘If I’ve got a right to do it, I’ve got a right to do it anywhere.’ So there’s no limitation. Neither is there any acceptance that if you’ve got ‘F*** Off’ tattooed on your forehead, that means you can’t really serve in a shop! They say, ‘You can’t discriminate against me.’ So nobody’s prepared to accept the consequences of their eccentricities or of what they do. If we lived in a culture where you accept that, if you have a ring through your nose, you can’t get a job in a merchant bank, that would be fine. But the demand now is that nobody should be allowed to draw any inferences from anything.

PS: The sort of concerns you are expressing are often popularly associated with being ‘right-wing’, or even ‘extreme right-wing’. Do you think of yourself as ‘a man of the right’, and do you think that the right has an exclusive claim over these kinds of concerns?

TD: I don’t think of myself as ‘right’, let alone ‘far right’. I’m culturally conservative in that I do feel cross about people who constantly claim to discover wrong in the past as if there’s nothing good about it. I’m strongly aware of the enormous effort it has taken for people to make the discoveries that we now take for granted, so that is one of the lessons that we should be teaching in history. So I’m conservative in that sense. I don’t think it’s particularly right-wing, or even exclusively right wing, as I think it’s perfectly possible for people to be economically left-wing and culturally conservative. Poor people need social rules much more than rich people. Their life is much worse if they don’t have those rules. So what I object to is the cultural liberal’s view that they are being kind to the poor when actually they are making their lives hell…’ [thanks, David]


Palestinian Cease-Fire Was in Works Before Israeli Strike

“Tanzim, the Palestinian militia connected to Yasir Arafat’s Fatah faction, was preparing to announce a unilateral cease-fire with Israel before an Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb early Tuesday on a Hamas leader’s home in Gaza City, Palestinian officials and Western diplomats said today.

Israeli officials acknowledged that they had known of a possible Palestinian cease-fire proposal before the bomb was dropped, but they dismissed it as a futile attempt by Palestinians without influence over terrorist groups.

Several Palestinian factions, including groups belonging to Tanzim, have vowed retaliation for the bombing…” NY Times


Embattled, Scrutinized,

Powell Soldiers On: “A string of internal policy differences and defeats have set off speculation that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell might not last through President Bush’s term… Tensions with the White House and Pentagon hawks that Secretary Powell has long sought to minimize are no longer possible to disguise.” NY Times