Culling old posts from Iraq's Progress Fray.

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Jan. 28 2005 2:19 PM

Where Were They Then?

Culling old posts from Iraq's Progress Fray.

On the eve of the Iraqi elections, Fraywatch culls good ol'Iraq's Progress Fray for posts dating back to spring 2003, when Slate's David Plotz published a series of articles addressing the upcoming challenge of establishing civil society in, what doodahman refers to as, Postsaddamiraq. Below are excerpts from some of the nascent posts, composed just after coalition forces moved into Baghdad — what was then referred to as "the Iraq victory":

Personally I would settle for stability and humaneness and leave the democracy for later, but with monarchy widely discredited there may be no other model we can use but the one adopted by democratic Western countries. It is a structural model that has been used often in what used to be called Third World countries, and has usually not led to democracy but rather to dictatorship. We cannot prevent this for all time in Iraq unless we are prepared to station thousands of American troops there indefinitely, and we aren't. The most we can do is use the power we have now to block the factions within Iraq that would take their country down paths inimical to American interests and Iraq's stability.
 
…In my judgment we would do better to make these things clear now rather than talk in vague terms about staying "as long as it takes," leaving the impression that this may only be a matter of months and that the future organization of Iraq's government is not something we care about. Having spent American blood and treasure to remove the Baathist regime,
America must now impose the limits that democracy in Iraq must have in order to have any chance of enduring. Otherwise we will be in the position of one who pours jello into his refrigerator instead of first putting it into a mold -- we'll end up with a mess that may take a very long time to clean up.

--Zathras, April 22, 2003


In my opinion, if Iraq manages to emerge with a stable, reasonably representative government that can collect taxes and direct traffic -- let's use Russia as a model -- I'd say Iraqis would be about 1000% better off than they've been for the past 30 years -- exactly as Russians are better off than they were under Sovietism.

As for the experience of nation building in such places as
Bosnia or Kosovo, Plotz seems to be forgetting that US forces are not in Iraq to police local quarrels or keep the locals from killing each other. Roughness in dealing with Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims might well have established the clear authority of an outside and presumably disinterested power in suppressing, say, Serb on Muslim violence, with peace as the result. Such "ruthlessness" in Iraq would not separate Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Arabs but likely draw them together to fight US!

And Plotz had to go to "experts" at places like the Council on Foreign relations to get this inapt parallel.

--Publius, April 30, 2003


It seems to me that we should hold extremely localized elections first so that each region or affiliated group in
Iraq will be able to choose a representative that will have a say in writing a new legal framework for the country. Elections would be held after that framework is put into place.

It seems like a country as diverse as
Iraq will need some sort of federalist system in any event and that states should have a good amount of local freedom so long as there's adherence to some higher principle of human rights.

--destor23, April 25, 2003


…Everyone paints the administration as a collection of ruthless pragmatists but they seem more like romantic sociopaths to me, driven by an overwhelming urge to kick some ass combined with a blindingly sunny optimism regarding the consequences. At any rate, they decided not to send enough troops over to pacify the country immediately and even now they're moving rather slowly to send in the MPs and troops with more peace-keeping training.

The latter is important. What happened in Fallujah was a combination of lack of manpower and ineptness. During the two weeks between the fall of the regime and the arrival of US troops, the people in town managed to get themselves organized to their own satisfaction, providing for their own security, keeping everyone fed and watered and forestalling the looting and mayhem that afflicted much of the rest of the country.

So the troops were viewed from the get-go as intruders…

--Betty_the_Crow, April 30, 2003


A modern, open political system has to have protections for minority interests, to perform a check and balance function, to have some means of petition from the citizenry to the officials, and the officials must have accountability to the citizenry.

The problem will not be the failure of the Iraqis to understand the necessity or desirability of those characteristics. The problem is trying to jerry rig institutions that are uniquely American/Anglo Saxon onto a completely alien culture. Our society is structured the way it is as an organic outgrowth of our longstanding heritage, history and national/cultural experience. You can't just transplant those institutions to
Iraq and expect them to function the same way, obtain the same credibility, or maintain the adequate support from the polity.

And this is not an issue about whether the Arabs are capable of "democracy." In fact, that term is really a distraction from the real goals-- which is the development of a peaceful, stable, and responsive state apparatus for
Iraq

the Iraqis do have a long history of established institutions for the management of their society. They are both Iraqi, specifically, and Islamic in general. In fact, the biggest blind spot we have is the failure to understand that Islam is far more than just a religion. It is a religion PLUS a means of governing the people. Whether that includes a strict promulgation of the Sharia, or simply conforming laws and institutions with some liberal interpretation of the Koran, Islam is an entire package for running an Islamic state…

--doodahman, April 25, 2003


I can see that the first step working with the future government of Iraq is not to hold elections but to begin working with and encouraging each of the parties that begin to emerge in post-war Iraq to publish their own newspapers and eventually sponsor radio and television broadcasts. That includes fundamentalist Shiite Muslim parties. Indeed, the best means to avoid an Islamic theocracy in Iraq - or at least foster one that may be willing to work with us - is to start the dialogue that will help us to understand them better, allowing us to appeal positively to their needs, values, and even their fears. Initially, it is unavoidable that most Iraqis will most trust those news sources whose political viewpoint most matches their own. However, over time, it will become clear which sources are trustworthier for reporting the truth.

Thomas Jefferson is famous for saying that if forced to choose between a free government and a free press, he would pick the latter every time. Perhaps
Iraq is a very visible opportunity for us to prove to the Arab/Islamic world that the U.S. pen is truly mightier than the flaming sword of jihad.
 
--The_Bell, April 25, 2003

For a more current read on geopolitics, go to War Stories Fray — take a look at Fritz_Gerlich's post and Publius' spirited response to Fred Kaplan … KA11:15 a.m.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Red Light, Green Light: Though there's little comment on the Fray on Tuesday's Oscar nominations, Splendid_IREny composes a terrific post on "[f]ilms that wouldn't be made today." SI maintains that "the '70s were a goldmine of artistic merit, of creative risk," but that many of the decade's incontrovertible gems, such as The French Connection and Network, wouldn't make it out of studio development today. What's changed?

Intelligence, or rather, inferred intelligence, of filmgoers. Few filmmakers take for granted the intelligence of today's film audiences…

My slapdash criteria for what wouldn't be made today: 1. Would the original screenplay be made as it stood or would it have been turned into a comedy/drama? and 2. Would the film have an audience today?

Join SI and TheMaxFischerPlayers, who begins his list with Nashville here, over in Reel Time Fray.

Mind & Matter: In response to David Dobbs' Medical Examiner piece on the popularization of brain scans outside of the traditional biomedical sphere, Ang_Cho writes that just because the tests now have different utilities, the classification of data shouldn't change:

Dobbs suggests that there is a distinction between medical and non-medical brain imaging, based entirely on the application of the data rather than on the procedure itself.

Do we draw a similar distinction between medical and non-medical x-rays, ultrasounds or urinalyses? No: they are all considered medical procedures regardless of how one uses the data collected.

Why should data retrieved from the brain be any less "medical" than data retrieved from the blood or tissue samples? I suspect that it is because of superstitious mind/body dualism: that somehow the brain is not as "material" as the rest of the body, and that any data retrieved is less concrete...less grounded in science.

While it is true that much of the inner workings of the brain have yet to be fully understood, the brain is still an ORGAN, albeit a highly complex organ.

When one performs a MEDICAL procedure upon an ORGAN, then that data is clearly medical data, and should be considered confidential under current law.

For Mangar here, it's the ends not the means:

Don't let BRAIN IMAGING take on a magical quality that good ol' paper-and-pencil neuroscience lacks. We HAVE tests to measure persistence, extroversion, and ability to focus along with "intelligence" and a teeming host of other traits. They just happen to display their effects on a test page instead of a picture of someone's head. And, for the time being at least, they are much more likely to be accurate measures of the traits in question. So, if the ethical questions surrounding giving someone an IQ test or an MMPI at a job interview are settled...well then, a brain image doesn't really add any new problems.

And john_Manjiro offers fraysters an ethical game of "whom do you hire?" here.

Hats, Rings, Etc: RachelCA2 rightly points out that Senator Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) unofficially announced his candidacy for President of the United States this morning.

ID Magazine: How IOZ scooped CBN for this one, Fraywatch has no idea.

Ender's Game: A big maroon & white congratulations to daveto who climbed to the sixth rung of the Fray LadderKA12:20 p.m.

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Monday, January 24, 2005

Fraysters stayed busy over the weekend in Human Nature Fray, responding to the  William Saletan piece that takes aim at the "Communist show trial" atmosphere surrounding the Larry Summers tizzy at Harvard. Summers spoke at "Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce: Women, Underrepresented Minorities, and their S. & E. Careers." In the course of a speech outlining three possible theories to explain the gender discrepancy, Summers referenced the combustible "innate ability"/biological basis argument. 

The Fray unwraps the package. First, there's the Why Does The Middle School Math-lete Team Consist Exclusively of Geeky Males debate. JemmaBee, self-confessed female high school math whiz, explains why she "gave up math in adolescence and went into English literature and drama":

Math was a man's world. It was a man's world in the people who practiced it - mostly men - but even more in the way that it was practiced. It was taught and studied as something to prove your skill at... like a sport. And it allowed for almost no creativity or quirk. The boys tended to enjoy showing off their skill at solving problems. They were threatened by a girl who did better than them (indeed, some of the male teachers were threatened by a girl who understood and solved problems so quickly). The boys who did well at math made it a sport of bullies. I didn't like playing math competitively. The few women I saw teaching math didn't seem like role models to me. They didn't have any creativity or quirk.

For modicum, it's an issue of "talent identification." Mod looks at a series of criteria on how we evaluate talent and potential, including the "so-called Rosenthal Effect of students rising or falling to expectation," the "Relative-Age Effect," and K. Anders Ericsson's "Theory of Deliberate Practice." Mod concludes:

The only thing new in this discussion is that the academic world of science, math and engineering is finally taking seriously questions the business world started asking in the late 70s and early 80s: Do we really know how to separate the talented from the non-talented? Are our criteria valid predictors of real success in the real world? Are the differences we observe among those who succeed today necessary to success or are they only artifacts of how they were selected, trained and encouraged as youth and young adults?

Mangar believes that "Summers never suggested that the average performance between men and women differs, but he very well could have":

He didn't argue that the means of performance are different, just the variance. He could have gone for the mean and still been well within reason. If he had claimed these differences are a good reason to scorn women, he would be off his rocker. If he had suggested that discrimination didn't also exist, he'd be in hot water. But he didn't.

In the end, the question isn't whether there are miniscule difference between men and women on cognitive tasks. THERE ARE. The question is whether this justifies discrimination at the individual level. IT DOES NOT.

While jgirl2 found herself "agreeing with Wm. Saletan most of the way," she cautions that "until we can have a discussion of genetic differences without falling into the false logic of aligning differences with superiority and inferiority," much of the debate is futile.

So far as Claude Steele's 1997 study in which, "female students in a math test 'performed equal to men when the test was represented as insensitive to gender differences,' " TheRanger scoffs:

His tests were bogus and his explanations inconsistent. He claims that women feel threatened in the math and science class room but not in the literature classroom with no mechanism to explain it…Basically Steele wanders off into the philosophy of Sartre with an inadequately designed experiment. Instead of looking for remediation from the environmental conditions and external biases, Steele blames internal inhibitions for the lack of positive outcomes.

And seneca1843 assails Saletan for failing to look "outside the United States on this one," and notes that Icelandic girls outperform their male counterparts in math class.

Part two is the political piece: Much-Maligned University President Gets Into Trouble Flapping His Gums. The most compelling debate on this matter pits two of the fray's best: ShriekingViolet and Sissyfuss1. SV finds Saletan's sympathy for Summers "quite sad":

This is academia we're talking about, Will. Have you ever witnessed a Ph.D. preliminary exam? Now THAT is a show trial. Summers is a University President with a 6-figure salary.... his sole purpose in life is to bring money and talent to his campus. It's a political position. He should have known better than to flap his gums on a sensitive subject. Shed no tears for the man.

SV offers a personal testimony:

From my own experiences, it seems to me that both feminists and science faculty should be less concerned with the percentage of women in the field, per se, than with determining whether science and engineering programs are diluting their talent pool by turning away talented outside-the-box scientists, including many men, in favor of a narrow like-minded clique who are prone to groupthink and incrementalism.

S1 responds that:

If uninspiring pedagogy at the introductory level is the root of the problem, it may explain the selection of the mediocre over the bright, but not men over women. Unless, of course, you make the assumption that women are disproportionately bright or creative, while men are more prone to stoic regimentation of the mind. That's an odd argument if you are trying to make a case that intellectual capacities are gender neutral. I know you de-emphasized the skewed gender ratio as a normative concern, but since it is a documented phenomenon, your story is clearly problematic if it cannot account for it.

To rebut SV's contention that "60-80 hour weeks" that [bear] no relation whatsoever to the sort of daily work performed by medical doctors, biological researchers, or organic chemists" may be a factor is women leaving the discipline, S1 writes:

What's really funny about your litany of complaints is that many of them are intrinsic aspects of doing science, e.g. long, boring hours in the lab, poring over reams and reams of data and long series of equations and calculations. Epiphanies are rare, and much of it … is disciplined, almost mechanical execution of a series of tasks. It is like complaining that the basketball establishment discriminates by overly emphasizing jumping and throwing skills.

Sissyfuss1 authors his own superb top post on the subject here:

There is an important distinction between suggesting disparate achievements are genetically rooted, versus suggesting it is a hypothesis research should explore. It is also important to note the venue – not a convocation address, but a conference precisely on the topic: women's role in academia. I really wish that socialization is the exclusive source of gender differences in test scores and representation, but it's intellectually dishonest to pretend we know the definitive answer. It is also a tiresome misconception in the nature vs. nurture debate that the answer must be either/or. There is a deep rooted fear of genetics among many leftists, going back no doubt to eugenics and racist theories of the past. However, the answer to bad science is good science. The demand for axiomatic acceptance of parity is a disservice to both women and science, and only serves to reinforce stereotypes in prejudiced minds. Hypatia would have been scandalized.

Daughters of Theon can represent hereKA 12:25 p.m.

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Thursday, January 21, 2005

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Early Impressions: Ele_ writes in BOTF:

There are two major events today. The important one for the country and the world is of course the second inauguration of George W. Bush. But there is another one perhaps no less important, even though no one likes to think about it - we are all 4 years older than we were on this day in 2001. They say wisdom comes with age, so we are also 4 years wiser, though not all, for it only comes to some. Mr. Bush is definitely 4 years wiser. How do I know? If there is indeed someone who writes the script for our Earthly events, irony would be the last thing this entity is lacking. Four and some years ago candidate Bush was asked in an interview to name the Pakistani president and for the heck of him couldn't answer. So there were chuckles all around, which I must say I didn't share. After all, why would anyone expect a governor of Texas to know each and every world leader by name? A year later this nameless leader of Pakistan became our major ally. I suspect today Mr. Bush if awaken at night would not only know the name Pervez Musharraf, but also quite a few names from Musharraf's cabinet.

The_Bell "was not among those voting for President Bush this time around. Yet I still retain optimism about that election and this day in the sense that the people spoke. I may believe they made a mistake but it seems to me better they have the freedom to speak regularly every four years – at the cost of sometimes making mistakes—than having the 'right answer' imposed upon them." More from The_Bell:

Like every person who has taken the Presidential Oath in my lifetime, I will hope that he leaves office universally beloved and universally acclaimed. It has not happened for any of my past aspirants as yet but hope and this nation continue to spring eternal for me. To those of you who supported him this time around, I offer my gracious congratulations. The election is over, the oath is taken and he is no longer "your candidate" but rather "our President," which of course he never really ceased to be.

In the next four years, I will continue to try and offer praise when I think it is fairly deserved and criticism when I believe the same is true for it. That also, I believe, is the duty of the citizens of a republic.

Read TheAList "On Inaugural Overkill and Freedom" here.

Mass Mailing: To bring you up to speed, Bryan Curtis' tribute to Dave Barry last week generated this anti-Barry tirade from rob_said_that, which, in turn, generated a kachillion rebuttals from Barry partisans. Thoughtful frayster that he is, rob felt that he owed each of his 32 respondents a reply of some sort—but didn't have the time to answer each individually. So what's a resourceful frayster to do?

I figured the fair thing to do would be to categorize the responses for readers here, and respond to each group. So here are the groups, each group's list of responders, and my rebuttal to each. If you see your name here and think I placed you in the wrong category, you may fill out a Response Reassignment Form and send it to me with your check for $25 and I will reassign you to any category you wish. (Takes 6-8 weeks for completion.)

Here's a sample of rob's taxonomy:

Thinks I'm funnier than DB

sanz

My response: You are obviously a person of refinement and taste, or else your sarcasm is so subtle as to be undetectable by the best scientific instruments I have at my disposal.


Supports booger jokes

CC_man
pattyw

My response: Pick me a winner.


Makes coherent rebuttal / has valid point

Joe_JP
LearningHand
Larsonzoo

My response: Thanks for playing our little game.


Thinks I have no right to post criticism of DB

nonickname
hopeful
Mountain_Man_CA
bellybaby

My response: You see, the idea of a forum like the Fray is that people get to post differing opinions on the topics at hand. It is not necessary for everyone to think alike (unless, of course, you want to keep your membership in the Republican party).

For rob's comprehensive reply, click here.

Gotta B+ in Lunch: In BOTF, FreedomLost points out that Texas lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require school to include a student's Body Mass Index on his report card. Good thing or bad thing? MsZilla authors this thoughtful reply, which begins with practical concerns such as privacy and computers, then moves on to "touchy-feely issues," including:

For adolescents and children, it's a frickin' joke. Every teenage girl has a drastic upswing in their BMI when they hit puberty due to the growing of their breasts and the changes to their pelvic region that go along with reproductive maturity - for girls who are well-endowed it can be over 10 points. This is perfectly normal and no amount of HEALTHY dieting will change it. This can happen at any time between the age of 11 and 16 depending on the girl so you can't exactly account for it without knowing the rest of their medical history. A doctor knows that and can counsel a kid and their parents and determine if that's the basis for this. A school can't. So, let's just dump that number on a piece of paper and send it home so they have that to add to the rest of the societal BS that distorts their body image. A boy's number goes haywire every time they have a growth spurt and there's no way to tell if that 15 year old whose BMI just went down 10 points was because of good diet and exercise regime or because he grew three inches…

Yes, I know that you think if you're helping even a few kids it would be worth it, but what about the ones you're putting at risk? The reaction of the average parent who is confronted with this isn't going to be "oh, I need to make some changes". It certainly isn't a frickin' surprise, and "bringing it to their attention" doesn't motivate people to get out and deal with their problems. In a tragically many cases, they are going to be embarrassed and angry. And not at the school, but at the kid.

Fraywatch wonders if Texas will issue class rankings … KA12:10 p.m.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

NightFalls on Manhattan: Slate's culture editor, Meghan O'Rourke, gets a lot of run in Poems Fray for " Meditation on a Moth." MaryAnn offers this analysis:

I think the speaker is a New York City resident troubled by how that city or any place of commerce and greed can attract and throw her off her true course. She begins by lamenting what has happened to her "poor eye," which has seen the "dark-fretted gold" of the business world represented by the Chrysler Building and has also seen the colorlessness (with no life or emotion) of Wall Street traders ("the opium dens of 'High and Low,' / where bodies sway like white flowers -- / amount due, amount due")…

Then, because she likens herself to a moth, she retreats to the night…

But once the night is over, you have to get up and face the colors of the world again. Like a moth, you can allow yourself to again be thrown off course by the "brute, blind glare of snow in sun" or, refreshed by the night's dreams, you can "look again, and up you may rise / to something quite surprising in the distance" – hopefully your true feelings and identity.

…O'Rourke's poem sounds quite wonderful. At first, I feared that her "sound" interfered with her "sense." I hope my analysis indicates her ability to combine both "sound and sense."

After offering comparisons to Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, Ted_Burke tackles this stanza:

Do ghosts have neuroses?
What is the point of the haunting they do?

O'Rourke's question sounds rhetorical, since she might as well be asking why it is that she's seemingly lured to the streets in the far reaches of the late night/early morning. The activity here is no less neurotic than what a ritual-locked specter would suffer from. This wonderfully condensed musing on what over-alert senses bring to you on dark, wet nights comes from the sort of agitation of the soul that is too familiar with the terrain, and one finds themselves wrestling with ambivalence, to make the move to new climes, or to look further and harder at where one has been for years, seeking another nuance of light or angle of skyline that rewards the soul just a little more than the agony of not changing punishes it.

For a fun homage, check out DemiMundane's " Meditations on Mothra."

Drinking Like a Sailor: In Human Nature, William Saletan reports that several states are clamping down on cold medicine. While suburban teens may prefer Robitussin as their over-the-counter hallucinogenic of choice, MaoSayTongue writes that " NyQuil got me through eight years in the Navy":

Actually, it was the generic, Navy Exchange brand of Nyquil—tasted the same and gave the same sort of high. It cost about $1.50 for a bottle.

I would usually run out of beer money long before payday, so I would just go to the exchange and buy a couple bottles of the green elixir. When we were in a US port, I just take it back to the ship and sit in the TV lounge, swigging it from the bottle.

Halfway through the first bottle, I'd be talking to the TV . . . as well as the chairs and tables and anyone else who was in there. The high felt a lot like herbal ecstasy and alcohol--understandable since it basically IS herbal ecstasy and alcohol.

ElboRuum is a big NyQuil guy because JägerCrank

was the first to address the 2 primary irritations with having a cold... the inability to sleep because you keep nose-drooling into the pillow, and your face permanently screwed into an uncomfortable shape resembling a carp hanging off a fisherman's hook because you can't breathe through your nose.

How does NyQuil do this? By KNOCKING YOU OUT. If I'm asleep, I don't care that I've got post-nasal drip and sinus clogging.

To Elbo, "If you needed any indication that this nanny state BS has gone too far, here it is." Offer some homeopathic cold remedy to Elbo here

Leni? Is that you? The only original take on the Prince Harry flap comes from Ang_Cho:

Of course I am troubled by Prince Harry's choice of costume, but I am even MORE troubled by the reaction of the press and the public … Not that the media is overreacting (they aren't) but what troubles me is the way in which they are reacting.

If it was one thing the Nazi's got right, it was aesthetics. One need not ignore the PURPOSE of the aesthetics, to simultaneously admire the sheer emotive force of Nazi architecture, cinematography, choreography and yes: COSTUMING.

Simply put: the Nazis were terrific art directors.

Nazi regalia have a sleek, terrible BEAUTY, that RESONATES. The whole fashion package is hard to resist (as in Indian Jones or, more surprisingly, The Sound of Music). Nazi costume, with its swastikas and death skulls, fetishize death.

And the public is a sucker for a sexy danse macabre.

Images of a dashing young playboy Prince dressed as a Nazi shocks us, not because we are disgusted, but because we are TURNED-ON. We are ashamed at our own erotic response.

The full color tabloid photographs are MEANT to titillate…

Ang_Cho wins the Fray's Mel Brooks Award ... KA4:30 p.m.

Adam Christian is co-editor of the Fray.