Helping the bad guys

It’s obvious to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the issues involved, is that the key to defeating radical Islam is, in fact, moderate Islam.  Every time we treat all Muslims as perpetrators of 9/11 and potential terrorists, we weaken the moderates and strengthen the radicals.  Thus, I think, one of the reason so many of us are so frustrated by the demagoguery of the lower Manhattan Islamic Center.   The truth is, that Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and their ilk are doing more to help radical Islamists than this mosque ever could.  Seriously.  Nice post from Chait on the matter today:

It is precisely because radicalism is so pervasive and powerful within the Muslim world that it is vital to cultivate people like Rauf. Cultivating dissidents within Islam against murderous sectarianism is a primary task in our fight against al Qaeda. During the Cold War, some of the most powerful indictments of Soviet tyranny were made by Russian dissidents. Some of these dissidents were, in a manner of speaking, communists. You wouldn’t want a Leon Trotsky running American economic policy. But imagine that right-wingers protested the publication of these dissidents’ work. They’re Russians! Maybe even communists themselves! Why should we let them spread their ideas in America?

It’s obviously not a perfect analogy. But the key fact is that we are fighting a war for the hearts and minds of non-radical Muslims, and the Park 51 uproar is helping drive potential allies into the arms of the enemy. It is madness.  [emphasis mine]

I especially like how Chait shows this to be a flaw in black/white thinking.  I suppose there are some times when it is useful to truly see things as black/white, but more often then not, I think it is simply a failure to appreciate the complexity of the world.

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Psycho-analyzing Alaskans

Found this bit from Noam Scheiber (on Chait’s blog) pretty intersting:

In a nutshell, the idea is that having to acknowledge your dependence on someone else’s money for your survival is demeaning–an admission of your own impotence–which makes you resentful toward the source of the largesse and reluctant to acknowledge that you actually need it. Imagine, say, living with your parents well into middle-age and you get the idea.

The state’s former Democratic governor Tony Knowles hints at this in the piece:

This sentiment baffles Tony Knowles, a long drink of a man who worked on the North Slope oil rigs before becoming the governor of Alaska in 1994 as a Democrat. He understands the frustration that comes with bumping into federal officials at each turn. But the trade-off is not so terrible, he notes, such as having the feds pay to put broadband in Alaskan villages.

“Nobody likes to have all their eggs in one basket, and so you do feel vulnerable,” he said.

Read this way, Alaskans may be anti-government precisely because they’re so dependent on it, not in spite of that fact.

Now, in reality, I suspect there’s a bit of both going on: Alaskans are a bit more anti-government than the average American by sociology and natural disposition, and they’re made all the more so by their defensiveness over being so reliant on it.

Interesting idea, but I’m pretty sure that data generally show that people who are more reliant on government are, in fact, more supportive of government.  That said, I don’t doubt that there’s a non insubstantial minority who’ve got a psychologically defensive ideology on the matter.

Obama the Muslim

Big Steve dismisses the 18% of the public who now believe that Obama is a Muslim by stating that you can get 20% of the public to believe anything.  10% sure, but 20% and I’m a more than a little disturbed about what this says about our country.  For one thing, the number has gone from 12% to 18%.  Yeah, this belief is all among right-wing Christian Evangelicals, but I think it is a dangerous and disturbing thing to have such a large portion of the public so disconnected from political reality.  Especially if this group has a disproportionate influence in our political system through their outsized influence in Republican primaries.

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If you want more, Big Steve has done a nice analysis of the Pew survey on which this is based.

Too many PhD’s

Came across this posting about the fact that we keep producing way too many PhD’s via Big Steve.  This paragraph is the crux:

In short, I think academia shares many of the classic elements of a social trap: It is in most faculty members’ and departments’ best interests to recruit a lot of graduate students. Churning out Ph.D.s is one of the major metrics of departmental “success.” Departments need graduate students to teach their classes, and faculty members need them to run their labs. Yet, as in any social trap, when everybody acts in their self-interest, a negative collective outcome ensues. I have served as chair or co-chair of 13 Ph.D. students in my career, a number I’m guessing is typical of most research faculty. Population growth of that magnitude is a Malthusian melt-down in the making and simply isn’t sustainable. We’re not creating enough academic jobs to absorb all those Ph.D.s, and in today’s economy, applied jobs are disappearing as well.

I knew far too many smart and talented people in graduate school who were not able to land gainful tenure-track employment that I never recommend pursuing a PhD to all but the very smartest and most motivated undergraduates I teach.  As far as I’m concerned, I have the greatest job in the world and I’m incredibly lucky to have it.  The way the job market it now, I’d be SOL if I was just coming out with a PhD.  Not to mention that tenure-track faculty seem to an ever-declining portion of college faculty.  It’s a great job if you can get it, but right now we are producing way more qualified people for the job than there are positions available.  In short, we’re just setting people up for heartbreak and disappointment.

Half the sky

NC State, like many colleges now, asks its incoming freshmen to all read the same book for a “common reading” experience.  On the day before classes start, the students break into small groups to discuss the book with a faculty member.  This year I was asked to be a discussion leader and I was happy to participate because 1) I always love discussing books; and 2) the choice was Half the Sky by the husband-wife team of Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn and I’d heard a number of really intersting interviews with them about it.  (I’ve also got a soft spot for Kristoff as he was the first speaker in our “American Values” speaker series that my department– and me personally on the committee– help bring about every year).

Anyway, the book.  Not many things in my life are truly eye-opening any more, but this definitely was.  Yeah, I knew women had it pretty bad in the 3rd world, but really had no idea the level of endemic cultural depravity that sees gang rape of a female as a suitable punishment for a crime committed by a male relative or sees nothing wrong with a brothel that traffics in 12-year old sex slaves.  And, yes, literally slaves with no rights of their own.  Not to mention, the maternal health issues (fistulas– yuck!) and the fact that many families thing it is more important to spend their money on beer than educating their daughters.  I told a friend this was “the most horrible book I’ve ever read.”  I’m glad I read it, and the book is quite engaging, but wow, the level of gender-based depravity and inhumanity is just astounding and truly shocking.  My own charitable giving in the future will certainly be shaped by what I learned here (let’s face it, I’m not going to Rwanda to work on a micro-lending project), as will my teaching.

As the authors frequently point out, besides being morally bankrupt, such cultural practices are just plain stupid and self-defeating.  You want economic growth and a thriving community?  Best not to completely waste fully half of your human resources.  It is encouraging to hear that the developing nations that are making the most progress are those that have figured this out and are emphasizing the rights and education of women.  You want to pull your country out of poverty– it starts by educating women.

Since, of course, most of you will never actually read the book, you can listen to the podcast of the authors on Diane Rehm.  Or even better, you can watch Shery WuDunn’s TED talk, which I actually discovered just by happenstance yesterday on Ezra Klein’s blog.  Seriously, do me a favor and watch it.  Or at least multi-task and listen while you do something else.

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