Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Are America’s Elites Post-American?" and Other Implied Questions of a Rambling Monologue

I admit that I'm throwing these thoughts at you, dear reader. Much can be more tightly defined and/or more broadly spun out. I'd love your feedback: What message do you discern from these expatiations?

The confrontation of non-democratic powers reinforces our belief that we need to dynamic, flexible, and largely unconstrained by governmental regulation. The self-interested reason that elites sometimes support social programs is that they believe in the strengthening of the nation-state, in this context.

The intermingling of elites, however, has undermined the sense that the future of elites is tied to the common person. At the same time, the common American supports the status quo because of a belief in the need to confront regimes that are less free, and potentially aggressive.

Peaceful accommodation among elites may eventually lead to the perception that aggressive confrontation is not strongly needed and the common person may decide that it is worthwhile to secure health and educational benefits for himself.

Trade agreements are one step in the direction of events such as these unfolding. More significant, however, would be (1) the democratization of China and (2a) the democratization of important parts of the Middle East or (2b) a dramatic decrease in our reliance on oil (NB: 2a and 2b do not both need to happen for the belief in a stable, wealthy world to take root much more firmly.). Such an occurrence (which would likely take decades to solidify itself) would convince common folks that the need to band behind their elite leadership is not so strong as it had earlier seemed.

Obama is an interesting phenomenon because he senses the potential for such a secure, wealthy world order to emerge. He simultaneously seems to support the passions of common folks to secure their part of an international system that does not fully consider them. This is a common liberal stance in American today. Obama is so successful because he presents it with so little acrimony. The image is understandably appealing.

The shortcoming is that, so long as challenges to the democratic world order are not taken seriously, the risks remain of (1) an ebb in the tide of democratic expansion and/or (2) a crisis in the relationship between Obama and American middle in the event of future challenges to that order.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brooks on Education and Technology

David Brooks makes the following point today:

In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.

I find this point convincing at first glance. It begs the question: How do we promote educational investment at a time at which we are hypnotized (often very justifiably) by technological development? Do we fear sacrificing the latter for the former?

Brooks also argues, however, that the principal reason for America's role as a 20th century superpower was "a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives gave Americans an unparalleled commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom." I am inclined to think that the aforementioned is just one aspect of a propitious brew that included prolific natural resources and an ambitious (that is, not just educationally/intellectually ambitious) and entrepreneurial populace, inter alia.

Friday, July 25, 2008


"Eventually, We'll All Hate Obama[,] Too"

Despite the provocative title, this piece is not meant to bash Obama. Rather, the purpose is to highligh some fundamental divisions between American and European perspectives that are likely to challenge any future administration.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


From today's Washington Post:

Mr. Obama's account of his strategic vision remains eccentric. He insists that Afghanistan is "the central front" for the United States, along with the border areas of Pakistan. But there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and any additional U.S. forces sent there would not be able to operate in the Pakistani territories where Osama bin Laden is headquartered. While the United States has an interest in preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the country's strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq, which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves.

What's going on here? Obama's stances are based on electoral politicas and are delimited by the moral stances of the left regarding the initial justice of the two respective wars. The left is generally uninterested in a geopoltical analysis of the current security needs of Afghanistan or Iraq. The justice, or injustice of the inception of each war is enough to guide the general strategic thinking from certain quarters.

I respect the moral judgments of many who proclaim the legitimacy of the Afghanistan war over the Iraq wars. There are many sounds reasons uppon which to base such an argument. Such judgments do not an indefinite policy make. I am reminded of a favorite Max Weber quotation that states, regarding political action, "it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I'm reading the classic source on Alexander the Great's campaigns, "Anabasis Alexandri" by the first century Greek historian known as Arrian. The account, with a military focus but many key personal elements, is sometimes riveting, sometimes dry but quite reflective and highly articulate. At the very least, it impresses one with the richness of first century literature.

Here's a scenario to chew on:

+Alexander and his troops are on the march, somewhat isolated, in Asia.
+Alexander uncovers a plot against him.
+One of the participants in the plot is the son of one of Alexander's generals.
+Alexander has the son killed.
+Alexander has the father killed, possibly because he does not want to risk the father's wrath against himself.

What would you have done if you were to have been Alexander?

This is my first post about Israel but I think that Nathan Diament frames very well the major questions of Israelis and Jews, writ large, on the eve of Obama's visit to Israel.

Shelby Steele brilliantly analyzes the Obama candidacy today.

To sum up Steele's most salient points:

1) The most salutary effects of an Obama election are cultural in that his cultural stance would allow us to move beyond a large part of the politically correct conversation on race. The caveat is that a failed Obama presidency would not accomplish this. Obama's rhetoric, I would add, implicitly acknowledges this truth. Jonathan Stein in Mother Jones shares this related thought that substantiates the idea that Obama is well aware of this aspect of his candidacy:
"Obama's rhetoric makes an undeniable suggestion: that his election, not an eight-year administration that s implements his vision for America, would represent a moment in America of the grandest, most transformative kind. And that's a bit much."

2) Obama's amorphous politics perfectly suit his being such a cultural phenomenon. His lack of hard political commitments is his charm, in this context.

3) As long as Obama makes the election about cultural attitudes and makes political differences seem unimportant, McCain will epitomize "retrogression" and the election will be about "the establishment of his own patriotism, trustworthiness and gravitas."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Please consider reading this if you are queasy about American power in the world (Friedman today on Zimbabwe).

Monday, July 14, 2008


by Gregory Mankiw

Thursday, July 10, 2008


It strikes me lately how promising a subject of public health research is the topic of water. Algae blooms off the coast of China, pollution in the Yellow River, contaminants (medications, pesticides, etc.) in our our drinking water, etc., etc. This is an issue in the developing world as well as the developed world.
Joint Medical Program at Cal and UC-San Francisco

This program involves a heavy amount of case study, as opposed to rote learning alone, and leaves participants with an MPH and an MD. I've had some excellent conversations with professors here about this and am very excited to learn more.

I've come across some interesting studies about the possiblity that environmental contaminants may make obesity and/or diabetes more common. Fascinating.

Read this New Republic piece to see how they all intersect.