MORE KUDOS TO JAKE

Slate took on Robert Rubin (with whom editor Jake Weisberg has a top dollar book contract). Now it offers us a positive review of new Apple ads bashing Microsoft (which subsidizes and owns Slate). I’ve heard of journalistic integrity, but this is getting ridiculous. Seriously, mazel tov.

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LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?

“But, unlike the Gulf war, the Afghanistan campaign was not and could not be the entire conflict. It was the beginning of a war, not its end. With the first Bush, the main political domestic risk was in fighting the war in the first place. With the second Bush, the main domestic political risk is in not continuing to fight the war.” – continued in my latest piece here.

SPEAKING TRUTH TO THE EURO-WEENIES: “Iraq? Stay put x97 we don’t necessarily need or desire your help. The Middle East? Shame on you, not us, for financing the terrorists on the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority and Israel? You helped to fund a terrorist clique; we, a democracy x97 go figure. Racism? Arabs are safer in America than Jews are in Europe. That 200,000 were butchered in Bosnia and Kosovo a few hours from Rome and Berlin is a stain on you, the inactive, not us, the interventionist. Capital punishment? Our government has executed terrorists; yours have freed them. Do the moral calculus. Insensitive to the complexities of the Middle East? Insist that the next Olympic games are held in Cairo or Teheran, and let a deserving Islamic Turkey into the EU.” – From Victor Davis Hanson’s brutally acute analysis of the current Euro-American divide. Don’t miss it.

EVEN OP-EDS GET NEUTERED: I’ve edited plenty of columns and articles in my time and there’s often a gripe from authors when their treasured prose gets altered in some way. But in general, the rule for opinion pieces is to edit to make their point more clearly, rather than to change the point entirely. Check out this account from the Jerusalem Post of how New York Times editors allegedly did all they could to neuter, change or soften an op-ed criticizing the U.N. for its bias against Israel. Eye-opening.

THE TIMES AND STALIN: Stunning sub-headline in the New York Times Book Review yesterday. Let’s run it through the usual test, as blogger Counter-Revolutionary suggests:

“Nobody likes Hitler, but Martin Amis seems to have a thing about him. In his new book, ‘Adolf the Dread,’ he attacks the monster as if he were current. Then he offers some tender reflections about Kingsley Amis, his father, who was once a Nazi. What’s up here?”

Would that headline ever run in the Times? Would anyone ever even think about it? Parts of the American Left still haven’t recovered from their softness on Communism, have they? Kinda proves Martin Amis’ point, doesn’t it?

TWO SUPERB REALITY-CHECKS: Who says I can’t praise the Times? Their invaluable reporter Adam Nagourney reminds me today of why it still publishes superb, measured journalism. Here’s one smart piece of analysis. And one little scoop.

SOONER RATHER THAN LATER? The Guardian seems alarmed by the <a href = http

//www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,764197,00.html target = _blank>possibility of an early, 50,000 troop initiative to rid the world of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. I find it encouraging. Meanwhile, in the latest leak, the “inside-out” strategy appears to be a serious one. Or is this a bluff? Either way, it’s good news. It suggests we’re nearing the point when real decisions are about to be taken. Not a moment too soon.

GOOD SOLDIER PURDUM: Now we see why Todd Purdum wrote that silly no-news puff-piece on Colin Powell earlier this week. He was told to. The follow-up came yesterday with a Times editorial calling on Powell to engage in insurrection against “the sharks” among his fellow cabinet members. Why “sharks”? Even the Times doesn’t say they’re trying to get rid of the secretary of state. I think this was just an insult. Meanwhile, the ground is being laid for the Times to oppose the war against Iraq.

DEPENDS WHAT THE MEANING OF “GREED” IS:

“‘Blaming Clinton is absolutely ridiculous,’ ex-Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin told me. ‘We all have our faults, and Bill Clinton has his faults. But money and greed are not among them.'” – from Gloria Borger’s recent U.S. News column.

“The news that the Clintons are seeking government help to erase some of their substantial legal debts, first reported by ABC News, comes one month after Mr. Clinton reported earning more than $9 million last year by making 59 speeches in more than a dozen countries.” – New York Times, July 27.

ROVE WATCH: Another awful and completely political decision from the Bush administration: withdrawing funds from the United Nations Population Fund. Why? Because it is claimed that such funds support forcible abortions and sterilizations in China. The only trouble is that there’s no hard evidence that the funds do indeed do that. A State Department report, according to David Broder in yesterday’s Washington Post, stated that, “We find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC [People’s Republic of China]. We therefore recommend that . . . the $34 million which has already been appropriated be released to UNFPA.” The white House still punted. This is pandering to the Gary Bauers of this world – even when there’s not even a solid basis for doing so. Will there come a point at which Karl Rove realizes that sometimes the most naked piece of interest group politicking is not, how shall we put this, good politics?

THE OVERLAP: We dropped by a small lesbian band Saturday night, which was performing cover songs at a local restaurant. And at one point, I think I identified one small common denominator between gay men and lesbians. Helen Reddy. The epiphany occurred as I watched several gay men and lesbians moving their lips together as they sang along to the unforgettable lyrics of “Angie, baby.” Of course it isn’t a perfect overlap. Lesbians take her seriously. We don’t. They think the song is creepy. We think it’s hilarious. But for one blissful moment, that oxymoron, “the gay-lesbian community,” had a scintilla of reality. (If anyone has any other thoughts about what exactly gay men and lesbians culturally have in common, drop me a line. After Patsy Cline and k.d. lang, I drew a blank.)

WELCOME, ALAN: An old friend and Tory MP finally comes out to the general public. The times they are ‘a changing.

SAFIRE’S MISTAKES: Bill Safire is a wonderful columnist and he also makes mistakes. We all do, buddy. Over the past two years or so of writing sometimes more than 1000 words a day, I’ve made my share. But the old media is hardly innocent. Last February, Safire conceded he had misplaced the context of a quotation by Shakespeare, miscalculated the odds of several politicos, misunderstood the real meaning of “parlous,” got the name of a Conan Doyle watchdog wrong, and so on. Nothing wrong with that, and his corrections column was gracious, if far less prompt than most bloggers’. All this is simply to say he should get off his old media high-horse. I know it’s tough to have online competition, but hey, you’re a libertarian, Bill. Start enjoying it.

CAMILLE, ME, AND YOU: The dialogue is continuing offline. It took a little longer than a week. I hope to post the interview starting next Monday. Thanks for your patience.

SAFIRE DISCOVERS BLOGS

They are, alas, not up to the accurate standards of “reliable old media.” After all, if it weren’t for the Times, we wouldn’t know that global warming had caused the Alaska temperature to rise 7 degrees in thirty years, would we? Or that the U.S. war to liberate Afghanistan had caused the deaths of so many innocent people. Others, mercifully, are beginning to understand what this new journalism in a new medium is really all about. Check out this piece from American Heritage, which compares today’s bloggers with the founders of modern newspaper journalism. U.S. News’ John Leo also sees the significance of the blogosphere, especially in keeping tabs on old media distortions and agendas:

Keep an eye on bloggers. The main arena for media criticism is not going to be books, columns, or panel discussions, and it certainly won’t be journalism schools. It will be the Internet.

But even J-Schools are teaching blogging now. Vive la revolution.

FOR PEACE IN ISRAEL, REMOVE SADDAM: A simple, persuasive and powerful case for war against Iraq in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times.

THE OLD STRIKE BACK

It’s not so bad, says this correspondent. I may think I want to trade off longevity for a more vibrant today, but when the time comes for shuffling off this mortal coil, I might change my mind a little:

While I understand your statement, “Would you rather live till you’re 85, gradually sinking into torpor and sexual collapse or have a great time and conk out at 65? I guess for me, the choice is an obvious one,” I do want to interject an observation of my own. I, too, believe that there is more than a little Puritanism in the fields of medicine, diet, environment, etc., but I have found, as grow older, that there is no “OK” time to die (as long as I’ve had some big time good times, etc.). I am now 61. 65 looks a little too close to say, well, I’ve had my innings and they were good (they were in fact very good, better than most, I think). Frankly, 85, even with a little oxygen and a walker, sounds pretty cool to me right now.

That’s not to say that dying happy and in the prime of my senescence, so to speak, is somehow too terrible to contemplate. I am a believing Christian and I do believe that a better life awaits me. But as I grow older I keep finding things out, new things. I keep gaining new insights. I keep thinking and writing. I am now teaching at University (I don’t even have a college degree!). Things keep happening. I’m going birdwatching in Oz next Spring. And I am here to do and see and comment and understand. Or try to. I have a wife. I have nieces and nephews, a grandson.

I had a bout with cancer that left me a ball short of a pair. My testosterone is down some. I have to take pills. It’s not that I’m afraid, but that I don’t want to miss anything really wonderful that hasn’t happened to me yet. Even something awful could be pretty interesting (see testicular cancer, above). I saw a girl today that set me to fantasizing like a 19-year old. It was lovely, really. There is no “sexual collapse.” That’s a figment. Sex is a brainwave anyway. I’ve never stopped having sex.

So, I do hate the hectoring of the professional classes, the finger-wagging at my casual cigarette smoking, my intake of ice cream, my lack of proper exercise, etc.? Well, yeah. I do. I’m not intent on living forever anymore than you are. But there is no age that would be fine to die. I can’t see it that way anymore. Because as soon as I set an age, bang!, I’m two or three years away from it and not ready to go!

RUBIN AGAIN

A reader emails to counter some of the pro-Rubin sentiment on the Letters Page. This argument strikes me as worth pondering:

The letter writer who defended Robert Rubin’s performance as Treasury Secretary overlooks the fact that Rubin and Greenspan together made a rising stock market the main pillar of their macroeconomic policy of the late 90’s. As the respected PIMCO bond fund manager Bill Gross said in a January 2002 column (see http://www.pimco.com) , “Prior to Robert Rubin, Secretaries of the U.S. Treasury conducted economic policy with an eye towards promoting the competitiveness of American industry, as well as services such as banking, insurance, and financial management. For the past eight years or so, the focus has been on the markets (stock and bond) as opposed to the marketplace.”

Greenspan and Rubin orchestrated the bailout of Long Term Capital Management in 1998, and in this and other ways they generally fostered the perception that Treasury and Fed policy would be aimed at supporting the stock market. [See Lowenstein, “When Genius Failed: the Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management” (2001); Brenner, “The Boom and the Bubble” (2002)]. By creating the impression that the government was creating a floor under which stock prices would not fall, they helped stoke the stock market bubble.

To be sure, Greenspan warned in 1996 of “irrational exuberance,” but in subsequent years when stock market valuations reached much higher levels, he dismissed concerns about the existence of a stock bubble in testimony before Congress, and bought into many of the more outlandish “New Era” claims, including the argument that high equity valuations were justified by the great productivity gains ushered in by the new economy.

Greenspan and Rubin favored a rising stock market because it: 1) made possible a strong dollar, even in the face of widening current account trade deficits, as foreigners invested their excess dollars in our bond and equity markets; 2) created wealth effects that stimulated consumer spending; 3) allowed for a stimulative monetary policy without risk of consumer goods inflation, as cheap credit went into margin purchases in the stock market, housing, and foreign goods purchases. But in the real economy, many unproductive and unsound investments in were made (e.g., the laying of billions of dollars worth of excess fiber optic cable, to name just one) whose liquidation will inevitably produce economic contraction.

The letter writer suggests that Rubin’s strong dollar policy was hardly a “horrible crime.” But if a high dollar value is achieved largely by means of a speculative stock market bubble, then the currency market for the dollar is itself a bubble — and it is a bubble that has done serious damage to our domestic industry. Moreover, the major correction of the dollar that many predict (George Soros has suggested that it may drop as much as 33% in the next two years) will inevitably lead to recessionary effects in domestic businesses that are tied to the import industry, as well as consumer goods inflation. Some analysts, like Charles Kindleberger, the author of a classic book on investment manias, believe that cheap credit (and the dramatically expanded role of the government sponsored enterprises, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, as purchasers of mortgage paper) may also have created a housing bubble that will eventually undergo a painful and destabilizing correction. (See 7-25-02 Wall Street Journal article, p. A-1).

The Greenspan/Rubin policies of promoting a rising equities market created a “virtuous cycle” of prosperity and low consumer goods inflation as long as the stock bubble was expanding. But, as recent events are demonstrating, the inevitable bursting of a bubble can just as quickly lead to a “vicious cycle” of destabilizing economic conditions.

T-TIME

I’d already smeared my Androgel over my upper torso when I sat down to read Jerry Groopman’s New Yorker piece on hormones for “andropausal” men. I should say I’m second to no one in admiring Jerry’s integrity, smarts and seemingly boundless energy. He’s my doctor, as well, and it’s no exaggeration to say I revere him. But I can’t help feeling that the most recent wave of anti-hormonal news has something a little preachy about it. I’m talking about a general conventional wisdom among the responsible upper-middle-classes that taking meds that make you actually feel good has something illicit about it. Scratch beneath some of the somber-toned analyses of new data, and you’ll find not a little puritanism underneath. Take the fuss over a recent study showing minuscule increases in cancer and other diseases as a function of women taking lots of estrogen after menopause. In a study of over 10,000, none of the groups with an increased risk of serious side-effects even broke into double figures. (Only Newsweek gave us a little side-bar showing why it’s a storm in a C-cup.) Even Jerry concedes that we don’t really know the long-term effects of men taking testosterone in modest doses. But we do know the short-term effects. It makes you feel marvelous. In lots of men with low testosterone, the extra boost makes them feel stronger, sexier, healthier, and more mentally alert. It seems to me that even in the worst case scenario of a small increase in the likelihood of, say, prostate cancer, this is worth considering. Would you rather live till you’re 85, gradually sinking into torpor and sexual collapse or have a great time and conk out at 65? I guess for me, the choice is an obvious one. The T-thing turned my life around and I’m not giving up now. (The chances of my living till 85 are also, shall we say, slim.) But I don’t see why it’s such a crazy trade-off for others as well. The point of life is not, it seems to me, to vie with one another to be clapped out network news droolers well into our 90s. The point, from a purely health-based point of view, is to have the most productive and energized time you can in a life-span you have some control over. For centuries, people didn’t have the luxury to make these trade-offs. Now we do, and all the medical scolds are telling us to grin and bear it. Why?