Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fish on Bollinger's intro to that Islamo-fascist guy
Tom Smith

Stanley Fish is interesting partly because his heart is always in the wrong place.  If there is a way to stand up for liberal values in a way that is ultimately undermining of liberal values, he will find it.  I view him as someone who has far transcended any notion of sincerity or its opposite.  There is probably no answer to the question of whether he could possibly mean his advice to Bollinger, which is so wrong as to reach a kind of higher plane of wrongness.  We can only be grateful that Professor Fish in not in charge of our relations with Iran, and not president of Columbia.

But we should be grateful for the perspective Professor Fish's opinion, assuming that's what it is, gives us on Bollinger's speech.  It would be much better if prestigious American universities did not give platforms to gravely dangerous tyrants at critical moments in world history, just in case by doing so they would contribute to some horrible catastrophe, something I take to be outside the mission of higher education.  But it could have been worse.  Instead of being something like a man, Bollinger could have given the mewling, question mark studded snivel that Professor Fish suggests, and we would all have that much more reason to be embarrassed.

September 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The obvious point
Tom Smith

This opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post gets it right IMHO.

I'm not sure it is fair to attribute to the Democrats in the US the lefty-Brit pro-UN view that the Taliban, Hamas, and even al-Qieda must be negotiated with.  Though I'm sure some on the American left take that view.  To me it is one of those views so patently ridiculous it is difficult to argue against.  I think it was Machiavelli who made the point that it is always a mistake to accommodate your true enemies.  You can negotiate with them if it is part of a larger scheme to undo them.  But making room for a real enemy is just pure folly, whether motivated by some strange notion of compassion or relativism gone wild.

One can imagine instances where true enmity would be difficult to recognize.  The Canadians and the Swedes have not been terribly useful friends lately, but they are not enemies.  France is not always a friend.  But with jihadiism in its various flavors, though much of a muchness for practical purposes, there need not be any doubt.  There is no reason at all to expect that anything Americans do to extend the hand of understanding, or whatever, to these true enemies will ultimately do anything but harm us.  It is as if some in the West, including some Americans, can not really accept the fact that we have real, true, committed enemies, who would do nothing but rejoice at our destruction and laugh at our agony.  The thing to do with enemies like that is destroy them.  Some will want to pray for forgiveness afterwards, but that's for later.

Maybe this is the heritage of American isolationism, pacifism, and feel-good Christianity, which emerged from the 'sixties as a kind of dumb creed of everybody is OK deep down.  But I guess really it has been going on from the very beginning.  Before the American revolution, Quakers in Philadelphia argued that the Irish getting slaughtered by Indians on the frontier, then Ohio or thereabouts, just had to try to understand the Indian point of view better.  Difficult, as you're getting your hair peeled off.  In truth, there was nothing to discuss.  If you were going to farm west of the quiet Quaker burgs, you had better be prepared to fight.  That was undoubtedly the Indian view as well.  So there has always been a pacifist element in American thought, but never has there been a less appropriate object of than philosophy that international jihad.

September 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Product Placement" Hits the New York Times' Front Page
Gail Heriot

I find this scary.  I know that many conservatives worry about the New York Times' liberal bias.  And they should worry.  But geez louise I don't expect the New York Times to turn over its front page news section to what is most likely its biggest advertiser--and to distort the facts to boot.  That's either craven, rock stupid or both. 

Why would the New York Times refer to Terry Lundgren, Macy's embattled CEO, as "one of the brightest stars in American retailing" in a front page story?  This is utter fantasy, and the New York Times presents no evidence of its truth.  In the last few months, Macy's stock has declined 40%.  Profits are down a whopping 77%.  Sales have slumped.   The only important marketing decision that Terry Lundgren has ever made in his life was to gamble on the Macy-fication of American retailing--terminating successful regional department stores across the country and turning their locations into Macy's.  That gamble has turned distinctly sour.  Lundgren's not a bright star; he's a supernova, and Macy's seems well on its way to becoming the black hole of American retailing.

The meat of the Times story is that "Given Fewer Coupons, Shoppers Snub Macy's."  That's half right.  Customers of the former department stores, especially Marshall Field's, have deserted the behemoth Macy's in alarming numbers.  But this has little, if anything, to do with coupons, and Macy's management knows that.  It's a convenient excuse for Macy's dismal performance, since it suggests Macy's conversion problems can be corrected without too much fuss.  If it's believed, it will pacify Wall Street for a little while--long enough for Lundgren to collect a few more paychecks before investors finally demand his head.  But things don't look too good for this "brightest star" these days.

How do I know that the coupon excuse is baloney?  I've been pretty active in the movement to save Marshall Field's in Chicago.  I wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal about Marshall Field's and did a broadcast on NPR's Marketplace.  (For my previous posts on Marshall Field's, try here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)  As part of that I've corresponded with more than 2500 (count 'em) unhappy Marshall Field's shoppers from all over the country and abroad. I even get phone calls from Marshall Field's shoppers, whom I've never met, but who want to let off some steam.  I've spoken at length with dozens of Marshall Field's shoppers in Chicago (and more briefly with hundreds).  I've read thousands of comments to newspaper stories and blog entries.  They refuse to shop at Macy's, but not one has ever mentioned the lack of coupons as a reason. Let me emphasize that:  NOT ONE. 

Marshall Field's shoppers are angry about a lot of things.  They hate Lundgren for terminating the store they love, and they want it back.  They're upset at the complete exit of upscale brands from what previously was Chicago's (and likely the nation's) finest department store. (No, I don't agree that the retention of Armani perfumes is the equivalent of the retention of Armani Collezioni. Macy's spinmeisters keep reporting this, and some reporters have dutifully repeated it, but anyone in the media ignorant enough to buy that line should be taken off the retail beat fast.) Some shoppers complain that service has declined precipitously as veteran Marshall Field's salesmen are replaced with witless, minimum-wage teenagers. Others are concerned about the quality of Macy's house brands. And yes, everyone seems to be baffled by Macy's faith that it can increase sales by re-packaging Martha Stewart--a longtime K-Mart brand--for the department store trade. It didn't work for the now-bankrupt KMart, and it is unlikely to work at any department store, let alone the former Marshall Field's.

Is it possible that outside the Midwest, in areas where the converted stores were less upscale than Field's, lack of coupons is a problem?  Well, here in San Diego, the local Robinsons-May did indeed run coupons in local paper.  But in the last year I've been deluged with direct-mail coupons from Macy's.  It's difficult to imagine that they should have sent more.

Today's article is not the first front-page flattering piece about Macy's CEO.  Last year, on August 26, 2006, the Times ran a puff piece on Terry Lundgren as the brains behind the conversion.  In the article, entitled "After Smooth Sales Talk, Stores Take Macy's Name," the Times acknowledged that Macy's focus groups showed that the conversions would be a disaster, but it claimed that Lundgren "had won over detractors"--even in Chicago.  It reported that in Oregon, the great grandson of the founder of Meier & Frank originally pleaded with Lundgren to spare Oregon's store, but later changed his mind and claimed that today he "would jump off a building" for him.  (Chicagoans wondered how much he was paid for this.)  The piece observed that on the eve of the conversions, the threat of protests seemed remote.  Everything was apparently going according to Lundgren's plan. 

Obviously, the Times spoke too soon.  It was apparently unaware that several hundred protestors would indeed protest the Marshall Field's conversion and that they would return in equally-large if not larger numbers the next year. 

Maybe it was forgivable for the Times to simply parrot Macy's press releases back in 2006, since even Wall Street hadn't caught on to the problem then.  But today is different.  Anyone who follows retail securities know what hot water Macy's is in.  And anybody who lives in Chicago surely knows.  Tens of thousands of folks wear anti-Macy's pins or lapel stickers or have bumper stickers on their cars.  Didn't anybody at the Times think that maybe they should be skeptical of Macy's self-diagnosis of the reasons for its failure?   (For evidence that the Chicago Sun-Times is also guilty of kow-towing to Macy's, see my earlier post here.)

September 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)

Bush's Nomination of Miers
Mike Rappaport

Stephen Griffin defends Jeffrey Toobin's controversial book on the Supreme Court.  On one point, I agree with Griffin that Toobin gets it right:

Here’s one insight from Toobin that seems intuitively correct, but I haven’t seen emphasized by anyone else. “Bush had a businessman’s contempt for lawyers generally, and he viewed the process of choosing judges with impatience.” (p. 260) “All of the top officials who were considering Miers’s appointment –Bush, Cheney, Card, Rove, and Miers herself—had relatively little idea what Supreme Court justices actually do all day. . . .Everyone in Bush’s inner circle came out of the corporate world, where they believed that good judgment and instincts mattered more than reflective analysis. The same was true for corporate lawyers. Bush would never have dreamed of asking prospective members of his cabinet for writing samples, and he didn’t require them of Miers either. For the president, it was not a problem that Miers had no writing to offer.”

So how could Bush have avoided this mistake?  By having a diversity of advisers.  If I were President -- the thought of it makes many people shiver --  or in fact had any real power, I would have a variety of advisers.  They should have varying areas of expertise and varying political views.  I would also have a separate person to be the devil's advocate, and another person to remind me of my core values, which can easily be lost with all of those different advisers.

My sense is that the Bush people try to get excellent people, but the key is that they be loyal to Bush.  That is not good enough. 

September 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Columbia debacle
Tom Smith

Alternative title: When smart people do stupid things.  I fear this analysis is quite correct.

September 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Hollywood conservatives in the closet
Tom Smith

Rings true.  I think it is one of the reasons conservatives in the academy who might not otherwise be sympathetic to gays are -- because they can well imagine what it must be like.

September 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

One More Reason that USD is Paradise
Gail Heriot

USD is a pretty safe place.  According to the crime statistics that were released today,  there has not been a single "hate crime" on campus for the past four years.  No murders. No robberies.  The last aggravated assault was four years ago.  There have been, hower,  ten forcible sexual assaults over the last four years, so the numbers are hardly perfect.  And five motor vehicle thefts occurred in 2006. 

Burglaries are a bit more popular:  There were 28 on campus in 2006.  I don't know how common burglaries are on other campuses, but when I was in school, I got burgarized three times, so 28 sounds very low to me.  At Norhhwestern, someone came into my room and took my wallet while I was down the hall in the shower on the last day of exams.  At the University of Chicago, someone (most likely a child) broke my window in order to take the bananas that I'd left there to ripen.  And one another occasion, someone broke in during the day and tried valiently to find something worth stealing from my apartment.  I could have told him that he was wasting his time.

September 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Hero Who Saved the World
Mike Rappaport

Thank God for Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov!

September 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Ugly Talk - On One, But Only One, Political Side
Maimon Schwarzschild

Here is a taste of the left blogosphere.  This particular sample happens to be about Juan Williams and the interview with Bush (HT Ann Althouse), but it's interchangeable with just about anything on Kos, MoveOn, Democratic Underground, Huffington, and lots of other sites - many with enormous audiences and well known to be influential, or at least widely attended to, in the Democratic Party.  Read the whole post, especially the comments.  (There are 98 comments.  Just keep scrolling down, if you have the stomach for it.)

Is there anything like this spew of hatred to be found on the political right?  Perhaps you could find an obscure Neo-Nazi blog somewhere with a readership in the low one figures, but I wouldn't know where to look.

The reality is that an array of racially-charged comments like this from the right, whether on the internet or elsewhere - other than perhaps on a website kept by an obviously isolated and unknown lunatic - would be front-page news and the object of horrified denunciation throughout the national media.

But the left-symbiotic media studiously ignore this sort of thing from the left.  The result is that this way of thinking, talking, and writing has become completely routine: not just on the internet, but among many people who used to be ordinary Democrats (and I suppose still are), or mildly left-of-centre people. 

And once this sort of talk become commonplace, the momentum is all towards more and more extremism and more verbal (for now) violence, if only because what counted yesterday as an arrestingly sharp expression or turn of phrase would merely be a yawner today.

Is all this psychic and verbal violence merely cute, or a good way of stirring up Democratic votes?   It seems to me a lot more likely that it will have real conseqences as time goes on - that it is already doing so - and inevitably in a very ugly direction.

September 27, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Your friend the taser
Tom Smith

Taser science here.  Lots of debate about safety, but not much on effectiveness.

September 27, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)