Political Animal

NEOCONS AND ANTI-SEMITISM….Several people have

NEOCONS AND ANTI-SEMITISM….Several people have replied to my question about how to criticize neocons without falling into the trap of anti-semitism:

For what it’s worth, I should mention that my original comment was prompted by a Matt Yglesias post in which he said this about neoconservatism:

The issue is also confused by the fact that “neoconservative” carries heavy connotations of “Jewish,” as evidenced by the fact that Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz are constantly cited as leading neocons while goyische Senator John McCain who seems to share their foreign policy views is not.

At the time, my feeling was that Kristol and Wolfowitz were simply the highest profile neocons around, so it was perfectly reasonable to use them as examples. Still, who knows? Maybe this kind of thing is well known in more plugged-in circles as an example of thinly veiled anti-semitism? So I asked about it.

Anyway, the answer to my question ? in theory ? seems to be simply to maintain normal standards of civil discourse and not to mention anyone’s ethnic background when discussing neocons ? although this strikes me as slightly disingenuous, especially since George Bush’s brand of Christianity seems to be fair game for critics who question his motives in the Middle East. In practice, I suppose the best bet is to make sure to mention someone like Bill Bennett or Michael Novak whenever Kristol, Wolfowitz, Perle, etc. are brought up.

By the way, a few of the commenters above seem to think that simply raising the question showed some kind of vague ill will on my part, a point of view I find disheartening. It’s simply not possible to take into account every possible connotation of every word you write, and insisting on superhuman precision of language is just not reasonable. These kinds of issues become impossible to even discuss if this is the kind of reaction it generates.

MORE CRYPTONOMICON….Over in comments at

MORE CRYPTONOMICON….Over in comments at Ted Barlow’s site, Atrios wrote this in response to Ted’s complaint that he found the characters in Cryptonomicon to be “as exhausting as hanging out with a group of improv comics for a week”:

I agree about the characters, though I thought it a deliberate and appropriate stylistic decision and not just bad writing. A kind of ‘comic realism’ style. Having said that, I do agree too many readers didn’t notice that ‘comic ‘part.

Oh yeah. To me, Cryptonomicon was a long, funny, roller coaster ride of a comic book, sans pictures. The characters were supposed to be larger than life and the situations were supposed to be sort of absurd. That was part of the fun.

(Stephenson’s other books have the same roller coaster sense, by the way. The first chapter of Snow Crash uses this to hilarious effect, and some of the stuff in Diamond Age ? yes, I’m thinking specifically of the ship full of orphans floating offshore ? makes Cryptonomicon look postively sedate. And don’t worry about the Stephenson’s vaguely libertarian politics, just enjoy the books.)

Anyway, Ted, if you want exhausting characters, what you really need to do is read Infinite Jest, another book that both Atrios and I recommend highly. That’s an exhausting book, but worth every exhausting minute. But if you do read it, two pieces of advice: (1) read page 223 first, and (2) read the first chapter again after you’ve finished the book.

UPDATE: Stuart Turner emails to point out that, like most books these days, Cryptonomicon has its own website, www.cryptonomicon.com. It’s several years old, but if you’re interested it has an author bio, an excerpt from the book, and an interview with Stephenson where he discusses his next book.


DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ….SMALLPOX IN LOS ANGELES….So, can George Bush’s team use the war on Iraq as a springboard to promote democracy in the Middle East? Sounds like a tough job, doesn’t it? Something that requires a deft touch, a feel for persuading doubters, and a good sense of what’s possible and what’s not.

Sort of like convincing skeptical health workers that they should get smallpox vaccinations:

The nation’s largest population centers — home to more than 30 million people — have vaccinated only 296 front-line health-care workers against smallpox, the deadly disease that the Bush administration has pegged as a top bioterrorist threat.

….Some administration officials are particularly angry that so few have volunteered. For every health-care worker who chooses not to be vaccinated, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity, “more people will die in case of an attack.”

On Wednesday, federal health officials remained perplexed as to why their high-profile anti-terrorism campaign had failed to catch on.

Attaboy, George! Do a lousy job of getting input from the health care community itself, fail miserably to convince them that smallpox is a serious risk, and refuse to compensate them properly in case of complications. And then get angry and perplexed when they don’t do what you want them to.

296! That’s less than 1%!

And we think these guys can promote democracy in Iraq?


CRYSTAL BALL GAZING ON WALL STREET….I’ve always been skeptical of the peculiar brand of instant analysis that the business press engages in when it reports on the day’s stock market news. It’s usually something like “The market declined as today’s unemployment report sparked fears that consumer spending will slow down.” Or, if the market went up that day, it’s “The market rose as today’s unemployment report sparked hopes that a weak labor market will keep a lid on wage increases.” It’s basically just astrology.

But now it’s even worse. Here’s the headline in the LA Times today:

Stocks Jump on Speculation That Iraq Crisis Might End Soon

Huh? What planet are these guys living on? As the story itself notes:

But analysts were quick to question whether Wall Street’s rally of the last two days has staying power. They noted that a war with Iraq was still a distinct possibility….

Ya think?

UPDATE: Have you ever noticed the same effect from biographers of famous people, who all seem hellbent on proving that their subject’s personality was molded by their parents? If both parent and offspring were thrifty, for example, then offspring was clearly following the parental example. But if offspring turns out to spend with wild abandon, then he was obviously rebelling against his parents. If you pay attention, you’ll see this in practically every biography you read.