Political Animal


IRAQ AND EMPIRE….I like to make fun of John Derbyshire, but even I admit that he can sometimes be interesting even if I disagree with him. But what can we possibly make of this long article in National Review Online today in which he analyzes the looting of the Iraqi National Museum? He says that not only should we not worry about it, but in fact it was probably a good thing:

In what sense do these ancient artifacts belong to Iraq?s heritage?….The ethnic and linguistic connections between, on the one hand, modern Iraqis, and on the other, the people of Babylon, Nimrod, Nineveh, and Ur, are tenuous, to say the least of it. In the case of the Sumerians, they are probably nonexistent.

….To describe the contents of the Iraqi National Museum as being ?Iraq?s ancient heritage? is, therefore, to stretch a point. In fact, since everything we know of as civilization began in Mesopotamia back in that dim past four or five thousand years ago, it would be just as correct to refer to these treasures as comprising humanity?s ancient heritage. They belong to us all.

….Besides, there is the point I started out with. Whether you think these treasures belong to Iraqis or to all mankind, they are treasures nonetheless. They should therefore be stored and displayed in the safest place we can think of. Where would that be?

Where indeed? I think you can guess.

This article is so breathtaking I hardly know what to say. After all, those artifacts managed to survive for 5,000 years while residing in Baghdad, right up to the moment when we invaded the city and then ? apparently deliberately ? stepped aside even though we had been warned repeatedly about the likelihood of highly organized looting efforts encouraged by foreign collectors.

But at least Derbyshire is consistent: his argument that just because artifacts come from a particular geographic area doesn’t mean they actually belong to the current occupants of that area is very similar to his argument for why Iraqi oil actually belongs to the West. I wonder what Derbyshire would think if someone had tried to apply this logic to Stonehenge during World War II while carting it off to Atlantic City for permanent display?

War partisans, including those at National Review, have worked feverishly to disclaim any interest in an American empire. Why then do they let Derbyshire spew imperialistic drivel like this that gives the game away?


ARE THE NEOCONS GOING SOFT?….Ron Brownstein writes in the LA Times today that the neocons are backing off:

Even as President Bush and his aides are talking tough about Syria, the neoconservative foreign policy thinkers who provided much of the intellectual justification for the war with Iraq are talking down the possibility of further military action in the Middle East ? at least in the near term.

“I just don’t think there is a tremendous appetite on the part of most people for endless military operations, even among people who think things turned out reasonably well in Iraq,” said Aaron L. Friedberg, a neoconservative professor of international affairs at Princeton University.

I think that’s completely correct, but of course the question remains: are the neocons genuinely changing their tune or are they just biding their time until the American public is ready for some more fighting? Brownstein doesn’t really come to any conclusions, but it’s a good article anyway.

Elsewhere in the Times today, Hezbollah has “issued a new call to arms against Americans in the Middle East” and gays in the military still have a pretty tough time ? unless they’re kicked out altogether, of course.

And in still other news, the Times is apparently dead serious about making their site the most annoying news website in the world. I now normally get four popunder ads, one of those weird semi-transparent floating ads, and an even weirder invisible ad that prevents me from cutting and pasting text unless I reload the page. All this is on top of one of the lengthiest and most intrusive registration surveys around. Sheesh.

LEAD AND IQ….Any of you

LEAD AND IQ….Any of you who think that IQ is merely the reification of culturally approved behavioral norms will probably want to read no further, but for the rest of us this front page LA Times story has interesting news:

Blood levels of lead below current federal and international guidelines of 10 micrograms per deciliter produce a surprisingly large drop in IQ of up to 7.4 points, a U.S. team reports in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers found that levels as low as 1 m/d cause most of the IQ drop, and that 10% of all children in the U.S. have levels above 5 m/d. There are about 60 million children in the United States today, so if these findings are correct it means that correcting this problem has the potential to result in an increase of 7.4 IQ points in over 6 million kids.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this. A difference of 7.4 IQ points is a lot, especially when you start getting to the lower end of the IQ scale (say, an IQ of 83 compared to an IQ of 90), and the article goes on to quote a 1991 study showing that “lead abatement in old houses would cost about $32 billion, but would bring benefits in such areas as special education of more than $60 billion.”

I usually take these kinds of statements with a grain of salt, but in this case the benefits might even be understated. Not only does special ed cost a ton of money, but disruptive kids who are mainstreamed into normal classrooms ? many of them with low IQs in addition to other behavioral problems ? cause enormous problems for everyone else in the class. That’s a cost that’s hard to quantify.

If it turns out that this problem really could be solved for $32 billion, it would be about the best use of $32 billion you could possibly think of. Something to think about for a president who promised to leave no child behind.