Posts Tagged ‘Roger Cohen’

McNamara, Cuomo, Bearing Witness, Iran’s Bomb, Sri Lanken Victories, and Historical Dignity

Friday, July 10th, 2009

It’s that glorious time of the week – Friday. So, here’s my recommendations of some interesting reads for this weekend that came up this past week…

  1. There were a number of excellent obituaries of Robert McNamara published upon his death. But what I would recommend would be reading this speech given in 1966 at the height of his power.
  2. Another speech worth reading is Mario Cuomo’s “Our Lady of the Law” speech from November 2007 which was published for the first time on this blog earlier in the week.
  3. Roger Cohen in the New York Times tries to express the insufficiency of online reporting aggregating news and media – as Andrew Sullivan and Nico Pitney did so usefully did during the Iranian protests. As these two journalists amassed tweets, photos, videos, news stories and every other bit of information about what was going on in Iran, Roger Cohen himself was in Tehran having evaded the Iranian censors. He went to the protests, interviewed the protesters, ran from basij with them. What I could see then was that while what Sullivan and Pitney were doing was new and unique – and extremely useful for understanding what was happening, it was missing a certain urgency that Cohen was able to provide with his bylines from Tehran. So he writes here about the “actual responsibility” of the journalist – to “bear witness:

    “Not everyone realizes,” Weber told students, “that to write a really good piece of journalism is at least as demanding intellectually as the achievement of any scholar. This is particularly true when we recollect that it has to be written on the spot, to order, and that it must create an immediate effect, even though it is produced under completely different conditions from that of scholarly research. It is generally overlooked that a journalist’s actual responsibility is far greater than the scholar’s.”

    Yes, journalism is a matter of gravity. It’s more fashionable to denigrate than praise the media these days. In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.

    The rest is no more than ornamentation.

    To bear witness means being there — and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.
    No news aggregator tells of the ravaged city exhaling in the dusk, nor summons the defiant cries that rise into the night. No miracle of technology renders the lip-drying taste of fear. No algorithm captures the hush of dignity, nor evokes the adrenalin rush of courage coalescing, nor traces the fresh raw line of a welt.

  4. Robert Patterson in Foreign Policy brings some measured historical analysis to what would happen if Iran got the bomb.
  5. Robert Kaplan in The Atlantic explains how the Sri Lankan government was able to achieve a monumental victory over a terrorist group – and also why America should not imitate its methods in any way. He concludes bleakly:

    So is there any lesson here? Only a chilling one. The ruthlessness and brutality to which the Sri Lankan government was reduced in order to defeat the Tigers points up just how nasty and intractable the problem of insurgency is. The Sri Lankan government made no progress against the insurgents for nearly a quarter century, until they turned to extreme and unsavory methods.

  6. David Brooks wrote about dignity:

    In so doing, [George Washington] turned himself into a new kind of hero. He wasn’t primarily a military hero or a political hero. As the historian Gordon Wood has written, “Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.”

Mirror Neurons, Iran’s Fissures, Yglesian Insights, The Deficit Crisis, Rare Minerals

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Once again, it’s Friday, so it’s time for my weekend reading recommendations.

1. Mirror Neurons. Daniel Lametti explains the importance of mirror neurons in the Scientific American.

2. Iran’s Fissures. Roger Cohen has been prominently writing about Iran for the past year or so – predicting and pushing for a thaw in relations. Now, on the cusp of an important election, Roger Cohen discusses Iran:

Iran, its internal fissures exposed as never before, is teetering again on the brink of change. For months now, I’ve been urging another look at Iran, beyond dangerous demonization of it as a totalitarian state. Seldom has the country looked less like one than in these giddy June days.

3. Yglesian insights. Matt Yglesias’s blog has long been on my must-read list – but he’s offered some especially insightful observations in various contexts about the free market in recent weeks. Here Yglesias speculates about the advantages of non-profit-maximizing corporations in a free market:

After all, profit-maximization is not a natural form of human behavior. I think it’s best understood as a very idiosyncratic kind of pursuit. It happens to be one that’s economically rewarded because with money to invest tend to want to invest it with would-be profit-maximizers. Thus, in fields of endeavor where the ability to raise large sums of capital on reasonable terms is a huge advantage, a profit-maximization impulse winds up being a huge advantage.

In a later post about health care, Yglesias makes a related point:

[P]art of what’s wrong with the world is that the very same people who spend a lot of time cheerleading for free markets and donating money to institutions that cheerlead for free markets—businessmen, in other words—are the very people who have the most to gain from markets being totally dysfunctional. The absolute worst place on earth you can find yourself as a businessman is in the kind of free market you find in an Economics 101 textbook. As a market approaches textbook conditions—perfect competition, perfect information, etc.—real profits trend toward zero. You make your money by ensuring that textbook conditions don’t apply; that there are huge barriers to entry, massive problems with inattention, monopolistic corners to exploit, etc.

4. How to tackle the deficit crisis. Set off by David Leonhardt’s excellent look at the forthcoming deficit crisis, the Opinionsphere quickly took this up as a theme of the week. Noah Millman at The American Scene had the best take on how to tackle the deficit crisis – once we decide to get serious. One of the main ways he suggests is to reform the tax code:

We have an income tax that is riddled with deductions that undermine its purported progressivity, and we rely on increasingly steep progressivity to justify every additional change to said code. A 1986-style reform that eliminated many deductions and lowered rates would not only be a likely booster of the economy, but would probably raise revenue – certainly on the corporate side.

5. China’s Great Game. And of course, the Financial Times reported that China has almost cornered the world market in rare minerals needed for most high tech products. I’m looking forward to some analyst really following up on this and explaining what implications – if any – this has.

Signs of Hope: Iran

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Roger Cohen in the New York Times has become a major supporter of engagement with Iran. After describing the continued provocations by Ayatollah Khamenei in response to Obama’s latest peace offering of sorts, he explains:

Khamenei also quieted the crowd when it began its ritual “Death to America” chant and he said this: “We’re not emotional when it comes to our important matters. We make decisions by calculation.”

Cohen sees the same opening with Iran that the esteemed foreign policy expert Les Gelb as interviewed by Barbara Slavin does (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

Iran as a society is more middle class and more prone to democracy than any other country in that part of the world. Within ten years, Iran will be our closest ally in the region.