Commentary Magazine


Topic: University of Pennsylvania

Who Cares About Penn BDS?

Yesterday, the organizers of an upcoming boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) conference at Penn published an op-ed in the university’s Daily Pennsylvanian explaining their effort, which promotes the economic isolation of the Jewish state. In this, they will near-undoubtedly fail.

They may succeed, perhaps unintentionally, however, in another way: by attracting the attention of campus Israel advocates toward them and away from the more subtle and far-reaching problem Israel faces at American universities.

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Yesterday, the organizers of an upcoming boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) conference at Penn published an op-ed in the university’s Daily Pennsylvanian explaining their effort, which promotes the economic isolation of the Jewish state. In this, they will near-undoubtedly fail.

They may succeed, perhaps unintentionally, however, in another way: by attracting the attention of campus Israel advocates toward them and away from the more subtle and far-reaching problem Israel faces at American universities.

In a decade of efforts, BDS campaigners have practically zero victories at American universities. Only the student governments of Evergreen State College (the alma mater of anti-Israelism’s poster child, Rachel Corrie), Wayne State University, and University of Michigan-Dearborn have passed divestment resolutions directed against Israel. Because they are passed by students and not administration, they have no practical impact on their schools’ finances. The schools’ administrations have also pointedly not followed their students’ advice that they cut whatever slight financial ties they may have to the Jewish state.

Practical effects, of course, aren’t really the intent of BDS, since even an effective divestment of Israel by every American university would likely have little effect on the country’s bottom line. The point is the symbolism of the thing.

But the schools in question are marginal to local and national conversation, the refusal to accept the calls by university administrators has a symbolism of its own, and even these small successes have little chance of being replicated at Penn or any other school. Last year, a laughably watered-down student referendum at Princeton that called only for the dining hall to provide alternatives to Sabra hummus was soundly defeated.

Just as it would be a mistake then to worry too much about campus BDS, though, it would be a mistake to take this record of failure as a sign all is well at America’s universities when it comes to Israel. For while students may not be lining up to sign off on divestment petitions, they are in many cases receiving the clear message the Jewish state is uniquely flawed.

The content of the critique or even its stated aims don’t matter as much as its ability to create, in many places, a campus environment of pervasive negativity toward Israel. Students at most schools these days don’t come away learning much. But many do pick up the idea that to be a member in good standing of the political left positive concern for the Jewish state is beyond the pale.

That is why the ongoing Center for American Progress affair should not be surprising. Many educated in a milieu negative to Israel are now finding themselves increasingly with something to say about the direction of the core institutions of the mainstream political left, and are turning them in a direction less sympathetic to Israel.

This, not BDS, is the true fight on campus. Turning the atmosphere in a more positive direction toward Israel will be a generational effort. It is also an essential one for those who hope to maintain the longstanding bipartisan consensus on the Jewish state.

 

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The Problem with Law Schools

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

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On Sex Education

A front-page story in yesterday’s Washington Post reports:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth and seventh graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active. The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work.

“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”

For those of us familiar with the remarkable work of Elayne Bennett’s Best Friends program, this study, while encouraging, is not surprising. Abstinence education, done in the right way, can have an important and positive influence on teens. It rejects the fatalism that says they all do it, that nothing can be done, that we are powerless to shape the conduct of our children. Like the best abstinence education programs, Best Friends takes seriously the moral education of the young and their well-being.

Elayne Bennett’s husband, Bill, when he was secretary of education, gave a speech in which he laid out a few principles that speak to the task of educating children about sex, principles he believed should inform curricular material and textbooks. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bennett at the time.) First, Bennett said,

We should recognize that sexual behavior is a matter of character and personality, and that we cannot be value-neural about it. Neutrality only confuses children, and may lead them to erroneous conclusions. Specifically, sex education courses should teach children sexual restraint as a standard to uphold and follow.

Second, in teaching restraint, courses should stress that sex is not simply a physical or mechanical act. We should explain to children that sex is tied to the deepest recesses of the personality. We must tell the truth; we must describe reality. We should explain that sex involves complicated feelings and emotions. Some of these are ennobling, and some of them – let us be truthful –can be cheapening of one’s own finer impulses and cheapening to others.

Third, sex education courses should speak up for the institution of the family. To the extent possible, course should speak of sexual activity in the context of the institution of marriage. They should stress the fidelity, commitment, and maturity required of the partners in a successful marriage.

Bennett went on to say

All societies have known this [sex is a quintessentially moral activity] and have taken pains to regulate sexual activity. All societies have done so, sometimes wisely, sometimes not, because they have recognized that sex is fraught with mystery and passion, involving the person at the deepest level of being. As John Donne wrote, “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow.” Poets and philosophers, saints and psychiatrists have known that the power and beauty of sex lie precisely in the fact that it is not like anything else, that it is not just something you like to do or don’t like to do. Far from being value-neutral, sex may be the most value-loaded of any human activity. It does no good to try to sanitize or deny or ignore this truth. The act of sex has complicated and profound repercussions. And if we’re going to deal with it in school, we’d better know this and acknowledge it. Otherwise, we should not let our schools have anything to do with it.

That sounded right to me then; it sounds right to me now. And it appears as if the landmark study overseen by Professor Jemmott confirms the wisdom of those words.

A front-page story in yesterday’s Washington Post reports:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth and seventh graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active. The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work.

“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”

For those of us familiar with the remarkable work of Elayne Bennett’s Best Friends program, this study, while encouraging, is not surprising. Abstinence education, done in the right way, can have an important and positive influence on teens. It rejects the fatalism that says they all do it, that nothing can be done, that we are powerless to shape the conduct of our children. Like the best abstinence education programs, Best Friends takes seriously the moral education of the young and their well-being.

Elayne Bennett’s husband, Bill, when he was secretary of education, gave a speech in which he laid out a few principles that speak to the task of educating children about sex, principles he believed should inform curricular material and textbooks. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bennett at the time.) First, Bennett said,

We should recognize that sexual behavior is a matter of character and personality, and that we cannot be value-neural about it. Neutrality only confuses children, and may lead them to erroneous conclusions. Specifically, sex education courses should teach children sexual restraint as a standard to uphold and follow.

Second, in teaching restraint, courses should stress that sex is not simply a physical or mechanical act. We should explain to children that sex is tied to the deepest recesses of the personality. We must tell the truth; we must describe reality. We should explain that sex involves complicated feelings and emotions. Some of these are ennobling, and some of them – let us be truthful –can be cheapening of one’s own finer impulses and cheapening to others.

Third, sex education courses should speak up for the institution of the family. To the extent possible, course should speak of sexual activity in the context of the institution of marriage. They should stress the fidelity, commitment, and maturity required of the partners in a successful marriage.

Bennett went on to say

All societies have known this [sex is a quintessentially moral activity] and have taken pains to regulate sexual activity. All societies have done so, sometimes wisely, sometimes not, because they have recognized that sex is fraught with mystery and passion, involving the person at the deepest level of being. As John Donne wrote, “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow.” Poets and philosophers, saints and psychiatrists have known that the power and beauty of sex lie precisely in the fact that it is not like anything else, that it is not just something you like to do or don’t like to do. Far from being value-neutral, sex may be the most value-loaded of any human activity. It does no good to try to sanitize or deny or ignore this truth. The act of sex has complicated and profound repercussions. And if we’re going to deal with it in school, we’d better know this and acknowledge it. Otherwise, we should not let our schools have anything to do with it.

That sounded right to me then; it sounds right to me now. And it appears as if the landmark study overseen by Professor Jemmott confirms the wisdom of those words.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

University of Pennsylvania’s Hillel is hosting J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami. Does Hillel not know that J Street doesn’t like to be known as a “pro-Israel” organization? One wonders what those who support Hillel must be thinking.

Mitt Romney was either missing in action or responsible for Scott Brown’s success, depending on which narrative you like. If Scott Brown wins, lots of people will claim credit, but Scott Brown will be forever indebted to ObamaCare. Without that target, is there any doubt that a plain-wrap Democrat, even one as mediocre as Coakley, was going to win going away?

Martha Coakley in “free fall”? Down by 9 in one poll. And it’s a similar story in many other polls — making for one eye-opening graph.

Nate Silver also is picking Scott Brown to win.

Marty Peretz sums up: “A loss in Massachusetts for the Obami would be a disastrous event. A narrow win would be a terrible warning.”

Ruth Marcus thinks it’s a plane crash: “If the Democratic party were a plane, its captain would have gotten on the intercom and instructed passengers to brace for impact. But President Obama, in this instance, may be no Sully Sullenberger. The chances of pulling off a smooth landing seem slight. The consequences could be catastrophic. … [A] Coakley loss would not simply reflect her shortcomings; it would illustrate the desire, in Democratic Massachusetts and nationwide, to put some checks on Democratic control of the levers of government. The first victim could be the central legislative focus of Obama’s presidency.”

The Wall Street Journal editors think it’s “the classic political mistake of ideological overreach”: “Mr. Obama won the White House in part on his personal style and cool confidence amid a recession and an unpopular war. Yet liberals in Congress interpreted their victory as a mandate to repeal more or less the entire post-1980 policy era and to fulfill, at last, their dream of turning the U.S. into a cradle-to-grave entitlement state. … The lesson of Mr. Obama’s lost first year is that an economic crisis is a terrible thing to exploit. As they have each time in the last 40 years that they have had total control of Washington, Democrats are proving again that America can’t be successfully governed from the left. If that is the lesson Mr. Obama learns from Massachusetts, he might still salvage his Presidency.”

Nancy Pelosi’s not listening to a bunch of know-nothing voters. Full steam ahead! And they wonder why they’re on the verge of a political earthquake.

This suggests that a large plurality of voters want to stop ObamaCare dead in its tracks: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 49% of likely voters nationwide want Brown to win, while 34% are cheering on Coakley. Seventeen percent (17%) are undecided.”

University of Pennsylvania’s Hillel is hosting J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami. Does Hillel not know that J Street doesn’t like to be known as a “pro-Israel” organization? One wonders what those who support Hillel must be thinking.

Mitt Romney was either missing in action or responsible for Scott Brown’s success, depending on which narrative you like. If Scott Brown wins, lots of people will claim credit, but Scott Brown will be forever indebted to ObamaCare. Without that target, is there any doubt that a plain-wrap Democrat, even one as mediocre as Coakley, was going to win going away?

Martha Coakley in “free fall”? Down by 9 in one poll. And it’s a similar story in many other polls — making for one eye-opening graph.

Nate Silver also is picking Scott Brown to win.

Marty Peretz sums up: “A loss in Massachusetts for the Obami would be a disastrous event. A narrow win would be a terrible warning.”

Ruth Marcus thinks it’s a plane crash: “If the Democratic party were a plane, its captain would have gotten on the intercom and instructed passengers to brace for impact. But President Obama, in this instance, may be no Sully Sullenberger. The chances of pulling off a smooth landing seem slight. The consequences could be catastrophic. … [A] Coakley loss would not simply reflect her shortcomings; it would illustrate the desire, in Democratic Massachusetts and nationwide, to put some checks on Democratic control of the levers of government. The first victim could be the central legislative focus of Obama’s presidency.”

The Wall Street Journal editors think it’s “the classic political mistake of ideological overreach”: “Mr. Obama won the White House in part on his personal style and cool confidence amid a recession and an unpopular war. Yet liberals in Congress interpreted their victory as a mandate to repeal more or less the entire post-1980 policy era and to fulfill, at last, their dream of turning the U.S. into a cradle-to-grave entitlement state. … The lesson of Mr. Obama’s lost first year is that an economic crisis is a terrible thing to exploit. As they have each time in the last 40 years that they have had total control of Washington, Democrats are proving again that America can’t be successfully governed from the left. If that is the lesson Mr. Obama learns from Massachusetts, he might still salvage his Presidency.”

Nancy Pelosi’s not listening to a bunch of know-nothing voters. Full steam ahead! And they wonder why they’re on the verge of a political earthquake.

This suggests that a large plurality of voters want to stop ObamaCare dead in its tracks: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 49% of likely voters nationwide want Brown to win, while 34% are cheering on Coakley. Seventeen percent (17%) are undecided.”

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Competing Chamberlains and a Churchill

“[C]ompeting Chamberlains and the hope of a Churchill.” That’s how Middle East expert Bernard Lewis described the choices on offer in America’s upcoming presidential elections. Not much need to spell out who’s who, is there?

Bernard Lewis should be able to spot Churchills and Chamberlains easily enough. At 91, he boasts a 60-plus-year-career as a political observer. (Furthermore, he was a Jewish Brit who lived through World War II.)

He made the observation last week while speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. He was, of course, comparing Britain’s confrontation with the evil of Nazi Germany to the U.S.’s current conflict with evil in the form of radical Islam. Among other choice observations, he spoke about the “pre-emptive cringe” that prohibits good Westerners from speaking candidly about the Islamist nature of the enemy. Lewis also said that, from the extremists’ standpoint, the defeat of the Soviet Union represents a Muslim victory and “There now remains the task of dealing with the pampered Americans.”

Our Chamberlains are pretty vicious towards each other, considering their inclination towards appeasement. But Lewis’ point is an invaluable one. We’re so pampered we can’t bear to choose a leader without our entertainment being the top priority. With identity, dishonesty, and nastiness as the main concerns this election season, any discussion of issues makes voters change the channel. And a long-view reminder such as Lewis’ seems, sadly, out of place (or even histrionic) to many Americans. Here’s to Churchill rising.

“[C]ompeting Chamberlains and the hope of a Churchill.” That’s how Middle East expert Bernard Lewis described the choices on offer in America’s upcoming presidential elections. Not much need to spell out who’s who, is there?

Bernard Lewis should be able to spot Churchills and Chamberlains easily enough. At 91, he boasts a 60-plus-year-career as a political observer. (Furthermore, he was a Jewish Brit who lived through World War II.)

He made the observation last week while speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. He was, of course, comparing Britain’s confrontation with the evil of Nazi Germany to the U.S.’s current conflict with evil in the form of radical Islam. Among other choice observations, he spoke about the “pre-emptive cringe” that prohibits good Westerners from speaking candidly about the Islamist nature of the enemy. Lewis also said that, from the extremists’ standpoint, the defeat of the Soviet Union represents a Muslim victory and “There now remains the task of dealing with the pampered Americans.”

Our Chamberlains are pretty vicious towards each other, considering their inclination towards appeasement. But Lewis’ point is an invaluable one. We’re so pampered we can’t bear to choose a leader without our entertainment being the top priority. With identity, dishonesty, and nastiness as the main concerns this election season, any discussion of issues makes voters change the channel. And a long-view reminder such as Lewis’ seems, sadly, out of place (or even histrionic) to many Americans. Here’s to Churchill rising.

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Rudy’s Weaknesses

Speculation is swirling about who tipped off Ben Smith of the Politico about the peculiar methods used to bill police protection for then Mayor Giuliani when he, though still married, was visiting his girlfriend Judith Nathan in the Hamptons. Was it Fran Reiter, a former Giuliani Deputy Mayor now working for the Hillary Clinton campaign? Was it New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson hoping to help his fellow Democrats? Was it former Governor George Pataki, who was either at odds with or overshadowed by Giuliani when both were in office? If this has the look of an Agatha Christie plot, where a dozen suspects all have good motives, that’s because Giuliani’s path to success was paved with the numerous enemies he made turning New York around and advancing his own ambitions.

The Politico article was not a dirty trick as Giuliani told Katie Couric, but it was a hit piece. It’s been followed in short order by another in the form of a front-page New York Times article suggesting that Giuliani sometimes exaggerates the numbers he uses to describe his successes. STOP THE PRESSES—A POLITICIAN WHO EXAGGERATES! How does this distinguish Giuliani from other politicians? Well, says the Times, he uses a lot of statistics and that means—according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania—that “He’s given us a lot of work up until now.”

Giuliani has repaid the money used for the police protection. But the peculiar billing methods go to two of his biggest vulnerabilities. First it opens the character issue by reminding people that Bernard Kerik, Rudy’s trusted lieutenant whose most recent corruption case has yet to go to trial, was also involved with a girlfriend while married during the closing years of the Giuliani administration. More importantly, it’s a back-door path into the fact, as columnist Michael Goodwin of the Daily News noted to me, that Rudy is the first serious Presidential candidate who is on his third marriage. Giuliani’s affair with Judith Nathan while in office and while still married to Donna Hanover is such an obvious vulnerability that the campaign’s inability to get its response straight suggests important weaknesses in its general operational abilities.

With such a long list of enemies, Giuliani can expect more unflattering revelations. He’s likely to weather them in a somewhat weakened state. But the effect of these political wounds is uncertain because there is no one clear alternative to Rudy. As he has from the start, Rudy is being held aloft not only by his record of achievements but by the absence of a strong alternative.

Right now Giuliani is being helped by the rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Should the former Arkansas governor win in Iowa, it would be a major blow to Giuliani’s primary rival at the moment: Mitt Romney. But while Huckabee and Giuliani have only nice things to say about each other (for the moment), if Huckabee emerges as a top tier candidate—in effect displacing the hopes once vested in Fred Thompson—he could become a serious danger to Rudy come the January 29th Florida primary. The Giuliani campaign sees Florida as its firewall, the place where it halts its foes cold and seizes the lead. But Huckabee is rising rapidly in the Florida polls gaining seven points last week alone. If his surge continues, he could reshape the election.

Speculation is swirling about who tipped off Ben Smith of the Politico about the peculiar methods used to bill police protection for then Mayor Giuliani when he, though still married, was visiting his girlfriend Judith Nathan in the Hamptons. Was it Fran Reiter, a former Giuliani Deputy Mayor now working for the Hillary Clinton campaign? Was it New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson hoping to help his fellow Democrats? Was it former Governor George Pataki, who was either at odds with or overshadowed by Giuliani when both were in office? If this has the look of an Agatha Christie plot, where a dozen suspects all have good motives, that’s because Giuliani’s path to success was paved with the numerous enemies he made turning New York around and advancing his own ambitions.

The Politico article was not a dirty trick as Giuliani told Katie Couric, but it was a hit piece. It’s been followed in short order by another in the form of a front-page New York Times article suggesting that Giuliani sometimes exaggerates the numbers he uses to describe his successes. STOP THE PRESSES—A POLITICIAN WHO EXAGGERATES! How does this distinguish Giuliani from other politicians? Well, says the Times, he uses a lot of statistics and that means—according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania—that “He’s given us a lot of work up until now.”

Giuliani has repaid the money used for the police protection. But the peculiar billing methods go to two of his biggest vulnerabilities. First it opens the character issue by reminding people that Bernard Kerik, Rudy’s trusted lieutenant whose most recent corruption case has yet to go to trial, was also involved with a girlfriend while married during the closing years of the Giuliani administration. More importantly, it’s a back-door path into the fact, as columnist Michael Goodwin of the Daily News noted to me, that Rudy is the first serious Presidential candidate who is on his third marriage. Giuliani’s affair with Judith Nathan while in office and while still married to Donna Hanover is such an obvious vulnerability that the campaign’s inability to get its response straight suggests important weaknesses in its general operational abilities.

With such a long list of enemies, Giuliani can expect more unflattering revelations. He’s likely to weather them in a somewhat weakened state. But the effect of these political wounds is uncertain because there is no one clear alternative to Rudy. As he has from the start, Rudy is being held aloft not only by his record of achievements but by the absence of a strong alternative.

Right now Giuliani is being helped by the rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Should the former Arkansas governor win in Iowa, it would be a major blow to Giuliani’s primary rival at the moment: Mitt Romney. But while Huckabee and Giuliani have only nice things to say about each other (for the moment), if Huckabee emerges as a top tier candidate—in effect displacing the hopes once vested in Fred Thompson—he could become a serious danger to Rudy come the January 29th Florida primary. The Giuliani campaign sees Florida as its firewall, the place where it halts its foes cold and seizes the lead. But Huckabee is rising rapidly in the Florida polls gaining seven points last week alone. If his surge continues, he could reshape the election.

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Pernicious Pentagon Software

Yesterday I wrote about the danger that the Pentagon might inadvertently purchase foreign-produced “malicious” software to run some of its most critical computer systems.

Now comes news that some new Pentagon software—pernicious if not malicious—is to be domestically produced, and on orders from the Pentagon itself.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.3-million contract to develop something called “the Predicting Stability through Analyzing Germane Events (PRESAGE) system.” Typical events that will be predicted “may include rebellions, insurgencies, ethnic/religious violence, civil war, and major economic crises.”

How will it work?

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Yesterday I wrote about the danger that the Pentagon might inadvertently purchase foreign-produced “malicious” software to run some of its most critical computer systems.

Now comes news that some new Pentagon software—pernicious if not malicious—is to be domestically produced, and on orders from the Pentagon itself.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.3-million contract to develop something called “the Predicting Stability through Analyzing Germane Events (PRESAGE) system.” Typical events that will be predicted “may include rebellions, insurgencies, ethnic/religious violence, civil war, and major economic crises.”

How will it work?

According to the announcement, PRESAGE will “combine a portfolio of state-of-the-art and operationally deployed social-science models and technologies” that will let “military commanders anticipate and respond to world-wide political crises and predict events of interest and stability of countries of interest with greater than 80-percent accuracy.”

Eighty-percent accuracy? That’s far better than the CIA’s rate of accuracy in predicting  “political events of interest.” And it is far better than Merrill Lynch does in predicting economic ones (Stan O’Neal please call your former office).

Perhaps we should now do as my former boss, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, proposed: abolish the spy agency altogether. Moynihan wanted the State Department to take responsibility for gathering intelligence. But it seems we could let computers carry out our intelligence functions instead. 

There is only one small hitch. When it comes to predicting the future, computers are not likely to do a better job than the CIA, or Goldman Sachs, or even Connecting the Dots. I haven’t had a chance to examine the algorithms in PRESAGE, but as Vladimir Ilych Lenin said, when you see a heap of dung in the road, you don’t need to stick your nose in it to know what it is. And I know enough about junk political science to know it when I see it.

Does anyone disagree? The Lockheed team building PRESAGE includes specialists from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Kansas, University of Washington, and University of Georgia. Despite this stellar lineup, I can predict with more than 80-percent accuracy that the program will flop, at a cost of $1.3 million. That money would be far better spent repairing dangerous dams built by Saddam Hussein.

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Godfather of Film

Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) is one of those men who, along with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, made the modern world—for what is more characteristic of the modern world than motion pictures? For his sequential photographs of leaping horses, made in the 1870’s for California governor Leland Stanford, and his monumental Animal Locomotion (1887), Muybridge is justly regarded as the godfather of the movie. And yet for a generation he has been the victim of sustained academic calumny. Two events this month make clear the extent of this injustice.

The first is the publication of Marta Braun’s Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904), a study of Muybridge’s French counterpart. The subject of a respectful New York Times review, Braun’s book argues that Marey was the true innovator, in contrast to Muybridge, who supposedly manipulated his images to make them more pleasing and to ensure that they reinforced Victorian sexual stereotypes. This is a theme that Braun has been restating since her 1984 article “Muybridge’s Scientific Fictions,” which has become the prevailing scholarly wisdom.

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Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) is one of those men who, along with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, made the modern world—for what is more characteristic of the modern world than motion pictures? For his sequential photographs of leaping horses, made in the 1870’s for California governor Leland Stanford, and his monumental Animal Locomotion (1887), Muybridge is justly regarded as the godfather of the movie. And yet for a generation he has been the victim of sustained academic calumny. Two events this month make clear the extent of this injustice.

The first is the publication of Marta Braun’s Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904), a study of Muybridge’s French counterpart. The subject of a respectful New York Times review, Braun’s book argues that Marey was the true innovator, in contrast to Muybridge, who supposedly manipulated his images to make them more pleasing and to ensure that they reinforced Victorian sexual stereotypes. This is a theme that Braun has been restating since her 1984 article “Muybridge’s Scientific Fictions,” which has become the prevailing scholarly wisdom.

In that article, Braun made much of the fact that Muybridge photographed women in domestic settings—sweeping, pouring tea, getting out of bed. She implies that Muybridge could see women only as housewives (or objects of sexual fantasy), and that this lessens the value of his work. In truth, it is remarkable how liberated Muybridge’s women are. They are also shown jumping over hurdles, throwing baseballs, leaping over sawhorses—activities conveniently ignored by Braun (and the scholars who cite her, not subjecting her work to the same skepticism that she brought to Muybridge’s). That her interpretation should become the prevailing wisdom, enshrined even at the National Museum of American History, says less about Muybridge than it does about the debunking mood of art scholarship in the mid-80’s, when Braun first emerged on the scene.

For an antidote to this sort of reductive scholarship, one turns with pleasure to Equus Unbound, a small but terrific exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania that highlights the activities of Fairman Rogers, the chief sponsor of Muybridge’s motion study experiments. Rogers was an engineering professor and amateur horseman, whose interest in horses was scientific, aesthetic, and social (he was the author of the celebrated Manual of Coaching). The show makes clear that Muybridge was supported in his pioneering work by some of the nation’s leading engineers, biologists, and physicists. It is a first step in removing a generation’s worth of tarnish from Muybridge’s unfairly besmirched reputation.

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