Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday with the Times

One vestigial sign of my religious upbringing has been my discomfort at not having some ritualized activity for Sunday mornings, other than sleeping in until 11:00. The sense of liberation brought by sleeping in has long since worn off, and probably due to my advancing age I am finding it harder and harder to stay in bed past 8:00 anyways. Reading the Sunday edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune worked for awhile, until I came to the realization that the Star-Trib is a pretty crappy newspaper.

So until lately, and especially after my separation, I've contented myself with wolfing down scrambled eggs in front of the computer monitor as I catch up on the Saturday night blogging activity. But in-house rituals aren't very satisfying, so I've taken to a new ritual of reading the Sunday New York Times at the neighborhood coffee shop attached to the grocery store. Secular Nirvana at last!

The Times is widely regarded as the nation's preeminent newspaper by the politerati of both the Right and the Left. It's leftward slant is taken for granted by conservative pundits, but my own experience has demonstrated it to be far more balanced than those pundits make it out to be. And I've also found that the reporting , as opposed to the editorial page, is far more objective and informational than the wags of the "New Media" are ready to admit.

As an example from today's edition, this article from the Business section asks the question "What does Africa need most: technology or aid":

Opening the conference on June 4, Mr. Anderson described his purposes as frankly promotional. Too often, he said, the only images of Africa that Westerners see are of drought, famine, disease and civil war. By contrast, TED Global 2007 would present an Africa that was newly entrepreneurial, increasingly wealthy and tech savvy, and largely politically stable.

“It’s a story,” Mr. Anderson said, “that is unfolding across the continent, and it’s a story that’s not well known outside of Africa.”


At TED Global 2007, I witnessed one small skirmish in a larger ideological conflict between those who believe that Africa needs more and better international aid, and those who think entrepreneurialism and technology will lift the continent out of poverty and thus reduce its miseries.

Predictably, TED’s attendees and speakers were spellbound by technology and entrepreneurialism and, at the same time, distrustful of international aid.

“What man has ever become rich by holding out a begging bowl?” asked Andrew Mwenda, an Ugandan journalist and social worker, now a research fellow at Stanford in California.

Mr. Mwenda argued that $500 billion in international aid over 50 years had achieved nothing in Africa and that the persistence of African poverty could be explained, in part, by aid. Charity, he said, had “distorted the incentive structure” and had persuaded the brightest Africans to work for corrupt governments. He called upon African entrepreneurs to build African businesses and the American investors in TED’s audience to finance them.

Echoing Mr. Mwenda, Russell Southwood, the publisher of Balancing Act, a newsletter about technology in Africa, implored African entrepreneurs and Western business leaders to “invest in shortages.” Africa, he said, could “leapfrog” the industrial technologies that Westerners use and build truly 21st-century technology systems and networks.

Would any self respecting socialist editor allow such a quote from an African through the filter?

Speaking of the editorial page, right below a Frank Rich diatribe comparing the Bush administration to the Sopranos, Michael Goldfarb is given space to mourn the death of Antioch College at the hands of the radical Left:
THIS is an obituary for a great American institution whose death was announced this week. After 155 years, Antioch College is closing.

Established in 1852 in Yellow Springs, Ohio, by the kind of free-thinking Christian group found only in the United States, Antioch College was egalitarian in the best tradition of American liberalism. The college’s motto, not in Latin or Greek but plain English, was coined by Horace Mann, its first president: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

Yet it was in the high tide of liberal activism that the college lost its way. I know this firsthand, because I entered Antioch in the fall of 1968, just when the tide was nearing its peak. So much of the history of 1968 reflects an America in crisis, but if you were young and idealistic it was a time of unparalleled excitement. The 2,000 students at Antioch, living in a picture-pretty American village, provided a laboratory for various social experiments of the time.

With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the college increased African-American enrollment to 25 percent in 1968, from virtually nil in previous years. The new students were recruited from the inner city. At around the same time, Antioch created coeducational residence halls, with no adult supervision. Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll became the rule, as you might imagine, and there was enormous peer pressure to be involved in all of them. No member of the faculty or administration, and certainly none of the students, could guess what these sudden changes would mean. They were simply embraced in the spirit of the time.

I moved into this sociological petri dish from a well-to-do suburb. Within my first week I twice had guns drawn on me, once in fun and once in a state of drunken for real by a couple of ex-cons whom one of my classmates, in the interest of breaking down class barriers, had invited to live with her.


Each semester, the college seemed to create a new program. “We need to take education to the people” became a mantra, and so satellite campuses began to sprout around the country. Something called Antioch University was created, and every faculty member whose marriage was going bad or who simply couldn’t hack living in a village of 3,000 people and longed for the city came up with a proposal to start a new campus.

“It was liberalism gone mad,” a former professor, Hannah Goldberg, once told me, and she was right. The college seemed to forget the pragmatism that had been a key to its ethos, and tried blindly to extend its mission beyond education to social reform. But there were too many new programs and too little cash reserve to deal with the inevitable growing pains.

For the increasingly vocal radical members of the community, change wasn’t going far enough or fast enough. They wanted revolution, but out there in the middle of the cornfields the only “bourgeois” thing to fight was Antioch College itself. The let’s-try-anything, free-thinking society of 1968 evolved into a catastrophic blend of legitimate paranoia (Nixon did keep enemies lists, and the F.B.I. did infiltrate campuses) and postadolescent melodrama. In 1973, a strike trashed the campus and effectively destroyed Antioch’s spirit of community. The next year, student enrollment was down by half.


Antioch College became a rump where the most illiberal trends in education became entrenched. Since it is always easier to impose a conformist ethos on a small group than a large one, as the student body dwindled, free expression and freedom of thought were crushed under the weight of ultra-liberal orthodoxy. By the 1990s the breadth of challenging ideas a student might encounter at Antioch had narrowed, and the college became a place not for education, but for indoctrination. Everyone was on the same page, a little to the left of The Nation in worldview.

Much of this conformist thinking focused on gender politics, and it culminated in the notorious sexual offense prevention policy. Enacted in 1993, the policy dictated that a person needed express permission for each stage in seduction. (“May I touch your breast?” “May I remove your bra?” And so on.) In two decades students went from being practitioners of free love to prisoners of gender. Antioch became like one of those Essene communities in the Judean desert in the first century after Christ that, convinced of their own purity, died out while waiting for a golden age that never came.

Who let that guy in?

Another excellent report is this from Craig S Smith on the divided loyalties between the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that provides some historical background on the different paths the two communities took after the UN mandate that created Israel in 1948:
They have always had distinct traits, culturally and geographically — the West Bank supporting a landlocked urban and agricultural society, Gaza facing the sea.

Those differences increased after the creation of Israel in 1948, when Gaza fell under the administration of Egypt and the West Bank was annexed by Jordan.

Egypt treated Gaza as a Palestinian enclave and encouraged a strong sense of Palestinian identity. Many Gazans who studied in Egypt during those years were influenced, in turn, by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose goal is to establish Islamic theocracies across the Arab world.

Back in Gaza, some of those men founded Hamas in 1987.

Jordan, on the other hand, suppressed Palestinian nationalism in favor of Jordanian identity and Palestinians in the West Bank were more influenced by the secular societies of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where many went to study. Others traveled even further abroad, bringing back a liberal view of the world.


Blogger Ali said...

It does have top-notch reporting, far better than the London Times.

Joe Nocera in the Business section alone tempts me to pay up for Times-Select.

June 17, 2007 11:32 AM  
Blogger David said...

The Times is a great newspaper, well-written, authoritative and a necessary paper-of-record. It's one of the few daily newspapers in the country that is written to more than an 8th grade level. There are three problems:

1. Under Pinch, it has become much more partisan, to the point of ignoring important stories.

2. In some important areas, like economics, it's terrible.

3. We only need one Gray Lady. The biggest problem with the Times is that it's blank gray lifeless prose has become the standard that all journalists aspire to. One of the reason that newspapers are dying is that reading them is like taking your medicine. That is, not quite the Times' fault, but it is a deadly side effect.

June 17, 2007 6:47 PM  

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