Today's Blogs

Constitutional Contention

Bloggers discuss the shaping of the new Iraqi constitution, an alarming New York Times Magazine essay on peak oil, and an evaluation of American universities based on contribution to the country.

Constitutional contention: With a midnight deadline looming, Iraqi Shiites and Kurds completed a draft of a constitution, likely to be rejected by the Sunnis, that would establish a loose federal structure bearing a strong Islamic signature.

“Together, the Kurds and Shiites have enough votes in parliament to approve the draft constitution and have it voted on; however, the requirements for adoption of the constitution are such that if Sunni provinces uniformly reject it, it will not go into effect,” reports John Hinderaker at conservative syndicate Power Line. “So it seems that there is a game of ‘chicken’ going on.” Hinderaker calls the provision that laws must conform to Islam “ominous.” Proving that nation-building makes strange bedfellows, liberal standby Atrios agrees the fractious federalist structure and religious provisions are cause for some concern. 

It’s a common sentiment. “A people are not liberated if they are subject to Islamic law - especially women, who are given a status slightly higher than dogs in the strictest interpretations of Islamic canon,” writes pseudonymous conservative Lumpy of Lump on a Blog. “The repercussions of this policy decision are huge. Allowing fundamentalism to take hold in Iraq would be a mistake of epic proportions. … Be very careful here Mr. President. Very careful.” Von, a Midwestern attorney at Obsidian Wings, counts seven major problems with the current proposal. “For all these reasons—and many more—it would be better for the U.S. for this Constitution to be rejected,” he says.

Count stalwart libertarian Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit concerned but realistic. “There are limits, of course, to how much we can tell the Iraqis to do with regard to their own constitution, but given the evidence…that Iraqi citizens are more liberal on the subject of religion than are their representatives here, there seems no reason to rush this, and, in fact, many reasons to hold back,” he writes in a link-heavy roundup of blogger analysis. “This makes me wonder what the diplomats are thinking, and I can’t help but feel that they should probably think again.”

Read Slate’s take on the constitution here and here.  Read more blog posts about Iraq here.

Piqued by oil: A New York Times Magazine cover story this weekend examined the prospect of peak oil—the point at which global oil production reaches its peak and begins to decline rapidly, to the great detriment of the world economy.

“Okay, it’s on the cover of the New York Times Magazine — now where’s a politician brave enough to deal with it?” wonders John Montague Massengale, “a recovering architect” posting at Veritas et Venustas. Geoffrey Styles, an energy consultant at Energy Outlook, worries the Saudis might lack the capability to accelerate oil production to meet heightened demand, but suggests we might have enough time, anyway, to develop and refine alternatives before a major shortfall hits.

Others see author Peter Maass as a sucker for tabloid hysteria. “One might think that doomsday proponents would be chastened by the long history of people of their ilk being wrong: Nostradamus, Malthus, Paul Ehrlich, etc. Clearly they are not,” says popular economist and author Steven D. Levitt, who writes a column for the TimesMagazine, at Freakonomics, the blog related to his best-selling book of the same name. “What most of these doomsday scenarios have gotten wrong is the fundamental idea of economics: people respond to incentives. If the price of a good goes up, people demand less of it, the companies that make it figure out how to make more of it, and everyone tries to figure out how to produce substitutes for it.”

Levitt gets plenty of cheers from peak-oil skeptics. “I think I probably agree with Levitt that the big effect of peak oil will be to simply cut the fat … out of oil consumption,” writesSnarkmarket’s Robin Sloan. “This will probably not involve roaming bands of petro-pirates in wind-powered gun-skiffs.” At Reason’s in-house blog Hit & Run, Jesse Walker commends Levitt’s critique and compares peak oil hysteria to apocalyptic, Left Behind eschatology. 

Not everybody pooh-poohs the article’s alarmism. “[A]n excellent article. Well researched. Balanced. Thoughtful,” praisesCultural Economist Ronald R. Cooke. “Bravo.” At’s Pokkari Blog, Mike stakes out a middle ground. “I think the market is already correcting, and that the introduction of alternative fuel vehicles will only accelerate,” he writes. “The electricity sector will compensate, too, and we’ll end up using oil mostly for plastics.”

Read more about the TimesMagazine article; and more about peak oil.

Ask not: Declaring that “other guides ask what colleges can do for students,” liberal beltway journal Washington Monthly “ask[s] what colleges are doing for the country,” and answers by ranking the universities that contribute most to national prosperity, public service, and social mobility. In their calculus, MIT ranks the most productive university, UCLA comes second and U.C.-Berkeley third; U.S. News powerhouses Yale and Harvard place 15th and 16th.

“It’s an interesting approach, and one that gives very different rankings than other college surveys,” writes Tom Negrino of Backup Brain. At unbossed, legal eagle Shirah praises the rankings and wonders how much more productive universities might be if administrators focused on these criteria rather than those familiar to readers of the Newsweek and U.S.News rankings.

Read more about the rankings.

Introducing an occasional Today’s Blogs feature …

Time-waster of the day: Voltaire drank 50 cups of coffee a day. How much caffeine would it have taken to kill the philosopher? How many cans of Mr. Pibb would off Baudrillard? Find out at Energy Fiend. Know any good oddball, bizarre, or hilarious sites? Submit them to