Bloggers respond in real time to the biblical-scale menace of Hurricane Katrina. They also revisit the Bell Curve controversy and discuss an essay suggesting the era of political polarization is over.
Eye of the storm: Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast today, pushing inland just east of New Orleans and crashing through Mississippi and Alabama.
“Katrina has been downgraded still further to a Category Two storm—that is, disastrous but not apocalyptic,” reports converted arts and culture blogger Terry Teachout in a link-stuffed post at About Last Night. “The eye of the storm is now moving across Mississippi to Alabama. New Orleans has already been hit hard, and flood damage appears to be extensive. … CNN is carrying eyewitness reports of looting. Large pieces of the roof of the Superdome roof, the ‘shelter of last resort’ for nine thousand stranded locals and tourists, were peeled away by high winds, but the damage was superficial, not structural.”
“New Orleans, as we know it, doesn’t exist anymore,” writes an alarmed PunditGuy, a tireless headline exegete. “Hurricane Katrina is geographically changing that city.” By the early afternoon, LSU academic Kaye Trammell is less worried. “I just looked out the window to see the first bit of sun I’ve seen all day,” she writes. At Weather Underground, Jeff Masters provides the consensus view. “Although the damage will be incredible,” he writes, “it could have been much, much worse.”
“Officials from N.O. and Baton Rouge say power outages could last for weeks,” writesJosh Britton, blogging from Louisiana non-stop throughout the day. “Let’s be clear about something: the wind was always a concern in New Orleans, but the rain, which will continue for hours, could be equally devastating.”
Behind the curve: In a Commentary essay, occasioned by the Lawrence Summers scandal, Bell Curve author Charles Murray reconsiders the distribution of “innate abilities” across populations. Kingfish conservative Andrew Sullivan has provoked a firestorm of criticism from the left by recommending the essay and saying the controversial book “still holds up as one of the most insightful and careful of the last decade. … Liberalism’s commitment to political and moral equality for all citizens and human beings is not and should not be threatened by empirical research into human difference and varied inequality.”
Washington MonthlyPolitical Animal Kevin Drum says Sullivan should be ashamed. “It’s a pernicious book that misused its own statistics in an effort to convince the public that the longstanding gap in IQ scores between whites and blacks is an immutable genetic reality that needs to be accepted as a permanent fact of life—a conclusion that’s not only wrong, but wrong even on the terms of the book’s own evidence,” Drum says. Berkeley econ prof Brad DeLong piles on.
Sullivan finds a defender in systems engineer Dan Morgan. “[A] larger question here is whether this topic of IQ differences among groups should be allowed to be researched or discussed in respectable society,” he writes at NoSpeedBumps. “Personally, I think it should be—free people should be unfettered in their quest for new knowledge and understanding. To block investigations into some areas strikes me as, well, pre-modern and undemocratic.” At Lawyers, Guns and Money, however, political scientist Scott Lemieux writes that intellectual freedom is not at stake. “It might be relevant if someone was talking about suppressing publication of The Bell Curve, but that wasn’t the issue. Again, the liberal commitment to free speech is not a commitment to the idea that all ideas are of equal worth.”
Read more about the renewed Bell Curve controversy.
Red state, blue state, one, two, three:The Almanac of American Politics’ Michael Barone, in U.S. News and World Report, writes that the recent era of much-publicized political polarization just might be brought to an end by the race for 2008. “The reason: The leading candidates for both parties’$2 2008 nominations”—he cites Hillary Clinton, Rudolph Guilliani, and John McCain—”are in significant tension with their parties’ bases—and, in some cases, outright opposition.”
“If our politics are as polarized as some suppose, then centrists, no matter how prominent, shouldn’t be sitting in the pole position for presidential nomination,” acknowledges attorney Paul Mirengoff at conservative coterie Power Line. Colleague John Hinderaker agrees the rhetoric about polar extremism seems overblown. “[E]xtremism in contemporary American politics is rare,” he writes. “Bill Clinton was a bona fide liberal and George W. Bush is a legitimate conservative, but neither they nor the vast majority of their supporters are as liberal or as conservative as their predecessors of a generation ago. … Why such inflamed passions should exist in a time of relative consensus on political issues is a curious question, to which I have no answer.” Mirengoff offers one hypothesis. “[P]erhaps it’s because America really is seriously split about some very fundamental matters,” he suggests. “One such matter is religion. Another is whether the U.S. is and has been a force for good.”
Conservative SheepDog disagrees with Barone. “It isn’t that social issues still don’t divide the US polity, it’s that an external threat is more important at the moment,” he writes. Moreover, he thinks Barone falters by overlooking the growing popularity of Condoleezza Rice among conservative voters.
Read more about the Barone thesis.