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Archive for July, 2005

Little Bighorn

[ 0 ] July 31, 2005 |


Sitting Bull had the good sense to wipe out Custer and the Seventh Cavalry just off of I-90, so I stopped and took a few pictures.

Earlier this summer I spoke to a US Army Major and asked him what place the Indian Wars played in the self-understanding of the Army as an organization. He replied that the Army didn’t think very much about them at all. I wonder, why is that?

One reason, perhaps, is that the national perception of the Indian Wars has changed profoundly since the middle of he twentieth century. Most, it seems, tend to be more willing to identify Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse as the heroes of the engagement than Custer.
The rest of the Indian Wars have similarly lost a bit of gloss as they seem to have taken on something of a genocidal historical character. No organization, of course, wants to have a genocide in its history.

Another is that the Army made a decision, towards the end of the 19th century, to rebuild itself explicitly around th Prussian model of a continental military organization. Continental armies fight other continental armies in massive engagements allowing the concentration of firepower. They do not wander through the wilderness in search of guerillas. The Army of the Civil War, because it fits this mold, get remembered and the Indian Wars do not. The Philippine Insurrection seems similarly forgotten.

Nonetheless, I think that the Army probably should pay more attention to the Indian Wars than it currently does. First, the Army was able to pull off several very impressive doctrinal and organizational shifts in the second half of the nineteenth century. It tacked back and forth between being primarily a guerilla fighting organization to being the capable conventional continental force that won the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.
This suggests a flexible organization with a strong capacity for learning and innovation, characteristics that any military force should find admirable. Second, it hardly needs to be noted that the kind of fighting the Army does now and the kind of fighting it can expect to do in the future bears much close resemblence to the Indian Wars or the Philippine Insurrection than to Patton’s exploitation across France.

A casual perusal of the course offerings at West Point seems to suggest that more attention is paid to Napoleon and to the warfare in the ancient world than to warfare in the American West. I wouldn’t be surprised if this changes in the future.

Mount Rushmore

[ 0 ] July 31, 2005 |


Going to Mount Rushmore cost me $8, about an hour, and a fair amount of aggravation, but, hey, when am I going to be in South Dakota again?

It occured to me while observing the monument how fortunate we are that Gutzon Borglum didn’t have an affection for Andrew Jackson, William Howard Taft, or some other less than luminous president. Washington and Lincoln are incontestable, and Jefferson’s status as a Founder makes up for any deficiencies in his presidency. They have the wrong Roosevelt, of course, but I’m uncertain who would have been a better choice in 1924.

Interesting historical note: Gutzon Borglum’s decision to work on Mount Rushmore almost spared us the grim neo-Confederate nightmare at Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Borglum left Rapid City with great enthusiasm for the new Rushmore project and promises of support from Norbeck and Robinson. Reluctantly, he returned to Georgia to face the lingering problems of his Stone Mountain project. By February 1925, the confrontation had peaked; the Stone Mountain Association’s board dismissed the sculptor from the project and expressed its intention to hire another artist to complete the giant sculpture according to Borglum’s models and drawings.

Borglum was incensed. He rushed to Stone Mountain, ordered the destruction of his working studio models, then raced up the mountain and sent models of Lee’s shoulders and Stonewall Jackson’s head crashing to the base of the cliff.

What followed was a wild-goose chase by the Georgia police, who held a warrant for Borglum’s arrest. As they hightailed after him, according to Borglum, the deputies even took shots at his fleeing escape vehicle. In any event, while leading newspapers traded jabs over the affair, Borglum reached safe haven in North Carolina.

That monument, unsurprsingly, has served as a rallying point for the Ku Klux Klan since the 1920s, and earned a mention in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

All about the heritage, I guess.

Anyway, Mount Rushmore is quite impressive. Trouble with my truck prevented me from visiting the Crazy Horse memorial.

Plan B is Plan B Because It’s Worse

[ 4 ] July 31, 2005 |

Timothy Burke is upset that Amanda Marcotte called arguments made by people like Benjamin Wittes that pro-choicers should “let go” of Roe “horseshit.” Whether or not one likes Amanda’s choice of words, however, I think she certainly has the better of the argument. Burke’s post does intelligently express some of the most common “contrarian” arguments about Roe, which are worth attending to.

The first problem with Burke’s post is that it’s engaged in some obvious strawman demolition. Burke asks: “Does the campaign for the right to choose in Ireland curl up and die because they don’t have Roe vs. Wade to begin with? You work with what you got. Go to the barricades for Roe if you like, but if you don’t have a Plan B, then don’t spit on the people who do.” But, of course, nobody is arguing that there shouldn’t be a “Plan B,” or that pro-choicers should give up if Roe is overturned. What Amanda and other critics of Wittes object to is his claim that Roe being overturned might not affect reproductive rights that much, or perhaps may even be a net positive. I can understand why Burke doesn’t want to defend this claim, since (as he essentially concedes) it is transparently wrong. But once you’ve conceded this, you’ve conceded that it’s important to preserve Roe, and that therefore Wittes’ central (and most interesting) argument is incorrect.

So what, exactly, is Burke arguing? He puts forward a couple of other points that try to salvage the Wittes thesis:

  • 1)”It’s pretty clear [Roe is] going to be overturned sooner or later, either in total or as good as such.”

If Burke is right about this, then I agree that Wittes’ arguments become more relevant. But there’s no reason to believe that he is. As for Roe being directly overturned, this is clearly premature, and I think the odds are against it. Not merely because a Democratic President may well appoint Stevens’ or Ginsburg’s replacement if they hold on until 2008, but because there’s good reason to believe that overturning Roe is not a high priority for the Republican elites. It is entirely possible that Roberts would vote to keep Roe. I’m certainly not saying that Roe is safe, but it’s far too early to write the obituaries.

I suspect that a lot of the weight of this argument relies on the “as good as such” qualifier. I assume that he means that if the Supreme Court were to uphold Roe but continue to uphold a variety of regulations such as parental consent and waiting periods, this would be a de facto overturning of Roe. This is a common (and understandable) belief, but it isn’t correct. As Mark Graber recently noted, “the empirical evidence suggests that keeping abortion legal has far more powerful effects on access to abortion than any restrictive policy short of outright bans on the procedure.” This isn’t to say that these types of regulation aren’t bad; women shouldn’t be subject to a humilating obstacle course when they get an abortion, and as far as I’m concerned one woman being prevented from obtaining an abortion by essentially unprincipled regulations is too many. But there is a huge difference between legal-but-regulated abortion and criminalized abortion. Women who want to get abortions usually get them as long as the procedure remains formally legal. (And, of course, overturning Roe would not reduce the number of obstructionist regulations.)

  • 2)”Wittes observes that centering the debate on Roe vs. Wade has prevented those of us who believe in choice and in the right to privacy and self-ownership from securing that right either constitutionally (with an amendment) or through state and federal statutes. We’ve put all our eggs in the Supremes’ basket.”

Again, I don’t think that this is a very persuasive argument. (Wittes, I think, is falling for the common fallacy that litgation and other forms of polical action are in some sort of zero-sum competition.) Roe hasn’t “prevented” anything. With respect to a constitutional amendment, the chances of this happening are absolutely nil with or without Roe, so that’s an obvious red herring, and any argument that a constitutional amendment is a more viable prospect than upholding a Supreme Court decision that has already stood for 30 years cannot be taken seriously. That pro-choicers (unlike many pro-life groups) haven’t been suckered by the chimera of a hopeless amendment campaign is to their relative credit. With respect to state legislation or state constitutional amendments, again Roe hasn’t prevented anything; Washington state enacted a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights after Roe, for example. It’s true that such legislation hasn’t been a priority, but that’s for the obvious reason that it’s basically meaningless window dressing. (Burke’s analogy with Brown doesn’t wash, because school de-segregation required legislative intervention to secure compliance in a way that Roe doesn’t.) Such protections will only be possible in states where abortion rights are the most secure in the first place, and can be easily changed should the climate change. (I am frankly puzzled by claims that legislation would somehow be more stable than a Supreme Court decision. With the exception of major entitlements like Social Security, it’s easier to change the former than the latter.) For many states, however, Roe is the only viable means of securing legal abortion, and it is therefore entirely rational for pro-choicers to focus on upholding Roe. And even if you think that such legislation would be more effectual than I do, passing it does not require “letting go” of Roe.

  • 3)”More importantly, Wittes is right, in my opinion, to note that our reliance on Roe has kept the cultural conservatives from having to actually shoulder the political cost of passing specific statutes that take away a right that the majority voting population of most states supports, from having to actually do something that will have concrete consequences in terms of the everyday lives of most Americans.”

This is a very common argument, but I don’t understand it. By the same logic, one can argue that keeping Social Security on the books has prevented economic conseravtives from doing something that would be extremely unpopular in most states. Every policy victory, if your position is popular, means that the opposition’s unpopular policy isn’t being enacted. Forcing the Republican Party to actually gut the New Deal/Great Society rather than just talk about it would certainly be extremely damaging to the Republican Party. This is hardly good reason to hope that this happens. In the most generous construction this seems to be a “heighten-the-contradictions” argument, sacrificing tangible benfits now for speculative benefits later on, and in the case of Roe in my opinion there’s no way the future benefits could outweigh the certain costs. (In addition, it’s worth noting again that Congress and the states can use “compromise” legislation–delegating abortion policy to medical committees–that would effectively criminalize abortion for poor women, but would be unlikely to decisively undermine the Republican Party. This would be the worst of all worlds–bad policy outcomes that have only limited political damage–and unfortunately would be the most common result.)

I should say that I do agree completely with Burke when he says that the agrument that “history would dispense with the opposition to choice, and that all we had to do was keep strong and organized amongst ourselves” was and is a “folly,” although whether this assumption is as widespread as he posits is questionable. The Supreme Court’s abortion decisions will not defuse the conflict, and of course we must accept that the abortion debate in the United States will be characterized by incommensurable conflict for the forseeable future even if Roe stands; Burke is certainly right about that. But it is equally naive to think (and here I should emphasize that this many not be Burke’s position) that this debate would be defused simply by “returning the issue to the legislatures.” This is a pipedream. The abortion debate will rage no matter what. But if it rages without Roe, the result will be greatly restricted reproductive rights, and it is therefore very desirable to make preserving Roe a priority.

Distorting the Law

[ 0 ] July 31, 2005 |

I have been remiss in noting that, while I was on vacation, Bill Haltom and Michael McCann’s book Distorting the Law won APSA’s Pritchett Award for the best book published in public law in the preceding two years. (Disclaimer: McCann was my dissertation advisor.) Both Dave and I have mentioned this book before, but it does a terrific job of empirically analyzing the myths that surround tort litigation in the United States, while remaining clear-eyed about the limitations of the existing system. If you don’t want to take my word for it, here’s a review from a more disinterested party.

Congratulations also to frequent commenter JRD, who did a significant amount of heavy lifting on the project!

Things I Have Learned. . .

[ 0 ] July 29, 2005 |

in my travels thus far:

1. There are many among us who do not understand that driving in the blind spot of a U-Haul truck is poor policy. Idiots.

2. The booze at the Billings, Montana Holiday Inn bar is cheap and effective.

3. Montana is called “big sky country” for a reason.

4. The Missoula Mavericks, a Rookie league affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, ride around in a crappy old bus.

5. I-90 is much better than I-84 or I-80. This is true not simply because of the mountain scenery (indeed, I have a great affection for the stark Utah desert), but also because of the number of listenable radio stations along the way.

6. A fully loaded U-Haul truck CAN go 75 MPH up the Rocky Mountains. I’m glad that my responsibility for the vehicle ends on Tuesday.

7. Ten minute naps at rest stops can prevent disaster.

8. If one is to be measured by the quality of his or her friends, I am in very good standing. Thanks particularly to madryantm and gmack for helping load my truck.

9. A cell phone can be a wonderful companion on long drives, particularly if you have friends in Seattle and Reykjavik.

10. Marketing is the most advanced science of early 21st century America. It is the ability to sell that we bequeath upon the world and upon our descendents. More on this later.

Tomorrow: Council Bluffs, Iowa.

[ 0 ] July 29, 2005 |

Using Brad Delong’s frustration with the quality of Jared Diamond critics as a jumping off point, Henry at Crooked Timber considers the odd implications of the arguments of Savage Minds blogger Ozma–specifically, that Diamond’s thesis implies a “do-nothing” form of anti-racism:

it’s quite clear that if one wanted to, one could use a macro-level account of the kind that Diamond provides as the starting point for a meso-level account of the effects of racism, examining, for example, how different environmental endowments have privileged groups that have then used their superior level of physical resources to pursue overtly or covertly racist agendas. Ozma seems to be claiming that accounts of human society that stress macro-level non-cultural factors are inherently accommodationist, and that only meso-level accounts provide genuine “causal understanding.” This is not a helpful argument.

No, no it’s not. But let’s flesh this out a bit. First off, as any anthropologist should know, outcomes as complex as European colonialism, global inequality, and racism are almost certainly the product of a number of causes. I think a fairly plausible case can be made that Diamond is prone to overstating the causal impact of his portion of the argument. I’ve long been of the view that political theorists should read more cultural anthropology, but the inverse is apparently true as well.

What sorts of events and circumstances generate responsibility to remedy? The implication of Ozma’s criticism suggest that responsibility to remedy only activates if a) the harm done is caused by a specific moral agent, and b) their harm is really the principle causal factor. I doubt Ozma holds such views, but it’s rather odd that he would operate with implicit assumptions that assume both a particularly causal view of social science and a thin, libertarian-leaning conception of moral responsibility.

On the latter point, compelling alternatives are available. I’d recommend, for instance, the conception of egalitarian ethics developed by Anne Phillips (Which Equalities Matter?) and Elizabeth Anderson (“What is the point of Equality?” Ethics 1999). Both attempt to generate an egalitarian ethics based on what is required for equal respect, as a necessity for democracy. If something along these lines is seen as the generator for a political conception of responsibility, it can generate responsibilities to achieve such an end, even if no specific wrongs have generated the inequality. (Of course, we could also turn to various forms of virtue ethics and communitarianism to generate the necessary understanding of responsibility, but we certainly don’t have to). It’s not my point to suggest that theorists of democratic equality get moral responsibility right (although I am a fan), but simply to suggest that the implicit theory of moral responsibility Ozma seems to choose as a default is odd.

Perhaps the point isn’t that Diamond’s macro-analysis doesn’t actually authorize the “do-nothing” variety of anti-racism, but it might be misinterpreted as doing so. This is probably true. However, I think it’s probably more correct that “do-nothing” anti-racism is a stance in search of a justification, and if it’s proponents weren’t misreading Diamond to provide it, they’d be busy misreading someone else. Demonstrating that Diamond actually uniquely contributed to the popularity od “do nothing” anti-racism would be, I suspect, a difficult task.

I myself am neither a defender nor a critic of Diamond, but for thoughtful criticism I recommend the these posts by Timothy Burke and Stentor Danielson, plus follow ups.

…Later, Henry reaches a near DeLongian level of crankyness when the accusations turn from endorsing do-nothing anti-racism to actual racism.

A question

[ 0 ] July 29, 2005 |

Why does Charles Krauthammer think terrorists are a stupid as he is? Like him, I wish they were. But that doesn’t make it so.

Why is Payola Illegal?

[ 0 ] July 29, 2005 |

I agree with Daniel Gross and Matt; I’ve never really understood why payola should be illegal. It doesn’t really make sense that this particular form of marketing music to radio, as opposed to all the other forms, should be against the law. And, certainly, many of the arguments against payola seem to be under the severely mistaken impression that in the absence of direct (as opposed to indirect) forms of payment stations would be programmed based on evaluations of artistic merit. Sure. If you believe that, I have a gross of “Jessica Simpson signs the songs of Ian Anderson” CDs that you’ll be able to move like hotcakes right here.

Admittedly, maybe it’s just that I have a libertarian streak about these things; laws banning ticket scalping have never made much sense to me either. I’ve never understood why it’s perfectly legal for the Knicks to charge $150 for a game against the Grizzlies in November, but if someone sells a World Series ticket to someone else for $150 they’re committing a crime. (And, of course, the more common situation is someone trying to dump one of their Knicks season tickets to a game and get something back; laws against ticket scalping make that much more difficult, which is why teams want them.)

Lindsay makes the case for the other side. I think the key to our disagreement can be found in her argument that “[t]he station that runs on payola is offering a fundamentally different service than a station whose DJs have creative control. An independent DJ is offering her expertise and aesthetic judgment. It’s her job to listen to choose good stuff and to play it in aesthetically pleasing sequences. As a consumer, I want independence from my DJ.” This is, I think, a clearly false dichotomy. Not because I don’t share Lindsay’s aesthetic preferences (I basically never listen to any music on commercial radio), but because the independent jock programming her own stuff is an anachronism; independent programming has essentially vanished from commercial radio despite payola being illegal. Programming for the vast majority of for-profit stations is done centrally because broadcasters can (or think they can) make more money doing it this way, and whether payola is illegal or not doesn’t really change this.

[ 0 ] July 29, 2005 |


Friday Cat Blogging. . . Stromboli

Gore and Iraq

[ 0 ] July 28, 2005 |

Some classic DLC logic in Marshall Wittmann’s post about a potential Gore candidacy:

It is quite likely that a President Gore would have come to blows with Saddam in the aftermath of 9/11. In the past, Gore was a strong supporter of the use of American power whether it was in the first Gulf War or Kosovo. As a Congressman, Senator and Vice President, Gore was always identified with the hawkish wing of the party.

But times have changed as has the former Veep. Gore must now see this vacuum on the left and view it as inviting. Nixon waited eight years for his comeback. After two terms of Bush, might Gore think his time has come?

Admittedly, the claim about what Gore would have done with respect to Iraq is an unknowable counterfactual. But it is exceptionally implausible, and certainly cannot be inferred from the fact that he had favored strong military interventions in the past. I have no doubt that Gore would have favored strong military action against Al Qaeda, but of course this is irrelevant to the question of whether he would have “tangled with Saddam.” And then, of course, there’s the imputation of his motives; according to Wittmann, he must have opposed the Iraq War out of opportunism, even though he wasn’t actually running for anything in 2004. Maybe it would help if I put it in boldface:

The Iraq war was not, in any way, logically connected to 9/11, and the arguments that it was in the national interest of the United States are highly contestable. It is entirely possible to have opposed the Iraq War without being a pacifist, unless the term “hawk” is tautologically defined as “anyone who reflexively supports the foreign policy of the Bush administration.”

On the other topic of the post, like Yglesias and Atrios, I’m quite intrigued by the possibility of a Gore candidacy in ’08; I would, given what I know now, certainly vote for him over Clark or Clinton or (of course) Biden. Julie dissents.
(I actually agree with Julie that the substantive merits of Gore’s foreign policy will be irrelevant to public or media reception, but I think that this applies to all the candidates.)

Self-congratulation In the Wake of Coathangers

[ 0 ] July 27, 2005 |

I fear will going to see more of the type of argument made by Ted Rall:

In a sick way, the end of Roe v. Wade may turn out to be a net positive for America. For one thing, Roe was a legally dubious decision based on flawed constitutional logic. Rather than pass abortion rights into law, 14 cowardly congresses and seven weasely presidents have relied on the 1973 ruling to avoid taking political fire from the Bible-thumpers.

Besides, a party-line overturning of Roe would validate years of liberal prophecies that the right plans to take away our freedoms. Every news story about a cheerleader bleeding to death in an Alabama high school locker room will remind Americans, especially the women who make up an increasing share of the swing vote, that the fundamentalist Christianists are happy to replace the necessary evil of legalized abortion with the optional horror of despair.

Oh, sure, overturning Roe will mean that many women will die, and be maimed, and have their lives irrevocably changed because the state compels them to bear a child. But Ted Rall will have been right, and really, isn’t that what counts? And, of course, this disgusting heighten-the-contradictions nonsense is made more hateful by the fact that the tradeoff is being made by someone whose own rights wouldn’t be affected by criminalizing abortion.

By the same logic, I could say it’s great that Bush has turned out to be exactly the reactionary he appeared to be in 2000 and has enacted many awful policies because it exposes people like Rall who claimed that the election didn’t matter as know-nothings who didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, but obviously this would be reprehensible. I’m not happy that I was right and Rall was wrong, and the same goes for claiming that overturning Roe would be good because it will validate the predictions of people (who don’t actually stand to be personally harmed.)

(Link via Lauren.)

The Unbearable Illogic of the "Pro-Lifer"

[ 0 ] July 27, 2005 |

I wish that I disagreed with e-Robin’s argument that the Dems will not make sufficient hay out of Milt Romney’s veto of legislation that would increase access to morning-after contraception, but alas I fear she’s right. Democrats should be tying Roe to Griswold and making the broader Republican agenda against reproductive rights clear, but for the time being the idea that Democrats should run trembling from all “cultural issues” no matter how overwhelming the majority the Democratic position commands seems to be deeply ingrained.

It is worth noting, however, how incoherent and unprincipled Romney’s position is:

Though described by its sponsors as a measure relating to contraception, there is more to it than that. The bill does not involve only the prevention of conception: The drug it authorizes would also terminate life after conception. Signing such a measure into law would violate the promise I made to the citizens of Massachusetts when I ran for governor. I pledged that I would not change our abortion laws either to restrict abortion or to facilitate it.

Now, I’m not sure what medical experts he was talking to–David Hager, maybe? But say, entirely for the sake of argument, let’s say that in rare circumstances EC can act as an abortifacient. Would restricting access to EC reduce the net number of abortions? Of course not–it is virtually certain that more women denied EC will get abortions than women using EC will have “abortions.” And that’s not the worst of it: there’s also the stem-cell problem. If EC causes the death of what Romney considers to be a human being, then shouldn’t it be, you know, banned? Instead, Romney argues that it should be legal, but available only through a prescription. Obviously, this doesn’t make any sense; I don’t think most murder laws permit you to get a state license that makes it OK. And, in addition, the effect of making EC prescription-only is to severely restrict EC along class lines, an inevitable feature of all Republican reproductive policies. Unless someone can explain how fetuses stop being “babies” when they are in the bodies of rich women, these policies remain uniformly indefensible.

At the end of the op-ed, Romney also essays the “everything would be easy without Roe” argument (“A federalist approach would allow such disputes to be settled by the citizens and elected representatives of each state, and appropriately defer to democratic governance.”) A useful reminder that progressives who go along with this faulty argument are the useful idiots of opponents of abortion rights.

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