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Archive for October, 2006


[ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

Baltar is on the case.

Going to be in Louisville, Saturday night.


Who Cares What Anthony Would Do?

[ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

Amanda Marcotte calls our attention to this excellent piece by Stacy Schiff, who debunks claims that Susan B. Anthony was a supporter of abortion bans. I find it particularly interesting because Anthony was able to ask questions about whether abortion bans actually accomplish anything even if you agree with the end of inhibiting abortions, a distinction which eludes most contemporary opponents of abortion rights.

Still, there’s another question here: what difference would it make if Anthony had supported abortion laws? With respect to Lincoln, Mark Graber recently pointed out:

Many American political and constitutional arguments have something close to the following structure. 1) The following political action/constitutional understanding is wise, benevolent, and prudent. 2) Abraham Lincoln must have favored that political action/constitutional understanding because Abraham Lincoln was a wise, benevolent, and prudent leader. 3) We ought to adopt that policy because Abraham Lincoln favored that policy. I take it that premise 1) does all the work in this argument and that 2) and 3) are just window dressing, accoutrements of American political rhetoric.

The conclusion is obviously correct, as the example of Anthony further demonstrates. Will a single pro-lifer change their position even if made aware that Anthony really didn’t agree with them? I rather doubt it. Would hearing that Anthony supported abortion laws 150 years ago convince a pro-choicer that state-coerced pregnancy is a good idea? It certainly shouldn’t. We see this through 20th century political leaders as well. The greatest progressive president from the standpoint of domestic policy was Lyndon Johnson, who also presided over the Vietnam catastrophe. His only serious contender for the title, FDR, not only put people in concentration camps based on their race but was in general probably indifferent about civil rights above and beyond his debts to the segregationists in the Democratic coalition. Even the best public figures, for various reasons, get things horribly wrong, and using the accomplishments to provide an independent justification for the mistakes is silly. Even if Anthony had opposed legal abortion (in a context in which abortion was an extremely dangerous procedure, women were second-class legal citizens and third-class economic citizens, etc. etc.), that wouldn’t be a good reason to support abortion laws now, any more than Lincoln justifies political corruption or FDR justifies racist internment policies or LBJ justifies disastrous wars. Invoking beloved political figures may be useful rhetoric, but as an argument on the merits it’s neither here nor there.


[ 0 ] October 15, 2006 |

Pithlord attempts to answer the unanswerable question of how people can believe that abortion is a serious criminal offense, but that the person most responsible for the act should be entirely exempt from legal sanctions. He claims that everyone, in some circumstances, believes these three premises:

*X is wrong.

*X should be legally suppressed.

*Not everyone involved in X should be subject to criminal sanction.

In the abstract, I suppose this is true; there may be reasons for specific sanctions to apply to some individual rather than others. But this is just the beginning of an argument; that such distinctions are logically possible doesn’t justify them in any particular case. And here there are all kinds of problems. To begin with, his analogy to illegal immigration is quite problematic. Leaving aside whether people think that illegal immigrants should be entirely exempt from legal sanctions–how many people believe that?–in matters concerning economic regulation in the post-Lochner era our laws in many respects (correctly) assume that employers have vastly more leverage than employees, and hence the law accepts distinctions that correct for this power differential. In areas of criminal law more analogous to abortion–which, if it is criminalized, represents a violent act–I think you’d be very hard-pressed to find a similar exemption; I certainly can’t think of one. And I, for one, do not think that the relationship between doctors and women is analogous to relationships between employers and employees.

Which brings us to the bigger problem. First of all, my claim that abortion opponents make anachronistic assumptions about the agency of women was not just a matter of formal logic; as we saw in the South Dakota task force, pro-lifers make these claims explicitly, and when the laws that exempted women from punishment were first enacted such assumptions were pervasive. And even more importantly, Pithlord conspicuously fails to identify a reason why women should be excluded from abortion statutes. If there a lot of “prudential and moral reasons” for exempting women from punishment that don’t involve reactionary assumptions about women, well, let’s hear ’em. With respect to illegal immigration, it’s not at all difficult–most importantly, under current economic conditions it’s impossible to control the supply of immigrants, making sanctions that focus on employers much more necessary. Abortion laws that didn’t punish women, conversely, were extremely ineffective. Moreover–and I have yet to have any pro-lifer come up with any response for this–given the technological advances the ability of women to perform self-abortions would be much greater than it was in 1970, and yet such abortions would be entirely excluded. Why? As far as I can tell, the prudential reasons (at least those that don’t involve political prudence, which just restate the problem in a different form) are weak, and the moral reasons for the distinction are non-existent. At any rate, the burden of proof is clearly on those who would justify treating women who get abortions differently than most people who commit acts of violence, and if there are reasons that don’t involve sexist assumptions they would seem to be one of the best-kept secrets in our political discourse.

Title IX

[ 0 ] October 15, 2006 |

The presumption of male privilege is rarely declared so openly as when ignorant people begin yodeling about Title IX, which Congress passed in 1972 to counteract the self-evident gender disparities throughout the education system. Consider the latest cry for gender equity from E.M. Swift of Sports Illustrated:

Look, Title IX was needed in 1972. And it worked brilliantly. But the world has changed. I was a junior in college when it was passed. Now my son is a senior in college. A generation has elapsed, and women’s sports are here to stay. Thank God and Title IX.

But because of Title IX’s unintended consequences, in 2006 the law is causing more harm than good. Women’s sports are no longer on life support. They are vibrant, popular, well-funded and growing. They can be taken off the endangered-species list.

Almost nothing Swift has to say here is either relevant or factually correct. The McGuffin for Swift’s outrage, interestingly, was the decision by my undergraduate alma mater, James Madison University, to cut ten varsity sports (seven of which were men’s teams) to reach compliance with the “substantial proportionality” requirements of Title IX. That decision has evidently set the campus alight with rage, stoked by Jessica Gavora of the National Review among other parties, all of whom (like Swift) promote the errant nonsense that Title IX was “legitimate” in its time but that it has “outlived its usefulness” to such a degree that male athletes are endangered by “reverse discrimination.” (As an alumnus of JMU who remembers the late 1980s — when members of the football team ran a massive gambling operation, when members of the golf team attacked dorm-mates of mine with their putters and sand wedges, and the athletic department became the laughing stock of the mid-Atlantic by hiring Lefty Dreisell as basketball coach after he obstructed the investigation of Len Bias’ cocaine overdose — I can honestly say that the elimination of men’s varsity teams does not trouble me in the least. And Scott Norwood is a graduate of JMU, for chrissakes. But those are my personal views, and I can separate them, I think, from what I see as fair policies.)

As for Swift’s observation that Title IX “was needed” in 1972, nothing could be less obvious. At the time, for instance, women were awarded fewer than 10% of available spots in medical and law schools and earned less than one out of every four doctoral degrees in the US. The University of Virginia, he major public university in my own home state, began admitting women on an equal basis in 1970, the year I was born. Though the 1972 amendments covered all aspects of academic life, most of the hot air disgorged on this issue has emphasized its consequences for collegiate athletics. Swift might be surprised to learn that opposition to Title IX commenced almost instantaneously, before it could have the “brilliant” effects Swift claims to have observed over his lifetime. Since the 1970s, opposition to Title IX developed alongside other movements to curtail redistributive social and economic programs. Congressional efforts to limit the scope of Title IX were routinely raised (and defeated) during the 1970s, and a broader conservative campaign against Title IX has argued that the law has already achieved its goals and that it — like affirmative action, social welfare, the Clean Water Act and so forth — needs to be dismantled. No one, of course, argues that women don’t deserve equal access to higher education and is amenities; but the effects of freezing the enforcement of Title IX (which is what its opponents seek) would preserve the inequities that do in fact exist between women’s and men’s collegiate athletic programs.

For instance, in 2001 Division 1-A men’s college athletic programs spent more than twice the money on men’s programs ($10.9 million) as they spent on women’s ($4.6 million); universities spend an average of $34,000 for each male athlete, compared with about $20,000 for each female athlete. While it’s true that spending on women’s programs has grown at a faster rate than men’s since the 1980s, the overall growth of men’s programs has not — contrary to anti-Title IX mythology — been hampered. Throughout all NCAA divisions, 61 men’s teams were added between 1988-2002. While 174 Division I teams were euthanized, Division III schools added 212 teams Division II schools added just under two dozen. (The truly devoted can read 2002 and 2003 gender equity reports in .pdf form here and here. While improvements have been made since 1972, women are still at an unquestionable disadvantage by every objective measure.)

None of this matter, though, to opponents of gender equity who refuse to be intellectually honest about what they actually want.

People Who Take Ann Althouse Seriously: Not to be Taken Seriously

[ 0 ] October 15, 2006 |

About this awful HufPost article, Feministing collectively says all that needs to be said, with an Abstract Nonsense chaser. But it makes one useful contribution–pushing Ann Althouse to a level of self-parody she had not previously reached (which, frankly, I would have thought impossible.) Laments La Althouse: “Fifteen years ago, feminists critiquing each other was an important part of feminism. Now, doggedly serving liberal partisan politics squelches everything that could become vital.” Yes, if you examine the feminist blogosphere today, one thing you’ll notice is that feminists are completely unwilling to engage in critiques of each other. (In fairness, she would be right not to count the many critiques of her post: feminists criticizing an anti-feminist is a different category.)

Let me explain: people didn’t criticize your claims that wearing a knit sweater to a meeting with an ex-president with a relatively strong feminist policy record is somehow anti-feminist because they’re against feminists being criticized in principle, but because your arguments were asinine and mean-spirited. If you want serious engagement with feminists, I would suggest not saying to an (actual) feminist, in these words, to “go ahead, tart up your website with boobies for now.” (Yep, “tart.”) Claiming that having an obvious parody of a sexist symbol and a T-Shirt ad constitutes “breastblogging” is stupid and insulting (and clearly even Althouse doesn’t take it seriously, since she’s not willing to criticize fellow conservatives who do the same thing.) Claiming that a group photo where the short people are in front and the tall people in the back must have been arranged to show off a young woman’s breasts makes no sense, and going on to speculate that NARAL’s house blogger might have been invited to the meetup as part of an elaborate ruse to get Bill Clinton laid is deranged. Your complaints about feminists not being willing to engage in an argument will be sneered at when you explicitly refuse to engage with the significant amount of substantive critiques you generated will be justly laughed at. And the idea of anybody listening to lectures about the purity of other people’s feminist credentials from somebody who took to the pages of the New York Times to write an evidence-free op-ed urging the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee who is not only a steadfast opponent of women’s rights in a context in which many crucial rights are hanging by a vote or two but belonged to an organization determined to keep women out of Princeton is absolutely risible. Is that critique enough for you?

…The Althouse method of “engagement” summarized neatly here.

Billmon is Making Sense

[ 0 ] October 15, 2006 |

Everybody gets a swing at VD Hanson.

There’s more truth about the war in Iraq in the worst paragraph Tom Ricks ever wrote, on his worst day as a reporter, than there is in all the deluded crap that Victor Davis Hanson has churned out over the past three and half years, at the National Review and elsewhere. I haven’t read any of Hanson’s books, so I’m not qualified to pass judgment on the quality of his footnotes, but if he’s supposed to be the example of a “real” historian, then I guess Henry Ford was right: history is bunk.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Vanguard

[ 1 ] October 15, 2006 |

One of Jackie Fisher’s goofier schemes involved a trio of light cruisers armed with enormous weapons. The idea was that shallow draft ships with heavy guns could operate in the Baltic and support landings on the German coast. To this end, the Royal Navy constructed Courageous, Glorious, and Furious. Courageous and Glorious each carried 4 15″ guns to two twin turrets, while Furious was to carry 2 18″ (!) guns in two single turrets. The operation was not practical, and was eventually abandoned. Furious was converted into the world’s first aircraft carrier, soon to be followed by her two half-sisters. This left 4 twin 15″ turrets lying about, guns which couldn’t be used on new ships because of the Washington Naval Treaty. Gun turrets are among the most expensive and diffcult to construct parts of a battleship, however, so they were retained in the hope of future use.

In 1939, the Royal Navy decided to complement the King George V and Lion class battleships with a ship designed to carry the old 15″ guns. Intended for use in the Pacific, the ship would be fast enough to catch and powerful enough to destroy the Japanese Kongo class battlecruisers. The design went through several evolutions (at one point the Royal Navy declared that the ship would be a replacement for HMS Royal Oak, sunk by U-47 in 1939) before the keel was finally laid in 1941. Work proceeded slowly, and Vanguard was not finally completed until late 1946. Last battleship built by the Royal Navy, Vanguard carried 8 15″ guns, displaced about 50000 tons, and could make 30 knots. Only Iowa and Yamato were larger, but numerous battleships carried a more heavy armament. Vanguard was well armored and an excellent seaboat, but because of her light main battery she likely would have fared poorly against the other super-fast battleships. In the pictures, note that the 15″ turrets are dwarfed by Vanguard’s great size.

Completed after the war, Vanguard didn’t see much action. In 1947 she carried the King, Queen, and a young Princess Elizabeth on a Royal visit to South Africa. Vanguard was placed in reserve in 1956. After efforts to preserve her as a museum failed (why would the UK preserve Vanguard instead of Duke of York or King George V?), she was scrapped in 1960.

(Images courtesy of HMS Vanguard)

Trivia: What dreadnought owning state have I not yet discussed?


[ 0 ] October 14, 2006 |

Rodger asks, “How would readers feel about adding these sets of questions to graduate school comprehensive exams in international relations?”

Some powers proudly announce their production of second and third generation nuclear weapons. What do they need these weapons for? Is the development and stockpiling of these deadly weapons designed to promote peace and democracy? Or are these weapons, in fact, instruments of coercion and threat against other peoples and governments?

How long should the people of the world live with the nightmare of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons? To what length can powers producing and possessing these weapons go? How can they be held accountable before the international community? And, are the inhabitants of these countries content with waste resulting from the use of their wealth and resources for the production of destructive arsenals?

Is it not possible to rely on justice, ethics and wisdom instead of on instruments of death? Aren’t wisdom and justice more compatible with peace and tranquility than nuclear, chemical and biological weapons?

Interesting questions, from an interesting source. Go see…

Blood on the Tracshel

[ 0 ] October 14, 2006 |

A homerun on an 0-2 pitch to…Jeff Suppan? Christ, he’s terrible. (But at least he’s a quick worker!) Obviously, a long way to go, but…

Alas, for coverage of Game 2, you’ll have to turn to Roy–in a shocking betrayal of every principle I’ve ever stood for, I decided to go to a friend’s birthday party last night. (I would almost have reason to be proud if I didn’t keep everyone waiting trying to get a score at the futuristic rice pudding place.) When I got on the subway, all seemed well…I hope the Game 2 collapse isn’t the fateful turning point.

…Ack, 5-0. Let’s check out Hockey Night In Canada…oooh, nice play by Iginla! When did Cassie Campbell start doing color?

Gillo Pontecorvo, 1919-2006

[ 0 ] October 13, 2006 |
Best known for The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo died yesterday in Rome. I watched this film again this past summer, a delayed reaction to this post written by Rob a year ago. The “Three Women/Three Bombs” sequence — from which this clip is taken — is among the most remarkable pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever seen.

Hack…and Proud of It!

[ 0 ] October 13, 2006 |

Not surprisingly, the recent Lancet study has lead to a plague of unremitting hackdom. One of these hacks, however, has proudly claimed his rightful title. I give him points for honesty, at any rate!

Make sure to see this from DeLong as well.

Can This Argument Be Saved?

[ 0 ] October 13, 2006 |

In response to my claim that the exemption of women from punishment under laws banning abortion is fatally incoherent, a commenter here (as a TAPPED commenter did earlier) invokes Ronald Dworkin’s argument that abortion is a “cosmic shame” that nonetheless doesn’t rise to the level of murder. The commenter says:

I have some sympathy for that argument even though I don’t accept the premise (that abortion is at least morally problematic because it shows “disrespect for life”.) Dworkin argues that this is really the position of most abortion opponents- that they do not in fact think that abortion is murder, and that they don’t think this is shown through their actions. That part seems exactly right…If you have a position like this it doesn’t seem implausible that one might think that abortion should be illegal, but might still think that those having abortions should not punished. I don’t find that an attractive option myself, and hope I’d not find it to be one even if I did think that abortion showed disrespect for life, but it’s not an incoherent one.

The problem is that adopting Dworkin’s position makes things worse, not better, for pro-lifers:

–Fundamental reproductive rights have been entrenched for decades, in decisions that have no chance of being overturned. Whatever its other defects, the “seamless web” argument that fetuses are comparable to babies offers a compelling justification for overriding these rights. An inchoate sense that abortion reflects disrespect for life but not in a way that is comparable to murder, much less so. Most people are ambivalent about abortion, but there is no effective way of writing these moral ambivalences into legislative enactments. As Dworkin argues, once you’ve conceded that abortion is more of a “morals” issue like adultery, it becomes almost impossible to justify criminalization.

–The exclusion of women from punishment under statutes justified by such rationales is every bit as incoherent as it is under claims that abortion is comparable to murder. Once the criminal law is involved, there’s simply no good reason to exclude women from punishment that is applied to doctors unless you don’t believe that women are moral agents, period. (It would also remove any legal stigma from self-administered abortions, although such abortions are not in any way morally different.) Dworkin’s rationale might justify lower penalties in general, but provides no basis whatsoever for excluding the woman primarily responsible for the act from punishments that are applied to the person she hires.

–Finally, an absolutely inevitable consequence of abortion laws enacted under such a rationale is that these laws will be enforced in an egregiously arbitrary manner (as was the case in the United States pre-Roe.) In practice, seeing abortion as justifiable in some circumstances but not others will mean that it’s justifiable when you choose to get one but not necessarily when others get them — which means that abortion access comes down to power, not finely drawn moral distinctions. Criminalizing abortion really means abortion-on-demand for affluent women and very limited access to safe abortions for poor women, which is both unfair and completely incoherent, unless somebody wants to argue that abortion is less of a “cosmic shame” when a fetus is in an affluent woman’s body.

The argument that most pro-lifers don’t really see abortion as comparable to murder (which, as was the point of my argument, is certainly correct) makes their position weaker, not stronger. Seeing abortion as a difficult, ambiguous moral problem makes criminalizing abortion almost impossible to defend if any value is placed on reproductive autonomy at all.

[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]

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