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Archive for April, 2007

Fox News Effect

[ 0 ] April 30, 2007 |

Kevin Drum and I have the same question about this Pew Poll:

Democrats and Republicans rate the Republican candidates almost identically, but they differ quite strongly in their ratings of the Democratic candidates. I’m not quite sure what this means.

Could this be a Fox News effect? Republican candidates get more or less the same coverage on Fox News as they do from reputable media outlets. The difference is with the Democrats; Fox News launches into jihads against every Democratic candidate of substance with almost hilarious regularity. As there is no corresponding left-wing news organization, this results in a situation in which Democrats have about the same attitudes of Republican candidates as Republicans do, while Fox-obsessed Republicans believe that Democrats are socialist radicals.

Anyway, I don’t think that the perception that Dem candidates are more extreme than Republican candidates is anything to worry about. The most radical man in American, according to the poll, is Bill Clinton; looks as if the much vaunted move to the center didn’t really take. Didn’t seem to matter that much, though.

As Previously Noted…

[ 0 ] April 30, 2007 |

…the acceptance of an ad doesn’t indicate endorsement of its content. If you want to give some cash to the Duke lacrosse boys, go ahead; off the top of my head, I can think of a few hundred more deserving recipients of your charity, but nevertheless.

It’s Annoying Abortion Contrarian Day!

[ 0 ] April 30, 2007 |

Will Saletan has many of the annoying tics of the blue-state male abortion “centrist” that dominates editorial discourse on the topic, such as viewing national elections as referenda on abortion, and originating policies that prominent pro-choicers have been advocating for decades. His latest entry into the field (via A Bird and A Bottle, which has excellent commentary) returns to one of his favorite tactics, trying to infer unassailable moral premises from scientific facts (or, in some cases, “facts”) that don’t in fact lead to any particular moral conclusion. Today, he defends state-coerced ultrasounds for irrational, capricious women who otherwise just don’t know that abortion is a serious decision:

Pro-lifers are often caricatured as stupid creationists who just want to put women back in their place. Science and free inquiry are supposed to help them get over their “love affair with the fetus.” But science hasn’t cooperated. Ultrasound has exposed the life in the womb to those of us who didn’t want to see what abortion kills. The fetus is squirming, and so are we.

Um, what do you mean “we,” contrarian pundit? One the first point about putting women back in there place, don’t take my word for it; take the Supreme Court’s, and then ask why the ways in which abortion regulations are actually written and enforced are inconsistent with protecting fetal life but perfectly consistent with regulating female sexuality. As for the second point, “science” does nothing to resolve the moral and political debate here. Most women are, I think, aware that fetuses are alive. As for whether this fact means that fetal life should trump a woman’s reproductive freedom, this is neither here nor there. After all, “pro-lifers” have access to the same ultrasound data and are certainly aware that fetuses are alive, and yet most of them aren’t willing to act as if abortion is taking a human life, so I’m not sure what I should. To top it off, Saletan argues that if we force women to obtain ultrasounds we can “trust” women to be rational, which seems to mean “agreeing with William Saletan:”

Now the Supreme Court has echoed that equivocation, ruling that one way to “inform” women of the evil of partial-birth abortion is to criminalize it. But the clash between ultrasound and the partial-birth ban is ultimately a choice between information and prohibition. To trust the ultrasound, you have to trust the woman.

Or, you know, we could “trust” the woman by allowing her to make reproductive choices based on the information she sees fit to use, some of whom might actually reach different conclusions than Sage Saletan. Anyway, my question: I assume in his next column, Saletan will argue that men should have to watch explicit videos of liver transplants before they’re allowed to obtain one? After all, they’re totally gross to watch, which must mean they’re immoral! I would trust that men will do the right thing and not obtain them once given the appropriate guidance from the state.

…UPDATE: More from Jessica and Echidne.

…and Zuzu.

Out of Hand?

[ 0 ] April 30, 2007 |

Media Czech:

A straight-A student in Illinois was arrested for writing a violent essay in a creative writing class. It was an assignment in which the teacher specifically instructed the students to not censor themselves.

Oh, and he was Asian.

So I guess we start arresting kids whose imagination comes up with icky things.

Indeed. Thinking back, that 80 page Red Storm Rising style techno-thriller that I penned in 8th grade homeroom might have gotten me into some trouble. But this is particularly funny:

I was 16 and we were on our last day of week long standards testing. My friend and I were incredibly bored and decided to see who could write the funnier essay. Pretty stupid, but hey, we were 16. Anyway, the essay was to write a letter to the superintendent that proposed a solution to the dastardly problem of tardiness in schools. I decided to write from the point of view of an obviously crazy person who took it way too seriously, advocating a progressive scale of torture for each offense, all in proper writing format. We laughed and didn’t think much of it. However, they sent it back to my school counselor, saying that I was a threat to myself and others. The counselor, knowing me well, knew that wasn’t true and told me she got a big laugh out of the essay.

They don’t send you to the counselor anymore for that kind of thinking, Joe. They either give you a job at the Justice Department, or with the Weekly Standard.

Abortion "Contrarianism"–Still Wrong

[ 0 ] April 30, 2007 |

It must be said that Ben Wittes’s inevitable defense of Carhart II is somewhat less objectionable than his typical writing on the subject, if only by virtue of its incoherence. He labels the rank sexism of Kennedy’s opinion “absurd,” and even concedes that “in some respects, it’s a big win for anti-abortion activists.” (Of course, he’s now on the record as claiming that Carhart II might have at least some negative impact on a woman’s right to choose an abortion, while overturning Roe entirely would have a positive impact. I would try explain this, but I lack the ability to make heads or tails of the High Contrarian logic that is desirable if you want to write about abortion for most of the nation’s primary op-ed pages.) Still, his bottom-line claim that the Court’s rejection of a facial claim against Congress’ arbitrary regulation of abortion is likely to prove “constructive” requires evading virtually all of the problematic aspects of the opinion:

  • It’s nice that he calls out the Court for its sexist assumptions, but he then treats Kennedy’s assumptions about the deficient decision-making capacities of women as essentially meaningless dicta, when in fact without them the entire case for upholding the statute collapses. Casey identified two state interests that may be advanced through abortion regulations (so long as they do not constitute an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion): the protection of fetal life and the protection of a woman’s health. The PBA ban has no connection at all to the former–the government conceded at oral argument that it would not prevent any abortion from occurring–and even if one credulously defers to Congress’ findings that 2+2=13 at best the procedure is neutral to women’s health unless one assumes that women are unable to rationally make this choice for themselves. Kennedy’s sexism isn’t merely incidental–it’s the meat of his argument, and Wittes certainly doesn’t deign to share with us what other connection with a legitimate state interest could make the burden imposed by the state “due.” Worse, if one accepts the premise that preventing women from obtaining abortions is an acceptable means of saving them from themselves, it’s not clear what abortion regulation Casey could possibly proscribe.
  • Wittes’ discussion of the theoretical possibility the Court holds out of a successful as-applied challenge also makes little sense. I’ve discussed the importance of this issue to abortion cases in detail here and here, but Wittes doesn’t sufficiently grapple with a couple of important points. First of all, while it’s true that denying facial challenges before seeing if a statute has unconstitutional applications makes sense in many areas of the law, it’s inappropriate to apply it to abortion cases for an obvious reason: biology prevents the status quo in abortion cases from being frozen legally. Surely, as Ginsburg says, Kennedy cannot mean that a doctor waits until she has a woman in her office ready to perform surgery before she can apply for an injunction, but as Wittes acknowledges Kennedy sheds no light at all on what it could mean. If what is needed is evidence that the procedure is necessary in certain cases, this case is as good as any; at least two Circuit courts have already determined that there is. Are doctors supposed to risk legal harassment and/or prosecution by performing the the procedure when they determine it’s necessary to build a factual case? If not, what abstract evidence is good enough? He also, of course, essentially ignores the immense financial burden having to prove that individual applications of every abortion regulation are unconstitutional on pro-choice litigators, and the burden that will exist (especially on poor women) in the meantime.
  • Moreover, Wittes is asking us to believe that a Court majority whose most moderate member wrote an opinion rife with hostility towards not only abortion but to women in general is likely to adjudicate future as-applied challenges in good faith rather than turning challenges into a Kafkaseque maze in which no challenge is ever quite specific enough. Let’s just say that the next time that Wittes is involved in a high-stakes poker game, I hope he gives me a call.
  • And finally, the opinion concludes by claiming with his trademark argument that the decision “could let some of the air out of the balloon” of the abortion debate. Even leaving aside the question of why a mild attenuation of conflict should be preferred to the just outcome, I remain unable to follow the logic here. Apparently anti-choice groups will be less likely to pursue, and anti-choice legislators less likely to pass, incremental restrictions on the ability of poor women to obtain abortions despite the fact that the Court has signaled that the Casey standard will be almost entirely toothless when evaluating anything short of a ban and that challenging such regulations will be a bewildering, enormously expensive exercise because…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!

So despite the qualifications this remains the same old vinegary contrarian wine in a slightly cleaner bottle. Wittes, again, is asking us to move toward a compromise in the abortion debate by preserving the rights of women who will have access to abortion no matter what while sacrificing the women whose rights are actually at stake. Don’t buy it. He may be fooled by the clever, slow-motion gutting of Roe by the Court’s conservative wing, but you shouldn’t be.

[Also at TAPPED.]


[ 0 ] April 30, 2007 |

Ralph Luker tapped LG&M with a Thinking Blogger Award” — this in spite of the fact that (as he explains) we “beat the c**p out of me the first time I left a comment over there.” I must have missed that thread, but Ralph’s advice to commenters to “come prepared” seems appropriate. I’m not much for genuine thought these days (as my recent links to Dutch kiddie pop would suggest), but LG&M’s commenters are responsible as much as anyone for whatever thinking takes place here. More importantly, they are relentless enforcers of party discipline, cudgeling dissenters and slathering them in pig manure, hot tar and goose feathers.

With that in mind, I’m going to break the rules of the meme. Rather than link to five sites here (as Rob did in February when he was tapped), I’ll just encourage readers to leave “Thinking Blog” suggestions in comments. Aside from Althouse, what blogs to you read that actually make you, like — you know, think about stuff?

Book Review: Redemption

[ 1 ] April 30, 2007 |

Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, focuses on the activity of Adelbert Ames, a former Union officer who became governor of Mississippi during Reconstruction. Ames presided, unwillingly, over the collapse of Reconstruction in his state. We often think of the failure of Reconstruction as a tragedy, but Lemann carefully details the literal butchery through which the white supremacist state that was the American South was created and enforced after 1870.

The central white supremacist strategy of Reconstruction was to argue that black mobs were on the very verge of launching orgies of rape and destruction against helpless white populations in a variety of Southern towns. Of course, such orgies were virtually non-existent, but they did serve as pretext for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of brutal massacres perpetrated by heavily armed white Southerners. The Union military presence in the South significantly ameliorated this problem, as white Southerners were unwilling to confront regular United States Army units in a combat situation. This meant that, in large part, the civil rights of black Southerners depended on the willingness of the North to exert military force in the Southern states.

It would be wrong to say that no will for the exertion of such force existed in the North. No one in the North wanted to believe that the sacrifices of the Civil War had been in vain; over 350000 Northerners had died to save the United States from the depredations of the white Southern slaveholding elite. Little sympathy existed in the North for that elite, but the political will necessary to enforce Reconstruction was also limited. The defense of Reconstruction didn’t cost all so much in the way of blood, but it did require considerable treasure, and it endangered Republican electoral prospects. Adelbert Ames was forced to deal with both with white Mississipians who resisted Reconstruction in every way they knew how, and with the Grant administration, which could only do so much to support the Union occupation of the South. Republican victory in the South depended on black voting, but black voting rights were difficult to enforce, and the price of enforcement was votes in Ohio.

In the end, of course, white Southerners were able to outlast the willingness of the North to enforce racial equality. African-American elites were co-opted or eliminated. Northerners slowly but surely became unwilling to enforce Reconstruction. As each state in the South flipped, it became progressively more difficult to defend black equality in the rest. White supremacist mobs could take refuge across state lines, and the “White Line” gave moral support to supremacists who wanted to overthrow the new order in their particular locality. In the end, the areas of racial equality winked out, one by one, until the 1876 compromise ensured that the North would not interfere in the efforts of white Southerners to create and enforce an apartheid state. Lemann details all of this, in a depressing narrative that describes the destruction of democracy in Mississippi.

Redemption inevitably brings to mind the question of the treatment of the Confederate elite following the Civil War. The Confederate elite were well-represented in the forces that successfully fought Reconstruction, and provided leadership for the resistance movement. Had the North decided on a policy that was more punishment-oriented, much of this elite might have either hanged or served long prison sentences. It’s unclear how much of an effect this would have had on the resistance. The pre-emptive elimination of elite leadership can substantially weaken an insurgency, but the tactic doesn’t always work. It’s also unclear to me how critical the Confederate elite were to the political conflict of Reconstruction. Without a slaveholding elite, the Civil War never happens; the war was not particularly popular among non-slaveholding whites, who were often brutally conscripted into Confederate armies and who deserted whenever the opportunity presented itself. However, to say that the cause of slavery wasn’t worth a war to lower class Southern whites is NOT the same a saying that they would have willingly accepted Reconstruction and the promise of African-American equality. Purging the Confederate elite might have forestalled resistance, but it would not have solved the basic political problem of black emancipation amongst a hostile white populace. On the other hand, purging the Confederate elite might have served to even up the conflict in the South, such that African-Americans and their allies in the Union Army and the Federal government could have enforced black equality.

Could a more vigorous punishment policy have made the situation in the South even worse? The Southern insurgency, in both its Klan and post-Klan iterations, focused on attacking African-Americans instead of attacking Union troops deployed in the South. At the end of the war, the Confederate elite decided against continuing the conflict through guerilla tactics. A punishment policy might have altered this decision, and might have eliminated what eventually became an important brake on violence in the South. Wealthy, propertied elites, as a general rule, don’t favor disruptive guerilla conflict, which is one reason the Confederate elite essentially held to conventional tactics throughout the war. It’s possible that a combination of resentment over the punishment policy and the absence of the segment of white Southern society most reluctant to engage in a full insurgency might have produced widespread violent resistance to Union control. Now, given how badly Reconstruction went for African-Americans anyway, it’s perhaps a bit perverse to argue that this would have been a “worse” outcome, but it’s possible to construct a narrative in which the situation in the South would have grown even bloodier.

On these final points, I’m reminded of David Levering Lewis’ discussion of Reconstruction and early Jim Crow in his wonderful two part biography of W.E.B. Dubois. The embrace of the Booker T. Washington programme by the white Southern elite seems to amount essentially to an attempted alliance between upper class blacks and upper class whites, aimed at least partially against lower class whites. It didn’t work out, in part because upper class whites never really restrained lower class whites, and in part because property and economic rights are indefensible without civil rights and the protection of law. It’s interesting to think about whether or how this deal might have gone down if elements of the Southern white aristocracy had been eviscerated after the Civil War. I’m sure there’s some excellent work on the class/race structure of the South after Reconstruction, and I don’t doubt that our fine resident historians have a good grasp on the literature…

One Out Of Two

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

I must concede that I have absolutely no idea who Kit Carson is. (Admittedly, I grew up in Canada–even my details about the Alamo are fuzzy–but Kieran says that’s no excuse.) On the other hand, I can take a modicum of pride in the fact that I have never gone hiking in a blazer. Although I was traumatized for many years by an arduous cross-country ski trip with my classmates where my backpack kept falling apart every 10 minutes so I was an hour behind everyone else…

Caveats on the American Way of War

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

A couple of minor caveats regarding Yglesias’ discussion of the use of artillery in Iraq:

1. There’s a risk to taking the “American Way of War” a bit too seriously; the character and nature of the United States Army prior to 1900 is radically different than what we grew to accept in the 20th century. The Army prior to 1900 was primarily an anti-guerilla force, and one that was comfortable with the political role that Jeff Record argues has grown beyond its ken. For a number of reasons, not least the desire to heal intra-service rifts following the Civil War, the model had changed by the 20th century.

2. As Record helpfully points out, the Marine Corps has never fit the mold of high firepower, high tech, high intensity war organization. The role of the Marine Corps has shifted over the years, but it has consistently had more expertise and more success in low intensity conflicts than the Army.

3. Consequently, it’s wrong to think that there’s something intrinsically problematic about American counter-insurgency operations. The Army has handled such operations in the past, and the Marine Corps has conducted such operations on and off since its inception. The problem with the Army is the organizational culture that has developed over the last century, but this culture is subject to change, if only slowly.

And to respond a bit to this comment, I think it’s absolutely wrong to say that counter-insurgency is simply normal operations plus genocide. There has been an enormous range of counter-insurgency efforts over the last two centuries, some of which have verged on genocide, and most of which have not. Contra Glen, there’s a pretty wide body of work on low intensity operations, all of which suggests a different set of skills for such tasks than for high intensity military operations. It’s probably not quite right to say that counter-insurgency warfare represents a “science” but it surely cheapens the word “genocide” to conflate the varieties of counter-insurgency operations together as “war against the people”.

Sunday Light Cruiser Blogging: USS Phoenix

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

USS Phoenix was the fifth of the Brooklyn class, a group of light cruisers designed in response to the Japanese Mogami class and the restrictions imposed by the London Naval Treaty of 1930. The Treaty, in an effort to limit competition in heavy cruisers, established limits on the number of 8″ gunned cruisers allowed each of the major signatories. The hope, especially on the part of the British, was that naval architects would design new cruisers around the 6″ gun, and scale down the size of the ships appropriately. Unfortunately for the cash strapped Admiralty, this did not occur. Instead, the Japanese built the Mogami class, each armed with 15 6″ guns and as large as a heavy cruiser. The US responded with the Brooklyns, also armed with 15 6″ guns, displacing about 10000 tons, and capable of 33 knots. In US naval doctrine of the time, light cruisers were expected to lay down a wall of fire alongside the main battle line, thus deterring destroyers from closing and launching torpedo attacks. Heavy cruisers would destroy enemy heavy and light cruisers. In practice, there was little functional difference between heavy and light cruisers, as the 6″ guns rapid reload time made up for the extra punch of the 8″ gun. Moreover, pre-war light cruiser doctrine proved impractical, as the wall of fire concept led to extremely inaccurate gunnery. This forced light cruisers to rely on salvo fire instead.

Commissioned in late 1938, USS Phoenix was present at Pearl Harbor, but escaped the attack unharmed. She carried out many missions in the first two years of the war, but did not see combat against Japanese ships or aircraft until June 1944, when she was serially attacked by Japanese bombers and torpedo aircraft. Near misses resulted in light damage. She was part of Admiral Oldendorf’s force at the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944, and contributed to the destruction of HIJMS Yamashiro. The rest of her war service was spent mostly in escort, and although accompanying ships experienced several kamikaze attacks, Phoenix escaped damage. After the war, Phoenix was placed in reserve.

In April 1951, USS Phoenix was sold to Argentina, becoming Diecisiete de Octubre. She was accompanied by her sister Boise, which became Nuevo de Julio. The Brooklyn class cruisers essentially replaced the aging dreadnoughts that the Southern Cone navies had possessed since the 1910s. In addition to the two Argentine ships, Chile picked up two and Brazil one. In 1956 Diecisiete de Octubre was renamed General Belgrano, after an Argentine independence leader. In 1968 General Belgrano was partially modernized, and equipped with two British Sea Cat missile launchers. The Sea Cat, an early anti-aircraft weapon, fired a missile capable of mach .8, slower than most jet fighters and surface-to-surface missiles at the time.

Apart from conducting the initial landings, the Argentine Navy was largely quiet at the beginning of the Falklands War. On April 26, however, it was decided to dispatch General Belgrano and two escort destroyers on patrol south of the islands. Although the political purpose of this patrol was understandable, its military logic is unclear. General Belgrano did have certain advantages against modern naval vessels. Her 6″ guns would have made very short work of any British ships unfortunate enough to wander within twelve or so miles. General Belgrano’s armor, while considerably lighter than a battleship, might still have been sufficient to provide considerable protection from the surface-to-surface missiles of the day. However, while General Belgrano’s initial probe was in the direction of the British task force, it is extremely unlikely that any British surface ship would have wandered into her patrol area. Having virtually no anti-air or anti-submarine capability, her ability to decisively affect the battle was extremely low. On May 2, General Belgrano and her group began repositioning toward the Argentine mainland, perhaps in preparation for another sortie to be coordinated with the Argentine Air Force.

Unfortunately for the Argentines, ARA General Belgrano had been detected by the submarine HMS Conqueror on April 29. Conqueror shadowed the group while Prime Minister Margart Thatcher decided on an appropriate course of action. On May 2, she decided that Conqueror should attack the Argentine cruiser. Conqueror moved into position and fired three conventional, non-homing torpedos at General Belgrano. Two of the torpedos hit. The captains of the accompanying destroyers claimed that, because of the gloom and the electrical failure on the cruiser, they were unaware that General Belgrano had been hit. They moved off, and only noticed the absence of the cruiser several hours later. Inspection after the battle would indicate that one of the destroyers had been hit by a torpedo that failed to explode, indicating, among other things, superb marksmanship on the part of Conqueror. Severely damaged, General Belgrano rolled over and sank about thirty minutes after the attack. 770 of the crew were later rescued, but 323 Argentines died.

There had been some hope for mediation before the attack on General Belgrano, but these hopes sank almost as quickly as the cruiser. Argentines have ascribed belligerant motives to the British, claiming that the ship was outside a previously announced exclusion zone, and that it was moving away from the British task force. However, the exclusion zone was generally understood to have been abrogated, and no principle of war excludes attacks on retreating, as opposed to surrendered, enemy forces. Indeed, since General Belgrano was repositioning rather than retreating, she still represented a potential threat to British forces. Finally, while General Belgrano’s obsolescence limited the threat that she could pose to British forces, there remained some plausible ways in which she could have restricted British operations around the islands. Moreover, the sinking of General Belgrano helped deter the Argentine Navy from further action, greatly facilitating the British war effort.

Imperial Nostalgia

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

“Holy shit” doesn’t quite describe this piece in McKristol’s Quarterly Concern, wherein the author not only fails to spell Thomas Hobbes’ name correctly even once, but also dishes out exactly what one would expect from someone whose oeuvre consists of prose renditions of Rudyard Kipling poems.


Because of and in spite of Hollywood films like The African Queen and television shows like Tarzan, tropical Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Zambezi is terra incognito for most Americans. Some cling to fragments of the “noble savage” myth advanced by Jean Jacques Rousseau, who argued that in an idyllic “state of nature” uncorrupted by civilization, people are innocent, happy, and brave.

Others accept the opposing myth promulgated by Thomas Hobbs [sic] that in a “State of Nature,” there are “no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worse of all, persistent fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Neither myth reflects the real tropical Africa that I saw in the 1960s while there researching three books on U.S. policy. Almost everywhere I saw poverty, corruption, and a retreat from the rudimentary rule of law established by the British and French colonial powers.

As Kempton Makamure, a political opponent of President Mugabe, wrote recently in Zimbabwe’s Financial Gazette, “It is entirely possible that conflicts within independent states in Africa have caused more privation, deaths and stalled development than the colonial rule they have replaced.”

President Kennedy and some of his Africa hands were more optimistic. Naive might be a better word. They saw themselves as heralds of freedom. Unduly critical of the European colonists, they seemed unaware that the British, for example, had ended slavery 79 years before Lincoln signed the Emaciation Proclamation. Perhaps the greatest flaw in the official U.S. perception was the failure to recognize that long before the Europeans had arrived, Africa had seethed with tribal wars and indigenous slavery. The Western traffic in human beings would not have been possible without the active participation of African slavers eager to sell Africans of other tribes to their Western counterparts. As a poignant African proverb put it, “The tears of a stranger are only water.”

Back to Hobbs [sic, unless he's actually talking about the florist, in which case I heartily apologize for the error]. If it took a thousand years for the barbarian tribes of Europe to become democratic and prosperous states, how long will it take African tribes that missed the Renaissance, Reformation, Magna Carta, and Industrial Revolution?

It’s remarkable that the Standard, as ignorant as its historical thought pieces tend to be, would actually publish this kind of childish white supremacy. The non-sequiturs about “missing” the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution make just as much sense as they did when they were breathlessly declared at 19th century ethnological societies, where deveotees of Lewis Henry Morgan wondered if the “high savages” might soon ascend to the level of barbarians.

As for the actual historical commentary here, it hardly seems worth mentioning, for example, that Britain’s abolition of slavery took place after the Royal African Company and scores of successor enterprises had robbed the continent of millions of souls over the course of more than 200 years. Anti-slavery advocates did not regard abolition and emancipation as somehow compensatory for the crimes of two centuries, and so their accomplishments cannot be credited with that sort of moral outcome. And the fact that slavery and warfare existed prior to European conquest of the planet is an irrelevant red herring (as always); Africans did not capitalize the slave trade, globalize it, and use it to generate a pernicious mythology of racial supremacy that fueled, among other things, the development of regional monocultures that demanded the complete expulsion of indigenous people (African and otherwise) from the land.

Having said that, I’ll brush past the juxtaposition of Rousseau and Hobbes — a rhetorical move usually reserved for high school term papers — and simply note that Lefever’s real point is to mourn the vacated glory of Rhodesia, whose racist settlement policies and political organization (he claims) were misunderstood by Americans who drew “false comparisons” to Jim Crow laws and the expropriation of Indian land. And since for Lafever the only alternative to Robert Mugabe’s rule is the return of gentlemanly racists like Ian Smith, the entire project of African independence must be viewed with skepticism and deep moral concern over the “preparedness” of such people for self-rule.

The whole thing is loaded with bigoted historical fantasy, topped off by a quote from Piny the Elder. That would be the Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder, who died in the Pompeii eruption in 79 CE and believed that there were people in Africa who actually looked like this:

Single-handedly Justifying the Blogosphere

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

I’ll grant that the awfulness of today’s comic sections was near the top of the list of the topics I liked to engage in dorm-dinner-table rants about (foreshadowing my inevitable entry into a blogosphere), so I’m a particularly ripe audience. Nonetheless, I think it’s plain that Joe Mathlete Explains Today’s Marmaduke and the Comics Curmudgeon are among the best. sites. evah.

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