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Archive for August, 2010

“Ground Zero”

[ 3 ] August 25, 2010 |

It does seem to have extended to anywhere that an Islamic group might want to build anything.

The Catfood Commission

[ 2 ] August 25, 2010 |

It’s very shocking that its biggest media darling hates Social Security, and is a smarmy, condescending sexist.

“Islamic Niketown?”

[ 5 ] August 25, 2010 |

Goldberg’s latest is almost too incoherent to even be hateful. Almost.

Tex Ed

[ 25 ] August 24, 2010 |

In the wake of Dr. Ryan’s death-by-texting, Joel Johnson of Wired asks why we haven’t invented a safer way to text while driving? Well here’s one way that I’m certainly going to make use of next year when my daughter gets her permit:

As a “republican,” Sarah Palin must have supported the salting of Carthage in the wake of the Third Punic War.

[ 24 ] August 24, 2010 |

Ilya Somin’s response to my London post is a nifty little walk-back, but he does have a point:

“Progressive” is a general term routinely applied to all those early 20th century writers and political activists who supported large-scale increases in government control of the economy.

That’s not it. That is a definition so broad as to be utterly useless. The trusts “supported large-scale increases in government control of the economy” as a means of putting and keeping labor in its place; manufacturers lobbied first for higher, then lower, then higher tariffs; but I doubt Somin wants to include those interests among his “Progressives.” The point he does make is this:

Perhaps Kaufman was confused by my use of a capital “p” rather than a lower-case one.

I was, but only because I applied a standard that’s been around for about a hundred years instead of Somin’s idiosyncratic non-distinction. Those who ignore this distinction typically did so for practical political reasons, like the fellow who wrote this introduction, who wanted to include lowercase-p progressives under his uppercase-P umbrella in order to make his newly founded party look a little more substantial.

I’m not saying this is a distinction universally upheld, only that it’s more common than not in contemporary scholarship for the simple reason that most scholars abide by the rules of capitalization: proper nouns refer to unique entities and are therefore capitalized. The niceties of orthography are a side show, however, because the main problem with Somin’s post is that he still claims that London was both spectacularly racist and, as he wrote in the first post, “no anomaly among early 20th century Progressives.” London’s racism still only differs in degree, not kind, because as he wrote in the second post, “it was part of a broader pattern of racism among many Progressives of that era.”

Except that it wasn’t. London’s atypical in all respects, and as I demonstrated in my earlier post, neither part of the “Progressive movement” proper and only obliquely involved in the humble-mumble of internecine conflict that defined leftist and liberal politics at the turn of the last century. But I’ve repeated myself. Very dull. How about we venture into the comments over there?

It appears that Scott Kaufman is maintaining the faux history that progressives aren’t either fascists or socialists, when the plain fact of the matter is that they are both.

Or maybe not. If elements of that crowd can’t tell from my post that London couldn’t have been a progressive because he believed they were insufficiently radical, the cause is already lost. But I’m a soldier, so once more into the breach:

As far as I can tell, Google says that Kaufman is the only connection between “nature fakir” and Jack London. And, FWIW, that part about “Darwinian determinism” is nonsense.

Seriously? The first return from Google is too far for someone to tell? What could be closer? Wait, wait, these could be swells of stupidity in an otherwise tempered sea. Let me try one last time:

If you’d like a detailed look at it I’d suggest Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Like the excesses of Communism, most of this has simply been written out of history.


Everything in “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” that pertains to neither chrysanthemum nor swords.

[ 1 ] August 24, 2010 |

I can’t counter Lemieux’s endorsement of Matt Zoller Seitz’s recap of “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” but I would like to register my annoyance with Seitz for setting the bar so high. Particularly annoying is the fact that Seitz discussed at length the most salient visual element of this episode, i.e. “the interplay of close-ups and wide shots on the show, specifically how the camera will start very close on characters’ faces, encouraging our empathy, then slowly dollying back to put them in a context.” I noted this dynamic in my analysis of Peggy and Pete in “The Rejected,” but Lesli Linka Glatter structured the entirety of “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” around it. The one point on which I’ll differ with Seitz (and Jefferson Robbins, whose work Seitz discusses there) is that with characters who are unaware of the larger context, the shots often begin wide before moving in for a close-up.

When, for example, Sally cuts her hair, the scene does open with a close-up, but not one that encourages empathy:

Read more…

The War On (Poor) Women Who Want Access To (Safe) Abortions

[ 2 ] August 24, 2010 |

Virginia edition.

However, abortion policy expert Ross Douthat has informed us that the United States permits absolutely no restrictions on abortion, so obviously this is all a bad dream of some kind.

I Agree With John Boehner!

[ 7 ] August 24, 2010 |

Of course, on the issue of the replacements we’d probably part company again…

An Embarassment of Riches

[ 16 ] August 24, 2010 |

While we wait for SEK’s take on perhaps the strongest episode of what is shaping up as an exceptional season for the best show on American television since The Wire, Matt Zoller Seitz has a worthwhile reading.

More On Same-Sex Marriage And Public Opinion

[ 5 ] August 24, 2010 |

It’s also worth looking at this important data compiled by Andrew Gelman and his colleagues, which breaks national trends down at a state-by-state level:

The more important turning points in public opinion, however, may be occurring at the state level, especially if states continue to control who can get married.

According to our research, as recently as 2004, same-sex marriage did not have majority support in any state. By 2008, three states had crossed the 50 percent line. *

Today, 17 states are over that line (more if you consider the CNN estimate correct that just over 50 percent of the country supports gay marriage).

To mount one of my favorite hobbyhorses, I would also note that same-sex marriage is most popular in Massachusetts, the state where if you’ll remember a favorable court decision made same-sex marriage permanently unpopular.

This context also lends further force to Richard Just’s devastating critique of Obama’s position on same-sex marriage. On the merits, his collection of positions is ludicrously incoherent, and it can be no longer politically justified either. He has no excuse for not providing leadership on this issue, and it will stain his historical reputation.

Learning to Love the Prop H8 Lawsuit

[ 6 ] August 24, 2010 |

E.J. Graff presents the best optimistic take I’ve seen yet. I wouldn’t say I’m fully convinced, but I hope she’s right that the outcome will be a net positive. She concludes with this:

Equal marriage rights can only be held by persuading three audiences—legislators, judges and voters—that equal marriage is just, that it helps some and threatens no one. The Supreme Court will neither sink nor save us; the truly final court is the court of public opinion. And there we are steadily winning.

See this, for example. The battle has not been won by a long shot, but the trend is encouraging. And certainly provides yet more evidence against the idea that successful litigation would produce some massive backlash against marriage equality.

History is what you make of it?

[ 31 ] August 23, 2010 |

Johann Hari’s review of Wolf: The Lives of Jack London suggests that its author, James Haley, says nothing about its subject that has not been long known.* The only people who would be surprised by the facts of Jack London’s life and life of mind, then, are those who know nothing about him, like Ilya Somin, who uses the occasion of Hari’s review to condemn the group he describes as “early 20th century Progressives,” claiming

London’s simultaneous advocacy of racism and socialism was no anomaly among early 20th century Progressives.

Was London a racist and a socialist? Absolutely. Did he believe in progress? He did. Did he align himself with the Progressives? He absolutely did not.** Not only did he despise the lukewarm commitment of populists like Williams Jenning Bryan to the socialist cause, he publicly quarreled with the Progressive Party’s one and only Presidential candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, five years earlier, when the then President declared him a “nature fakir” after reading his account of a lynx killing a dog-wolf. Far from being a Progressive standard-bearer, London couldn’t even agree with this lot about the finer points of dog psychology.

The first problem with Somin’s argument, then, is that he applies the term “Progressive” to someone who was an avowed “Socialist.” London was a capital-S Socialist who believed in lowercase-p progress, but he was not a capital-P Progressive. Teddy Roosevelt was a capital-P Progressive, but he didn’t believe in progress and was neither a socialist nor a Socialist. These are distinctions with difference to everyone who cares more about history than contemporary politics. They must be made to obtain.

The second problem with Somin’s argument is that its logic lacks logic. Smudging your greasy fingers on the glasses of history only obscures your view of its record:

The racist elements of Progressive ideology don’t prove that economic interventionism is racist by nature, or that the policies Progressives defended in large part on racist grounds can’t be justified in other ways. Still less do they prove that modern left-wingers are necessarily racist as well. But they do undercut claims that racism is primarily a product of the “right” and that economic leftism and racial progress necessarily go together.

Proving that Jack London was a racist only proves that Jack London was a racist. It weakly suggests, and then only by extension, that those who shared his ideological commitment to socialism—which, it bears repeating, is only the same thing as Progressivism if you consider Teddy Roosevelt a socialist—might be racist. What it does not and can never prove is anything at all about people who were not London and did not share his beliefs.

Anyone who thinks otherwise was likely also impressed by Jonah Goldberg’s masterful Liberal Fascism: Two Words Next To Each Other, and deserves to be taken about as a seriously.

*Part of the reason that the details of London’s life are already familiar is that, as he wrote S.S. McClure at the beginning of his career, “[he] took the facts of life . . . added to them many other facts of life gained from other sources, and made, or attempted to make, a piece of literature out of them” (10 April 1906). Be it in the Yukon stories of The Son of the Wolf (1903), his time among the English poor in The People of the Abyss (1903), his Tales of the Fish Patrol (1905), his account of The Cruise of the Snark (1913), or his struggles with John Barleycorn (1913), Jack London made certain the world knew “the facts of [his] life.” Moreover, his compulsion to rewrite the narrative of his intellectual development, as manifested in The Sea-Wolf (1904), The Iron Heel (1908), and Martin Eden (1913), always included an oblique, but still extensive, bibliography of the “other sources” that inspired his philosophy.

**The closest he came were a few late-in-life publications in a magazine called The Progressive.

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