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At least she’s not writing about dolphins this time

[ 0 ] October 20, 2006 |

It was a bad day to be Roy Edroso. First, there was this (which, along with comments like this, have been sending me into fits of laughter for about 24 hours now). Then you wake up and — crushed by the Mets’ loss the previous night, head pounding as your brain wrings the booze from each lobe — you go and read Peggy Noonan, who clearly found a sandwich bag of pretty pills on the side of the road the other day and decided to eat them all.

So sorry, Roy. Get better soon.


Friday Interspecies Love Blogging

[ 0 ] October 20, 2006 |

Lester (my brother in law’s cat) and Sophie (my mother in law’s dog). What would Rick Santorum think?


[ 0 ] October 19, 2006 |

drawn and quarteredCongratulations are due to my younger brother, who completed his preliminary exams in sociology yesterday; assuming the large mid-atlantic state school he attends never finds out that he actually spent the past week playing Grand Theft Auto and watching LonelyGirl15 videos on YouTube, he will soon enter the purgatorio of the dissertation, a phase of human devolution about which I have absolutely nothing positive or inspiring to offer. For much of the 3.5 years I spent working on mine, I greeted each morning with a millstone of despair hanging around my neck, the weight lifted only slightly by the realization that I might be flattened at any moment by a city bus or a plummeting aircraft. However small that chance might have been, it offered me a reason to shuffle out of bed. One day while I was staring numbly at the walls, a group of marginally literate gnomes broke into my apartment and wrote 314 pages of prose, which I promptly submitted under my own name to the University of Minnesota.

If the opening section of my brother’s preliminary essays is any indication, he’ll have a much easier go at this than I did:

In a press conference two days after winning the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.” True to his style, Bush embarked on a national tour promoting the strengthening (privatization) of Social Security, a social insurance program established to protect against downward mobility. During one of his admission-by-ticket-only town hall discussions while on tour in Nebraska, the following exchange occurred:

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but nevertheless, there’s a
certain comfort to know that the promises made will be
kept by the government.
THE PRESIDENT: And so thank you for asking that. You
don’t have to worry.
MS. MORNIN: That’s good, because I work three jobs and
I feel like I contribute.
THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?
MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean,
that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.)
Get any sleep? (Laughter.)
MS. MORNIN: Not much. Not much.

Working three jobs in itself is probably not “uniquely American.” What is uniquely American is, in comparison to other rich nations, the large degree of income inequality, high rates of absolute and relative poverty, and the low amount of non-elderly cash and near-cash social expenditures combined with a high percentage of low-wage workers earning less than 65 percent of median earnings. And so we all have a good laugh when the president asks the woman working three jobs if she gets much sleep.

My brother added in an e-mail that “I really wanted to then include a line like, ‘When Bush asks that question, why do people laugh rather than [ask for something that I’m not going to reprint on this blog because I geniunely think we might all get in serious trouble for it — d]? One, because that would be rude. Second, because of the prevailing belief in social mobility.’ But i’ll just stick with what I’ve got.”

Anyhow, best of luck to my brother. If David Horowitz put together a list of the 101 Most Dangerous Graduate Students in America, I would gladly nominate him for inclusion. He once ate three Hardee’s Monster Thickburgers in one sitting, so I’m pretty sure he can finish a Ph.D.

Axis of Waterboarding

[ 0 ] October 19, 2006 |

The BBC asked 27,000 respondents in 25 countries to briefly evaluate these two statements:

Most countries have agreed to rules prohibiting torturing prisoners. Which position is closer to yours?

  • Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives
  • Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights
  • And here are the results:

    Allow me to be the first in the blogosphere to note that the BBC, in publishing these results so close to the American mid-term elections, is clearly attempting to guide the outsome of our democratic process. More importantly, the methodological failures of this survey are glaring. Indeed, my vast knowledge of statistical methods tells me these figures could be dissected by a kindergartener (e.g., if so many Americans support torture, why aren’t our hospitals filled with injured people? Where are all the fresh graves? Why hasn’t the media seen and reported on all this torture? Why have the authors of this survey not responded to my mighty stream of non sequiturs?)

    Today in History:Possible Evidence for Existence of God

    [ 0 ] October 18, 2006 |


    Charles P. Strite, born in Minneapolis, MN, received patent #1,394,450 on October 18, 1921 for the bread-toaster. During World War I, Strite worked in a manufacturing plant in Stillwater, MN, where he became frustrated with the burned toast served in the cafeteria. Strite, determined to find a way of toasting bread that did not depend on human attention, invented the pop-up toaster with a variable timer. In 1925, using a redesigned version of Strite’s toaster, the Toastmaster Company began to market the first household toaster that could brown bread on both sides simultaneously, set the heating element on a timer, and eject the toast when finished. By 1926, Charles Strite’s Toastmaster was available to the public and was a huge success.


    Our Leaders are Not Bright, Part MMMCLXVIII

    [ 0 ] October 18, 2006 |

    From the Times’ second most e-mailed story of the past several days (behind something on the arcane and mildly distressing subject of “preschool puberty”):

    Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

    “Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.”

    Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?

    “Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”

    Did she think that it was important, I asked, for members of Congress charged with oversight of the intelligence agencies, to know the answer to such questions, so they can cut through officials’ puffery when they came up to the Hill?

    “Oh, I think it’s very important,” said Ms. Davis, “because Al Qaeda’s whole reason for being is based on their beliefs. And you’ve got to understand, and to know your enemy.”

    I’m teaching a course on the US and the Middle East this semester, and two of the first books we examined — James Bill’s Eagle and the Lion and William Quandt’s Peace Process — make the case that failures of US policy in Iran and Israel/Palestine are attributable in no small part to the lack of rudimentary historical, sociological and cultural knowledge among policymakers. In Iran, for example, the Johnson and Nixon administrations were so entranced by the power of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi that they failed to appreciate the evolving frustrations of students, the middle classes and especially the religious stratum of Iranian society; Carter’s Iranian “experts” were so insensate as to utterly miss the signs (identified by actual experts who were not in the policy loop) that the Pahlavi regime was on the verge of collapse in 1977. In the context of the post-1967 “peace process,” to cite one other example, the Reagan and first Bush administrations displayed almost complete indifference to the history of the Iraeli-Palestinian conflict, believing it was irrelevant to the pursuit of a final compromise; Richard Haass, an “expert” who directed Middle East affairs on Bush’s National Security Council, frequently cited Joan Peters’ fraudulent From Time Immemorial as an important source of insight into the problem.

    It goes on like this. As Yglesias pointed out last week, the start of the cold war gave genuinely knowledgeable people like George Kennan the space to develop policy:

    One might have expected something similar to happen after 9/11, but it didn’t, overwhelmingly because what longtime students of the Middle East had to say wasn’t convenient for the pre-existing political agendas of America’s bipartisan national security elite. Instead of getting analyses representing the range of views actually existing in the field, we got Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, two people ready to tell policymakers what they wanted to hear.

    Yglesias neglects to mention that within five years Kennan’s advice regarding “containment” was transformed into actual national security policies that were considerably more expansive, ideological and militaristic than what Kennan himself envisioned — which only underscores the obvious point that even well-intentioned “expertise” can only accomplish so much. Moreover, if the point of such knowledge — as Rep. Davis so gracelessly put it — is merely to “know your enemy” (assuming as she apparently does that all Sunnis constitute the enemy) and to assure even greater degrees of domination, it’s tempting (if ultimately cynical) to root for the triumph of ignorance.

    Nevertheless, the contempt of this administration for basic information about the world is astonishing.

    (…dammit… first link fixed…..)

    Forgotten Americans

    [ 0 ] October 17, 2006 |

    diane_nash2Diane Nash, as Erik Loomis explains.

    Sadly, the centrality of women to the civil rights movement has only become faintly visible to most Americans with the deaths of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King in the past year. Even now, however, popular historical memory has little room to accomodate young organizers like Nash — who chafed against moderate leaders of the SCLC and other established civil rights organizations — or the thousands of anonymous working class black women who sustained the Montgomery Bus boycott for a year longer than any of its leadership initially expected. Erik’s post reminds us of how disorienting — in all the best senses of the term — the civil rights movement actually was.

    "We’ll all be dead"

    [ 0 ] October 17, 2006 |

    Because my television has been broken for two months now, I’m not suprised I missed this from Condoleezza Rice, appearing a few weeks back on 60 Minutes:

    “You have conceded that lots of mistakes have been made in Iraq. Vice President Cheney says if he had to do it again, he’d do it the same way. Do you agree?” Couric asks.

    “Well, I would certainly do it again,” Rice says.

    Asked if she would do it the same way, the secretary says, “Nobody can go back and reinvent the past. We can’t do it, Katie.”

    “But you can learn from your mistakes,” Couric remarks.

    “I’m enough of a historian to know that things that look like brilliant policies at the time turn out to have been really stupid. And things that looked like mistakes at the time turn out to have been brilliant policies. I’ll let history judge those things,” she says.

    Good thing for Rice, her boss has already discerned the verdict of “History” (which in Bush’s eschatology should always be capitalized):

    The story of freedom has just begun in the Middle East. And when the history of these days is written, it will tell how America once again defended its own freedom by using liberty to transform nations from bitter foes to strong allies. And history will say that this generation, like generations before, laid the foundation of peace for generations to come.

    In at least one sense, I’m sure Rice and Bush are equally correct. No matter how much farther things devolve in Iraq and Afghanistan; no matter now many more reckless, evidence-free adventures this administration pursues in the name of national security; no matter how many more constitutional protections evaporate in the pursuit of “freedom-haters”; no matter how many more “enemy combatants” are sold off to the US by Afghan warlords and the Pakistani ISI; no matter how how many poor people along the Gulf Coast are unable to receive the simplist opportunity to reconstruct their lives, there will always be a conga line of hapless, supplicant hacks who leap to the defense of this administration and its operatic incompetence. At some vague, distant point on the horizon, there will be a Michelle Malkin, willing to claim that the eradication of habeas for non-citizens in 2006 was a good and proper thing; there will be an Ann Coulter, eager to demonstrate (with so many footnotes) that George Bush’s opponents were contemptible traitors; there will be a Peter Schweizer, able to suggest with a straight face that George W. Bush was the craftiest, most forward-thinking and prophetic president since Ronald Reagan; and there will be a Victor Davis Hanson, capable of re-reading the Iraq War into a noble expression of the “Western Military Ethos,” just like Vietnam.

    But really — who cares? As Bush himself shrugged to Bob Woodward, “History, we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”

    Dumber than he looks

    [ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

    Bob Owens scrawls his latest post in poo.


    [ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

    So saith Assrocket:

    In fact, as we have often noted, if you listened to any of the speeches President Bush gave on Iraq in 2003 or read the Congressional authorization on the war, every rationale that has ever been discussed is there. And, as I have often said, bringing reform and democracy to the Arab world was perceived by me, and by many if not most of the war’s early supporters, as the most important goal.

    As Rob has pointed out many times (most recently here), the fact that (now disgruntled) supporters of the war imagined they would get a different kind of war than the one they were promised and the one that they got does not excuse their being played for suckers; as a corollary to that, I’d argue that (continually optimistic) supporters of the war can’t be allowed to retroactively assign equal value to any and all of the claims made by the Bush administration during its campaign for war in 2002-2003.

    As even an undergraduate political science major could tell us, the Bush administration offered an incoherent array of justifications for war (Devon Largio actually identified 27). But however inspiring they may have been to John Hinderaker, George Bush’s off-hand, rhetorical promises to dismantle the “torture chambers” and “rape rooms” (at, ahem, Abu Ghraib) and convert Iraq into a “model” for other states in the region are, at the end of the day, as meaningless as McKinley’s vow to bring democratic institutions to the Philippines. If he wants to find some good news in that, more power to him.

    I’ve changed my mind

    [ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

    After further reflection on the uses and mis-uses of statistics, I have concluded — along with Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee, the Milton Friedman Appreciation Society and Supper Club, and Instahack — that something is seriously wrong when major publications print bogus, partisan data from studies whose methodology has been debunked by real, live experts in the field.

    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.

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