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Today In Aesthetic Stalinism

[ 0 ] November 29, 2006 |

When I’ve posted about Orson Scott Card, I am often assured that despite of his recent tendency to express nutty political ideas (and film reviews) in terrible prose he was once a gifted novelist. I cannot judge this claim, but it is now clear that the only viable version of this claim requires the word “once”. Really, one can make this point by picking almost any sequence from his new “novel” at random, but here’s my candidate:

Princeton University was just what Reuben expected it to be — hostile to everything he valued, smug and superior and utterly closed-minded. In fact, exactly what they thought the military was.

He kept thinking, the first couple of semesters, that maybe his attitude toward them was just as short-sighted and bigoted and wrong as theirs was of him. But in class after class, seminar after seminar, he learned that far too many students were determined to remain ignorant of any real-world data that didn’t fit their preconceived notions. And even those who tried to remain genuinely open-minded simply did not realize the magnitude of the lies they had been told about history, about values, about religion, about everything. So they took the facts of history and averaged them with the dogmas of the leftist university professors and thought that the truth lay somewhere in the middle.

Well as far as Reuben could tell, the middle they found was still far from any useful information about the real world.

Am I like them, just a bigot learning only what fits my worldview? That’s what he kept asking himself. But finally he reached the conclusion: No, he was not. He faced every piece of information as it came. He questioned his own assumptions whenever the information seemed to violate it. Above all, he changed his mind — and often. Sometimes only by increments; sometimes completely. Heroes he had once admired — Douglas MacArthur, for instance — he now regarded with something akin to horror: How could a commander be so vain, with so little justification for it? Others that he had disdained — that great clerk, Eisenhower, or that woeful incompetent, Burnside — he had learned to appreciate for their considerable virtues.

And now he knew that this was much of what the Army had sent him here to learn. Yes, a doctorate in history would be useful. But he was really getting a doctorate in self-doubt and skepticism, a Ph.D. in the rhetoric and beliefs of the insane Left. He would be able to sit in a room with a far-left Senator and hear it all with a straight face, without having to argue any points, and with complete comprehension of everything he was saying and everything he meant by it.

In other words, he was being embedded with the enemy as surely as when he was on a deep Special Ops assignment inside a foreign country that did not (officially at least) know that he was there.

[...]

Thank heaven he could go home to Cecily every day. She was his reality check. Unlike the ersatz Left of the university, Cessy was a genuine old-fashioned liberal, a Democrat of the tradition that reached its peak with Truman and blew its last trumpet with Moynihan.

The “no, he was not” is a nice touch.

Anyway, it’s not surprising that this would win the endorsement of Glenn Reynolds. Recently, Reynolds quoted a passage from Neal “Into the Nipples” Stephenson, which consisted of two “characters” expressing trite points about hypocrisy by reading B+ high school essays at each other. According to Reynolds, not only does this demonstrate that “Stephenson’s position as a moral thinker is underrated” but–I swear I’m not making this up–he was able to “slip that stuff in without being overbearing.” Yeah, if you find Neal Stepehnson subtle then Card’s recent novel should be just right.

When "None of the Above" Is The Right Choice

[ 0 ] November 29, 2006 |

Nancy Pelosi has, thankfully, chosen to reject both Hastings and Harman, the obviously correct option. The evidence against Hastings is pretty compelling, and taking a bribe as a federal judge isn’t the typically vacuous “character” issue; it suggests a lack of ethics and judgment in ways that can affect policy. Moreover, the political hit would have been immense, and it’s not as if Hastings was so great on the merits it would be worth paying the price. Meanwhile, Matt is right that Hastings’s only virtue was not being Harman: “Hastings shook some dudes down for $150,000 and ruined three FBI investigations. Jane Harman, by contrast, supported an invasion of Iraq based on bogus intelligence that’s costs hundreds of billions of dollars and killed hundreds of thousands of people. Who do I have more doubts about?” Avoiding both of them was clearly the right call, and kudos to Pelosi for bucking the various caucus pressures and doing it.

Alas, it seems as if the oft-touted Rush Holt is out of the running. I don’t know much about any of the three viable candidates, but while it’s not literally true that they can’t be worse than the two who were passed over it seems like a safe assumption.

…UPDATE: As Matt Weiner points out in comments, I should note that Yglesias is just stipulating to a worst-case scenario; Hastings is almost certainly innocent of the charges of sabtoging FBI investigations.

Strike 73!

[ 0 ] November 29, 2006 |

The Dead-EnderSphere’s latest attempt to gin up another Dan Rather story out of nothing at all has apparently gone the way of such classics as the “fake” Schiavo memo. Of course, as Jim Henley points out, even had this been something other than unsubstantiated state propaganda, it’s still all about evasion:

But beyond that, what’s the point? Let’s imagine for a minute that the mosque burning story was exaggerated or fabricated. Does that mean that three thousand bodies a month aren’t turning up at Baghdad’s morgues these days? Does it mean that Mohammed of Iraq the Model didn’t spend the weekend barricading his block against rievers? Does it mean that no Sunnis are being killed by Sadrist death squads? Does that mean we should think more highly of Baby Sadr? Does it mean no Shia are being butchered by Salafist bravos?

[...]

Unless these fellows with suspect surnames in the newspapers are making it all up and Iraq is really quite swell, then impeaching this or that specific report or reporter is a trivial pursuit. It doesn’t change the structure and trends. It’s fun to pretend that “a goodly portion of our success or failure in Iraq has ultimately to do with how we react in terms of either lending our support or leveling our criticisms against the campaign.” Among other things, it’s very self-flattering. It allows the sedentary hawk to feel good about himself, to imagine that, just by feeling the proper emotion, “I’m fighting too!”

It’s also utter bullshit. The real constraint on success or failure is the US governmenet’s capacity to achieve its political objectives in Iraq itself. The audience that matters is one the deadenders neither understand nor even like much. (Michael Novak gets this exactly and completely backward.) It gets its news from papers we can’t read, television and radio broadcasts we never hear and couldn’t translate, phone calls to and from people we’ll never meet and the direct experience of things we can only pray never to find on our curbs of a morning. Every thesis that does not recognize the primacy of a local situation we can neither completely know nor even successfully imagine is mere narcissism, every attempt to pretend that touching up some detail obliterates the big picture is folly.

Indeed.

The Death of South Park Republicanism and the Conservative Conscious

[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: Mocking religion is bad. When it’s done in a mild form by a blogger Glenn Reynolds doesn’t like.

Elsewhere, Roy saves me the bother of dealing with the latest excretions of Pajamas Media’s resident foreign policy epxert, which several commenters have already brought up. I think this sentence says it all:

“So don’t expect the world’s liberal conscious to weigh in much on the latest poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.”

Sure, one could point out that the media hasn’t ignored this at all, but the nice thing about inventing the “liberal conscious” is that it makes falsification all but impossible (especially if you don’t have access to the same acid that Hanson was on when he wrote the column.) But what really amuses me is the idea that it’s liberals who have been naive about Putin’s authoritarianism. Let’s turn to VDH’s most-admired political leader:

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“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue.

“I was able to get a sense of his soul.

“He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that’s the beginning of a very constructive relationship,” Mr Bush said.

I think Hanson needs to work on the “conservative conscious” first.

Center-Right Pundits Are Not A Governing Coalition

[ 0 ] November 27, 2006 |

Ben and Ezra say most of what needs to be said about this atrocious, risibly anachronistic op-ed by Thomas Edsall. An argument this silly contains multitudes, however, and there’s one point I’d like to add. My question: if we’re throwing “organized labor, minority advocacy organizations [and] reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents” out of the Democratic coalition, who’s left? Where are the votes coming from? (The irony here is that DLC types, who see the Democrats building a governing Democratic coalition out of wealthy, complacent white males, are the flipside of Ralph Nader, who seems to think that a governing progressive coalition can be built by white college students.)

There are two moves Edsall makes that are crucial to propping up this nonsense. The first is the egregious double standard in evaluating Democratic and Republican-affiliated factions. Supporters of reproductive freedom are a “special interest” dragging down the Democratic Party, while the cultural conservatives are simply “real Americans” or some such (even on issues, like Roe v. Wade, where the pro-choice position is also the majority position.) The second is that the “public interest” adduced by pundits like Edsall to contrast with “special interests” tends to match up not with the priorities of voters but with what Bob Somerby calls “millionaire pundit values.” We’re about to see this play out again with respect to Social Security, where Democrats will be urged to be “responsible” and endorse some kind of privatization scheme, although the Democrats’ position on Social Security involves backing the majority position against “special interests.” Such conceptions of the “public interest” are just empty tautologies used to defend whatever position the pundit happens to hold, and has nothing whatsoever to do with coalition-building.

[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]

Berube: The Talking Dog Interview

[ 0 ] November 27, 2006 |

Far behind on my reading, I still gotten to my review of What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? In the meantime, Michael has an interesting interview chez the Talking Dog, which is particularly relevant in light of the most recent embarrassment to befall the hapless David Horowitz. Michael’s point here is, I think, particularly important:

It’s important to attend to how the shell game is played, first. The fact that liberals outnumber conservatives on campus– by a ratio of roughly 2.6 to 1– is indisputable. What the culture-war right derives from this fact, however, are two highly disputable conclusions: one, that the ratio can be explained only by active collusion among liberals (note that Horowitz makes this suggestion in the NRO interview)– a belief that, in my opinion not only expresses a good deal of right-wing projection but also provides convenient cover for the fact in the arts and humanities as well as in some of the sciences, there simply aren’t very many smart young conservatives in the academic-market pipeline to begin with. (In other words, it allows them to say, “well, we would be more numerous on campus– we’re simply told that we’re not wanted.”) Two, that this preponderance of campus liberals actively discriminates against conservative students as well as potential conservative colleagues. As I note in the book, this second charge– the most incendiary one, for most parents, alumni, trustees, legislators, and bystanders– is supported by exceptionally weak and anecdotal evidence, much of it provided by students themselves in an almost comically self-undermining manner. The first charge is something I take more seriously, because, as I argue in the book, domination of certain academic fields– like mine– by liberals is good neither for those fields nor for liberals. (I can’t believe that conservatives are complaining about a dispensation in which they run the country and we teach the American Novel survey.)

So because Horowitz has almost no evidence about anyone’s actual classroom behavior, he goes after the public statements of professors instead. (Which also means, by the way, that when he says he doesn’t do this, he is lying.) And he does so partly because he has nothing to bring to the table when it comes to serious discussions about classroom matters, and partly because it’s a convenient way for him to attack people like me and Gitlin– and Navasky, and Eric Foner, as liberal-leftists at large. I might add, under this heading, that Horowitz has exceptionally thin skin and takes perceived slights very personally, so some of the entries in his book– like his attacks on a handful of notable black scholars– stem from nothing more than an unhealthy obsession or two.

This distinction isn’t made often enough. The objection to Horowitz’s argument is not that it’s wrong to say that there are more liberals than conservatives in academia, which isn’t any more surprising than the fact that there are more conservatives than liberals among Fortune 500 executives. The problem is that this doesn’t, in and of itself, constitute evidence of systematic bias in hiring or treatment of students, and on the narrower but more important issues the evidence of alleged bias is thin-to-non-existent.

How Did Bush v. Gore Matter?

[ 0 ] November 26, 2006 |

In light of some of the comments to this post, I should clarify what I meant when I said that Bush’s election was inevitable by the time Bush v. Gore was decided. There are two points, I think, we can all agree on. The first is that Bush v. Gore was a legal abomination that permanently disgraces the record of every judge who joined it. The second is that a clear majority of Florida voters intended to vote for Al Gore, and a rational recount that could address both undervotes and overvotes would almost certainly have determined this fact.

So far, we agree. The problem is that (contrary to what the commenters seem to believe) is that these two points don’t contradict my premise:

  • Gore would have won a fair recount, but whether he would have won the recount that would have been conducted had Bush v. Gore been correctly decided is another matter. It’s inherently unknowable, but as far as I can tell the best evidence is that Bush probably would have retained his lead, given the recount that was actually taking place.
  • But let’s say for the sake of argument that Gore would win the recount ordered by the Florida courts. The Republicans made it clear that they would not recognize the legitimacy of any count that went against Bush, and they controlled the Florida legislature. Even had Gore won, Florida would have have had two sets of electors sent to the electoral college.
  • And given a disputed election, the dispute would have been resolved by the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Even if you have a lot more respect for the Fraud Caucus than I do, you can’t seriously think that the outcome is in significant question.

So, by the time of the Supreme Court’s lawless intervention, Bush was going to become President one way or another. Does this mean that the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t matter? No–the Court certainly legitimized Bush’s election–a transparently political appointment would have made the anti-democratic circumstances of Bush assuming office much more publicly apparent. And while we can’t know, this could plausibly have affected many aspects of Bush’s term in office, including his re-election. But in terms of Bush actually assuming power per se, a variety of factors–Ralph Nader, the purging of the voting rolls, election laws that undercount votes in poor districts, bad ballot designs, the fecklessness of the Democrats who hauled Warren Christopher out of a cryogenic chamber somewhere to act as a sponge in a knife fight–were considerably more important. As is often the case, the Supreme Court’s intervention is more important for what it symbolizes than for its actual causal impact.

On The Latest Florida Election Scandal

[ 0 ] November 25, 2006 |

Big Tent Dem questions Paul Krugman’s analysis of the election in FL-13, which (for whatever reason) clearly thwarted the will of the voters. I should say, first of all, that he’s absolutely correct about 2000–the poor ballot design by Democratic officials was crucial to Gore losing the election in which a majority of voters intended to vote for him; indeed, it was much more important than Bush v. Gore, which legitimized the inevitable rather than creating it. The problem, however, is that the flaws in the 2000 ballot constitute most of his argument for why Krugman is wrong–but this is a non-sequitur. The fact that there was a horribly designed paper ballot in one district in 2000 is neither here nor there in terms of whether there was a badly designed electronic ballot in another district in 2006. And, at least in this post, BTD fails to explain the reasoning behind his assertion that the ballot design in the FL-13 was the crucial factor. As far as I can tell, the potential flaw is that the House race is at the top of the second page, while the Senate race is on the first page. But I don’t see how that can be an explanation in light of this:

The group of nearly 18,000 voters that registered no choice in Sarasota’s disputed congressional election solidly backed Democratic candidates in all five of Florida’s statewide races, an Orlando Sentinel analysis of ballot data shows.

Among these voters, even the weakest Democrat — agriculture-commissioner candidate Eric Copeland — outpaced a much-better-known Republican incumbent by 551 votes.

Maybe this is my fault, but I can’t see how voters couldn’t find the House race on the second page, but could find all the other statewide races on subsequent pages. The ballot design might explain why people voted for Senate and not House, but not this. As far as I can tell, Krugman’s inference remains the most probable one. Machine malfunction doesn’t prove fraud, but that’s not the most important issue. What matters is that an exceedingly crappy election system has thwarted the will of the voters again, and it seems that we’re headed for yet another post-election process controlled by Republican hacks (which, admittedly, is all too appropriate in this particular election.)

The most important thing, of course, is that the American electoral system is broken. If we keep up the local control fetish and the lack of an effective recount process (which is exacerbated by electronic voting), it’s not a question of if we’ll get another 2000, but when.

Big Media Darcy

[ 0 ] November 25, 2006 |

I note that the upcoming gig (Thursday, Bowery Poetry Club) of friend of (and frequent commenter at) L, G & M Darcy James Argue has been touted in the august pages of the New York Times:

DARCY JAMES ARGUE’S SECRET SOCIETY (Thursday) As the name implies, this big band is calibrated for maximum intrigue, with a style that genuflects to Steve Reich minimalism as well as to orchestral jazz in the descent of Bob Brookmeyer.

Even if the Real Thanksgiving Was Last Month…

[ 0 ] November 23, 2006 |

I’m off to bucolic New England for Thanksgiving, so happy holidays to all L, G & M readers. While I’m gone, enjoy this amusing cartoon about the most irritating rhetorical trope in American politics.

So Long, and Thanks For All the Material

[ 0 ] November 23, 2006 |

Two good posts at Broadsheet on this Thanksgiving eve. First–and truly reason to be thankful–is that walking evidence for the sometimes-forgotten fact that terrible, shallow ideas expressed in good prose are still terrible, shallow ideas Caitlin Flanagan has been told by the New Yorker to publish her irritating essays elsewhere, hopefully in a magazine I don’t read. About the merits of La Flangan’s work, I’ve already said more than enough. Two additional things from the article. First–and I thought the quality of the magazine had improved–Flanagan hasn’t appeared in the New Yorker since an article she wrote about Mary Poppins received a complaint from a a Poppins expert that “Ms. Flanagan had drawn over-heavily on her work, without adequate credit.” Second, according to agent, “She’s rewarded extremely handsomely for her book-writing, and no magazine can compete with that. Any work she’s doing for a magazine, she’s doing for charitable purposes.” Charitable to whom? Anyway, I’d be interested as to whether her sales justifies these allegedly high advances. To Hell With All That is already down to the low 50,000s on Amazon. One wonders if editors might just be projecting their interest in Flanagan’s complacent, upper-class anti-feminism onto a public that is rather less interested. If anybody with access to BookScan would like to let me know what the numbers have been…

In addition, I’ve been meaning to address this Bill O’Reilly rant about Kansas abortion provider George Teller, but Jessica Arons does the job with great effectiveness.

…a little birdie emails me that To Hell With All That has moved all of 8700 copies. In other words, if there was a six-figure advance we’re well within wingnut welfare territory…

"My daddy didn’t pull out, but he never apologized "

[ 0 ] November 22, 2006 |

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Wondering how Eric Keroack–the crank Bush as appointed to be in charge of family planning funding–could believe a bunch of non-scientific gibberish (which, to be fair, he expressed–appropriately enough–in cartoon form?) Apparently, he’s not a board-certified doctor at all. Heckuva job, Bushie!

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