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Anne Applebaum, You Gotta Be Putting Me On

[ 57 ] October 20, 2007 |

In this week’s installment, she contributes to the Ridiculous Martyrdom of Larry Summers by backing up nonsense spoken by Christina Hoff Sommers :

How will we ever be able to talk about sex differences in an interesting way if we’re not allowed to study them? If the subject is an academic taboo, then the same old cliches will just live on for another generation. Or ten generations.

Of course, nobody criticized Summers for suggesting that academics should study sex differences. He was criticized for suggesting that the most likely reason that women were underrepresented in some academic fields was an innate lack of mental capacity although this is not supported by solid scientific evidence and Summers had no expertise in the field. As Brian Leiter put it:

Alas, it turns out that no one was objecting to research being done on the hypothesis. They objected, rather, to the chief administrator of a research university–a man with no scholarly expertise in the area (as in none)–floating an hypothesis potentially damaging to women for which there is, at present, no well-confirmed scientific support (as in none).

As I’ve said before, the context is also important. Summers was not a random academic reporting on his research (and, indeed, nobody is calling for Steven Pinker’s tenure to be revoked because of his male supremacist just-so stories.) He was the president of an elite university that, as it happens, had a poor record of attracting and retaining female faculty in the sciences under his tenure. Not alienating the remaining faculty by saying dumb things is part of his job. At any rate, the criticism of Summers’s remarks did not establish a taboo against conducting scientific research into sex differences. It may have reflected a taboo against university presidents justifying gender discrimination by engaging in the same kind of pseudo-scientific speculation that once caused women to be unfairly excluded from elite universities, the legal profession, etc. etc., but this is a different matter entirely (and a good thing.)

Relatedly, make sure to read this from Cosma Shalizi (via CT.)

..It’s not terribly important to my overall argument — what matters is that he considers it more important than discrimination — but in comments Ken C. is correct that Summers only placed a lack of aptitude as the second most important factor exonerating his horrible record with female faculty. First was the “high-powered job hypothesis,” his description of which was somewhat problematic in its own right for reasons I’ve discussed with respect to Supreme Court clerks; it’s bizarre to discuss the fact that women are expected to do far more of the domestic work as a category distinct from gender discrimination. (It’s also problematic given that gender discrimination remains durable at non-elite institutions where tenured professors don’t have to work 80 hour weeks.)

Mukasey, Non

[ 30 ] October 19, 2007 |

Yeah, I have to concede that I completely botched that one. I suppose “the Bush administration is always wrong” may not be literally true, but it’s a pretty effective decision rule.

Ex Post Facto

[ 0 ] October 19, 2007 |

To answer Atrios’s question, the constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws has been held to apply principally to criminal, not civil, cases. Also, the implicit purpose of the provision is to act as a constraint on the state’s power to punish the individual by retroactively criminalizing acts; state action that exempts individuals (or corporations) from punishment or liability doesn’t really apply.

More importantly, of course, immunizing corporations who assisted the government in illegal acts regardless of the facts is certainly appalling even if it’s constitutional.

The "You Always Have To Help Someone Else" Tactic

[ 5 ] October 19, 2007 |

Yglesias identifies a key strategy for opposing progressive change without openly opposing the underlying goals:

One has to keep in mind the broader picture here, too. The right’s main tactic whenever Democrats want to do something that might be helpful to any group of citizens everywhere is to identify some even more desperately poor group and claim that their opposition to helping out is driven by a die-hard commitment to these truly needy types. Try to help the working class, and the underclass are trotted out for moral blackmail. Try to help the middle class, and what about the poor? But then when push comes to shove, these are the same people trying to cut section eight housing programs, trying to cut food stamps, etc. The only people they’re really serious about helping are the extremely wealthy beneficiaries of their tax cuts.

Exactly. I think my favorite somewhat recent example of this feeble diversionary tactic was David Velleman’s opposition to grad student unionization at NYU on the grounds that janitors in Houston are even worse off. (And, of course, the fact that this unionization might lead to mild restrictions on his own privileges rather than someone else’s is just an amazing coinky-dink!)


[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

Not that I don’t agree with McCarver about Ramirez not hustling, and if anything I’m cheering for the Tribe in this series, but how many times can they show the ball clearly bouncing over the yellow line and claim that the replays are indeterminate? Yeesh.

A 2008 Vanity Campaign From the Right?

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

I’m still unconvinced.

Defending the Indefensible

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

Ross Douthat tries to defend ineffective and inequitable abortion criminalization policies:

Whereas we know that when abortion was legalized in America in the early 1970s, the abortion rate went up dramatically; we also know that Western Europe, which has lower abortion rates than the U.S., also has (somewhat) more restrictive abortion laws. Which suggests if you’re serious about reducing the abortion rate in America (as opposed to taking the “more abortion is a good thing” line that Matt espouses), the Edelstein-Saletan answer is something of a cop-out; if some kind of restriction isn’t on the table, you probably aren’t going to get very far.

A few obvious problems here:

  • First of all, the comparative analysis cuts both ways. Since Western Europe also for the most part lacks powerful movements dedicated to opposing rational sex education and access to contraception for unmarried people and also has a stronger safety net (making it easier for poor women to bear children), its lower abortion rates don’t answer the dispute here; they’re just as consistent with the thesis that these policies lower abortion rates more than criminalization. Douthat also ignores Latin America, which has pretty much the exact mix of policies favored by most American anti-choicers (abortion bans, reactionary sexual and gender mores, threadbare safety net) and also has sky-high abortion rates.
  • Douthat also makes the common error of conflating the quantity of formal restrictions on abortion with access to abortion. Since most European abortion restrictions are either similar to ones on the books in most American states or affect only the tiny fraction of late term abortions, the assumption that European women have less access to abortion than American women on the ground is highly problematic. Moreover, of the common non-ban regulations the most important is denying funding for poor women — which is available in most of Europe and not in most American states. And finally, Canada — which has almost entirely unregulated and state funded abortions — also has lower abortion rates than the United States; the same is true of the Netherlands, which effectively has state-funded abortion on demand (unless you consider showing a “state of distress” after 12 weeks is a difficult standard) for pre-viability abortions. This suggests again that the level of abortion regulation has fairly marginal effects on abortion rates.
  • Finally, Douthat entirely ignores the key implications of the study. How could the marginal-at-best reductions in abortion rates possibly justify the arbitrary enforcement, grossly inequitable effects, and the great harm caused to women that are all endemic to the legal regimes Douthat advocates? Like most anti-choicers, Douthat simply hides under the table when the question comes up.

Yeah, Surrrrrrre…

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

For those unclear on the concept of bluffing, here’s Brian Cashman:

But yesterday after meeting with the three Steinbrenners and other members of the Yankees brain trust, Cashman said the team absolutely does not plan to negotiate with Rodriguez if he opts out. Another source familiar with talks told Newsday the Steinbrenners are absolutely onboard with that.

“Yes, I can affirm that,” Cashman said. “If Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, we will not participate in his free agency. That is accurate and that is definitive.”

[5 second pause, entirely for effect] “I re-raise.”

This has been in a lesson in “transparently non-credible bluffing.”

Gender Discrimination and Mukasey

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

An interesting catch from today’s hearings from Emily Bazelon.

The "Pro-life" Culture of Death

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

Bush’s new nominee to oversee family planning programs doesn’t like contraception; no surprise there. Ann notes that “pro-lifers” don’t really see anything in it for them if middle-class families have health insurance for their children. After explaining the deadly consequences of the new abortion ban in Nicaragua, Jill sums up:

In the meantime, countries with the most “pro-life” laws have higher abortion rates than the Western European countries with the most liberal abortion laws in the world. A large part of the difference is contraception — Eastern Europe has seen a 50 percent decrease in its abortion rate since contraception became more widely available post-Communism. And yet contraception is something else that mainstream anti-choice groups oppose.

Yes, you read that right: Mainstream “pro-life” organizations are opposed to contraception as well as abortion. They’re just keeping quiet about it because they know it’s an unpopular position, and they know it outs them as hypocrites who put ideology over human life. But the fact remains that none of the well-known and influential national anti-choice groups have come out in support of contraception access. None of them promote the very thing that has been proven, time and again, to lower the abortion rate.

What do they promote? Abstinence until marriage and embracing pregnancy and childbirth. (Apparently, no married woman has ever wanted an abortion or experienced pregnancy-related complications). Other than that, anti-choice groups offer no real alternative to women who don’t want to be pregnant, or women who don’t have a choice to say no to sex, or women whose pregnancies threaten their life or their health. They offer no solution to the problem that kills nearly 70,000 women every year, other than “don’t have sex outside of marriage; only have sex if you’re willing to give birth; and abortion is wrong, don’t have one.”

That isn’t working. It has never worked.


So far, “pro-life” groups have been non-responsive to the dead bodies in their wake. They are, however, mobilizing around the world to spread policies like Nicaragua’s far and wide. They are actively seeking to outlaw abortion in the United States, and in the meantime trying to limit access to it. Right now they’re in Aurora, Illinois, opposing Planned Parenthood. They’re also the base of a Republican party that regularly launches assaults at children and families. The right-wing opposition to children’s health care is just the start; 100 percent of the country’s worst legislators for children are “pro-life.” The global gag rule, which cuts off U.S. funding to any NGO that so much as mentions the world “abortion,” ends up de-funding health clinics that provide contraception, condoms and HIV prevention. As much as anti-choice leaders claim to value life and dislike abortion, their actions don’t back it up.

Dead sluts would seem to be the price the forced pregnancy lobby is willing to pay for…whatever it is that abortion criminalization is supposed to accomplish. Even “Feminists [sic] For Life [sic]” take no position on contraception other than to express concern “that certain forms of contraception have had adverse health effects on women.” To state the obvious, any position that expresses concern for fetal life while being indifferent to or actively opposing policies meant to reduce unwanted pregnancies is a complete fraud.

The Effect of Abortion Criminalization

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

In response to Matt here, let’s go back and see what I actually wrote about the new WHO study:

If the goal of abortion is to protect fetal life, criminalization is at best an ineffective and grossly inequitable means of achieving this goal, and the bundle of policies favoring reproductive freedom (including legal abortion) generally produces lower abortion rates than the illegal abortion-no rational sex ed-limited access to contraception-threadbare welfare state usually favored by the American forced pregnancy lobby.

It is, of course, true that the fact that countries that criminalize abortion have higher abortion rates doesn’t mean that the criminalization itself causes these high rates, and indeed it’s almost certainly true that ceteris paribus criminalization lowers abortion rates; I didn’t say otherwise. My points, however, are that 1)significant numbers of abortions will be performed under legal regime, since affluent women will almost always have access to safe abortions and some poor women will resort to unsafe illegal abortions, and 2)in practice, all things are almost never equal; abortion criminalization is almost always accompanied by other reactionary policies that swamp whatever inhibiting effects the bans have. What effect abortion criminalization would have in some hypothetical society with a strong commitment to women’s equality that happened to have a de facto commitment to fetal life that is rarely evident when push comes to shove even in societies that ban abortion is pretty much a pointless parlor game. If you want to consider marginal reductions in abortion rates that are reversed by the other policies that almost inevitably come with abortion bans in the real world and are obtained at the price of considerable negative externalities and arbitrary enforcement an “accomplishment,” I guess you can; I don’t.

On the normative point, as long time readers will know I don’t consider increasing abortion rates a moral problem and consider the sexual liberation that comes from legal abortion (and access to contraception) a feature, not a bug. (I do think that lower abortion rates that come from preventing unwanted pregnancies rather than restricting abortion access a good thing; I think that most women would prefer not to become pregnant in the first place than go through the expense and small risk of an abortion even if, like me, you consider pre-viability abortions morally neutral.) I don’t think this means, however, we should ignore the fact that “pro-life” policies are indefensible failures even if you accept “pro-life” premises. It strikes me that these arguments are a lot more likely to convince people who are ambivalent on the issue than making normative arguments about the a priori moral status of abortion.

"This May Surprise You, but Manny Ramirez Creates More Runs Than Coco Crisp!"

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

On Saturday, Tom McCarver treated the most obvious banality as if he’d just split the atom; he can’t help it, he’s Tim McCarver. What’s amazing is that he considered it so earth-shattering he needed to share it again!

10:05: I might not be able to describe what McCarver just told us without you thinking I made it up, but let’s try: Over the span of 45 seconds, he just explained that a leadoff home run leads to more multi-run innings than a leadoff walk, only he made it sound like this was some sort of remarkable revelation or something. Did we just watch a sketch for Joe Buck’s late-night show? That just happened, right?

(Rewinding game on TiVo.)

10:06: Yup, it just happened. So if you’re keeping track at home, multi-run innings happen more often when they’re started off by a home run instead of a walk. Thank you, Tim McCarver. Meanwhile, Delcarmen just gave up a Lofton single, a stolen base and a pop-up RBI single to Casey Blake Niedermayer. 7-0, Indians. We’re getting close to a Gagne appearance that might be acceptable under the ground rules established at the top of this column.

Yes–homeruns lead to more runs than walks; I”m as shocked as you are. I guess the idea that this is a revalation is an adjunct to the favorite broadcaster/sportswriter idiocy, that if you’re down multiple runs homeruns are “rally-killers.”

As Simmons also notes, all the more tragic is the opportunity that TBS had. First of all, no Tim McCarver. Their camerawork was less sophisticated but also less annoying; many fewer nostril shots, plugs for network stars, etc. I wish they had kept Darling for the NLCS, but Gywnn and Brenly were tolerable. But Chip Caray — wow. He’s the best argument against nepotism since Adam Bellow edited Liberal Fascism, if not Kiefer Sutherland.

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