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Tort Deform

[ 0 ] November 2, 2006 |

I’ve neglected to say that the Drum Major Institute has a terrific new blog intended to counter the rhetoric of the “tort reform” movement, to which I will be an occasional contributor.

With respect to my prediction that Roberts and Alito would join the moderate pro-business faction rather than Thomas and Scalia, it looks like we may have to wait, as it appears that the case will be sent back to the Oregon court for a rule clarification. Dahlia Lithwick and Linda Greenhouse have the details about the strange oral argument.

Requiem for Tower

[ 0 ] November 2, 2006 |

Terry Teachout recently had a WSJ piece about the bankruptcy of Tower Records. Alas, this one will be fatal (and, worse, I found out only after the jazz sections at both the 4th St. and Lincoln Center locations had been all but picked clean.) After singing the praises of the serendipity of browsing in physical stores, he said that he now bought all of his CDs online. Oddly, although I do a lot of online shopping (especially for books), with CDs I always preferred brick and mortar. I liked wandering around stores and being reminded of something, was impatient about getting new releases, liked getting recommendation from the clerk in the local shop who looked like Anna Karina circa 1962, etc.–the whole experience. But I decided to take the hint and with my eye on the P.J. Harvey BBC thing (somebody put her “Wang Dang Doodle on a mix CD a while back–I want to her more where that came from), the strange new Tom Waits project, and the new Joanna Newsom (hard to know what to make of the O’Rourke/Albini/Dyke Parks production/arrangement consortium applied to her music–but, actually, it sounds promising, and my critic friends seem to like what they’ve heard), I decided to suck it up and put in an advance order and hope they’ll arrive close to the release date. Another principle surrendered…

By the way, I just remembered that I forgot to thank Dave N. for his generous purchase of We Jam Econo from what I had assumed was a vestigial wish list. An extra round of Jesus and Tequilla for all!

"I seem to have tapped into some deep vein of insanity here"

[ 0 ] November 1, 2006 |

Saith the Derb, in the midst of the kind of circus that compels him to be the voice of reason. Let’s take increasingly pathetic Republican hatchet-woman Ann Althouse, who claims that “Kerry is outrageously lying when he says he wasn’t referring to the troops.” Needless to say, she doesn’t deign to share the evidence underlying that conclusion. Is it Kerry’s tie? Has he put on a few pounds? Based on her commenters, it would seem to be a sort of endless last-refuge-of-a-scoundrel feedback loop: when you start with the evidence-free assertion that John Kerry hates American troops, then all statements made by John Kerry become further evidence that he hates the troops, QED.

Anyway, this is just nonsense. Kerry–a decorated veteran–doesn’t hate the troops, and it would be obvious to a reasonably bright five-year-old that Kerry’s statement was a clumsy joke about Bush. Since others have already quoted the Derb’s first argument, I’ll cite this one:

…from several readers — and, obviously some of my Corner colleagues — that I would dare to suggest that John Kerry was not slandering our troops.

But he wasn’t. He may regard them with contempt (my personal impression is that JK regards most of the human race with contempt); he may despise them; he may think they’re dumb crackers; but T-H-A-T-’-S N-O-T W-H-A-T H-E S-A-I-D.

What he said was: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Who is stuck in Iraq? Not the common soldier, who just does a tour of duty, as Kerry himself knows from (sorry to bring it up) experience. Who’s stuck in Iraq? George W. Bush is stuck in Iraq. That was the point of Kerry’s joke. Which he botched. No fair-minded person, watching Kerry deliver those lines, could think otherwise.

I’m not carrying any water for John Kerry. I wrote this about John Kerry, and a good deal more uncomplimentary stuff besides. I don’t like John Kerry. I didn’t vote for John Kerry. Truth is truth, though, even when applied to John Kerry. If you can’t handle the truth, that’s your problem.

This couldn’t be more straightforward; in John Cole’s words “he was trying to insult the President and not the troops.” You’ll note that even the Cornerites who want to push the story concede that Kerry’s explanation is “plausible” or “likely.” And this non-story is being pushed by the likes of Glenn Reynolds, who couldn’t spend enough time pushing the Swift Boat Liar’s smearing of Kerry’s military service during the campaign. What’s “outrageous” is the likes of Althouse and Reynolds using the troops being put in harm’s way for a disastrous war they’ve both uncritically supported as a prop to allow them to return to their personality-based obsession with John Kerry. What a disgrace.

Feminism: Still Necessary

[ 0 ] November 1, 2006 |

The Happy Feminist and Jessica Valenti draw our attention to a remarkable-in-a-bad-way ruling by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. The court threw out a rape conviction because the judge failed to instruct the jury that a woman could not legally withdraw consent after penetration. The Court’s ruling was based on dicta in a 1980 decision, which it itself was based on common law definitions of rape. The court describes the principles animating the 1980 decision as follows:

But, to be sure, it was the act of penetration that was the essence of the crime of rape; after this initial infringement upon the responsible male’s interest in a woman’s sexual and reproductive functions, any further injury was considered to be less consequential. The damage was done. It was this view that the moment of penetration was the point in time, after which a woman could never be “re-flowered,” that gave rise to the principle that, if a woman consents prior to penetration and withdraws consent following penetration, there is no rape.

The court’s reasoning is unconvincing; it seems highly unlikely that the statute enacted by Maryland in 1976 was intended to reinscribe common law definitions of rape, and by definition the dicta of a 1980 decision are not binding. But whether the court was straining to uphold common law standards that saw rape as a criminal act not because of injury to the victim but because it represents “damage” to an “asset,” or–more frighteningly–it’s an accurate representation of Maryland law in 2006, it’s certainly disgraceful and chilling either way. Hopefully the Maryland Supreme Court will forcefully overturn this court’s decision, but it’s ridiculous that this could even be an issue at this late date.

[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]

He Finished Haggling Over The Price, And It Wasn’t Nearly Enough

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Shorter Jon Henke: “You have no reason to object to being assaulted for asking questions of your Senator, if you’re guilty of a history of…being a Democrat. Also, using “guerilla” as a metaphor for nonviolent activist immunizes any future attackers from any responsibility for beating the shit out of you in the future.”

If I ever become a paid shill for a political candidate, please shoot me. Thanks. I really couldn’t bear the indignity.

The Vagueness Problem

[ 2 ] October 31, 2006 |

I’m not inclined to intensify my disagreement with Amy Sullivan, but a couple points in her reply demand a clarification. Some of her claims I don’t even understand. If she’s not claiming that it’s not Democratic politicians who need to reach out to evangelical voters, I frankly have no idea what she is arguing. (To paraphrase the old line about Republican moderates, if the plan calls for ensuring that nobody with a blog somewhere or on low-rated cable shows ever says anything that could be negatively construed by evangelicals, we need a new plan.) Most importantly, at no point did I “endorse” the claim that ” evangelical aren’t worth targeting as Democratic voters.” What I did argue is that I don’t think there’s a free ride–I don’t think that some minor shifts in rhetoric will be sufficient. Like Sam Rosenfeld, I definitely take Sullivan’s point about the potential value in seeing that evangelicism is a more complex phenomenon than described by, say, Kevin Phillips. I’m potentially open to arguments about ways in which ways in which Democrats can attract some of these voters, and even open to claims that major Democrats have needlessly alienated religious believers. But not naming names (and, no, I don’t believe second-tier television personalities count as prominent Democrats for the purposes of this argument) and getting into specific policy choices–in addition to being irritating–makes it difficult for this discussion to occur. The data Sullivan points to are a non-sequitur. The fact that some evangelicals are disillusioned with the Republicans doesn’t mean that they’re ripe to be Democratic converts–if their disillusionment stems from the fact that the Republicans aren’t doing enough to criminalize abortion or legally stigmatize gay people, for example, they’re not fertile electoral ground for the Democrats. Anyway, if Sullivan is saying that the Democrats can attract evangelicals with no substantive policy shifts I disagree and don’t think she’s provided any evidence; if she believes that some substantive changes are necessary, I can’t evaluate the tradeoffs until she specifies what they are.

There’s also an additional problem. I’m interested that Sam linked to Noam Scheiber’s post about people seeing Hillary Clinton’s sincere religious belief as a punchline. Sullivan and Scheiber are certainly right that there’s a problem of perception here: churchgoing Dems are assumed to be irreligious, whereas a Ronald Reagan–who had little private commitment to cultural conservatism but wasn’t a churchgoer–can be seen as pious. But it seems to me that broad, vague descriptions of “Democrats” (or even “some Democrats”) being hostile to religion are part of the problem. A lack of focus and specificity on this issue isn’t just bad for debate–it’s bad politics.

…in light of David’s comment, I should make an additional point. In assuming that Sullivan’s talking about Democratic politicans and power brokers and strategists, I’m not trying to distort her argument; I’m trying to be charitable. I can’t believe she’s arguing that every individual secularist who supports the Democrats should be prohibited from criticizing the religious and cultural views of evangelicals. That’s not trying to broaden the Democratic coalition; that’s just wanting a different coalition. If the argument is about how Democrats seeking office can attract evangelical votes, that’s a conversation worth having. If the argument is that “anyone who disagrees with Amy Sullivan’s religious or cultural views has to shut up,” that’s too silly to even be worth engaging with.

Senate Polling

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Some new CNN data. It still looks like 50-49-1 to me, with Tennessee looking like a write-off. The one ray of hope is Virginia–the polls are still even, and given the D.C. suburbs I can see Virginia going Democratic in a toss up race the way I can’t see Tennessee. On the other hand, MO is also still a toss-up, although I’m inclined to think the Dems will take it.

Today in the Conservative War on Aesthetics

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: Why can’t those pretentious writers and directors stop making television shows and movies, and just go straight to the blog summaries? Movies are only good for using as a pretext for remarkably implausible GOP cheerleading anyway.

What I really like about the last post is that the shooting the president thing was playing in very limited release and the Dixie Chicks thing in 4 theaters (where it pulled in more than $12,000 per, not bad at any rate.) So Althouse seems to be seeing a Republican groundswell…in Manhattan and Los Angeles. (Perhaps Prof B.’s mere presence in the Golden state has initiated a huge backlash.) Is this likely? I dunno, ask whoever’s running against Hillary Clinton, if any trace of his or her campaign exists. Maybe the porn star the Republicans seem to be running for Senate in California has finally gotten $25 grand in the bank…

In fairness, you probably remember that when America’s Heart and Soul tanked, it portended that massive Democratic landslide in 2004, so maybe the theory has something to it…

The Return Of Marty

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

It’s post about annoying indie cinema reminds me that I’m vastly behind on my movie posts. (Alas, I haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine yet, but I can confirm that Miranda July’s New Yorker short story was indeed outstanding. Of course, I also liked Me and You and Everyone You Know– I think it’s in the “so often cited as overrated it’s actually underrated” category.) But any discussion of movies should start with The Departed.

The Departed is unlikely to be a strong best picture contender–it makes no grand statements, it’s not striving to be the great American cinema, and thank God. While I guess I can understand why someone with Scorsese’s reverence for American cinema wanted the awards he deserved, trying to please the MPAA was hell on his art. I strongly recommend Roy’s post about late Scorsese–I’ll even go the whole contrarian hog and agree that Eyes Wide Shut will look more interesting in 10 years. (Roy is particularly astute about Kurbick using Cruise “for his weaknesses as much as his strengths,” and about Sydney Pollack, who I wish would act more and direct less.) The most uneven and flawed ones–Casino and Gangs–were the most interesting; most of his other post-GoodFellas movies weren’t bad, but had no reason to exist. But the disappointment of making very skillful middlebrow Oscar bait and still not being rewarded seems to have had a clarifying effect. The Departed is lower first-tier or high second-tier Scorsese–or, in other words, I’ll be shocked if it’s not by far the best American movie of the year. And, of course, also see Roy on The Departed itself: “Scorsese got a hell of a good script and directed the shit out of it. This is not a bloated obsessional gig like the last couple — it’s a lean mean one, with a crackerjack cast and Ballhaus and Schoonmaker and Shore on deck. You can feel the pleasure of the material in every artist’s hand.” Exactly right.

It’s particularly striking when you see it after the overrated Scorsese homage A Guide To Recognizing your Saints, but from the first frame of the movie to the end your in the hands of a master, someone finally making movies for himself than for the MPAA. DiCaprio was awful, especially in comparison with Day-Lewis, in GONY and couldn’t quite carry The Aviator, but as part of an ensemble he’s very effective, holding up with Damon and Wahlberg. Nicholson is allowed to chew exactly enough scenery. And like Moriarty, Bernhard and Bracco Vera Farmiga provides the crucial, soulful center. His knack for pacing is back (and his ability to use rock n’ roll); the movie is long, but holds one’s attention throughout. (Because of a communication mixup we had to see the 10:30 show–a problem for my morning-person friend–but it wasn’t an issue.) The plotting starts to unravel a bit toward the end–if anything, it could have been longer–but it’s a terrific picture. Like Time Out of Mind, it’s a master returning to form after a long drought of the failed and merely good. And in what looks like an off-year, the movies needed him.

…A good point in comments: I actually like the very underrated The Age Of Innocence.

And Then What?

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

I have a lot of problems with Amy Sullivan’s recent piece about the opportunities allegedly presented by David Kuo’s new book. First of all, I reject her entire premise that Democratic politicians don’t reach out to religious believers, and since she never mentions the names of prominent Democrats who treat believers with contempt it’s impossible to evaluate her claims. Second, Sullivan’s claim that liberal bloggers have “spent so much time fear-mongering about American theocracy that a book illustrating the opposite simply makes no sense to them” is belied by the fact that what is surely the most-discussed liberal book of the second Bush era makes the well-known case that evangelicals are being played for suckers by the business elite that really holds the power in the GOP. Kuo’s revelations aren’t so shocking as to be incomprehensible to knowledgeable liberals, but are rather banal.

But my biggest problem with Sullivan’s argument continues to be that she’s frustratingly vague about how, exactly, Democrats should “reach out to disaffected evangelicals.” My understanding is that she’s not saying that Democrats should sacrifice core principles such as reproductive freedom. But if that’s the case, I don’t know what more Democrats can do. Sullivan seems to think that there are large numbers of voters who 1)like Democratic economic policy more, 2)vote Republican because of social issues, but 3)would stop voting Republican on social issues, not because of substantive shifts in Democratic policy but because of shifts in rhetoric. I suspect that these voters could fit in a good-sized walk-in closet. I think most voters who vote on cultural principle care about substantive positions, and with the Roberts and Alito homeruns they’re being rational to vote Republican no matter how much Karl Rove disdains them.

Another point to keep in mind is that a concern for social justice doesn’t necessarily translate into support for Democratic economic policy. Consider this from the recent New Yorker profile of Michael Gerson, the Bush speechwriter often cited as a true “compassionate conservative”:

Gerson defends Bush’s tax cuts, which the President’s critics believe not only favor those with the highest incomes but have also left less money for important domestic programs; Gerson believes that free markets and free trade are the best means of lifting people out of poverty, and that lower taxes stimulate both. “The part of Mike I have the most trouble understanding, perhaps because we simply disagree, is how he can square his support for pretty substantial spending for the very poorest among us with a defense of Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest people,” Dionne said. “Maybe Mike just buys supply-side economics in a way that I don’t, but most supply-siders don’t think like Mike.”

The fact is that most Republican evangelicals are strongly committed to Republican policy positions, and it’s condescending to think that they can be persuaded by subtle rhetorical shifts (and Sullivan concedes at one point that depressing turnout is more likely than actually convincing the religious right to vote Democratic.) What Democrats can do to broaden their base–run more socially conservative candidates in more conservative states, and claim that religious values support progressive goals and solutions–they’re already doing. So I just don’t see what talking more about David Kuo is supposed to accomplish.

Erick Erickson: A New Low

[ 0 ] October 29, 2006 |

John Cole notes a profoundly embarrassing installment in the conservative war on aesthetics by Erick Erickson, who mocks the “‘it’s just fiction’ defense” of Jim Webb.” (Next, those crazy liberals might claim that Vladimir Nabokov isn’t a pedophile, and Thomas Pynchon isn’t an 18th century surveyor!) Radley Balko says that “I met Erickson at a CPAC a couple of years ago. He is every bit as impressive in person as you might guess from the post linked above.” That’s pretty impressive, if only on the grounds that I wouldn’t think that anybody capable of turning on a computer could be as dimwitted and mendacious as Erickson, but evidently I’m too optimistic.

This reminds me of my favorite Erickson moment. In the midst of a truly pathetic defense of wingnut plagiarist Ben Domenech, Erickson claimed that poor Ben’s actions “appear suspicious, but only because permissions obtained and judgments made offline were not reflected online by an out dated and out of business campus newspaper.” Needless to say, a two-second Google inquiry could falsify Erickson’s claim, but the contempt that hacks of this stripe have for their audience is boundless (and, frankly, given that Erickson can still show up on the front page of Red State, may be partially justified.)

Yet More On Gender-Segregated Education

[ 0 ] October 29, 2006 |

The more I read, the more I’m dubious about the apparent coming increase in gender segregation in K-12 schools. Neil reminds us of The Happy Feminist’s terrific post this summer on the subject, in which she points us to some of the underlying theoretical claims of the Louisiana program being challenged:

54. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax states that because of biological differences in the brain, boys need to practice pursuing and killing prey, while girls need to practice taking care of babies. As a result, boys should be permitted to roughhouse during recess and play contact sports, to learn the rules of aggression. Such play is more dangerous for girls, because girls are less biologically able to manage aggression.

57. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax urges that boys be taught in competitive, high-energy teams. In contrast, teachers should assure that girls are relaxed in class. For instance, girls should be encouraged to take their shoes off. Also, girls should never be given strict time limits to complete tasks. Stress makes boys perform better and girls perform worse, according to Dr. Sax.

59. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that literature teachers should not ask boys about emotions in literature, but should simply focus on what actually happened in the story. In contrast, teachers should focus on emotions rather than action in teaching literature to girls.

62. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that “anomalous males” — boys who like to read, who don’t enjoy competitive sports or rough-and-tumble play, and who don’t have a lot of close male friends — should be firmly disciplined, should spend as much time as possible with “normal males,” and should be made to play competitive sports.

Yeah, if there’s any problem that we currently face, it’s that men are reading too damned much!

None of this is to say this is an inherent characteristic of single-sex education; it doesn’t seem to describe the school that Becks attended, for example. It’s all in the details. But given the competence and commitment to women’s rights of the current administration…

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