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People Who Take Ann Althouse Seriously: Not to be Taken Seriously

[ 0 ] October 15, 2006 |

About this awful HufPost article, Feministing collectively says all that needs to be said, with an Abstract Nonsense chaser. But it makes one useful contribution–pushing Ann Althouse to a level of self-parody she had not previously reached (which, frankly, I would have thought impossible.) Laments La Althouse: “Fifteen years ago, feminists critiquing each other was an important part of feminism. Now, doggedly serving liberal partisan politics squelches everything that could become vital.” Yes, if you examine the feminist blogosphere today, one thing you’ll notice is that feminists are completely unwilling to engage in critiques of each other. (In fairness, she would be right not to count the many critiques of her post: feminists criticizing an anti-feminist is a different category.)

Let me explain: people didn’t criticize your claims that wearing a knit sweater to a meeting with an ex-president with a relatively strong feminist policy record is somehow anti-feminist because they’re against feminists being criticized in principle, but because your arguments were asinine and mean-spirited. If you want serious engagement with feminists, I would suggest not saying to an (actual) feminist, in these words, to “go ahead, tart up your website with boobies for now.” (Yep, “tart.”) Claiming that having an obvious parody of a sexist symbol and a T-Shirt ad constitutes “breastblogging” is stupid and insulting (and clearly even Althouse doesn’t take it seriously, since she’s not willing to criticize fellow conservatives who do the same thing.) Claiming that a group photo where the short people are in front and the tall people in the back must have been arranged to show off a young woman’s breasts makes no sense, and going on to speculate that NARAL’s house blogger might have been invited to the meetup as part of an elaborate ruse to get Bill Clinton laid is deranged. Your complaints about feminists not being willing to engage in an argument will be sneered at when you explicitly refuse to engage with the significant amount of substantive critiques you generated will be justly laughed at. And the idea of anybody listening to lectures about the purity of other people’s feminist credentials from somebody who took to the pages of the New York Times to write an evidence-free op-ed urging the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee who is not only a steadfast opponent of women’s rights in a context in which many crucial rights are hanging by a vote or two but belonged to an organization determined to keep women out of Princeton is absolutely risible. Is that critique enough for you?

…The Althouse method of “engagement” summarized neatly here.

Blood on the Tracshel

[ 0 ] October 14, 2006 |

A homerun on an 0-2 pitch to…Jeff Suppan? Christ, he’s terrible. (But at least he’s a quick worker!) Obviously, a long way to go, but…

Alas, for coverage of Game 2, you’ll have to turn to Roy–in a shocking betrayal of every principle I’ve ever stood for, I decided to go to a friend’s birthday party last night. (I would almost have reason to be proud if I didn’t keep everyone waiting trying to get a score at the futuristic rice pudding place.) When I got on the subway, all seemed well…I hope the Game 2 collapse isn’t the fateful turning point.

…Ack, 5-0. Let’s check out Hockey Night In Canada…oooh, nice play by Iginla! When did Cassie Campbell start doing color?

Hack…and Proud of It!

[ 0 ] October 13, 2006 |

Not surprisingly, the recent Lancet study has lead to a plague of unremitting hackdom. One of these hacks, however, has proudly claimed his rightful title. I give him points for honesty, at any rate!

Make sure to see this from DeLong as well.

Can This Argument Be Saved?

[ 0 ] October 13, 2006 |

In response to my claim that the exemption of women from punishment under laws banning abortion is fatally incoherent, a commenter here (as a TAPPED commenter did earlier) invokes Ronald Dworkin’s argument that abortion is a “cosmic shame” that nonetheless doesn’t rise to the level of murder. The commenter says:

I have some sympathy for that argument even though I don’t accept the premise (that abortion is at least morally problematic because it shows “disrespect for life”.) Dworkin argues that this is really the position of most abortion opponents- that they do not in fact think that abortion is murder, and that they don’t think this is shown through their actions. That part seems exactly right…If you have a position like this it doesn’t seem implausible that one might think that abortion should be illegal, but might still think that those having abortions should not punished. I don’t find that an attractive option myself, and hope I’d not find it to be one even if I did think that abortion showed disrespect for life, but it’s not an incoherent one.

The problem is that adopting Dworkin’s position makes things worse, not better, for pro-lifers:

–Fundamental reproductive rights have been entrenched for decades, in decisions that have no chance of being overturned. Whatever its other defects, the “seamless web” argument that fetuses are comparable to babies offers a compelling justification for overriding these rights. An inchoate sense that abortion reflects disrespect for life but not in a way that is comparable to murder, much less so. Most people are ambivalent about abortion, but there is no effective way of writing these moral ambivalences into legislative enactments. As Dworkin argues, once you’ve conceded that abortion is more of a “morals” issue like adultery, it becomes almost impossible to justify criminalization.

–The exclusion of women from punishment under statutes justified by such rationales is every bit as incoherent as it is under claims that abortion is comparable to murder. Once the criminal law is involved, there’s simply no good reason to exclude women from punishment that is applied to doctors unless you don’t believe that women are moral agents, period. (It would also remove any legal stigma from self-administered abortions, although such abortions are not in any way morally different.) Dworkin’s rationale might justify lower penalties in general, but provides no basis whatsoever for excluding the woman primarily responsible for the act from punishments that are applied to the person she hires.

–Finally, an absolutely inevitable consequence of abortion laws enacted under such a rationale is that these laws will be enforced in an egregiously arbitrary manner (as was the case in the United States pre-Roe.) In practice, seeing abortion as justifiable in some circumstances but not others will mean that it’s justifiable when you choose to get one but not necessarily when others get them — which means that abortion access comes down to power, not finely drawn moral distinctions. Criminalizing abortion really means abortion-on-demand for affluent women and very limited access to safe abortions for poor women, which is both unfair and completely incoherent, unless somebody wants to argue that abortion is less of a “cosmic shame” when a fetus is in an affluent woman’s body.

The argument that most pro-lifers don’t really see abortion as comparable to murder (which, as was the point of my argument, is certainly correct) makes their position weaker, not stronger. Seeing abortion as a difficult, ambiguous moral problem makes criminalizing abortion almost impossible to defend if any value is placed on reproductive autonomy at all.

[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]

Moral What Now?

[ 0 ] October 12, 2006 |

In response to this post, one Seth Edenbaum–who seems to think that his silly point is such an astounding insight that he cut and pasted it to another post (with some Lee Siegelesque rants about yuppies and Willaimsburg) –says:

The issue is not one of internal consistency. Or rather the argument with the majority of abortion opponents will not be won by trying to convince them that their arguments are illogical (or that they are illogical under the circumstances they choose to accept). Their arguments are attempts to impose a sense of “moral seriousness” by means of law.
How do you respond to that desire? That is the only question that is not academic: that does not revolve around the two of you and others like you talking amongst yourselves.

Well, first of all, the terminology gives the arguments he’s demanding I respond to a rational content they don’t have. Criminalizing specific acts (with the attendant
ruination of lives than ensues) out of an inchoate sense that people are making choices you would prefer them not to be making is neither moral nor serious. But as to the question of how to appeal to people who have made a priori commitment to bad laws based on irrational gibberish, I’m sure I have no idea. Once I again I will repeat that I am not a political operative; when making political arguments in these forums am I trying to expose positions that are factually, logically, or normatively deficient. How to appeal to people who simply don’t care about defending their positions in terms that are intelligible to others is not my department.

Feminists Against Women

[ 1 ] October 12, 2006 |

Admittedly, when it comes to illogic on the part of supporters of criminalized abortion, the rape and incest exemptions are relatively small potatoes. What really gives away the show is their unwillingness to apply criminal sanctions against women who are allegedly committing something akin to murder. Hack politicians, of course, respond to questions about how the Republican Party platform can support a constitutional amendment that would make abortion first-degree murder in all 50 states but would entirely exempt women from punishment by babbling nonsense. But even serious, usually principled pro-life intellectuals like Ramesh Ponnuru are willing to claim that abortion can be comparable to murder as a moral act but a matter of less import than spitting on the sidewalk when it comes to punishing women who obtain them. Evidently, one of these premises must be incorrect.

Or, to be more precise, the Republican position on abortion is incoherent…if you believe that women are rational citizens, fully responsible for their actions. As Reva Siegel and Sarah Blustain reported in their terrific article in the October Prospect, however, what might seem to be banal assumptions about women in 2005 are by no means universally shared by pro-lifers. When you consider the atavistic findings of South Dakota’s (egregiously stacked) task force, it’s not surprising that their draconian new abortion law doesn’t punish women for allegedly taking a life:

South Dakota based its ban on a 70-page set of findings contained in the “Report of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion” — by far the most comprehensive government account of the arguments and evidence for protecting women from abortion. A transparently one-sided publication — even the anti-abortion chair of the task force voted against it to publicize her objections to its abstinence recommendations and abortion “facts” — the report includes a variety of findings explicitly endorsed by the legislature as the basis for the ban. Some are the more familiar, fetal-focused items, emphasizing that a fetus is a “whole separate unique living human being.” But more than half of the 10 findings focus on women. The task force found that abortions cause long-term emotional and physical damage to women, everything from suicidal ideation to the possibility of breast cancer. But the task force’s report went even further: It argued that the state needed a ban because of the epidemic overriding pressures on women to abort — from a family member, a husband or boyfriend, or an abortion clinic — that make extra protection from abortion necessary. Finally, to make credible its claims about women’s health and women’s choices, the task force made repeated claims about women’s nature. It asserted that women would never freely choose an abortion — even absent outside pressures — because doing so would violate “the mother’s fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child.” The task force took as a statement of biological and psychological fact that a mother’s connection to her unborn baby was more authentic than her own statement of desire not to be pregnant. These gender-role convictions are at the heart of the movement’s claim that the nation must now combat an epidemic of dangerous and coerced abortions.

This is how the circle can be squared: import 19th century conceptions of women as passive vessels, unable to make rational choices, whose nature is defined by childbirth. (You can recognize the task force’s understanding of women in the language of the 1873 Supreme Court decision that upheld an Illinois law that prevented women from practicing law: “The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood…The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society.”) Which makes it all the more remarkable, then, that as reported by Stephanie Simon these profoundly reactionary conceptions of gender are being advanced in South Dakota by activists calling themselves “feminists.” This a rather strange name for people who believe the assumptions underlying the 19th century legal status of women are correct. Perhaps after they’re done in South Dakota, these activists can start groups called “Jews for anti-Semitism” or “steak-eaters for PETA.”

(Cross-posted at TAPPED.)


[ 0 ] October 11, 2006 |

To people who saw this and know I work on the Upper East Side, 1)I’m fine, and 2)although I can see the helicopters out the window I have no particular knowledge of what’s going on. More later if I find anything out; for now, the mundane task of a College Senate meeting awaits.

RIP. My last memory of him will be phoning in to defend himself on a talk show earlier this week. It’s a sad story.

The Disastrous Toll of the Iraq War

[ 0 ] October 11, 2006 |

In light of the new study of deaths caused by the War in Iraq, Sam reminds us of this pair of classic posts by Daniel Davies, debunking the know-nothing attempts to attack the study. Needless to say, as Greenwald notes “Bush followers have become overnight expert statisticians and are able — with certainty no less — to declare these numbers to be wildly inflated and unreliable (some try to provide some reasoning, while some don’t even bother).” He does leave out Rick Moran, who also tries to claims that the study was “politically motivated” because…there were erroneous critiques of the study in 2004! (The fact that he’s bringing up stuff like the Iraqi Body Count makes clear that he simply doesn’t understand what the study is analyzing, let alone understand anything about statistical methodology.) The statistical ignorance about to be launched by Bush administration dead-enders is going to be staggering, and it’s safe to say we’re not going to see anything that Davies hasn’t already addressed and disproven.

Glenn Reynolds is Making Sense

[ 0 ] October 11, 2006 |

No, seriously:

I’ll take neat printing over sloppy cursive any day, and — take it from a guy who’s graded a lot of bluebooks — nearly all the cursive you see is sloppy. It’s hard to find someone under 70 with nice, traditional penmanship.

Sometimes, I actually say this before in-class exams, and when I forget I always regret it. 99% of the time, cursive writing is a disaster; while with printing you can pretty much always make it out, bad cursive writing might as well be hieroglyphics, and most cursive writing is bad. I curse every teacher in this day in age who insists on it.

Amanda is also making sense, which is less surprising.

Academy of the Overrated: The Induction Speech

[ 1 ] October 10, 2006 |

I should have know better than to write something about Aaron Sorkin when Lance would do the job, but this is exactly right:

Whatever. He started as a playwright, he learned to tell his stories by having his characters talk them out, and he hasn’t learned any new lessons for his adopted medium, which is only part of his weakness as a television writer.

Sorkin writes snappy dialogue. But he doesn’t write as much of it as you might think, if you listen to his shows with only half an ear.

His characters don’t talk in their own voices. They all talk in his voice. And they don’t talk about themselves. They talk about what’s happening around them. Sorkin writes lots of exposition and divides it up among his characters to read at us.
He’s like a novelist who puts all the narration inside quotation marks.

Lance also points us to this review in the Chicago Reader, which tempts me to watch Studio 60 next week if only for the trainwreck effect:

Too insidery? Does anybody think this looks even remotely like what really goes on at Saturday Night Live, or at any other show in the history of TV? It’s straight out of a World War II movie about a desperate mission behind enemy lines. All the cliches are in place: the heroic renegades who can’t fit in with the military establishment, the tough, old-school commanding officer who grudgingly agrees they’re the best men for the job, even the perky, brilliant young staff officer who pipes up with the daringly unconventional plan that Just Might Work.

But it can’t be a joke — not given the show’s enfeebled concept of humor. Our heroes, those edgy, brilliant writer/producers, need a way to reestablish their cred as quickly as possible. So they, too, come up with a daring idea. They’ll open with one of those big, controversial, startling comedy sketches they used to do, the ones that back in the day got everybody in America talking. Here’s the sketch: they have a choir sing “We are the very model of a modern network TV show,” to the tune of “Modern Major General” from The Pirates of Penzance.

Now there’s cutting-edge comedy for you: a Gilbert and Sullivan parody! It’ll have the frat boys in the audience in stitches!

I haven’t even gotten to the backstage drama. So far it’s mostly focused on why one of the writer/producers has broken up with his girlfriend, who is both the star of the SNL-ish show and a Christian singer. He says she’s pissed at him because he didn’t show up when she sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at a baseball game. But that’s just a cover story. The real reason is that he can’t forgive her for going on The 700 Club to promote her new CD of Christian music.

Empathize with his dilemma? I can’t even follow it. He’s pretending to be indifferent to her performance of the national anthem to cover up how he’s actually upset because she made a promotional appearance on a talk show he disapproves of. Has anyone in Hollywood — anyone on planet earth — ever had a problem so shallow and rarefied at once? It’s like a story in Us Weekly rewritten by Henry James.

Well, there is Ann Althouse and her crusade against wearing shorts in the summer.

Let’s review: Studio 60‘s pose of being all backstage and insidery is a preposterous sham, and its characters bear no relationship to actual human beings. Sounds like classic TV to me — why isn’t it a hit?

Good question. There’s lots more about how the anti-TV rants he puts in the mouths of his characters are anachronistic old-fartism, pining for a Golden Age of tightly controlled quality television that didn’t actually exist. I can’t say about Studio 60, but it was definitely true of The West Wing. As Ezra pointed out, it was never a liberal fantasy; it was a nostalgic fantasy of High Broderism, in which decent, moderate Republicans engaged with principled, well-meaning, moderately liberal Democrats in what resembled the Oxford Debating Society more than actual politics. You could definitely make an interesting show about the nature of contemporary politics, but whatever its other strengths The West Wing had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Of Warm Impermanence

[ 0 ] October 9, 2006 |

Like Rob, starting Tuesday I will be contributing to TAPPED. I will still be doing a fair amount of posting here–for some reason, the Prospect is not fully convinced about the value of lengthy posts about baseball, pretentious French movies, the silliness of Ann Althouse, etc. (I’m sure the hockey blogging is the main reason I was hired, though.) Still, to ensure that there’s a steady supply of material for our tens of fans, and deciding that quality material was not necessarily inconsistent with the L, G & M concept, we are proud to announce that the inimitable Dave Noon of The Axis of Evel Knievel will be joining our classic power trio format. Dave introduces himself thusly:

All-purpose historian from U. of Alaska Southeast, proprietor of the Axis of Evel Knievel, and whatever else you guys want to make up about me. My anonymity on the internets is pretty well shot, and I’m planning to keep the swearing and blasphemy to a minimum, so there’s no sense in hiding from the world. Besides, LGM will be the most dignified, respectable thing I have going in my life. So long as I don’t turn into the blogging equivalent of Poochie the Dog…

This, of course, won’t happen–Dave may be half Joe Camel, but he’s only an eighth Fonzarelli. He will unquestionably create a proactive new paradigm here at L, G & M. Enjoy!

It’s the Humiliation

[ 0 ] October 9, 2006 |

The most salient thing about the story that got some attention last month about servers who were fired after they refused to go along with a regimen in which women (but not men) were subject to weigh-ins and making their weights public is that it’s entirely about humiliation. Although of course there are serious feminist issues with narrow conceptions of beauty, the excessive importance placed on conventional attractiveness, etc., one can argue that in our unjust society conventional beauty matters for jobs like this, and evidently there are greater injustices involved where aesthetic factors determine job decisions where they weren’t even arguably relevant. But this kind of harassment by employers is not about wanting to draw traffic or increase tips or whatever. You don’t need to weigh someone to see if they’re conventionally attractive or not. And, of course, being slender is generally a conventionally attractive trait for men too, but it’s hard to imagine male waiters being subjected to this kind of treatment. This is about female employees being dominated, and as such represents a very instructive example of sexual harassment and why it’s a serious problem.

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