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The Fecklessness of Christina Hoff Sommers

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

Garance, Matt and zuzu have already amply demonstrated the bad faith, distortions, and selective evidence of the latest manifestation of Christina Hoff Sommers’s feeble “American feminists don’t care about the suppression of Islamic women” routine. And, of course, American feminists are in a no-win situation. One might have thought that Katha Pollitt–who writes a great deal about the suppression of Islamic women and and is a columnist for the largest-circulation liberal political magazine–might have merited Sommers’s attention, although of course she didn’t. But you may recall Ana Marie Cox’s regrettable review of Pollitt’s latest book, in which Cox sighed that Poliitt was “fixated” on women’s rights in the Middle East. You can’t win.

In addition, I thought J. Goodrich also made a good point in comments:

Sommers is a a very fascinating example of someone who has not herself written a long book about the situation of women in Islamic countries. She found it more important to write books intended at destroying feminism so that there would then be nobody at all to help those women.

If Sommers thinks that more needs to be written about the subjugation of women in the Middle East, well, what’s stopping her? She could take some of the time she spends recycling the anecdote about how Judith Butler once won a bad writing contest for the eleventy-billionth time and put a book proposal together. Or perhaps she could write an article about how, despite the disgracefully cynical use of women’s rights as an ex post facto war justification by the Bush administration, installing an Islamic quasi-state in Iraq has shockingly turned out to not be a very good deal for Iraqi women. I’m sure Bill Kristol would love to publish it!

Stand in the Fire

[ 0 ] May 15, 2007 |

Nancy Nall has a very good and insightful post about the new biography of Warren Zevon compiled by his long -suffering (and suffering, and suffering) ex-wife Crystal, which was also reviewed recently by Janet Maslin and Tom Carson. His most glaring flaws, especially his vanity and narcissism (“When he died, his son had the job of getting rid of his porn stash; the videos turned out to be homemade and to star Zevon”), aren’t exactly unusual among gifted artists, but the specific details can be alternately appalling and amusing. I haven’t read it yet, but she seems like a reliable guide (“It’s hard to write about being an alcoholic’s wife without lapsing into one or two predictable slots — victim or fool. She doesn’t do that, perhaps because at some point she realized she had her own drinking problem, which she acknowledges, and what it took to quit. The tone is not one of pity-me but of clear-eyed, dispassionate truth-telling,”) so I certainly will.

What was most poignant to me in Maslin’s review was this:

But this lack of show-business artifice is precisely what makes the Zevon story so telling. What was even more unusual than his dark thoughts — like resenting the fact that Jackson Browne and Neil Young had lost people close to them and written beautiful, much-admired songs about those deaths — was his willingness to admit to those thoughts. On his deathbed, discussing the merits of having a funeral, he said, “I just don’t want to have to spend my last days wondering whether Henley” — Don Henley of the Eagles, who did not attend — “will show up.”

It’s amazing how status can make people envy and/or seek the approval of those who are (in terms of real accomplishments) their gross inferiors.

Layers of Hypocrisy

[ 0 ] May 15, 2007 |

To add to Matt’s point that the perception that Wolfowitz is corrupt and hypocritical has actual consequences, it should also be noted that Wolfowitz is particularly vulnerable on this point because his anti-corruption program has been highly selective, and even worse has been selective in ways that dovetail with the Bush administration’s foreign policy. There’s a case to be made for making the integrity of a country’s government a more important criterion in the disbursement of aid, but obviously it won’t fly if there’s a self-exemption from the rules in both one’s policy choices and their personal dealings.

Bin Laden’s Ideal Mark

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

Shorter Ace O. Spades, heterosexual: “The rhetoric of terrorists should always be taken strictly at face value! If Al Qaeda says it’s not in their interests for American troops to be in Iraq, that’s just what they mean, because they’re well aware that their words will be very popular among the American public! And yes, I would be interested in your oceanfront property in Kansas! “

Countermobilization Notes

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

Charles Krauthammer, taking one of the laziest column ideas off the shelf, is the umpteenth nominally pro-choice wealthy male columnist to argue that Roe should be overturned and that this would end most of the conflict about abortion in the United States. The problem with his argument is that there isn’t the slightest reason to believe that it’s true. Matt deals with some of the obvious problems; a few more points, some in response to his commenters:

  • One of Matt’s commenters brings up the often-told myth that Ruth Bader Ginsburg actually agrees with Krauthammer, but this is very misleading. Ginsburg’s argument isn’t that the Court shouldn’t have reached the outcome it did in Roe, but that it should have waited until gender equality jurisprudence was better developed to rest on those grounds. Even this much different argument, however, is also almost certainly wrong; it wouldn’t make any difference to the public what grounds the Court used to reach its decision. Almost nobody without a professional obligation reads Supreme Court decisions, and Roe already polls better than its underlying policy outcome.
  • In addition to Matt’s examples, devastating to the “countermobilization” hypothesis are the facts that 1)the American abortion debate was already highly “divisive” and pro-life groups powerful enough to stop virtually all state liberalization, before the Supreme Court intervened, and 2)in Canada, courts created the most liberal abortion regime in the world but abortion isn’t a remotely salient issue in Canadian politics. On the latter point, Pithlord argues in comments that “Parliament decriminalized in 1969″ and that “abortion in Canada has been left to the political process.” The first claim is straightforwardly erroneous; abortion remained a criminal offense for doctors who performed one outside of the arbitrary committee structure (which in practice was just a codification of abortion-on-demand for affluent women and no abortion for poor rural women that exists under a ban anyway.) Second, in its insistence on non-arbitrary regulation, the Canadian Supreme Court created a standard that is, in practice, far more restrictive than Casey. (A 24-hour waiting period or the recent “partial birth” ban, for example, could not remotely pass the Canadian Supreme Court’s requirements.) It is true that the fact that Canada hasn’t passed further abortion regulations reflects the popularity of the pro-choice position in Canada, but of course this is precisely the opposite of what Krauthammer claims will happen. There was supposed to be a backlash against the Court striking a policy hammered out by the legislature; there wasn’t.
  • It is true that as a manner of formal logic Matt isn’t correct to say that a pro-choice anti-Roe position is absurd. It’s possible (indeed, if one takes constitutionalism seriously, necessary) to believe that the Constitution doesn’t require all of one’s preferred policy preferences (I don’t believe that the Constitution requires universal health care, for example.) In practice, however, very few people oppose Roe out of some kind of coherent constitutional theory, and as his inability to understand the implications of Carhart II and many of his previous writings suggest Krauthammer certainly has no idea what he’s talking about. (A handy tip: anybody who defends Bush v. Gore isn’t opposing Roe out of a commitment to judicial craftsmanship.) In addition, I suspect Matt had in mind the Wittes/Rosen types who believe that overturning Roe wouldn’t matter for abortion rights, which is of course a plainly absurd position.

Overturning Roe would not attenuate the conflict over abortion in the United States; it would remain a very important (indeed, in the short-term, more important) issue in American politics that divided legislators at the federal and state level, Krauthammer’s fairytales about a mythical pre-Roe policy eden notwithstanding. It would just mean that the abortion rights of some classes of women would be extinguished for no good reason.

Sympathy for the Hack

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Henley makes a good point in re: Paul Bremer’s apologia today:

And yet! Bremer’s arguments on de-Baathification and disbanding the army have some plausibility to them. He points out that the most famous case of trying to reconstitute part of the old army – the so-called “Fallujah Brigade” – was an embarrassing failure. He claims at least, that the Shiite and Kurdish elites on whom the success or failure of Iraq’s reconstruction was always going to depend cheered de-Baathification and indeed insisted on it. What Bremer actually establishes without seeming to intend is that there were, even at that very early date, no reliably good options. De-Baathification and disbanding the army worked out badly, and we can draw causal connections from those orders to Iraq’s present-day problems. But we can see plausible alternate histories in which the opposite decisions led to a contemporary Iraq that was just as bad. Unhappy occupations are all unhappy in their own way.

Bremer’s article actually shows again the folly of having conquered Iraq by force in the first place.

This seems right to me. While the administration has been incompetent in an innumerable variety of ways, it’s never been obvious to me that disbanding the army was the wrong decision. Certainly, it seems exceptionally implausible that a Suuni-led force was going to be even remotely effective at the necessary social control, and without the officers you have…pretty much the Iraqi “army” you have now. The De-Baathification of the civil service is more problematic, but as Henley says it seems pretty clear that it was going to largely happen under the new government anyway. What happened after the disbanding of the army is much more evidence that the war was an extremely bad idea that was unlikely to succeed even had the administration been competent than evidence that the fiasco was easily avoidable had better decisions been made in the first 90 days.

…I should say that I agree with Matt that Bremer doesn’t deserve much sympathy. I just think it’s dangerous to think that the war could have been easily salvaged with a couple of early decisions, which is a very dangerous delusion. In particular, the imperatives of Shiite elites have to be considered when assessing what realistically could have been done with the army.

Another Great Move

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Above: Mariners President Chuck Armstrong and GM Bill Bavasi

I see that Jeff Weaver will be resting his 14.32 ERA on the D.L. with Lit up like Jaime Navarro in Coors Field against the 1939 Yankees Syndrome “shoulder tendinitis.” Who could have seen this meltdown coming from a pitcher as consistent and coming off as great a season as Weaver?

The most amazing thing about the Mariners is that they have a payroll of $106 million. Where the hell did it go? The only interesting starting pitcher is young, cheap and hurt; behind him there’s a decent innings munchers and a parade of lemons. The offense is unspeakably dreary, an old team without much power or speed or any on-base skills. And what’s even more irritating is that when they had an old but championship quality team at the turn of the decade, Armstrong threw around quarters like thousand-pound anvils, preventing the team from acquiring the extra premium player(s) that might have put them over the top. The end of the Mariners as a good team, I’ve thought for a while, was during the collapse in 2002 when Pinella ordered a ridiculous 3-2 suicide squeeze from Jose Offerman, resulting in a double play that sent the Mariners irrevocably on the road to oblivion. I was furious at Pinella, but someone at the time interpreted the act as Pinella telling Armstrong and Gillick “Fuck you–you can’t find me a better player for the stretch run than Jose Offerman?” And, frankly, that now makes a lot of sense to me.

Meanwhile, yesterday was my belated first trip to Shea this year. The Brewers are very impressive, reminding me of my favorite team ever (the early-Alou Expos.) They’ve got an impressive core–I had no idea Hardy was that kind of hitter–on offense, they play very good defense, they have good arms, they seem smart and well-managed. (Taking advantage of Showalter demoting Cordero after a bad month was a great move.) They will cool off, and you have to worry about Sheets’ health, but you have to like them to win the division. I mean, you have to like a team that can provide two proofs that fat players can have good genes…meanwhile, while I’m not worried about the Mets they played yesterday like they were hungover; offensively and defensively all their reactions seemed a bit off. Even the stadium personnel seemed in a fog; the apple didn’t come out of the hat after the Mets homered, the hot dogs were inexplicably allowed to become fully cooked against clear stadium policy, and they didn’t have “Sunglasses at Night” or “Never Surrender” cued up when pinch-hitter Corey Hart was the boy in the batter’s box. Unlike the Mariners, though, at least when they’re asleep you know they might wake up the next day…

More Supression of Innovative Teaching!

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

In light of this, I breathlessly await a lengthy diatribe form Mickey Kaus in which he argues for strengthening teacher’s unions so that they’re protected from having their innovation crushed by nitwit bureaucrats who don’t really know anything about teaching. [But he doesn’t care about educational outcomes–he cares about union-busting!–ed.]

Teaching Thoughts

[ 0 ] May 12, 2007 |

You may have seen this article in which Theda Skocpol called for a greater emphasis on teaching at Harvard. MMF has interesting commentary. It’s always been strange to me–especially in disciplines with large numbers of undergraduate majors–how little emphasis is placed on teaching for advancement. (One would think, at least, that departments would strive for balance–some great teachers, some great researchers–but in many places it seems as if tenure cases are evaluated among similar criteria, with the latter getting much more emphasis. Of course, research is also much easier to evaluate.) One place where my experience is different than Aspazia is that I had a lot of mentors at grad school who were excellent teachers and put a lot of work into it–more than would be strictly justified by a purely material cost-benefit ratio–and I learned a lot from them. As an international student, I also benefited from more training and systematic feedback than a graduate student instructor usually receives.

See also A White Bear, who has interesting thoughts about the relationship between teachers and students and the language of contracts.

Easy Answers To Simple Questions

[ 0 ] May 11, 2007 |


Speaking of mature and honest public dialogue, I wonder if it would be possible for anti-choice conservatives to address the reality that, even in countries where abortion is illegal and there are strong cultural disincentives surrounding women’s autonomous choice regarding reproduction, women still get abortions, though in unsafe and often fatal conditions. And I wonder further if they could acknowledge that used to be the reality in this country pre-Roe and would be again in a post-Roe world. And, lastly, I wonder if they could then admit at long last that they simply don’t care if women who want abortions die in the process of getting them, so we can put this whole “pro-life” bullshit to bed once and for all.

No, no, and no. If there’s one thing that not only the “pro-life” position but abortion “centrism” depend on, it’s scrupulously ignoring how abortion law actually works.

This has been easy answers to simple questions.

"A Solution In Serach of a Problem"

[ 0 ] May 11, 2007 |

A terrific article by Garrett Epps puts Karl Rove’s pressuring of US Attorneys to pursue bogus “vote fraud” cases into the larger (and highly consequential) context of the GOP’s vote fraud fraud. Epps also draws are attention to the Supreme Court’s endorsement of the GOP’s myths in a little-noticed opinion from 2006:

We can’t count on the U.S. Constitution to protect the election process. The Constitution does not explicitly protect the right to vote, and the conservative majority on the Rehnquist and Roberts courts has proved friendly to anti-turnout measures. As Mark Graber of the University of Maryland pointed out recently, the court echoed right-wing rhetoric about voter fraud in a little-noticed 2006 opinion allowing Arizona to implement its restrictive voter-ID law. “Voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised,” the court’s per curiam opinion stated. This is the argument that voter-restrictionists have fallen back on. There may be no voter fraud, but if people think there is, then we should tighten up anyway. That’s the argument used in Missouri (with support from the White House), where studies showed elections were mostly clean. As Graber noted, to restrictionists, “such a ‘feeling’ offsets the interests of voters who are disenfranchised by voter-ID laws by actually driving honest citizens out of the democratic process!”

One is reminded of the Bush v. Gore, in which the Court (as Ginsburg initially pointed out, although Scalia bullied her into removing the footnote) held that the fact that some people would have their votes “diluted” by other votes being counted was more important than the actual disenfranchisement of poor and African-American voters throughout the process (including by inferior vote-counting equipment that would be unconstitutional if Bush v. Gore was actually constitutional law.) So while, as Epps notes, the Missouri State Supreme Court prevented an atrocious voter-ID law that would have maintained Republican control of the Senate from being enforced in the 2006 elections, we should never forget that illegal disenfranchisement by the GOP put Bush in the White House. That Republicans have managed to conceal this while creating a mythical crisis of “vote fraud” is a remarkable and appalling achievement in Orwellian discourse.

Good Arguments Leading to Bad Conclusions

[ 0 ] May 11, 2007 |

Granting that is was only half-serious, the below-discussed d-squared post on Budweiser reminds me of Kelefa Sanneh’s arguments about rockism. Sanneh’s underlying points are often quite correct: there’s no particular reason to privilege white guys playing guitars, worrying about whether artists in question are “poseurs” or whatever are tautologies that are irrelevant to the quality of the music, there’s nothing wrong with production or hooks, “authenticity” is not a useful criterion of value, etc. The problem is that his perfectly valid premises lead to such appalling conclusions (“Mariah Carey is better than Nirvana!”) that it tends to undermine them–his judgment can be so bad that it reinforces rockism rather than undermining it, although the latter would be a useful project. Similarly, Dsquared is certainly right that we have no evidence that Budweiser isn’t “traditional” beer–for all I know in the olden days beer was an insipid, watery brew with virtually no hops in it–and mass producing crappy beer is perfectly “traditional.” The mere fact that beer isn’t mass-produced by a huge corporation does not make it good (cf. Gordon Biersch, Red Hook blonde, etc.), just as the fact that music or film is independently produced doesn’t guarantee its quality–indeed, I don’t understand the whole concept of saying one is a fan of “indie film” (as opposed to particular directors, genres, etc.) at all. The problem is that the meaninglessness of tradition, which is a bad argument against Budweiser, is also a bad argument for it–traditions of producing watery, insipid beer with virtually no hops in it are not worth preserving. (Although I suppose it should be noted that Budweiser has apparently gotten more tasteless and insipid over time to appeal to the palates of people who don’t actually like beer.)

But now I see that Yglesias is actually defending d-squared’s post without irony, claiming that Budweiser is in fact a fine beer vaguely malt-flavored water. (I would strongly advise the switch to a union product, given that taste is apparently not a criterion.) I have no idea which microbrews he has in mind that are much worse that Budweiser, but one fears that he may consider the (exceedingly mediocre) Brooklyn Brewery paradigmatic.