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Bye Bye Johnny

[ 0 ] January 20, 2007 |

Brad Plumer offers more evidence for Josh Marshall’s thesis that McCain is dead. They’re right. Essentially, McCain was always a longshot for the Republican nomination because (as 2000 demonstrated) he is distrusted by much of the evangelical base. To compensate, he hitched his wagon to 1)becoming Bush’s lickspittle, and 2)being a particularly visible and unrelenting Iraq cheerleader. And as Brad points out, this has worked out about as well as betting your live savings on Ball State to win the BCS, except with a lot more loss of life and money and damage to national security interests.

Given this, and also given that Giuliani’s potential campaign is a farce , the interesting question is, who could win the nomination? Mark Schmitt offers a good lay of the land. He thinks Romney has little chance (for plausible reasons, although it’s hard for me to say whether evangelicals will be able to deal with his Mormonism or not), and likes Gingrich. I think Brownback and Huckabee have the best shot of the candidates under discussion; again, I assume the former is something of a longshot, but 1)I don’t know enough, and 2)distancing himself from the war suggests some political savvy.

Rox was on this last year.

And When the Third SUV Conks Out, You Have To Wait Until Monday For A Decent Mechanic

[ 0 ] January 19, 2007 |

Submitted without comment, the opening grafs of a NYT “Homes” section article:

FOR some people, the most elusive aspect of owning a vacation home that sits beyond big-city borders isn’t finding the time to enjoy it. It’s finding someone to service the deluxe appliances inside.

“We called Viking over the holidays every year,” Rosemary Devlin said of her half-decade-long (and mostly futile) efforts to schedule manufacturer service for her mutinous dishwasher. The appliance was installed along with a suite of Viking cousins when Ms. Devlin and her husband, Fay, whose main house is about 20 miles north of Manhattan in Irvington, N.Y., built their six-bedroom ski house on Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, Vt.

[HT--I think--to Becks.]

"From Progadanda To Surrealism"

[ 0 ] January 19, 2007 |

Shorter Glenn Reynolds and Don Surber: “Only Luddites believe that drug companies should disclose payoffs to doctors and advertising; everyone knows that if drug companies didn’t make unlimited profits from copycat drugs, then R&D would effectively cease, just like in Canada. Except for that new cancer drug, but we preemptively blame the non-existent opposition on hypothetical anti-drug Luddites anyway.”

Do they ever argue with non-strawmen?

Not Top-10 List

[ 0 ] January 19, 2007 |

I’m still behind, so it will be a little bit before I can get an arbitrarily numbered film list out (come to think of it, I haven’t even done 2005 yet–maybe this weekend.) So, instead some movies that (while not without their virtues) will not be on my top-10 list:

  • The Notorious Bettie Page I was inadvertently reminded to do this by Tia, who takes the somewhat rare among people of taste but correct position that the film version of American Psycho is not, in fact, good. I guess some people admire the film for giving a feminist take on a “misogynist” novel, but the novel (while quite terrible) is not actually misogynist–it’s not as if Ellis is portraying Bateman as a good guy. And while it’s a relief to have most of the exceptionally gross violence excised, the problem is that without the violence you’re left with nothing but Ellis’s crude metaphors for Consumerism in Reagan’s America, which were excruciatingly banal when the novel came out, let alone a decade later. It was the kind of sophomore flop that made me question my immediate admiration for I Shot Andy Worhol. TNBP is, at least, reassuring about Mary Harron’s craft: it’s perfectly paced, very well shot, well-acted, and entertaining enough. She’s a potentially major filmmaker, no question. The problem, less egregiously than her previous film but still fatal, is her choice of material. Going into the film, I had no idea why Bettie Page was some kind of postmodern/(post)feminist icon, and leaving the film I still didn’t.
  • Little Miss Sunshine A movie I was able to catch up on the individual screens thankfully installed by Air Canada, and…well, it was OK for an airline movie. As far as Annoying Indies go, I would take the opposite tack from IT; I much prefer last year’s much-derided Me, You, and Everyone We Know. Both have the annoyances that come from the parade-of-eccentrics structure, but July’s film is much more empathetic, and also manages to be both more original and more organic seeming, less willful. The characters in MYaEWK have some independent life; the ones in LMS are there to (only) score points, and the road-movie arc is deadly in all but the most gifted hands at this point. What makes LMS wacthable, at least until the conclusion, is the surfeit of acting talent; Colette, in particular, is a marvel, but everyone does the job.
  • A Prairie Home Companion. Admittedly, I pretty much take the “be more funny!” position on Garrison Keillor, so YMMV. But I think it would be a condescending insult to the legacy of the great Robert Altman to claim that this snoozefest is a good picture.
  • A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints Not that I wouldn’t like to tout a movie set in the mean streets (and I use the term advisedly: the movie even uses the mock-typewritten credits of Scorsese’s 1973 classic) of Astoria, but I don’t understand why this pretentious, frequently tedious movie got the kind of critical reception it did. It has its moments, but it feels repetitious, extends unintersting scenes and characters and leaves too soon from more interesting ones, has annoying visual effects, and (here the comparison with Scorsese is particularly unflattering) the music works neither as period background or in its own terms. He shows enough glimmers that he might make a good movie someday, but this ain’t it.

In addition to this, there are the movies that I’m extremely unlikely to see before writing: Inland Empire (not that I don’t admire a lot of Lynch, but I can’t say that the coherence of Lost Highway at the length of Dune holds much appeal); Fast Food Nation (Good book, but Didacticism+Richard Linklater=pass with extreme prejudice); the Iwo Jima movies (meh.)

Now George Bush, There’s a Suit You Can Set Your Watch To!

[ 0 ] January 18, 2007 |

OK, so the New York Times publishes a monumentally idiotic (and egregiously sexist) article about the fashion choices of female political leaders. No allegedly seriously blogger (with a tendency to invoke claims of sexism, if only as a spurious club to attack liberal opponents) would think the article poses worthwhile substantive questions, right? Right? I think you know where this is going. (Answer to title question: who the hell cares?)

My question: who’s a better example of why it’s bad to discuss politics like a particularly superficial 11-year old: Ann Althouse, Maureen Dowd, or Chris Matthews?

Webb of Prescience

[ 0 ] January 18, 2007 |

In TAPPED comments, Bob Somerby directs is to this 2002 op-ed from Virignia’s newly elected Senator:

Other than the flippant criticisms of our “failure” to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. This reality was the genesis of a rift that goes back to the Gulf War itself, when neoconservatives were vocal in their calls for “a MacArthurian regency in Baghdad.” Their expectation is that the United States would not only change Iraq’s regime but also remain as a long-term occupation force in an attempt to reconstruct Iraqi society itself.

The connotations of “a MacArthurian regency in Baghdad” show how inapt the comparison is. Our occupation forces never set foot inside Japan until the emperor had formally surrendered and prepared Japanese citizens for our arrival. Nor did MacArthur destroy the Japanese government when he took over as proconsul after World War II. Instead, he was careful to work his changes through it, and took pains to preserve the integrity of Japan’s imperial family. Nor is Japanese culture in any way similar to Iraq’s. The Japanese are a homogeneous people who place a high premium on respect, and they fully cooperated with MacArthur’s forces after having been ordered to do so by the emperor. The Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. Indeed, this very bitterness provided Osama bin Laden the grist for his recruitment efforts in Saudi Arabia when the United States kept bases on Saudi soil after the Gulf War.

In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets.

In fairness, if he didn’t say this to you personally it doesn’t really count, so the war’s critics were really all just reflexive pacifists…

Who Is With Jane Galt?

[ 0 ] January 18, 2007 |

I note here that Al Gore’s pre-war remarks hold up rather better than the predictions of the war’s cheerleaders, despite attempts to claim that everyone was equally wrong. Atrios does us the favor of collecting some of the contemporaneous reaction to Gore’s speech(including Neal Pollock’s dead-on Michael Kelly parody.) I particularly enjoy this from Andrew Sullivan, who after upbraiding Gore for not being terrified of the nuclear weapons Saddam was about to send to the U.S. on the wings of armor-plated unicorns said:

He says we have “squandered” the good will generated by the attacks of September 11. Really? A liberated Afghanistan, where women can now learn to read, where a fledgling free society is taking shape? No major successful terrorist attack on the homeland since the anthrax attacks of last fall? Growing support among Arab nations and at the U.N. for enforcing U.N. resolutions that Gore’s own administration let languish? Signs that Arafat may soon be sidelined on the West Bank? Squandered? The only thing that’s been truly squandered is what’s left of Gore’s integrity. At least Lieberman has been consistent. I must say, as a former Gore-supporter who was appalled by his campaign lurch to the left, that there are few judgment calls I’m prouder of than having picked Bush over Gore two years ago. Now I’m beginning to think we dodged a major catastrophe in world events.

Yeah, that holds up really well today, especially the claims about Bush’s competence.

Meanwhile, while we’re doing flashbacks just for fun I thought I’d bring up my favorite example of McArdle’s use of personal anecdotes as an all-purpose trump card. In explaining why John Roberts was right to claim that the government should use civil rights laws designed to prevent terrorists from obstructing the exercise of constitutional rights shouldn’t apply to anti-abortion terrorists trying to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights, McArdle said:

Similarly, Mark Kleiman’s attempt to excuse NARAL’s ad by calling Operation Rescue a terrorist group is an abuse of the word. Is Operation Rescue attempting to keep women from having abortions by making them feel shame and public humiliation at an extraordinarily vulnerable time? Undoubtedly. Have they attempted to physically block women from entering clinics? Indeed they have. But speaking as one who used to form a human chain in front of clinics to help women through the protesters, I’ve never seen anything from Operation Rescue that even remotely qualifies as terrorism, nor seen anyone physically threaten a woman (shoving a picture of a fetus in her face does not count).

I suppose it would be too uncharitable of me to wonder if McArdle’s activism took place in front of the A. Pocryphal Health Clinic. But even if this is true, let’s remember that in 1991 alone there were “2 cases of murder or attempted murder of abortion providers, 9 bombings/arsons (or attempted bombings/arsons), 83 cases of invasions, assault and battery, vandalism, death threats burglary or stalking, and 3,885 arrests at blockades. To take one example, by the end of a seven-week Operation Rescue operation in Wichita that summer, “police had arrested 1,734 people for 2,657 acts of trespassing, resisting arrest and violating injunctions against blockading.”" But I’m sure none of this was intended to intimidate abortion patients and providers, because McArdle didn’t witness every one personally! Or perhaps she looked into the heart of every vandal, obstructionist, and issuer of death threats and saw that frightening women was the last thing on their minds. (Just as she can tell in advance that anti-war protesters deserve a good, swift, but non-intimidating 2×4 to the head.)

Arguments That Were Made

[ 0 ] January 17, 2007 |

Ezra points us to Julian Sanchez’s excellent rebuttal to Megan McArdle’s claim that critics of the war were just a wrong as the supporters. For my part, it’s somewhat difficult to respond to McArdle’s post, since not only does she argue strictly from anecdote but she also declines to specify most of the allegedly erroneous anti-war arguments. Adding on to Sanchez, it’s worth identifying some arguments that were, in fact, in circulation at the time:

  • The war would be enormously costly, and the administration’s claims that the war could be funded primarily by Iraqi oil revenues were transparently farcical. (As Matt says today, a candid assessment of the costs would have made it impossible to justify the war, and it’s obviously false to say that everyone took them at face value.)
  • The fact that Iraq was riven by ethnic divisions and lacked a strong civil society made it a particularly implausible candidate for forced democratization.
  • Whether or not Iraq had some weapons that could fall under the essentially useless “WMD” rubric, it did not pose any significant security threat to the United States. (Obviously, possessing chemical weapons that are significantly less dangerous to American civilians than bombs you can build with materials at any Home Depot do not constitute a meaningful security threat, especially since Iraq had no means of delivering such weapons.) There was never good evidence that Iraq had any nuclear weapons capacity, or was anywhere near acquiring it.
  • Iraq had no substantial connection to Al Qaeda, and was a diversion from pursuing Islamist terrorism in the wake of 9/11.
  • The Bush administration was dishonest and incompetent, and even if the war might be a good idea in the abstract in particular the war was unlikely to come out well. Some people (although not me) were smart enough to use this principle to discount any WMD claims made by the American government entirely. As Daniel Davies says, “[g]ood ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.”

I don’t mean to suggest that critics of the war didn’t make bad arguments or erroneous predictions–they did. But it’s equally silly to claim that all anti-war critics were simply lucky, or that none of the outcomes of the war were foreseen. If McArdle never heard any of the above arguments, this says more about her circle of friends (and the general exclusion of anti-war voices from prominent media outlets) than about the quality of anti-war arguments.

[Also at TAPPED.]

More On Campus Rape

[ 0 ] January 17, 2007 |

In light of the recent discussion about rape on campus, it’s particularly worth reading Courtney Martin’s article about this country’s dearth of rational sex education and the extent to which this may contribute to the problem. She also adduces some useful data:

Every two and half minutes someone is sexually assaulted in America. Many of these assaults take place on college campuses; 80 percent of rape victims are under age 30. Two-thirds of all rapes are committed by someone who is known to the victim, not a stranger in a dark alley. (Though rape statistics are notoriously inaccurate, we can assume that these, from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) are at least close to the truth, as they are derived from a survey of multiple studies, including the National Crime Victimization Survey from 2005.)

All the more reason that this shouldn’t be dealt with as if it were academic misconduct.

And Some of the Scripts Were A Little Pedantic

[ 0 ] January 17, 2007 |

From the recent Times article about attempts to turn Atlas Shrugged into a movie:

Under Mr. Aglialoro’s sponsorship a succession of writers and producers developed at least four scripts. One writer was Mr. Peikoff’s ex-wife, Cynthia Peikoff, who had been Rand’s typist. Some of the scripts, she said, were too sci-fi, others reduced the novel’s characters to caricatures, and she was told that her own attempt was no better than “workmanlike.”


Not only that, but some of the scripts eschewed dramatization and just had the characters give interminable speeches outlining the author’s philosophy or its strawman opposition! What a betrayal of Rand’s artistic vision!

What’s Actually Important

[ 0 ] January 17, 2007 |

Make sure to wish Jane well.

That Liberal Academia!

[ 0 ] January 16, 2007 |

With respect to Sunday’s appalling New York Times op-ed making a series of disingenuous excuses for a rapist, Amanda found a Harvard Crimson article that details the faculty debate on the subject:

What some did have trouble with, Faculty in attendance said, was determining degrees of consent and miscommunication between Douglas and the woman he assaulted last spring.

In particular, some still had questions about the force with which the woman refused Douglas’ advances–whether she sent nonverbal signals which may have blurred any clear message about consent.

What we have here, essentially, is a genteel version of the “she did not present herself wearing a bonnet and crinolines” argument. Apparently, if a woman stops short of cutting off someone’s scrotum, there’s some measure of ambiguity–sure, every action taken by the woman in this case suggests that she did not consent, and nothing on the record suggests that she did consent, but…who knows, maybe her eyes were saying “yes yes yes” while her mouth was saying “get the hell out of my room!” Other than unfalsifiable nonsense, I fail to see where the ambiguity lies here:

Instead of “miscommunication,” the court documents reveal a situation in which the woman continually told Douglas to leave her House, her suite and her bed. Before entering her room, Douglas “slammed her against the wall” and began kissing her, even though she “told him to leave [and] was struggling to get away from him.” His advances continued even as she repeatedly told Douglas to leave and tried to push him off her bed.

The quality of the arguments inventing “ambiguity” out of pure nothingness are about what you’d expect:

Ryan said yesterday that some Faculty felt the woman’s behavior had created an ambiguous situation prior to the assault.

“There might be other forms of communication.It was the kind of non-verbal communication that might have caused some sort of confusion in the mind of the young man,” she added.

Other administrators confirmed that the debate focused mainly on gradations of consent.

“Most of the main points were not in dispute,”President Neil L. Rudenstine said. “It was really a question of how to weight the different pieces.”

Another senior administrator said that some professors still viewed this as a “hazy” situation. “It was friends who were together,” the administrator said. “He may have assumed one thing and she another.”

He said that several people supporting the requirement to withdraw held the position “that it was consensual,” the senior administrator added. “I think it was a substantial element of [their case].”

The first problem here is the classic problem of justifying date rape–the silly and extremely dangerous assumption that since were friends, there clearly must be some kind of implied consent. (Personally, I’ve been on dates where the woman I was out with clearly had no interest whatsoever in pursuing sexual relations. Shocking, I know!) In the real world, you are more likely to be raped by someone you know in any case, and knowing someone before the fact doesn’t imply the slightest consent to sex. But in addition to the fact that this is wrong on its face, it’s a highly misleading portrayal of the situation. The claim that it was “friends who were together” and hence “hazy” ignores the fact that she had been out with someone else and he insinuated his way into their outing, and that he entered her room against her consent.

Obviously, it’s good that a strong majority of the faculty rejected these kind of arguments. But the fact that a number of Harvard faculty members were willing to strain so hard to invent reasons to mitigate the inexcusable is a good demonstration of the prevalence of rape myths within society.