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Big Al

[ 0 ] November 13, 2007 |

It’s appropriate that Al MacInnis is being inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same day as Mark Messier; as a contemporary of Ray Bourque and Chris Chelios, he was always destined to be overshadowed. But he’s always been a personal favorite, not just because he was the greatest player on the Only Championship Team I Will Ever Root For but because he was a neighbor for a bit; I used to see his wife jog by all the time. My jersey is still a MacInnis #2; I suppose I need to update it, but I’ve never been compelled to.

Since bean will kill me otherwise, I’ll also reluctantly acknowledge that magnificent bastard Messier. And of course the formidable Scott Stevens; that’s an amazing crop.

I Told You What?

[ 1 ] November 12, 2007 |

Matt provides some useful quotes taking on Paul Berman’s attempt to claim that he was contemporaneously against the Iraq War. Perhaps even more instructive is this one from another post in the Slate symposium. After conceding that mistakes were made by the leaders of the war, he turns to another enemy:

But some of the blame falls as well on the anti-Bush naifs who pretend not to hear when anyone speaks about the larger reasons and goals—the people who pretend that WMD and non-existent conspiracies were the only reasons for war and pretend that the only serious goals were the arrests of a couple of men, or the achieving of a magical utopia tomorrow, and pretend that if war has still not ended, we have gotten nowhere at all. It’s all too true that better leaders could have made better plans, and the French and the Germans and the United Nations could help even now, if only they would. But it ought not to be so hard to see that, even so, the prospects of the totalitarian movement are looking a lot less healthy today than they did on Sept. 10, 2001 and the prospects of Muslim liberalism are looking up, somewhat.

So if I understand the argument here, Berman is saying that 1)the war has, on balance, been a good thing (the prospects of the totalitarian movement are looking a lot less healthy), 2)the administration did in some measure support Berman’s strategic goals and anti-war liberals simply refuse to acknowledge this, and 3)to the extent that the war, while still good, has been less good than expected the fault lies largely with liberals who, unlike Berman, fail to see the value in the war. (As is often the case with Berman’s arguments about Iraq, the causal chain here seems to be missing a few links; if more liberals had foolishly supported the Iraq war or at least attributed better motives to the Bush administration, this would have done what exactly to facilitate a stable liberal democracy in Iraq?) And then there’s concluding sentence: “In Iraq as in Afghanistan, a liberal war is going on—liberal in the philosophical sense, meaning liberty.” If Berman was opposed to the war and thought it was going badly, this argument is…strange. Either Berman supported the war, or for a brief period in 2004 repudiated liberal interventionism.

The other thing to say is that I think it’s entirely possible that many members of the Bush administration did in some measure share Berman’s conviction that stateless Islamic terrorists, different Islamic dictatorships, and secular dictatorships were all part of a common “Islamic totalitarianism” that posed an existential threat comparable to the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Since this underlying theory is both transparently erroneous and neither here nor there in terms of the Bush administration’s ability to create a liberal state ex nihilo in Iraq, I don’t find this terribly comforting.

Eisenhower and Race

[ 26 ] November 12, 2007 |

Matt says he’s reading this book defending Eisenhower’s record on race. I haven’t read it, so maybe it makes the case. But I would be skeptical on several fronts that the book would need to be overcome:

  • I think there is, in fact, good reason to believe that Eisenhower’s appointment of Warren was not a result of a steadfast commitment to civil rights. Eisenhower, after all, promised Governor Warren an appointment after he agreed to deliver California’s delegates to him at the convention, and the fact that he was made Chief was just a fluke created by Fred Vinson’s sudden death (the first indication Felix Frankfurter ever had that there is a God); I think the patronage factor was more important. And while Warren was certainly a liberal Republican, I’m not sure that there was a strong basis for believing in 1952 that a prime author of the internment of Japanese citizens was especially progressive on race in particular. The appointment of Brennan, similarly, was almost certainly about appealing to the Catholic vote. To see these appointments as being about Eisenhower’s commitment to civil rights is to project the currents ways in which presidents select Supreme Court justices onto a previous era.
  • Although I accept the limitations of rhetoric in re: a comparison with JFK’s all-hat-no-cattle approach to civil rights, Eisenhower hanging the Supreme Court out to dry after Brown actually matters. Rhetoric is, after all, part of a president’s job. Nor, as far as I can tell, was his lukewarm-at-best reaction to desegregation inconsistent with his privately expressed thoughts on the matter. The fact that he informed Warren that southerners were not bad people, just concerned lest their “sweet little girls be seated alongside some big black bucks” also makes me question his staunch commitment to civil rights, and Nichols seems to concede that he wasn’t especially progressive in his personal views. (The “black bucks” phrasing is also relevant to Reagan’s rhetoric on the subject.)
  • The favorable comparison with Truman seems especially strange. Given that Truman actually desegregated the armed forces while Eisenhower testified against integration in Congress, to primarily credit the latter strikes me as bizarre. Under Truman, the federal government also started aggressively favoring civil rights in the federal courts by filing amicus briefs.
  • It is true, as Nichols repeated in his NYT op-ed, that LBJ watered down civil rights legislation in 1957 (and given that it was that or nothing, he was right to do so.) On the other hand, as Robert Caro points out (pp.918-9) Ike was himself unfamiliar with key provisions of his own bill, and in private correspondence said that some of its provisions were “too broad” (while reiterating his skepticism about Brown and his lack of objections to the glacial pace of desegregation.) In fairness, I am willing to believe that, like a lot of moderates, Eisenhower became more sympathetic to civil rights after Little Rock.
  • In the description, it says that Nichols “attributes Lyndon Johnson’s actions to his presidential ambitions.” This may be true, but it is also entirely irrelevant to anything. If were evaluating presidents on their records — as Nichols would like — LBJ’s is so vastly better than Ike’s that the comparison is ridiculous. Whatever motivated him — and it’s clearly silly to reduce it to any one factor — LBJ did more for civil rights than every other president of the century combined while Ike’s record was highly unimpressive.

None of this is to say that Eisenhower was especially bad for a public official of his era; he was more of a squish than an active opponent of civil rights. But it’s also true that on the crucial question of Brown, Ike hid under the covers and whimpered until violent resistance forced his hand. And while I might agree that he and JFK differed more on rhetoric than results — although I think the rhetoric is more important than he allows — to favorably compare Eisenhower with Johnson on civil rights borders on the obscene.

The Impossible Dream

[ 3 ] November 12, 2007 |

Billionaires for Bush mounts a search for the mythical family farmer affected by the estate tax. If you can find one — and a pony — you’ll get a free gift bag, so you lucky duckies should hop to it.

I’m also glad that they reminded us about Giuliani canceling a press conference because the family wasn’t wealthy enough to be a Potemkin front for the upper-upper class tax cut he was advocating…

I Guess Noon’s State Has Something Going For It

[ 0 ] November 12, 2007 |

Alaska court throws out law requiring parental consent — not notification, which is useless enough, but consent — to obtain an abortion. [Via Ann.]

More Relevant Than Ever

[ 0 ] November 11, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The Warm Personality of Bill Belichick, The Mad Skillz of Norv Turner

In light of the failure of even scheduling two service academies to put a mild veneer of respectability on this marvelous Notre Dame season, I would strongly recommend picking up this highly prescient book, which I saw advertised on ESPN and I’m sure is just as persuasive as when it was published. I’m disappointed that Amazon isn’t packaging it with Bush Country, however…

"All over the ship, all through the convoy, there was a knowledge that in a few hours some of them were going to be dead."

[ 12 ] November 10, 2007 |

Norman Mailer, R.I.P.

Between his misogyny and authenticity-obsessed nutty politics — whatever one thinks of the aesthetic quality of the work, I would avoid a first date with a guy who wants to meet you by leaving a note in An American Dream — Mailer was an anachronism. But he was also an anachronism whose best work — especially Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song — I’ve been drawn back to recently and holds up surprisingly well. I’m sure this will compel me to pull The Time of Our Times off the shelf and see how often I can be pleasantly surprised as well as infuriated or baffled.

The Lodi Lieberman

[ 50 ] November 10, 2007 |

Dianne Fienstein (Senator Desperately In Need Of A Primary Challenge-CA) supports immunizing companies who acted illegally by violating the privacy of their customers. It would be holding companies “hostage” to punish them for illegal activity, since state actors were also involved! Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo! For reasons I can’t understand, the fact that litigation would be “costly” — and hence deter future illegal behavior and violations of customer privacy — is supposed to be a bug, not a feature. The classic coservertarian bait-and-switch.

With Lieberman out, it’s becoming overwhelmingly clear that with the appropriate regional adjustments Fienstein is the worst Democrat in the Senate. Can we at least get her booted off the Judiciary Committee?

The Crisis in Obama’s Campaign

[ 0 ] November 9, 2007 |

This is indeed depressing. In the debates, it was possible if one was inclined to excuse his comments because he disavowed the fake “crisis” before spouting nonsense on Social Security. But he’s now repeating it and explicitly using the crisis language. Ugh. There’s no way around it –and I say this as someone who’s leaned towards him from the start of the campaign — but he’s been a serious disappointment on the ground, and if he keeps this up it’s nearly a deal-breaker.

Bob Somerby recently pointed out that “it’s fairly clear that the press corps loathes Clinton and Edwards—but not Obama.” Although I wouldn’t necessarily bet on this continuing if he actually wins the primary, this remains one of his strongest selling points: better uncertainty than someone who we know will mean a full-bore return to Dowdite lunacy. But if he’s going to cultivate the press by actually adopting the Millionaire Pundit Values of the WaPo editorial board, that’s useless.

This isn’t terribly promising either.

"Just Like This Post Is An Abortion."

[ 30 ] November 9, 2007 |

Bean et al. have taken care of the most obvious atrocities in this post — suffice it to say that if manliness means beating up your wife after she declines to give birth to another generation of murderers, count me out — but as a connoisseur of Aesthetic Stalinism I can’t resist this:

One of the best scenes in the Godfather movie trilogy was in “Godfather II,” when Kay Corleone (Diane Keaton) told her husband Michael (Al Pacino) she was taking their two children and leaving him.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…one of the best scenes? Is this woman for real? To state the obvious, this scene is far and away the worst thing in the first two Godfather pictures, and indeed arguably worse than anything in the third one. She does us (although not her argument) the favor of quoting the dialogue, which is awful. “Like our marriage is an abortion” — ugh, and it isn’t helped by the wooden reading. (To put it charitably Kay was never Keaton’s finest hour — although she didn’t have much to work with — and this is the nadir of her performance and the character.) And as bad as it would look in isolation, this scene from a third-rate afternoon soap is incredibly jarring in what otherwise is an absolute peak of American filmmaking. The fact that it requires a bizarre reading to make the atrocious scene ideologically congenial enough to praise is icing on the cake.

Truly, one of the great achievements in Aesthetic Stalinism of our time. Libertas and the “Right-wing Dylan” guy should fold up and go home; they can’t compete.

"Too Pro-Choice?"

[ 19 ] November 8, 2007 |

Garance has an interesting excerpt from a speech by John Kerry, in which he asserts that the Democrats are “too pro-choice” and E.J Dionne asks “Why do you think you didn’t give a speech like this in, say, May or June of 2004?” Dionne’s implication is that such a speech would have been politically useful. But would it?

I can certainly see some political value in signaling respect for respect for supporters of abortion criminalization, and I don’t believe that Democrats running for national office can say all the same things about reproductive freedom that I would. But in the particular form Kerry articulates it here, the argument seems the worst of all worlds. First of all, very annoyingly it claims (straight out of the anti-choice Book of Myths) that “science” is substantially changing the abortion debate and greatly altering viability, when in fact there’s no evidence that this is true and the vast majority of abortions continue take place before viability. Kerry’s argument in general concedes (wholly unearned) moral high ground to the abortion criminalization lobby and, even worse, never bothers to explain why it shouldn’t have its way. The structure of Kerry’s speech is essentially “abortion is really bad but should remain legal because it just should.” That’s only a good approach if you want to set up the debate to lose, and as long as you have nominally pro-choice policy positions you’re unlikely to receive credit for it anyway. (After all, Kerry was in fact very squishy in defensing abortion throughout the 2004, but never gets retrospective “credit” for it anyway; you apparently can never be squishy enough. Which in a way makes sense; if I was an anti-choicer, I would want a politician who supports my substantive positions, not one who says that he or she “respects” me.)

If Democratic politicians have to signal respect for “pro-lifers,” it seems to me that rather than saying that abortion is immoral but should remain legal for reasons we won’t get into, much better is to focus in what abortion bans would actually do. Wouldn’t something like this be both better in the merits and more effective strategically?

Many people in the audience believe that abortion is morally wrong. And no matter what people’s moral position is, we can all agree that preventing unwanted pregnancies is better than abortions. However, our opponents take very extreme positions that are unlikely to achieve these goals anyway. The Republican platform supports a constitutional amendment that would make abortion first-degree murder in all 50 states; I don’t think most Americans support that approach. But even if it passed, the experience of other countries suggests that there would still be a large number of abortions; the only difference is that more poor women will be maimed and killed in back-alley abortions. That’s not effective, and it’s not fair. Giving women the access to contraception, education, medical and child care they need, on the other hand, will both protect women’s freedom and lead to fewer abortions. State coercion doesn’t work, as our history makes clear. This is something we should all agree on.

I’m no speechwriter, so I don’t know exactly how you’d phrase it, but it seems to be that to be useful any gambit like Kerry’s should 1)make clear why one is pro-choice whatever their moral reservations, 2)should focus on areas where the “pro-life” position is unpopular rather than uncritically accepting opposition frames (or, worse, repeating their erroneous claims), and 3)focus on why criminalization fails to be effective or meet basic standards of equality and fairness even if you support its ends. Kerry’s way of discussing the issue fails on all three counts.

Rudy: Locking Up The Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Vote

[ 0 ] November 7, 2007 |

Rudy Giuliani has been endorsed by Pat Robertson, which according to smart conservative commentators is a “big plus.” A depressing, if unsurprising, thought. Not only is Robertson an arch-reactionary who thought that with respect to 9/11 that the U.S. had it coming (especially ironic for Mr. “Noun-Verb-9/11″), Robertson is a purveyor of crank anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As Michael Lind found:

Robertson’s theories about Jewish bankers and Jewish revolutionaries are central to his conspiracy theory, which in turn is central to his vision of his own destiny, his movement, and his ambitions for the American Right and the Republican party and the United States of America. Not since Father Coughlin or Henry Ford has a prominent white American so boldly and unapologetically blamed the disasters of modern world history on the machinations of international high finance in general and on a few influential Jews in particular. And not since Huey Long, with his Share Our Wealth movement, has there been a radical populist movement as powerful in American politics as Robertson’s Christian Coalition.

A lunatic conspiracy theorist endorsing someone with lunatic foreign policy views; seems about right.

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