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Questions That, Lacking the Wisdom of Solomon, I Cannot Answer

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

What’s worse: Camille Paglia’s ideas, or her prose?

Bonus question: what exactly is Salon thinking by paying her to write for them in 2007?

On Not Demonizing Mothers Who Kill

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

Cara at the Curvature has an interesting post up about women who kill their newborn infants or who allow them to die from neglect. Neonaticide, of course, is nothing new. In Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, which is read on the Jewish day of mourning Tisha B’Av, women (there a metaphor for the felled city of Jerusalem)eat their own infants out of starvation (2:20 or 4:10; this isn’t my favorite translation). But there, the women are not condemned for their acts; the prophets contextualize them in the context of their starvation in the brutalized city.

Then there are more modern and salacious (media friendly) stories of teens flushing newborns or stillborns down toilets at the prom or of women with severe and untreated post-partum psychosis harming or killing their young children (Andrea Yates, most famously, though her act is more often called filicide because her kids were not infants). And of course, the other week, we saw the arrest of a Maryland woman who hid her stillborn son under her sink and was later found to have kept the remains of other ostensibly stillborn fetuses, and who has been charged with murder (initially for the stillbirth and more recently for an earlier live birth after which the infant died).

What are we to make of these cases? The societal impulse, as Cara discusses, is to condemn, jail, and not explore further. But as a professor of neuropsychology noted in a recent LA Times article, the scenarios that drive women to kill their newborns are complex and manifold.

Perhaps society’s response should be similarly nuanced (a pipe dream, I know). Safe surrender (or baby Moses) laws are a start and have been successful in some places in Europe, but they face opposition in the US from adoption rights and other child welfare advocates who say they undermine established child welfare policies (which work so well). The laws are also sometimes self-defeating. Last summer, for example, a woman who anonymously left her infant at a South Carolina hospital pursuant to the state’s safe dropoff law, was hunted down and arrested after it was discovered that the baby had cocaine metabolites in its system. What kind of incentive does that create?

As Cara rightly points out, these cases often bring into sharp focus several threads of discourse: abortion rights access, domestic violence, child welfare, to name a few. She says:

And if abortion isn’t right for the woman in question, we’re still dealing with social pressures concerning sex– i.e., girls terrified to tell their parents that they’re pregnant because of their attitudes towards virginity until marriage. It’s obviously the absolute extreme end of the spectrum, but we certainly can’t want a society where girls feel that hiding their pregnancies out of despair and killing their newborns in a panic is a better option than telling their religious parents that they’re pregnant.

I can’t help but feel that this issue, as large or as small as it actually may be, is extremely intertwined with all of the problems in America surrounding sex education, our sexually obsessed/fearful culture, a really shitty approach to women’s health, and the apparent difficulty with treating women like full and equal human beings. I also can’t help but feel that “safe surrender” laws are only slightly more than a band aid over a tiny section of much larger, looming problems, and that all of us deserve a hell of a lot better.


Really, The Iraqis Love Us Now

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

Welcome to the new narrative. Until the next round of Iraqi public opinion surveys appear, we’re going to be hearing a lot of evidence-free assertions about how the people whose country we continue to occupy have genuinely changed their minds about the occupation. This is an understandable contortion; having set forth anecdotal claims about the success of The Surge, and having made the predictable arguments about the need to salvage America’s “reputation” by seeing “the mission” through to its murky end, supporters of the war are now getting around to insisting that the current strategy is actually consonant with the wishes of ordinary Iraqis.

Here’s Cap’n Crunch, for instance:

We moved from being hated occupiers to protectors when we finally started doing something to improve the situation on the ground. The Iraqis had seen us as arbitrary authority unwilling to risk anything to save them from both themselves and the terrorists. The new strategy of aggressive tactics and engagement with the enemy has impressed them and won the allegiance of ordinary Iraqis — and has taken the pressures off that otherwise could have been channeled into sectarian conflict.

And here’s the long-winded pseudo-intellectual Jeff Goldstein, last seen revealing his 1970s lit-crit credentials by taking semiotics seriously:

[I]t turns out that the Iraqis were waiting to make sure of our commitment, and now — convinced that their “imperialist occupiers” have their interests at heart — they are beginning not only to greet us as liberators, but are working along side us to ensure that the liberation takes.

Not that Goldstein, et. al., believe Iraqi popular attitudes actually matter in this whole debate. Otherwise, they’d be insisting that the Bush administration’s demands for a privatized oil industry — one of the “benchmarks” most vigorously opposed by Iraqis themselves — be scuttled. But no matter. As of one year ago, most everyone in Iraq wanted us the fuck out of their country:

A large majority of Iraqis—71%—say they would like the Iraqi government to ask for U.S.-led forces to be withdrawn from Iraq within a year or less. Given four options, 37 percent take the position that they would like U.S.-led forces withdrawn “within six months,” while another 34 percent opt for “gradually withdraw[ing] U.S.-led forces according to a one-year timeline.” Twenty percent favor a two-year timeline and just 9 percent favor “only reduc[ing] U.S.-led forces as the security situation improves in Iraq.”

. . . As compared to January 2006, there has been, overall, a growing sense of urgency for withdrawal of U.S.-led forces. In January, respondents were only given three options—six months, two years, and an open-ended commitment. In September, the one-year option was added, since it had been nearly a year since the last time they were asked. While in January 70 percent favored withdrawal within two years (35% six months, 35% two years), now— approximately a year later—71 percent favor withdrawal within a year (37% six months, 34% one year). Support for an open-ended commitment has dropped from 29 percent to 9 percent.

I suppose the easy lesson here is that “the Iraqis” matter so long as their beliefs can be sculpted to resemble the sustained fantasies of American war supporters. And now that “Eventheliberalwarcritics” O’Pollahan have given them renewed hope, look for “the Iraqi people” to start sounding remarkably like serious fellows from the Brookings Institute.

The Spirit

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

Robert Kaplan’s Atlantic article on the B-2 is an embarassment, both for himself and for the Air Force personnel that he interviewed. It’s all fine and well to find a particular kind of military hardware appealing, but Kaplan’s enthusiasm for the B-2 leads him to make laughably idiotic assertions about its capabilities and effect, and to produce what can only be referred to as an extended mash-note for its operators. Indeed, I feel kind of bad for “Nuke” and “Genghis”, a pair of B-2 pilots that Kaplan spoke with:

Nuke and Genghis are both of average height, with taut bodies–Price weighs only 126 pounds–and tense expressions. Their physiques match their quiet, precise personalities.

After detailing the faith and physiques of the pilots, Kaplan goes on to spout the most ridiculous nonsense about the capacity of the aircraft.

The 1999 conflict represented a breakthrough for the Air Force: Rather than a multiplane carpet-bombing strategy, we deployed just a few B-2s, each one hitting multiple targets with the superaccuracy of a fighter jet. Suddenly, aerial warfare was no longer about how many planes were needed to take out a big target, but about how many targets could be taken out with a single plane. The conflict in Kosovo also demonstrated that technology could permit the waging of limited wars. The B-2 allowed President Bill Clinton, who had little appetite for incurring casualties in a humanitarian intervention, to launch strikes with minimal risk to the pilots.

Well, that, and we also used tremendous numbers of fighter and attack aircraft to hit targets repeatedly all over the country. Our B-2-less allies joined in with airstrikes of their own. Indeed, in the Kosovo Campaign we learned that the largest and most powerful military alliance ever created could successfully coerce a country of eleven million after just seventy-eight days of bombing and the threat of a ground invasion. Air power has truly come of age, I suppose.

The B-2 has subsequently been used in Afghanistan and Iraq, where, as Colonel Wheeler noted, “The B-2 makes a statement. And that statement is, ‘We mean business!’” He banged his fist on the table. Wheeler is the classic intense Air Force intellectual. He has degrees in both engineering and strategic studies and is a veteran of three wars and a diplomatic posting in Europe. His insights came in hyperactive bursts between sips from a quart-sized plastic coffee mug.

“The deterrence effect of this airplane may be as important as its destructive capability,” he went on. “Any adversary knows that the B-2 can enter relatively unseen with the power and accuracy to destroy. Merely by having the B-2, we can better influence the decision-making process in rogue nations and encourage any other countries to perhaps go another route in their national defense. The stealth bomber is a diplomatic instrument as much as it is a military instrument.” Wheeler didn’t say this explicitly, but for rogue nations, you should read “Iran and North Korea”; for other countries read “China and a resurgent, nationalistic Russia.”

For an “intellectual”, it’s unclear to me that Colonel Wheeler has given any thought to the uses of air power; indeed, I’d like to see one iota of evidence that the existence of the B-2 (apart from the rest of US military capacity) has changed the behavior of a single state in the world. Does he really think that Iran and North Korea are hardening potential target sites because of the capacity of the B-2 to evade radar? How long, I wonder, does Colonel Wheeler (or Kaplan, who channels this tripe) think that the Iranian air defense network would last against a dedicated US air attack? Nevertheless, I’m happy to allow that Wheeler (and Charles Dunlap, as I’ll discuss in another post) is a “classic” Air Force intellectual; air power enthusiasts have been making indefensible, evidence free assertions about the revolutionary nature of air warfare since the First World War.

The following quote helps explain why the Air Force has such an attraction for conservative foreign policy hacks. From a DOD official who had retired from the Air Force:

He explained further: “It’s a pride thing. We’re the B-2. We not only kick down your door, we go in and out of your country without you even knowing it. We take out your head of state, your nuke and chem-bio plants, your SAM [surface-to-air missile] sites. ‘Follow us. We clear the path,’ we say to the other aerial platforms.”

Of course, the B-2 has never done any of those things, and probably never will. There’s no evidence that it can decapitate enemy leaders or destroy enemy nuclear infrastructure; such goals have far more to do with intelligence than with any single weapon platform. Indeed, it’s unclear what the point of decapitation would be. But the DOD official is right that it’s a pride thing; even though the weapon doesn’t add to US capabilities in any noticeable way, and even though there’s no evidence that it has affected anyone’s behavior, conservatives love it because it’s a weapon that no one else has. It rains death from above; not as well as a forty year old B-52, but nevertheless. The B-2, like so many weapons before it, promises the quick, easy destruction of as many enemies as we care to destroy. As the currently most advanced weapon system in the US arsenal, the B-2 is the star of the moment for a particular concept of war; one that envisions the destruction of whomever the US chooses whenever we choose without significant cost to ourselves. It isn’t the first star of the show, and it won’t be the last. I do suspect, though, that down the road it will be seen as the biggest boondoggle, given its expense and the use to which it has been put.

I suppose that Kaplan deserves some mild credit for pointing out that the B-2 is currently engaged in attacks on small groups of insurgents who lack SAM sites, expensive radars, and fast interceptor aircraft, although he forgets to note that these attacks often go awry, killing civilians and undermining their own purpose. I suppose also that this may be a trying period for conservative defense intellectuals; do they laud the latest piece of gadgetry that the Air Force is trying push on them, or do they listen to Golden Boy Petraeus when he argues (correctly) that the use of air power directly contradicts the goals of counter-insurgency?

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

The Petraeus Shield

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

I think Andrew J. Bacevich sums it up well: “The cult of Petraeus exists not because the general has figured out the war but because hiding behind the general allows the Bush administration to postpone the day when it must reckon with the consequences of its abject failure in Iraq.” The rest of the article is worth reading too.

Speaking of Liberal Hawk Revisionism…

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

Although this isn’t quite the Atrios link he’s craving (to put it mildly), Yglesias has a good point about the frequent indisinguishability of the arguments of “hawks” and (at least American) “liberal hawks” here:

This business, in short, short, about how maintaining security in an Iraq-sized country requires 450,000-550,000 troops, while it was something you could tell from the historical evidence, was ignored not just by Don Rumsfeld, Doug Feith, and George W. Bush, but by essentially all war proponents across the political spectrum. The reason is pretty clear — there would have been no war had its advocates made accurate forecasts about the levels of resources required. Among other things, someone might have noted that the US Army doesn’t have enough soldiers to deploy several hundred thousands troops to Iraq on anything resembling a sustained basis.

Similarly, we also wouldn’t have had a war if Iraq wasn’t portrayed as a grave security that had to be invaded right now, before the inspections which would prove Saddam had nothing at all were completed. While democracy was mentioned as a side benefit by most supporters and perhaps emphaszied more by liberal hawks, there’s no chance that a “Iraq poses no threat to American security argument but is a despotism almost as repressive as his American-allied neighbor so we need to invade now” argument was going to fly.

Balkin & Volokh on Blogging Heads

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

Jack Balkin and Eugene Volokh duked it out yesterday on BloggingHeads in what Balkin calls the “Bill of Rights Edition” of Blogging heads. They take on the First and Second Amendments.

My take: Balkin lays out the law and Volokh runs with it (sometimes at length). Especially interesting is their take on the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.

There’s enough explanation in there that non-lawyers won’t be totally lost.

Liberal Hawk Revisionism?

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

To add on brief point to Ezra’s follow-up to his merciless demonstration of how many ways liberal hawks erred, wasn’t Pollack’s original case based primarily on the alleged threat Saddam posed to the United States, rather than democratization? It seems to me that Packer’s characterization of the relevant argument as “Saddam has used weapons of mass destruction and has never stopped trying to develop them” is a little disingenuous; a more accurate rendering, it seems to me, would be “Saddam poses a major threat to the United States because he has WMDs and will inevitably acquire more fairly quickly.” I don’t recall a lot of liberal hawks claiming that Hussein didn’t have WMDs, even as the inspections were turning up bupkis, but maybe someone has some examples. A lot of liberal hawks, like hawks in general, claimed after the fact that Saddam’s lack of WMDs wasn’t a big deal, but I don’t think that argument was made contemporaneously very much.

…I ask, Atrios answers.

Better Dodges Needed

[ 0 ] August 14, 2007 |

The fundamental problem I had with the classic “girlfriend in Canada” excuse is that it’s much less effective when you actually, ah, went to college in Canada. I am reminded of a friend who had a mythical girlfriend in Port Hope, or “Port of No Hope” as it was thereafter known on my dorm floor…

…Tracy Clark-Flory has more. Matt is right, of course, that the emphasis on (still almost certainly inaccurate) medians is to make reinforcing the virgin/whore complex easier. My favorite example remains Leon Kass’s assertion that “[m]any, perhaps even most, men in earlier times avidly sought sexual pleasure prior to and outside of marriage. But they usually distinguished, as did the culture generally, between women one fooled around with and women one married, between a woman of easy virtue and a woman of virtue simply. Only respectable women were respected; one no more wanted a loose woman for one’s partner than for one’s mother.” See, although logically men having premarital sex with women would logicially seem to have to be having sex with women, women who have sex before marriage aren’t really women at all, so why question the numbers? And call me crazy, but the existence of these norms (albeit usually in subtle form than when expressed by Bush’s favorite bioethicist) may just make self-reporting in surveys unreliable.

…see also zuzu.


[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

Like most teachers, I’m sure, I have the occasional — and one hopes irrational — dream that my students have arrayed themselves against me in ways that may or may not involve blunt-force weapons. Nightmares about verbal abuse are so common that I don’t even register them any more, but now and then I find myself waking up from a good, honest clubbing and wonder if I’d be wise to cancel classes for the rest of the week (or semester).

Reading about the case of St. Cassian, whose feast day is acknowledged on August 13, doesn’t really help the problem. I’ve written more about the poor chap here, but I’ll just highlight one description that is sure to stay with me as I prepare for yet another academic year.

Cassian, like all good martyrs, was executed for refusing to renounce his beliefs. What’s interesting about his case, though, is that he was sentenced to die at the hands of his pupils, whom he taught to read and write (and, apparently, to use shorthand). According to Alban Butler’s Lives of the the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (1866),

He was exposed naked in the midst of two hundred boys; among whom some threw their tablets, pencils, and penknives at his face and head, and often broke them upon his body; others cut his flesh or stabbed him with their pencils, sometimes only tearing the skin and flesh, and sometimes raking in his very bowels. Some made it their barbarous sport to cut part of their [assignment] in his tender skin. Thus, covered with his own blood, and wounded in every part of his body, he cheerfully bade his little executioners not to be afraid; and to strike him with greater force . . .

Good times, good times…

Advantage: Blogosphere!

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

Shorter Treason-In-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee: Those idiots in the MSM can’t even fact-check transparently obvious one-liners to establish their empirical validity! How can anybody take anything they say seriously? LOL!

Next week: Beauchamp writes that Iraq in the summer is “hotter than a blast furnace.” TIDOSY conducts an extensive investigation and finds, in fact, that a blast furnace is hotter than Iraq, further embarassing the illiterate editors at TNR.

. . . addendum from d: Bob Owens’ update is a true classic in the genre:

The first experience most of us had with Beauchamp was with his last article first, and his allegation that he verbally assaulted a burn victim. It doesn’t seem much of a stretch from abuser of the burned to robber of the dead, so I took his comments at face value as a real claim.

I completely understand. My first experience with Bob Owens was when he claimed that Google was deliberately pushing “Baby Jesus Buttplugs” on Christmas. From there, it didn’t seem like much of a stretch to conclude that he’s an idiot.

50%+1 < 60%

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

One of the key grafs from the Atlantic article about Rove is this one, which contains the explanation for why Rove’s ambitions to create a McKinley-like realignment were always doomed (leaving aside Mayhew’s entirely correct point that realignments are longer-term and more complex processes than are usually assumed):

One of the big what-ifs of his presidency is how things might have turned out had he stuck with it (education remains the one element of Rove’s realignment project that was successfully enacted). What did become clear is that Rove’s tendency, like Bush’s, is always to choose the most ambitious option in a list and then pursue it by the most aggressive means possible—an approach that generally works better in campaigns than in governing. Instead of modest bipartisanship, the administration’s preferred style of governing became something much closer to the way Rove runs campaigns: Steamroll the opposition whenever possible, and reach across the aisle only in the rare cases, like No Child Left Behind, when it is absolutely necessary. The large tax cut that Bush pursued and won on an almost party-line vote just afterward is a model of this confrontational style. Its limitations would become apparent.

It should be noted that, for the first term, the “50%+1″strategy was, in fact a very effective governing tool. Bush was very successful at getting his agenda through Congress despite his narrow “victory” precisely because he ignored vacuous invocations of “mandates” and realized that your power in domestic policy is about how many votes you can get in Congress, and simply getting the minimum necessary coalition allowed for the maximum policy gains. But this strategy is entirely incompatible with a long-term realignment, which requires adding allies rather than simply paying off existing ones. Social Security, among some other New Deal policies, worked for FDR precisely because they created the large coalition of supporters (although this meant not getting some things he wanted and making some horrible compromises with Southern Democrats.) And because of this existing constituency, privatizing social Security was never going to be broadly popular or an effective coalition-building device. Seeking the minimum possible winning coalition is never going to be compatible with engineering a major realignment, and Bush’s historically narrow victory as a wartime president with a decent economy makes clear. And even worse for Rove, 50%+1 becomes a lot less effective as the President becomes less popular, and hopeless on domestic policy when you’ve lost Congress.

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