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Excuse Me While I Gouge Out My Eyes

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

Thanks to Lauren.

Click through if you dare, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Whose Tools Can Best Dismantle this House?

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

Over at TAP, Garance has an article up that asks — and tries to answer — the question of why Edwards’ candidacy seems to have fallen a bit flat. Not John McCain flat, but flat. Here’s her answer:

Edwards’ problem is that poverty in today’s America, as in New Orleans, has not merely been the result of too low a minimum wage or other defects of bureaucratic liberalism. It is also a consequence of a lack of social and political power among certain groups of people, and the distortion effects that this historic lack of social capital or hope has on whole communities. Government programs can help reduce the negative consequences of the lack of power, and have a tremendous positive impact on how poor people are able to live.

But offered a choice between the promise of new programs and political candidates who might enhance their social standing and political power, many poor people are choosing the promise of social change. They understand intuitively that social equality and increased political power for the disenfranchised leads inexorably to greater economic equality and opportunities for all. Edwards’ promise of anti-poverty government action, in this calculus, holds less appeal than the transformative potential of electing the first African-American or first woman president in the nation’s history.

Edwards, it turns out, does not appeal to minority women or to low-income voters, as evidenced by the fact that his base is whiter and wealthier on the whole than Clinton’s or Obama’s supporters.

There’s a lot that’s right about what Garance says — the more disenfranchised members of our society do seem, if these early numbers are any indication, to prefer societal change to hole plugging. And I can’t say I disagree with that. Social change would be more gratifying and make more of a difference long term than programs to pacify and mollify and programs that aim to, say, alleviate the healthcare crisis without actually fixing it.

But I think Garance is missing an important piece. A large part of Edwards’s problem may be his approach, especially when compared to the other seemingly non-establishment candidates (funny that a Clinton would ever be described that way, but that’s for another day). But to note that cannot but precipitate this question: can a white male candidate ever be the candidate to help raise a minority group’s stature and/or power? Could Edwards have tapped into what Garance identifies as today’s winning rhetoric if had wanted to? Would an Edwards win (as unlikely as it seems) mean that Obama and Clinton lost or that the U.S. is not “ready” (whatever the hell that means” for a Black or woman president? To jump off of the comments by the “controversial blogger” whom Garance quotes, can a person who benefits from the establishment be the one to help dismantle it?

Japanese Defense

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

There’s a good article in the NYT today about Japan’s increasingly aggressive defense posture. In addition to slight increases in defense spending, the deployment of assets farther away from Japan, and the purchase of new weapon systems, the Japanese Self-Defense Force is carrying out more aggressive and realistic training exercises.

For a few reasons, this doesn’t bother me a bit. First, the dichotomy between “offensive” and “defensive” weapons is and always has been nonsense. Almost any weapon (including a wall, or even a missile defense system) can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes. The inter-war arms agreement negotiators tried to ban offensive weapons, but failed to come to any plausible determination of what constituted offensive and defensive. Political scientists have played around with the “offense-defense balance” concept for years, with few sound results. The idea, therefore, of a military organization built around “defensive” weaponry suffers from some serious conceptual problems.

In the specific case of Japan these problems are exacerbated by Japanese dependence on foreign trade. While Japan remains under the US security umbrella, it doesn’t need to worry too much about attacks on its supply lines. If that umbrella ever weakened, or if Japan wished to contribute more, defense would necessarily include deployments well outside Japanese waters. Similarly, an attack on Chinese, US, Korean, or Russian missile or air bases capable of striking Japan could plausibly be defined as “defensive”. Long story short, the idea of a “defensive” Japanese military makes no sense whatsoever outside the context of American military hegemony. As long as the US conducts all of the distant operations for Japanese defense, we can pretend that Japan has a Self-Defense Force instead of a military, but that designation amounts to little more than a charade.

Of course, all things military are also political, and Japanese defense re-organization (Japan is already heavily armed, so re-armament doesn’t make any sense) has political effects at home and in the region. Rightist politicians have long argued for a more substantive military profile, but such arguments don’t weaken the case itself. China and the Koreas have expressed a lot of concern about Japanese revanchism, and could meet a more aggressive Japanese military posture with additional spending of their own. Since China is already increasing its defense spending (and orienting that spending around Taiwan, rather than Japan), and North Korea is pretty much tapped out, this puts South Korea on the spot. Call me a sap, but if Japan and South Korea go to war again in my lifetime, I’ll buy every reader of TAPPED and LGM a Coke. Nationalist politicians in China, South Korea, and Japan have become remarkably adept at playing off one another for domestic political gain over the past twenty years or so; re-organizing or re-titling the Self-Defense Force isn’t going to change that, or even affect the dynamic very much.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

The "Local Control" Fetish: Horrible Environmental Policy Edition

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

I know, what can you expect from Roger Scruton, but it’s pretty embarrassing for someone to assert that “Environmental movements on the Left seldom pause to consider the question of human motivation…[t]he problem with that approach is that it makes mistakes into permanent legacies and provides no incentive to ordinary citizens” when they don’t seem to understand even the most basic aspects of the collective action problem. Even large numbers of libertarians recognize that pollution is a negative externality that requires some state intervention, and anyone who thinks that people will just spontaneously and collectively agree to, say, start driving more fuel efficient cars despite the infinitesimal effect of any individual action on air pollution needs to be permanently enjoined from ever using the word “incentive” again.

Novels of Quality

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

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Since Atrios has responded to Matt’s suggestion that Harry Potter books be a gateway drug with some actual positive discussion of books (I concur with his praise of the beautiful Never Let Me Go, which I think is Ishiguro’s best), since I’ve been trying to read more fiction and I’ve been lucky enough to pick some really good ones recently.

For some reason, despite the generally glowing reviews I was never compelled to pick up Veronica — perhaps my disinterest in the fashion industry? But then a friend recommended Two Girls, Fat and Thin with those magic words “Ayn Rand satire,” and after I read it I bought the new one. Both are absolute knockouts. The first of the Two Girls is the more voluptuous one, who lives in Queens and works the graveyard shift doing clerical work at a Wall Street firm. The second is a conventionally attractive journalist who meets her looking for interviews about an Randian cult. The satire of the Rand-esque group is, as one would suspect, entertaining, but Gaitskill also makes clear that it provided real value for the severely wounded character; a community discussing even bad ideas is better for a smart but isolated person than not having any intellectual outlet at all, the character’s experience implies, and to anyone stuck in a horrible job I think this will ring true. She’s also very psychologically convincing about the journalist, who falls into submissive (and not just role-playing, but genuinely self-abasing) relationships with people she knows to be assholes who should be rationally unworthy of her time.

Veronica focuses on a model’s friendship with an older, plainer woman who contracts AIDS in the early days of the epidemic, told from a period after which her looks have faded and her own health has deteriorated. In addition to a lot of interesting insights it expands on the themes of friendship between people of differing social status developed in the first novel — especially the ways in which pity and obligation can not only coexist with but nourish genuine (if always incomplete) affection — and despite the less interesting story is in some respects even better. (“A long time ago, John loved me. I never loved him, but I used our friendship, and the using became so comfortable for both of us that we started really being friends.”) She writes beautifully and is an incredibly acute and tough- minded observer of relationships. Neither is, I suppose, feel-good beach reading, but both are incredibly absorbing; strongly recommended. More picks later in the week.

As an aside Gaitskill also seems to have really good taste in movies. Even granting the obvious thematic relevance of The Dreamlife of Angels and The Piano Teacher (Rob would want me to mention Breaking the Waves here too) to her own work I’m always impressed by someone who touts them. Oh, and speaking of Dreamlife I was thinking that Zonca was going to become the Ralph Ellison of the film world, but apparently he’s got a movie starring Tilda Swinton coming out soon. I will be cautiously optimistic…

Happily Repressed Memories

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

Huh, until I found it scrolling through a list of the year’s worst films so far I had completely forgotten a picture about some kind of numerology horseshit starring Jim Carrey and directed by Joel Schumacher was released earlier this year. It would seem like a mortal lock for worst movie of the year even with the Tim Allen motorcycle thing and the Robin Williams priest thing, but then there was that Torture Porn For Nice Guys (TM) thing. Gawd, there’s been some horrible, horrible-looking movies this year; I can imagine Bay not even making the top 5. I assume that later in the year Kevin Smith will be directing a sequel to Jersey Girl

On the other hand, as I will get to writing about eventually, I can now unequivocally recommend two mainstream movies that have come out in recent months! Plus conceivably the worst movie I’ve seen in the theater since The Rock

When Efficiency is Not Available as a Go-To Argument

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

The live free or die state isn’t so good to those who aren’t free, it turns out. Via Feministing, I found an article about overcrowding in women’s prisons in New Hampshire. It’s no longer surprising to read about the ridiculous rates of overcrowding — about 50% at the prison on which the article is focused — given the situations in California, New York, and many other states. The solution is not, it seems to me, to build more prisons to accommodate everyone, but rather to ask how the prisons got so damn crowded in the first place. It’s clear to me that a major problem is the war on (some classes of people and some) drugs, which is sending thousands of low-level offenders and people with addictions to jail while letting the drug trade continue unabated. In addition to simply leading to more people being incarcerated, the drug war also makes sure people stay that way. As part of drug war policies, judges often mandate sentences of treatment programs or jail. But the treatment programs they require either don’t exist or don’t have space. So it’s really no choice at all.

Case in point, from today’s article about New Hampshire:

[One inmate, Heather] Strong, who served three years in prison for embezzlement and credit card fraud, was paroled in March 2006. She got a job as a restaurant manager, but began abusing prescription pain pills again in October and landed back in prison in May.
Since then, she has been waiting to get into a substance abuse program. The first program she applied to turned her down because she had also been diagnosed with a mood disorder, she said.
Strong said it doesn’t make sense for the state to spend money to incarcerate her – about $30,000 per inmate each year – rather than help her get into a substance abuse program on the outside, where she could work while she got help.
“I’m being housed waiting for bed space in a program – I could do that from home,” she said.
People on the outside probably think, “Oh well, let them rot,” she said. But she said nobody benefits from a system that is costly and ineffective.
“We need legislation for more funding for programs,” she said. “There just is not enough. … That’s why there’s so many women sitting here just waiting to get out.”

So not only do drug war programs lead to prison overcrowding, which is bad for several reasons, including (but not limited to) public health, prison safety, and potential constitutional violations, but also, at the level of the users who most often fall victim to the drug war, it’s not even efficient. A treatment bed costs less than a prison bed. So efficiency isn’t a leg to stand on here. Why, then do we keep on with this wrongheaded program? Anyone who can offer something other than racism and vindictiveness is a step ahead of me….

Individual Bad Soliders: They Exist

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

Although I remain, as far as I can tell, the only progressive blogger to whom the TNR diary now creating a firestorm instinctively seemed a bit fishy in its details, I certainly agree with this. Any argument premised on the idea that no solider ever does anything really bad is self-evidently ridiculous, and the idea that reporting on such bad things is some slander on “the troops” in general despicable demagoguery. You may remember this from the attacks on Kerry; discussing (indisputably true) incidences of criminality is turned into a claim that Kerry was accusing “the troops” are war criminals. As I’ve already said, nothing of any political consequence turns on the veracity of this particular account. We already know that some individual members of the military do horrible things, and that they are obviously not representative.

More on the Heathers

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

Jamison Foser has a lot more on Marc Ambinder’s remarkable, matter-of-fact admission that “healthy chunk of the national political press corps” is out to get John Edwards and will give Mitt Romney a pass, because…he’s a Republican the frontrunner, and the fact that you have a better chance of being the most powerful person in the country means…you should be subject to less scrutiny. Perfectly logical!

It’s been quoted elsewhere, but I can’t resist returning to Pierce:

However, where in hell do we go with that last passage there, about how the haircuts matter because “a healthy chunk of the political press corps” doesn’t like Edwards, and how they’re staying away from a sauce-for-the-goose position on Mitt Romney’s makeovers because of their own private calculations of the relative electability of the two candidates. OK, here’s the deal. Every member of that “healthy chunk” of the press corps should be fired. Today. This minute. Without pay or recompense. Let them all walk back inside the Beltway from Cedar Rapids if they have to. I value what I do. I value the work of the people in my business who do it correctly. But, holy mother of god, these people do not do what I do. It’s OK to sneer at a candidate if you don’t like him? It’s OK to create a destructive narrative out of unmitigated piffle because he doesn’t kiss your ass with the regularity you think you deserve, or because his press buses don’t run on time, or because one of his staffers was late with the Danish in Keene? I watched a roomful of them boo Al Gore seven years ago, behavior that would have gotten them run out of any press box in the major leagues. Do you think one of these jamokes — or jamokettes — is thinking, “Maybe we should lay off the haircut thing because of what we all did to Gore in 2000, and look how well that worked out.” Please.

I’ll also add that any editor who assigns a reporter who is “looking to bury” John Edwards to cover him should also be fired. Which will happen the same day the Senate is abolished.

And, of course, this won’t be limited to Edwards–cf. Clinton’s highly troubling breasts. (Warning: PHOTO NSFW!!!!1111!!!11!1! Ann Althouse fainted twice!) Foser is good on this, but the nice thing about junior-high school narratives is that they leave an entirely blank slate for the reporter. A reporter writing about something substantive might (however accidentally) allow her readers to learn something, and tendentious critiques might lead to claims that are plainly false. When stories involve people’s haircuts, suits, decolletage, etc. you can infer anything about anything. The fact that Ambinder — first with ABC News’ atrocious “The American Pravda“, now with the Atlantic Monthly — takes for granted the use of trivia by reporters in order to pursue personal vednettas is instructive in an extremely depressing way.

To Kill the Fish, Drain the Sea

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

In addition to buying weapons (in defiance of UN sanction) from North Korea, Ethiopia has also decided that starving rebel regions is appropriate behavior:

The Ethiopian government is blockading emergency food aid and choking off trade to large swaths of a remote region in the eastern part of the country that is home to a rebel force, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation, Western diplomats and humanitarian officials say.

The Ethiopian military and its proxy militias have also been siphoning off millions of dollars in international food aid and using a United Nations polio eradication program to funnel money to their fighters, according to relief officials, former Ethiopian government administrators and a member of the Ethiopian Parliament who defected to Germany last month to protest the government’s actions.

While I’m sure that “More Rubble, Less Trouble” Reynolds and Ralph Peters believe that this is a great (the only!) way to deal with rebel groups, I’d like to think that the US should be reluctant to support countries that intentionally starve significant elements of their population. Maybe I’m overly hung up on moral clarity, but sending weapons and investing in a quasi-alliance with a state that would engage in such tactics seems, well, bad.

I mean, really, it doesn’t occur to anyone that it might be a bad thing to support a country that invades its neighbors, brutally oppresses ethnic minorities, and defies the international community? Or should we simply think of this as laying the groundwork for a US led “war of liberation” in 2020, or so?

Further Evidence of The Weekly Standard’s Impeccable Credibility

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

So Dean Barnett is speaking in tongues again:

In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn’t answer the phone.

Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers–those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation–took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers’ response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.

Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military. Most calculated how they could avoid military service, and their attitude rippled through the rest of the century. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, military service didn’t occur to most young people as an option, let alone a duty.

I’ve highlighted the key phrase here, the one that essentially announces that ungrounded, ahistorical fantasy is about to spring forth, like the Kool-Aid guy, from the skull of Dean Barnett.

Where to begin? For starters, the fact that there is a type of boomer who became generationally “emblematic” owes a lot to the efforts of right wingers — ancestors of Barnett’s — who developed a pernicious, cynical, and enduring narrative to discredit domestic opposition to the American war in Vietnam. (The most obvious political manifestation of this narrative can be seen in Nixon’s “Silent Majority” speech; culturally, Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” works as an analogue to Nixon’s speech.) Regardless of the relevant historical and sociological facts — all of which are easily retrieved from one’s local library — conservatives pretended that opposition to the war was a simple function of youth, drugs, and cowardice, the last of which was supposed to be an unintended and unfortunate side-effect of post-WWII affluence, which boomers allegedly took for granted. It’s horseshit mythology that takes about five minutes of actual inquiry to discredit, but when you’d rather spend those five minutes re-telling the same fables about hippie draft-dodgers and cracking wise about the moral depravities of Woodstock, I suppose we’re not talking about people who genuinely care to get their facts in order.

The rest of this passage lands even farther beyond the frozen side of stupid. As Roy Edroso points out, during the 1960s the “call of history” for hundreds of thousands of Americans came in the form of a draft notice, made necessary by the horrendous decisions of their elders, whose “leading lights” made the epic mistake of believing that every skirmish of the cold war was a replay of World War II. If military service failed to impress “most young people as an option, let alone a duty,” perhaps the relevant lesson is that ill-conceived, wasteful conflicts are not the best recruiting advertisement for military service.

. . . link to Roy is fixed . . . (new tag: “d’s butchery of HTML”)

Idiot Windbag

[ 0 ] July 21, 2007 |

Fred Hiatt really is a marvel. His latest seems to contain every idiotic possible argument for defending Bush’s perpetual war while pretending not to: willful blindness about Bush’s actual position, wails about “partisanship” (that, of course, are entirely directed at Democrats), the Petraeus dodge, etc. In other words, pretty much what you’d expect from an editorial board shocked to discover that Sam Alito is a conservative.

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