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Shallow Misogynist of the Day

[ 4 ] December 19, 2007 |

MoDo.

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And The Thigh-Rubbing Begins

[ 18 ] December 19, 2007 |

Good question:

If Mickey Kaus wants to use Slate — a professional, well-regarded political “magazine” — to parrot the National Enquirer’s “story” on John Edwards, shouldn’t Slate fire him if this story turns out to be wrong? I mean, if a reporter from Kaus’s hated NYT ran with something like this, he or she would certainly be risking their career on it. Seems like what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Of course, if this were the standard, Kaus’s services would have ceased to be required many years ago.

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Gordon Smith: Man of the Left

[ 15 ] December 19, 2007 |

IN the midst of lying about his own reaction at the time, here’s Gordon Smith in 2007 on Trent Lott in 2002 on Strom Thurmond in 1948:

I watched over international news as his words were misconstrued, words which we had heard him utter many times in his big warm-heartedness trying to make one of our colleagues, Strom Thurmond, feel good at 100 years old.

Strom Thurmond, if I recall my history properly, was a Southern Democrat at the time and thus advocated the massive imposition of the state to prevent blacks from swimming in public pools. By defending such this fascist monster, Gordon Smith reveals himself as a closeted man of The Left. Look, my post isn’t like Scott’s latest post, or Rob’s. It isn’t like any Bean or DJW post. This is a very serious, thoughtful — ok, ok, fine, I’ll stop.

Anyhoo. This bullshit about making Strom Thurmond happy has to end somewhere. If the point of Lott’s remarks was to make an old man feel good on his birthday, banana pudding and a sponge bath would have done the trick. Lott was, and remains, an egregious racist. He’d made identical remarks numerous times over his career, including at a campaign appearance for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Lott argued over the years that racial discrimination was not necessarily unconstitutional, and he actively supported neo-Confederate organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens — a group that descends directly from the segregationist White Citizens’ Councils of the 1950s. There was nothing innocent or naive about Lott’s remarks. He clearly meant them.

I suppose that Smith, at least, doesn’t have that to hang around his neck, since he clearly believes or means nothing that comes out of his mouth anyway.

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The Man Under the Hood Speaks

[ 5 ] December 18, 2007 |

As I’ve noted before, being an executioner is not necessarily considered the most respectable of professions (which is, I think, a sign of waning for support for capital punishment. So what if the numbers have yet to bear me out). Because of that, and because of fears of vengeance, it’s unusual for executioners to speak out. But not unheard of. ABC news is featuring an exclusive interview with Jerry Givens, the man who used to be the head executioner for the state of Virginia.

Givens has no formal medical training, but he gave lethal injections. He guessed on the amount of voltage necessary to electrocute condemned men. He prayed with the men before he executed them. And he now opposes the death penalty.

I’m wary of putting too much stock in the reformation arguments — the ones that say we should pay more attention to what Mr. Givens has to say because he used to perform executions and now thinks they’re bad. Take Norma McCorvey, for example. She was Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade. She now fights to ban abortion. Or, Dr. Giebink, a South Dakota Ob/Gyn who spent one year performing abortions and is now leading the charge to ban them (again) in South Dakota. Should their opinion mean more than that of a person who had an abortion and supports the right to abortion and always has? No. To me, the answer is easy. That said, Mr. Givens’s voice can be another part of the chorus of people calling for an end to the death penalty.

(via ACS)

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Hitler: Man of the Left

[ 17 ] December 18, 2007 |

February 1, 1933:

All about us the warning signs of [the nation's] collapse are apparent. Communism with its method of madness is making a powerful and insidious attack upon our dismayed and shattered nation. It seeks to poison and disrupt in order to hurl us into an epoch of chaos…. This negative, destroying spirit spared nothing of all that is highest and most valuable. Beginning with the family, it has undermined the very foundations of morality and faith and scoffs at culture and business, nation and Fatherland, justice and honor. Fourteen years of Marxism have ruined Germany; one year of bolshevism would destroy her. The richest and fairest territories of the world would be turned into a smoking heap of ruins. Even the sufferings of the last decade and a half could not be compared to the misery of a Europe in the heart of which the red flag of destruction had been hoisted. The thousands of wounded, the hundreds of dead which this inner strife has already cost Germany should be a warning of the storm which would come….

Once again, with feeling:

My book isn’t like Dinesh’s latest book. It isn’t like any Ann Coulter book. It isn’t what the Amazon description says or what the Economist claims it is. Or what Frank Rich imagines it is. It is a very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care.

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Powers Don’t Have To Be Used

[ 19 ] December 18, 2007 |

There are a couple frustrating elements to Zev Chafets’s profile of Mike Huckabee. For example, he completely botches the discussion of the DuMond pardon, disappearing the lunatic anti-conspiracy angle that is what makes the pardon so problematic. But this is also odd:

Huckabee’s answer to his opponents on the fiscal right has been his Fair Tax proposal. The idea calls for abolishing the I.R.S. and all current federal taxes, including Social Security, Medicare and corporate and personal income taxes, and replacing them with an across-the-board 23 percent consumption tax.

Governor Huckabee promises that this plan would be ‘‘like waving a magic wand, releasing us from pain and unfairness.’’ Some reputable economists think the scheme is practicable. Many others regard it as fanciful. (For starters, it would require repealing the 16th Amendment to the Constitution.) In any case, the Fair Tax proposal is based on extremely complex projections.

First of all, we have the classic “opinions on shape of earth differ” formulation; I’d very much like to get the names of some of the “reputable economists” who think that a 30%+ national sales tax plan is “practicable.” And while this isn’t terribly important, the claim about the Sixteenth Amendment is bizarre. Here’s the amendment in its entirety:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Absolutely nothing in the amendment requires the federal government to raise revenues through an income tax; it merely gave Congress the option to do, overturning a Supreme Court decision that had held otherwise. Huckabee’s plan would be an unworkable catastrophe on several levels, but it would not violate the Constitution. And while it’s trivial in itself the fact that Chafets would make such an obvious mistake doesn’t give me much confidence that he’s in a position to credibly evaluate assessments of Huckabee’s tax plan.

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Episodes In Bullet-Dodging

[ 8 ] December 18, 2007 |

Reading about his disgusting ongoing smears of Obama, I can’t say I’m any less broken up about Wanker Caucus President Bob Kerrey deciding to abjure a potential return to the Senate. I understand that politics is a tough business, but it seems to me that the line should be drawn before racist dog-whistle attacks against potential Presidential candidates in your own party.

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Pets

[ 27 ] December 18, 2007 |

From the NYT article on the home edition of the Merck/Meriel manual, which sounds like Gray’s Anatomy meets DSM-IV meets Physician’s Desk Reference for the insane world of domesticated animals:

In its 1,345 pages, readers can find, among other things, the anatomy of a turtle; six signs of hyperparathyroidism in a dog; a list of 27 houseplants poisonous to pets; a description of lockjaw (an infection that leads baby birds to starve to death); instructions for what to do if your pet is shot with an arrow (don’t pull it out); seven causes of liver injuries in horses; the necessary components of a pet travel kit; 161 diseases that can be passed to humans from animals; and yes, a proper diagnosis for a sick gerbil. . . .

The sheer number of creatures found between the book’s covers is likely to distinguish it from other pet health guides, most of which focus on a single species or even a single breed. And the manual, written by 200 veterinarians, is likely to find an eager readership in an animal-crazed nation, where 68.7 million households include at least one pet and $24.5 billion a year is spent on veterinary care, according to a survey released this month by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Sounds fascinating.

I’m wondering, though, if the book can explain why my 6-year-old Newfoundland yelps when I touch her about mid-spine, and why for the past few days she’s been reluctant to lie down. She’s symptomatic in exactly zero other ways, and (with no other sign of pain or discomfort) continues to take her walks, eat her food, play with her new stuffed goose, and run around chasing snowballs whenever she gets the chance. But since I’m a committed neurotic when it comes to my animals, I’m quite likely to blow several hundred dollars tomorrow at the vet’s office, where they will cheerfully take as many x-rays as the situation requires to assure me that my dog hasn’t somehow splintered a vertebrae.

I, on the other hand, have been ignoring a nagging shoulder injury since May 2006, when I forgot that a four-year absence from the game of tennis means your shoulder is four years older than it was the last time you tried to serve. I have no immediate plans to see a doctor about this, since the only time I think about it these days is when I’m throwing snowballs to you-know-who.

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Thoughts on Religion

[ 201 ] December 18, 2007 |

Some thoughts on this comment thread:

  • DJW is absolutely correct to follow up Matt’s condemnation of Dawkins statement on Catholicism. It isn’t just illiberal; it’s virtually totalitarian. Dawkins is, essentially, arguing that raising children as Catholic is worse than sexually abusing them. Since we all agree that sexually abusing children merits the violent retribution of the state, the next logical step is pretty much unavoidable. Dawkins may have been tossing the statement off without really thinking about it (indeed, his “arguably” suggests that he isn’t really willing to stand by it in its strongest form), but it is nonetheless illiberal, particularly if we define liberalism as, in large part, a political recognition of the fact of pluralism.
  • However, when evaluating competing illiberalisms (say, Dawkins vs. Mitt Romney), it obviously merits note that Romney’s illiberalism is far more political powerful and vastly more dangerous than Dawkins’. Thus, it’s entirely reasonable to wonder why people bother to worry about the atheist threat when there remains rather significant Christian and Islamic threats to a liberal order. I’m inclined to think that there’s a “why do you lefties condemn Bush when Ahmadinejad is so much worse” phenomenon going on here; while plenty of liberals have probably given up on the hope of convincing Christians that there is no God, and thus that they should refrain from condemning us to Hell, most of us quite likely know a mildly irritating militant atheist.
  • As for the Dawkins vs. Hitch, as I noted in the comment thread I find Dawkins position if anything less defensible than Hitch’s. Hitch concentrates primarily on the utility of religion, suggesting that religion is an awful thing and has had horrible effects on human culture and society. While I sort of agree with that claim, I also think it’s utterly untestable; religion is so deeply embedded in human culture and society that there’s very little point in trying to pry out and then weigh its positive and negative effects. I most certainly think that religion has had some positive effects; it has inspired great works of art, wonderful architecture, and laudable political action, whether or not these effects are outweighed by the negative. I do think that the strongest claims made by advocates of “religion” aren’t empirically defensible; post-religious Europe seems to be doing just fine, as a substantial decrease in belief in the divine doesn’t seem to have led to anarchy in the streets. But nevertheless, I can only bring myself to say that yes, Hitch is probably right about the effect of religion; I can’t say for sure.
  • I don’t find Dawkins’ arguments on religion, to the extent that I’m familiar with them, at all compelling. Science requires the rejection of unobservable phenomenon as a starting point; if scientists allowed for the possibility that invisible blue elephants controlled the rate of growth of bacteria, then they wouldn’t have much to do. This has nothing to do with the particular religious beliefs of the scientist; it simply requires a commitment to physical rather than spiritual mechanisms for physical phenomena. As conservatives delight in noting, most of the Founders of science were themselves quite religious. This isn’t surprising, since religion has an entirely different relationship with the unobservable, positing that it has some critical (but fundamentally unknowable) relationship with the world that we see. As such, the idea of science disproving religion doesn’t make sense to me; they are two fundamentally different kinds of inquiries. To put it another way, we’re all familiar with the old canard about the possibility of the world being created five minutes ago with all of our memories intact etc. This seem improbable to me, but I don’t have any idea how I would go about measuring just how improbable the argument is. Scientific theories (evolution, Big Bang) can be evaluated, to some extent) on their probability and their fit with the empirical world. Religion can explain the empirical world fully, and strikes me as invulnerable to a probability inquiry. But I’m probably wandering farther into philosophy than I should on this question…
  • As a final note, it seems to me that we’re in danger of granting science a bit too much credit when we put it up against religion in debates like this. Science was made, not found; it is a mode of inquiry that was created by human beings, and it has had and continues to have many of the flaws that those human beings had. I most certainly prefer to have science taught in public high schools than religion, but that is in large part because I think the teaching of religion to be illiberal, and the teaching of science to be a part of the liberal/Enlightenment project. If I actually agreed with Dawkins that a commitment to science required atheism, I would, to be honest, be a little bit more twitchy about having the state unreservedly recommend it.
  • And one more bit on the rational/irrational point; most of the commitments we feel are, in some sense, irrational. I love my wife, and I’m not sure that there’s a version of rationality that can sufficiently explain what that means. I love the Oregon Ducks and hate the Washington Huskies, but I can’t give a rational account for the one vs. the other, or for either instead of some third attachment. As such, if we’re going to start worrying about people have irrational attachments and convictions, religion is only the first of our problems. Moreover, it seems to me that evaluating and condemning such convictions is absolutely the last thing that we should want the state to do.
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Just in Time for the Holidays

[ 18 ] December 18, 2007 |

Holy crap, the Doughboy actually did it.

Though I’m sorely tempted by chapter-length non sequiturs like “Liberal Fascist Economics” and “Liberal Racists: The Eugenic Ghost in the Fascist Machine,” I’ll be especially keen to read the chapter titled “Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left.” Admittedly, Goldberg’s argument likely rests on the twin evils of vegetarianism and socialized highway programs, but still, I’d like to hear him explain how it happens that Hitler’s only known admirers have all been, um, men and women de la droite. I also can’t wait to read his account of the “crime of Munich” — the right wing’s most cherished historical analogy — given that it originated in part from Chamberlain’s (correct) observation that Hitler might be willing to make war against Communism. But now I’m just overthinking.

Is it too late to amend next semester’s reading lists?

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"New Atheism"

[ 0 ] December 17, 2007 |

Yglesias is generating some unwarranted abuse from his commenters here. Yglesias links to this TNR article by Damon Linker. While Linker’s piece suffers from some of the defects of the genre–he’s a bit overly schematic in constructing two distinct atheist traditions, good and bad–it’s a sound and good piece. Dawkins and Hitchens are deeply and troublingly illiberal on the subject of religion (and in Hitchens case, at least, everything else). Some are suggesting Dawkins ought not be linked with a bombthrower like Hitchens, but this won’t fly. From the Linker piece:

Following a lecture in Dublin, he recalls, “I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”

In addition to being demonstrably false, this view is an awful and appalling thing to say, and he clearly deserves strong criticism for it. As does, in my view, anyone who suggests that people who holds a substantially different theological position is not capable of being a good and decent person. A society that contains deep disagreements regarding these sorts of questions will be benefited by deep pluralism and ecumenicalism. Many commenters feel compelled to point out that atheists of all sorts are often not afforded the respect and tolerance that Linker wants atheists to extend to theists. This is factually correct, but as a defense of the likes of Hitchens and Dawkins, it’s nothing but a tu quoque. Moreover, even if returning the disrespect in kind had some sort of strategic value, which I can’t really see, Hitchens and Dawkins attack illiberal and intolerant believers and ecumenical, pluralist believers with the same broad brush.

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Obama’s Rhetoric

[ 34 ] December 17, 2007 |

I agree with Matt that 1)it was stupid of Obama’s campaign to pick a fight with Paul Krugman, but 2)Krugman’s point is very misguided. I don’t think that Obama’s rhetoric about transcending old politics tells us much about how he’ll actually govern. Bush in 2000, after all, didn’t campaign as a 50%+1 conservative who would increase party polarization in Congress, but that’s what he did. Obama’s using this kind of rhetoric because 1)it’s effective, and 2)he’s very good at it. What actually matters, however, is the substance of his policies and record, and on that count he’s clearly superior to Clinton (especially on foreign policy), although on domestic policy there’s a strong case to be made for Edwards. I also second Matt’s point about institutional realities; as nice as it would be if we would be inaugurating a Prime Minister in 2009, no major reform can be passed without the votes of some Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate. Given that she generates more hostility from the GOP (despite being more conservative), it seems very unlikely that Clinton is likely to get more accomplished if she’s elected.

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