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Great War Memories

[ 24 ] May 29, 2008 |

John Quiggin, riffing off this Edward Lengel column, suggests that the respective experiences of Europe and the United States in World War I may explain cultural differences on the use of force:

In any case, in the long run, the absence of this most bloodily futile of wars from historical memory has been a huge boon to the war party. With a historical memory of war dominated by the “Good War” against Hitler and the Axis, it’s unsurprising that Americans have been much more willing than the citizens of other democratic societies to accept war as part of the natural order of things.

In Europe by contrast, the Great War and its consequences are still ever-present, and the Second World War is correctly seen as the inevitable product of the First. With all its faults, the EU is widely supported simply because it has been associated with sixty years of peace. Even in Australia where the Gallipoli campaign has long formed the basis of the official national myth, it has been impossible to avoid the fact that thousands of young Australians suffered and died in the most horrible ways, fighting people of whom we had barely heard and with whom we had no quarrel of our own, in a futile diversion from a futile war. Honouring those who died goes hand in hand with a general recognition that they died for the failures of the world’s leaders and that the only proper lesson from their deaths is to hope that we can avoid war in future.

There’s certainly something to this, although it bears repeating that the World War II experience of Europe and the United States also differ in dramatic ways. The level of raw destruction visited upon Europe during both World Wars is something alien to the US experience, apart from that of the American South during the Civil War. Moreover, I’m not convinced that the immediate reaction to the Great War in the United States was isolationism, and not pacifism; I think that there were some significant strands of pacifist thought that extended across the Atlantic, resulting (among other things) in the Washington Naval Treaty and a series of other interwar agreements designed to prevent future conflict. The Great War did not, for the United States, result in a shift to European levels of military spending and conscription; other than in the naval arena, US military commitments remained proportionately smaller than the European powers. For example, per capita military expenditure in the US during the interwar period ran roughly half that of either the United Kingdom or France.

I think that the detectable divergence in European and US attitudes towards war (and the fundamental shift in how Americans viewed war and military service) came after World War II, when the US began maintaining its first large peacetime standing military forces. Over the weekend I watched Fort Apache (released in 1949) for the first time; my first thought is that it is a less ambitious but in some ways more successful film than either The Searchers or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. My second thought is that it is, in large part, a paean to military life; its tribute to the United States Army is something that might not have been understandable to pre-war audiences. In part this is because World War II conscripted more American manpower than World War I, and for a longer period, but I think it also reflects a shift in how Americans thought about military service and the military in American life.

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The Backlash Begins!

[ 13 ] May 29, 2008 |

An outraged California populace has reacted to the Outrageous Judicial Activism of their unaccountable unelected state court. As you remember, the court, with only the support of other unrepresentative and undemocratic institutions such as the state legislature and governor but in the teeth of strong opposition from pundits who support social change in theory and always oppose it in practice struck down a ban on same-sex marriage. The response: California is showing if anything more support for same-sex marriage than ever. I have no idea if the initiative will pass, but I certainly don’t see much evidence of the predicted political firestorm here.

This reminds me about Jeffrey Rosen’s latest claims about the backlash that will be created by the court’s decision (via Matt Zeitlin.) My research into the subject has convinced me that claims about unique backlashes created by judicial interventions into social disputes are not supported by the relevant evidence. Admittedly, however, some claims are not easy to test empirically and are not obviously incorrect in theory, so any conclusion has to be tentative. The specific claim advanced by Rosen here, however, is just transparently wrong:

But legal reasoning isn’t irrelevant, as the backlash against Roe v. Wade shows: Because Roe was so poorly reasoned, pro-life activists found it easier to rally undecided voters under the guise of attacking judicial usurpation. On that score, the California decision represents a huge opportunity for gay marriage opponents who are already trying to persuade undecided voters to overturn the decision by popular initiative.

The problem here is obvious. In general terms, the majority of the public knows virtually nothing about appellate courts, let alone the fine points of substantive due process or equal protection analysis. And, moreover, of the small group of specialists who have read and understand Roe, a substantial number believe the outcome of the case to be plausible or correct, even if they find Blackmun’s opinion deficient. After all, anyone knowledgeable enough to analyze Roe is also likely to understand that Supreme Court opinions, written by justices and clerks of varying quality and often constructed to keep divergent coalitions together, do not always give the best defense of plausible outcomes. (Brown v. Board, after all, is now our most celebrated decision although few would call it a masterpiece of legal craftsmanship or confuse Earl Warren with a deep legal mind.) Rosen’s argument is therefore implausible on its face; the evidence is unequivocal that the public evaluates Supreme Court opinions, to the extent it does so at all, on outcomes and not reasoning.

And the specific claims about Roe are no more tenable. If anti-choice activists have used Roe to shift public opinion against abortion rights, this fails to actually show up in public opinion data. Moreover, Roe is at least as popular as the underlying right it protects, while Rosen’s assertions require Roe being much less popular. And finally, I think to restate the assertion that anti-aboriton activists would have had no objection to Roe had the opinion been better crafted is to refute it. Seriously, does anybody think that had, say, the Supreme Court followed Ginsburg’s retrospective advice and grounded abortion rights in gender equality that any significant number of Roe’s opponents would have been mollified? Similarly, approximately 0% of the “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum will be based on a strong opposition to the court’s suspect classification analysis. (It also seems to me that the majority opinion is at least as plausible and well-crafted as the boilerplate, question-begging paeans to judicial restraint in the dissents; if Rosen disagrees he doesn’t explain why.)

Finally I also note that Rosen does not substantiate his claim that Goodridge hurt Kerry in 2004 — which is not nearly as self-evident as some people think — and ignores the fact that overturning Goodridge could not get the support of even 25% of the legislature less than 5 years later. I very, very strongly doubt that the Caluifornia court damaged the Democrats in California any more than they did in Massachusetts, where supporters of same-sex marriage have fared much better than opponents and support for same-sex marriage has increased.

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My First

[ 0 ] May 29, 2008 |

To join the latest meme, my first ever concert experience was Men At Work at a sold out Stampede Corral, touring behind their lukewarm hit Cargo. The original opening act: Stevie Ray Vaughan. The opening act that appeared after a last-minute cancellation: the Shakin’ Pyramids. You haven’t heard the last of them!

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First Concerts

[ 34 ] May 29, 2008 |

Loomis caught Sir Mix-a-Lot in 1988. He seems to think he’s pretty cool for having done so. I, however, spent money to see Ratt at the Roanoke (Va.) Civic Center in mid-October 1985. At the time, their big hit was a song that inspired one of that decade’s creepiest videos:

Bon Jovi opened that night.

As I have occasionally said, if I could travel back in time to kick my own ass, I would gladly do it.

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Fernandomania!

[ 14 ] May 29, 2008 |

I don’t know what’s worse; Fernando “If 1999 ever comes back, he’ll be one of the best third basemen in baseball!” Tatis hitting sixth, or the fact that he seems to have considerably more life in his bat than Delgado (or about 90% of the Mariners’ roster…)

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 3 ] May 28, 2008 |

George H.W. Bush, speaking at a fundraiser for John McCain, 28 May 1992:

I am quietly confident about the election this fall. In sum, I am absolutely convinced as this economy moves back, as we sort out where everybody stands on these highly complex issues, when the country assesses the fact that we are at peace and that our children go to bed at night with less fear of nuclear war — and that is a major accomplishment of which I am very proud to have been a part — and it’s when we get in focus the agenda, see who wants to pass this agenda of hope and opportunity and who wants to stifle it, when we take forward the values that you and I believe in to the American people again this fall on family and faith, I am absolutely convinced we’re going to win this election. We are going to win it.

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The Silly Florida 2000 Analogy

[ 9 ] May 28, 2008 |

Jon Chait makes the first obvious point about Rich Lowry’s silly attempt to claim that there’s some contradiction between Democratic arguments that ballots that indicated the intent of the voter should be counted in Florida 2000 and the position of many Democrats about current dispute over the Democratic nomination: the argument was that Gore was cheated of the presidency because in a fair contest in Florida he would have won the electoral college. Similarly, had 200,000 votes shifted in Ohio in 2004 Kerry would have been entitled to the presidency despite losing the popular vote. These results would (in my view) be good reasons to get rid of the electoral college, but not for changing the rules after the fact. Lowry tries to manufacture a contradiction by attributing Clinton’s attempted ex post facto change in metrics to the Dems in 2000, but that won’t fly.

In addition, however, the analogy is also null because (especially in Michigan) the Clinton campaign wants to count the results of a “primary” that obviously does not offer a meaningful recording of voter intent. To believe that the ballots cast in a multi-candidate election conducted according to agreed-upon rules should be interpreted when possible to count votes that make a voter’s intent clear hardly requires the counting of ballots in an election with one major candidate on the ballot that every candidate and the authoritative decision-maker claimed wouldn’t count. Elections in North Korea don’t suddenly become legitimate even if every ballot for Kim Jong-il is, in fact, counted, and people who wanted to “count all the votes” in Florida in 2000 are not required to include online straw polls in presidential election counts in 2008. And, therefore, Lowry’s argument makes no sense.

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A Rare Victory For Civil Rights Enforcement

[ 6 ] May 28, 2008 |

The Supreme Court yesterday, in 6-3 and 7-2 decisions, interpreted anti-discrimination statutes to include retaliation against employees as “discrimination” even when this was not explicit in the statutory text. The latter case, Crocs West, was a relatively easy case upholding long-standing precedent and the unanimous holdings of circuit courts. Roberts differed in the first case because of the availability of administrative procedures for government (as opposed to private) employees.

Dana and Josh Patashnik point out that Alito and (in one case) Roberts split from Thomas and Scalia in a more liberal direction. In isolation, this could be used as a data point supporting claims that Alito and Roberts are more moderate and unpredictable than Scalia and Thomas, as the more minimalist and less theoretical approach of the newer justices led to voting with the more liberal justices. However, for now I’m certainly sticking with my assumption that Alito is a doctrinaire conservative and the formal differences among the court’s conservative will have little substantive impact. Justices never have entirely consistent voting patterns — even famously similar justice pairs such as Brennan/Marshall and Black/Douglas don’t vote together 100% of the time — but one exception is hardly cause for revision. This is particularly true because the votes of Roberts and Alito in this case weren’t decisive — if Alito and/or Roberts start breaking from Scalia and Thomas when it actually matters then there may be cause for revision. Scalia has actually cast decisive votes with more liberal justices and dissented in arguably more liberal directions that the majority; when Alito starts doing that I’ll entertain claims that he’s less predictably conservative. Until then, let’s remember that last termthe Chief Justice voted for the more conservative result (by most observers’ lights) in 24 out of the 24 cases decided by a 5-4 vote,” and I believe in every one of these was joined by Alito.

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Emergency Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Shah Dynasty

[ 6 ] May 28, 2008 |

Nepal began to take shape in the second half of the 18th century, as Prithvi Narayan Shah, ninth of the Kings of Gorkha, conquered about a third of the various small kingdoms and principalities that occupied the territory of the modern state. Over the next half century, Prithvi Narayan Shah’s descendants would expand their kingdom, even invading Tibet around 1790. Decisive action by the Qianlong Emperor of China, however, drove Nepalese forces from Tibet and substantially ended Nepal’s northern expansion. To the south, British power in India was steadily increasing, and the 1814 war between the British East India Company and Nepal led to the separation of several territories from the kingdom. Like the inhabitants of many forbidding locales, the people of Nepal acquired a reputation as fearsome warriors; Nepalese mercenaries (or Gurkhas) began serving in the armies of the East India Company in 1817, and in units of the British Army in 1857. Nepal would maintain its autonomy (and a certain shadowy independence) for the rest of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, until the British recognized its formal independence in 1923.

Although the Shah family has formally possessed the throne for as long as Nepal has existed, the ability of the kings to influence policy was sharply curtailed in the second half of the nineteenth century, as a rival clan came into control of the levers of state. This situation lasted for nearly a century, until turmoil in 1950 led to the exile of King Tribhuvan to India. India, nervous about the Chinese annexation of Tibet, took the opportunity to restore Tribhuvan to the throne, thus creating a friendly state on the new Sino-Indian border. A series of experiments with democracy largely failed, as royal intervention in parliamentary process produced repeated instability. An elected government was finally installed in 1991, but it failed to stabilize the country; massive riots in 1992 shook the state, and in 1996 a Maoist insurgency launched an effort to seize the state.

In 2001 Dipendra, the Crown Prince of Nepal, went a little bit funny in the head. He took it upon himself to conduct a shooting spree in the royal palace, executing eleven members of the royal family, including the King. Dipendra briefly became King before succumbing to self-inflicted wounds. Dipendra was succeeded by his uncle Gyanendra, who suspended Parliament. Maoist pressure led to a reinstatement of the government in 2004, although the King deposed it again in 2005. King Gyanendra’s central success seems to have been to unite Nepal’s factions against the remnants of the Shah family; the Maoists and several other parties formed an interim government and agreed on a platform that included the abolition of the monarchy in late 2007. Today, in the first meeting of Parliament following the election of April 2008, the former (they now refer to themselves as “committed capitalists”) Maoist insurgents officially abolished the monarchy, and gave King Gyanendra fifteen days to evacuate the Royal Palace.

Although the situation remains in flux, a large, popular coalition seems to favor the action against the King. In the short term, prospects for a restoration appear grim. Rumors that King Gyanendra engineered the massacre of 2001 persist, damaging his personal stature. Gyanendra’s eventual disposition remains unclear; he has not yet apparently commented on the legal end of the monarchy, or on his eviction from the Royal Palace. He is, however, reported to be miffed about the elimination of his $3.1 million annual allowance, and the substantial reduction of the royal staff.

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Point Being?

[ 2 ] May 28, 2008 |

Scott Johnson’s book report about the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit offers yet another recitation of the completely uncontroversial point that the 1961 Vienna meetings did not go well for Kennedy. Johnson concludes by noting that Kennedy, humiliated by his Soviet adversary, responded by escalating the US commitment to South Vietnam, where he presumed American power could be rendered “credible” again.

It’s nice, I suppose, to see wingnuts expressing so much retrospective anxiety about the Cold War and, in particular, about the American war in Vietnam. But Kennedy had wood for Southeast Asia long before the Vienna conference, and it takes a dramatic oversimplification to treat the Vienna summit as a truly decisive moment in the evolution of Kennedy’s Vietnam policy. Robert Dallek — who usually gets cited when people make the whole Vienna-caused-the-war argument — should really consider writing an op-ed that puts this particular misuse of An Unfinished Life to rest. Among a lot of other things, this thesis requires that everyone forget that Kennedy’s Vietnam policy was shaped by (a) his own advocacy (especially his involvement with Friends of Vietnam) during the 1950s; (b) his personal preference for covert operations and counter-insurgency (rather than the kinds of commitments that Johnson and Nixon would later make); and (c) the truckloads of shite fed to him by people like Walt Rostow, Mac Bundy, Maxwell Taylor, Paul Harkins, and Edward Lansdale among others.

Of course, had Time magazine’s 2004 Blog of the Year been around in 1961, it’s writers wouldn’t have been engaged in the sort of historical concern-trolling that’s on display in Johnson’s WS piece. Instead, they’d have spent most of the previous decade complaining about the failure of the United States to stand up on behalf of French imperialism (while insulting France for being unable to hold on to its Asian properties); congratulating the Eisenhower administration for creating a fake state in South Vietnam; ridiculing anyone who doubted that Ngo Dinh Diem was indeed the George Washington of his people; and berating the Kennedy administration for not actually committing combat forces to defend its non-communist friends in Southeast Asia. They’d have been insisting that the nation’s reputation was at stake in Vietnam, and they’d have been demanding an American surge — of the kind that only Johnson was willing to provide — that would give the South Vietnamese government the breathing room it needed to convert itself into a viable state.

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How To Be A Hack

[ 20 ] May 28, 2008 |

America’s least beloved circus clown continues to bring the high level of intelletcual rigor he brought to his defenses of Joe Lieberman against actual Democrats to the Clinton campaign. As you would expect, his proposed “compromise” solution — not merely fair to Obama but actually doing him a favor! — to resolving the North Korean less-than-a-straw-poll in Michigan would need to gain considerably more plausibility to rise to the level of being farcical:

Here’s his deal: in Michigan, give Clinton the 73 pledged delegates she would have won if the primary were legal. Then, of the 55 delegates that are pledged to “uncommitted,” “divide the remaining delegates approximately 50-50 between the two of them, 28-27 (giving Clinton the extra delegate since she led in all the latest statewide polls.)”

So she gets the delegates represented by everyone who voted for her when she was the only major candidate on the ballot, and then more than 50% of all the people who voted for anyone but her!

Brezhnev should have thought of this.

OK, but admittedly, any defense of giving Clinton a supermajority of delegates from the Michigan non-primary is going to involve ridiculous arguments, so this is just run-of-the-mill hackery. What makes Davis special is his follow-up post, in which (having done what he can to undermine the legitimacy of the Democratic nominee) he enumerates some allegedly unecessarily inflammatory actions from the Obama campaign. #1 on his list: Obama announcing endorsements in a way designed to…make them politically advantageous! Heavens to betsy, get me the smelling salts!

Now that’s how it’s done.

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When Temperatures Rise…

One of the surest signs of spring in NY is not the return of chirping birds or the blossoming of the cherry trees, but the reappearance of women’s legs on city sidewalks. And with the short skirts and sundresses come the catcalls.

I got my first one of the season today. I vacillate between eye-rolling, bird-flipping and ignoring. Some days, I have to restrain myself from launching mid-stride into a lecture about women in society and why it is that men feel like they have a right to address (or should I say undress) and evaluate women on the street. Usually, though, I stew in fast-walking silence.

I’m not sure if stories like this one should make me speak up more or be more wary to open my mouth: recently, a teenaged Florida woman was shot through a car door after rebuffing the catcalls from a neighboring car when the woman and her friends stopped to get gas. The woman, Mildred Beaubrun, remains in the hospital in a coma and it’s unclear whether, when she wakes up, she’ll ever walk again.

Maybe to most men catcalling is just a game. But to many women, the calculus is, as Racialicious suggests, entirely different.

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