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Sarah Palin: The Greatest Feminist Icon Since Phyllis Schlafly

[ 25 ] September 11, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Camille Paglia: Sarah Palin has “made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment.”

Yikes, when I said that their star columnist could write something about Palin even dumber than what Gary Kamiya wrote, I didn’t mean it as a dare.  (Frighteningly, I’m inclined to think that Paglia believes that before Madonna (and, implicitly, Paglia), feminists really were “anti-sex.”)  Bonus: “But what of Palin’s pro-life stand? Creationism taught in schools?…We’ll see how these big issues shake out. Right now, I don’t believe much of what I read or hear about Palin in the media.” Yes, let’s not choose to believe her openly stated policy views — Paglia just knows she’s a feminist deep down!

The only defense of Salon is if this was, as it reads, a parody written by The Editors. Steiger:

Dear Ms. Paglia,

We have received your application to be a leading feminist thinker. Unfortunately, we’re not able to accept you at this time. Best of luck in placing your thoughts elsewhere.

Real Feminists Everywhere

The Cult of 9/11

[ 38 ] September 11, 2008 |

If someone close to you died in the 9/11 terror attacks this isn’t intended for you. For you, this is a day of legitimate mourning and real grief, and this is about phony mourning and simulated grief.

Phony mourning and simulated grief is what politicians all over America are indulging in today, as they mark the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attack.

With the benefit of seven years of hindsight and subsequent experience, it’s become clear that a Cult of 9/11 has been built up around the events of that day. The Cult of 9/11 is based on a fundamental principle: that the 9/11 attacks marked the beginning of a new historical era, a so-called “new normal” in which Americans were shaken from their post-Cold War complacency by the realization that we faced an existential threat from Islamic terrorism.

That is false. It was (understandably) difficult to see that the fundamental principle of the Cult of 9/11 was false in the days and weeks immediately after the attacks. The attacks were, among other things, a spectacularly successful manipulation of the contemporary media: the 9/11 terrorists succeeded in hijacking not just four airliners, but the entire news and entertainment complex of the United States.

For days and weeks, we lived in a world in which, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, we were bombarded with words and most of all images that drove home the supposed truth that we were now all under living under an existential threat — that the very survival of our nation hung in the balance.

“9/11” in short, became a kind of national horror film, except it was “real,” and (most important) it played on a continuous loop on our televisions and on the Internet and in our newspapers and on our radios and in our magazines until the dread of terror was everywhere.

In other words, our government and media did the main work of the terrorists for them. The primary goal of the terrorists wasn’t to damage America directly – as terrible as the attacks were, they could never do more than comparatively trivial damage to a nation as rich and powerful and secure as ours – but rather to wreck havoc by creating the illusion that they had the power to hurt us. And in this they succeeded beyond Osama bin Laden’s wildest dreams.

The logic of the horror film is this: it takes something that actually exists – for example, serial killers – and then it creates an atmosphere of pervasive dread, by constructing a world in which the audience’s perception of reality is warped to the point where the dread of serial killers becomes the dominant emotion – an emotion that colors our perception of everything in that world.

Consider a film like The Silence of the Lambs. Very few people are killed in the film – more people die, on average, in the opening sequence of a James Bond film than the entire body count in The Silence of the Lambs – but the effectiveness of the movie has nothing to do with “real” risk. Instead, it’s built around creating a pervasive atmosphere of dread, by presenting a world in which Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill — sociopathic killers obsessed with bizarre fetishes that involve desecrating the corpses of their victims – seem, in the mind of the audience, to be lurking on every wooded trail and in every quaint old house, and indeed everywhere.

There’s a great sequence near the beginning of the film, in which Clarice, the young female FBI trainee played by Jodie Foster, gets into an elevator full of (male) FBI agents. This is set at the FBI training center in Quantico Virginia. From a rational perspective, it’s about the safest spot on the planet if you’re worried about being kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer. Yet at that moment, in the mind of the audience, every man in the elevator is perceived to be a real and significant threat to Clarice’s safety, bodily integrity, and life.

There’s nothing “rational” about that perception, but that doesn’t make it less real – as a perception of risk, as opposed to an actual, real-world risk.

The Cult of 9/11 is built up around similarly distorted perceptions. The Cult of 9/11 isn’t about real risk, but rather about creating and maintaining a pervasive cultural atmosphere of dread. It’s a kind of national horror film – one which goes on and on, even as the events of that terrible day fade in both memory and emotional impact.

Here are some basic truths, truths so basic that arguing for them is an insult to the reader’s intelligence:

*Terrorism, Islamic or otherwise, doesn’t pose anything like an existential threat to the United States of America.

*There isn’t a trace of an indigenous Islamic terror threat anywhere in America, or indeed a significant terror threat of any kind.

*With some notable exceptions – if for example you happen to be a poor, and/ or if you don’t have health insurance, and/or if you belong to a demographic that makes up much of the world’s largest prison population – contemporary America is about as low-risk a society as has ever existed on the face of the earth. In particular the contemporary American suburb, although full of often-terrified people, represents as close to a risk-free environment as human ingenuity has yet constructed.

*We’re all going to die one day, but the odds that any particular American will die in a terrorist attack can be estimated as essentially zero.

*The money being spent, and the nations being invaded, and the suspects being tortured, and the laws being broken, in the name of fighting the so-called global war on terror, represent a fantastically out of proportion response to the threat that terrorism actually poses to our nation.

Consider that for every American murdered by terrorists on September 11, 2001, fifty have been murdered by ordinary everyday made-in-America violence in the seven years since.

Consider that for every American murdered by terrorists, somewhere between 200 and 600 Iraqis have died as a direct consequence of our invasion of that country: a country which had nothing to do with 9/11, although perhaps 100 million Americans still don’t understand this — a fact which itself is a direct and intended consequence of the Bush administration’s calculated lies.

Consider that the money spent, so far, on the invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks would be more than enough to pay off the entire mortgage of every foreclosed home in the United States.

You will hear nothing like this from any national politician today, because the Cult of 9/11 considers any criticism of its central principle to be a horrible heresy.

Instead we will get phony mourning and simulated grief, from our leaders and our media, as they continue to pretend that the events of that terrible day justify the money, and the invasions, and the torture, and the lawbreaking, and all the other very real transformations of our national life that have been undertaken in the name of our dread of a threat that, in all truth, might as well be as imaginary as the killer in a horror film.

The Great Tradition of American Stenography

[ 1 ] September 11, 2008 |

Ye gods, Wiesman is a hack. It’s people like him which make McCain’s disgraceful campaign work.

Earmarks! Get your earmarks!

[ 39 ] September 11, 2008 |

For starters, I’ll simply vow that if the essence of this campaign distills down to earmarks — and if that becomes the McCain-Palin route to victory — I will join the Alaska Independence Party and immediately press for my state’s secession and reabsorption by Canada.

Meantime, in related news, my governor is still a fraud:

Senator John McCain recently told reporters that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has “learned that earmarks are bad.”

But not that bad, apparently. According to a “summary of requests for federal appropriations” posted to her budget office’s website earlier this year, Palin requested millions of federal dollars for everything from improving recreational halibut fishing to studying the mating habits of crabs and the DNA of harbor seals.

I suppose it almost goes without saying that Palin’s office will be requesting funds to study how a successful abstinence-only curriculum can be incorporated into the education of crabs. I suppose it also goes nearly without saying that the harbor seals will have to pay for their own DNA kits.

Admiral Nakhimov…

[ 9 ] September 10, 2008 |

Time to reactivate Iowa and Wisconsin!!!!1!!!!1!

Lose your house, lose your vote

[ 21 ] September 10, 2008 |

I’m shocked that this tactic disproportinately affects poor voters, who in even more shocking news are disproportinately black.

“The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to
block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed. State election rules allow parties to assign
“election challengers” to polls to monitor the election. In addition to observing the poll workers, these volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter provided they “have a good reason to believe” that the person is not eligible to vote. One allowable reason is that the person is not a “true resident of the city or township. . . .

David Lagstein, head organizer with the Michigan Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), described the plans of the Macomb GOP as “crazy.”

“You would think they would think, ‘This is going to look too heartless,’” said Lagstein, whose group has registered 200,000 new voters statewide this year and
also runs a foreclosure avoidance program. “The Republican-led state Senate has not moved on the anti-predatory lending bill for over a year and yet [Republicans] have time to prey on those who have fallen victim to foreclosure to suppress the vote.”

You would think . . . and you would be wrong.

In poker they call this coming over the top

[ 17 ] September 10, 2008 |

Somebody calls your bluff? Double your bet.

“Mrs. Palin also killed the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in her own state. Yes, she once supported the project: But after witnessing the problems created by earmarks for her state and for the nation’s budget, she did what others like me have done: She changed her position and saved taxpayers millions.”

The bet here is when somebody calls you out for an unambiguous lie, you follow a two-pronged strategy: To tickle the fancy of political sophisticates you depend on people like Marc Ambinder to fuzz up the situation with disingenuous musings about how this is sort of not untrue if you look at it a certain way but isn’t sad that “politics” works like this (meaning that everybody is just as guilty as everybody else so in a sense everyone is innocent, so let’s just move on.)

Of course for the eventual benefit of what are so tactfully referred to as “low information voters” you just do what Sen. DeMint does on the op-ed page of the WSJ and repeat the lie at a higher volume. Needless to say the average reader of the WSJ op-ed page probably isn’t fooled, but that’s not really the point. The point is to create a media narrative of the “some say the earth is flat some say it’s round the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle” variety.

Abortions for some . . .

[ 8 ] September 10, 2008 |

. . . miniature American flags for everyone!

Worst. Candidate. Ever.

[ 21 ] September 10, 2008 |

Jesus, make it stop:

More than 40 million people tuned in last week to listen to the speech from Palin, the 44-year-old, first-term governor whom McCain announced as his surprise vice presidential pick just days before. Since then, that basic script is all anyone has heard from her publicly, and her only interaction with the media was a brief conversation with a small group of reporters on her plane Monday — off the record at her handlers’ insistence.

Associated Press reporters were not on the plane, but an aide told the journalists on board that all Palin flights would be off the record unless the media were told otherwise. At least one reporter objected. Two people on the flight said the Palins greeted the media and they chatted about who had been to Alaska, but little else was said. . . .

So far, Palin has barely spoken with voters either. Since the convention, she and McCain have breezed through a Wisconsin ice cream shop, a New Mexico restaurant and a Missouri barbecue place, shaking hands with diners but not taking any questions. Photographers and television cameras have been allowed full view while reporters are typically kept too far away to ask questions or hear most of the conversations

This is infuriating and at the same time really, really fucking weird. There have been plenty of candidates for higher office in US history who have been recruited precisely because they could be counted on to say — figuratively speaking — nothing during the course of a campaign. But to have a candidate who literally says nothing except to recycle the applause lines from a speech written for a fill-in-the-blank vice presidential nominee a political eon before his or her selection…? I’m just not sure there are words caustic enough to describe what’s happening here. The fact that it’s worked so well so far is maddening.

A Palin Hack Two-fer

[ 24 ] September 9, 2008 |

It’s not surprising to see Rachael Larimore make excuses for Palin’s baldfaced lies about the Bridge to Nowhere by 1)carefully omitting her actual statements (she didn’t merely claim to have “nixed” the project) and then 2)claiming that all politicians “exaggerate” anyway. Distorting and then making up reasons to ignore Palin’s egregious howlers is by now as natural to her apologists as breathing. Having at least half-conceded that McCain’s central selling point in favor of Palin is bogus, however, I guess she needed to repeat one undiluted Palin myth. Hence, Larimore discusses “that private jet that Palin sold on eBay.”

Again, the facts here are not complex:

  • Palin didn’t sell the jet on eBay.   The jet was sold through a broker.
  • But because she tried to sell the jet on eBay, the state was out more than a hundred grand in expenses.
  • And notwithstanding McCain’s lie, the plane was ultimately sold at a loss, not a profit.  (Larimore at least doesn’t repeat this lie, although it’s central to the myth.)     

McCain and Palin are lying about “selling the jet on ebay” just as they’re lying about the Bridge to Nowhere.    Whether Larimore is lying or simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about I can’t say.    And needless to say, Larimore’s argument that pointing out Palin’s lies is some kind of betrayal of feminism is utterly risible.   

Red state feminism

[ 25 ] September 9, 2008 |

There’s a lot of this kind of thing going around right now (shorter version: she can bring home the salmon and fry it up in a pan). Indeed it’s being claimed that “Palin’s supermom abilities provoke envy and anxiety in other women, especially other working mothers.”

Given that the GOP is currently marketing Palin as a more authentic brand of feminist than the old man-marriage-and-children-hating blue state variety, one of the many questions I’d like to see our enterprising press corps pursue is: Who is actually raising Sarah and Todd’s Palin’s children, and in particular their five-month old special needs infant? The Palins both appear to work full-time for income.

I suspect these are, at a much more muted yet still comparatively speaking extremely privileged level, the same sorts of special abilities that would, for example, allow John McCain to escape the ravages of a hurricane by moving into one of his other houses.

Sea Based Ballistic Missile Defense

[ 14 ] September 9, 2008 |

Yglesias points out this report from the Center for American Progress on sea-based ballistic missile defense, in which Andrew Grotto and Rebecca Grant argue for continued funding of research and development into AEGIS based ballistic missile defense systems. I can’t really disagree with that conclusion, but I do think that they overstate their case; sea-based ballistic missile defense is nice on the margins, but except in a very few tactical situations, it is unlikely to change the course of any imaginable conflict.

On the plus side, sea-based ballistic missile defense avoids certain of the problems of land based systems. Land based systems (such as those being installed in Poland and the Czech Republic) carry with them significant political costs, and are vulnerable to political shifts in the host countries. In their current configuration, land based systems are also dependent on a certain constellation of threat. If, for example, we spend a tremendous amount of money building an anti-Iran system in Poland, then the Iranian government collapses and is replaced by a friendly regime the next day, we have wasted a lot of money (this assumes the entire point of the system isn’t to antagonize Russia, which may not be reasonable). A ship-borne missile system can just steam to wherever the threat is, be it near Taiwan, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, or the target du jour.

Sea-based systems can also provide some protection against what may be the most significant threat that conventional armed ballistic missiles pose, which involves attacks on aircraft carriers and assault carriers. As I’ve suggested before, accurate, terminally guided ballistic missiles could give a US supercarrier a very bad day. Such missiles are beyond the capabilities of Iran or North Korea (for the time being) and possibly even of China and Russia in certain circumstances, but if the various problems can be worked out, they could be very threatening indeed. Carrier battle groups with BMD capable AEGIS ships would provide some (although not complete) protection against this kind of attack.

However, naval BMD doesn’t solve the basic problem of ballistic missile defense, which remains the disjuncture between expected costs and expected benefits. We’re familiar with the difficulties of defense against nuclear armed ballistic missiles; unless the BMD shield can be expected to operate at 100% effectiveness, the threat of nuclear attack will deter the United States from whatever action it would like to engage in. Put simply, a shield that’s 95% effective will result, in average, in one destroyed city per twenty missiles, and a fifty percent chance of a destroyed city per ten missiles (try it sometime with a 20-sided die). These are odds that no rational leader will accept, which means that we end up relying on our own nuclear deterrent, which puts us back at square one. Any adversary capable of putting nuclear weapons on missiles can still “hold us hostage” no matter how many AEGIS ships we have off its coast; indeed, if it’s really interested in holding us hostage, the adversary can come up with alternative means of delivering the weapons, such as by submarine.

But surely naval BMD could help reduce the threat of conventional missile attacks? Of course, but this threat is almost certainly overblown. Worst case scenario, China could launch a thousand missiles at Taiwan, and possibly do extensive damage to military and civilian facilities. Would this, in itself, bring about a Taiwanese surrender (replace Taiwan with Georgia if you prefer)? If it did, it would represent a remarkably ahistorical outcome. We know, not just from World War II but also from Rolling Thunder, Desert Storm, and Kosovo, that civilian populations are remarkably resilient to the threat of terror bombing, and that industrial economies do not collapse easily. Military targets, properly prepared and hardened, are also quite resilient to bombing (with the above noted exception for aircraft carriers). Thus, when Grotto and Grant write

Iran and North Korea’s missiles may not be highly accurate or heavily armed, but their effects would be dangerous nonetheless, terrorizing civilian and military populations and/or potentially disrupting U.S. military operations

I’m inclined to think “Really? How?” First, inaccurate and lightly armed missiles will not, in fact, pose a threat to US military operations. Iraqi Scuds killed a couple dozen US soldiers in the First Gulf War, but they had no effect whatsoever on military operations. The much vaunted Iraqi Scud assault on Israel resulted in more deaths from heart attacks than from blast. Ballistic missile attacks can, like any air assault, produce dislocation and chaos, but this effect is temporary, and largely unproductive in terms of costs and benefits (it costs more to buy and launch a missile that the damage you can expect the missile to inflict). We have been forced to learn, over and over again, that complex societies do not crumble under temporary, small scale air attack; they invariably adjust, and life goes on. Since ballistic missiles are a remarkably inefficient way of delivering conventional payloads (although sometimes the only way), I’m just not convinced that they pose a dire threat to US military operations or national security.

That said, it’s better to have x-1 missiles hit a target than x missiles. To the extent that developing ballistic missile defense capability for AEGIS ships can reduce the number of hostile missiles that will hit the United States, its military installations, and its allies, continuing development (and expanding deployment) of the system makes sense. We shouldn’t, however, fool ourselves into thinking that sea-based BMD is some kind of game changer, or that it prevents rogue states from “holding us hostage”.