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Dear Dr. Can’t-Win-An-Argument-So-Must-Tattle,

[ 16 ] August 25, 2010 |

I just heard that the testimony of the three undergraduates I helped place at West Point carries more weight than the baseless accusations of unpatriotic anti-American Jew-hating you leveled against me.

I’m not saying that you should be embarrassed that one of the premier research institutions in the country considers the opinions of a few undergraduates more accurate and trustworthy than yours, but I take that back because I am.



Blame To Go Around

[ 9 ] August 25, 2010 |


Royce Lamberth is the kind of judge — because of his crusades and inflammatory pronouncements on behalf generally but not exclusively reactionary positions — who tends to get described as an “iconoclast.” Earlier this weak, Lamberth issued a ruling blocking Obama’s executive order permitting more extensive cell research, finding that there was at least a substantial probability that the order was illegal. Will Saletan is outraged:

But this ruling goes way beyond Obama. It voids Bush’s stem-cell policy, too. And it does so on flimsy grounds with sloppy reasoning.


So in two successive Congresses—the first controlled by Republicans, the second by Democrats—the president and a majority of each chamber agreed that ESC research should be funded. They did so even as they re-enacted the Dickey Amendment each year. To conclude that in re-enacting this amendment they meant to forbid all federal funding of ESC research, you’d have to believe that they deliberately contradicted themselves four times. To conclude, as Lamberth does, that they “unambiguously” meant to forbid all such funding, you’d have to be brain-dead. At a minimum, if their behavior is self-contradictory, the meaning of the amendment since 2005 has become ambiguous.

I’m sympathetic to Saletan’s argument here. Certainly I agree with him on the merits of the underlying issue, and I do think that Lamberth can be subject to his criticism — depending on how much deference you think should be given to executive branch interpretations, one can argue that his ruling is erroneous. Some people may want to argue that he shouldn’t have granted standing, although I personally never object to granting standing if there’s a substantial argument that the government is engaged in illegal activity. But I think Saletan is overlooking the real villain of his story: George W. Bush.

The brutal truth is that Lamberth’s ruling is not unreasonable; it’s at least plausible to read the Dickey-Walker amendment as banning stem-cell research. As Saletan notes, majorities of both houses of Congress wanted to eliminate this potential contradiction. But Bush — whose public positions on stem cell research are incoherent from A to Z — decided, with the half-clever pandering to wingnuts and indifference to legal constraints that made him infamous, to veto a repeal of Dickey-Walker and instead just declared that it didn’t mean what it seemed to mean.   This put him in a position where he didn’t actually have to apply the highly unpopular principles he wanted to be seen as endorsing. But by allowing the tension between the statute and his subsequent executive order to remain, Bush all but invited the judiciary to intervene — and now they have.

As Saletan correctly points out, if we had a functional political system, this would be a non-issue because Congress could just pass a new statute clarifying the policy. Whether this will happen with the political system we actually have is another question. But certainly this case reminds me why I don’t miss Bush in the least.

UPDATE:  As Glenn helpfully points out in comments, Lamberth actually ruled against standing; it was the higher court that reversed him and reinstituted the suit.

David Horowitz Should Really Stop Pulling His Punches

[ 52 ] August 25, 2010 |

Look, I know my middle-of-the-road foreign policy posts have sometimes had readers wondering about my left-wing credentials. But let me point out David Horowitz has no doubt exactly where I sit politically. In fact, according to him, simply teaching in the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Department of Political Science is enough to prove anyone is a big fat foaming-at-the-mouth American-hating radical bent on propagandizing unsuspecting students:

The University of Massachussetts is…a depressingly radical school where the indoctrination of students in leftwing ideologies is routine.

To end the tyranny of the progressive academy at UMass and nation-wide, Horowitz is promoting an idea, inspired by his visit to my very campus, that is sure to enhance deliberative democracy in college and beyond: the “Adopt a Dissenting Book” campaign. To wit, he is mobilizing students to request a “dissenting” book in every class:

In a democracy there cannot be orthodoxy on matters of opinion. Students must have the right to hear more than one side of controversial issues. And that is why the “Adopt a Dissenting Book” campaign is so important. At the end of the month, the students I met in Massachusetts will begin asking their professor to assign an additional text in his class, one that is written by a conservative and is critical of the liberal majority… If the professor rejects the idea of books with differing views, we will take the request to the chairman of the department. If his answer is negative we will take it to the dean of the college, and then to the chancellor and then to the president and the board of trustees. And we will take it to the press and the public. We will hold “Adopt A Dissenting Book Days” and “Awareness Weeks” especially when parents are visiting a school to look it over as prospective consumers. We will do everything in our power to embarrass university officials by exposing their hypocrisy on this issue so fundamental to our democracy. Universities should not be claiming to educate students when in fact they are indoctrinating them; or claim to be defenders of academic freedom when in fact they are suppressing ideas with which they disagree.

Now at the risk of refuting Horowitz’ claim that we liberal UMass profs are all commie propagandists (and further stoking suspicions that I am in fact a conservative in disguise), I would like to signal my support for this worthy effort. Students do learn better by seeing many sides of an issue, and it’s clear from Horowitz’s one-N study of political science classrooms that as a UMass professor I am failing mine miserably.

For example, although I assign an unhealthy dose of Ruth Wedgwood along with Kenneth Roth in my Rules of War class, it’s true that none of the actual books I assign take positions either for or against the rules of war – they mostly just describe them empirically. I should probably have included a book that denies the Geneva Conventions even exist. While I’m not sure who has written such a book, I am hoping my students will be able to suggest one.*

But despite my general enthusiasm for Horowitz’ efforts, as a scholar of advocacy campaigns I can see three minor shortfalls with his endeavor, based on my understanding of his interests and goals. So I have a few modest suggestions for his free-thinking minions as they press their claims against the tyrants of academe: Read more…

What Happens When You Refuse To Stop Digging

[ 12 ] August 25, 2010 |

Tom Scocca has been performing the unenviable yet sometimes hilarious task of reading Ross Douthat’s bloggy attempts to argue out from the massive logical holes dug in his columns. I like this first quote, which perfectly encapsulates Douthat’s overriding theme — i.e. that to engage in moral reasoning means “agreeing with Ross Douthat whether or not he can actually offer any defense for his claims”:

But if you do think abortion is wrong (as I do, of course), then this dependence on the practice constitutes a deep corruption at the heart of elite life, which undercuts at least some of the happy news about the upper class’s post-sexual revolution stability. And an elite that was more morally serious about sexuality and its consequences would be willing to confront this problem directly, instead of ignoring the issue and/or sneering at the anti-abortion cause.

Or, we could consider the possibility that some people have “confronted this problem directly” and found that it is not, in fact, a problem at all, almost as if Ross Douthat has not been appointed the nation’s moral arbiter. Some may have even figured out that they shouldn’t really have an obligation to take the moral posturing of people who support criminalizing abortion any more seriously than they seem to take it themselves. Certainly, disagreeing with Ross Douthat does not constitute “ignoring the issue.”

Perhaps even better is Douthat’s latest argument that running people out of town on a rail is a much more noble American tradition than respecting fundamental rights:

Would Friedersdorf and others really like to live in a world where the two-thirds of Americans who oppose the project just had their sentiments ignored, because of the bigotry woven into the anti-mosque cause?

The rather obvious answer:

Is this a rhetorical question? Here’s one in return: how do you get onto the New York Times op-ed page without a sixth-grade civics education?

Would I like to live somewhere where people are allowed to practice their religion, even when two-thirds of the general public would deny them that right if they could? Hell, yes, I would, Ross Douthat. That place is called America. Love it or leave it.

Why, some of us consider the upholding of fundamental rights against majoritarian sentiments “interwoven with bigotry” as being rather proud moments. I am, however, looking forward to Douthat’s vigorous attack on Citizens United, although perhaps once majorities are no longer interwoven with bigotry they don’t always get their way…

[Insert crystal meth joke here]

[ 7 ] August 25, 2010 |

I see that my state’s next Republican Senator possesses all the syntactical gifts of his chief benefactress. Quoth Joe Miller:

“Alaskans are prepared to enter a new era of politics — an era of self-dependency.”

The clown show continues.

“Ground Zero”

[ 3 ] August 25, 2010 |

It does seem to have extended to anywhere that an Islamic group might want to build anything.

The Catfood Commission

[ 2 ] August 25, 2010 |

It’s very shocking that its biggest media darling hates Social Security, and is a smarmy, condescending sexist.

“Islamic Niketown?”

[ 5 ] August 25, 2010 |

Goldberg’s latest is almost too incoherent to even be hateful. Almost.

Tex Ed

[ 25 ] August 24, 2010 |

In the wake of Dr. Ryan’s death-by-texting, Joel Johnson of Wired asks why we haven’t invented a safer way to text while driving? Well here’s one way that I’m certainly going to make use of next year when my daughter gets her permit:

As a “republican,” Sarah Palin must have supported the salting of Carthage in the wake of the Third Punic War.

[ 24 ] August 24, 2010 |

Ilya Somin’s response to my London post is a nifty little walk-back, but he does have a point:

“Progressive” is a general term routinely applied to all those early 20th century writers and political activists who supported large-scale increases in government control of the economy.

That’s not it. That is a definition so broad as to be utterly useless. The trusts “supported large-scale increases in government control of the economy” as a means of putting and keeping labor in its place; manufacturers lobbied first for higher, then lower, then higher tariffs; but I doubt Somin wants to include those interests among his “Progressives.” The point he does make is this:

Perhaps Kaufman was confused by my use of a capital “p” rather than a lower-case one.

I was, but only because I applied a standard that’s been around for about a hundred years instead of Somin’s idiosyncratic non-distinction. Those who ignore this distinction typically did so for practical political reasons, like the fellow who wrote this introduction, who wanted to include lowercase-p progressives under his uppercase-P umbrella in order to make his newly founded party look a little more substantial.

I’m not saying this is a distinction universally upheld, only that it’s more common than not in contemporary scholarship for the simple reason that most scholars abide by the rules of capitalization: proper nouns refer to unique entities and are therefore capitalized. The niceties of orthography are a side show, however, because the main problem with Somin’s post is that he still claims that London was both spectacularly racist and, as he wrote in the first post, “no anomaly among early 20th century Progressives.” London’s racism still only differs in degree, not kind, because as he wrote in the second post, “it was part of a broader pattern of racism among many Progressives of that era.”

Except that it wasn’t. London’s atypical in all respects, and as I demonstrated in my earlier post, neither part of the “Progressive movement” proper and only obliquely involved in the humble-mumble of internecine conflict that defined leftist and liberal politics at the turn of the last century. But I’ve repeated myself. Very dull. How about we venture into the comments over there?

It appears that Scott Kaufman is maintaining the faux history that progressives aren’t either fascists or socialists, when the plain fact of the matter is that they are both.

Or maybe not. If elements of that crowd can’t tell from my post that London couldn’t have been a progressive because he believed they were insufficiently radical, the cause is already lost. But I’m a soldier, so once more into the breach:

As far as I can tell, Google says that Kaufman is the only connection between “nature fakir” and Jack London. And, FWIW, that part about “Darwinian determinism” is nonsense.

Seriously? The first return from Google is too far for someone to tell? What could be closer? Wait, wait, these could be swells of stupidity in an otherwise tempered sea. Let me try one last time:

If you’d like a detailed look at it I’d suggest Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Like the excesses of Communism, most of this has simply been written out of history.


Everything in “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” that pertains to neither chrysanthemum nor swords.

[ 1 ] August 24, 2010 |

I can’t counter Lemieux’s endorsement of Matt Zoller Seitz’s recap of “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” but I would like to register my annoyance with Seitz for setting the bar so high. Particularly annoying is the fact that Seitz discussed at length the most salient visual element of this episode, i.e. “the interplay of close-ups and wide shots on the show, specifically how the camera will start very close on characters’ faces, encouraging our empathy, then slowly dollying back to put them in a context.” I noted this dynamic in my analysis of Peggy and Pete in “The Rejected,” but Lesli Linka Glatter structured the entirety of “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” around it. The one point on which I’ll differ with Seitz (and Jefferson Robbins, whose work Seitz discusses there) is that with characters who are unaware of the larger context, the shots often begin wide before moving in for a close-up.

When, for example, Sally cuts her hair, the scene does open with a close-up, but not one that encourages empathy:

Read more…

The War On (Poor) Women Who Want Access To (Safe) Abortions

[ 2 ] August 24, 2010 |

Virginia edition.

However, abortion policy expert Ross Douthat has informed us that the United States permits absolutely no restrictions on abortion, so obviously this is all a bad dream of some kind.