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History for Mouthbreathers

[ 0 ] June 11, 2008 |

Speaking of conservative histories, I’d be remiss in not mentioning A Patriot’s History of the United States, a jaw-droppingly terrible book that would only appeal to readers who aren’t literate enough to comprehend Paul Johnson’s vastly superior History of the American People.

How bad is it? Here’s the last paragraph of the review I wrote recently for The History Teacher (.pdf available here):

Worse, in their chapters on recent U.S. history, the authors make claims that are not even remotely endorsed by the footnoted sources. In excoriating the Great Society, for instance, Schweikart and Allen observe that one “malignant result of AFDC’s no-father policy was that it left inner-city black boys with no male role models” (689). In support of this Gingrichian pronouncement, the authors cite a single 1989 study from Social Forces — an article that makes no mention of AFDC, inner-city black youth, or role models and, indeed, has almost nothing to do with the argument to which it is attached. In the same paragraph, we read further that after the 1960s, “gang leaders from Portland to Syracuse, from Kansas City to Palmdale, inducted thousands of impressionable young males into drug running, gun battles, and often death” (689). For this dramatic observation, the authors rely on two broad studies of family structure and drug use, published eight years apart in the Journal of Marriage and the Family. Among the phrases that do not appear in either study: “Gang leaders,” “Portland,” “Syracuse,” “Kansas City,” “Palmdale,” “impressionable young males,” “drug running,” “gun battles,” and “death.” With little effort, this reviewer has identified nearly a dozen such cases in which the authors have tortured their sources to score points against social programs they oppose, political philosophies to which they object, or historical actors whom they do not like. Evidently, the virtues endorsed by A Patriot’s History do not apply to the authors themselves. As “intelligent design” simulates the language and structure of evolutionary biology, A Patriot’s History simulates the language and structure of historical writing. Discerning readers will not be fooled.

Any number of metaphors would have worked there at the end, I suppose. I might have described it as “the historical analogue to the Office of Special Plans,” or “A Million Little Pieces of conservative historiography,” or “a book that promises to do for conservative history what Piltdown Man did for paleoanthropology.” But that would have been mean.

The authors, mysteriously, have chosen not to highlight my review on the book’s website. But hey, when you receive endorsements from FrontPage Magazine and some guy with a blog, your ascent through the right wing shadow academy is complete!

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600

[ 14 ] June 11, 2008 |

Good for Junior.

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When the Narrative Becomes Fact, Print the Narrative

[ 0 ] June 11, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Camille Paglia: “I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at the ecstatic media lockstep praising Hillary’s so-called concession speech last weekend. This is the same herd of sheep who bleated to Bush’s beat and brought us the Iraq fiasco. I first heard the speech on the radio as I was driving back to Philadelphia from a family event in upstate New York. I was shocked and appalled at Hillary’s inflammatory demagoguery, which was obviously intended to keep her candidacy alive through the August convention and beyond. The echo in the museum’s marble entry hall gave the event an eerily retro quality, as if it were a 1930s fascist rally. Hillary’s turgid, preachy rhythms were condescending and manipulative, and her climaxes were ear-splittingly strident. It was pure Evita, a cult of personality masquerading as populism. When I later saw the speech on TV, I was disgusted by how Hillary undercut her insultingly brief endorsement of Obama with a flat expression and cold, dead eyes. The only thing that got her blood racing was the blatantly stoked hysteria of her screeching worshipers.”

I don’t know what you can even say to this; I guess it’s what happens when you evaluate the speech you elaborately developed in your misogynist brain rather than the one actually given by Clinton.

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The Case Against Webb

[ 27 ] June 11, 2008 |

I remain convinced. See also Drum.

Let me also add: Sebelius ’08! On the question of Joe Biden, I could see a case — if he hadn’t been in favor of the war. As it stands, I think it would be crazy to pick someone almost exclusively for foreign policy message who inevitably blurs the popular message of the Democratic candidate.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 16 ] June 11, 2008 |

John F. Kennedy, telegram to George Wallace, 10 June 1963:

I am gratified by the dedication to law and order expressed in your telegram informing me of your use of National Guardsmen at the University of Alabama. The only announced threat to orderly compliance with the law, however, is your plan to bar physically the admission of Negro students in defiance of the order of the Alabama Federal District Court and in violation of accepted standards of public conduct. State, city and University officials have reported that, if you were to stay away from the campus, thus fulfilling your legal duty, there is little danger of any disorder being incited which the local town and campus authorities could not adequately handle. This would make unnecessary the outside intervention of any troops, either State or Federal. I therefore urgently ask you to consider the consequences to your State and its fine University if you persist in setting an example of defiant conduct, and urge you instead to leave these matters in the courts of law where they belong.

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Holbo on Fish

[ 0 ] June 10, 2008 |

I was in the middle of arguing with Lemuel Pitkin about John Holbo’s post about this blog post by Stanley Fish, when for some reason the crooked timber supercomputer decided I needed to be placed in moderation. So, I’ll take it over here.

First things first, the main points Fish is making (that political diversity is not intellectual diversity, that academics with different politics are capable of teaching political diverse political views fairly and accurately) are largely correct and unobjectionable. The paragraph that rightly frustrated Holbo is this one:

Even in courses where the materials are politically and ideologically charged, the questions that arise are academic, not political. A classroom discussion of Herbert Marcuse and Leo Strauss, for example, does not (or at least should not) have the goal of determining whether the socialist or the conservative philosopher is right about how the body politic should be organized. Rather, the (academic) goal would be to describe the positions of the two theorists, compare them, note their place in the history of political thought, trace the influences that produced them and chart their own influence on subsequent thinkers in the tradition. And a discussion of this kind could be led and guided by an instructor of any political persuasion whatsoever, and it would make no difference given that the point of the exercise was not to decide a political question but to analyze it.

This write justification, evaluation, and interrogation out of the teaching of political theory. I think the intellectual history side of political theory/philosophy is often underappreciated and undertaught, especially by political philosophers, but to pretend it’s not part of the field isn’t tenable, and either misunderstands or misrepresents the discipline.

Why does he do this? I don’t claim to know. But Fish is responding to an effort to institute a fancy form of affirmative action for conservatives at CU by eschewing justification as part of the pedagogical tasks for political theory (in an otherwise reasonable list). This doesn’t, as Pitkin suggests, defend the academic enterprise from conservative attacks, becuase it gives too much ground. The framing of the argument suggests that if evaluation and justification are part of a political theory pedagogy, that the political persuasion of the instructor would be relevant and conservatives would have a point. This post demonstrates once again why Fish isn’t a particularly persuasive or useful advocate for academia against Horowitzian attacks.

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Ethical arms deals? Don’t make me laugh.

In recent years it’s become fashionable to hate the pharmaceutical industry, or Big Pharma (presumably if it were Little Pharma we’d like it since it might be cute and fluffy, or otherwise scamp-like), and sure, there’s plenty to dislike about their business practices (especially when they keep merging and firing scientists, a view you’d also share if you were a pharmacologist). There’s also Big Oil, who’ve been making a lot of money and generally being beastly in places like the Niger delta, but bad as they are, in my opinion they’ve all got a long way to go before they’re able to compete in the “Big league of evilness” with the arms industry. Drugs and oil might be responsible for a lot of deaths, but that’s a byproduct; selling cluster munitions so that the repressive government of your choice can use them on people it doesn’t like results in deaths that were very much intended.

But, it’s very big business, and it’s business that the permanent members of the Security Council all have a piece of. Now, the US has had it’s own scandals with the defence industry, most recently the Boeing procurement scandal comes to mind, but hailing as I do from the UK, it’s BAE Systems and their woes that have caught my attention recently.

Foremost of these involves the al-Yamamah arms deal, a multibillion dollar arrangement to sell the Saudis a load of fighter jets that their princes can pose next to in sunglasses and flight suits trying to look fierce, although Farley will no doubt point out upon his return that they did manage to shoot down a couple of Iraqi Mirages during the 1991 Gulf War .

BAE systems won this highly lucrative arms deal, but greased a few palms along the way, a practice that’s part of doing business in that part of the world, but one that the west doesn’t really like to acknowledge. The biggest beneficiary was the Saudi ambassador to the USA, Prince Bandar, also known as Bandar Bush for his close ties to the 41st President and his chums. Bandar received around $100 million a year from BAE, for two decades, a pretty significant payout in anyone’s eyes.

As news of this began to emerge, the Serious Fraud Office in the UK began an investigation into the deal, right up until they were stopped by Tony Blair. This halting of the investigation was more than a little egregious, given Blair’s constant pontification on the importance of good governance, and the big deal he made about signing the UN’s anti-corruption treaty in 2003. One of the clauses of that treaty forbids signatories from taking economic benefit into account when investigating bribery.

Bandar gave Blair the fig-leaf of legitimacy he needed to stop the probe by threatening that Saudi Arabia would cease its cooperation in intelligence operations against Al Qaeda, and that was that. Or it would be if the FBI hadn’t also gotten involved. BAE does about 40 percent of its business in the US, and so US prosecutors claim this gives them jurisdiction over the company. BAE’s CEO was recently detained for a few hours after a visit to the US, and following the trial of the Natwest 3, I’d be cancelling any US trips if I were a BAE executive.

It’s not just the FBI who’re after BAE though. The little suburb of Harper Woods in Michigan is suing BAE over the scandal, as the town employees’ pension fund includes $135,000 worth of BAE stock. Churlish as it might seem, perhaps they shouldn’t have invested in an arms manufacturer if ethical corporate behavior was something they felt strongly about? As they say, if you lie down with dogs, expect to get fleas.

Being such a big player, this isn’t the only bribery scandal that BAE is involved in. They have links to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, although the $50,000 he got seems a little pathetic compared to Bandar’s billion.

BAE are also imbroiled in a scandal in South Africa, where their bid to supply training jets was picked over a much cheaper bid from Italy, despite vocal opposition from the South African military. In that case, BAE gave the ANC, South Africa’s ruling party, around $1 million, money that the ANC used to finance their last election (although why they needed it is a little beyond me – the chances of anyone other than the ANC being elected is more than remote, despite the ANC’s great failings as a government). South Africa, taking cues from its one-time imperial master also quashed a fraud investigation, and leader-in-waiting Jacob Zuma used the threat of spilling the beans to help get him out of hot water after having raped a young family friend.

Distateful as all these cases may be, I have to ask: “what else did you expect from arms dealers?” If, as a nation, you want to be in the arms business, which the UK certainly does, coming second only to the US in annual sales, then you better accept that part of the cost of doing business is greasing palms along the way. If you don’t want to accept that fact, realise that the French, Chinese and Russians aren’t nearly as squeamish, and kiss goodbye to those jobs and your balance of trade.

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the smear machine isn’t functioning properly.

[ 7 ] June 10, 2008 |

Below, Bean points us to the NRO’s campaign spot blog, calling for the release of Obama’s birth certificate for some truly strange reasons (more good snark on the logic behind these “controversies” from marvelous Jesse Taylor, fresh off his sabbatical in The Real World).

Inexplicably, I’ve perused NRO’s The Corner blog occasionally over the years, but this is my first exposure to The campaign spot blog. This would seem to be a good place to watch the right wing smear machine functioning in the early stages. So, let’s see what they’ve been up to lately.

The issue that seems to be generating the most excitement at the moment is the “Jim Johnson controversy,” in which Obama places a businessman tied to the home mortgage crisis on his VP selection committee. See here, here and here. This is going to be a tricky one, as the ability to score any kind of relative gains with this is reliant on no reciprocal attention to the unsavory connections of McCain’s associates. Since he’s already been forced to bid adieu to his Myanmar junta lobbyists, I’m not sure this is a winning strategy overall for the GOP.

So what else have they got? Other than the birth certificate nonsense, the last few days have seen:

Some people like Obama a lot, and he’s not doing anything to stop them!

McCain’s full-throated support for a disastrous and unpopular war doesn’t actually make him a warmonger like those mean democrats say.

McCain would be in fine shape if only white people voted.

McCain responds to comments tying him to the sitting president whose central policy commitments he overwhelmingly supports by trying to tie Obama to a president who left office 28 years ago (omitted: similarities between Carter and Obama) Zing!

Obama may have written some of his first book ON FOREIGN SOIL!

Those Newsweek bastards didn’t let Lieberman aides spin their story, proving they are in the tank for Obama.

That, aside from a bit of McCain campaign stenography, is all they’ve got. I am a worrier and a pessimist, and I was expecting to find something that would feed those impulses, but it’s just not there. We’ve worked very hard to steel ourselves for the onslaught of the right wing smear machine, perhaps for good reason. But, a) that machine has suffered some collateral damage from the hit the Republican party has taken in the last four years, and b)some on the left may have been so concerned about underestimating it that we ended up overestimating it instead.

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Numbers Four and Five are What We Call "Related"

[ 14 ] June 10, 2008 |

As an addendum to Scott’s post below, allow me to quote directly from the “Stand Up For America Survey” (and donation pitch) that inexplicably arrived with the office mail this morning.

4. Senators Obama and Clinton support abortion and oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Senator McCain has a twenty-five year pro-life record and supports overturning Roe v. Wade. Which presidential candidate’s positions do you support?

5. John McCain will nominate judges who enforce — not make — the law, judges of the quality and character of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Senators Obama and Clinton voted against Justices Roberts and Alito and favor liberal activist judges. Which presidential candidate’s positions do you support?

The survey includes a postage-paid envelope that is, unfortunately, not large enough to contain a brick. The administrative staff around here have been debating whether an envelope filled with rocks would damage the sorting machines at the post office. Curiously, no one seems especially inclined to call and ask.

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McCain, Roe, and "Minimalism"

[ 0 ] June 10, 2008 |

Patterico objects to an LA Times editorial asserting that McCain will appoint justices who share his views that Roe v. Wade is wrong and should be overturned. Patterico argues that McCain has said that he would appoint judges like Alito and Roberts, who have declined (so far) to argue explicitly that Roe should be overturned.

But this is a distinction without a difference: there’s no evidence of any meaningful distinction between Scalia/Thomas and Roberts/Alito on the issue of reproductive freedom. None of the four will ever vote to rule a restriction on abortion unconstitutional. Whether the Court explicitly announces that Roe is overruled doesn’t matter if the Court is going to stop providing any meaningful protection for abortion rights. This was Rehnquist’s strategy in Webster: the Court could uphold a draconian ban on abortion without overturning Roe as long as there was some minor difference (such as a rape/incest exception) between one ban and the Texas law struck down in Roe. And I’m not even sure that such differences are necessary. After all, if we remember Carhart II — the most ridiculous example of the Roberts’s Courts fake minimalism — you can apparently uphold a statute virtually identical to one struck down earlier without overturning the previous case.

So the LA Times is essentially right. What matters is whether McCain will seek to appoint justices who will provide meaningful protection to aboriton rights, and it’s clear that he will not. There’s no reason to pretend that the de farco overrulings of the Roberts Court actually leave precedents standing. Whether the Court dismantles abortion rights piecemeal or through a single dramatic opinion isn’t important except that the former is politically better for the Republican Party. Democrats are under no obligation to provide this political cover.

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And this is necessary because?

[ 0 ] June 10, 2008 |

The NRO is echoing conservative calls for Obama to release his birth certificate to debunk…something or other that is unclear (vague claims that Obama was not actually born in the U.S. and other bunk like that).

My favorite rumor that the NRO would like the birth certificate to debunk: that Obama’s middle name is Muhammad not Hussein. Because Hussein is sooo much less “muslim-sounding” that he must be hiding something.

Is this the best the right wing can do?

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A newer deal?

It got somewhat lost yesterday, what with the world going loopy over a new iPhone, but the General Election kicked off properly, now that Senator Clinton has done the decent thing after finally acknowledged what most of us knew after the Pennsylvania primary. Barack Obama, freed of the need to be mindful of appealing to uncommitted primary voters, has launched a two-week tour targeting McCain, and if his speech in North Carolina was anything to go by, the gloves got left in Illinois.

Anyone who thought that Obama’s promise to bring a new kind of politics to the 2008 campaign meant a passive, ‘sweetness and light’ approach received a rude awakening as he repeatedly laid into McCain’s inconsistent positions and ill-thought out campaign promises, particularly on the economy:

John McCain once said that he couldn’t vote for the Bush tax breaks in good conscience because they were too skewed to the wealthiest Americans. Later, he said it was irresponsible to cut taxes during a time of war because we simply couldn’t afford them. Well, nothing’s changed about the war, but something’s certainly changed about John McCain, because these same Bush tax cuts are now his central economic policy. Not only that, but he is now calling for a new round of tax giveaways that are twice as expensive as the original Bush plan and nearly twice as regressive. His policy will spend nearly $2 trillion on tax breaks for corporations, including $1.2 billion for Exxon alone, a company that just recorded the highest profits in history.

Think about that. At a time when we’re fighting two wars, when millions of Americans can’t afford their medical bills or their tuition bills, when we’re paying more than $4 a gallon for gas, the man who rails against government spending wants to spend $1.2 billion on a tax break for Exxon Mobil. That isn’t just irresponsible. It’s outrageous.

Along the way, Obama has also been mooting the idea of using public spending to stimulate the economy, provide jobs, and tackling the growing problem of deferred maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure. To put that problem in context, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission issued a report that underlined just how much work really needs to be done to the US’ highways and byways to bring them back up to spec: at least $220 billion a year for the next few decades. That’s almost twice as much as the country is spending in Iraq, which I think we can all agree is a lot of dough.

From where I’m sitting, putting the nation to work to start fixing the things that the baby boomers didn’t feel the need to pay for is more than a good idea, it’s an urgent necessity, and anyone who’s feared for their life braving the potholes on I-75 might agree. Then again, I’m a European and Keynesian policies aren’t the economic equivalent of McCain’s insult to his wife were I come from. Is the US ready for a public works program to try and return the country to its salad days of the 50s and 60s? Or has the Chicago school so thoroughly infected the discourse that any attempt would be portrayed as a remake of Il Duce draining the marshes?

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