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Least Persuasive Raves From A Critic I Like

[ 0 ] November 13, 2009 |

This would certainly be in the running.


"These trials will be a stunning blow to the rugged image of the abstract American."

[ 0 ] November 13, 2009 |

Until recently, the phrase “transnational Left” only appeared in print every once in a while (and then only in articles that also granted the existence of global Jewish banking conspiracies). Lately, it seems impossible to read an article by a mainstream conservative that doesn’t assume Obama is a figurehead for this amorphous child of the First International. For example, the very serious Blane McDonnagh Andrew McCarthy argues that Obama’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in accordance with the laws of the land

will provide endless fodder for the transnational Left to press its case that actions taken in America’s defense are violations of international law that must be addressed by foreign courts. And the intelligence bounty will make our enemies more efficient at killing us.

Obama and Holder are not trying to reestablish the rule of law, they are engaged in a game of political chicken with their real constituents (the transnational Left) and, because they blinked, they owe a tribute of American lives to their overseas masters. The problem with such paranoid stylings is that 1) Mohammed and his compatriots were tortured and 2) the entire world already knows that. What can these men say against the United States that hasn’t already been published by international news syndicates?

These trials will not be a farce intended to give the bogeyman that is the transnational Left the leverage it needs to prosecute the previous administration. Former Presidents are only kidnapped and tried overseas in spy novels and Chile, and I doubt conservatives want their icons compared to Pinochet. Central to this deluded argument is the notion that the current administration would prosecute these terrorists for reasons other than being terrorists:

[T]he great hope of the terror-backing neo-communist left, at home and worldwide, is that the Obama administration will continue to build a case for torture trials for former Bush administration officials.

Suffice it to say that when a professor of political science conflates American liberals and most of the rest of the world with communist revolutionaries, he should be taken very seriously, especially when said professor happens to be “an umatched competitor whose tactical elan would make Machiavelli proud.” Because a political science professor who compares himself to the colloquial mascot* for the scorched earth method of maintaining political power is exactly the sort of person who would never argue in bad faith were it expedient … except when the professor in question is Donald Douglas, in which case it’s best to assume he’s a tendentious braggart.

Simply put, there is no singular “terror-backing neo-communist left” that the administration seeks to appease with these trials, and those who claims otherwise are being disingenuous in the service of a small-minded version of what constitutes “American interests.” Rehabilitating our reputation as a just arbiter in world affairs might compromise the masculinity of the American brand, but it’ll also make the world a safer place for living, breathing Americans.

*Machiavelli was a far more interesting figure than his contemporary caricature would suggest. See the section on authorial duplicity and The Prince in Gale Carrithers and James Hardy’s Milton and the Hermeneutic Journey for more on that.

Commenting on the Comments…

[ 0 ] November 13, 2009 |

Regarding the comments…

1. I do not remember choosing JS-Kit, or Echo. One morning I woke up and some new system was operating our comments; another day, I woke up and another system was operative. I am, however, guilty of being extremely lazy.

2. Although both JS-Kit and Echo have some features that I like (threading, the ability to see previous comments) I agree that neither are sufficient. I do think that people are remembering Haloscan with the halo of sentimentality; I remember losing lots of comments to it, having comments cut off, etc.

3. I am open to changing the system for the future, as long as the comments made in the past can be preserved. I kind of like this, which we’re using over at ID. Do folks have any particular thoughts or preferences regarding a new system?

It’s like a book elegantly bound, but in a language that you can’t read just yet

[ 0 ] November 13, 2009 |

(…having missed Scott’s post on this…)

Matthew Continetti’s piece in today’s WSJ is completely insane, but I’d hate to discourage him from believing that Sarah Palin can somehow turn herself into something other than a toxic joke on the Republican Party. The longer people like Continetti chase after Palin — frantically shouting along the way, “It’s just a little dirty! It’s still good, it’s still good! It’s just a little slimy! It’s still good! It’s still good” — the more satisfying life will be for the rest of us when GOP primary season begins.

That said, Continetti’s reasons for optimism are bizarre. Citing Palin’s abysmal (and worsening) public opinion data, he argues — in all seriousness — that she will somehow be able to reverse her low standing among independent voters by turning her book tour into a prolonged disquisition on the economic liabilities of the current administration. Given that Palin is a virtual lock to make absolutely no sense when trying explain economics (or much else for that matter) I eagerly hope Palin takes Continetti’s advice. For some reason, Pro-Palin wingnuts appear convinced that her abdication of the governor’s office — a decision by which they seem strangely unperturbed — has afforded her the time she needs to learn her alphabet and multiplication tables. They forget that her political and intellectual instincts are so poorly evolved that she’s far more likely to continue her practice of making hilarious Bachmannite arguments about atheist coins, piled on top of her usual dystopian predictions about President Blacula’s heath care policy.

And when she inevitably makes a fool of herself, she’ll soon enough blame the media. In which case, she’ll have to write a new book complaining about the mistreatment she received from the people who interviewed her about the book written in part to complain about the mistreatment she received from the people who interviewed her during the 2008 campaign. Which is just another way of noting that Sarah Palin’s aggrieved ego represents an exemplary case of fractal geometry.

Sarah Palin Hack Watch

[ 0 ] November 13, 2009 |

Shorter Verbatim Matthew Continetti: “An October Gallup poll put Ms. Palin’s favorable number at 40%, her lowest rating to date. In a November Gallup survey, 63% of all voters said they wouldn’t seriously consider supporting her for the presidency. Yet Ms. Palin isn’t as unpopular as John Edwards.

Yes, if there’s a more promising basis for a national political career than being marginally more popular than a failed presidential candidate who fathered a child with a woman who was not his cancer-stricken wife, I don’t know what it could be.

The "Sister Souljah" Moment As A Core Political Value

[ 0 ] November 13, 2009 |

Peter Beinart has a rather bizarre column praising the Democrats for “sacrificing abortion and immigrant rights to get conservative Democrats to vote for expanded health-care coverage” amidst some nostalgia for the era in which the Democrats were forced to make sacrifices by its pro-apartheid faction. The historical analogy is problematic for some obvious reasons, namely that 1)it ignores the existence of liberal Republicans who often made the votes of the pro-apartheid faction that so often obstructed economic reform as well as civil rights unnecessary, and 2)ignores the many ways in which allegedly economically liberal pro-apartheid Democrats often made New Deal policies much worse. In terms of his contemporary argument, Katha Pollit disposes:

You know what I don’t want to hear right now about the Stupak-Pitts amendment banning abortion coverage from federally subsidized health insurance policies? That it’s the price of reform, and prochoice women should shut up and take one for the team. “If you want to rebuild the American welfare state,” Peter Beinart writes in the Daily Beast, “there is no alternative” than for Democrats to abandon “cultural” issues like gender and racial equality. Hey, Peter, Representative Stupak and your sixty-four Democratic supporters, Jim Wallis and other antichoice “progressive” Christians, men: why don’t you take one for the team for a change and see how you like it?

Right. The thing about arguments that the introduction of “cultural” issues into “economic” debates is a bad thing is that somehow the argument never cuts the other way. In this case, it was anti-choicers, not pro-choicers, who decided to introduce a cultural wedge issue that made the bill much harder to pass. Supporters of reproductive freedom, who for the most part suffer from the bargaining disadvantage of caring about whether access to health care is expanded, didn’t try to use the health care bill to expand access to reproductive services for women. And were then exposed as suckers when some conservative Democrats –who, Beinart notwithstanding, obviously don’t care weather health care reform passes or not — decided to inject abortion into the debate. But, of course, to the Beinarts of the world it’s always supporters of core progressive values who are the uncompromising extremists, not the cultural reactionaries.

And this is what is so deeply strange about Beinart and his ilk; with the possible exception of perpetual war and ever-higher defense spending, they don’t seem committed to anything. What they care about is whether a crucial Democratic bogeyman that actually represents Democratic values is being put in their place. Beinart’s devotion to the big tent is, to put it mildly, a recent conversion — you may remember him urging Democrats to purge people who were right about the war he got wrong from the party. (This also makes the cynicism of his claims that foreign policy hawkery was a good thing in part because it would advance the cause of gay rights more clear.) At any rate, what rings through loud and clear is that conflict over social issues only becomes a “culture war” when liberals are engaging in the struggle, and hence it’s only liberals who are ever subject to criticism.

Dan Riehl? Still a racist, only now a homophobic one.

[ 0 ] November 13, 2009 |

Last month, I documented Dan Riehl’s reaction to the perceived threat posed to him by, in his words, “pretty young, not that big [black] kids” who never confronted him. He responded, as conservatives of his stripe do, with some juvenile homophobic “humor.” Point being, because I’m not inclined to give demonstrably puerile racists the benefit of the doubt, you can imagine my reaction when I read the following in his recent post about ACORN:

Breitbart’s video busts told us what they do best. The pathetic part in all this is that they were not just allowed, but encouraged to run wild on taxpayer funding by corrupt liberals, including Obama. They should all hang together if you ask me. How long will it be before corrupt Democrats find a way to back door them the money? I bet they’re accustomed to the back door. Maybe Barney Frank should spearhead the effort?

In the two short sentences I emphasized, Riehl manages to 1) invoke the language of lynching against the first black President and a predominantly black organization, and 2) equate illegal activity with the sexual practices of homosexual men. He will protest that the latter doesn’t make him a homophobe (despite the overt association of homosexual sex with a criminal act) any more than his call for a metaphorical posse to host a metaphorical lynching is evidence of racism. He will be wrong: the fact that the first metaphor that occurs to him when criticizing blacks is a hanging party tells us that when he disagrees with blacks, he couches his disagreement in terms of stretched necks and strangled bodies. People for whom that is an instinctive response are people who are racists. Therefore …

Less Health Care, More Arbitrary Death Panels!

[ 0 ] November 12, 2009 |

Shorter Rick Perry: I’m outraged that Barack Obama in “hellbent’ on such Communist initiatives as expanding health care coverage. He should be hellbent on railroading innocent people into the death chamber like me!


[ 0 ] November 12, 2009 |

Shorter PUMA Self-Parody Site:

We used to hate George Bush, but after his Christ-like visit to Ft. Hood, we are no longer outraged by his war in Iraq, his illegal domestic surveillance programs, or the manifold, abject failures in nearly every other region of his administration.

In other words:


[ 0 ] November 12, 2009 |

I have an article up on TAP noting that the referendum overturning same-sex marriage rights should once and for all make clear that “the idea that changes in support of gay and lesbian rights can preempt controversy and organized opposition as long as the courts stay out of it is a pernicious myth.”

The remaining puzzle is why an argument — that courts generate a unique backlash — with so little theoretical or empirical basis has so much appeal to a group of scholars and pundits on the ostensible left or center-left. It’s clear that in many cases pundits and scholars are projecting a democratic theory onto a public that doesn’t share it. But what is that theory, exactly? As I briefly mention in the piece, decisions requiring marriage equality would seem at least consistent with any normatively attractive theory of judicial review — if legally plausible arguments against the exclusion of an unpopular minority from fundamental rights aren’t a defensible basis for the exercise of judicial review, what is? (If these arguments sprung from an opposition to judicial review, period, this would be more credible, but they rarely do.) To me, the patron saint of the courts-should-use-judicial-restraint-except-when-they-shouldn’t school is Felix Frankfurter. Mark Tushnet’s take on Frankfurter in A Court Divided is (if you don’t count the famous Robert Cover baseball quiz) definitive:

For the next two decades, including the Term Rehnquist worked for Jackson, the Court remained divided. The divison was exacerbated by deep personal conflicts. Felix Frankfurter, a former law professor who thought of himself as a sophisticated constitutional theorist, basically couldn’t develop a decent theory to help him decide what to do, but he knew he despised William O. Douglas, the quintessential activist. (17)

And I think this pretty much applies to most of the scholars and pundits who become instant experts in Massachusetts or Iowa equal protection law to denounce “judicial activism” — it’s a way of making it seem that you have a sophisticated view of judicial review and democracy. Not that you have such a view, but that you think it would be neat to acquire one. And the landmark precedents for such views have to be Frankfurter’s arrogance-cloaked-in-humility dissents in W. Virginia v. Barnette and Baker v. Carr. Sure, the legal arguments range from unconvincing (the 1st Amendment has nothing to say about mandatory state loyalty oaths) to embarrassingly specious (the only remedy for being illegally unrepresented in the legislature is to petition your non-existent political representatives.) No, there really is no coherent reason why judicial restraint is demanded in these cases but, say, the reverse-incorporation argument in Bolling v. Sharpe is perfectly OK. But the most important thing is to occasionally engage in some mock-tortured moral handwringing to show that you’re better than the dirty legal hippies of the day, and if that means that some Jehovah’s Witnesses get beaten up and expelled or some African-Americans have no effective legislative representation or many same-sex couples are denied the right to marry, well we have to get out priorities straight.

The Travails of a One Man Stimulus Package

[ 0 ] November 12, 2009 |

Apparently, Landon and Becks have kissed and made up.

While there’s doubt on this here island on which I live, if Beckham plays as well for Milan during his loan spell this season as he did last season, he should get a spot on the England team for the World Cup (not so, however, Michael Owen). He won’t be playing in the center of midfield, where Arena has been playing him with Los Angeles, obviously, but he is still in possession of a couple skills that warrants inclusion.

Of course, Beckham is still only the second best player on the Galaxy (if that — I’m sure others will disagree), to Landon Donovan. To wit:

There were other factors in the Galaxy’s resurgence. Donovan has become routinely brilliant.

It would be nice for the routinely brilliant Donovan to move to a league where he can be consistently above-average. There is still time for him to improve as a player, although at 27 (28 at the World Cup) that time is rapidly running short.

I will be discussing the UEFA playoff first leg matches within a day or two; I will be watching the Ireland – France match (not in person, shame) with an Irish colleague of mine.

Once upon a time Camille Paglia could be counted on to write with force and clarity.

[ 0 ] November 12, 2009 |

That time has passed:

The solipsistic members of Congress want us peons to be ground up in the communal machine, while they themselves gambol on in the flowering meadow of their own lavish federal health plan.

Jack London would have looked at that sentence and deemed it overwrought. Then he would’ve reconsidered, thrown in a few King James-quoting cavemen and declared it a masterpiece. But Jack London was not a serious scholar like Paglia, who proves her seriousness by paraphrasing Palin:

The brutal abandonment of the elderly here is unconscionable.

Death panels! Her keen attention to the language of a bill that, at the time, did not yet exist served her well. But if there’s one thing we can count on from Paglia, it’s that she pays attention to her prose:

One would have expected a Democratic proposal to include an expansion of Medicare, certainly not its gutting. The passive acquiescence of liberal commentators to this vandalism simply demonstrates how partisan ideology ultimately desensitizes the mind.

If “gutting” is the new “vandalism,” does that mean taggers are now murdering or murderers are now tagging? I only ask because a scholar of Paglia’s self-professed stature would never mix a metaphor or lazily appropriate the language of someone whose partisan ideology ultimately desensitized his mind?

Obama has dithered for months about a strategy for Afghanistan.

Dick Cheney? Really? Besides, weren’t we talking about health care?

On other matters, I was recently flicking my car radio dial and heard an affected British voice tinkling out on NPR.

Apparently not.

On science, Dawkins was spot on—lively and nimble. But on religion, his voice went “Psycho” weird—as if he was channeling some old woman with whom he was in love-hate combat.

That metaphor doesn’t even deserve to be called mixed. I’m sure it makes sense to her and would to us, had she be bothered to explain it. But that would require her to remain on topic for more than a few sentences:

Continuing on the theme of overrated male writers, I was appalled at the sentimental rubbish filling the air about Claude Lévi-Strauss after his death was announced last week

I always tell my students that if you begin too many paragraphs with some variation on “another example of,” you’re either proving something you’ve already proven or are trying to slap a signpost on a non sequitur, and that in either case, you’re not developing an argument. Paglia might benefit from sitting in on my class:

Now on, with relief, to pop!

Non-ironic exclamation points! They are signs of a great writer! By “pop,” I’m sure she means “current popular culture” and not “a reference to Madonna to prove beyond all doubt that this column is an exercise in unwitting self-parody.”

Now, come on, people, do you really believe that Lady Gaga is 23 years old?

Praise Jesus, she at least avoided—

And now Madonna is trying to resuscitate herself, body and mind, by taking transfusions from Brazil!

You have got to be kid—

Is it true, according to press rumors, that Madonna is vacationing with her boy toy Jesus Luz in a house in Bahia in the far northeast of Brazil?

I have no idea what she’s talking about, but at least she’s not patting herself on the back and taking credit for—

It’s kind of what I had in mind in my epic Salon column last year negatively comparing Madonna to Daniela. As a teacher, I will certainly take credit for this leap forward, if it occurs, in Madonna’s much-delayed self-education.

That sound you hear? That’d be Harold Bloom choking back sobs as he considers the fate of his once promising protégée.