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Vouchers For What?

[ 0 ] November 1, 2007 |

As a follow-up to the debate that various TAPPEDers and ex-TAPPEDers are having with respect to conservertarian claims about the efficacy of school vouchers, this from Justice Stevens’s dissent in Zelman (although peripheral to the question of whether voucher programs that will cause funding to go almost exclusively to parochial schools are constitutional) seems worth quoting:

First, the severe educational crisis that confronted the Cleveland City School District when Ohio enacted its voucher program is not a matter that should affect our appraisal of its constitutionality. In the 1999—2000 school year, that program provided relief to less than five percent of the students enrolled in the district’s schools. The solution to the disastrous conditions that prevented over 90 percent of the student body from meeting basic proficiency standards obviously required massive improvements unrelated to the voucher program. Of course, the emergency may have given some families a powerful motivation to leave the public school system and accept religious indoctrination that they would otherwise have avoided, but that is not a valid reason for upholding the program.

The most obvious limitation on voucher programs, as both Matt and Ezra note, is that there’s nowhere for most students to go. A market in education wouldn’t function like other markets. Whereas more customers (within reason) for a department store mean more profits, more students for a school makes it harder to educate everyone, and places substantial demands om physical spaces that can’t be easily expanded. Even assuming that they provide enough money for students to have a genuinely wide theoretical range of private schools to go to, which in practice is unlikely, vouchers are only an effective solution for more than a tiny number of students if there are lots of spaces in good schools for children to go to. Or, in other words, they only work if you assume away the problem you’re trying to solve in the first place. The small numbers involved and the fact that schools are very far from being like markets in consumer goods also make large transformative effects created by vouchers exceptionally implausible. And, certainly, as Matt says to talk about vouchers in the abstract without any details about what level of funding is on the table, how we’re going to pay for it, and what slots are available for students given vouchers is entirely useless.

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Burkean Rhetoric, Supply-Side Policies

[ 3 ] November 1, 2007 |

As a follow-up to the point that Mike Huckabee’s noblesse oblige rhetoric is not terribly meaningful given that his only significant domestic policy proposal is a massively regressive tax cut, although the article is no longer available online I think it’s worth returning to this from the New Yorker profile of Michael Gerson, often cited as the kind of Christian Democratic evangelical that Democrats can allegedly attract to the fold:

Gerson defends Bush’s tax cuts, which the President’s critics believe not only favor those with the highest incomes but have also left less money for important domestic programs; Gerson believes that free markets and free trade are the best means of lifting people out of poverty, and that lower taxes stimulate both. “The part of Mike I have the most trouble understanding, perhaps because we simply disagree, is how he can square his support for pretty substantial spending for the very poorest among us with a defense of Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest people,” Dionne said. “Maybe Mike just buys supply-side economics in a way that I don’t, but most supply-siders don�t think like Mike.”

It’s entirely possible that Gerson has convinced himself that policies with a proven track record of increasing inequality will actually decrease it if tried again. But even if the arguments are in good faith, they point out that mere rhetoric about social justice is not enough for coalition-building. When more evangelicals actually start supporting progressive economic policies, then Democrats might have something.

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The End of Higher Education

[ 126 ] November 1, 2007 |

I just finished teaching an upper-division US history course in which my students read — and I swear I’m not making this up — Kim Du Toit’s repellant 2003 essay on “The Pussification of the Western Male”. The class had just finished Gail Bederman’s Manliness and Civilization (1995), a marvelous examination of the cultural transformations of gender between the 1880s and World War I. We used du Toit as a companion piece to the chapters on Teddy Roosevelt and the psychologist G. Stanley Hall — each of whom were, in their own ways, as anxious as du Toit about what they perceived to be the devaluation of masculinity.

Roosevelt, for example, was distressed by the tendency (as he saw it) for modern men to “shirk from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil.” In his famous 1899 speech on “The Strenuous Life,” Roosevelt proclaimed that the vigor of “the race” depended upon men being “glad to do [men's] work, to dare and endure and to labor.” Women, he added, “must be the housewife, the helpmeet of the homemaker, the wise and fearless mother of many healthy children.” Any other arrangement would have risked what sociologist E. A. Ross termed “race suicide.” Roosevelt was particularly animated about the imperial demands of his age; he could not look kindly upon those men who feared “the strenuous life, the only national life which is really worth leading.” He commended England for taking hold of its colonies — especially its rule in Egypt and India — and called upon the US to do the same in the Philippines and elsewhere. He did not refer to his opponents as “pussies,” but he came frightfully close.

Hall, for his part, was preoccupied not with adult masculinity but rather with the incipient manhood of youth. Believing that developing children rehearsed the cultural evolution of the human race, he insisted that young boys should not be deterred from expressing “the instinct of the savage.”

Boys are naturally robbers; they are bandits and fighters by nature. A scientific study has been made of boys’ societies . . . . In every instance these societies have been predatory. All of the members thirsted for blood, and all of their plans were for thievery and murder

Allow the young boy to beat the shit out of his companions, Hall suggested, and his mental and physical development will proceed in a smooth and healthy fashion. Divert him from his natural course Hall warned, and you will produce “a milk-sop, a lady-boy, or a sneak.” Such a child “lacks virility, [and] his masculinity does not ring true.” Perhaps he will — as Hall himself did — grow up to be a chronic masturbator, a helpless slave to “the lonely vice.”

And then there’s du Toit — in one of his essay’s better milk-through-the-nose moments — working himself up into a roiling, gibbering mess over the lineup on Bravo:

Finally, we come to the TV show which to my mind epitomizes everything bad about what we have become: Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. Playing on the homo Bravo Channel, this piece of excrement has taken over the popular culture by storm (and so far, the only counter has been the wonderful South Park episode which took it apart for the bullshit it is).

I’m sorry, but the premise of the show nauseates me. A bunch of homosexuals trying to “improve” ordinary men into something “better” (ie. more acceptable to women): changing the guy’s clothes, his home decor, his music—for fuck’s sake, what kind of girly-man would allow these simpering butt-bandits to change his life around?

Yes, the men are, by and large, slobs. Big fucking deal. Last time I looked, that’s normal. Men are slobs, and that only changes when women try to civilize them by marriage. That’s the natural order of things.

To be brief, my students were howling with laughter over this; they were also moved by his anti-Cheerio rant, about which the less said the better. Several of them simply refused to believe that du Toit had not, in fact, written this as a parody. I assured them of his pathetic sincerity — I even told them about the Worst Blogger Award he’d received a few years back — and they laughed even more.

But my students and I noticed something interesting. Speaking in April 1899 — just a few months after the Spanish-American war ended — Roosevelt condemned the “pussification” of American men while calling upon them to suppress the Philippine insurrection; over the next few years, thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Filipinos would die as the country learned what “the strenuous life” was all about. Writing in November 2003 — just a few months after the Iraq War had supposedly ended — du Toit similarly condemned the “pussification” of American men while calling upon them to drive fast, get drunk, and emulate Donald Rumsfeld (who, he insisted at the time, could have laid nearly every woman in the country over the age of 50); over the past few years, thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, in large part so that men like Donald Rumsfeld would not have to wake up in the morning and see a “pussy” staring back at them in the mirror. Kim du Toit, I suppose, should be so fortunate.

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Of Course Torture Works

[ 17 ] October 31, 2007 |

Silly rabbit; treating your captive as a guest may be more effective at actually getting, you know, intelligence, but that hardly means that it works as effectively at torture. You see, the misconception here is that torture is designed to elicit information. In fact, torture (in the contemporary American context) is designed to demonstrate masculinity and Will; to sort of those who are “serious” about protecting America from those who aren’t. Simply demonstrating that torture doesn’t produce good intelligence can’t reduce its political attractiveness, because after all eliciting information was never the point.

Torture: It sorts the real heroes from the girly men like nothing else.

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The Madness of MoDo

[ 0 ] October 31, 2007 |

Molly Ivors does a good job with the latest bit of vacuous misogyny from Maureen Dowd, whose presence on a major op-ed page remains and will always be an absolute disgrace. A couple more points are worth emphasizing. First, none of this has the slightest shred of substantive significance; the idea (also now being propounded by Slate) that pop-psych anecdotes about people’s marriages tell us anything interesting about a presidential candidate’s performance is nothing but a cover for journalists who prefer lazy gossip to actually doing their jobs. The second is that Dowd, as always, doesn’t seem to understand feminism. Not only is feminism (to use Jessica Valenti’s line) not Maureen Dowd’s dating service, most intelligent feminists understand that feminism does not provide any single answer to the question “what should you do if your husband gets a blowjob from somebody else?” Some feminists are in open marriages. Some forgive adultery as anybody in a long-term relationship has to forgive some mistakes. Some will find it intolerable and leave. Feminism is a way of evaluating a relationship, not (leaving aside violence, etc.) a set of one-size-fits-all answers about how to deal with every situation. And finally, it should be obvious (and this is the biggest reason why such analysis is so useless) that Clinton would have been condemned no matter what she did. If she had left her husband, she would be a cold man-hating shrew with no respect for the institution of marriage; since she stayed with her husband, she’s somehow an ambitious schemer who is betraying feminism (which is not betrayed, apparently, by sexist smears on her candidacy in the New York Times.) She can’t win.

There is one value to Dowd’s column: it reminds us of the amount of sexism Clinton is going to be subject to in the general. If Clinton runs against Giuliani, you can bet the ranch that to Dowd, Matthews, Russert et al. the adultery of Clinton’s husband will be a bigger issue than the actual adultery (and callous humiliation of his wife and children, etc.) of the Republican candidate.

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[ 30 ] October 31, 2007 |
Above: Audrey encounters a surprisingly life-like replica of Atlas Shrugs.

….SN! link fixed

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Tear Out My Hair Moment of the Day

[ 0 ] October 31, 2007 |

From the NY Times:

When you haven’t changed your curriculum in 150 years, at some point you look around,” said Elena Kagan, the dean of Harvard Law.

The impetus for the changes is the sense that what has been taught and how it has been taught may be “embarrassingly disconnected from what anybody does,” Ms. Kagan said.

Those concerns were highlighted in a report on legal education published this year by the Carnegie Foundation. The report found that law schools generally stressed analytic training over ethical, interpersonal and other skills that could help them practice law after graduation.

This comes as no surprise to those of us in law school or practicing as lawyers. My (our) response is “ya think?!” But in the middle of the week from hell, I can only laugh. And then go back to engaging in legal reasoning disconnected from my real world future practice.

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[ 57 ] October 31, 2007 |

MILS asks, in the endorsement thread, why I hate Tim Russert. I thought it was a joke, but then I remembered that this is our friend Mike in Lake Stevens, who is holding our “fair and balanced blog” certificate and won’t give it to us until I get around to my promised and as yet undelivered mockery of Chris Matthews. I’ll get to it soon, I promise, but in the meantime, I’ll answer your question:

Russert’s various attempts at “gotcha” questions are profoundly obnoxious. A good moderator asks occasional point-blank questions that cut through the bullshit, and Russert acts like that’s what he’s doing, but he’s not. Take his Iran question, for example. He could have asked about their assessment of the Iranian problem and their planned strategy and tactics, but instead we got (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Rudy Gulliani has made the following drunken irresponsible boast; will you join him, or dare to attempt a silly answer that, given the current framing of the issue and the 30 seconds you’ve got, is pretty much guaranteed to look like weak and equivocating waffling?” Same thing on the drivers’ license for illegal immigrants question–rather than ask them about their approach to immigration policy, he hammered away at Clinton on whether and how much she supported Spitzer’s widely misunderstood attempt at a coping strategy for dealing with the current failed policies of immigration being undertaken at the state level (why taking a stand on this issue is relevant for candidates for federal office remains unclear), and tried to make her efforts to talk about immigration policy seriously look like a dodge on her part.

There has been a common standard form for Russert’s questions, and it goes something like this:

Russert: I demand you give an unequivocal answer to this bizarre micro-question on a peripheral topic of a larger important issue, designed to tie you down to what will likely be an unpopular stance.

Candidate: (attempts to talk about the actual issue)

Russert, interrupting: Why won’t you answer my question?? What are you hiding?

Politicians peddle bullshit all the time. The fact that the debate moderators routinely outdo do them on this score is apalling.

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What has Become of America?

[ 0 ] October 31, 2007 |

Hey, now. Rocky Balboa single-handedly protected America’s vital supply of white women from the threat of unruly black men by beating down Clubber Lang, then he brought down the Soviet Union by knocking out Ivan Drago. And this is the thanks he gets?

How soon we forget…

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Air Force Round-up

[ 0 ] October 31, 2007 |

Got some good reactions out there to my Air Force abolition article:

  • David Axe is participating in a roundtable on the article, the results of which will be available tomorrow. He’s also written a couple of posts at War is Boring.
  • Jason Sigger is also a participant in the roundtable, and has a long and detailed response at Armchair Generalist.
  • Mike Burleson at New Wars has a short response, as does Texas Scribbler.
  • Neptunus Lex has a reply in which he more or less comes down on the “interesting idea but…” side. Also see the discussion.
  • JOHCA at Johca’s Conversation has a long, detailed, and very good response. Read the whole thing, but it more or less comes down to the argument that the services no longer plan (as organizations) to fight wars, thus while a division based on capacity to independently fight and win war might have made sense in 1947, it makes little sense now. He also makes the point that inclusion of the Air Force in the Army will severely circumscribe its strategic capabilities. For me that’s a feature, not a bug; I think that the Air Force is largely inept at strategic power projection in the first place, and that a reduction of emphasis on that mission would be of benefit in either a counter-insurgency conflict or in a conventional war. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting post.

I’ll post a link to the Prospect roundtable when it comes out.

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Death Penalty Moratorium

[ 28 ] October 31, 2007 |

It’s all but official: the Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for a prisoner in Mississippi, “and thus gave a nearly indisputable indication that a majority intends to block all executions until the court decides a lethal injection case from Kentucky next spring.” Scalia and the man who put the doctrinaire conservative in “moderation” Sam Alito — but not Thomas or Roberts — dissented.

It seems almost certain, however, that this stay will be temporary and executions will resume after the case comes down next year. Although the possibility that we’re torturing people to death strikes me as more substantial Eighth Amendment grounds than the recent limitations on the death penalty found by the Supreme Court, preventing the execution of adolescents and the mentally handicapped represents a relatively small number of cases, lethal injection involves virtually every execution in the country. I can’t imagine Kennedy voting to require stringent standards of evidence from the states in this instance.

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She’s a "Legal Blogger?" Are You Sure?

[ 15 ] October 31, 2007 |

I suppose it would be too much to hope that she’ll drunk-vlog this event:

CIS/SLATA Panel: How Blogs Impact Legal Discourse

Blogging about legal issues is a growing phenomena and a wholly new format for legal dialog and exchange. The panel will investigate and discuss how legal discourse is impacted by the advent and growth in blogging . . . .

Ann Althouse: Ann Althouse is the Robert W. & Irma M. Arthur-Bascom Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and currently a Visiting Professor at Brooklyn Law School. She teaches and writes about constitutional law and federal courts. Since January 2004, she’s been blogging prolifically at Althouse which receives over 20,000 page views a day.

Let’s see. In Althouse’s last legal issues-related post, she defended Yale Law School’s decision to admit Elizabeth Wurtzel after her “literary” career sluiced deservedly through the grate. Offering her entirely predictable brief on behalf of talentless, dysfunctional loons, Althouse insisted YLS made the right move, since Wurtzel’s presence in the classroom promised to “spice up the mix.” The rest of the month’s entries appear to be the usual fare — half-witted posts about presidential debates, thrown together with slanty photographs of her latest cup of coffee.

If Althouse counts as a legal blogger, then I write birthday cards for Hallmark.

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