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Consent and Censorship

[ 0 ] May 7, 2007 |

There has been a lot of interesting discussion of Garance’s WSJ op-ed about raising the age of consent in the porn industry. I should say that I share Avedon and Roy‘s general libertarian perspective on the issue and probably end up in the same place as they do, but I think they’re being a touch unfair to Garance’s argument. Certainly, I agree (even leading aside the question of whether obscenity should be excluded from First Amendment protection, which has never been very persuasive to me) that if the censorship of porn is necessary it won’t work and if it would work it’s not necessary. Canada’s experience with R. v. Butler–in which a Supreme Court decision permitting censorship of sexually explicit materials only on explicitly feminist grounds was used primarily harass gay and lesbian and feminist bookstores–is instructive. Roy also makes a good point about how “[p]opular R-rated giggle-fests from Porky‘s to the American Pie movies are, to me, dirtier than a typical porn film, because they posit sex as something you get away with, like theft or vandalism,” although as Neil reminds us a lot of porn (which simultaneously celebrates and punishes female sexual expression) has a similar ethos.

Still, while I agree with these arguments on their own terms I think they’re a little unfair to Garance’s argument. She is not, after all, really advocating censorship; even the most hardcore civil libertarian, I think, recognizes the need for an age of consent, and whether this (inherently somewhat) arbitrary line should be drawn at 18 or 21 is surely debatable without threatening a slippery slope to Comstockery. The fact that Garance would exempt people whose images are sold from punishment would avoid the obvious problems that make, say, bans on prostitution so counterproductive. I’m still not convinced by Garance’s argument–I would need to know more about how much more likely 18 year-olds are than 22-year-olds to regret decisions to appear in sexually explicit material, whether it could be effectively and non-arbitrarily enforced (I would definitely oppose the policy change if Garance was right that it would be observed in the breach), and I would also prefer to try to more narrowly regulate coercive commercial exploitation before taking a larger step–but I don’t think increasing the age of consent for commercial use of sexual images is an attack on fundamental civil liberties.

$18000 on Meadow Brook to Win!!

[ 0 ] May 6, 2007 |

Spoilers regarding the 4/29 Sopranos below…

I didn’t find the Tony as Degenerate Gambler aspect of last week’s Sopranos at all troubling; they’ve made fairly clear for a while now that Tony is suffering from a slowly declining revenue flow, which has made him engage in risky behaviors in other areas (making a deal with people he barely knows in Florida, supporting Christopher’s risky but potentially quite lucrative venture into the film industry). Recall that he was seriously entertaining Vito’s offer to move to Atlantic City before Phil eliminated that option. Tony’s spending and gambling isn’t anything new, but he simply doesn’t have the revenue flow anymore to make up for that kind of losing streak.

This is not to say that the ep was flawless; the stuff with Vito’s wife and son was handled a bit clumsily, and the death of Hesh’s girlfriend seemed weird and pointless. Nevertheless, I thought it was a solid entry.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging; House of Wittelsbach

[ 0 ] May 6, 2007 |

Around the turn of the twelfth century the Counts of Scheyern acquired Wittelsbach Castle, a fortress not terribly far from Augsburg. By the mid-twelfth century the family had relocated to Wittelsbach Castle, and in 1180 were invested as Dukes of Bavaria. The Duchy had previously been ruled by Henry the Lion, who fell afoul of Frederick Barbarrosa when he failed to support the latter’s invasion of Lombardy. Bavaria had existed as a coherent territory since the late 6th century, although of course its borders and population changed over time.

The Wittelsbachs would remain in control of Bavaria until 1918. The territory was periodically divided by German kings, but reunited for good in the 17th century. Two Wittelsbachs served as Holy Roman Emperor, one as King of Germany, four as King of Sweden, and one as anti-King of Hungary between the 14th and 18th century. Joseph Ferdinand was supposed to succeed Charles II as King of Spain, but the death of Charles II and the War of Spanish Succession prevented that from happening. Finally, in 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the Holy Roman Empire. Duke Maximilian IV Joseph, a close ally of Napoleon, was elevated to King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria.

The Wittelsbachs remained closely intertwined with the rest of European royalty in the 19th century. In 1832, Prince Otto became King of Greece, although he lost that crown in 1862. The mother of Maximilian I of Mexico was also a Wittelsbach. The pressures of politics, royal society, and rulership got to Ludwig II of Bavaria, who became known as “Ludwig the Mad”. Ludwig II was a patron of Richard Wagner, was very popular with the general public, and built a number of memorable castles in Bavaria. However, his considerable eccentricities led to his confinement on June 10, 1886 and, presumably, to his mysterious death three days later. Ludwig II was succeeded by his brother Otto I, who was himself quite mad. Otto I was deposed by law in 1913, and succeeded by Ludwig III, who would preside over the final collapse of the Kingdom of Bavaria.

Defeat in World War I and general dislocation forced the Wittelsbachs to abdicate and flee the country. They returned in the 1920s, but did not reassume power. The Wittelsbachs bitterly opposed the Nazi regime in Germany, and relocated to Hungary in 1939. When the pro-Nazi regime in Hungary collapsed in late 1944, the family was arrested and sent to a series of concentration camps, including Dachau. The family was liberated in late April 1945 by the US 3rd Army.

Among those liberated was eleven year old Franz, who is currently the head of House Wittelsbach. In addition to his pretension to the throne of Bavaria, Franz is at the head of the line of Jacobite succession. Although replaced by George I, House of Glucksburg, the Wittelsbachs never abandoned their claim on the (currently abolished) throne of Greece. Finally, Franz also has a compelling claim on the title King of Jerusalem. Fortunately or no, prospects for reclamation of any of these thrones seem grim. Whatever issues the British may have with the Windsors, the monarchy is more likely to be abolished than turned over to the Jacobite claimant. If the Greeks decide to re-establish the throne, they are far more likely to turn to Constantine II and his heirs than the House of Wittelsbach. Finally, a return to the throne of Jerusalem would presumably require the reconquest and re-establishment of that kingdom. It is not believed that Franz II is contemplating that project at this time.

Trivia: What deposed monarch escaped with $3,000 in cash, four automobiles, and a diamond-and-ruby medal given to him by Stalin?

Iraq Is A Big Elephant

[ 0 ] May 6, 2007 |

Henry, I think, has the best take I’ve read on Jon Chait’s netroots article. Chait’s take is actually pretty good in many respects, but is also marred by his unwillingness to believe that people might disagree with the positions of Democratic centrists for substantive rather than political reasons. In particular, Chait’s argument to a remarkable extent ignores the Iraq War, which as Henry correctly notes was “the most egregious example of the echo chamber that I’ve seen in recent history.” Atrios links to a Chait op-ed from 2003 that exemplifies the intellectual errors that Chait seems to attribute to the “netroots.” First, we have some strawman construction amid grossly premature triumphalism:

In the lead-up to the war against Iraq, liberal doves all made pretty much the same point, with some variation: However successful the conflict itself might be, the long-term diplomatic costs of alienating much of the world would outweigh any benefits. This prediction, while questionable, at least had the benefit of playing out over such an extended period of time that it could not be conclusively disproved until its adherents were all long dead. Alas, after the campaign hit a snag, many doves were unable to resist the temptation to crow over the supposed overconfidence of the war plan — and as a result looked silly a few days later when Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed, to the apparent delight of most Iraqis.

This is quite remarkable. To state the obvious, “the diplomatic costs” are not the only potential costs here, and most critics didn’t doubt our ability to quickly defeat Iraq’s twelfth-rate military and depose Hussein. Rather, the most obvious potential cost was the cost of installing an Islamist quasi-state riven by civil war in Iraq, and the wholly predictable quagmire for American troops and resources (and the net negative for national security) that would ensue. To believe that a more liberal and similarly stable state would result from the invasion requires the belief that the Bush administration was capable of creating such a state ex nihilo from a country riven by sectarian conflict and with little in the way of civic institutions. Evidently, anybody who would trust the Bush administration to accomplish this would trust Lt. Frank Drebin to build a nuclear reactor. Anyway, it’s not just that Chait made an egregious misjudgment, but he wasn’t even asking the right questions, or engaging with anything like the strongest arguments of the critics. “Disarming” Hussein would not serve American security interests if anarchy resulted from the invasion, and so even a defense of the war that didn’t hinge on daydream believing about Iraqi democracy couldn’t avoid questions about Iraqi reconstruction.

Atrios has already highlighted his claim that the lack of evidence of WMDs prior to the war could not be considered a lack of evidence of WMDs. (As I’ve pointed out before, Chait also uses the grossly overinclusive “WMD” category to avoid explaining how, exactly, Hussein possessing some mustard gas would posed a significant threat to American national security.) We’ll return to this shortly. And finally, we have him ascribing motives to opponents of the war straight out of the Republican playbook:

Perhaps the most disheartening development of the war — at home, anyway — is the number of liberals who have allowed Bush-hatred to take the place of thinking. Speaking with otherwise perceptive people, I have seen the same intellectual tics come up time and time again: If Bush is for it, I’m against it. If Bush says it, it must be a lie.

Again, it’s not that people disagreed with Chait on the merits, it’s that they’re blinded by irrational Bush-hatred. He also fails to grapple with the most obvious problem with his assertion: the fact that most American liberal critics of the Iraq War supported the war in Afghanistan, which suggests that the mere fact that Bush supported something was not dispositive. Moreover, the implicit argument here that the competence and honesty of the Bush administration are somehow out of bounds when evaluating a preventative war whose desirability depended on either 1)claims about Iraqi weapons capacity that were not borne out in pre-war inspections or 2)assertions that the Bush administration could make Iraq a pro-American democratic model in the middle east is foolish. To once again return to d-squared:

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless. Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. Not only that people who want a project will tend to make innacurate projections about the possible outcomes of that project, but about the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. By the way, I would just love to get hold of a few of the quantitative numbers from documents prepared to support the war and give them a quick run through Benford’s Law.

Application to Iraq. This was how I decided that it was worth staking a bit of credibility on the strong claim that absolutely no material WMD capacity would be found, rather than “some” or “some but not enough to justify a war” or even “some derisory but not immaterial capacity, like a few mobile biological weapons labs”. My reasoning was that Powell, Bush, Straw, etc, were clearly making false claims and therefore ought to be discounted completely, and that there were actually very few people who knew a bit about Iraq but were not fatally compromised in this manner who were making the WMD claim. Meanwhile, there were people like Scott Ritter and Andrew Wilkie who, whatever other faults they might or might not have had, did not appear to have told any provable lies on this subject and were therefore not compromised.


The raspberry road that led to Abu Ghraib was paved with bland assumptions that people who had repeatedly proved their untrustworthiness, could be trusted. There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.

I’m not convinced about the usefulness of generalizing about “the netroots” in general, but certainly any argument that fails to account for the Iraq War and the fact that so many idiosyncratic, independent liberal pundits fell for it because of the same failings they attribute to the “netroots” is inevitably going to have a huge hole in its center.

Happy Derby Day!

[ 0 ] May 5, 2007 |

Today all eyes turn toward Kentucky. Her Majesty is in attendance. Rumour has it that George Clooney is supposed to be around, as well, but I’m not sure about that. Still working on getting a reserve box for Patterson School faculty and guests.

For you compulsive types that just have to bet, here are Crazy Rob’s selections:

1. Nobiz Like Shobiz: Four wins in his last six races. Cool name. Pretty solid bet at 8:1.
2. Curlin: Dominating horse, but today just isn’t his day.
3. Dominican: Longshot, but very good workouts, and Rafael Bejarano is my favorite jockey.

"It’s come to my attention that some people believe martinis are made with vodka."

[ 1 ] May 5, 2007 |

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Above: A drink that is not a martini.

Who says the Emm-Ess-Emm can’t tell hard, necessary truths?

Before we discuss the findings, though, we need to clear up a little matter. It’s come to my attention that some people believe martinis are made with vodka. I hate to get snobbish about it, but a martini should be made with gin or it’s not a martini. Call it a vodkatini if you must, but not a martini. Gin and vodka have as much in common hierarchically as a president and a vice president. Vodka can fill in for gin from time to time and might even be given certain ceremonial duties of its own, but at important moments you need the real thing. Vodka generally makes a poor substitute for gin in a martini or any other gin cocktail.

Certain truths are self-evident and among them are 1)drinks made with vodka are not martinis, and 2)Americans who pay 11 bucks a shot to drink a deliberately tasteless alcohol straight are wankers. Vodka’s place is solely as a mixer for drinks that don’t taste like drinks. I also like the fact that Asimov gets the minor premises right: if a drink has no vermouth in it, it’s not a martini. If only he had been covering the Iraq War

Because Ordinarily He’s Out Clearing Brush!

[ 0 ] May 5, 2007 |

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jim Rutenberg seem to have mistaken King Ralph for reality:

How does George W. Bush, a towel-snapping Texan who puts his feet on the coffee table, drinks water straight from the bottle and was once caught on tape talking with food in his mouth prepare for a state dinner with the queen?

With tips from an etiquette guide, of course — and a little gentle prodding from his wife.

The White House is atwitter over the visit on Monday by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. This is the first visit by the queen since 1991, when Mr. Bush’s father was president. White House aides say the state dinner in her honor is not only the social event of the year, but also of the entire Bush presidency.

It will be closely watched by the social elite for its collision of cultures — Texas swagger meets British prim. Dinner attire is white tie and tails, the first and, perhaps, only white-tie affair of the Bush administration. The president was said to be none too keen on that, but bowed to a higher power, his wife.

Wow; I hope that George “Cletus” Bush doesn’t use the salad fork to slaughter a hog during dinner. I see the potential for high comedy! Isn’t this part of an unused Parker and Stone script for “That’s My Bush!”?

Let’s review: George W. Bush is not a country bumpkin. He is not a stranger to formal affairs. He didn’t spend most of his youth clearing brush. He knows how to use all of the forks at the table. He’s not going to accidentally hock a loogie into the Queen’s hair while aiming for the White House spitoon. He probably even knows how to tie a bow-tie. He is a very wealthy man, the product of a long line of New England aristocracy. His heritage and upbringing are every bit as WASP-ish as that of John Kerry. The Queen has been dining with Presidents since Eisenhower, and apart from his father Dubya is probably the most aristocratic of any of them. The central achievement of his political life has been disguising all of that beneath a thin veneer of “rustic Texan”, but the New York Times shouldn’t have respected that nonsense in 1999, and shouldn’t take it at all seriously now.

It’s all affect. I suppose that’s all he has left.

Evolution Wars

[ 0 ] May 5, 2007 |

For anyone remotely familiar with the history of Darwinian thought as a prop for socially recalcitrant views of “human nature,” there’s not much new in this Times piece — though it’s always heartening to hear conservatives returning with childlike wonder to the great intellectual debates of the 1880s.

All that aside, there’s also nothing new in the sloppy invocations of “fascism” and “communism” in the effort to undermine the very notion of Darwinian theory. And so:

Skeptics of Darwinism like William F. Buckley, Mr. West and Mr. Gilder also object. The notion that “the whole universe contains no intelligence,” Mr. Gilder said at Thursday’s conference, is perpetuated by “Darwinian storm troopers.”

“Both Nazism and communism were inspired by Darwinism,” he continued. “Why conservatives should toady to these storm troopers is beyond me.”

It’s good to know that between servings of warm bean paste and pureed bananas, William Buckley can still mumble the cliches that sustained him for all those years. [Evidently, all the time I've spent not grading this week has ruined my reading comprehension skillz. As pointed out in comments, the "storm troopers" line was from Gilder, who isn't quite old enough for a bean paste and bananas diet.] It’s also good to know that the meaning of phrases such as “storm troopers” has been so diluted from overuse that it can now apply to science educators and school boards. Still, it’s worth pointing out that statements like Buckley’s reveal what I can only see as willful ignorance of the history of biological and social thought. The basis of the error is pretty simple. Nazism and communism are teleological, perfectionist narratives; the Darwinian view of adaptation and descent with modification is not. The problem is that many intellectuals — like Republican presidential candidates paying worship to the name of Ronald Reagan — attached Darwin’s name to ideas that owed little to Darwin himself.

From the 1860s through the 1940s, nearly everyone with an elaborate social vision claimed — however implausibly — to be influenced by “Darwin,” most of whose writings they had not apparently bothered to read. Aside from some speculative remarks in The Descent of Man, Darwin didn’t much bother to apply his ideas to contemporary civilization in any systematic way. Racists, socialists, patriarchs, single taxers, vegetarians, feminists, robber barons and philanthropists each borrowed selectively from Darwin and drew their own lessons, all of which claimed the authority of science. Same for communists and Fascists, whose visions of human destiny were in any event always more Lamarckian than Darwinian, no matter what their advocates claimed in public. (Nor does this fact mean that Lamarck was responsible for the horrors of the death camp and the gulag; it just means that fascists, on top of their other flaws, were deeply stupid as well.)

As a product of 19th century European culture, there are certainly some teleological, “progressive” elements to Darwin’s work, but I’ve always been struck by the degree to which Darwin’s writings describe a natural world that’s disorderly and unpredictable and not the servant of human “will.” If Darwin’s ideas validate any particular social arrangement, then, I think the old leftist complaint about Darwin still applies — at times, The Origin of Species reads like a science fiction novel about the virtues of classical liberalism. But this certainly doesn’t “prove” that classical liberalism (or contemporary conservatism) is the appropriate way for creative, dynamic, pluralistic human societies to order their business. Any idiot can see that.

As for Darwin’s later work on vegetable molds and climbing plants, though, I think there are many relevant lessons there for anyone seeking to understand the rise of the New Right. In the very least, those books help explain why William F. Buckley continues to find an audience.

45 Days?

[ 0 ] May 4, 2007 |

I can’t believe they’re sending Paris Hilton to jail for 45 days. Staggered, really. What’s most surprising is that the judge’s order specifically excludes the special segregation jails detailed in an NYT article last week:

Anyone convicted of a crime knows a debt to society often must be paid in jail. But a slice of Californians willing to supplement that debt with cash (no personal checks, please) are finding that the time can be almost bearable.

For offenders whose crimes are usually relatively minor (carjackers should not bother) and whose bank accounts remain lofty, a dozen or so city jails across the state offer pay-to-stay upgrades. Theirs are a clean, quiet, if not exactly recherché alternative to the standard county jails, where the walls are bars, the fellow inmates are hardened and privileges are few.

Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the corrections world. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish.

“I am aware that this is considered to be a five-star Hilton,” said Nicole Brockett, 22, who was recently booked into one of the jails, here in Orange County about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and paid $82 a day to complete a 21-day sentence for a drunken driving conviction.

Apparently, this opportunity is most often taken advantage of by late 30s and early 40s white men who are sent to jail on drunk driving offenses. Although such a program offends some non-specific sensibility of mine, I must say that upon reading the article I immediately began to think about how much segregated time I’d be willing to pony up for at $100/day; a week maybe, but six months would leave me virtually bankrupt. One commentator at the most recent Lexington Drinking Liberally observed that such a program might dramatically cut down on the potential targets for a “kick someone’s ass on the first day” strategy for prison social success. Of course, I’m told that they use guys like me as currency on the inside…

Friday Cat Blogging

[ 0 ] May 4, 2007 |

Inspired by recent works of genius, Mungojerry and Rumpleteaser prepare to film their own parody of an Althouse vlog. (Not pictured: wine glasses, television, dignity, etc.)

(Image link)

Legitmate Thee-yater Reporting

[ 0 ] May 4, 2007 |
  • I saw the much-raved-about, almost certainly Tony-winning Spring Awakening last night. The first half was objectively pretty awful–as you would expect based on the composer rather than the reviews, the Duncan Sheik music was third-rate generic mush, the high-density-of-cliches book little better–but for some reason (the will and energy of the cast, just being at the theater in good seats) I wanted to like it. My friend was less optimistic, and her instincts were much more sound. The second half was remarkably dire, featuring an embarrassingly flaccid and pretentious closing ballad and a forced attempt to rock out with carefully enunciated “fucked”s. Any goodwill I had vanished with the old suicide-as-an-inorganic-plot-device scam; like the undertones of sexual violence, it carried no emotional weight at all. It was appropriate that the same two actors played all of the repressive adult figures, since they were all indistinguishable anyway (although New York theatergoers unsure about where they stand on the great healthy sexuality vs. philistine late 19th century German repression question will I’m sure learn a Valuable Lesson.) Seriously, it was like Dead Poet’s Society: The Musical! except (if such a thing is possible) even less soulful and more crudely overdetermined. The puzzle for me is what on earth the slobbering critics saw in this crap. Are they just incompetent? Is there only experience with contemporary music in dentist’s offices and the occasional Starbucks? I don’t get it.
  • Seeing the bizarre gap between review and accomplishment also makes me upset about the lukewarm, imperceptive review the Times gave to Julian Shepard’s Los Angeles, which featured as part of the Flea‘s fine company of actors some obscure blogger. I would have written about it earlier, but I thought I had seen it on the last night; fortunately, is was extended another month, so it seems as if audiences found it anyway. Admittedly, the coke-fueled-decline-in-LA premise is scarcely more original, but it did something with it. Adam Rapp’s direction was imaginiative–Amelia Zirin-Brown’s torch song commentary was a particularly nice touch, and the deconstruction-of-the-Nice-Guy (TM) ending was a nice touch, particularly since endings in art about addiction is always difficult. Katherine Waterston–daughter of Sam–was in every scene, and she will be very interesting to watch. The play was structured as a series of individual scenes with someone who feels protective of the insecure lead character but can’t help exploiting her vulnerabilities anyway–which placed demands on the actor to implicitly provide the information about the character we learned or will learn but wasn’t evident in that particular interaction. She did this very well; Roy told me that her performances gave something more powerful to react to as the show ran on, and I believe it; it was a thoughtful, detailed performance. Seeing this as a tiny TriBeCa theater is certainly a better part of the NYC theater experience than the white elephant musical.

[ 0 ] May 4, 2007 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

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