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[ 0 ] May 3, 2007 |

Mark Dery:

OK, so maybe I’m overstepping the bounds of my Learning Annex degree in pop psychology. But the hidden costs of our overcompensatory hypermachismo are far worse than a few politicians slimed by pundits. The horror in Iraq has been protracted past the point of lunacy by George W.’s bring-it-on braggadocio, He-Ra unilateralism and damn-the-facts refusal to acknowledge mistakes — all hallmarks of a pathological masculinity that confuses diplomacy with weakness and arrogant rigidity with strength. It is founded not on a self-assured sense of what it is but on a neurotic loathing of what it secretly fears it may be: wussy. And it will go to the grave insisting on battering-ram stiffness (stay the course! don’t pull out!) as the truest mark of manhood.

It’s the enchantment with political masculinity that lends credence to arguments about Will and Green Lantern Theory; the idea that reality doesn’t make a difference as long as we’re tough enough and want something badly enough. There’s a weird communal aspect to it, too. The unwashed hordes of right blogistan seem terrified that admitting the truth about Iraq will directly undermine their own tightly held masculinity.

Since When is Chess Cool?

[ 0 ] May 3, 2007 |

Has youth chess become a really big deal? The need for a classic Slate contrarian-style rebuttal would seem to suggest so. Back in my day, high school chess had most certainly not acquired any kind of prestige or institutional support. Our club had about seven members (out of a population of 2000 or so), and while elements of the dance team (believe it or not) did in fact show up for one match, getting any attention even for what was a remarkably successful team (two consecutive league championships) was like pulling teeth.

I suppose it is odd to think that mastery of chess would have a meaningful effect on academic performance. The intellectual tasks are quite different, and the entire relationship may be built on a sterotype and some fairly mushy statistics. Frankly, I would imagine that participating in a complex role-playing game would do more to develop various academic skills than analyzing a chess position. As the article suggests, the chess team did not overlap significantly with Oregon City High School’s academic all-stars, but rather contained mostly marginal academic figures. On the other hand, it certainly wouldn’t be correct to say that chess was a cause of poor academic performance; the one simply seemed to have little to do with the other.

On the other hand, the Oregon City school district had no youth chess infrastructure. Even in my day, certain Portland high schools had coaches who had taken the time to establish chess programs at feeder elementary and junior high schools. This resulted in those teams becoming extremely competitive, and it might also, I suppose, have left some residual analytical skills in the population as a whole. I’m not convinced, though; I need some plausible causal logic…

No, Not Syria!

[ 0 ] May 3, 2007 |

I can’t believe that Condi Rice is going to betray America by meeting with Syria’s foreign minister. Doesn’t she understand that this legitmizes the Assad regime? Isn’t there some kind of law that she can be charged under?

The Problem With the Anti-Choice Ultrasound Policy

[ 0 ] May 3, 2007 |

To follow-up on my recent post about William Saletan running interference for anti-choice ultrasound policies, NTEW explains in further detail why the moral inferences Saletan draws from ultrasounds don’t actually follow, a persistent problem with his arguments on the subject. One is reminded of another recent definitive episode in wingnuttery, in which the fact that Terri Schiavo’s involuntary movements and facial expressions were erroneously treated as evidence of consciousness:

Of course, nothing is morally significant about squirming — ours or the fetus’. What is significant is whether the fetus has a mind like ours. If it has no mind, or a mind of such a primitive level that it can’t even feel pain, there’s no reason to have attitudes of moral concern for it. The neural hardware for pain perception only starts to show up around week 23, and isn’t in place until week 30 of the pregnancy. So having moral concern for a first-trimester fetus on the basis of the squirming you see in an ultrasound is a mistake.


For my part, I think there’s room in the world for paternalism, but if you’re going to be a paternalist you need to be better-informed and more rational than the people you’re trying to impose your paternalistic requirements on. By letting his own squirming get the better of him and push him to support a useless and expensive procedure, Saletan fails this test. Instead of requiring ultrasounds before abortions, perhaps we should require him to reread the medical research on fetal pain before he does any more punditry.

I would also add that if paternalism is to be acceptable, it cannot treat men and women differently as a class, so it should also be common for male-exclusive surgeries (like vasectomies, say) to be subject to a wide array of regulations premised on the idea that most people who obtain them are irrational and should be dissuaded from obtaining the surgeries in question. Needless to say, this is unlikely to happen.

Of course, Saletan claims that he favors only voluntary, state-funded ultrasounds, which are in theory much less objectionable (whether or not Neil or I think that ultrasounds provide useful information, women can certainly look at them if they choose to do so.) But there remain two problems. First of all, he never bothers to ask why these proposed regulations generally don’t come with funding attached, and are also part of a wide array of regulations which make abortions more expensive and time-consuming to obtain and/or provide. (He always seems to accept the good faith of anti-choicers, no matter what the evidence, in ways he would never dream of doing for pro-choicers.) And even if his magical pony plan rather than the regulations that might actually pass were enacted, we still need to know how this fits into the scarce resources of our medical system. What medical services does Saletan propose to cut, or taxes Saletan propose to increase, in order to pay for this very expensive and largely useless information? These are questions to which I’m not anticipating answers.

Buy maybe I’m being too harsh. He has, after all, shown signs of recognizing that when American “pro-lifers” are presented with a conflict between preventing unwanted pregnancies (and hence fetal life) and regulating female sexuality they will almost always choose the latter, even when they’re presented with the innovative pro-contraception policies Saletan originated only 60 years after the founding of Planned Parenthood. Maybe in a year or two he’ll briefly realize he’s being played for a sucker yet again.

Conservative Sob Stories

[ 0 ] May 3, 2007 |

Lots of folks are writing about this Sun “expose,” which details the sad plight of Mark Moyar, a self-professed conservative military and diplomatic historian who — unlike anyone else orbiting the planet with a Ph.D. — found the academic job market to be a hard row to hoe.

If you’re the cries-at-Old-Yeller type, now would be a good time to grab a tissue:

Mark Moyar doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of a disappointed job seeker. He is an Eagle Scout who earned a summa cum laude degree from Harvard, graduating first in the history department before earning a doctorate at the University of Cambridge in England. Before he had even begun graduate school, he had published his first book and landed a contract for his second book. Distinguished professors at Harvard and Cambridge wrote stellar letters of recommendation for him.

Yet over five years, this conservative military and diplomatic historian applied for more than 150 tenure-track academic jobs, and most declined him a preliminary interview. During a search at University of Texas at El Paso in 2005, Mr. Moyar did not receive an interview for a job in American diplomatic history, but one scholar who did wrote her dissertation on “The American Film Industry and the Spanish-Speaking Market During the Transition to Sound, 1929-1936.” At Rochester Institute of Technology in 2004, Mr. Moyar lost out to a candidate who had given a presentation on “promiscuous bathing” and “attire, hygiene and discourses of civilization in Early American-Japanese Relations.”

As always, I’m not as stunned as I’m apparently supposed to be to learn that yet another Eagle Scout, Harvard graduate and published author has failed to land a job in the historical profession, where a glut of qualified Ph.D.’s — conservative or otherwise — are either working part-time, laboring away in non-tenure track positions, or abandoning the profession entirely for law school. I’m also quite literally yawning as I reflect on the fact that he’s applied to 150 positions in five years. Only 30 jobs per year? Who does this fellow think he is?

Seriously now. The job market for historians is a humiliating, soul-spindling meat grinder, a fact to which I would happily attest more specifically off the record and over multiple strong drinks with anyone who feels like looking at the clock every five minutes and wondering when this guy is going to shut the fuck up. That said, I obviously can’t speak to the specific reasons why Moyar failed to receive interviews or job offers from Iowa, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Old Dominion, or any of the other schools who rejected him (although I assume from the tone of the article that I’m supposed to be annoyed that someone who studies culture received an offer instead of the almighty Mark Moyar.) Now I’m hardly an expert on the vicissitudes of the job market, and I’m pretty much a non-entity in my field, so the appropriate caveats apply here. But I’ve served on five search committees in five years, and I’ve seen highly intelligent, qualified applicants who were not moved along for all kinds of reasons. The fact that he received letters from “top scholars” tells us nothing — most credible applicants to these schools would also enjoy such endorsements. The fact that he’s published two books is also not necessarily meaningful. I know a well-regarded lit scholar — a radical environmentalist, no less — who teaches in a highly undemocratic nation because his two books (published by two very good university presses) weren’t enough to land him a decent job in the US. Unlike Moyar, though, this fellow isn’t suing one of the schools who rejected him.

Perhaps Moyar didn’t receive a preliminary interview because his areas of expertise didn’t mesh with departmental needs (I’ve seen that plenty of times); perhaps he received a preliminary interview and was completely unprepared (I’ve seen that at least once a year); perhaps his job talk was an incoherent disaster (seen it three times); perhaps he came to campus and wouldn’t shut up about how amazing and interesting his research was (seen it once); or perhaps he just rubbed everyone the wrong way and — all else being equal — just didn’t seem like a good colleague.

And sure, maybe at the end of the day, it didn’t help that Moyar’s scholarship argues that Ngo Dinh Diem was a capable South Vietnamese leader who could have prevailed in an anti-communist counterinsurgency if only American journalists like Neil Sheehan, Stanley Karnow and David Halberstam — communist dupes to a man — hadn’t persuaded Americans that Diem was a font of corruption and brutality. Maybe scholars are a bit suspicious of someone willing to argue that the Kennedy administration was justified in asking the New York Times to fire Halberstam in 1963 because his reporting paid insufficient tribute to US “national interests.”

Whatever the reason Moyar is now happily employed at the US Marine Corps University, it isn’t because he’s an academic pariah, nor is it true that the Sun‘s story is “a blockbuster that breaks a scandal hiding in plain sight.” If anyone reads the article, it’s clear that Moyar’s job search was frustrated by an idiosyncratic combination of factors — none of which add up to the liberal conspiracy for which Moyar himself will now become a willing poster child.

Bertha Wilson (1923-2007)

[ 0 ] May 2, 2007 |

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The feminist Canadian jurist Bertha Wilson passed away last week. Wilson was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada (by Pierre Trudeau in 1982, the same year the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was ratified.) See also Pithlord and zuzu. I discussed her concurrence in the 1988 case R. v. Morgentaler, which struck down Canada’s federal statute criminalizing abortion here. A quote from the case would seem a fitting epitaph:

Given then that the right to liberty guaranteed by s. 7 of the Charter gives a woman the right to decide for herself whether or not to terminate her pregnancy, does s. 251 of the Criminal Code violate this right? Clearly it does. The purpose of the section is to take the decision away from the woman and give it to a committee. Furthermore, as the Chief Justice correctly points out, at p. 56, the committee bases its decision on “criteria entirely unrelated to [the pregnant woman's] own priorities and aspirations”. The fact that the decision whether a woman will be allowed to terminate her pregnancy is in the hands of a committee is just as great a violation of the woman’s right to personal autonomy in decisions of an intimate and private nature as it would be if a committee were established to decide whether a woman should be allowed to continue her pregnancy. Both these arrangements violate the woman’s right to liberty by deciding for her something that she has the right to decide for herself.


I agree with my colleague and I think that his comments are very germane to the instant case because, as the Chief Justice and Beetz J. point out, the present legislative scheme for the obtaining of an abortion clearly subjects pregnant women to considerable emotional stress as well as to unnecessary physical risk. I believe, however, that the flaw in the present legislative scheme goes much deeper than that. In essence, what it does is assert that the woman’s capacity to reproduce is not to be subject to her own control. It is to be subject to the control of the state. She may not choose whether to exercise her existing capacity or not to exercise it. This is not, in my view, just a matter of interfering with her right to liberty in the sense (already discussed) of her right to personal autonomy in decision-making, it is a direct interference with her physical “person” as well. She is truly being treated as a means — a means to an end which she does not desire but over which she has no control. She is the passive recipient of a decision made by others as to whether her body is to be used to nurture a new life. Can there be anything that comports less with human dignity and self-respect? How can a woman in this position have any sense of security with respect to her person? I believe that s. 251 of the Criminal Code deprives the pregnant woman of her right to security of the person as well as her right to liberty.


It’s no Spaceballs, but really — what is?

[ 0 ] May 2, 2007 |

If you need a break from the unreadable dead-seriousness of Victor Davis Hanson’s No Man a Slave outtakes, try “Bizarro Iraq 2007″ — the funniest right wing parody since Liberalstein!


Terrorists bemoan recent setbacks in ‘War on Freedom’
Call on bin Laden to cut his losses

May 1, 2007
Sources: Rooters News Agency and Non-associated Press

. . . . The war in Iraq “is lost” and Al Qaeda attacks are failing to bring an Islamic state to the country, spokesman of the Salafist Group for Preching and Combat, Harry Sheikh Reidari, said Thursday. “I believe … that this war is lost, and continuing attacks are not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme blows to our network in Iraq recently,” Reidari told journalists. “Iraq has diverted resources from our greater ‘War on Freedom’. It would be best if we withdrew, leaving only a small force to train Iraqi jihadists, and redeployed our other forces to Afghanistan to continue with a Holy War that everyone can support.”

“It is time for a change in direction,” said Abu Jonjalali al-Murthab, one of Al Qaeda’s most outspoken leaders. “Our brothers are suffering, the future of our cause is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued jihad in Iraq is not in the best interests of Al Qaeda, or the Islamic peoples.”

Heh. Huh?

The Wittes Primary

[ 0 ] May 2, 2007 |

We have a wiener! Tossing around accusations of intellectual dishonesty while defending Carhart II is a classic Biden moment.

On the same topic, I have a discussion of the Supreme Court’s latest intellectual atrocity in the context of Melody Rose’s book about abortion access in the United States. Amanda has more about the Rose book here.

Have You Noticed That The Milkman Doesn’t Come Every Morning These Days?

[ 0 ] May 2, 2007 |

Everybody’s making fun of the wistful hope that a military coup might come and wash the trash from the sidewalk expressed by Thomas Sowell. I’m amused because it particularly sticks out in what is otherwise a classic example of columns being a sinecure that can apparently never be taken away no matter how often a pundit has said the same uninteresting things and no matter how bad the prose. It wasn’t so much phoning it in as barely raising a finger to signal your servant to phone it in for you. (Call it the Buchwald/Broder rule.) Reading it was like a right-wing version of Norm Macdonald’s classic parody of Larry King’s alternatively banal and crazy observational columns and show segments. (“If you only see one film the rest of your life it should be Mickey Blue Eyes.” “I have no tolerance, gang, for anyone who commits arson.”) I can’t pick out my favorite one–maybe his claim that there have been only two instances of Republicans expressing outrage since Teddy Roosevelt? Or how about “Our education system, our media, and our intelligentsia have all been unrelentingly undermining the values, the traditions, and the unity of this country for generations and, at the same time, portraying as “understandable” all kinds of deviance, from prostitution to drugs to riots.” Thank God a conservative pundit finally got around to expressing that sentiment! I think my favorite example might be this:

The home run records that made Babe Ruth famous have been broken but one of his records will probably never be broken — pitching the longest shutout in World Series history, 14 innings. Few pitchers go even nine innings these days.

I know! Any have you noticed that games are no longer played exclusively in the afternoon by white guys wearing heavy flannel uniforms? They don’t even leave their gloves on the field between innings anymore!

All of this is just an excuse to link to the classic Onion column “In My Day, Ballplayers Were For Shit.”

…oh, and Ruth didn’t even pitch a 14-inning shutout. Instead, in his next column he should talk about how these modern ballplayers will never approach 749 complete games again.


[ 0 ] May 1, 2007 |

Here’s what I learned from winguts in a mere 15 minutes:

(1) Terrorism is down almost everywhere!
(2) Olmert is a pussy!
(3) Holy crap, it’s May Day!
(4) War is good for babies!
(5) AAAH! Brown menace!
(6) May Day!
(7) Brown people!

I’m breathless.

2000 Election and the Smearing of the Florida Courts

[ 0 ] May 1, 2007 |

Like Kevin Drum, I’m going to skip the meta-issues in Jon Chait’s article and instead highlight this important point about the 2000 election:

The 2000 recount is an apt birthing ground for the netroots. It perfectly fits their view of U.S. politics as an atavistic clash of partisan willpower. And their analysis of that episode, while somewhat crude, has a certain truth. The liberal intelligentsia, and much of the Democratic establishment, tried to hold itself above the fray. During the recount, liberal pundits were concerned above all with maintaining civility and consensus, and they flayed Democrats for any hint of partisanship or anger…Elite liberal opinion-makers insisted that their side play fair. Gore, they declared, must allow for the possibility that his opponent could win a fair recount, must renounce street demonstrations, must be intellectually consistent–permitting, say, military ballots that did not fulfill the letter of the law to be counted. Members of the Gore recount team like William Daley and Warren Christopher, seeking to uphold their reputations as statesmen, nervously complied.

The contrast with the Republican side could not have been more stark. The only complaint conservative pundits had with the George W. Bush operation was that it was too soft. (George Will wrote that there was a “ferocity gap”–but, in a classic case of projection, he insisted that Democrats were more ferocious.) Bush never conceded the possibility that he could lose. Nor did he feel any obligation to maintain intellectual consistency. His campaign demanded the letter of the law be carried out in those instances when it suited his side, and it flouted the letter of the law in those (military ballots, illegally submitted absentee ballots in Seminole County) when it did not. It whipped up a mob to halt a recount in Miami-Dade County that at the time appeared potentially decisive. Conservatives celebrated these developments without a hint of dissent. While Democrats in Washington constantly undermined the Gore campaign by telling reporters that Gore should concede, Washington Republicans maintained ranks. Through their greater resolve and partisan discipline, the Republicans triumphed.

One of the most remarkable things about 2000 election is not only that the Bush campaign advanced ludicrously contradictory interpretations of Florida’s election statutes, but that the Florida Courts were relentlessly smeared as partisan although it advanced a perfectly consistent interpretation irrespective of which party it favored. Indeed, Rehnquist’s concurrence in Bush v. Gore–favored by most of the decision’s defenders–literally rested on the premise that that Florida Supreme Court was not engaged in jurisprudence at all. But those (including, to put his opposition of the “judicial activism” of Roe v. Wade into perspective, Ben Wittes) who agree with Rehnquist’s analogy of the FSC to openly lawless opinions of the courts of the Jim Crow South fail to explain why a court determined to nullify Florida’s election statutes advanced a consistent interpretation of the law that favored Bush in 3 out of 5 cases. Were the Florida courts also “writing new law” when they (correctly, in my view) accepted technically deficient absentee ballots? Defenders of Bush v. Gore somehow never say.

For example, let’s turn to the comedy stylings of Harvey C. Mansfield:

The two parties were very much themselves throughout. The Republicans stand for the rule of law, and the Democrats for the rule of the people. And the Democrats, because they stand for the rule of the people, believe that rule should be paramount, and that technicalities are subordinate to that will. Whereas the Republicans believe in doing things properly or legally. It really was a contest of principle between two parties.

Yes, nothing reflects standing for “the rule of law” than 1)purging people from the voting rolls in violation of the Voting Rights Act, 2)creating bourgeois riots to stop vote recounts, 3)arguing that technically illegal ballots should be counted while simultaneously arguing that the Florida courts were undermining the “rule of law,” and then having your claims upheld by 4)a flagrantly lawless and partisan opinion by a bare majority of the Supreme Court. That’s rich! The fact that the Democrats allowed themselves to get rolled by people like this shows that something was deeply, deeply wrong with the party.


[ 0 ] May 1, 2007 |

Everybody has something to say about the commission report that excoriated Ehud Olmert and his government for badly botching the war against Hezbollah last summer. Olmert and his advisors obviously deserve the criticism, as Israel’s offensive was politically disastrous even if you believe it was justified. The most interesting aspect of the report is the contrast between Israel and the United States, a contrast that Haninah Levine depicts quite starkly:

What I want to emphasize right now, though, is how vastly different this report is from anything that’s been seen in the U.S. Less than a year has passed since the events described, the same people who were running the country then are still in power (only the Chief of Staff got the axe) – and yet already a harsh, detailed, scathingly public review of the government’s actions has been produced.

This report is expected to serve not only as a collective report card for Israel’s military leadership, but as a highly personalized one: personnel decisions in the General Staff have been effectively frozen pending the results of the Commission. The Baker boys, by contrast, famously felt that even their statement that “our political leaders must build a bipartisan approach to bring a responsible conclusion to what is now a lengthy and costly war” was inflammatory enough to warrant holding off publication till after Election Day.

In other words, countries that believe they face genuine security threats don’t piddle around with nonsense about how “criticism hurts the morale of the troops”, and “What’s important is the situation now, not how we got into this mess”. As should be obvious, the decisions that lead to a disaster like Iraq reflect very poorly on the capabilities of leaders in power. No one dumb enough to think this war was a good idea should have been trusted with its execution.

This reminds me of another point that I talked about a while ago, and that I was recently debating with John Noonan of Op-For (we’re thinking of cross-posting elements of the debate). Believing that the Surge is a good idea, and the key to victory in Iraq, is in and of itself a denunciation of the manner in which the war has been executed over the last four years. For almost four years the President and his Secretary of Defense steadfastly refused to deploy more troops to Iraq, or to use the troops there in a particularly vigorous fashion. In other words, even on the narrow grounds that wingnuts evaluate such things, the President has demonstrated himself to be a miserable failure. Given that, why would you trust he, his allies, or his appointees with any job more complicated that pouring a scotch-on-the-rocks ever again?

Kingdaddy makes this point a bit more succinctly:

Why do we keep returning to the events of 2002 and 2003?

  • Because no one has paid. That’s important because…
  • Until someone pays, there’s no reason to think something equally bad won’t happen again.
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