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The Specter of Eugenics or a Caring Mom?

[ 0 ] October 9, 2007 |

BBC News is reporting that the mother of a 15-year-old girl who has severe cerebral palsy is asking doctors to perform a hysterectomy on the girl. The mother’s reason? To prevent her disabled daughter from feeling the discomforts and “indignities” of menstruation, and to keep and improve the quality of her daughter’s life. From the BBC:

According to the Sunday Times, Phil Robarts, a consultant gynaecologist at Mrs Thorpe’s local hospital, supports her decision.

Mrs Thorpe said: “She’s not going to get married and she’s not going to have children…Katie is not going to become a normal adult.

“I absolutely understand that it’s not for everyone, and I’m not saying it should be either.

“I’m not advocating this should be a blanket policy for all disabled children, absolute horror at that.”

But she said she was “utterly” convinced it was the right decision for her daughter.

“It’s not about us, it’s about Katie,” she said.

Here’s the conflict: the mother — quite importantly — distinguishes her daughter from other people who might make different decisions. But I can’t help but be made nervous by the idea. It strikes me as only very slightly removed from Buck v. Bell, the 1927 case in which the Supreme Court upheld a Virginia statute allowing the sterilization of mentally disabled women. In that case, too, the (adopted) family of a mentally disabled woman committed her to a home for the mentally disabled after she gave birth to a child out of wedlock. (It should be noted that there is a racist backdrop to the case — by some accounts, Ms. Buck, who was white, gave birth to a child fathered by a black man.) Buck v. Bell is no longer good law, but Justice Holmes’s infamous statement in the Court’s decision that “three generations of imbeciles is enough” continues to haunt us.

So what are we to make of the British woman, who by all accounts just wants to do right by her child? And what about the child who, though she may not live what her mother calls a “normal adulthood” may at some point desire to be a parent, or even just want to know what it feels like to have a period? Don’t the girl’s human rights dictate that doctors shouldn’t perform the surgery? What kind of precedent would it set to endorse the mother’s request? Is a forced hysterectomy for a girl who is, other than her palsy, healthy, at age 15 really in the girl’s best interest?

(via Lynn C.)

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Back to Business

[ 0 ] October 9, 2007 |

Wondering about that other Yankee? The one last seen wondering where his grill done got to?

Yup. He’s still functionally illiterate.

For TIDOS’ sake, I’ll clarify:

When a newspaper refers to someone as “mentally retarded,” they’re using a term that remains a valid classification. It survived into the DSM-IV and is still used quite extensively in the legal system, even though it is no longer universally employed by mental health professionals. No matter what mild pejorative tones the term might carry, it’s not the equivalent of referring to someone as a “retard.”

OK then.

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[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

Yanks lose, Evil is vanquished, and the scene at LGM Central is predictably mirthful.

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Eye of the Tiger!

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

I’m in the midst of a five film long Rocky marathon on Spike. My thoughts…

  • The first film is an immortal classic, as long as one can accept melodrama. If you try to approach Rocky with any sense of irony, you’ve already given away the game; there’s nothing to like. But if you’re open to it, there really are some outstanding scenes. My favorite is when Balboa meets Apollo Creed’s promoter, with the expectation that he’ll be asked to be a sparring partner. Stallone demonstrates with his response to the invitation to fight Creed that he can really act; it’s unfortunate that he’s so rarely displayed that acumen since the first film.
  • I have little use for the second movie, as it seems not much more than a recapitulation of the first. There are some interesting things going on, I suppose, and in some sense the second film may be better than the third and fourth, but it simply fails to capture my interest.
  • The third film is perhaps the single best “white guy fears for his manhood when threatened by aggressive black guy” document on record.
  • SPOILER!!! Ivan Drago killed Apollo. Therefore, he deserves to die. There’s so much interesting going on in the fourth film that it deserves an entire post. Ivan Drago is a magnificent creation, and I find it endlessly fascinating that the Klitschko brothers essentially became Drago in the late 1990s and 2000s. By this point Rocky is nothing more than caricature, but since he wasn’t much more than that in the first film it’s not as if anything has been lost. I love the Gorbachev caricature at the end, and I also love the vision of industrial Soviet athletics. Frequent commenter MJD once said to me that the Olympics have lost interest since the end of the Cold War because they no longer represent the confrontation of Eastern methods against Western, and I think that the Western interpretation of that conflict is nowhere on better display than in this film.
  • … I have to add that the James Brown sequence in the fourth movie is such a magnificent distillation of the right-wing conception of foreign policy. All of America’s cultural achievement are significant, except when we have to fight the Russians. Drago simply ignores the pageant and proceeds to kill the unprepared Creed, just as the Russians will mess us up if we devote too much attention to trivial pursuits such as art and music instead of preparing ourselves for the inevitable confrontation…
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Wounded Byrd

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

The question of whether Byrd on full rest or Sabathia on short rest start tonight really is the kind of question that’s empirically unknowable. The difference between Byrd and Sabathia is less than the plausible effects of Sabathia on short rest, especially when you consider that it will limit his innings. This is a case where deference is owed to the manager, who knows the individual characteristics of his players. Plus, Byrd is a league average pitcher who throws strikes, crucial to beating the Yankees.

Still, I have to say that unless Sabathia is completely unable to pitch it seems crazy to me that Wedge is starting Byrd. This is partly the fatalism of the Yankee hater, I’ll grant, but there’s also good reason to believe that Byrd will be entirely non-competitive against the best offense in baseball. He doesn’t get many Ks, and going up against 7 lefty hitters in a lefty-favoring park his surrendered a .322 average to lefties, which is an improvement over 2006 when lefties hit .369 off him. I can’t believe that even on 3 days rest Sabathia doesn’t give you a better chance than that, and if it doesn’t work you still have Carmona on full rest at home in Game 5. Wedge is all but surrendering Game 4 in advance, something he may well come to severely regret.

Anyway, I can’t say I was looking forward to the Gus Van Sant skateboarding picture a friend bought me a ticket for at the New York Film Festival tonight, but now it seems likes a godsend…

…obviously a good start, long way to go. One more point before I go: one reason for both optimism and to wonder about the choice is that the Indians are in a decent position to score some runs here. Sinkerballer or no, you have to wonder about Wang on short rest, and with Torre’s bizarre decision to use Joba for two innings with a 5 run lead the Yankees are in a world of hurt if he gets knocked out of the box early. Hopefully Byrd can gut his way through a few innings, but I hope he doesn’t squander a lead a la Westbrook. (Good point about Laffey in the comments.) Anyway, I hope to be pleasantly surprised when I get back…

…so it turned out after I got to Columbus Circle that, to my ill-concealed annoyance, the Van Sant movie is tomorrow. It actually looked like we were going to see Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge instead — the usher didn’t notice either — but then someone showed up for their seats after the picture started. It figures that the Yankees would start hitting as soon as I got home…anyway, as I was saying starting wily veteran Paul Byrd was a brilliant choice and I predicted that he would shut down the Yankees for five innings…

…My question (and fear): if the Indians have, say, a 2-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, does Borowski come in?

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Will Dobson Run?

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

Matt disagrees with me that Dobson is probably bluffing about a third-party run if Giuliani is the nominee. I don’t mean to discount the possibility entirely, but I do think it takes a pretty cynical view of Dobson’s motives (“cynical”, of course, doesn’t mean “wrong.”) If we assume that Dobson wants to maximize his personal power, he’s almost obligated to mount a third-party campaign if Giuliani wins. If we assume, however, that he cares most about achieving anti-legal-abortion (for poor women) policy objectives, he’s not going to mount a campaign. If the next President lasts eight years, he or she will almost certainly be appointing the replacements for Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter, as well as dozens of federal judges who have been given almost unlimited discretion by the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of new abortion regulations that start short of a ban (but can cumulatively have the same effect.) Whether or not he’s personally pro-choice, the kinds of judges Giuliani will appoint are likely to be hostile to Roe, and at the very least will be more likely to vote or overturn it than those appointed by Clinton or Obama. With four reactionaries, three of them still young, entrenched on the Court and two older liberals (at least on reproductive freedom, along with another one who by most accounts doesn’t especially like the job and is likely to retire early, this is a historic opportunity for supporters of forced pregnancy, and moreover an opportunity that may not come back for decades. (And this also makes any loss of political power from a Giuliani presidency short-term; if Roe is overturned, the GOP is going to need every anti-choice vote it can get.) I don’t know, but my guess is that Dobson really does care about this. I don’t think he wants to guarantee the entrenchment of Roe v. Wade for several decades.

There is one other scenario under which Dobson would run: he’s convinced that Giuliani can’t beat Clinton. (I don’t think this is remotely true, but it only matters what he thinks.) If he believes that a Democratic victory is inevitable, then it makes sense for him to make it look as if he was responsible. However, this strategy carries a rather obvious risk; if he ends up throwing an otherwise winnable election to Clinton, it’s frankly hard to see this increasing his influence among Republicans who will be furious with him. The analogy isn’t exact because Nader represents a smaller constituency, but four years after Nader threw the election to Bush he had to rely largely on Republicans to fund his feeble 2004 spoiler campaign, and he was a non-factor in the Democratic race. Again, I’m pretty strongly convinced that Dobson understands this, and will have more influence keeping Giuliani honest within the party than taking his ball and going home.

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Columbus Day

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

Although Columbus Day has its roots in 19th century secular fantasy — specifically, an odd blend of Anglo-American nationalism and Italian-American ethnic pride — since the Nixon administration the second Monday in October has been set aside to acknowledge the accomplishments of one of mid-millennial Europe’s greatest religious fanatics.

In his correspondence with Ferdinand and Isabella, “Columbus” (as his name was later anglicized) signed his name “christo ferens,” which literally means “Christ-bearer.” Based on his own readings of scripture, Columbus believed that the reconquista — Spain’s forced conversion and expulsion of Iberian Muslims and Jews in 1492 — marked the completion of Biblical prophecy. Moreover, Columbus believed in the wake of this glorious ethnic cleansing, Spain’s patronage of his voyages offered proof that he was to serve as a great evangelizing instrument on behalf of the Catholic faith. Personal aggrandizement aside, however, the “Christ-bearer” imagined that his voyages would serve much wider geopolitical ends. To the degree that Columbus himself would earn a tithe from the conquest of the Indies, he also encouraged the Spanish monarchy to devote the accumulated riches of the New World toward the recapture of Jerusalem.

For very good reasons, almost no one gives a shit about Columbus Day any more. On the other hand, if we were to think of Columbus as the continent’s original neoconservative gangster, the second Monday in October might become interesting again — particularly if we recall that after his third voyage, he was arrested and brought home in leg irons.

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Two Equally Crazy People

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

Here’s my question: Why is Bill Kristol accorded any more respect in the media than Lyndon Larouche?

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I Defy You To Show Me A Christian White Male in a Position of Power Anywhere In the United States

[ 5 ] October 8, 2007 |

Shorter Dr. Helen: Men are “screwed” by laws preventing domestic violence because they don’t have the political power to influence the laws. And a random anecdote about David Letterman provides convincing evidence that many restraining orders are granted just to give women leverage in custody disputes!

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So Close, and yet, So Far

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

Via Yglesias, I watched this ad, which apparently aired during the Redskins game yesterday (I wouldn’t know).

There’s much that’s good about this ad; encouraging parents to talk to their kids about sex seems commonsense to me. But given that it was paid for and produced by the federal government (using your tax dollars, natch), I knew there had to be something awry. And oh how there was.

Here’s the ad transcript (available for download on the website):

It’s me.
We gotta talk.
We have to talk about sex.
It’s okay.
I can handle it.
Can you?
Talk to me about sex.
Tell me how you feel.
Tell me you want me to wait.
I may roll my eyes
Act all bored
But I’m listening.
I’ll hear you.
So talk to me about sex.
‘Cause my friends do.
It’s all over the Internet.
Now it’s your turn.
Tell me, “Son, you have the world at your feet.”
Or, “Honey, the sky’s the limit.”
Tell me what you want for me.
An education.
A family.
A career.
Tell me to wait to have sex.
I know you’re nervous.
Weirded out.
Me too. Me too. Me too.
But we gotta do this.

Announcer: Tell your kids you want them to wait ’til they’re married to have sex. And
talk with them early and often so they’ll have a better chance at success. Visit this website
for help making the conversation easier.

Kids (visual is graphic image and URL):
Come on Dad.
Speak up Mom.
You can do it.

Do you see where it went horribly wrong? I’ll give you a hint: it’s somewhere around the time when the ad makes the connection between being able to be happy and have a career and a relationship and be successful, and waiting to have sex until marriage. Which is a fine message in a vacuum, but not given this context. And what about encouraging parents to talk to their kids about safe sex and abstinence (especially given that it’s been proven about 572576 times that abstinence only programs don’t actually produce greater levels of abstinence)? Another opportunity wasted would’ve been a better tagline for the PSA.

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The Hackitude Spreads…

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

It’s hard to figure out how to react to this Michael O’Hanlon column on health care. The first thought that struck me was “What the hell is Michael O’Hanlon doing talking about health care?”, but on further consideration that’s not quite right. My professional training is in international relations, but that hardly stops me from blathering nonsensically about whatever strikes my fancy, so far be it from me to call O’Hanlon out for choosing to write nonsensical blather on whatever he wants to write about. But O’Hanlon’s foray still struck me wrong, and I think there’s a reason why. While I only occasionally trot out my affiliation with the Patterson School or my Ph.D. in political science when writing about an international relations issue, those credentials are nevertheless there for anyone who cares to investigate. Moreover, even in a forum like the blogosphere those credentials lend a certain authority to what I write about IR, and that authority probably seeps a bit both into topics that directly relate to political scienceish questions (most political scientists have a handle on the functioning of electoral institutions, for example), and into topics that don’t (Farley’s Ph.D. demonstrates that he’s no moron, so maybe Cubs fans are evil).

But here’s what I wouldn’t do; whatever seepage might occur, I wouldn’t invoke the authority of Patterson or of the University of Washington in defense of writing outside of my area of professional expertise. O’Hanlon comes very close to doing this, noting that the roundtable was a Brookings event, and that he’s a Brookings general analyst (although I’m uncertain of that; does O’Hanlon actually do any non-foreign policy analysis?). A bit more twitchy, I think, is that he tries to draw the discussion into an area on which he might legitimately be called a professional:

Critics of President Bush often point out that he has asked very little in the way of sacrifice from most Americans during this time of war. Our troops abroad, our homeland security officials at home and the families of these brave individuals bear a huge burden while the rest of us are asked to go shopping and given tax cuts. But whatever one’s view of Mr. Bush’s politics, it is also true that he was in part being responsive to a political environment in which shared sacrifice has gone out of style.

And then he starts to talk about health care. It doesn’t really make any sense, except as an effort to say “Hey, I’m a foreign policy expert, and this is me talking about health care policy, which relates to foreign policy in… uh, some fashion.” That said, I don’t think that O’Hanlon himself crosses any really obvious line in misrepresenting his expertise. I would never hire O’Hanlon to write an op-ed on health care policy, but that’s more of a problem with the editor than the author.

The much bigger problem, though, is that O’Hanlon writes about health care very, very badly. And I don’t just mean that he gets the policy wrong; check this out:

But even more, in keeping perhaps with the down-to-earth pragmatism and Granite State sensibilities of the people of New Hampshire, I was struck by how many of the panelists as well as audience members talked about what normal American citizens will have to do themselves. Politicians were not asked to do it all for us. Evocative of John Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” line, the participants in the event described a number of sacrifices and efforts that regular citizens needed to make.

Jesus, is he planning on running for President? Normally the good folks of New Hampshire only receive such attentions from candidates on the stump. I have to wonder; do people in Washington D.C. and northern Virginia lack “down-to-earth pragmatism and Granite State sensibilities” (whatever the latter may be), and are they in some sense abnormal Americans?

In the rest of the column O’Hanlon demonstrates that he has paid very little attention to the health care debate in the United States over the past five years. As I’m no expert on the subject myself, I’ll leave that part to someone else. Foreign policy specialists should, as a general principle, try not to write overmuch about things they know nothing about.

Via Yglesias.

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Bush: War On Drugs Over The War On Terror

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

One major reason I always strongly opposed the Iraq war is that my graduate training entailed some study of the difficulties of state-building. Building stable states, let alone liberal democracies, is very difficult, and usually involves alliances with other powerful actors to help raise revenues and maintain coercive authority. One reason Iraq was so disastrous is that the people responsible for designing the plan for the invasions failed to grasp this simple point:

An even more fundamental argument against fighting terrorism by promoting democracy, however, is that no one in the US government has any idea how to promote democracy. Fukuyama accuses the neo-cons of chatting offhandedly about democratisation while failing to study or even leaf through the ‘huge academic and practitioner-based literature on democratic transitions’. Their lack of serious attention to the subject had an astonishing justification: ‘There was a tendency among promoters of the war to believe that democracy was a default condition to which societies would revert once liberated from dictators.’ Democracy obviously has many social, economic, cultural and psychological preconditions, but those who thought America had a mission to democratise Iraq gave no thought to them, much less to helping create them. For their delicate task of social engineering, the only instrument they thought to bring along was a wrecking ball.

One might have thought that this ‘remove the lid and out leaps democracy’ approach was too preposterous ever to have been taken seriously. But it is the position that Fukuyama, with some evidence, attributes to neo-cons in and around the administration. They assumed, he writes, that the only necessary precondition for the emergence and consolidation of democracy is the ‘amorphous longing for freedom’ which President Bush, that penetrating student of human nature, detects in ‘every mind and every soul’. Their sociology of democracy boils down to the universal and eternal human desire not to be oppressed. If this were democracy’s only precondition, then Iraq would have no trouble making a speedy transition from clan-based savagery and untrammelled despotism to civilised self-restraint and collective self-rule: sceptics who harped on the difficulty of creating a government that would be both coherent and representative in a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian and tribally fragmented country, simply failed to appreciate the love of freedom in every human heart.

Cavalierly designed by mid-level bureaucrats who were both historically and theoretically illiterate, the administration’s half-baked plans backfired badly. This should have come as no surprise. And prospects for reform in the Middle East have not been improved by the perception that democratisation in the region, at least when promoted by the West, spells violent destabilisation, criminalisation and a collapse of minimally acceptable standards of living.

And the inability to understand the basic fundamentals of state-building continues to lead to incredible blunders. As Yglesias and Kleiman note, both undercutting the Karzai government in Afghanistan and denying it the ability to obtain revenue from poppy-growing while effectively ensuring that said revenues will instead go to the Taliban is utterly insane. It would be insane even if there was any reason to believe that it would reduce American heroin use, which of course it won’t. To prioritize failed anti-drug war policies over protecting American security is beyond indefensible, and (like Iraq itself) an instruction in what happens when you talk a lot about fighting Islamic terrorism but are incapable of thinking about anything to actually accomplish your goals that don’t involve torture and conventional military force.

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