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Episodes In Bullet-Dodging

[ 8 ] December 18, 2007 |

Reading about his disgusting ongoing smears of Obama, I can’t say I’m any less broken up about Wanker Caucus President Bob Kerrey deciding to abjure a potential return to the Senate. I understand that politics is a tough business, but it seems to me that the line should be drawn before racist dog-whistle attacks against potential Presidential candidates in your own party.

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[ 27 ] December 18, 2007 |

From the NYT article on the home edition of the Merck/Meriel manual, which sounds like Gray’s Anatomy meets DSM-IV meets Physician’s Desk Reference for the insane world of domesticated animals:

In its 1,345 pages, readers can find, among other things, the anatomy of a turtle; six signs of hyperparathyroidism in a dog; a list of 27 houseplants poisonous to pets; a description of lockjaw (an infection that leads baby birds to starve to death); instructions for what to do if your pet is shot with an arrow (don’t pull it out); seven causes of liver injuries in horses; the necessary components of a pet travel kit; 161 diseases that can be passed to humans from animals; and yes, a proper diagnosis for a sick gerbil. . . .

The sheer number of creatures found between the book’s covers is likely to distinguish it from other pet health guides, most of which focus on a single species or even a single breed. And the manual, written by 200 veterinarians, is likely to find an eager readership in an animal-crazed nation, where 68.7 million households include at least one pet and $24.5 billion a year is spent on veterinary care, according to a survey released this month by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Sounds fascinating.

I’m wondering, though, if the book can explain why my 6-year-old Newfoundland yelps when I touch her about mid-spine, and why for the past few days she’s been reluctant to lie down. She’s symptomatic in exactly zero other ways, and (with no other sign of pain or discomfort) continues to take her walks, eat her food, play with her new stuffed goose, and run around chasing snowballs whenever she gets the chance. But since I’m a committed neurotic when it comes to my animals, I’m quite likely to blow several hundred dollars tomorrow at the vet’s office, where they will cheerfully take as many x-rays as the situation requires to assure me that my dog hasn’t somehow splintered a vertebrae.

I, on the other hand, have been ignoring a nagging shoulder injury since May 2006, when I forgot that a four-year absence from the game of tennis means your shoulder is four years older than it was the last time you tried to serve. I have no immediate plans to see a doctor about this, since the only time I think about it these days is when I’m throwing snowballs to you-know-who.

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Thoughts on Religion

[ 201 ] December 18, 2007 |

Some thoughts on this comment thread:

  • DJW is absolutely correct to follow up Matt’s condemnation of Dawkins statement on Catholicism. It isn’t just illiberal; it’s virtually totalitarian. Dawkins is, essentially, arguing that raising children as Catholic is worse than sexually abusing them. Since we all agree that sexually abusing children merits the violent retribution of the state, the next logical step is pretty much unavoidable. Dawkins may have been tossing the statement off without really thinking about it (indeed, his “arguably” suggests that he isn’t really willing to stand by it in its strongest form), but it is nonetheless illiberal, particularly if we define liberalism as, in large part, a political recognition of the fact of pluralism.
  • However, when evaluating competing illiberalisms (say, Dawkins vs. Mitt Romney), it obviously merits note that Romney’s illiberalism is far more political powerful and vastly more dangerous than Dawkins’. Thus, it’s entirely reasonable to wonder why people bother to worry about the atheist threat when there remains rather significant Christian and Islamic threats to a liberal order. I’m inclined to think that there’s a “why do you lefties condemn Bush when Ahmadinejad is so much worse” phenomenon going on here; while plenty of liberals have probably given up on the hope of convincing Christians that there is no God, and thus that they should refrain from condemning us to Hell, most of us quite likely know a mildly irritating militant atheist.
  • As for the Dawkins vs. Hitch, as I noted in the comment thread I find Dawkins position if anything less defensible than Hitch’s. Hitch concentrates primarily on the utility of religion, suggesting that religion is an awful thing and has had horrible effects on human culture and society. While I sort of agree with that claim, I also think it’s utterly untestable; religion is so deeply embedded in human culture and society that there’s very little point in trying to pry out and then weigh its positive and negative effects. I most certainly think that religion has had some positive effects; it has inspired great works of art, wonderful architecture, and laudable political action, whether or not these effects are outweighed by the negative. I do think that the strongest claims made by advocates of “religion” aren’t empirically defensible; post-religious Europe seems to be doing just fine, as a substantial decrease in belief in the divine doesn’t seem to have led to anarchy in the streets. But nevertheless, I can only bring myself to say that yes, Hitch is probably right about the effect of religion; I can’t say for sure.
  • I don’t find Dawkins’ arguments on religion, to the extent that I’m familiar with them, at all compelling. Science requires the rejection of unobservable phenomenon as a starting point; if scientists allowed for the possibility that invisible blue elephants controlled the rate of growth of bacteria, then they wouldn’t have much to do. This has nothing to do with the particular religious beliefs of the scientist; it simply requires a commitment to physical rather than spiritual mechanisms for physical phenomena. As conservatives delight in noting, most of the Founders of science were themselves quite religious. This isn’t surprising, since religion has an entirely different relationship with the unobservable, positing that it has some critical (but fundamentally unknowable) relationship with the world that we see. As such, the idea of science disproving religion doesn’t make sense to me; they are two fundamentally different kinds of inquiries. To put it another way, we’re all familiar with the old canard about the possibility of the world being created five minutes ago with all of our memories intact etc. This seem improbable to me, but I don’t have any idea how I would go about measuring just how improbable the argument is. Scientific theories (evolution, Big Bang) can be evaluated, to some extent) on their probability and their fit with the empirical world. Religion can explain the empirical world fully, and strikes me as invulnerable to a probability inquiry. But I’m probably wandering farther into philosophy than I should on this question…
  • As a final note, it seems to me that we’re in danger of granting science a bit too much credit when we put it up against religion in debates like this. Science was made, not found; it is a mode of inquiry that was created by human beings, and it has had and continues to have many of the flaws that those human beings had. I most certainly prefer to have science taught in public high schools than religion, but that is in large part because I think the teaching of religion to be illiberal, and the teaching of science to be a part of the liberal/Enlightenment project. If I actually agreed with Dawkins that a commitment to science required atheism, I would, to be honest, be a little bit more twitchy about having the state unreservedly recommend it.
  • And one more bit on the rational/irrational point; most of the commitments we feel are, in some sense, irrational. I love my wife, and I’m not sure that there’s a version of rationality that can sufficiently explain what that means. I love the Oregon Ducks and hate the Washington Huskies, but I can’t give a rational account for the one vs. the other, or for either instead of some third attachment. As such, if we’re going to start worrying about people have irrational attachments and convictions, religion is only the first of our problems. Moreover, it seems to me that evaluating and condemning such convictions is absolutely the last thing that we should want the state to do.
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Just in Time for the Holidays

[ 18 ] December 18, 2007 |

Holy crap, the Doughboy actually did it.

Though I’m sorely tempted by chapter-length non sequiturs like “Liberal Fascist Economics” and “Liberal Racists: The Eugenic Ghost in the Fascist Machine,” I’ll be especially keen to read the chapter titled “Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left.” Admittedly, Goldberg’s argument likely rests on the twin evils of vegetarianism and socialized highway programs, but still, I’d like to hear him explain how it happens that Hitler’s only known admirers have all been, um, men and women de la droite. I also can’t wait to read his account of the “crime of Munich” — the right wing’s most cherished historical analogy — given that it originated in part from Chamberlain’s (correct) observation that Hitler might be willing to make war against Communism. But now I’m just overthinking.

Is it too late to amend next semester’s reading lists?

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"New Atheism"

[ 0 ] December 17, 2007 |

Yglesias is generating some unwarranted abuse from his commenters here. Yglesias links to this TNR article by Damon Linker. While Linker’s piece suffers from some of the defects of the genre–he’s a bit overly schematic in constructing two distinct atheist traditions, good and bad–it’s a sound and good piece. Dawkins and Hitchens are deeply and troublingly illiberal on the subject of religion (and in Hitchens case, at least, everything else). Some are suggesting Dawkins ought not be linked with a bombthrower like Hitchens, but this won’t fly. From the Linker piece:

Following a lecture in Dublin, he recalls, “I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”

In addition to being demonstrably false, this view is an awful and appalling thing to say, and he clearly deserves strong criticism for it. As does, in my view, anyone who suggests that people who holds a substantially different theological position is not capable of being a good and decent person. A society that contains deep disagreements regarding these sorts of questions will be benefited by deep pluralism and ecumenicalism. Many commenters feel compelled to point out that atheists of all sorts are often not afforded the respect and tolerance that Linker wants atheists to extend to theists. This is factually correct, but as a defense of the likes of Hitchens and Dawkins, it’s nothing but a tu quoque. Moreover, even if returning the disrespect in kind had some sort of strategic value, which I can’t really see, Hitchens and Dawkins attack illiberal and intolerant believers and ecumenical, pluralist believers with the same broad brush.

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Obama’s Rhetoric

[ 34 ] December 17, 2007 |

I agree with Matt that 1)it was stupid of Obama’s campaign to pick a fight with Paul Krugman, but 2)Krugman’s point is very misguided. I don’t think that Obama’s rhetoric about transcending old politics tells us much about how he’ll actually govern. Bush in 2000, after all, didn’t campaign as a 50%+1 conservative who would increase party polarization in Congress, but that’s what he did. Obama’s using this kind of rhetoric because 1)it’s effective, and 2)he’s very good at it. What actually matters, however, is the substance of his policies and record, and on that count he’s clearly superior to Clinton (especially on foreign policy), although on domestic policy there’s a strong case to be made for Edwards. I also second Matt’s point about institutional realities; as nice as it would be if we would be inaugurating a Prime Minister in 2009, no major reform can be passed without the votes of some Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate. Given that she generates more hostility from the GOP (despite being more conservative), it seems very unlikely that Clinton is likely to get more accomplished if she’s elected.

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A Worthy "Pardon"

[ 19 ] December 17, 2007 |

There’s good news out of Saudi Arabia today. King Abdullah has “pardoned” the rape victim who had been sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes for being in a car with a man who was not her relative. As the Times put it in their lede, the 19-year-old woman was sentenced “after pressing charges against the seven men who raped her,” and who also raped the man – an ex-boyfriend – in whose car she sat. According to the Saudi justice ministry, she invited the attack because she violated the sexual segregation laws and because she was indecently dressed.

Not only has the woman suffered emotional and medical problems since the rape, but she has also survived an attempted murder by her brother. The perpetrators of the rape received sentences ranging from 10 months to 5 years and 80 to 1000 lashes.

In pardoning the woman, the King did not indicate that the sentence was unfair or the sexual segregation law wrongheaded. Instead, the pardon was because of the “psychological effects” the punishment would have had on her.

I’m not sure what I can add by way of commentary. Obviously, the fact that women are punished for being raped is appalling. But it shouldn’t be that surprising to us — not only because we’ve heard so many similar stories but also because we harbor similar attitudes (if only attitudes alone) in our own society, where judges call rape victims “stupid” and where Maryland state rape law holds that once consent is given, it cannot be withdrawn. It’s a different magnitude of misogyny, but not a different animal.

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Extras XMas Special/Series Finale

[ 0 ] December 17, 2007 |

A little disappointing. A lot of good stuff, of course, but the narrative arc was way too similar the last episode of Season 2; it might have been better to leave it at that.

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The Nail in the Coffin

[ 16 ] December 17, 2007 |

Joe “MoJoe” Lieberman is set to endorse John McCain. Why would an ostensible “independent Democrat” do such a thing? Why, the war in Iraq of course, with both McCain and Lieberman seem to think is such a great idea.

At this point, the Vegas odds makers must have their money on Lieberman officially switching his party affiliation to Republican at some point before the primaries are over.

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Stupidest Comment Thus Far on the Mitchell Report

[ 29 ] December 16, 2007 |

Tom Scocca, taking Billy Beane hatred to the predictable next level:

Or, as Beane says elsewhere in the book [Moneyball]: “Power is something that can be acquired. … Good hitters develop power. Power hitters don’t become good hitters.” Oakland, with its limited funds, wouldn’t spend payroll to buy power hitters. Instead, it invested in cheaper, patient hitters. And those hitters, it seems, bought the power themselves.

Did Beane have steroids deliberately or explicitly in mind? He was talking about his hopes of drafting someone who could be the next Jason Giambi.

Uh… no. I’m pretty sure he was talking about long term and well established statistical trends that indicate (even in the pre-steroid era) that young players develop power over time, but that young power hitters with “old man skills” often don’t develop as they age. But I’ll concede that this narrative does nicely square the circle for self-appointed “traditionalists” in baseball; Beane is already a demon for destroying the notion that payroll is destiny and opening the door for the statisticians, so making him responsible for steroids (even as the Mitchell Report clearly excludes that hypothesis) is, so to speak, a predictable phenomenon.

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The Nice Guy Cometh

[ 1 ] December 16, 2007 |

This pathetic lament received an approving link from Dr. Mrs. Ole Perfesser, which probably is about all we need to know before proceeding.


What happened to all the nice guys?

The answer is simple: you did.

See, if you think back, really hard, you might vaguely remember a Platonic guy pal who always seemed to want to spend time with you. He’d tag along with you when you went shopping, stop by your place for a movie when you were lonely but didn’t feel like going out, or even sit there and hold you while you sobbed and told him about how horribly the (other) guy that you were fucking treated you.

At the time, you probably joked with your girlfriends about how he was a little puppy dog, always following you around, trying to do things to get you to pay attention to him. They probably teased you because they thought he had a crush on you. Given that his behavior was, admittedly, a little pathetic, you vehemently denied having any romantic feelings for him, and buttressed your position by claiming that you were “just friends.” Besides, he totally wasn’t your type. I mean, he was a little too short, or too bald, or too fat, or too poor, or didn’t know how to dress himself, or basically be or do any of the things that your tall, good-looking, fit, rich, stylish boyfriend at the time pulled off with such ease.

The whole thing descends into a vindictive and childish rant, the basic point of which is to insist that unresponsive women turn nice men into assholes who finally learn how to get laid. No, really.

All that said, the post nevertheless gives me the chance to quote this apt description of the psychology of the Nice Guy(tm):

The ones I’ve actually talked with (generally whining on the internet about how they can’t get a girlfriend) seem to have this notion of Woman As Vending Machine / Arcade Game. If they just figure out which buttons to push, then Woman will Put Out. And they’re pushing the buttons that they’re supposed to, but Woman is not lighting up the right little “Score!” buttons. That asshole over there is pushing buttons and lighting the whole system up! Damnit, this Woman is broken! They tried up-down-up-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-stat, too, did someone give them the wrong cheat code? The last woman said that she liked this, why doesn’t this woman respond to it?

None of the Nice Guys I’ve ever tried to talk to seem capable of believing that women aren’t issued with a standard cheat code that will open them up to whoever gets the button sequence right. And the cheat code is Their Right, Dammit. The woman is incidental.

Which I suspect explains why Nice Guys(tm) are probably better off with their hands in their pants.

….more at SN!, where Bradrocket even agrees with Ace of Spades on something….

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Wedding Liveblogging

[ 32 ] December 16, 2007 |

I am here live at the Hyatt Regency in D.C., in full view of the Capitol, and can confirm that Rob and Davida have, in fact, been successfully married. We have photographic evidence. Here is the official breaking of the wine glass:

And here’s the first dance:

This was followed by me — unprecedentedly — cutting the rug for the second time in a few months. Here’s me as the best man escorting the maid of honor:

Shockingly, of the dozens of pictures of me, that was the best one. The maid, however, was lovely.

Wish Rob and Davida luck!

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