Saturday, September 30, 2006

Museum Day

It's late notice, but today's Museum Day!. A whole bunch of cool museums are letting people in for free. It's madness!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

No, Seriously. Always.

Just to balance out my coverage of low-brow political rags, I thought I'd mention that this kind of criticism of Wal-Mart is misplaced.
The Cornucopia Institute, a progressive group that advocates for family-scale farming, released a report today showing that an "organic Wal-Mart" may indeed be more Mean than Green.

According to the report, the company has a contract to source milk from Aurora Organic Dairy, which is one of the worst industrial organic offenders -- using cattle confined in feedlots, with little if any access to pasture. Aurora is also being investigated for a number of other violations of the organic standards. While there are plenty of problems with milk sold by Horizon (also available at Wal-Mart) at least Horizon gets about half of its milk from family-scale farms; Aurora's is 100% factory farm.
Look, very few people, especially among those who shop at Wal-Mart, actually care strongly about whether their food is organic. When people buy "organic", what they're after is much more likely to be the satisfaction they get from the uncritical assumption that by doing so they are being more responsible shoppers. Most people don't even know what "organic" means (to the extent that the word has a standard meaning in the first place.) It seems implausible, to say the least, that many people would be willing to pay noticeably more for such a nebulous benefit.

Wal-Mart's appeal - and, really, its only redeeming characteristic - is its ability to deliver goods to consumers at low prices. The Nation getting bent out of shape because Wal-Mart isn't willing to forgo its wildly successful business model to further the interests a relatively small number of organic advocates demonstrates equal parts naivete and liberal dogmatism. What did they think was going to happen? It's right there in the slogan! "Always Low Prices. Always." They even underline it.

The issue, in other words, is public opinion. Not Wal-Mart.

And there's this:
Cornucopia also reports that Wal-Mart is indeed, as many observers predicted, sourcing some of its organic products from China -- canned chick peas and other beans, for example. This could certainly be good for the Chinese, as the demand may cause many acres of conventional farmland to go organic, cleaning up the surrounding groundwater and soil. But it's also troubling because shipping products such a distance, when they could be grown locally, is a waste of energy, and exacts a formidable toll on the ozone layer; such a practice hardly meets the ideal of sustainability that many customers are seeking when they look for that organic label.
No mention of the potential economic benefits to the Chinese - probably because what we have on our hands is a serious disability to sympathize with the economic plight of the Chinese. Sure, maybe Wal-Mart could encourage more environmentally-friendly farming in China, but why don't the Chinese just do it themselves? Well, because they're too poor, and the organic way of life is a luxurious option not available to people without an abundance of wealth. If you really want the Chinese to farm less efficiently, you're going to have to, in effect, subsidize their farms.

I worry that environmentalism will become the last refuge of the economic isolationist scoundrel.

Update: OK, I think maybe I wasn't clear. Well, I think the part about China stands up fine, but the first bit's a little obscure.

My objection to the Nation, here, is that they fail to realize that they care way more about what "organic" means than most people do. On some level, the Nation, or, more exactly, Liza Featherstone, seems to recognize this, because Featherstone never actually comes out and says she thinks Wal-Mart's lying about its organic products. Instead, she does at least one of two things (I can't tell exactly), both of which are objectionable.

First, she seems to imply that Wal-Mart isn't meeting organic standards by alluding to the possibility that Wal-Mart's producers won't pass muster upon closer examination. That, however, isn't a problem with Wal-Mart, it's a problem with Wal-Mart's producers and the bodies that oversee them.

Second, she seems to suggest that even if Wal-Mart is technically selling organic products, they're not organic enough. Again, that's not fair to Wal-Mart; if Featherstone thinks the criteria for organic food are excessively loose, that's fine, but it's hardly Wal-Mart's job to define "organic" more strictly.

Again, nowhere is the claim explicitly made that Wal-Mart is actively deceiving its customers - because to all outward appearances, they're not. Her frustration is therefore misguided - the problem is with the organic community, as far as I can tell. Wal-Mart seems, by and large, to be playing by their rules.

See this comment for a little bit more.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Building A Nest For The Hornets

Jonah Goldberg: exhibit A in the case against using analogies to describe foreign affairs. Or anything else.
Folks, regardless of the details of the NIE controversy can I just say that I'm not particularly troubled by the NIE's alleged finding that the Iraq war has increased terrorism. I mean, doesn't that make sense?...

But, why shouldn't we think that the Iraq war has increased terrorism in the world, or at least the risk of it? The hornet's nest analogy is apt, albeit Clichéd. We were stung -— and stung badly - well before the Iraq war. And after the multiple stings of 9/11 we decided to take the fight to nests.

If my backyard is festooned with hornet nests, I will likely be safer from a sting on any given day if I do nothing than I will be on the day or days I begin destroying them. Since when is any large, important, task required to show positive results at every stage?
Holy crap. The NIE doesn't say that any particular group of terrorists is necessarily more (or less) likely to attack us; it says that there are more terrorists! Jonah apparently begins the process of securing his backyard by taking hornet nests from his neighbors' yards and positioning them behind his house.

Maybe it would be helpful for Jonah - and other individuals who have fallen prey to the dangers of over-analogizing - if we translated some of the NIE judgments into Clichéd Analogy. For example:
Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that flying insects classified as hornets, although a small percentage of insects, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.
"Oooh, I get it! There's more hornets!!!"

Update: Oh, man. I can't believe I missed an opportunity to title a post "Hornets! Hornets!" Surely, though, Separation Sunday provides lots of other opportunities for the future...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shorter Brendan Nyhan*

Everybody Has One: Bloggers and the Death of Opinion Journalism:

Now that the internet has broken the oligopoly held by a small cadre of center-left opinion writers, liberals have a wide enough selection to follow the opinions of only those people they think are wise and insightful. This is lamentable and far inferior to the previous system where there only choice was to read whatever was chosen by a select elite of center-left magazine owners. Select elites like Martin Peretz.

See also: Sadly No!'s take.

*"Shorter" format pioneered by Elton Beard

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bad Language rants and Electric Guitars

What paradigm is conjured by "Market Distortion"? To me, it’s that the market is a well-defined system and that government intervention can “distort” it or throws it out of its natural balance. This doesn’t seem quite right to me. Government intervention can certain do harm, but government intervention creates the market in the first place.

And now that I’m complaining, I should take a pot-shot at the whole idea of “the market” as well. There’s no single well-defined set of rights or laws which answers to “the free market” in practice or even in theory. Markets should be understood as a mechanism which produces certain results according to supply and demand, not as a particular set of laws and rights.

I’m sure everyone understands on a technical level that capitalist markets are all legal-political constructs, but I think many people don’t appreciate how transitory and variable those rules are – indeed – have to be. Fifty years ago conservatives argued that government lead Keynesian policies would distort the natural order of “the market”. One hundred years earlier they said the same about anti-trust and anti-child-labor laws. One hundred years before that nobody would have contemplated something like the Federal Reserve Board. All those things are now accepted parts of “the market”. Indeed, most economists would argue that they are necessary to maintaining efficient markets at all.

So now you can probably guess why I don’t like the term “Market distortion”. If a political policy results in poor outcomes, then the problem is poor outcomes, not that the law has disturbed the market from some kind of platonic ideal.

Plus it’s bad framing. The only place where distortion is considered a good thing is in the world of electric guitars.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

That Gore fellow is thinking big

After listening to Democratic "leaders" talking to us about how we should be talking about doing things it's nice to see a Democrat dropping the self-defeating meta-debate and actually, you know, talking about doing something big...

Real big:
Today, Former Vice President Al Gore gave a major speech on global warming at NYU law. Notably, he called for an immediate freeze on CO2 emissions:

Well, first of all, we should start by immediately freezing CO2 emissions and then beginning sharp reductions. ...

Gore also called for the complete elimination of the payroll tax. It would be replaced by a tax on CO2:

For the last fourteen years, I have advocated the elimination of all payroll taxes — including those for social security and unemployment compensation — and the replacement of that revenue in the form of pollution taxes — principally on CO2. The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same. It would be, in other words, a revenue neutral tax swap. But, instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage business from producing more pollution.

This is the right idea. America needs enviromental leadership and ideas like this one are going to be neccessary before we can break through the special-interest stalemate that is preventing us from taking action.

Monday, September 18, 2006

48 Million Strong

Kevin Drum refers to the 16% of American adults who "speculate that secretly planted explosives, not burning passenger jets, were the real reason the massive twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed" as a "fringe group". It seems to me that 16% is rather larger than a fringe.

Ross Perot garnered less than 19% of the national vote in 1992, Firefox has 15% of the internet browser market in the U.S., and Apple laptops represent 12% of America's portable computer market. I don't think I'd describe Perot, Firefox, or Apple as "fringe" elements in their respective spheres. I'd say instead that they represent small, but still significant, minorities.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Why am I not worked up about Borat?

Actually, I'm VERY worked up about Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but in a good way. I think I actually shed a single tear of joy when I first saw the poster subtly announcing the film's impending arrival.

But apparently Sasha Baron Cohen's lovable character isn't charming the pants of everyone (which, by the way, probably makes him the happiest man alive). In fact, some feel Borat Sadiyev, with his unabashed anti-semitism and sexism and racism and every other un-PC -ism you can name, portrays Kazakhstanis so crudely and offensively that it warrants diplomatic action. (George W. Bush has obviously won the war on terror if this is how he spends his time.) America is outraged.

Let me explain why Borat is funny: It's because he's offensive. The joke is that Americans are pretty dumb and patronizing, that they don't know Kazakhstan from Ajerbijan from Toledo, and that Cohen's victims will let him say offensive and ignorant things (and sometimes even think it's cute) because they're trying so desperately to be culturally sensitive to an exaggeratedly culturally insesitive man. The joke is on us, not on Kazakhstan. He's poking fun at how, in our misguided attempt to be politically correct, Americans will smile and clap along to anything they deem exotic and unique. (Cohen probably assumed a Kazakhstani identity because he could bank on no one knowing where Kazakhstan is or what its people look like, act like, or believe.)

Ultimately, though, Borat brings out the political incorrectness in many of his unwitting partners, and that's half the fun; though a conversation might begin innocently enough, by the end of the bit, he's gotten a score of white people to agree in song to throw the Jew down the well. That's comedy gold, folks.

The pseudo-insightful criticism of Borat is that audiences only accept his sheepish outrageousness because the culture he's ostensibly poking fun at is Kazakhstani; he's making fun of white people, so the critics say, so no one cares if he's perpetuating an inaccurate and offensive seterotype. It's "reverse racism," they claim, which is just as bad as "plain old racism." Is Borat really the Kazakhstani Sambo?

I'll buy this argument for a few moments, but something is still off. For one, he can't perpetuate a stereotype that doesn't yet exist. (What preconceptions did you have about Kazakhstanis before Borat entered your life? None? Yeah, me too.) Second, there's no such thing as "reverse racism," but I don't need to waste space explaining why. Third, there are dozens of beloved characters in American pop culture who exist as essentialized versions of their group (e.g., Dave Chappelle's crack head, all those crappy Carlos Mencia characters, William Hung), and we accept them in part because they're being portrayed by members of that group, but in larger part because they are co-opting those negative stereotypes and turning them into a joke. They're neutering the fuel of the racist fire by riffing on the stereotypes themselves. It's very post-modern.

But the most important reason I don't get worked up about Borat is because he's such an outlandish exaggeration, such an obvious parody, that I can't conceive of anyone watching the character and thinking that he's accurately representing Kazakhstan. The only people stupid enough to (a) not realize that Borat is fictional and (b) think that Borat is a cultural ambassador are the people Cohen is satirizing. And, little do they know it, he's satirizing the critics, too. And that's why he's so fucking brilliant.

Take off your sweater and pour yourself some ice water

I greatly enjoyed this Slate article, which reminds us why air conditioners are so annoying. It makes Arnold's bit about running the central cooling and the fireplace simultaneously even cuter.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

God's Not Carrying His Metaethical Weight

I think liberals tend to get excited about things like an "Evangelical Author [who] Puts [a] Progressive Spin On Traditional Faith" because they get so frustrated with conservative Christians always righteously claiming the moral high ground by appeal to their religious beliefs. I, for one, was initially pretty excited to get a copy (autographed!) of Jim Wallis's book. I didn't get very far through it, though, before I came to the conclusion that putting a lot of stock in progressive Evangelicals is probably a mistake for at least two reasons.

First, as a practical issue, it's not obvious to me that you can entirely divorce any sort of progressive Evagelicalism from its basically misogynist roots in the Christian tradition. It's not just that Christian history consists of many centuries of misogynist interpretation of scripture and text, it's also that much of that raw material is basically misogynist to begin with. How one might go about persuasively chipping away at the more unenlightened aspects of the Bible isn't clear. At the same time, though, an ethical framework built up from the Bible as-is just won't be suited to supporting a thoroughly progressive outlook.

Second, I think secular liberals who flaunt their newfound Christian allies over-enthusiastically implicitly concede too much of the metaethical argument to their religious opponents. Much of the tension between the religious right and the secular left derives from the suggestion that secularists aren't just immoral, but are actually fundamentally amoral, at least ideologically. Much of the force of the charge that liberals are "Godless" derives from the underlying assumption that without God you just can't make meaningful moral statements about the world.

Needless to say, I think this is very wrong and I think that liberals should be careful not to indulge arguments or impulses to that effect.

The fact is that God just doesn't do any metaethical work. If you follow any given ethical guideline in the way you live your life, God enters into your decision-making process either 1) because you think God wants you to follow the ethical guideline - in which case you still have to explain why God's preferences possess any normative significance, presumably by appeal to some metaethical principle prior to God - or 2) because the ethical guideline itself is in some way prior to God, and God just sort of enforces the rules - in which case you don't need God to have morality. In either case, ethics stand alone, without the need for any religious support.

There's nothing weird about propositions that are both secular and normative. Nothing, at any rate, that makes them weirder than, say, abstract mathematical propositions or, for that matter, metaphysical propositions. More to the point, though, if atheists are doomed to moral skepticism without God, religious individuals are no better off with Him. It concedes too much to the opposition to suggest otherwise, and it undermines the relative appeal of secular liberal ideology.

Is it better, on balance, to have Evangelicals emphasizing poverty and the environment instead of gay marriage and abortion? Probably. I just wouldn't throw my lot in with progressive Evangelicals without clearly delineating the point at which my sympathy for their project ends.

Monday, September 11, 2006

It's My Birthday and I'll Be a Jerk if I Want to

Today is September 11, 2006, the five-year anniversary of, um, September 11, 2001. (Does the day have an official name yet? According to one calendar in my house, it's called Patriot Day, but I refuse to accept that it would actually be given such a horrible title.) Here are a few 9/11-themed observations:

A topic is interesting in direct proportion to how closely it can be related to 9/11. This is the same syndrome that plagues local news (e.g., "Seventy-eight million people killed in earthquake in Pakistan. ... The Bay Area connection," or, "George W. Bush outlaws whistling. ... How this will affect your morning commute! News at eleven."). Similarly, every news story, every moment of special programming, everything but college football seems to be 9/11-themed in the few days flanking today. Even KQED aired an episode of "Nova" outlining the structural failings of the World Trade Center. (For some reason, state and local building codes didn't dictate that the structure be fuel jet crash-proof. What were they thinking?!) It seems that this obsession and this prolonged mourning, well, emboldens those who wish to hurt us through terrorist attacks. (I sound heartless, don't I?)

Many Americans still mourn for the victims of 9/11. Even those who had no personal connection to the victims of the 9/11 attacks (or even New York, D.C., or Pennsylvania) actually feel emotionally tied to the events of that day. While I'm enheartened by the outpouring of empathy our citizens are showing for complete strangers, I don't understand why 9/11 victims should be grieved any more than, say, the 99 innocent people who have been murdered in Oakland this year. My cynical guess is that people want to feel like ALL of America was a victim of 9/11; it makes us feel special. (Now I really sound like a jerk.)

Many Americans sincerely believe that their lives were changed by 9/11. Beyond the realm of airport security, many folks think that their day-to-day activities were significantly altered because of 9/11, but not in the paranoid "Rumsfeld is reading my e-mail" sort of way. Instead, it seems that people actually think that they need to be more alert and more suspicious, and that 9/11 was a huge awakening to the seedy terrorist underbelly that thrives within our borders. At the very least, people think that the economy is somehow less stable because of the threat of terrorist attacks. Again, quite cynically, I think this reflects an ignorance about secuirty and the economy, and a self-oriented desire to be part of the action. When I hear people in rural Texas worry about terrorists attacking their town, it kind of reminds me of the misguided narcissism of a "Waiting for Guffman" character. I'm officially a horrible person.

Many Americans are worried about more terrorist attacks in the near future. For some reason I'm not. What's the deal?

Religon is a way bigger deal than I realize. I live in a cozy little atheist bubble, wrapped up in a warm fleece blanket of secularism. I forget that some people turn to faith when they feel they're experiencing a personal or even national crisis. Religion very strongly shapes the everyday opinions and emotions of a huge chunk of Americans. It creates an identity, which sometimes leads to feelings of solidarity, sometimes to exaggerate difference. This ignorance of mine might explain my disbelief at the observations above.

The long war against TNR's reputation

The global struggle against blogofascism steps up a notch with the creation of a blog specifically for TNR owner and crazy man Martin Peretz:
Let me concede: I am a friend of Scooter Libby. But I do not like his boss. And I do not like his boss's wife. I know this gets me no credit with the all-or-nothing crowd. Still, I like Scooter, who is quite brilliant, very honest, and brave. Also funny. I've contributed to The Libby Legal Defense Fund and have joined the fund's advisory committee, which is not large because in Washington old pals dessert when even their college roommate gets into trouble. In a time when self-styled civil libertarians are giving money to defend Muslim terrorists, I am happy to help defend an American patriot, some of whose politics I do not share and some of whose politics I do, from a cynical onslaught of the special prosecutor who put journalists into jail for not telling him what he already knew.
I'm sure it warms the hearts of TNR readers to know that their money is going to help defend Libby against 5 counts of false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice rather than, say, reelecting Democrats. But then, we shouldn't forget, Peretz - the man who signs the paychecks of everyone at TNR - hasn't quite decided whether he prefers to have Dems take over the house or senate this year:
HH: Do you want the Democrats to win majorities in the House or the Senate, Martin Peretz?

MP: I'm...I'm appalled by some of the people who would become head of Congressional committees.

HH: Is that a no?

MP: Uh, but I'm also appalled by some of the shenanigans...

HH: But is that...I've got five seconds. Is that a no, Martin Peretz?

MP: It's a cowardly refusal to answer.

HH: (laughing) Okay. We'll carry it on, later. Martin Peretz, thanks

We must accept that either 1. Editorial decisions at TNR - decisions like who gets a blog - are not very well insulated from the whims of those backing the magazine monetarily or 2. Editorial judgments at TNR are poor. Or I suppose both can be true.

Either way it does not speak well to the magazines integrity or savvy.

No Hablo Español

A question that came up while driving back from Pismo Beach* with my girlfriend this weekend: How useful, really, are high school foreign language courses? I took Spanish in the 8th grade, and then for three years in high school. I nonetheless lack even elementary proficiency in Spanish, and my sense is that I am not unusual in this regard.

It's not just that I think that foreign language classes are in many cases treated as a joke - mine were all perfectly serious. It's really that attending class 45 minutes a day, five days a week seems to me like an awfully feeble gesture toward learning a new language, even if the criteria for "learning" are extremely weak.

I do feel like I gained some insight into English grammar in my Spanish classes, but I've yet to discover much utility for the actual Spanish I acquired. What are we hoping kids get out of all the time they spend in foreign language classes in high school?

*While volleyball isn't nearly as boring as baseball, it's much more consistently painful. Sports, as a set, perpetually disappoint.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Civility vs. Decency

Sadly, No explains why Mark A. Klienman is a jerk:
You can advocate something horrible, as did Volokh, or you can write a dunderheaded piece of analysis, as did the former Wonkette, and be in fine standing with Kleiman. But heaven help you if you personally attack anyone! To Kleiman, that is the crying sin which won’t be tolerated! Especially if you use naughty words! Mark A. Kleiman is restrained — he even says he’s just as angry (i.e. morally outraged at BushCo.) as Atrios, he just doesn’t let it get the “better” of him. Plainly, Kleiman sees himself as a cool customer who doesn’t let partisan anger, or any kind of moral revulsion for that matter, influence his tough political analyses, which are obviously so logically-tight that Brainiac or HAL-9000 would fry their circuits from sheer envy.
He goes on to provide an example:
Still skeptical? Let me show you. Let’s say you — well, you have a Randroid nutjob who says that people should whack anti-war protestors with 2×4s. The normal response is to condemn said Randroid as a morally-degenerate asshat. But no, that would be incivil, and we can’t have that. Rather, one must calmly engage the “really bad suggestion” — thus making it legitimate, as if it’s just another policy proposal to yay or nay. And for good measure, when the decent people reply in kind (the moral equivalent of turning the other fist to Galt’s argument) the Sensible Liberal decides then that “[d]ebate’s over. Time to go home. Your opponents can make you angry, but it takes people who are (at least in a given argument) on your side to make you ashamed.” How’s that for even-handedness? Galt advocated violence, the nasty Atriots cussed her in e-mails for it. And the Atriots are the bad guys. But then Galt’s suggestion was indecent, which Kleiman can find time for, while the Atriots were incivil, which he finds, of course, to be beyond the pale.

I used to read Klienman though his blog fell off my radar when I reorganized my bloglines. We do however have to be wary of confusing "moderate tone" with decency or thoughtfulness.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I apreciate Brad Delong

One great thing about Brad Delong is his complete willingness to fully quote people who disagree with him. Last week Delong wrote:
I am, as I said above, a reality-based center-left technocrat. I am pragmatically interested in government policies that work: that are good for America and for the world. My natural home is in the bipartisan center, arguing with center-right reality-based technocrats about whether it is center-left or center-right policies that have the best odds of moving us toward goals that we all share--world peace, world prosperity, equality of opportunity, safety nets, long and happy lifespans, rapid scientific and technological progress, and personal safety. The aim of governance, I think, is to achieve a rough consensus among the reality-based technocrats and then to frame the issues in a way that attracts the ideologues on one (or, ideally, both) wings in order to create an effective governing coalition.

...while I am profoundly, profoundly disappointed and disgusted by the surrender of the reality-based wing of the Republican policy community to the gang of Republican political spivs who currently hold the levers of power, I do think that there is hope that they will come to their senses and that building pragmatic technocratic policy coalitions from the center outward will be possible and is our best chance.

This week Delong quotes this from Eric Alterman.
DeLong’s hope, while noble in principle, is emasculating in practice. And it’s one of many reasons why liberals continue get their asses handed to them, again, and again and again. This is war, and the other side needs to be soundly defeated—drowned in a bathtub, to borrow a felicitous phrase--before the sources of DeLong’s “disappointment and disgust” can be addressed as anything more than a dangerous delusion.
Would I have the balls to quote this without substantial comment?

Update: Delong:
The Stupidity! It Burns!! It Burns!!!

Andrew Sullivan writes:

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish: I fear Maliki's government is powerless against the Shiite militias that have increasingly infiltrated it.

Maliki's government is the Shiite militias. The Shiite militias are Maliki's government. There is no "infiltration."

Bull Indeed

Of all the Lieberman-Lamont race commentary in existence, this might be the dumbest.
The Moose argues that there is only one real Democrat in the Connecticut Senate race.


Here is a thought experiment - who would Senators Truman, JFK, LBJ, HHH and Scoop be more comfortable with - Joe or his opponent? They would no doubt embrace Joe as one of them.

Lieberman, the real Democrat.
Who would any of those people endorse in this race? Presumably they would endorse the actual Democrat. But really, who cares?

Scoop Jackson supported Japanese internment during World War II. The Moose apparently thinks that Lamont ought to adopt a similar line toward Muslims in the U.S. today, so that when Bill & Ted bring Jackson to Connecticut in 2006, he'll be "more comfortable" with the idea of voting for Lamont.

Or something.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ideological Purge Watch

At least through the end of August, Lieberman appeared to be doing pretty well for himself. As for whether there's some sort of conspiracy to force hawks out of the party - by, like, voting them out of office - the evidence is thin:
[Chuck Schumer] and others cited several reasons why Lamont's victory didn't herald a national movement to topple entrenched Democrats in the 13 primaries being contested this month. Most notably, the party has turned its attention to recapturing control of Congress in November, and that means emphasizing not just opposition to the Iraq war but a variety of other issues.


Anyone wanting to piggyback on Lamont's success has faced another hurdle: The Lamont-Lieberman race involved "a unique set of circumstances," as Washington political analyst Jennifer Duffy put it.

It would be difficult to replicate the combination of a wealthy challenger who eventually pumped about $4 million into his campaign; an incumbent senator whose war views and praise of White House policy were highly unpopular at home; the notion that Lieberman had announced his intention to run as an independent if he lost; and the fact that the race was run in a small state where individual voters are easier to reach.
Of course, Lamont's victory showed that Lieberman's position on the war mattered, but it was only one of many factors contributing to his loss.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Size 11 Camaros & Wire Kalashnikovs

Going back to that Right on the Left Coast post on gender-neutral schooling, I see that one commenter made an attempt to object to the school's policies by presenting this anecdote:
We have friends of whom the husband is a closet conservative and the wife is a raving liberal loon. When she had her first child, a daughter, the kid was only dressed in gender neutral colors and never allowed gender specific toys. When her second child was born, a son, she did the same thing. Until the husband found the kid in the closet saying zoom zoom zoom to a shoe. And using a coat hanger as a gun. Sorry, the genders are different.
What, exactly, is this supposed to demonstrate? Nobody's denying that "the genders are different", they're just saying that we ought to be cautious about predetermining how individuals' senses of gender identity develop.

Even a hard-nosed genetic determinist (fatalist, even!) like me can concede that while it's typically unwise to fight the forces of deoxyribonucleic acid, it's usually not any better to take for granted what those forces are.

Back to that anecdote in particular, is the idea supposed to be that boys are somehow hard-wired to want to play with cars and guns? Given that homo sapiens have been around for at least 200,000 years and that cars have been around for less than 0.08% of that time, that seems somewhat implausible. Much more implausible, I think, than the theory that the boy in question picked up the idea of simulating automobiles from somewhere in his environment.

Most plausible of all, however, is the theory that an internet commenter who refers to one of her "friends" as "a raving liberal loon" would fabricate a story in which a child is found "in the closet" simultaneously pretending that shoes are toy cars and that coat hangers are toy guns.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A term invented to make it difficult to think clearly

You guys are probably already familiar with how I hate the word "Islamofascism". I don't really reject the term on the pragmatic grounds of "the term is really offensive to Muslims" though that itself should be enough. I dislike the term becuase it's invented to help people conflate a bunch of threats that shouldn't be conflated.

Via Yglesias, we see the perfect example of why from the conservative National Review:
The problem, as I see it with using the term “Bin Ladenism": It can’t be applied to the ideologies of the ruling Iranian mullahs, Saddam Hussein loyalists or other Baathists (e.g. in Syria).

Bin Ladenists are engaged in a rivalry with Khomeniists for leadership of the international, radical Jihadi movement. Baathism (pan-Arabism and Arab supremacism) is largely a spent force but its remnants have merged both with bin Ladenism (e.g. in the 1990s, Saddam “got religion”; “secular” Fatah has produced the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades and reveres both Saddam and bin Laden), and with Khomeinism (the Damascus – Tehran axis).

We are struggling to come up with a term that (1) accurately describes the network of ideologies and movements that have risen up with the “Muslim world” (I hate that phrase) and which seek to defeat America and its allies, a term which also (2) clearly conveys to the average person in the West that this is an enemy who must be taken seriously.

That's a real puzzle, isn't it? You have a bunch of separate groups with a bunch of separate goals, who each hate us for separate reasons and which pose varying threats to us. They aren’t united and many have a history of direct conflict with each other.

Granted, there are common threads. They all oppose us to varying degrees and for varying reasons that mostly all go back to 1. Our support of Israel, 2. Our quest for cheap reliable oil.

Those who aren't busy playing cowboys-and-Indians can see that these groups are not unified. They can see that is a strategic advantage. Some of them are dangerous to US interests. Some of them are not. Some of them can be reasoned with or bought off, some of them cannot. Some of them can be contained, some require military a response.

Those who are unable to see the distinction between these groups put the US at a strategic disadvantage. Though they think of themselves as clear-eyed defenders of us all they should remember that Neville Chamberlain did to.

Update: Don't wonder any longer

As an update to my earlier post: Those wondering why TNR's Lee Siegal still has a job need to wonder no longer. The writer who famously called The Daily Kos a fascist has been kicked to the curb:

An Apology to Our Readers

After an investigation, The New Republic has determined that the comments in our Talkback section defending Lee Siegel's articles and blog under the username "sprezzatura" were produced with Siegel's participation. We deeply regret misleading our readers. Lee Siegel's blog will no longer be published by TNR, and he has been suspended from writing for the magazine.

Franklin Foer
Editor, The New Republic

I suppose TNR isn't all bad.

Update: Ezra Klien adds more.

Update: You really have to read this to believe it.