Saturday, March 03, 2007

Proud Labels

I've noted that Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe (R) is crazy before, and so this really shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but still--creepy.:
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) got the crowd cheering early in the day. "I have been called - my kids are all aware of this - dumb, crazy man, science abuser, Holocaust denier, villain of the month, hate-filled, warmonger, Neanderthal, Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun," he announced. "And I can just tell you that I wear some of those titles proudly."

Umm...sure. Which titles? Let's test them out:

James Inhofe: Dumb.

James Inhofe: Crazy man.

James Inhofe: Science abuser.

James Inhofe: Holocaust denier.

James Inhofe: Villain of the month.

James Inhofe: Hate-filled.

James Inhofe: Warmonger.

James Inhofe: Neanderthal.

James Inhofe: Genghis Khan.

James Inhofe: Attila the Hun.

You know what? Let him pick three out of that list, and "wear them with pride" if he'd like. I think "crazy man," "science abuser," and "hate-filled" are the top candidates.

Via Steve Benen

Musical Interlude

March goes in like a lion....

Carleton got decked with a massive snowstorm March 1st. Last night, the Hindu and Jewish students at Carleton had a joint celebration of Holi and Purim. Holi, we were told, was in part a celebration of spring and renewal. After glancing out at the icicle covered trees and snow capped fields, the speaker dryly remarked that it was also a festival of hope.

We also had the Carleton DVDfest--a three hour marathon of DVD shorts. Some of them are good, most of them...aren't. But the winner, The Brewmaster's Tale, is sheer gold. Anybody who is even vaguely a fan of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack needs to watch.

Finally, I wish to inform all the folks who assisted in my birthday music bleg the results thus far. I went through Austin Roth's recommendations, and purchased albums by Kill Hannah, Thursday, Damone, and Lacuna Coil. In addition, I got "Vitamin R" by Chevelle, which is an excellent song even though I don't normally like the band that much.

My friend Matt made me a mix CD with a smattering of songs by Saosin, Thrice, Alkaline Trio, Brand New, Glassjaw, and Finch. I also acquired a variety of songs by Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed, Dragonforce, Fall Out Boy, Staind, Story of the Year, System of a Down, and Three Days Grace.

I won't pretend I've come close to listenin to all or even most of this music. Indeed, Kill Hannah (the first I got) is the only one I've really listened to in depth (it's pretty good, but a bit too much like The Killers for my tastes).

But I now have plenty of new stuff on my iTunes, and for that I am grateful.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Not Worth Fighting For

FRC Chief Tony Perkins is a Marine Corps veteran, a fact he is extremely proud of. As he should be--the men and women who have served in our armed forces deserve all of our respect for their sacrifice and commitment to the security of the nation. Perkins' dedication to the armed forces, however, appears to be contingent--not on it serving honorably, or effectively, or morally, but contingent on it excluding the dreaded gays.
Only 26 percent of soldiers support a move to allow gays to serve openly. With the demands on the Armed Services, Meehan estimates that over 40,000 homosexuals would join the military if the ban is lifted. What he doesn't address are the tens of thousands who would not join or who would leave the service if the legislation is passed. As a veteran of the Marine Corps I can say that the defense of our country should not be sacrificed for the promotion of a political agenda.

It goes without saying that Perkins is playing fast and loose with the poll data (another 32% of soldiers are neutral towards a change, giving a strong 58% majority who are not at all opposed to serving with gay soldiers), but what struck me was Perkins threat of the "tens of thousands who would not join or who would leave the service" if the ban on openly gay serviceman was lifted. Is Perkins saying that these defections would be justified? Is he saying that he would not have defended America if it meant associating himself with gay comrades?

I don't think there is any way to avoid drawing from Mr. Perkins that he thinks that homosexuality is so abhorrent that he was quite willing to allow "the defense of our country [to be] sacrificed for the promotion" of his political agenda. This is, of course, his opinion, and he has the right to hold it. But I have no idea why I'm supposed to applaud it. And I have no intention of honoring his conditional service over the thousands of gay and lesbian patriots who are quite willing to endure the hostility of their peers to protect the country they love.

UPDATE: I can't decide if this is better or worse than the Pentagon's contribution to the resurfacing of this debate.

It's a Jew Thing

Pam Spaulding has a rather run-of-the-mill rant by a right-wing crazy about the horrors of hate crime bills, with the added twist that it's all a Jewish conspiracy to further our plans of world domination.

As a Jew, it always is a bit odd when a position you support is labeled as part of a massive Jewish conspiracy. Even if I do support it, even if most Jews support it, that doesn't make it link to some massive plot to take over the world. All things considered, it's not too difficult of a nuance, but it still is harder than my normal response to claims of Jewish conspiracy, which tend to run along the lines of "No. Moron."

Hate crime laws are an interesting case for me--I support them, but I don't think they are slam-dunks. I think that there need to be safeguards so that free expression of views--even unpopular views--is preserved. I am less sympathetic to the view that it punishes the same crime differently based on motivation. We do that already--a murder is judged differently if it is for hire, if it is pre-meditated or done in the passion of the moment, or if the killing was done because the killer thought he was acting in self-defense. More specifically, I'm persuaded by the Paul Begala argument that we all intuitively know there is a qualitative moral distinction between spray-painting the school with "Go Longhorns!" versus "Kill the Kikes!"

Presumably other people (including--gasp--other Jews!) will have different views on the subject. I'm very skeptical that this issue commands the sort of quasi-universal Jewish support as say, opposition to genocide or even support for Israel does.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Aloha Means Goodbye

The FRC applauds the state of Hawaii--not for voting down a bill to legalize gay marriage, but for refusing to bring it to a vote at all.

This would be the same FRC which demanded--demanded--that legislators in Massachusetts give anti-gay marriage initiatives a vote on the floor.

The same FRC which, when the Connecticut legislature passed a civil unions law of its own volition, cried that this was not enough, and a popular referendum was needed.

The same FRC which not long ago turned "up or down vote" into a battle cry (yes, I know they had a BS constitutional reason for why that was necessary for judicial nominations. No, it was not a serious reason. It was disingenuous tripe that was contradicted by their own past practice).

I have no problem with the FRC advocating for its illiberal, anti-family positions. But the degree of hackitude it exhibits while pretending to stand for principles beyond rabid anti-gay hatred is mindboggling.

Towards a Medicaid Policy With Teeth

A Washington Post story about a Maryland boy who died of a toothache has lit the latest fire under the liberal blogosphere. As it should--the idea that in the richest country in the world, anyone should die because they did not receive an $80 tooth extraction is abhorrent.

While dental issues may not always be life-and-death (though tell that to Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver's family), it is a really important concern. The Plank quotes from an old New Yorker article showing how bad teeth is both one of the more common ailments of the poor in society, and one of the largest barriers towards any upward social mobility. Think of the entry-level jobs one would never get hired for if you had rotted teeth--basically, anything where you interact with customers or serve as a company's public face. It's an expression of class privilege where we view dental care as a vaguely burdensome luxury rather than a necessity for navigating American society.

But lest we focus on the meta too much, let us recall that this is not some tragic but unpreventable problem. It isn't even something that we vaguely say shouldn't happen in the "richest country in the world." This is a direct result of Medicaid cutbacks and bureaucratic mazes which--as we love to forget--have real effects on real people's lives that cause real people to get sick and die.

One thing that's been noted is that dental care for the poor has been a longtime crusade for "socialist Senator" Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The hope is that a story like this can generate enough momentum for him to get some allies on the subject, perhaps an otherwise rock-ribbed conservative who nonetheless feels that 12-year olds need not die from toothaches. I'm always optimistic that stories like this will move the hearts of normally apathetic rightwingers, and I'm always disappointed. The National Review is offended that the death of the rabble even got ink in a paper as august as the Washington Post, and also is more concerned about "unanswered questions" about the mother, than the fact that a 12-year old died due to a completely preventable illness. The first conservative post I saw on the article was even more of a doozy. Not only does it tragically yet predictably blame the mother for not shelling out the $80 for the procedure, it goes so far as to call for her prosecution as a child abuser. This is one of the more spectacularly arrogant and malicious things I've ever read. We're talking about a family that was in homeless shelters. Is $80 worth it even for poor families if it would prevent the death of your child? Of course (though that doesn't mean even that small amount is able to be scrounged up). But that's not how any rational person in their position would have perceived the issue. Now let's all raise our hands--how many of us, upon having a toothache, think that putting off going to the dentist is gambling with our lives? How many of us, if that $80 was money we needed to eat, wouldn't try to just deal with the pain? For that matter--the mother was bit distracted here--she was busy trying to get dental coverage for her other son, who had six bad teeth. Of course, eventually doctors became aware that this toothache had turned into a much bigger and more threatening problem. But by that point, the price tag had risen slightly from $80--to $250,000. Yes, obviously, this mother acted in a completely irrational and malignant manner, and we should call her a child abuser. Philosophical rationalization strikes again.

It's amazing to me how perfectly this verifies Melvin Lerner's "Just World" hypothesis and how it leads people to both tolerate and rationalize even naked injustice.
Jon and Kathleen Hanson's "The Blame Frame: Justifying (Racial) Injustice in America" [41 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 413 (2006)]....hit[s on]...what's known as the "just world" mindset. People want to believe that the world is just. As a result, "people crave justice and, consistent with that craving, actively work to eliminate injustice" (419). That's the good news. The bad news is that instead of actually eliminating the injustice itself, we simply redefine the questionable event so that it seems "just." Hanson and Hanson continue "[W]e often satisfy the craving [for justice] through troubling means: when alleviating innocent suffering is at all difficult or complex, people reconceive the victim as deserving the suffering by assigning negative characteristics to her" (id.).

A study by Melvin J. Lerner & Carolyn H. Simmons elucidates how this happens. Test subjects were asked to observe a "learner" who appeared to be subjected to painful shocks when he got an answer wrong. One group of subjects was given the option to move the learner to a different study where she'd receive positive reinforcement for right answer instead of being shocked for wrong ones. Most took the offer. The second group of subjects was given no such option, and could only watch as the learner was shocked again and again [Melvin J. Lerner & Carolyn H. Simmons, The Observer's Reaction to the "Innocent Victim": Compassion or Rejection?, 4 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 203 (1966)].

The subjects were then queried as to their views of the learner. The first group, which was presented with an easy option to rectify the injustice, tended to describe the learners as "likeable, innocent victims of shocks who deserved to be reassigned to a positive reinforcement environment" (Hanson & Hanson, at 19). Those who had no easy option to end the suffering, by contrast, tended to describe the victim in negative terms, as blameworthy and deserving of what happened to them.

Further studies showed just how "easy" the option has to be before we'll concede injustice--even such a difficult and onerous burden like pushing a button could be too much to demand of people in the pursuit of justice.

Whatever. I suspect by next week, everyone will have forgotten, and universal healthcare will go back to be the crazy, radical, communist idea that we've convinced ourselves it is when we don't want to accept our share of the blame for the unnecessary deaths of children.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rosenberg Responds

I blogged a little while back on Indiana Professor Alvin Rosenfeld's short piece on the link between certain progressive Jews and anti-Semitism with regards to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was a good piece--and one I think was significantly distorted when it hit the public eye.

Rosenfeld has written a follow-up concerning the reaction. Recall that this was the sort of rhetoric Rosenfeld was condemning:
Among others on the left, though, an often strident anti-Zionism is part of the ideological package that gives them their political identity. Their inclination to liken Israel to Nazi Germany and white-ruled South Africa--and their frequent excoriations of the Jewish state as guilty of "racism," "apartheid," "ethnic cleansing," "war crimes," and "genocide" draw from a common lexicon of hyperbolically corrosive speech and have helped to fashion an intellectual and political climate that encourages the demonization of Israel and its supporters. Jacqueline Rose's reduction of Zionism to a form of collective lunacy and her attempt to link Theodor Herzl with Adolph Hitler; Joel Kovel's call for "true Jews" to "annihilate their particularism," "annihilate or transcend Zionism," and "annihilate the Jewish state"; Norman Finkelstein's claim that Israeli Jews are a "parasitic class" and that their "apologists" are comparable to the Gestapo; and Michael Neumann's equation of "Jewish complicity" in Israel's policies with German complicity in the Holocaust illustrate the extremity of such views.

Much of the response presumed that this represented a blanket attack on all critics of Israel. But these people only represent a sliver of "progressives." There is plenty of room between Likudism and calling to "annihilate the Jewish state." Trying to push the debate so that it falls between those poles is not silencing, shrieks of the extreme not withstanding.
The ubiquitous rubric "criticism of Israel," however, has also come to designate another kind of discourse--one that has almost become a politico-rhetorical genre unto itself, with its own identifiable vocabulary, narrative conventions, and predictable outcomes. At its ideational core is what the British scholar Bernard Harrison calls a "dialectical scam." It goes something like this: (1) Spot an Israeli action that can serve as the ground of "criticism of Israel" (e.g., Israel's military incursion into the area near Jenin in April 2002 in response to Palestinian terrorist massacres); (2) Then "dissent" in the strongest possible terms, for instance by likening the "razing of Jenin" to the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, while anticipating that "powerful" and "repressive" Jewish institutions will try to "silence" the critics by calling them anti-Semites; (3) When taken to task by more sober-minded critics who find that, contrary to your charge, there was no such thing as "the razing of Jenin" and that the IDF has nothing in common with the SS, cry "foul" and claim their censure perfectly illustrates the point that there really is a Jewish organizational conspiracy to silence "criticism of Israel" by branding the authors of such criticism "anti-Semites."

The scam only works if people will concede the last move--that protest of clear hyperbole constitutes "silencing" by the all-powerful Jewish lobby. We cannot concede that ground, less any Jewish voices beyond the select few deemed acceptable to this "progressive" sliver be permanently silenced themselves.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blogroll Cleanup

I've pruned some deadwood from my blogroll. Even though all the blogs I eliminated appeared to be moribund, I still felt some pangs of nostalgia--Legal Fiction was one of my very favorite blogs (even though Publius is still blogging at Obsidian Wings), and Restless Mania goes pretty far back on the list of blogs that linked to me in my (more) obscure past.

I did, however, add one new blog--Feministing, which is a lot of fun to read (alas, the URL is too similar to Feministe for my liking, but what can you do?). The world of the blogosphere turns once more....

Terror State

I just wanted to save this link, because it is so astounding to me:
Those who think that Muslim countries and pro-terrorist attitudes go hand-in-hand might be shocked by new polling research: Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria.

The survey, conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland's prestigious Program on International Public Attitudes, shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that 'bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians' are 'never justified,' while 24 percent believe these attacks are 'often or sometimes justified'.

Contrast those numbers with 2006 polling results from the world's most-populous Muslim countries - Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Terror Free Tomorrow...found that 74 percent of respondents in Indonesia agreed that terrorist attacks are 'never justified'; in Pakistan, that figure was 86 percent; in Bangladesh, 81 percent.


Guess Who I'm Talking About?

I'm running out of good titles for posts that are entirely devoted to Barack Obama.

Now, it's become pretty standard for idealistic young liberals like me to jump on the Obama bandwagon. You could find that demographic raving about Obama all day. But did you expect to see accolades by Condi Rice?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice finds Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama appealing and says it won't be much longer before race isn't a barrier to becoming president.
Rice noted that Obama is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where the secretary often testifies.

"I think he's very appealing and a great person. He's on my committee. And we've always had good exchanges. I think he's an extraordinary person," she said.

Rice declined to say whether she thought he had enough experience, especially in foreign policy, to be president.

"Oh, I'm not going to make that choice. The American people are going to make that choice," she said.


Meanwhile, a new Zogby poll has Obama running ahead of all three top Republican contenders for the 2008 GOP nomination (Giuliani, McCain, and Romney). Hillary Clinton and John Edwards only beat Romney (whom Obama smokes). Polls this early are practically worthless of course, and even with the supposed demise of the "Wilder effect" (Black candidates run a few points behind the last polls because some White voters don't want to admit they won't vote for a candidate because he's Black), it probably has some saliance when voters are still forming early impressions. Also, I've seen polls that have all three Democrats every-which-way with regards to their Republican counterparts, so I don't know why this one is special. Still, it's better news for Obama than if it weren't released.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ackerman on Beinart on Iraq

Former TNR writer Spencer Ackerman comments on Peter Beinart's explanation for why he supported the Iraq war, calling it "one of the most honest, reflective, and insightful things I've read in a good long while."
Peter explains his support for the war through his admiration for the Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya. Kanan, one of the most guileless and brave people I've ever been privileged to meet, is someone I hold in similar esteem. (It probably says something about the times we live in that Cruelty and Silence -- an overview of Iraqi desperation and its apologists -- appears more apt and poignant than Republic of Fear does.) If there's anything I'd add to Peter's column, it would be this: it wasn't Kanan's fault that anyone supported the Iraq war -- wait, wait, hang on, let's make this more personal. It wasn't Kanan's fault that I supported the Iraq war. It was for wanting to believe so badly in the righteousness of America's terrible swift sword. I wanted to be worthy of the respect of such a brave man as Kanan that I ended up unworthy of it by abandoning rigor.

One final thing. Many of you out there really, really dislike Peter Beinart. I hope you'll read his column and see him as I see him: a scrupulous, honest writer who doesn't stop challenging himself. If he falls short, he acknowledges it and tries to learn from the mistake.

Ackerman's blog is titled "toohotfortnr," which points to the circumstances of his departure from the magazine. Both Ackerman and Beinart speak for me on this issue, and I urge everyone to read both of their pieces.

Poor Captain Needa

Kos' response to the recent buy-out of TNR is very troublesome to me, in that it shows that--regardless of what the magazine does, what it says, or where it goes--Kos is hell-bent on turning them into a scalp on his wall.

In attacking TNR, Kos refers back to their support for the Iraq war (in from 2002 to 2003), and their ill-advised endorsement of Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Primary (in early 2004). In other words, nothing that's happened in the past three years. But yet, TNR has backtracked on all of these positions--something Kos has refused to acknowledge. TNR has harshly critiqued Bush administration policy on all number of issues, including foreign policy--something Kos has refused to acknowledge. TNR has engaged in repeated introspection and self-critique on the Iraq war--something Kos has refused to acknowledge. And under its new leadership, TNR has persistently moved in a more liberal direction, such that there is surprisingly little gap between the positions held by TNR writers and Kos front-pagers on the vast majority of political issues. Kos, of course, does not acknowledge this either.

With regard to Iraq, we can thus critique TNR's horrible misjudgment (which is perfectly fair); but 81 House Democrats and 29 Democratic Senators made the exact same mistake. Like some other liberals (e.g., John Edwards) who voted in favor of this ill-advised war, TNR has since apologized and recanted for its stance--as Editor Franklin Foer stated, "the question mark is gone," as to whether the magazine was wrong on the war in Iraq. So the question is whether or not Kos is willing to readmit liberals who have strayed (but have now seen the light) on an issue that a) he was right on and b) is very important to him. If the answer is no, so be it--but that means putting targets on every one of those 110 Democrats still serving in elected office and trying to run them from the party. That's not just Joe Lieberman, that's John Edwards, that's Harry Reid, that's Jack Murtha, that's Chris Dodd, and ultimately, that's fratricide. Of course, Kos hasn't called for the scalps of these Democrats--but that's because the vendetta against TNR has gotten personal for him--it is not an expression of any privilege, it is merely white hot fury that is ultimately irrational and self-destructive. If TNR proves anything, it isn't that Democrats who support President Bush will be punished, it's that apologies are useless.

This is personal to me, because I am one of the heretics--not just because I read TNR, but because I supported the Iraq war. If my repentance is futile and falls on deaf ears to the left, then where can I go? Ultimately, Kos does not want to see me converted back into the fold of liberal politics. He wants my head put on stake on the front lawn as a warning to others.