Archive for April 2006

Harvey Mansfield vs. Naomi Wolf

April 30, 2006

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason asks, "If Harvey Mansfield is so manly, how come he gets his ass kicked by Naomi Wolf (a Yalie, for God's sake!) in this C-SPAN interview?" Here's a snippet:

Manly Mansfield: "What we need is the reconsideration of feminists, to make a place for men. To find something that men can do that contributes."

Wolf: "Aw, that's so sweet. You sound like Bill Clinton saying 'I am relevant.' The goal of feminism was not to make men feel irrelevant. I have to give you some valorization right now, I'm really going to validate you. Or valorize you…"

That probably reads as though it's a very sarcastic exhange, but it's not.  Wolf is completely sincere when she says, "Aw, that's so sweet."  Watch the video — I can't possibly describe it.

R & R

April 29, 2006

Nobody in his or her right mind would follow my lead in recreational pursuits, but for the voyeuristic among you here's what I'm devoting my downtime this weekend to…

Reading:

Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists. The latest from Bill Kauffman. We've lined up a very apt reviewer for TAC, and I'll be taking part in another project involving the book in a few weeks. But right now I'm reading Kauffman's tributes to Dorothy Day, Gene McCarthy, and other decentralist heroes just for the pleasure of it. (An excerpt from the book runs in the new TAC, by the way, which should find its way to bookstores and subscribers' mailboxes in a week or so.)

Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism. A short new collection of essays from the University of Chicago by a Straussian writing about Strauss. In light of recent controversies, perhaps I ought to review it.

Listening:

"Rise & Shine" and "Sick & Tired," by the Cardigans, a band I'd have dismissed for their irritatingly catchy one hit from a decade ago except, that I'd recently heard their later single "Erase/Rewind" and quite liked it. Better yet are the two tracks I bought from iTunes yesterday from their first album, Emmerdale. I should have checked out a few selections from the band's back catalog earlier, since I've always liked their producer Tore Johansson's work on St. Etienne's Good Humor. "Rise & Shine" and "Sick & Tired" are prime jangle-pop specimens — the latter somewhat the better for having stronger lyrics and an undercurrent of melancholy.

Watching:

I've never seen "Easy Rider," but I think I'll have to now that I've read what Bill Kauffman has to say about it –

… the best radicals are reactionaries at heart. They despise the official order, be it state capitalism, militarism, communism, or what have you, but wish not merely to remove the malignancy but to replace it with an organic system, rooted in human nature and human affection…. They are not mere rebels without a cause. Instead, they value the importance of "doin' your own thing in your own time," as those two deeply American filimmakers Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda (our Kansas-Nebraska Act-ors) said in their druggy paean to the pioneer virtues, Easy Rider.

I don't really have to convince you that Easy Rider is a reactionary picture, do I? The only characters depicted as unqualifiably virtuous are the homesteading faimly, living on their own acreage…. The hippies and the small-town southerners gathered in the diner; the small farmers and shaggy communards: they were on the same side. The side of liberty, of locally based community, of independence from from the war machine, the welfare state, the breaucratic prison whose wardens were McNamara, Rockefeller, Bundy… 

A “Fairness Doctrine” For Universities

April 28, 2006

Ron Paul on what David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights really means:

Instead of fostering open dialogue and wide-raging intellectual inquiry, the main effect of the "Academic Bill of Rights" will be to further stifle debate about controversial topics. This is because many administrators will order their professors not to discuss contentious and divisive subjects, in order to avoid a possible confrontation with the federal government. Those who doubt this should remember that many TV and radio stations minimized political programming in the 1960s and 1970s in order to avoid running afoul of the federal "fairness doctrine."

I am convinced some promoters of the "Academic Bill of Rights" would be perfectly happy if, instead of fostering greater debate, this bill silences discussion of certain topics. Scan the websites of some of the organizations promoting the "Academic Bill of Rights" and you will find calls for silencing critics of the Iraq war and other aspects of American foreign policy.

See also Jesse Walker's look at Horowitz's project. He too finds in it an instrument that warhawks will use to crush dissent on campus:

why might I worry that the rules would be so misused? Because I've looked at the rest of the Students for Academic Freedom website. The group's university "case studies" offer very few examples of conservative students or instructors being penalized for their views, preferring mostly to grouse that leftist views are present on campus in the first place. Two reports—one from Cornell, one from Southern Illinois University—direct their complaints not at bias in the classrooms but at bias in antiwar teach-ins. A dispatch from Holy Cross notes tartly that there had been "five recent campus presentations opposing the use of force against Saddam, and none favoring it." I think the reporter means officially sponsored presentations—the well-known hawk Daniel Pipes spoke there in February, after all—in which case he has proven, at most, that the administration tends to lean left on matters of foreign policy but puts no barriers in the way of those who'd like to offer other viewpoints. Whatever else that may constitute, it is hardly a violation of "academic freedom."

Walker is also rightly skeptical of Horowitz's claim that the ABOR won't amount to affirmative action for Republicans. Horowitz says that the bill is not meant to establish quotas, but as Walker reminds us, "backers of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made the exact same promise; Hubert Humphrey famously declared that 'nothing in the bill would permit any official or court to require any employer or labor union to give preferential treatment to any minority group.'"

Running for the Senate, Against the War

April 28, 2006

The Washington Post looks in on the antiwar Democratic Senate campaigns in Virginia and Maryland.

Allen the Family

April 28, 2006

Ryan Lizza of the New Republic takes a whack at Sen. George Allen, who, we discover, liked the Confederate flag in high school (even though he's a Yankee, which makes a difference) and hung a noose from a tree outside his law office as part of a Western memorabilia display. And he wears cowboy boots.

None of this is too likely to hurt Allen in his re-election campaign this year, and Lizza's sneering attitude toward Southerners shows why it will be some time yet before liberals can make solid inroads into the South. The TNR story could actually pose more complications for Democratic contender Jim Webb, who has tried to make the case that blacks and poor white Southerners ought to be working together. Webb, not Allen, has views on race that put him at odds with his base, particularly on affirmative action. Webb wrote six years ago:

Affirmative action, which originally sought to repair the state-induced damage to blacks from slavery and its aftermath, has within one generation brought about a permeating state-sponsored racism that is as odious as the Jim Crow laws it sought to countermand. A Soviet-style bureaucracy of political commissars now monitors every level of our society to ensure that racial and gender "diversity" matches pre-ordained models, using the awesome powers of government to make certain that white males are not "overrepresented" in education, employment or government contracts.

When his Democratic rival, Harris Miller, dug up this essay (which, let it be said, Webb makes readily available on his website), the Webb campaign had to triangulate, with a press release that seems to call for esoteric reading if one is to square it with Webb's earlier stance. "Jim fully supports affirmative action for African Americans," the campaign says, but by placing that remark in the context of "we are divided more and more along class lines than by race," another quote from the same press statement, it seems that Webb's position is that affirmative action is ok, but should be for the poor generally, black and white alike. That, or he's simply flip-flopped. Either way, the issue is trouble for him.

(I see another blogger, Conaway Haskins, reaches a conclusion somewhat different from mine about where Webb really stands on affirmative action. If Haskins is right, Webb has indeed flip-flopped, because there's no way that WSJ op-ed can be read as favoring racial preferences.)

The more that race becomes an issue, the more trouble Webb is going to have. Yankee liberals — there are more than a few of those here in Northern Virginia — will find Webb's outreach to Southern Virginians distasteful and his views on racial quotas heretical or hypocritical. If Webb tries to compensate by denouncing the good ol' boys, he'll alienate the voters he needs to beat Allen. He's running a smart campaign right now to win rural Virginians away from Allen — Webb has his own country musicians and has taken to wearing his son's combat boots as he campaigns: the boots of a soldier likely to deployed in combat, in contrast to the fancy cowboy boots worn by Allen, who is about as much of a cowboy as an extra from "Oklahoma!"

Lizza's article will get a fair bit of buzz from liberals and establishment conservatives eager to please their New Republic-following friends. But even if the worst of what Lizza has found is true and Allen was a racist in high school 40 years ago … that's not exactly going to derail his presidential chances. As Ed Kilgore of the Democratic Leadership Council writes on TPMCafe: "we are talking about the George Allen of a long, long time ago. Hell, I said and did a lot of stupid things at roughly the same time, and probably so did you, if you are a baby boomer like me." Lizza ought to take a few pointers from Webb and looked for problems with Allen a little more substantial than his clothes and Confederate memorabilia. But then, no one expects TNR to criticize Allen's support for, say, the Iraq War — that would actually require TNR to stand for something. Race sells more magazines anyway.

I'll say this though: after reading Lizza's article, I would vote for George Allen's mom. She could run for senator, president, whatever:

Etty was, in fact, French, and, as such, she was a deliciously indiscreet cultural libertine. She would do housework in her bra and panties. She wore muumuus and wraparound sunglasses and once won a belly button contest. According to Jennifer, "Mom prided herself for being un-American. … She was ashamed that she had given up her French citizenship to become a citizen of a country she deemed infantile." When her husband later moved the family to Virginia, Etty despised living in the state. She was also anti-Washington before her son ever was, albeit in a slightly more continental fashion. "Washingtonians think their town resembles Paris," she once scoffed. "If Paris passed gas, you'd have Washington."

And Then There’s Samuel Beckett

April 27, 2006

"Scholars Discover 23 Blank Pages That May Well Be Lost Samuel Beckett Play."

Actually, I'm appreciative, if skeptical, of Beckett. The Times (of London) offers this take on the Godot playwright.

Philip Roth: Boring

April 27, 2006

Michiko Kakutani on the lead character of the latest Roth barbiturate, Everyman:

The problem is, this nameless fellow turns out to be generic, rather than universal: a faceless cutout of a figure who feels like a composite assembled from bits and pieces of earlier Roth characters…

He's another one of this author's aging narcissists, increasingly isolated and forlorn and bitter; another dutiful son, torn between responsibility and rebellion; another restless womanizer continually trading in one year's model for the next. As for his life story, it's been orchestrated to underscore themes that Mr. Roth has examined with more energy and originality many, many times before…

For a fix of something livelier, here's Bill Kauffman's review of Roth's last opus, The Plot Against America — "Heil to the Chief."

Jane Jacobs, RIP

April 26, 2006

From the NY Times obit:

Ms. Jacobs['] … "The Economy of Cities" (Random House, 1969), challenged the ideas that cities were established on a rural economic base; rather, she suggested, rural economies have been built directly through city economies. After that came "The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle for Sovereignty" (Random House, 1980). It argued that Canada and Quebec would be better off without each other, on the general grounds that smaller is better.

She delved more deeply into economics and cities with "Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life" (Random House, 1984), in which she contended that national governments undermine the economy of cities, which she saw as the natural engines of economic growth.

I don't know of any school of urban planning that I'd agree with wholeheartedly, but there's much to admire in Jane Jacobs's work, especially where it touches upon decentralization and the primacy of cities over national governments. Don Boudreaux, in an incisive post on Cafe Hayek, cites this passage from Cities and the Wealth of Nations:

Nations are political and military entities, and so are blocs of nations. But it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that they are also the basic, salient entities of economic life or that they are particularly useful for probing the mysteries of economic structure, the reasons for the rise and decline of wealth.

See also Gene Callahan and Michael Blowhard.

Bible Belt, Divorce Belt?

April 26, 2006

Kevin Michael Grace relates the latest figures on religion and marriage — which again show that more politically conservative Baptist and nondenominational churches often have higher rates of divorce. He also takes a skeptical look at Catholic divorce rates, which are lower than those for most Protestants but don't take into account annulments, which in the United States (where 6 percent of the world's Catholics reside but 78 percent of annulments are granted) is really just divorce by another name.

The Barna Group study that Grace cites also puts the evangelical divorce rates into perspective:

George Barna noted that one reason why the divorce statistic among non-Born again adults is not higher is that a larger proportion of that group cohabits, effectively side-stepping marriage – and divorce – altogether. “Among born again adults, 80% have been married, compared to just 69% among the non-born again segment. If the non-born again population were to marry at the same rate as the born again group, it is likely that their divorce statistic would be roughly 38% – marginally higher than that among the born again group, but still surprisingly similar in magnitude.”

What most caught my eye, though, were not the statistics on religion and divorce, but the broad generational picture:

The research revealed that Boomers continue to push the limits regarding the prevalence of divorce. Whereas just one-third (33%) of the married adults from the preceding two generations had experienced a divorce, almost half of all married Boomers (46%) have already undergone a marital split. This means Boomers are virtually certain to become the first generation for which a majority experienced a divorce.

It appears that the generation following the Boomers will reach similar heights, since more than one-quarter of the married Baby Busters (27%) have already undergone a divorce, despite the fact that the youngest one-fifth of that generation has not even reached the average age of a first marriage.

And fewer people in the rising generational cohort are getting married in the first place. I've been surprised by the number of people in my own age bracket (a few years either side of 30) who have ruled out marriage altogether. These are, so far as my own friends go, chiefly conservatives and old-fashioned libertarians, hardly the sort to thumb their noses at convention. But what I hear from many of them is that the risk of divorce, including the mulcting of income and division of estates, provides one strong disincentive against marriage, while the state of the country and the world provides another.

The Claude Allen Story

April 26, 2006

What made Claude Allen, domestic policy advisor to President Bush and former deputy-sub-something-or-other at the Department of Health and Human Services (one of those departments that conservatives used to want to abolish), turn into a crook? A lengthy piece in the Washington Post yesterday ponders whether Allen snapped "after decades of operating outside the African American mainstream and often in concert with figures, like Helms, viewed as hostile to black interests." That's just one of several possibilities the piece moots, but since reporter Lynne Duke frames her story with an anecdote about Allen encountering racism in North Carolina, it's clearly the one readers are meant to credit. We're supposed to think that the cognitive dissonance of being a black man working for Jesse Helms and George W. Bush finally led Allen to turn to crime. Duke quotes a Virginia NAACP official named King Salim Khalafani to that effect — "The contradiction is going to manifest itself in some way in your behavior, your mental stability." — then endorses the idea herself: "It is just a theory, but one that stings."

Duke almost paints Allen as a victim — her interviews with Allen's acquaintances make him seem "enigmatic" (without ever giving any useful indication of what's supposed to be lurking beneath the surface) but even-keeled, generous, and likeable. After 20 years in politics, doesn't he have any enemies whose criticisms might shed a less flattering, less obfuscating light on this fraudster? Duke does cite critics, including Khalafani, who call him an ideologue, and she cites an instance of Allen essentially lying to Congress (when he tells a Senate confirmation panel that he left the Helms campaign after the senator filibustered the bill to make Martin Luther King Day a national holiday — in fact, as Duke reveals, Allen just took the day off). But she doesn't look deeper into what kind of political operative Allen was, instead choosing to play racial psychologist.

Let me suggest that there's a more natural explanation for Allen's behavior than the torque caused by being a black conservative: Allen turned into a crook precisely because he was an ideologue and a party stalwart. The same capacity that allows him to misrepresent his reaction to Helms's filibuster before Congress, and the same lack of scruple that makes a man effective in the Bush administration, is what allows someone like Allen to turn to petty crime. If the ends justify the means in politics, why not in retail fraud, too?

This is idle psychological speculation in its own right, of course, but it seems like a simpler and more elegant explanation than the one tendered by Duke and Khalafani, though it lacks all the titillating frisson of their racial explanation of Allen's behavior.

Outside the realm of speculation, though, one thing that can be said for certain is that Claude Allen should have listened to his mother. As Duke reveals:

Raised by Democrats, Allen shocked his mother, the late Lila Allen, when he told her back in 1982 that he was going to work for Republicans, according to Knight Ridder newspapers.

"Oh please, don't do that," she said. "You'll ruin your life."


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