Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Horserace Reportage

I think this falls under the strategy of "lowering expectations."

David Horowitz Picked On Feminists for a Reason

I was on the other end of the so-called "email debate" Jesse talked about in his post. To be upfront I thought what David Horowitz wrote in his Weekly Standard piece was total bunk, though and through. But then, so is much of what is written in the Weekly Standard.

Jesse says he (sort of) agrees with Horowitz that academic disciplines can have political biases and perpetuate echo chambers of falsehoods. I'm not sure I entirely disagree with that point. Although I'd have to say there's plenty of disagreement within the women's studies community. That is the point of academia -- to constantly revise to get to the truth. The one economics class I sat through when taught by a George Mason professor was loaded with debatable assumptions and lots of free-market biases. (Although I doubt Horowitz rejects economics in the same way he rejects women's studies.)

What I do think is that Horowitz picked on women's studies (or, as I prefer to call them, gender studies*) departments for a reason. As one of the newest disciplines and loaded with social stigma that just isn't true of other humanities or social science disciplines, he used biases rooted in sexism to make his larger point about academic freedom.

Leaving aside the obvious point that I am a woman arguing for gender studies against two white men, I have to disclose that I was not a women's studies major in college and never took a class through the gender studies department at my university, but I do identify strongly with some key feminist works that are usually required reading in the department. I can't speak to Jesse's experience in a comp lit class at his college, but my instinct is to say that sure, there are biological differences, but it's also true that people have massively overestimated biology's relation to gender over time. It used to be widely accepted in the scientific community, for instance, that women could not play sports because it would damage their uteri. Therefore, I think the point his teacher was (hopefully) trying to make is that assumptions about biological differences aren't necessarily a given and we should be really careful about throwing them around.

Personally, I wish I had taken gender studies classes at my university. I think I'd be better off. In fact, it's arguable that everyone should take a gender studies class as part of a liberal arts education -- or even a regular high school education. After all, the way gender plays into culture is relevant to everyone. I reject the idea that gender studies is an inherently "political" discipline any more than other social sciences, but it is definitely perceived that way. That's why Horowitz chose it. He used a political perception about women's studies to make a political point about academia in general.

*I know this is controversial, but the reason I favor gender studies is mainly to be inclusive to transgender individuals.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We Miss You, Daily Show

John Stewart is on hiatus while the writers of the "Daily Show" are on strike. In the meantime, you should watch this shtick from a "Daily Show" writer expressing his beef.

He makes some good points, but Irene Tsikitas (whom I got the video from) of National Journal laments the "Daily Show" hiatus as actually damaging to democracy. After all, if Jon Steward and Stephen Colbert won't point out how ridiculous our electoral process and media coverage is, who will? Apparently no one.

I actually stumbled across the National Journal post because I hadn't heard anything about the writer's strike in a while so I hit up Google news to tell me what was going on. Turns out, nothing. Still, the media executives have decided that writers are not worth paying for. It's a pretty common problem. Everyone thinks they can write, so they figure it's not worth paying for. If there's anything worth paying for, in my experience, it's quality satire.

We miss you "Daily Show." May your overlords come to their senses and pay you what you deserve.

Cross-posted on

Tuesday Bluefin Blogging

Okay, so admittedly I have a greater fondness for sea creatures than I do cats, so any excuse I can find to put pretty ocean pictures on my blog, I will. A guest post on Gristmill by Carl Safina has given me such an excuse. As he says, the condition of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna shows exactly what bad shape our oceans our in. Thanks in no small part to overfishing:
Last year, U.S. fishermen caught only 10 percent of their quota. By any measure, they're going out of business. Because they consistently refused to discuss cutting their quota for the sake of conservation and their own future, their greed is bankrupting them.
We've seen businesses of all kinds resist conservationist regulations. Now, the favoring of industry over conservation is starting to take it's toll, and the industries are still dying because greed puts them in dire straights. So perhaps we should actually start listening to alarmist environmentalists and regulate human toll on the earth for good of industry and the good of the planet.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reagan-Colored Glasses

In today's sceney the-state-of-young-conservatism-today piece in the WaPo, there was no shortage of glowing praise for that eternal conservative flame: Ronald Reagan. Campus Progress recently examined the fixation groups like Young America's Foundation have with the old Gipper. What's aways incomprehensible to me is that when you compare the two conservative two-term presidents we've had, Bush and Reagan, Bush seems to be far to the right of Reagan. Bush exploded the deficit more, fought a real war in the name of democracy, actually legislated a chip on Roe v. Wade, and has done a better job of putting tow-the-line conservatives in high positions. So why is Bush so absent among the rosy speeches that young conservatives make?

Is it just that Bush is that unpopular, even among the youth? Possibly, but I think the real thing here is that we're witnessing is the fundamental problem with conservatism in practice. At the core of their ideology, conservatives believe that the best of life and politics was in the past. First, they tried to hark back to the 1950s and early '60s. Now, it's the '80s. I've no doubt Bush will be elevated to such a position, but his time has not yet come. He's too fresh. Soon enough, though, conservatives will begin to gloss over Bush's errors and hail him as the last man that truly fought for conservatism. Too bad he's not there yet; he could really use the ratings.

Cross-posted at

Friday, November 16, 2007


I thought Sharon Butler's piece on the mega-museum was good today:
The ergonomic appeal, original charm, and traditional character of an old museum may also suffer on account of too much "improvement" too fast. Mega-museums can simply overwhelm viewers. A dizzying array of temporary exhibitions compete for attention alongside already abundant permanent collections, and after scurrying willy-nilly among them, visitors leave feeling as though they haven't seen anything in depth. While the Museum of Modern Art in New York, vastly expanded in 2004, in some ways remains a fine example of modernist restraint, many patrons now complain of its coldness and daunting size.
Minneapolis just redeveloped, redesigned, and relaunched its two major museums: the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Walker Art Museum. Now these two museums include expansive gift shops, thousands of square feet of brand-name gallery space, and pricey restaurants and cafes. While I think they were met with enthusiasm for a flashy new museum, it seems that the excitement will fade quickly.

There's something to be said for going to a museum and feeling like you truly experienced the small space, rather than sprinting through something like the expansive MoMA.

Not To Brag, But ...

cash advance

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Role of the Reserve

Philip Carter has a report over at Progressive Policy Institute that talks about how overstretched our military reserves are. This means that if there were a major disaster or terrorist attack, we be in deep trouble:

Between December 2005 and November 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a major study of National Guard readiness in four states -- California, Florida, New Jersey, and West Virginia -- to gauge how current operations were affecting the Guard's readiness to execute its domestic mission. The GAO study assessed readiness holistically, looking at objective manpower and equipment statistics, as well as subjective measures of readiness like commanders' evaluations of their units. According to the GAO, 20 states and territories said they had an "inadequate capability" to execute 10 core domestic-security missions. The states' largest area of concern was their readiness to respond to a chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological or high-yield explosive device.

This is not only a good way to talk about the current war, since this is a practical argument to start withdrawing troops, but it's also a good way to think about foreign policy generally. Our military is built on volunteer forces and therefore isn't built to sustain a long occupation. Instead it's built as a force to complete brief missions abroad and have a reserve force at home that can mobilize quickly. With the state our forces are in now, it looks like we're opening ourselves up for the next attack. And that is truly dangerous.

Cross-posted on

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meditation on the Election

I had a conversation with Ezra in which a third party asked me who I was supporting in the Democratic field. When I said I was genuinely undecided, Ezra jokingly told that person that I wasn't, and that I was supporting Hillary Clinton. This was news to me. Since Kevin Drumm can write a long and meditative post about the Democratic field, then I guess, so will I.

Perhaps based on things I've written in the past, these liberal bloggers think they've got me all figured out. And to be honest, when I wrote that post, I felt obligated to defend Clinton as a candidate because I identify with her in many ways. I'm an ambitious white woman seeking to make it in a field that is overwhelmingly dominated by men. That's a really tough thing to do. She also does a good job of going to bat for a set of issues that I care about: toning down the abortion debate so it's not pro-lifers and pro-choicers screaming at one another, but giving voice to the people somewhere in the middle that want abortion to be legal, even if they're uncomfortable with it; she introduced legislation that would make big steps in closing the pay gap; and she has a long history of advocating for women's opportunities. But to be perfectly honest, I still have major reservations about her foreign policy positions. I'm wonder if by nominating her, we'll return to a shrill and divided debate that the right brought up the first time around with the Clintons.

Obama appeals to me in a way that no candidate has in a long time. His hopeful attitudes about politics and bipartisanship make me want to believe in the system again. I find him a compelling candidate, and I have no doubt that if elected, he would do everything he could to start healing this country after too many years of bitter divides. It's also impossible for me to ignore that Obama may be a real role model for young black men in this country in the way Clinton is, in some ways, for me. I find Obama's ideas about foreign policy really appealing. He wants to overturn decades of injustice in Cuba based on a stale Cold War grudge. He wants to talk to leaders about things that matter. But is his freshness just a cover for a real lack of experience? I don't know, but the question still hinges in my mind, even if I really like him as a candidate.

Edwards has policies that I really agree with, and I think that he's pushed the dialog back in the direction of what government can and should do for the American people. He has a pragmatic approach to how to infuse out government with progressivism. He wants to do things like tie the minimum wage to the cost of living so it doesn't have to become a huge battle in Congress every time. He's working hard to bring back populism that has been absent from politics for too long. Do I think he has a shot in hell of winning the primary? Not really. Does that mean I should vote for him anyway? Maybe.

I have to say, I loved Rebecca Traister's recent ode to Kucinich.

And the underlying fear to all this meditation is which candidate will stand up to the bitter, harsh, and relentless machine that the right has implemented in this country. I don't know which candidate will do that best, because, as we saw with Kerry, it's the little things that can really change the debate of the election, and those little things are as of yet unknown.

So the sort version of this is that I still genuinely don't know who I will go to the ballot box and vote for* come time.**

* Not that it matters, as a resident of the District of Columbia, I have very little to say about who the Democratic nominee will be. It will be totally decided by the time my primary comes around.

** This text was edited from the original.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Young People Are the New Isolationists

My friend Mark over at UN Dispatch alerted me to a new poll conducted by the UN Foundation which shows that overall people have more faith in international co-operation than military action. What's really interesting, though, is that young people (which the UN defines as the 15-24 age range) view themselves as islolationists more than older generations do. They tend to resist interference in other countries' internal problems. I'm all for resisting military invasions, but what I think is danerous about this, though, is that it suggests a general disengagement with what's going on in the world. There are plenty of places (see: Pakistan and possibly Sudan -- although there are some strong arguments to be made for military intervention there) where some strong diplomacy could swing things in a favorable direction. Since the US has so much power when it comes to trade (although to a lessening degree lately) it makes sense to monitor what's going on in other countries.

I'm interested to know, what do other young people think about isolationism?

Cross-posted at

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

I have a piece up at the Prospect today taking a look at the state of care for veterans today:
On December 22, 2005, Joshua Omvig, a 22-year-old reservist from Davenport, Iowa, committed suicide with a gun in his pickup truck, after returning from a tour of duty Iraq a year earlier. He suffered post traumatic stress disorder, a common problem with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Omvig's parents, Randy and Ellen, began lobbying for comprehensive PTSD care for all veterans; they even used his memorial webpage to lobby for mental health care. Omvig became a symbol in committee hearings for veterans suffering from PTSD. The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act was signed into law last week. On this Veterans Day, nearly two years after Omvig ended his own life, and more than six years after the invasion of Afghanistan, it seems appropriate to step back and survey the state of veteran benefits.

The exact number of Iraq or Afghanistan veterans experiencing PTSD is unknown. In 2004, the Associated Press estimated as many as one in eight returning soldiers might experience symptoms related to combat stress. The percentage of soldiers who encounter combat stressors like being ambushed or receiving rocket fire is estimated to be about 90 percent of those serving in Iraq, according to the National Center for PTSD, which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the 1.5 million troops that have returned from Iraq, the VA estimates that at least 283 soldiers have committed suicide after exiting the military; 147 have killed themselves while stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Suicide rates for soldiers once they have returned are double the rates during deployment.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Don't Rush Into a Mortgage

This morning I heard a surprising statistic. About one-quarter of people under the age of 25 are homeowners, according to an interview I heard on NPR this morning with author Shira Boss. The author of Green With Envy: A Whole New Way to Look at Financial (Un)Happiness argues that the burden taken on by homeownership can often outweigh the benefits. She talked of how homeowners constantly pour money into improvements: from small things like painting to larger improvements like re-roofing. The cost of these improvements can outweigh how much one makes on the sale of the house, espeically in such a poor real estate market today.

I'd sort of always been taught that investing in real estate was a "sure bet," and have lately been proven that that isn't the case. What's more, buying a house can lock you into jobs or locations that you may not want to be in for a long period of time. Many of us should be used to the idea that, especially in the beginning of our careers, we're often not in jobs for more than a year. What's more, when a mortgage comes into play, you can never take a pay cut. If you get laid off, you're in severe dire straights.

I for one am a renter. Although my family has encouraged me to look into ownership, I'm reluctant to lock myself into that investment. Who knows if I'll be in the DC area for a long time?

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ron Paul = Guy Fawkes?

Ron Paul managed to raise more than $4 million yesterday through his Guy Fawkes website. Really, Guy Fawkes? Ron Paul is associating himself with a historical figure who spearheaded a plot to blow up the houses of Parliament -- by very definition, a terrorist. True, England was persecuting Catholics and Fawkes role was to fight back against a religiously intolerant government, but he was still a terrorist by definition. It seems a strange stance for an antiwar candidate.

Election Day

Today is election day. It's not a midterm or presidential election year, so turnout is assured to be low. What stands is local and state elections (including the balance of Virginia's state legislature). Sadly, this is the first year I won't be able to vote since I turned 18. I only registered last Friday, and the District of Columbia requires a 30-day advance on registration. It makes me miss my home state of Minnesota, where day-of voter registration was legal.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Racism in Crime

I agree with Matt that American Gangster was good but not great, but the question of glamorizing criminals is an interesting one. I initially had the same gut reaction to the movie, and found the 30-second cameo of a few nameless heroin addicts lacking after most of the movie was devoted to the high style of the gangsters. The women cutting and bagging the product seemed to be having fun, when the reality is that the work conditions in reality weren't so great.

But let's take a step back here. The movie depicted the cops as corrupt. Even though what Frank Lucas did was certainly bad, it's not as if the cops that were supposed to be keeping order were any better. They were racist and corrupt. Lewis emerged at at time when black men couldn't make it to the top of the legitimate world, so making it to the top of the criminal world was something. It's easy to discount people because they're criminals, but you also have to look at the opportunities in the legitimate world. If there's nothing offered there, of course the criminal option seems better.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Stand Down, Citizens

Via Chris Hayes, Bruce Schneier talks about how making citizens part of the counterterrorism effort is ... well, counterproductive. The "If you see something, say something" ad campaigns that are in airports, subway stations, and high-security buildings are sort of ineffective:

The problem is that ordinary citizens don't know what a real terrorist threat looks like. They can't tell the difference between a bomb and a tape dispenser, electronic name badge, CD player, bat detector, or a trash sculpture; or the difference between terrorist plotters and imams, musicians, or architects. All they know is that something makes them uneasy, usually based on fear, media hype, or just something being different.

Even worse: after someone reports a "terrorist threat," the whole system is biased towards escalation and CYA instead of a more realistic threat assessment.

Watch how it happens. Someone sees something, so he says something. The person he says it to -- a policeman, a security guard, a flight attendant -- now faces a choice: ignore or escalate. Even though he may believe that it's a false alarm, it's not in his best interests to dismiss the threat. If he's wrong, it'll cost him his career. But if he escalates, he'll be praised for "doing his job" and the cost will be borne by others. So he escalates. And the person he escalates to also escalates, in a series of CYA decisions. And before we're done, innocent people have been arrested, airports have been evacuated, and hundreds of police hours have been wasted.

What's more, ordinary citizens could point out someone they suspect of being a terrorist just because they have a different color of skin or are wearing religious garments. Those characteristics don't automatically make people terrorists. Leave the counterterrorism efforts to professionals. Observant people who really suspect something will report things anyway, and there's no need to make people paranoid.

Cross-posted at

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...