Archives for November, 2005


I saw Jarhead a few weeks ago. I didn’t like it. It’s a war movie about nothing. That may work in the sit-com world, but not on the big screen. I suppose on some level there’s an interesting theme here: the frustration of men who sign up for combat and can’t get any in a world (at least circa ’91) of pushbutton wars. But it’s not very interesting onscreen.

Also Peter Sarsgaard, who’s generally as terrific in movies as he is pompous in interviews, gives a disappointing performance here. As a Marine sniper he’s about as convincing as Jude Law.

Swofford wrote an op-ed a couple of years ago. I didn’t like that either.

Posted on Nov 29, 2005 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Choice Words

Linda Hirshman’s attack on “choice feminism” in the American Prospect (plugged here by Matt Yglesias) is tons of fun. As Matt summarizes: “The basic idea is that while feminism has had a lot of success in opening up the workplace to female achievement, less has resulted from this in practice than one might have wanted because the family sphere has changed much less and that progressives need to push into this “private” domain if we want to succeed in bringing equality to the public sphere.”

In the piece, Hirshman tracks a group of elite women who had their weddings announced in the Sunday New York Times in 1996. (Here’s a blog devoted to ridiculing the twits who put their wedding announcements in the NYT.) Hirshman finds that today

Ninety percent of the brides I found had had babies. Of the 30 with babies, five were still working full time. Twenty-five, or 85 percent, were not working full time. Of those not working full time, 10 were working part time but often a long way from their prior career paths. And half the married women with children were not working at all….


This isn’t only about day care. Half my Times brides quit before the first baby came. In interviews, at least half of them expressed a hope never to work again. None had realistic plans to work. More importantly, when they quit, they were already alienated from their work or at least not committed to a life of work. One, a female MBA, said she could never figure out why the men at her workplace, which fired her, were so excited about making deals. “It’s only money,” she mused. Not surprisingly, even where employers offered them part-time work, they were not interested in taking it.

This is a problem, Hirshman suggests, that should be met with a clear message from organized feminism:

Housekeeping and child-rearing in the nuclear family is not interesting and not socially validated. Justice requires that it not be assigned to women on the basis of their gender and at the sacrifice of their access to money, power, and honor.

As long as we’re talking about what’s not interesting, most jobs, even (or especially?) jobs open to elite law school grads and MBAs, are not all that interesting, and many of the poor schlubs these Times-wedding-announcement ladies married are going to spend their days commuting on the LIRR, perched atop a hemmorhoid donut, pecking away feverishly on their laptops, and longing for Colin Ferguson. The women Hirshman interviewed, and whose choices she laments, are just showing good sense. As far as hard-core feminism goes, I think I preferred the whacked-out utopian variety offered by Andrea Dworkin. In Hirshman’s version, when the revolution comes, everyone will be Harriet Miers.

Posted on Nov 29, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Jihadi Geniuses

A day or so late, but one of the things I’m thankful for is that the people we’re fighting seem actually to be dumber than the people running American foreign policy, if such a thing can be believed. This, from Wed.’s NYT article about the Padilla indictment, is right up there with the fellow who thought he could cut down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch:

Although the indictment does not say so, officials confirm that the conversations are from wiretaps authorized by a special court that reviews law enforcement applications to eavesdrop on foreigners suspected of intelligence activities.

In the indictment’s recounting of the conversations, the principals converse in what officials describe as code, referring to arms shipments and attack plans as sporting events or, on some occasions, as vegetables.

But any such efforts to conceal the nature of the subjects discussed were seemingly clumsy. In one conversation, for instance, Adham Amin Hassoun talks with another defendant, Mohamed Hesham Youssef, about soccer equipment. The indictment says that Mr. Hassoun later told investigators he had indeed been referring to sports equipment, but that he was unable to explain why he had then asked Mr. Youssef if he had enough “soccer equipment” to “launch an attack on the enemy.”

This is what we’re supposed to duct tape ourselves into our houses over?

Posted on Nov 26, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Rational Irrationality

I liked Brian Caplan’s rational choice theory of religion, detailed here.

The gist of my theory is that people persistently hold wildly irrational religious beliefs because the material cost is usually very low. In terms of daily life, what difference does it make if the earth is 6000 years old or 6 billion? So it’s not surprising how readily people shut their eyes to the geological evidence. In contrast, when the cost of irrationality is high, believers conveniently forget the teachings of their religion. Lots of religions promise paradise to martyrs, but adherents eager to die for their beliefs are one-in-a-million.

Is religion rational? In an important sense, NO. The doctrines of every religion are at best extremely improbable, but adherents are still very certain about them. Religious beliefs and standard economic models don’t fit together. However, rather than ignoring or denying this incompatibility, economists should deal with it. If I’m right, it’s not hard. Yes, religious beliefs are irrational, but they are so divorced from reality that they are rarely costly. When they do become costly, a few fanatics lay down their lives, but the overwhelming majority of the faithful open their eyes and face the fact that it’s crazy to bet your life on fairy tales.

Of course, as I’m sure he’s noticed, just about everything about that theory applies just as well to politics, which may explain a lot of the world around us.

Posted on Nov 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

“Dishonest,” “Reprehensible,” “Shameless,” Etc., Etc.

If you’re trying to defend your administration against charges of lying the country into war, Dick Cheney’s really the guy you want as your point man. He’s got such a long, distinguished record in that regard:

When George H. W. Bush ordered American forces to the Persian Gulf Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?¢?? to reverse Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?¢?? part of the administration case was that an Iraqi juggernaut was also threatening to roll into Saudi Arabia. Citing top-secret satellite images, Pentagon officials estimated in midÃ?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?¢??September that up to 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks stood on the border, threatening the key US oil supplier.

But when the St. Petersburg Times in Florida acquired two commercial Soviet satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, no Iraqi troops were visible near the Saudi border Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?¢?? just empty desert….

“That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist,” Ms. Heller says. Three times Heller contacted the office of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (now vice president) for evidence refuting the Times photos or analysis Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?¢?? offering to hold the story if proven wrong.

The official response: “Trust us.” To this day, the Pentagon’s photographs of the Iraqi troop buildup remain classified.

As for this war, do I think they knew Iraq didn’t have WMD and that they lied about that? Of course not. I think they thought, reasonably enough, that we’d find something, and they could use that something to bolster that rationale for the war. Along the way, they tortured the facts in the hopes they’d confess. Here is a pretty nice, link-rich roundup of the trumped-up claims. (If you don’t like it, denounce the source.)

They didn’t make everything up out of whole cloth, but the key selling point for the war–that we needed to attack to head off a forthcoming Al Qaeda/Saddam nexus that might end in a mushroom cloud–was a fraud. That was apparent at the time, and it’s only become more so since. That may be why what passes for refined right-wing opinion these days says it’s a leader’s prerogative to lie his country into war.

Posted on Nov 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Begging His Pardon

George W. Bush pardoned the Thanksgiving Turkey, and he may eventually pardon Scooter, but other than that, he’s not very interested in the presidential power to pardon. Here’s a piece I wrote that ran in the Legal Times recently. Excerpt:

It’s unfortunate that it takes the indictment of a high-ranking White House official to remind Washington that the president has the “Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States.” In an era in which the federal criminal justice system is becoming ever more centralized and punitive, there are many federal prisoners who are far better candidates for a pardon than I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. Yet they have gone unnoticed by a president whose exercise of the pardon power has been timid at best.

At the end of September, with no more fanfare than a Justice Department press release, President George W. Bush announced that he had pardoned 14 people. Most had received minor sentences and had served their time–if any–more than a decade ago.

This was in keeping with Bush’s long-standing reluctance to pardon: The president issued 31 clemency orders in his first term, far fewer than those granted by his father or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. Indeed, along with the veto, the pardon seems to be the rare executive power that this president is reluctant to use….

Posted on Nov 21, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“Prussian Blue” for Liberals

You really shouldn’t dress your kid in a “Che” shirt.

Posted on Nov 14, 2005 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Sumpin Infuriating

Finally, something that’s irritated me enough to make me blog. Or “sumpin,” I should say. I saw this sign on the DC Metro the other day.

“Sumpnspicious,” — a play on the slang pronunciation of “something suspicious” — is defined as “n. (noun) unattended package or odd, unusual behavior that is reported to a bus driver, train operator … station manager or Metro Police.”

It’s the homeland security equivalent of “psgetti.” I could get used to the surveillance, I guess. But do we have to be so friggin cutesy about it?

Posted on Nov 13, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments