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March 31, 2007

Nine Points

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

That's John Edwards' lead over John McCain in the latest Rasmussen head-to-head poll. Good will following the cancer announcement undoubtably helped him, but it's a much larger lead than I would've expected him to have at this juncture. By comparison, Rasmussen's most recent Hillary-McCain poll, released 9 days ago, has her trailing McCain by 7.

And now we find ourselves on the last day of the fundraising quarter. The amount of money that comes through in the period ending today will do a lot to tell the media who the serious candidates are. If you'd like to point them to the candidate with the best ideas on health care and global poverty, the boldness to push these ideas through Congress, and the widespread appeal to win a general election, the hours before midnight are essential. I'm going to my donations page right now to toss in another $100 -- please click on the link and help out!

March 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Clowns, Drunkards, Germans, Dwarfs, And Other Lewd Things

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Our friends at Pandagon have made me aware of the furor over sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro's "My Sweet Jesus", a 200-pound anatomically correct life-size sculpture of the Lord made entirely out of milk chocolate. (Here's a photo of the sacrilicious work.) Bill Donahue's comment: "This is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever." Sadly, no one asked Donahue to rank it against Amanda's criticisms of the Church position on contraception or the purported "Anti-Catholic Atrocities" that he criticized years ago -- among them, an ad in which someone was bringing onion dip to communion for wafer-dipping purposes.

At times like this, I'm put in mind of the dialogue between Italian painter Paolo Veronese and his inquisitors in 1573. Veronese had just painted his fifth Last Supper, which you can see here, and had adorned it in unconventional ways. Thanks to the good folk at Veniceblog, I can present you with a partial transcript of the dialogue:

Inquisitors: Do you know why you are brought before us?

Veronese: No my Lords.

Inquisitors: Can you imagine why?

Veronese: I can well imagine why.

Inquisitors: Say what you imagine.

Veronese: On account of what was said to me by ... the Prior of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, for he told me he [had recently appeared before the Inquisitors] and you had instructed him to have the figure of the Magdalen inserted in the place where there is now a dog.

Inquisitors: To which picture do you refer?

Veronese: To a painting of the Last Supper ...

Inquisitors: Where is this painting?

Veronese: In the refectory of the friars of Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

Inquisitors: On this Lord's Supper, did you depict any servants?

Veronese: There is a master of the house, Simon, and below this figure I have also put a steward, and made it look as though he has come for his own entertainment to see how the feast is going. There are many other figures which I cannot recall, for it is a long time since I put up the picture.

Inquisitors:What is the meaning of the man with a bleeding nose?

Veronese: I meant him to be a servant with a nosebleed on account of some mishap.

Inquisitors: What is the meaning of those armed men, dressed in the German style, each with a halberd in his hands?

Veronese: I must say a few words here.

We painters take the same licence as do poets and madmen, and so I made those two halberdiers, one of them drinking and the other eating, next to a blind staircase, and they were put there to be ready to perform some task, for I thought it fitting that the owner of the house (who I was told was a great and rich man) should have such servants.

Inquisitors: And that man dressed as a clown, with a parrot on his fist, for what purpose did you paint him on the canvas?

Veronese: For ornament, as one does.

Inquisitors: Who are at the Lord's table?

Veronese: The 12 apostles.

Inquisitors: [What is the man three seats over from Jesus doing?]

Veronese: Attending to his teeth with a fork.

Inquisitors: Did anyone commission you to paint Germans and clowns and the like?

Veronese: No. My commission was to adorn the picture as I saw fit, for it is large and can include many figures, or so I thought.

Inquisitors: Do you do as your fancy takes you, without any discretion or judgment?

Veronese: No, my lords.

Inquisitors: Do you think it proper to depict clowns, drunkards, Germans, dwarfs and other lewd things at the Lord's Last Supper?

Veronese: No, my lords.

Inquisitors: Then why did you paint them?

Veronese: I did them on the understanding that they are not within the place where the supper is being held.

At the conclusion, the record reads:
Master Paolo should be compelled to correct and amend the picture considered at the session ... within three months ... at his expense, and under threat of penalties to be imposed by the Holy Office. And so they decreed with all due propriety.

March 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (31)

Who You Calling Obtuse?

By Ankush

I'm finding James Kirchick (the assistant to Marty Peretz) to be ... interesting.

In the middle of an attack on the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission -- the merits of which I'm not concerned with here -- he offers this up:

IGLHRC's executive director, Paul Ettlebrick, who seems unable to open her mouth about the horrendous treatment of gays overseas without throwing in a line about how awful her own country is, said, "Who is the U.S. to issue a report on every other government in the world on its human rights activities, especially in light of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib?" Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo (the former a disgrace and the latter hardly so) should not rise to the level of epic disasters responsible for utterly destroying America's moral authority.

Guantanamo is "hardly" a disgrace? Kirchick, without any sense of irony, proceeds to diagnose Ettlebrick with a "serious case of moral obtuseness." Is someone at The New Republic seriously defending what goes on there?

Inquiring minds...

Update: I corrected the first sentence to note that Kirchick is Peretz's assistant, not Franklin Foer's.  Thanks to commenter DaveMB for the catch.

March 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (11)

The interminable "sovereignty vs. human rights" debate

(Posted by John.)

There's a lot that I agree with in Michael Berubé's post here on the "sovereignty left", but I think this is actually an easy question to answer:

And it is in both camps’ interest to pretend that Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were all part of the same enterprise: all three wars were wars of liberation for the Hawks, and all three were exercises in imperialism for the Sovereignty Left. The Hawks wound up agreeing, in whole or in part, with Bush’s premise that Iraq was the next logical front in the War on Terror. And the Sovereignty Left has never quite explained what American empire was established in the Balkans, and they’ve never quite explained why they opposed the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 but opposed the Taliban’s removal after al-Qaeda’s strikes against the US. But both groups share the common goal of aligning supporters of war in Kosovo and Afghanistan with supporters of war in Iraq.

I have no particular reason to defend the individuals in Berubé's crosshairs, but I certainly think we could all do with a more critical review of what, exactly, has been happening in Kosovo since the war in 1999.  First of all, it's quite clear that the early assurances from Washington and other NATO capitals that Kosovo would not be partitioned off from Serbia have proven false -- it's now almost certain Kosovo will be recognized as an independent state.  The only remaining question is what price Russia will extract for not vetoing such a decision by the UN.

But specifically to the issue of American Imperialism in the Balkans, we see that in fact Kosovo is now home to one of the largest US bases in Europe, Camp Bondsteel.  It seems to me that if one of the arguments that the US is conducting an imperial war in Iraq revolves around the construction of permanent US bases in that country, the construction of a massive permanent base in Kosovo is certainly relevant.  I have no idea what arguments Chomsky is making these days, but "it's all about oil" was the argument Chomsky was making when I last read his works.  Then there's people like Chalmers "America is an empire of bases" Johnson, who has repeatedly stated his arguments that the onward march of American bases across the planet is wholly imperial.

One of the issues that concerns me is the almost flippant disregard for national sovereignty that prominent liberals (predominantly in the anglosphere) have begun to take, especially after the UN confirmed the "responsibility to protect", a doctrine which essentially lays the groundwork for future humanitarian interventions.  Even though the UN only officialized this doctrine less than two years ago, we're already seeing it used as a rhetorical club against powers like China for supporting Sudan at the UN.

I don't consider myself part of the "sovereignty left" that Berubé speaks of -- I supported and still support the NATO mission in Kosovo, with some misgivings -- but I think it's too easy to gloss over the real value that a norm of national sovereignty provides to international politics.

The problem is that this debate has not been marked by an abundance of clarity.  When people talk about "national sovereignty" they tend to mean one or more of several different but related concepts.  Dictators like Milosevic or Putin use sovereignty when what they really mean is autonomy, a concept that doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

To clarify:  in IR-speak, de jure sovereignty is the recognized right of a government to govern a territory.   (Most countries.)  De facto sovereignty is the ability to do so absent international recognition.  (Taiwan.)  Autonomy is the right or ability of a sovereign government not to have its acts interfered with by another power.  The concepts are obviously closely related, but the ways in which they are distinct are important to this debate.

I think once you clarify these concepts, the division between Kosovo and Bush's wars becomes clear:  Kosovo was unquestionably a major breach of Yugoslavia's autonomy, but not so much of its sovereignty.  This is why I mentioned the promises of no partition earlier -- this was important in selling the war back then.  Yugoslavia was recognized as the legitimate government of Kosovo, even if it was doing illegitimate things.  We didn't want to destroy the Milosevic regime, we simply wanted them to stop.  (Ending Milosevic's regime took other measures, that were more effective.)

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, on the other hand, were clearly about sovereignty:  neither Hussein nor the Taliban were legitimate governments, in Washington's eyes.  It was not enough for either state to stop doing the things they were accused of -- those governments had to lose their sovereignty and be replaced by different governments. 

Of course, this hasn't turned out so well in either of those cases -- certainly not as well as Kosovo.  This is why I think "a curious worship of the norm of sovereignty" is actually a reasonably healthy thing to have, at least in so far as we're talking explicitly about actual sovereignty and not autonomy.  If I can venture a hypothesis, I think that America is in a much better position to dictate the proper behavior of a government than dictating who is the legitimate government.  Look at Iran where the international community is reasonably united on the idea that Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons, but most of America's allies also think Iran can reasonably ask the US to forswear regime change.

March 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (12)

March 30, 2007

Gay Adoption

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

It's a year and a half old, but I liked this semi-long article on gay adoption from everyone's favorite libertarian, Julian Sanchez. It covers a lot of ground, including the shift in cultural attitudes towards acceptance of gay adoption and the consensus among academic researchers, social workers, psychologists, and pediatricians in favor of it.

March 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (31)

Good news about climate change!

(Posted by John.)

...just kidding, of course.  Joseph Romm -- Clinton-era energy booster -- has highlighted a pair of articles about the way the media has misreported probably one of the most basic elements of global warming:  rising sea levels.  Essentially, the media took the IPCC's low-ball estimates and made them the only acceptable predictions.  Both papers take issue with that.  One takes a linear approach and says that if the world's seas rise at the rate they did in the 20th century, we could be in for a one-meter rise by 2100.  James Hansen, in the other paper, says that if the rate of sea level rise accelerates like it has since 1950, we could be in for a five meter rise in sea levels.  Both predictions are outside the range used by the IPCC, because the IPCC was only allowed to consider very limited models in its predictions -- and those prediction were bad enough.

Hansen's paper is here, Stefan Rahmstorf's is here.  (Both links PDF.)

March 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Equal Rights Amendment Open Thread

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Set aside the scaremongering from Phylis Schafly about unisex bathrooms. What are the practical consequences of enacting the Equal Rights Amendment? What rights does it protect that the equal protection clause in the fourteenth amendment, now interpreted to apply broadly to stop discrimination against any "suspect class" including women, doesn't protect? What discriminatory laws that might otherwise be held constitutional would become unconstitutional? What enforcement legislation (e.g. portions of the Violence Against Women Act) that's currently unconstitutional would become constitutional? Or is it purely symbolic?

I'm genuinely curious about the answers here. I'd like to believe that discrimination in law or policy on the basis of sex would not be upheld by todays courts. But perhaps I'm being idealistic.


Update: The ERA's "why" page is a good start. Gender discrimination is subject to "heightened scrutiny" a somewhat lower standard than the "strict scrutiny" standard applied to racial discrimination. The "let women into VMI" case seems to be the rallying cry. But, the women's groups won the VMI case, with the court voting 7-1 to allow women to enroll (Scalia dissenting, Thomas recusing). ERA advocates also point to other discrimination reducing laws that have failed to pass as evidence that discrimination, or at least apathy towards reducing discrimination, in Congress still exists. No arguments there, but I don't see how the ERA will allow the courts to change the set of available defenses under the Equal Pay Act without a legislative change.

March 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (24)

Uncaffeinated, pre-Argentina blogging

By Brian Beutler

As some of you probably know, I'm leaving tomorrow (on, in fact, a jet plane) for a semi-extended stay in Argentina. I'll be writing, I hope, about international criminal justice and the trials of that country's junta leaders. Hopefully I'll keep updating my own blog while I'm down there. That's the plan for now. But moving to a different hemisphere turns out to be a pretty labor-intensive undertaking, and I fear I'm falling behind. So it's quite possible that this is my last post from above the equator for a few weeks. It almost certainly will be on Ezra's blog. Thanks for letting me (us) help keep house while he was away. Hope we were good, suitably engaging stewards. If things cool down later in the day, I may return for some light pre-weekend blogging. But if not, farewell to all my friends. Thanks for reading.

March 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (5)

The inaccurate assumption of competence dodge

By Brian Beutler

From his op-ed in The Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer engages in what one might call "the inaccurate assumption of competence dodge":

Of all the arguments for pulling out of Iraq, the greater importance of Afghanistan is the least serious.

And not just because this argument assumes that the world's one superpower, which spends more on defense every year than the rest of the world combined, does not have the capacity to fight an insurgency in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. But because it assumes that Afghanistan is strategically more important than Iraq.

Well, I would venture that the argument assumes "the world's one superpower...does not have the capacity to fight an insurgency in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan" because, quite simply, the world's one superpower does not have the capacity to fight an insurgency in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. That, Dr. Krauthammer, has by now been borne out empirically. The same argument also assumes that Al Qaeda leadership is more likely to be found in Central Asia than in the Middle East. And, of course, it implies the small point that there was an actual moral case to be made (and there remains public support) for overthrowing the Taliban.

Being a doctor, though, Krauthammer presents a "thought experiment":

Bring in a completely neutral observer -- a Martian -- and point out to him that the United States is involved in two hot wars against radical Islamic insurgents. One is in Afghanistan, a geographically marginal backwater with no resources and no industrial or technological infrastructure. The other is in Iraq, one of the three principal Arab states, with untold oil wealth, an educated population, an advanced military and technological infrastructure that, though suffering decay in the later years of Saddam Hussein's rule, could easily be revived if it falls into the right (i.e., wrong) hands. Add to that the fact that its strategic location would give its rulers inordinate influence over the entire Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states. Then ask your Martian: Which is the more important battle? He would not even understand why you are asking the question.

I think if I were a martian, what I would actually suggest to Krauthammer is exactly what he imagines I (a martian) ought to suggest. Iraq is important. Stay in Iraq. Then, after doing my part to keep the world's one superpower gasping and bleeding and unable to protect its allies or fight its enemies, I'd return to Mars to organize an invasion of my own.

Cross Posted at Brian Beutler

March 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (51)

March 29, 2007

College Acceptance Rates & Early Action

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

The news that UMass-Cambridge has a record low acceptance rate of 9% isn't that terrible. As the ABC article details, the school could fill its incoming class valedectorians, and come close to filling it with students who scored 1600 on the non-writing portions of the SAT. Most of the high schoolers who applied will do just fine whereve they end up. And acceptance rates for the top three or four schools has hovered around 10% for a while.

But of course, the more important number for those getting mail today is the acceptance rate for regular admission applicants (anecdotally, deferred applicants don't get in at the regular deadline very often). In the class of '10 (currently freshmen), Harvard offered admission to 804 early action applicants and 2109 overall, resulting in an acceptance rate just under 7% for the 20,000 who applied in January. Next year, when Harvard eliminates its Early Action/Decision program, spring applicants will be slightly better off, and the November applicants who enjoyed a 20% acceptance rate will now be in a much larger pool.

March 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (16)