Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Counterfactually speaking

Salon political reporter Alex Seitz-Wald: "If more guns were the answer [to gun violence], then the U.S., with its 300 million guns, should be safest country on the planet."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Hillary Clinton is stepping down as secretary of state on Friday. Today, she told questioners (for the upteenth time) that she’s “not inclined” to run for president in 2016. I'm inclined to believe her. But her statement is hardly Shermanesque ("I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected"). So the door is still open a smidgen. Now at age 65, I seriously doubt Hillary wants to run the gauntlet of another presidential campaign (and, if she wins, do it again in 2020 at age 73). But the gathering winds of politics and history may compel her into the race nevertheless. That said, I'm sure Hillary was sincere when she quipped: “I am looking forward to finishing up my tenure as secretary of state and then catching up on about 20 years of sleep deprivation.” She'll probably need it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Just a Monday thought

There's no turning back, of course. But as one Slate writer recently mused: It really is a shame that exiting the interstate in America, "regardless of where you are, you see the exact same thing."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Quote of the day

The Economist: "In most sports, the best men outperform the best women, but the best women outperform almost all men."

History repeating itself - with a twist

Army Col. Eugene Householder on racially integrating the military (Dec 8, 1941): "[Social] Experiments to meet the wishes and demands of the champions of every race and creed for the solution of their problems are a danger to efficiency, discipline and morale and would result in ultimate defeat." Army Lt.Col. Allen West (Ret.) on women in combat (Jan 24, 2013): "Now is not the time to play a social experiment with our ground combat forces ... This is the misconceived liberal progressive vision of fairness and equality which could potentially lead to the demise of our military." The "sociological laboratory" argument was wrong then, and it's wrong now. But to complete the historical irony, had West been a young man in 1941 and eager to fight, the ex-congressman would have been summarily assigned to a segregated, "all-Negro" unit, probably as a Private. Yes, West is African American.

See Jane shoot

In a terrific piece defending the logic of employing women in combat, the Economist noted that no testosterone is required to pull a trigger. "Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Russian sniper during the second world war, is credited with over 300 kills. The Nazis surely would have preferred a Soviet army with no such female combat troops."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Resisting G.I. Jane - Ctd

SURELY, this had to be an Onion parody piece, I kept thinking. But it wasn't. To wit: "Only someone deliberately blind to human reality could maintain that putting men and women in close quarters 24 hours a day will not produce a proliferation of sex, thus introducing all the irrational passions (and resulting favoritism) of physical attraction into an organization that should be exclusively devoted to the mission of combat preparedness," so wrote National Review commentator Heather Mac Donald who has never served a day in the military, let alone in combat. And we're supposed to take her seriously? Not only did Mac Donald straight-up insult our male warriors (who she blithely paints as a cadre of unethical, unprofessional, sex-crazed brutes), she actually sang a forlorn paean to -- wait for it -- chivalry. No, I'm not kidding. "Chivalry is one of the great civilizing forces, taming men and introducing social graces and nuance to what would otherwise be a brutish social world. It is already on life support, but sex-integrated combat units will provide the coup de grâce," Mac Donald writes. Wow. It's a pity this poor woman wasn't born in the 19th century. She'd clearly be happier.

Resisting G.I. Jane

IT'S BEEN SAID that there are only 36 basic plots in literature. Similarly, a certain narrative against civil rights is retreaded whenever intolerance is forced to confront fairness. For example, antediluvians (a polite term for clueless traditionalists) have dependably employed "the Army is not a sociological laboratory" argument to resist equal rights in the armed forces. The Army leadership used the aforementioned quote in 1941 to justify why it wouldn't integrate African Americans into its ranks. Letting blacks fight alongside whites would pose "a danger to efficiency, discipline and morale," warned spokesman Col. Eugene R. Householder one day after Pearl Harbor. Today, 165 years after women demanded suffrage at the Seneca Falls Convention, the Pentagon lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles. Cue the tattered playbook. “Our military cannot continue to choose social experimentation and political correctness over combat readiness,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America. “This kind of a social experiment is a dangerous one,” said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness. "The people making this decision are doing so as part of another social experiment,” said retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council. “Is the social experiment worth placing this burden on small unit leaders? I think not.” Ignorance of history invites its repetition every time.

Will the GOP bring its ship about?

FOUR YEARS ago, it was evident - at least to me - that Republicans would fatally overreach in their quixotic quest to confine Obama to a single presidential term. Theirs was always a doomed galleon plying against history's trade winds. Mr. Obama - now a wilier, battle-hardened politico - is still here and he's not going away. Today, it is evident that this reality is finally sinking in among rational members of the Grand Old Party. New York magazine's Jon Chait pointed to some revealing tweets by conservative Robert Costa, National Review's Washington editor. Costa wrote: "One thing Repubs seem privately confident about: O is a singular, historic figure. Loud chants of O-Ba-Ma today on mall isn't the Dem norm." He noted "Consensus among my GOP sources: Obama is expertly repackaging old-school, tax-and-spend liberalism as the status quo, conservatism threatened" and added "Many members, people you wouldn't expect, are truly concerned about how party's rep is hurting them back home. Some may start to speak up." Is a Great Republican Awakening in the offing? I'd argue yes - particularly since their choice (ironically) is fundamentally Darwinian: adapt or die.

The trouble with 'conviction politics'

Today, much of the GOP (and, to be fair, many leftist Democrats) worships at the altar of conviction politics, a style of governance that puts principle and adherence to ideology first -- regardless of the cost. Congress' current crop of Republican freshmen are especially bewitched with this modus operandi. But for the nation's sake, it would be wiser for these folks to take the counsel of political economist Max Weber. In his famous Politics as a Vocation, he wrote: "Politics is the art of compromise and decision-making based on social benefits weighed against costs; in this respect, political action cannot be rooted only in conviction, since one's conviction can be another's social anathema." This seems so blindingly obvious. And yet, too many politicians and the voters who abet them continue to struggle to see what is in front of one's nose.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Did we just get Gettysburg'ed?

Granted, President Obama's Second Inaugural Address was not conjoined with a civil war or world war -- events that surely helped to elevate the speeches of Lincoln and FDR to greatness. But was Obama's speech actually one for the ages, too, and we just didn't recognize it? The question is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Today, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is regarded as one of the greatest in American history. But that wasn't the case in 1863 when Honest Abe delivered it. The applause was "scattered and barely polite," according to noted historian Shelby Foote. The next day the Chicago Times (a 19th century version of Fox News) described the address as "silly, flat and dishwatery." Echoing a (weirdly) similar sentiment, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius characterized Obama's speech as "flat, partisan and pedestrian." Plus ça change. We'll probably have to wait a century for history's final verdict on Mr. Obama's address. But I have a feeling that its greatness is staring us in the face.