Hey, gang! Let’s put on a culture war!

by Ted on February 24, 2004

I’m reading a lot of blogs, both liberal and conservative, and seeing copious abuse rained on Bush for his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. (See especially John Scalzi for a remarkably eloquent defense of equal rights for gays here, here, and here. Also, see the Declaration of Independence*, where it says something about how all men are created equal.)

This is right and good. I agree with Andrew and Michael that this could be a major disaster for Bush. Even DeLay is slowly distancing himself from the FMA.

But it’s entirely appropriate to ask for more from the Democratic candidates. It seems to me that they’re missing a huge opportunity. I think that these points would be fairly uncontroversial:

1. There’s a significant trend in the United States is toward legal recognition of same-sex marriage. We may very well be all-but-there by election day. Here’s Nick Confessore:

The one thing that most polling shows on the issue of gay marriage is that the prejudice against it is rapidly dying off. According to that same Gallup poll I mentioned earlier, 39 percent of those respondents aged 18-29 support full marriage rights for gays, versus 24 percent of those aged 30-49 and just 15 percent of those 50 and older. Add up those in the younger bracket who support either gay marriage or civil unions, and you’ve got 59 percent. In a decade or so, full marriage rights for gays may well command a strong majority of Americans.

Many conservatives acknowledge this, although not all.

2. Democrats have enjoyed tremendous goodwill as a result of the stance that the national leadership took in the 1960s regarding civil rights.

If I’m right, then the national Democratic leadership has an unusually clear opportunity to get on the right side of history with a clear statement about fairness and equality.

In a few years, I’ll be able to say that the left led the way on the question of gay marriage. But as of today, I won’t be able to say the same thing about the national Democratic party.

Make me proud, John. Or, if you won’t, John.

* Not the Constitution. How embarassing.

Keynes and Bush

by Henry Farrell on February 24, 2004

Keynes famously “quipped”:http://www.economist.com/research/Economics/alphabetic.cfm?LETTER=K “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?” G.W. Bush’s riposte – Why sir, I “change the facts”:http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2004_02_22.html#002598.

Nader and the Dems

by Harry on February 24, 2004

I drafted the following post yesterday, when it had a more anti-Nader feel to it. But two people subsequently approached me about my thoughts about Nader, and told me they supported him standing, giving pretty good reasons, so I have modified my thoughts in the light of that (an indication, perhaps, of how fluid my views are right now). However, one of them said she would have to be a closet Nader supporter, because she didn’t want to deal with the unreasoned anger she felt that open support would make her vulnerable to in her workplace, which, I think, supports my main point.

bq. UPDATE interesting stuff here from unrepentant 2000 Nader supporters Chun the Unavoidable and Russell Arben Fox. See also Chuck at the Chutry Experiment. And a fun rant from Timothy Burke

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Capital Notions

by Belle Waring on February 24, 2004

When I was a kid, I really liked Sesame Street, and now that I have a little girl, I still like it. Timothy Burke, for one, finds it a bit too cloyingly pro-social (he complained of this in a comments thread that I am too lazy to find here). One of my favorite animated bits as a child was one in which three plainly dressed workmen emerge from, clean, and retreat into a giant letter I, accompanied by the following song in a minor key: “We all live in a capital I/in the middle of the desert, in the center of the sky/and all day long we polish on the I/to make it clean and shiny so it brightens up the sky.” Imagine my surprise when I read Ulysses at 17 (yes, I was trying too hard; don’t worry, I re-read it later) and found the following passage:

(He points to the south, then to the east. A cake of new, clean soap arises, diffusing light and perfume.)

We’re a capital couple, Bloom and I;
He brightens the earth, I polish the sky

Those jokers at the Children’s Television Workshop. I have also always liked the look of it. Even when I lived in NYC in a terrible place between Amsterdam and Columbus on 109th — I recall holding the phone out the window for my brother to hear the small arms fire before I retreated into the tub — I was always tickled by the resemblance to Sesame Street. Only there were fewer muppets and more crack dealers.

Finally, they sometimes address the big issues. On a recent episode, Big Bird and Snuffleupagus were investigating whether various things (toasters, plants, small children) were alive or not. By the end, they had worked themselves around to some serious questions. Is the letter “A” alive? No. Is the Children’s Television Workshop alive? Indeterminate. Is the word “alive” alive? No, because it doesn’t grow or change. Take that, Platonism!


by Chris Bertram on February 24, 2004

Following the whole “Max Cleland, Ann Coulter, Mark Steyn controversy”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001352.html the other day, I was struck by the fact that the defenders of the smearers thought it a sufficient reply to their critics to say that what was said was literally true. (Whether it was literally true is, of course, another matter.) For once, it seems to me, philosophy can be of some use in showing that such a reply is inadequate.

Speech act theory is a pretty unsexy branch of philosophy of language these days (though elsewhere people like Habermas keep it above the visibility threshold, and there have been some daft attempts to deploy it in defence of the idea that pornography silences women). Indeed I’m not even sure that students get taught the basic distinctions on phil lang courses (which tend to be post-Davidsonian in content). But when it comes to thinking about what is going on in political discourse, it isn’t half helpful.

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Cities and cronyism

by John Q on February 24, 2004

I was a bit slow to respond to Kieran’s post on the World City System, but let me say that my views on this system are pretty much a cross between Wired and William Cobbett. In a world where nearly all legitimate work of high-pay and status can be performed electronically and remotely, the most plausible explanation of ‘global cities’ is that they facilitate cronyism and corruption.

Updated with a little more evidence 25/2

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If it ain’t broke …

by Daniel on February 24, 2004

I think I have to register one of my occasional dissenting opinions, from the view expressed by Ed Felten and semi-endorsed by Eszter below, that the world would be a better place if we forced a bit more science down the necks of schoolchildren.

It’s a pretty well-established fact (source: “Adult Literacy in Great Britain”, ONS, 1997) that just under half of all Britons can’t cope with mathematical operations more complicated than addition and subtraction. That is, can’t divide up a restaurant bill or calculate the area of a room, even with a calculator. This makes rather a mockery of any proposals to raise our national savings rate via “financial literacy classes” in schools etc; half of the people being taught can’t really cope with percentages.

Lots of UK commentators regard this as a national scandal; however will we compete with the Japanese etc. My view has always been “Well, the old country isn’t doing too badly; just goes to show that percentages aren’t as important as you might have thought”. I suspect that the same is true of science.

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Ecce Holbo

by John Holbo on February 24, 2004

Thanks, Henry. I am delighted to be here – and … and I’d just like to thank all the little people who made it possible, such as myself, and everyone else, and God.

I guess – since you’ve got a back button – I’ll say a few words about John & Belle’s place in the history of the blogosphere, the true meaning of blogging, etc.

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Writing History

by Kieran Healy on February 24, 2004

Simon Schama protests too much. He claims that academic history is “obsessed with scientific data and obsessive footnotes rather than good storytelling”:http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/story.jsp?story=493908 and calls for a return to a “golden age” of historical writing — Gibbon, Macaulay, Carlyle. This mostly seems like promotional fluff for his “new TV series”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2004/02_february/16/historians_genius.shtml. Yet “Timothy Burke”:http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/3715.html and “Invisible Adjunct”:http://www.invisibleadjunct.com/archives/000471.html broadly concur with Schama, though as cogs in the “juggernaut of academic history” that he condemns they add the caveat that “a broadly communicative, publically engaged rhetoric of history is dependent upon the existence of a body of much more meticulous scholarship.” That’s true — but it’s more than a caveat!

Schama’s Great Historians fused authoritative judgment, great range and vivid prose and brought the result to large audiences, helping to define the practice of history as they went. What fun it must have been. He wants those things, too. Yet although he speaks to an audience bigger than any of his heroes, Schama must know he can’t occupy that niche, because it no longer exists. The vast differentiation of the academic division of labor over the past century and a half destroyed it. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of excellent, accessible narrative history written for a mass audience by respected historians. Schama’s complaints notwithstanding, you’ll find your local bookshop stocked full of the stuff — far more, alas, than you’ll find excellent and accessible sociology, political science or economics. But, unavoidably, these histories are written on the back of all those footnoted monographs, and they cannot command the field in the way that Carlyle or Macaulay might have.

Once asked what he specialized in, the sociologist “Daniel Bell”:http://www.pbs.org/arguing/nyintellectuals_bell.html replied, “Generalizations.” It’s a line worth stealing for job interviews, but it tells an important truth. Being a generalist these days is itself a kind of specialization. Like any other role in an advanced division of labor, it depends on thousands of others, most notably all those monographic specialists dug into the archives. Timothy Burke would like to see historians be trained “to write well, to seek audiences outside the academy, to stretch their powers of persuasion.” Those are worthwhile goals, but whereas the mills of academic specialization can grind exceeding small, we can’t all have our own BBC miniseries. Besides, I don’t think Schama simply wants historians to write better prose. Rather, he himself yearns to play the same role today that Macaulay or Gibbon did in their time. He covets the way they could grasp their subject whole and bring it to almost the entire reading public. Which of us scribblers wouldn’t want to do the same? But his “off-lead qualifications and dilutions”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2004/02_february/16/historians_genius.shtml suggest that, deep down, he knows that’s the sort of anachronistic wishfulness that historians teach us to avoid.