Not another one

by Ted on August 11, 2005

Cheers to Eugene Volokh for opening commments on this post. If it weren’t for that decision, I might have simply been appalled by Professor Volokh’s willingness to pass on a vicious smear of war opponents. I would likely have missed how poorly sourced the insinuations about the marital faithfulness of a dead man were. A commenter notes:

Steven Vincent was married for 13 years. His widow posted a touching memorial outside their house, just a few short blocks from me. While I don’t know a thing about their personal lives, the accusation that he was going to divorce her and marry his Iraqi translator is a hell of a thing to say about a dead man, if it turns out to be unfounded.

Jeers for posting it in the first place. Who, may I ask, are all the “Westerners who side with the ‘Iraqi resistance’ against America and its allies”? Generally speaking, the “Iraqi resistance” is killing our troops in the interest of a fundamentalist ideology that liberals find appalling. If our countrymen are actually taking their side as they try to kill coalition troops, that seems like a (conversational, if not legal) accusation of treason. Who are we talking about? Ward Churchill? George Galloway? Michael Moore, for comparing the insurgents to the Minutemen? Some Guy With A Sign Once? Could this vast conspiracy fit into a VW minibus?

Of course, James Taranto carelessly uses this sort of language all the time, and readers know damn matl who he’s talking about. It’s not referring to a handful of psychopaths and extremists who hardly need refuting. It’s aimed at opponents of the war in Iraq, who aren’t anti-war, just on the other side. In the past few years, we’ve seen a constant, sickening effort on the part of supporters of the war in Iraq to conflate opposition the war with support for terrorists.

I’ve come to expect this sort of rhetoric from the mainstream conservative media and blogs. I don’t expect it from Eugene Volokh. He has earned the respect and readership of a wide swath of left-leaning readers for his intelligence, his fair-mindedness, and for his ability to express a right-wing viewpoint without displaying contempt for the other side. There are a million places that war opponents can go to get accused of siding against their country. It appears that there’s now one more.

UPDATE: Daniel Davies writes, in the Volokh comments:

DK above is absolutely correct that this post is ignorant as well as unpleasant. The Shi’ite gangs who killed Steven Vincent are not part of “the resistance”; they are operating to institute Iranian-style sharia law under the eyes of the British troops which control (in the loosest sense of “control”) the city of Basra. Furthermore, this fact was the main theme of Vincent’s journalism and his blog. I have no idea how anyone could possibly not know this, unless of course they had never read a word Vincent wrote and did not care about him at all except as a subject for a blog post that might make a useful smear on anti-war opinion.

UPDATE II: Volokh has updated his post to say:

Some people interpreted the OpinionJournal item, and this one, as criticizing all opponents of the Iraq War. That’s an interpretation that’s in the mind of the interpreters — I see no support for it in the text of the post.

The item is quite clearly a criticism of those Westerners who do endorse the Iraqi “resistance,” or at least explain its actions in ways that lessen or eliminate the killers’ culpability (poverty, supposed desire for “self-determination,” supposedly justifiable anger at various American, Israeli, or other Western sins). That’s the group the item identifies. It’s the group against which the item’s argument makes sense. The item doesn’t criticize any broader group of Iraq War opponents.

Fortunately, the group being criticized is not a vast group. So? They’re still worth condemning.

I’ll believe that Volokh meant to criticize a small group. (Although, if that’s all he meant, I have a hard time seeing the point. As a commentor adds: “I condemn Republicans who drink puppy blood with breakfast. Fortunately, this is not a vast group. So? They’re still worth condemning.” We could play this game all day, and how enlightening that would be.)

But I don’t believe it about Taranto. He’s the guy who called Congressional Democrats “The al Qaeda Cheering Section”. He thought it appropriate to title his criticism of the New York Times editorial page “Root, Root, Root for the Bomb Team”. He churns out lines like “we wish (Naomi) Klein well in her efforts to persuade “progressives” actually to embrace an idea of progress rather than serve as apologists for fascism.” I don’t doubt that some of Taranto’s readers read “Westerners who side with the ‘Iraqi resistance’ against America and its allies” and interpreted it narrowly. I also don’t doubt that some interpreted it rather broadly.

This is unrelated, but it’s a funny example of Taranto’s approach to commentary:

Clinton says he messed with Monica “for the worst possible reason: just because I could. I think that’s just about the most morally indefensible reason anybody could have for doing anything.”

Really? “Just because I could” sounds a lot like “Because it’s there.” Does Clinton really mean to suggest that it was “morally indefensible” for George Leigh Mallory to climb Mount Everest? What an outrageous slur against a great explorer.

For God’s sake, won’t someone think of the mountain climbers?

Curriculum Design

by Henry Farrell on August 11, 2005

Robert KC Johnson “claims”: that the New York State legislature’s creation of a commission to examine curricula and textbooks to see whether they properly reflect the African-American experience demonstrates the convergence of the far left and far right.

bq. Whoa. Isn’t that exactly what the Kansas board of Education is doing with intelligent design? Where is the AAUP, or the CUNY faculty union, denouncing the threat to academic freedom inherent in a politically-appointed board making “suggestions for revisions to the curricula and textbooks”? I’m not holding my breath waiting for either group to act.

Tripe and nonsense. It very obviously _isn’t_ what the Kansas board of Education is doing. What’s at issue in Kansas is whether or not a pseudo-scientific set of rhetorical claims that were consciously designed to create a “wedge”: in the heart of science are given equal standing to a well established and tested scientific theory. What’s at issue here is whether or not school curricula and textbooks should reflect the historic experience of a particular group. Now you can criticize the latter on its own terms (as Tim Burke has “done”: with regard to a similar proposal in Pennsylvania), but it clearly isn’t even the same _type_ of issue as trying to steamroller Intelligent Design into the curriculum. It’s a question of the kind of collective understanding of history that schools should be teaching, which is a very different, and much fuzzier thing.

(Nor, as an aside, do curriculum committees of this sort necessarily produce the kinds of one-dimensional history that Tim rightly fears. A friend of mine was heavily involved in another committee which was mandated by the Albany legislature a few years ago to include the Irish famine on the state’s Human Rights Curriculum. It’s probably safe to guess that the Irish-American legislators who came up with this initiative anticipated schoolkids being fed wrap-the-green-flag-round-me nationalism, the wickedness of perfidious Albion etc etc. The committee’s final curriculum “didn’t do this”: – instead it used the Famine and the Irish emigrant experience to ask more general questions about the relationship between politics, economics and hunger, to draw the connections with contemporary politics, and to talk bluntly about some of the nastier aspects of the Irish-American experience, such as racism and the Draft Riots).