Monthly Archives: December 2005

Reading Lolita in Washington

USA Today reports that Azar Nafisi, author of the best-selling Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books — much of which focuses on the secret book club Nafisi held in her home in Tehran after losing her university job — is planning to launch an international online book discussion group.

In a world that she says has become too politicized, she wants to create a “domain of imagination that is not political. … Read Shakespeare or (Margaret) Atwood. We don’t know if they are Republicans.”

Details of her online book club are being worked out. By spring, she hopes to organize free online discussions about books and authors.

The discussions, Nafisi says, will focus on writers who initially may seem unrelated. However, they can be discussed as part of larger themes.

For example, she hopes to contrast Jon Stewart’s satirical textbook, America (the Book), with Allan Bloom’s Shakespeare on Love and Friendship, to give the rest of the world a taste of American diversity. Or, the club will compare Atwood, the Canadian novelist, with human-rights activist Samantha Power and their approaches to human rights.

A book club “is a gold mine in terms of creating ideas” and getting people to communicate, she says. That’s true both in Iran, where books that are considered subversive are banned, and in the USA, where “everything is so polarized that you have very little room for debate and understanding.”

My first reaction: it’s a great idea. One of the problems with today’s public discourse, it seems ot me, is that it is so focused on politics and political issues, including personal issues turned political — to the detriment of all the spheres of thought that deal with the vast aspects of the human condition that exist outside or beyond politics. It’s entirely possible, for instance, to read, enjoy, and derive insights from the novels of Dostoyevsky while finding his politics (which were extremely reactionary and bigoted) abhorrent — or knowing nothing about them. Sadly, too many of the institutions that should be promoting the study, understanding, and love of literature as a source of both truths and pleasures that transcend the present moment are busy politicizing it instead, with English departments as the worst culprits.

I once stumbled on a literature discussion board about a month after the 2000 election. While the board looked interesting, there were threads filled with so much anger and hatred toward Bush voters — perceived in the most stereotypical terms as ignorant bigoted rednecks — that I had no desire to stick around. (Even though I did not vote for Bush.) A woman I know who did vote for Bush, despite disagreeing with him on many issues including same-sex marriage, told me that she left another online book club for the same reason. An online book club tolerant toward political differences sounds like a great idea.

One of the things I loved about Reading Lolita in Tehran was Nafisi’s evocation — and creation — of a world in which books mattered: book, ideas, the life of the mind, the inner life created by reading. It was also a world in which people of vastly different politics and ideologies could meet, and find a common language, in literature’s realm. If Nafisi can recreate that, more power to her.

My second reaction: If Nafisi wants a nonpolitical book club, it’s odd that one of the first projects she mentions is a comparison between Margaret Atwood (who, by the way, we very definitely know is not a Republican) and Samantha Power, not a “literary” writer but a political one who has written about genocide prevention. At the same time, I like the fact that Nafisi’s vision for her book discussion groups includes popular culture (Jon Stewart) as well as “high culture.” It will be interesting to see how this one works out.

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More on women, families, and careers

Tuesday’s Boston Globe has an article about women in science dealing with the career/family balance. Highlights:

As a graduate student at Harvard University and also a mother, [Deborah] Rud hopes to inspire female undergraduates to pursue both a career in science and a family. The trouble is, she’s still figuring out if she herself can have both.

Rud nearly dropped out of her doctorate program after she gave birth, and she still fears that her family would suffer if she devoted herself to an academic research career.

The career choices of young women like Rud will to a great extent determine whether their generation will approach equality with men in university science departments.

In Rud’s field, biology, women are 46 percent of the doctorate recipients from the nation’s top 50 biology departments. But they make up only 30 percent of assistant professors and 15 percent of full professors. A similar ”leaky pipeline” is seen in other sciences, as well. A sizable number of the women who train in the sciences never enter the academic profession — and the desire for more family time is a major reason.

”I don’t know how many tenured female professors there are who have children and are a really big part of their children’s lives,” said Rud, 27. ”I don’t know of any who go to soccer games and sometimes pick up their kids from school. I don’t need to be there for all of it — frankly it’s a little mind-numbing — but I want to be there for some of it.”

Rud is a little unusual in having given birth to her first child in graduate school, but her soul-searching was echoed by more than two dozen other young female scientists in interviews with the Globe. Many of them are preoccupied with the question of whether to stay in academia at all, or whether to settle for less prestigious instructor positions.

These women, most of them studying in the booming field of life sciences, often describe working in laboratories where women are a robust minority, or even a majority, of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Few of them say they have experienced much discrimination. The primary barrier, they say, is the conflict between lab and family under the grueling demands of today’s academic culture.

….

Princeton University president Shirley M. Tilghman, a molecular biologist, has spoken about how in her field, women are nearly half of new doctorate recipients, but only a quarter of faculty job applicants at top-tier universities.

”It does not take much imagination to recognize that the drop coincides with prime child-bearing years,” Tilghman said in a speech this year at Columbia University.

The typical scientist is 32 by the time he or she earns a doctorate. In most cases in the life sciences, graduates then have to spend several more years as low-paid postdoctoral fellows, or ”postdocs,” before getting their first academic jobs.

In a 2000 survey of University of California at Berkeley postdocs, most of whom were scientists, 60 percent of married women with children said they were considering leaving academia.

Rud’s adviser, James A. DeCaprio, said few of the graduate students and postdocs he has trained, male or female, have gone on to academic research positions. Those who have made it tend to work about 70 hours a week. The rest end up choosing business or law school, the pharmaceutical industry, or teaching in less prestigious positions.

”If you work 80 hours a week, you will be twice as successful” than if you work 40 hours, he said, explaining that more hours translates directly into more experiments, and more discoveries. ”They move the science along faster than the competition.”

DeCaprio called Rud smart and creative, and said she has ”as good a chance as anybody to be extraordinarily successful.” What happens will depend mostly on how many hours she is able, or willing, to put in at her bench.

Raised in Pasadena, Calif., by a single mother, Rud always knew she wanted children. Her love for science came later. Today, Rud gushes about the elegance of biological systems — how clever viruses are, for example. ”It’s like an art critic discussing a work of art,” said her husband, Ryan Rud, an English teacher at English High School in Boston.

Still, like many of her peers, Rud found herself in graduate school uncertain about what she wanted to do with her life, except that she and her husband wanted to start their family early.

Her pregnancy brought her confusion to the boiling point. She worried about the hours it would take to succeed — hours away from her family.

At the same time, she wasn’t sure if she loved the repetitive work at the lab bench, altering the salt levels in experiments, for example. And she couldn’t imagine taking a job in a pharmaceutical company lab, where she’d have better hours but feel like ”a drone.”

A six-week maternity leave ballooned into a year-long leave of absence, although she worked as a teaching assistant this fall.

Ultimately, Rud decided to return to school. When she joins her new viral oncology lab in January, she hopes to work weekdays from about 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Her thought now is that she’ll probably pursue a career that’s mostly teaching, for which she has an obvious gift. But if she doesn’t put in 70-hour weeks, she has no idea whether she could still get a tenure-track job at a liberal arts college, or whether her only academic option would be a low-paid instructor position. Maybe, she thinks, she’ll go into patent law.

Rud doesn’t blame her struggles on Harvard. Still, a growing chorus of scientists says that the responsibility for this lab-vs.-life conflict lies with institutions. Recently, the presidents of nine leading universities, including Harvard and MIT, pledged to do more to make academic careers ”compatible with family caregiving responsibilities.”

That will mean changing expectations about work hours and offering more support to families. The Ruds could not afford Harvard day care. They get by on their salaries only because Jackson attends the subsidized center for babies of teenage mothers at Ryan’s high school.

A Harvard task force on women in science, convened after Summers’ comments on women, recommended paid maternity leave and child-care scholarships for doctoral students. It is not yet clear whether Harvard will adopt these recommendations.

A survey of people who received Harvard doctorates between 1997 and 1999 found that three years later, slightly more women than men who studied natural sciences remained in academia. It’s a result that cheers Harvard officials, although they can’t explain the difference.

The article raises some interesting questions.

(1) Is the “leaky pipeline” problem as bad as the article suggests? If women make up 46% of new Ph.D.’s in biology (from the nation’s top 50 schools) but only 15% of full professors, surely this is at least in part a generational problem. It would be helpful, for instance, to know the average age for biology professors.

(2) We are told that 60% of the female postdocs at Berkeley who are married and have children are considering leaving academia. What are the comparable figures for postdocs who are single (male and female), or married without children? And what about men? Is this purely a work-family issue, or also an issue of the work environment in science?

(3) I have no doubt that (for whatever reason) women in science are more concerned with issues of balancing work and family than men are, but shouldn’t at least some attention be paid to men in this discussion? A friend of mine who is working toward a science Ph.D., as is her husband, makes it very clear that they are both concerned with how to balance work and family once they have children. Surely, they can’t be unique.

(4) I’m not sure that the work environment in science can ever be made “family-friendly” for those who are interested in high-level scientific achievement. I’m not sure that the idea of science as a stern taskmaster, of the scientist as somewhat aloof from the real world and living in world of his — or her — own, is merely a cultural “stereotype.” Serious scientific discovery, I think, probably does require a tremendous amount of dedication and focus. But should there be more opportunities for people to teach and to do lower-level scientific work, perhaps teamwork, without having to put in 70 hours a week?

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Happy holidays/Season’s Greetings/Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Merry Solstice/greeting of your choice


Hope you all are having a wonderful day.

And here, in honor of this day, is a masterpiece of modern folklore: the ultimate politically correct greeting for the season.

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all . . .

. . . and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2000, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only “America” in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee.

(By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.)

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If nominated … I will graciously bow

Yours truly is one of the nominees for “Conservative Blogress Diva” at GayPatriot.com. Actually, I don’t know about “conservative,” I’ve never fancied myself a diva, and I think “blogress” sound a bit too much like “ogress” … but how ungracious to quibble! It’s an honor to be nominated after only 3 months in the blogosphere, and while my chances of winning are close to those of, say, Olympia Snowe getting the Republican presidential nomination, I offer the guys at GayPatriot my humble thanks for the nomination.

Update: Oh, and you can go here to cast your vote.

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A win for sanity in Dover

So, I’m back from my vacation, to more news of political messes as well as the encouraging news that U.S. District Judge John E. Jones has ruled against adding “intelligent design” to the biology curriculum in Dover, Pennsylvania. Judge Jones’s 139-page opinion eviscerates ID’s scientific pretensions, noting that it is “a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory,” and that it utterly fails all the tests a scientific theory must meet. He also pointed out the fundamental dishonesty of the pro-ID school board faction in Dover: “Several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy.”

This is a good day for science and reason. I’m particularly pleased that Jones is a Bush appointee, which runs counter to political stereotypes of Republican and conservative judges and which should also, at least in theory, mute the ID backers’ cries of a liberal conspiracy to keep them down. Only in theory, of course: Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who represented the old school board in the case, was quick to tell the Associated Press that the ruling looked like “an ad hominem attack on scientists who happen to believe in God.” Nice try, Mr. Thompson; keep obfuscating about the fact that most scientists who “happen to believe in God,” and even those who happen to teach at religious colleges, firmly support evolutionary theory and reject ID.

By the way, Judge Jones is not only a Republican but a churchgoer as well. Not that it’s going to stop the ID’ers from painting themselves as victims of anti-Christian bias, but it may make it harder for their whining to be taken seriously by others.

Update: John Cole points to news that some of the witnesses who testified for the Dover school board may be investigated for perjury.

Update, again: Added link to the Kitzmiller ruling. See also Richard Bennett for a good roundup.

And more: ID advocates react. Here’s a contender for dumbest quote of the week:

“This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that’s coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito,” said Richard Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and is a political ally of White House adviser Karl Rove. “This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries — if he had any eyes on advancing up the judicial ladder, he just sawed off the bottom rung.”

Can you say “unhinged”? I’m hoping Land is wrong and there’s no reason to believe that Roberts and Alito are going to be any more receptive to pseudo-scientific buffoonery than Judge Jones.

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Linda Hirshman’s feminist script

My Boston Globe column today deals with Linda Hirshman’s article in The American Prospect on “the opt-out revolution.” Since it’s fairly short, I’ll give the whole text here.

First, there were the ”mommy wars” — the much-ballyhooed antagonism between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers. Then, there was the ”opt-out revolution” — the much-ballyhooed phenomenon of high-powered career women scaling down or giving up careers to raise children. All this is causing intense debate among feminists, who increasingly recognize that gender inequality today has more to do with sex roles in the family than sex discrimination in the workplace. As former Brandeis visiting professor Linda Hirshman puts it in a controversial article in this month’s American Prospect magazine: ”The real glass ceiling is at home.”

For years, most feminists have stressed respect for women’s choices. Now comes Hirshman, saying that ”choice feminism” was a mistake. Feminism, she argues, needs to become more judgmental and tell traditional women that their choices are bad for society (women won’t achieve full parity with men when so many voluntarily leave the track that leads to power), and bad for them because the lives they’re leading allow too few opportunities for ”full human flourishing.” With views like that, no wonder Hirshman made conservative pundit Bernard Goldberg’s list of ”100 people who are screwing up America.” Actually, I doubt that she’s having much effect on America; but her prescription for feminism is screwed up all right.

Hirshman does make some valid points. First, the opt-out trend is real, despite a recent attempt to debunk it by Heather Boushey of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic Policy Research. Boushey notes that the small decline in mothers’ labor force participation has been paralleled among women without children, and is due largely to the recession; but her analysis lumps together full-time and part-time jobs. A woman lawyer who leaves a partnership-track job to work part time as counsel to a community organization still counts as employed.

Second, ”choice feminism” does gloss over some real conflicts in the ”mommy wars.” Companies will be warier of investing in female employees when there is a high risk of women quitting. Former career women who put their energy into motherhood may set impossible standards of maternal perfection (you’re a bad mom if you don’t spend two days hand-making a Halloween costume), and may justify their choice by implicitly denigrating working mothers.

But Hirshman’s solution is no solution at all.

For one, the feminist movement is not a totalitarian regime. It has no power to mobilize women to follow the party line in their personal lives, as Hirshman wants. (Her script includes choosing a husband whose career is least likely to eclipse yours, and having no more than one child until the government coughs up day care.) And, if feminists start disparaging women’s ”incorrect” choices, women will likely tell them to buzz off. Hirshman’s tone is insufferably patronizing: women, she laments, think they’re making free choices and never realize that their lives are shaped by traditional sex roles and by feminism’s failure to revolutionize the family. Are there really many Ivy League-educated women who aren’t aware of challenges and alternatives to traditional roles?

Besides, many intelligent people may not share Hirshman’s notion that life as a high-priced lawyer or Fortune 500 executive is the best pathway to ”human flourishing.” Yes, life with no significant activities outside one’s intimate circle is incomplete. But Hirshman’s disapproval extends even to part-time workers. And what about women (and, increasingly, men) who don’t work for pay but are active in community work? Don’t many of them meet Hirshman’s standards for good living: making use of one’s mind, having autonomy in one’s life, doing good in the world?

In her simplistic analysis, Hirshman ignores the social impact of working women who don’t follow a rigid model of success — those who leave corporate jobs to start businesses or who work in social service jobs. She also ignores the flexibility of the modern marketplace. In 1998, Brenda Barnes stepped down as CEO of a PepsiCo division to spend more time with her family; six years later, she went back to work and now heads the Sara Lee corporation.

Should feminism strive for more flexible roles and more sharing of family responsibilities? Of course. But the way to do it is to expand options for both men and women, not to narrow women’s options. And, by the way, to deride parenting as a demeaning task unworthy of an intelligent adult is not a good way to encourage men to become more involved fathers.

Acutally, Hirshman’s article reminded me of the infamous comment Simone de Beauvoir made in a 1976 interview with Betty Friedan: “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” Friedan, despite being an outspoken advocate of careers and independent life for women, emphatically rejected de Beauvoir’s dictatorial vision of feminism to embrace freedom of individual choice; Hirshman would have us choose de Beauvoir over Friedan.

To expand on a point I only touched on in my column: I share some of the feminist misgivings about full-time parenthood as a long-term occupation. Even aside from financial dependency, I think that, in the long term, human beings need to have a sense of self and identity independent of personal relationships; without employment, or a strong commitment to unpaid work, there is a danger of getting too enmeshed in emotional intimacy. (By the way, it’s worth noting that historically, women’s domestic roles were primarily productive, not relational: In agricultural societies, women were always engaged in economically vital work; in the cities, the wives of shopkeepers and artisans were typically partners in the family business.) I think Freud was right that work and love are the two essential elements of human life. Child-rearing certainly involves work, but its most important component is surely love — and attempts to make it too much like a career run the risk of treating a child more like a “project” than a person in his or her own right.

That said, I think there are many, many ways to maintain a separate identity and to combine work and love besides the full-throttle career that seems to be Hirshman’s ideal. (A 1995 Harris/Whirlpool Foundation/Families and Work Institute poll found that, when asked what they would do if they had enough money to not need to work, only 15% of women and 33% of men said they would choose full-time work; 33% of women and 28% of men preferred part-time work, and 20% of women and 17% of men would choose volunteer work.) What I found most shocking about Hirshman’s article is her contempt for women who choose the “wrong” ways to work.

While I’m at it, I’d like to put in a good word for Lisa Belkin, author of the 2003 New York Times Magazine cover story, “The Opt-Out Revolution,” that ignited the current phase of this debate. In this thread at Alas, a Blog, for instance, Belkin gets it from everybody: Hirshman and her critics. (Hirshman, in this comment, implies that while Heather Boushey’s article showing no spike in mothers leaving the workforce does not rebut her argument — mainly because so many of Boushey’s working mothers are only “dabbling” in work — it does rebut “Opt-Out Queen” Belkin.) But read Belkin’s article. She explicitly acknowledges, even stresses, that most of her “opt-out moms” are not full-time, lifelong housewives but women who move in and out of the workforce and maintain at least some ties to their profession. (Indeed, one of Lisa Belkin’s examples of “opting out” is Lisa Belkin herself: she has made professional choices that have taken her off the track to top jobs at the New York Times but have allowed her to maintain a challenging and satisfying career as a writer.) She also explicitly acknowledges that she focuses only on elite women who can afford the choice to curtail or even give up paid work, and explains why. And she is certainly no champion of a return to Ozzie and Harriet. This is the conclusion of her essay:

This, I would argue, is why the workplace needs women. Not just because they are 50 percent of the talent pool, but for the very fact that they are more willing to leave than men. That, in turn, makes employers work harder to keep them. It is why the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche has more than doubled the number of employees on flexible work schedules over the past decade and more than quintupled the number of female partners and directors (to 567, from 97) in the same period. It is why I.B.M. employees can request up to 156 weeks of job-protected family time off. It is why Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa., hired a husband and wife to fill one neonatology job, with a shared salary and shared health insurance, then let them decide who stays home and who comes to the hospital on any given day. It is why, everywhere you look, workers are doing their work in untraditional ways.

Women started this conversation about life and work — a conversation that is slowly coming to include men. Sanity, balance and a new definition of success, it seems, just might be contagious. And instead of women being forced to act like men, men are being freed to act like women. Because women are willing to leave, men are more willing to leave, too — the number of married men who are full-time caregivers to their children has increased 18 percent. Because women are willing to leave, 46 percent of the employees taking parental leave at Ernst & Young last year were men.

Looked at that way, this is not the failure of a revolution, but the start of a new one. It is about a door opened but a crack by women that could usher in a new environment for us all.

There are, to be sure, certain things I would quibble with in Belkin’s article. But I think that, overall, her message is a much more positive and relevant one, for women and men alike, than Hirshman’s “To the office — go!”

More: A relevant passage from a post I made over a month ago:

The latest issue of Fortune, which focuses on women business leaders, has an interesting feature on why some women step off very high rungs of the corporate ladder. No, it’s not mommies “opting out” and trading briefcases for diapers, and it’s not women fleeing the corporate world in frustration at the “glass ceiling” (though I’m sure there are examples of both). Most of the women profiled in the article have traded the boardroom for new business ventures of their own, or work in new fields such as politics or entertainment, or travel and other pursuits. In many of the cases profiled, the change of direction is prompted by a life-changing event such as a near-death experience, which presumably leads to some soul-searching and a reassessment of priorities. Women, the article suggests, have more social freedom and more flexibility than men to make such unorthodox choices. The article concludes:

If there’s a single thread that ties together the experiences of these women, it’s that taking control of one’s own life can feel as bold as wielding power in a corporation. “It’s not that they’re abandoning it or walking away,” [former Genentech executive Myrtle] Potter says. “I see it as women really exercising their full set of options. And I think that’s just a gutsy, powerful thing to do.”

I think that women do, culturally and socially, have more options in this regard, while men, once they have reached a certain level, have more rigid expectations of success and staying on a set career track. In practice, this means there will be more men in positions of power, and probably also more men locked into unsatisfying lives.

“Autonomy” and the ability to control one’s own life is one of the things Linda Hirshman finds lacking in the lives of women who “opt out.” But, apparently, for some women — and, I’m sure, for many men as well — power in a corporation (or a law firm) and power over one’s own life are more mutually exclusive than related.

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The price of integrity

As a research associate at the Cato Institute, I’ve met Doug Bandow a few times, and it was truly a shock to me to learn that he was taking money from lobbyist extraordinaire Jack Abramoff for writing articles favorable to Abramoff’s clients such as Native American-run casinos. (A second think tanker, Peter Ferrara, is implicated as well.) Franklin Foer also write, here, that Bandow flatly denied a financial relationship with Abramoff when Foer asked him about it for an article earlier this year. I’m not sure I can really understand what makes people do such things. Ethics aside, what about the strong possibility of exposure and disgrace? Bandow has now lost both his position at Cato and his syndicated column; all this for a maximum of $48,000 spread out over 10 years. If I decided to sell my integrity, I would hope that even $48,000 a year wouldn’t do the trick.

I suppose the self-justification mechanism goes something like, “I’m not writing anything I don’t believe in.” But even if that were an excuse — how do you really know, in your own mind, that you’d be writing the same thing even without payments?

It’s particularly irksome that some are making excuses for this behavior:

Neither Ferrara, nor Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation, expressed any ethical qualms about the pay-for-play. Giovanetti said critics are applying a “naive purity standard” to the op-ed business, adding, “I have a sense that there are a lot of people at think tanks who have similar arrangements.”

“Naive purity standard”? There’s an interesting term.

Meanwhile, kudos to Cal Thomas; he and I differ on a lot of issues (Thomas is a social and religious conservative), but over the years he has shown himself to be a man of genuine principle, and this is no exception:

“My view has always been that there are too few journalists left in journalism, and too many columnists with actual or potential conflicts of interest writing for mainstream newspapers,” said columnist Cal Thomas, who’s syndicated to nearly 600 papers via Tribune Media Services (TMS).

The conservative commentator told E&P Online that what Bandow did was “a big no-no” that “damages the credibility of everybody” who writes columns.

“I’m getting tired of this,” Thomas added, alluding to other 2005 revelations about columnists on the take. One of them was Armstrong Williams, whose contract was terminated by TMS this past January — hours after it became known he had received federal money.

Without in any way excusing the sellouts, here’s an interesting question to ponder. Does taking money taint opinion journalism more than blind partisan or ideological zeal, on either side of the fence?

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Girls gone wild?

Some startling results from a Hillsborough County, Florida survey of about 5,000 randomly selected middle-school and high school students:

More male high school students – 16 percent – reported being physically hurt by their significant others than female students, at 11.8 percent.

More than 9 percent of male and nearly 12 percent of female high school students said they were physically forced to have sex.

“I know that is happening, because my son constantly gets letters from girls who want to do sexual things to him,” said Paula Thomas, mother of five children ages 9 to 16. “It starts in the sixth or seventh grade.”

(Hat tip: Dr. Helen.)

The findings on dating violence contradict a lot of received wisdom, and are in line with findings from previous studies. When will dating violence prevention curricula reflect this reality?

As for the findings on sexual aggression: I’m not questioning the fact that males can sometimes be sexually forced by females. But when a study finds that 9% of high school boys (only slightly lower than the figure for girls) have been “physically forced” to have sex, I have to wonder how this study defines “physically forced.” (Surely gay male students cann’t account for more than a fraction of this figure.) Are we talking about being physically overpowered or restrained, or threatened with violence, or being otherwise placed in a situation where they cannot avoid sex without some risk of harm? Or one person making persistent but non-forcible, non-threatening physical advances, and the other giving in for lack of assertiveness? There’s a big difference between being forced into sex and being pressured into sex, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of the rhetoric on date rape has blurred that line (with the ironic result, it seems, of branding many teenage girls as date rapists).

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Arctic oil driling: Environment, politics, and religion

George Will has an interesting op-ed today about the debate on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress may soon allow. Will is for it (the drilling, not the debate).

Conservatives and Republicans have a reputation for wanting to cut down the forests, kill the spotted owls, use lakes and rivers for toxic waste dumps, and pave over every acre of wilderness for factories and shopping malls. And they’ve certainly had a number of anti-environment wackos in their ranks (remember James Watt?). Protecting the environment, it seems to me, should be recognized as a legitimate function of the state even by (reasonable) proponents of limited government: it falls pretty clearly under any definition of the “general welfare.” We all like to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and surely the vast majority of Americans support the preservation of national parks and wilderness areas as a part of our heritage.

Nonetheless, I think Will makes some good points:

Area 1002 is 1.5 million of the refuge’s 19 million acres. In 1980 a Democratically controlled Congress, at the behest of President Jimmy Carter, set area 1002 aside for possible energy exploration. Since then, although there are active oil and gas wells in at least 36 U.S. wildlife refuges, stopping drilling in ANWR has become sacramental for environmentalists who speak about it the way Wordsworth wrote about the Lake Country.

Few opponents of energy development in what they call “pristine” ANWR have visited it. Those who have and who think it is “pristine” must have visited during the 56 days a year when it is without sunlight. They missed the roads, stores, houses, military installations, airstrip and school. They did not miss seeing the trees in area 1002. There are no trees.

Opponents worry that the caribou will be disconsolate about, and their reproduction disrupted by, this intrusion by man. The same was said 30 years ago by opponents of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which brings heated oil south from Prudhoe Bay. Since the oil began flowing, the caribou have increased from 5,000 to 31,000. Perhaps the pipeline’s heat makes them amorous.

Ice roads and helicopter pads, which will melt each spring, will minimize man’s footprint, which will be on a 2,000-acre plot about one-fifth the size of Dulles Airport. Nevertheless, opponents say the environmental cost is too high for what the ineffable John Kerry calls “a few drops of oil.” Some drops. The estimated 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil — such estimates frequently underestimate actual yields — could supply all the oil needs of Kerry’s Massachusetts for 75 years.

Flowing at 1 million barrels a day — equal to 20 percent of today’s domestic oil production — ANWR oil would almost equal America’s daily imports from Saudi Arabia. And it would equal the supply loss that Hurricane Katrina temporarily caused…

If there are practical counterpoints to Will’s pro-drilling argument, I’ll be glad to consider them. But I think Will is also right when he says:

For some people, environmentalism is collectivism in drag. Such people use environmental causes and rhetoric not to change the political climate for the purpose of environmental improvement. Rather, for them, changing the society’s politics is the end, and environmental policies are mere means to that end.

The unending argument in political philosophy concerns constantly adjusting society’s balance between freedom and equality. The primary goal of collectivism — of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America — is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals’ lives. This is done in the name of equality.

People are to be conscripted into one large cohort, everyone equal (although not equal in status or power to the governing class) in their status as wards of a self-aggrandizing government. Government says the constant enlargement of its supervising power is necessary for the equitable or efficient allocation of scarce resources.

Therefore, one of the collectivists’ tactics is to produce scarcities, particularly of what makes modern society modern — the energy requisite for social dynamism and individual autonomy. Hence collectivists use environmentalism to advance a collectivizing energy policy.

And there is another, equally important factor as well: environmentalism as a religion (as Michael Crichton put it in a speech a few years ago, “the religion of choice for urban atheists”).

I wrote about this in a column a few years ago, dissecting a Nicholas Kristof column about ANWAR:

Kristof writes that, in his view, the danger drilling would pose to wildlife has been exaggerated by environmentalists; he also points out that it would benefit the local Eskimo population. Yet ultimately, he comes down on the anti-drilling side, arguing that development would damage “the land itself and the sense of wilderness”—the sense of “a rare place where humans feel not like landlords or even tenants, but simply guests.”

The refuge, in other words, is something like a living temple, which is not to be desecrated.

Some environmental writings have explicit religious overtones. A popular idea among environmentalists is writer James Lovelock’s “Gaia hypothesis“—the idea that the Earth is a living entity with a super-consciousness of its own, of which we are all a part. (Gaia was, of course, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth.) Native American religions with their nature worship are popular as well. Some people who turn away from traditional religion and then embark on a spiritual quest in a need to fill the void say that they find that spirituality in environmental activism.

Environmentalist philosophy has a religious dimension other than the fantasy of the Garden of Eden. Its anti-consumerist animus reflects, to some extent, the puritanical notion that material pleasures and comforts are wicked and corrupting, and self-denial is ennobling for the soul.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with religiously or spiritually based beliefs. But perhaps some forms of environmental philosophy and activism should raise questions about introducing religion into public policy—or public schools, where environmental education programs often have elements of Earth worship and moralist condemnation of consumerist sins.

….

The preservation of our natural heritage is undoubtedly a worthy goal. But when seen from the perspective of human benefit, it is one of many competing values that must be balanced—including the need to alleviate our dependence of foreign oil. To treat wilderness as something mystical and sacramental short-circuits the debate as surely as an appeal to biblical principles.

If it can be shown that oil drilling in ANWAR poses a risk of actual damage to the environment (e.g., contribute to climate change with unforeseeable consequences for humans), then by all means, continue the ban. If it’s about preserving a living church sanctified by mystical values, I think that, particularly at this point in time, a little separation of church and state is in order.

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Public opinion in Iraq: Some interesting results

As election time nears in Iraq, some interesting poll results, via John Cole:

Despite the daily violence there, most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead.

Surprisingly, given the insurgents’ attacks on Iraqi civilians, more than six in 10 Iraqis feel very safe in their own neighborhoods, up sharply from just 40 percent in a poll in June 2004. And 61 percent say local security is good—up from 49 percent in the first ABC News poll in Iraq in February 2004.


Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a “single strong leader.”)

Whatever the current problems, 69 percent of Iraqis expect things for the country overall to improve in the next year—a remarkable level of optimism in light of the continuing violence there. However, in a sign of the many challenges ahead, this optimism is far lower in Sunni Arab-dominated provinces, where just 35 percent are optimistic about the country’s future.

However:

Fewer than half, 46 percent, say the country is better off now than it was before the war. And half of Iraqis now say it was wrong for U.S.-led forces to invade in spring 2003, up from 39 percent in 2004.

The number of Iraqis who say things are going well in their country overall is just 44 percent, far fewer than the 71 percent who say their own lives are going well. Fifty-two percent instead say the country is doing badly.

… Two-thirds now oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, 14 points higher than in February 2004. Nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war, and most of them disapprove strongly. And nearly half of Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.

Overall, I think (as does John) that this adds up to a positive picture more than a negative one. The growth of pro-democracy attitudes and the decline of support for Islamic state are particularly encouraging. That 6 out of 10 Iraqis disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq is not surprising; if anything (given how mismanaged the occupation has been) the figure is surprisingly low. Note, too, some contradiction in the numbers: two-thirds oppose the U.S./coalition presence, but fewer than half want to see U.S. forces leave seen. (Does this mean that a sizable proportion of Iraqis don’t like the presence of American troops, but recognize it as necessary for the time being?)

I also find it remarkable that, even with continuing insurgent violence and the disarray in the country, half of Iraqis do not believe it was wrong for the U.S. to invade (and in February 2004 the corresponding figure was 40%). It’s a remarkable figure in view of the fact that no one likes being occupied — particularly people in a culture with strong traditional beliefs about honor and faith, and particularly when the occupiers are of a different religion.

It is also worth remembering that people who believe the invasion was wrong include those who, in my view, have no moral authority in the matter: those who enjoyed a privileged position under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and loyally served his regime.

This is why, whatever misgivings I may have about the wisdom of this war (particularly in view of its mismanagement), I categorically reject the view that it was a crime against the Iraqi people. If the U.S. has committed a crime against the Iraqi people, it was encouraging them to rebel against Hussein during the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and then leaving the Hussein regime in place and abandoning those who rebelled to their horrible fate.

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