Monthly Archives: June 2009

At family violence conference in LA

I’m currently in LA for a fascinating conference on family violence, “From Ideology to Inclusion,” which examines alternatives to conventional feminist views of domestic violence.   (Glenn Sacks of Fathers & Families is here, and we’re getting along fine.)   The event is fascinating, especially the first speaker I got to hear, Erin Pizzey.

More later — I will be writing about this one.

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Filed under domestic violence, feminism, gender issues

Authoritarians of the world, unite: You have nothing to lose but your rigged elections

My landslide is bigger than yours!

My landslide is bigger than yours!

So, Russia is resisting G-8 condemnation of the Iranian government’s handling of the election and the post-election process.

What a surprise.

According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “”No one is willing to condemn the election process, because it’s an exercise in democracy.”

And, compared to Russia, it was!  There was a viable opposition candidate who was allowed not only to get on the ballot, but to campaign, have access to the media and participate in televised debates.  That’s a far cry from the Three Stooges who “ran” against Medvedev in 2008 — and who debated each other, with Medvedev conspicuously absent.  Medvedev had the bigger landslide, 71% to Ahmadinejad’s 62% — but the latter figure is suspiciously similar to United Russia’s 65% win in the December  2007 elections.  The new formula for authoritarian regimes seems to be somewhere around two-thirds of the vote for the ruling party or its candidate.  Soviet-style figures of 99% won’t do for a “democracy,” even a “sovereign” one; on the other hand, two-thirds demonstrates that a convincing majority of the population backs the ruling party.

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Filed under Dmitry Medvedev, Iran, Russia

Copyright and creative freedom

My new column discusses the J.D. Salinger lawsuit to stop the publication of a book called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye that is kinda, sorta a sequel to Catcher in the Rye.

My argument: copyright law as it currently exists does the opposite of its original intent (as formulated in the U.S. Constitution, which allows Congress to legislate on copyright, and in the very first copyright statute enacted in 1790): to promote arts and letters and encourage learning, by giving authors an incentive to create new works by ensuring that they can fairly profit from their writings.  (In olden days, it wasn’t at all uncommon for unauthorized editions of books to be legally sold with no profits going to the writer.)  Today, copyright violation claims are commonly invoked to suppress new works — wheter it’s 60 Years Later, The Wind Done Gone (the “Gone With the Wind-from-a-slave’s-point-of-view” novel that was finally declared legal after much wrangling in the courts), a production of a James Joyce play, or fan-made Xena: Warrior Princess videos on YouTube.

My conclusion:

Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig has argued that unless copyright law is reformed, it will end up stifling the creativity of a generation, particularly in the age of digital art. At the very least, the law should focus more on whether the copyright holder suffers actual economic loss, or be denied rightful gain, because of the infringement. As for restricting the use of one’s character or story by other artists of writers, it seems fair that, like the right to sue for libel, this right should be terminated by death. (Personally, I would support a term of 50 years, with a portion of revenues from any derivative work published thereafter going to the original author.)

Actually, I should have been clearer: 50 years or the death of the author, whichever comes first.

While ego-surfing Google Blogs tonight, I spotted my name on the LewRockwell.com blog, in reference to the column and my “50-year copyright term” proposal.  I just knew I — and Reason – were getting slammed, so I figured it was for disrespect for intellectual property rights unbecoming libertarians.  Well, I was wrong.

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Filed under books, culture, freedom of the press, intellectual property

Correcting Obama on Father’s Day

In this Washington Times column published yesterday, fathers’ rights advocates Glenn Sacks and Robert Franklin, of Fathers and Families, criticize Barack Obama’s Father’s Day comments.  They make some excellent points:

Mr. Obama marked Father’s Day 2008 [by] saying fathers have “abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men” – a view he voiced many times during the presidential campaign.

Mr. Obama is correct that involved fathers – even divorced or separated ones with little income – provide their children with substantial benefits. A recent Boston College study of low-income minority families found that when nonresident fathers are involved in their adolescent children’s lives, the incidence of substance abuse, violence, crime and truancy decreases markedly. The study’s lead author, professor Rebekah Levine Coley, says the study found involved nonresident fathers to be “an important protective factor for adolescents.” Yet Mr. Obama makes a serious error by placing all blame for family breakdown on men.

Indeed; of course, the view that fatherlessness is almost entirely the result of men abandoning their responsibilities is quite prevalent on both sides of the political spectrum.  (In this regard, there is very little different between Barack Obama’s rhetoric and that of George W. Bush.)  Sacks and Franklin cite interesting new research showing that even never-married young fathers in the inner city — so often trotted out as the very image of the feckless male sowing his wild oats — often have a strong commitment to their children, and that their bonds to those children are often broken by the mother moving on to a new partner and shutting out the father.  And they are right that “it often is mothers, not fathers, who create fatherlessness.”

But at one point, the column seems to make the leap from “often” to “always,” resulting in a picture skewed in the other direction.

Sachs and Franklin write:

Moreover, women are increasingly having children with no intention of ever having a father in their kids’ lives. Newly released data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that 40 percent of children born in the United States are born out of wedlock, a 26 percent increase since just five years ago.

But the figure they quote does not illustrate the proposition in the first sentence.  The NCHS data show that in about half of those cases, the mother is in a steady relationship with the father (sometimes, living together).  Some of these parents later marry (it would be interesting to get data on that).  Moreover, surely at least some of the unwed births that make up that 40 percent figure are, in fact, due to paternal abandonment.  Let’s not counter one false stereotype with another.

That said, I will add that I think Fathers & Families does great work, and their approach is generally very balanced, and steers laudably clear of the woman-bashing rhetoric that some fathers’ rights groups regrettably lapse into.  But it never hurts to be vigilant against the temptation of bias in a good cause.  Edited to add:  Or against careless wording which may create the impression of bias.

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Fathers and “paternalists”

About a month ago, I had an op-ed in The Boston Globe about the rise of single motherhood and what it means for fathers — ironically, at a time when equal parenting as an ideal has been making a lot of inroads.  A couple of days later, there followed this commentary from Shannon LC Cate on the Strollerderby parenting blog.  I meant to reply to it sooner, but first I was busy with other things and then I decided to put it off until Father’s Day.  So, here is it.

Ms. Cate’s post is titled “Unwed Motherhood on the Rise; Paternalists on the Warpath.”  Evidently, to point out that in general, children are better off having a father (and that, among other things, the glorification of the mother-child family unit takes us back to the not-very-feminist notion of child-rearing as women’s work) is to be a “paternalist on the warpath.”

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Filed under fatherhood, feminism, gender issues, men, motherhood, women

New Russia article: Barack Obama’s Moscow trip and U.S.-Russian relations

In anticipation of Barack Obama’s Moscow trip, my new article on U.S.-Russian relations runs in The Weekly Standard.

Highlights:

Today, more than a year into the Medvedev presidency, it is obvious that there has been no change of course at the Kremlin. The extent of Medvedev’s true authority remains unclear, and Putin is still a figure to contend with. While Medvedev may seem more sympathetic to domestic liberalism–he doesn’t, for instance, share his patron’s open, visceral aversion to journalists and activists critical of the state–his rhetoric on foreign affairs has been no less aggressive than Putin’s. Any “reset,” then, would have to be based on a change in American policy.

Indeed, most American critics of the “new Cold War”–on both the left at the Nation and the paleocon right at the American Conservative–share the belief that the recent chill between the United States and Russia was caused primarily by American arrogance and insensitivity. In this view, Russia extended a hand of friendship to the United States after September 11 only to be repaid with repeated slaps in the face: the Bush administration’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and the former USSR, support for regime change in ex-Soviet republics (particularly the 2004 “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine), and plans for a missile shield that Russians fear is directed mostly at them. Supporters of a “fresh start” undoubtedly hope Obama’s Moscow trip will include apologies for at least some of these perceived wrongs.

The perception, however, is quite tendentious.

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Filed under Dmitry Medvedev, Russia, Russian-American relations, US foreign policy

Russia/Georgia: Slide to war?

Today’s New York Times has a story on a Georgian defector who is getting a lot of play in the Russian media with claims that Mikhail Saakashvili is mobilizing for a new war with Russia.

Does this lend credibility to speculation, which I reported yesterday, that Russia may be gearing up for a Georgian War II — with the goal of bringing down the hated Georgian government, humiliating the Americans, distracting the public from bad economic news, and justifying an authoritarian crackdown at home?  (Adrian Piontkovsky, one of the commentators I mentioned, also believes that this is a move by the “Putin faction” in the Kremlin to reverse the drift of real power from ex-President and current Prime Minister Putin to his appointed successor, Dmitry Medvedev.)

Perhaps; at least, the defector story certainly fits with a campaign to prepare public opinion for a new armed conflict with Georgia.  And it does coincide with imminent large-scale Russian military exercises in the Northern Caucasus, specifically in the annexed Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the only possible opponent for Russian troops is Georgia.

That said, I stand by my view that a new war is highly unlikely.  It would mean a major, long-term rupture with the West, and I don’t think the Kremlin boys really want to find themselves locked into Cold War II with no one but Hugo Chavez, Raoul Castro, Hamas and (if he’s still around) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for company.  If Russia did succeed in installing a puppet regime in Tbilisi, it would mean de facto occupation, with a very high risk of getting bogged down in a protracted guerilla war.  This, at a time when nearby regions within the Russian Federation (Dagestan, Ingushetia) are already a powder keg, and things in Chechnya are not as stable as they’re reputed to be.  In short, it seems like so colossally stupid a move that even the Putinistas would (I hope) know better.

As I said yesterday, a far more likely scenario is long-term, low-level undeclared warfare aimed at intimidating, destabilizing, and discrediting the Georgian government.  The latest incident with the defector certainly fits with that pattern as well.  Barack Obama’s trip to Russia is coming up on July 5-6 — at the same time, as it happens, as the military exercises in the Northern Caucasus.  A strong message of respect for the sovereignty of Georgia (and Russia’s other neighbors on “post-Soviet space”) would be essential.

(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics blogs.)

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Filed under Russia, Russia-Georgia conflict

Thank you, Lord, for not making me politically correct

The other day, I was browsing Lisa Belkin’s “Motherlode” blog on the New York Times website when I stumbled on this post, discsussing the saga of an alleged racial faux pas by “momblogger” Jackie Morgan MacDougall.  Apparently, a year ago MacDougall shared the story of how her three-year-old son, brought by her husband to see her at the office, saw her African-American co-worker and blurted out, “Mommy, why is her face brown?”

MacDougall wrote:

I was completely mortified. What was I doing wrong that he would he say something like that? Aren’t we all supposed to be colorblind and not notice the differences in people? But as soon as I got over myself, I quickly realized that his asking about her skin was no different from him pointing out I have blue eyes, and not hazel like his or why I have “dots” (aka freckles) on my arms.

I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she’d like it answered. She explained to him that people come in all colors and her skin is just darker than his. He waited a beat–thought about what she said–and then asked if we could watch Toy Story 2 for the ten thousandth time.

What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice–it’s natural. It’s when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that’s hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind.

The post sat there quietly for nearly a year with only two comments (the first quite positive, praising MacDougall’s wisdom, the second neutral), until it was discovered by another blog in May and became fodder for debate.  Champions of “anti-racist parenting” flocked to MacDougall’s blog to accuse her of “white privilege” and call her post “disgusting.”  She was castigated for everything from punting the question to her co-worker — and thus forcing a person of color to be a spokeswoman for her race — to having the temerity to think that being “colorblind” is a good thing.

There was more criticism after Belkin publicized the debate.  Well, now, MacDougall offers profuse apologies that brings to mind the “self-criticism” sessions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as well as the horror of a character in George Orwell’s 1984 who learns he’s been guilty of  “thoughtcrime.”

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Filed under motherhood, political correctness, race

More Kremlin follies: Russia vs. Georgia, redux?

Today’s New York Times has a harsh editorial castigating Moscow’s latest exercise in stupid self-assertion:

In a depressing sequel to its petty and destructive war against Georgia last summer, Russia has now cast a petty and destructive veto in the United Nations Security Council, compelling the abrupt withdrawal of 130 badly needed international military monitors from Georgia’s secessionist region of Abkhazia.

It was petty because Russia’s larger interest lies in calming, not stirring up, secessionist ambitions in the Caucasus, a violently fractured part of the world that includes other restive regions like Chechnya. And it was destructive because whatever hopes the Russian-backed Abkhazian separatists might still retain for a semblance of international legitimacy vanishes with the withdrawal of the United Nations mission.

….

Moscow’s heavy-handed meddling has isolated Abkhazia, and Russia. Only Russia and Nicaragua recognized the “independence” Abkhazia proclaimed after the Russian incursion last summer. This month Russia voted alone in the Security Council to evict the monitors.

They could have added that Russia suffered an embarrassing setback in its quest for recognition for Abkhazia and South Ossetia when former pal Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus took the first half a $500 million loan that was a tacit bribe for recognition, and then didn’t come through.

The Times is quite right that further destabilization and growth of separatism in the region would be detrimental to Russia more than anyone else; hardly a day goes by without deadly violence, including assassinations of high-level officials and military officers, in places like Ingushetia and Dagestan.   But of course, for the Kremlin leadership, muscle-flexing and ego-tripping counts for a lot more than such practical considerations.

Meanwhile, Russia is planning large-scale military exercises near the Georgian border; not only will these exercises take place in “independent” Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but they are pretty clearly directed at Georgia — at the very least, to send a signal.  Adrian Piontkovsky, writing on Grani.ru (Russian text), speculates that Russia may be preparing for Georgian War II.

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Filed under Dmitry Medvedev, Russia, Russia-Georgia conflict, Vladimir Putin, War

Sotomayor: the right’s great white whale?

Richard Viguerie, one of the lions of conservative activism, thinks the Sonia Sotomayor nomination could invigorate conservatism.  Viguerie  writes:

President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor has so far managed to unite all wings of the conservative movement — economic, foreign policy, social, traditional and libertarian — in a way we haven’t seen since the early Clinton years.

Is this true?   Most conservatives aren’t thrilled with the nomination, but I also don’t see a whole lot of passionate opposition (except among those who would passionately oppose any Obama nominee, even Mother Teresa).  For an example of not-exactly-thrilled but muted conservative reaction, see, for instance, these posts by Jonathan Adler on The Volokh Conspiracy.   Adler writes:

Looking at the race-related cases in which Judge Sotomayor has disagreed with her colleagues leads me to the following conclusion (although it does not convince me to oppose her nomination).  Compared to the other judges on her Cirucit, Judge Sotomayor appears more inclined to accept aggressive and innovative use of equal protection arguments in race-related cases and seems to be more accepting of the use of race to achieve diversity in the workplace. This does not make her an “extremist,” and it certainly does not make her a “racist,” but it does suggest she would fit comfortably on the “liberal” side of the current court on such issues, and is consistent with the inference one could draw from her speeches. Insofar as one disagrees with this approach to race-related cases, this could be cause for concern.

A new article by The New Republic‘s Jeff Rosen, who has caught flak in the past for his criticism of Sotomayor, argues that she would be a liberal-but-not-too-liberal, and definitely not knee-jerk  liberal or hardcore ideological, presence on the Supreme Court.  It’s unlikely that any Obama appointee would be “better,” from a conservative/libertarian point of view.

Meanwhile, rallying around opposition to Sotomayor would be unwise for conservatives for a few reasons.   It would be hard to paint her (convincingly) as an out-of-the-mainstream radical.  Also, the right would be investing a lot (scarce) political capital into attacking a Hispanic woman; giving her impressive credentials, trying to paint her as a less-than-competent “affirmative action baby” could easily come across as sexist and racist, particularly given some of the nasty rhetoric already directed at the judge.

This does not mean that conservatives and libertarians should not criticize Sotomayor.  There’s plenty to criticize.  This is not, however, a wise fight to pick as the mother of all battles.

(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics.com)

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Filed under law, left and right