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.


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 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.


Filed under fatherhood

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.


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