August 2004

2004 08 31
The Way It Was

Posted by in: Abortion

Speaking of brilliance, there is an article in this month’s Mother Jones that exemplifies that characteristic. “The Way It Was”, by Eleanor Cooney, describes in stark and sometimes gory detail what it was like for America’s unintentionally pregnant girls and women before Roe.

Cooney recalls getting “knocked up” at 18:

There was nothing exciting or memorable or even interestingly sordid about the sex. I wasn’t raped or coerced, nor was I madly in love or drunk or high. The guy was another kid, actually younger than I, just a friend, and it pretty much happened by default. We were horny teenagers with nothing else to do.

Nature, the ultimate unsentimental pragmatist, has its own notions about what constitutes a quality liaison. What nature wants is for sperm and egg to meet, as often as possible, whenever and wherever possible. Whatever it takes to expedite that meeting is fine with nature. If it’s two people with a bassinet and a nursery all decorated and waiting and a shelf full of baby books, fine. If it’s a 12-year-old girl who’s been married off to a 70-year-old Afghan chieftain, fine. And if it’s a couple of healthy young oafs like my friend and me, who knew perfectly well where babies come from but just got stupid for 15 minutes, that’s fine, too.

In the movies, newly pregnant women trip, fall down the stairs, and “lose the baby.” Ah. If only it were that easy. In real life, once that egg is fertilized and has glided on down the fallopian tube, selected its nesting place, and settled in, it’s notoriously secure, behaves like visiting royalty. Nature doesn’t give a fig about the hostess’s feelings of hospitality or lack of them. If the zygote’s not defective, and the woman is in good health, almost nothing will shake it loose. Anyone who’s been pregnant and didn’t want to be knows this is so.

The rest of her story, and the contemporary details about what conservatives are nowadays doing in the euphemistic name of a “culture of life,” should be read by everyone, including our teenage sons and daughters. Especially important is the explication of the scope of the so-called “partial birth abortion” ban. If you thought that this was a ban solely on third-trimester, you believe exactly what the legislative proponents of the ban want you to believe.

What, you might ask, is “partial-birth” abortion? Most of us know that the term is not a medical one. Invented by the pro-life folks in the last decade or so, it’s a vague reference to “intact dilation and extraction,” or D&X. Introduced in 1992, D&X is a variation on a similar, well-established second- (and sometimes third-) term procedure-“dilation and evacuation,” or D&E-used after the fetus has grown too large to be vacuumed or scraped out in a simple D&C, or “dilation and curettage.”

In a D&E, the fetus is usually dismembered inside the uterus and extracted in pieces. Old obstetrics books from as far back as the 170Os have disquieting illustrations of the various tools of yore used for fetal dismemberment. Nowadays, powerful gripping forceps are used, making the procedure much less dangerous for the woman.

The D&X was developed with the same objective. An inherent hazard of D&E-aside from potential damage by the instruments themselves and the risk of leaving tissue behind, increasing the chances of infection-is that fetal bones begin to calcify at about 13 weeks. As they are broken up, the sharp bone ends can puncture, scrape, and perforate. Hence the “intact” dilation and extraction. The fetus is brought out whole instead of being pulled apart bit by bit. The head is punctured and then collapsed by suction or compression so that it will fit through the partially dilated cervix. The fetus is dead, but in one piece. This, specifically, is the procedure the PBAB has sought to criminalize-when the fetus is killed while its body is outside the uterus, therefore “partially born.”

Under the PBAB of 2003, a D&X would be permitted only to save the woman’s life or if the fetus is dead. It would require a girl who’d been impregnated by her uncle, father, or brother, and who, out of shame, ignorance, and fear had hidden her condition until it was obvious to the world, to carry the fetus to term and give birth. If a woman discovers, late in her pregnancy, that the fetus has, say, anencephaly-a brain stem but no actual brain-then she must carry it to term, give birth, and let it die on its own.

13 weeks.

The beginning of the article can be read here, but you need either to have institutional electronic access or to buy the issue to read it all. I highly suggest you do that latter. Do not assume that the full force of the article can be got from the passages I’ve highlighted here.

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2004 08 30
Don’t miss . . .

Posted by in: Political issues

. . . this absolutely brilliant post over at Dialectical Confusions.

Howls of outrage (7)

2004 08 30
Old Peter Singer story

Posted by in: Academia, Philosophy

This semester, I’m having my students read some of Peter Singer’s work in my biomedical ethics class. Singer, in case you don’t keep up with the world of outrageous philosophers, is a very controversial philosopher at Princeton. His support of a very strong version of animal rights, of infanticide, of “desanctifying” human life, and other controversial views has got him a lot of attention. (I find Singer’s views simplistic and wrong-headed, but his writings are also interesting and provocative. All of these qualities have their advantages if you’re trying to generate discussion in the classroom.)

Singer likes to say and write outrageous things. Back in 2001, he wrote a review of a book on the history of bestiality for in which he challenged readers to explain what makes bestiality so bad. Typical Singer. This happened around the time that Singer was appointed to Princeton, a move that was controversial enough to inspire Steve Forbes to stop donating his millions to Princeton, his alma mater. This led to the following exchange between a hapless reporter and Scott McClellan on March 30, 2001:
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Howls of outrage (2)

2004 08 30
An evidentiary Codicil

Here’s an evidentiary codicil to the thesis of this Fafblog post:

“I think it’s wrong to provide excuses for their (terrorists’) hatred,” Bush said. “You don’t create terrorists by fighting back. You defeat the terrorists by fighting back.”…

Bush defends his actions in Iraq at nearly every stop on the campaign trail, his hardline rhetoric prompting cheers from supporters packing his rallies.

However, in an interview with Time magazine, Bush suggested that he would have used different tactics to invade Iraq had he known “that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day.”

An enemy that “should have surrendered”? Does Bush not understand what it means to be an enemy?

I would be more upset about that comment if I weren’t already sick to my stomach that I have to vote for John “Bush misled me in Sept. 2002 about his Iraq war plans” Kerry in November.

In the real world, Bush was was always going to go to war with Iraq, many of the Iraqis were going to fight back against the invaders, and–just as sadly–Nader is not electable. Would that it were contrariwise.

A Codicil to the Codicil: It occurs to me that perhaps I should have interpreted Bush slightly differently in this post.
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A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 08 30
Department of Minor Coincidences (Transdniestrian Edition)

Yesterday, on his blog I read about Ben Hammersley’s sudden obsession with Transdniestria, “an obscure post-Soviet semi-State”. A few hours later, I got to a subchapter of the book I’m currently reading (Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power by Anatol Lieven) called “The Transdniestrian Path”.

What is the Transdniestrian Path and what is the point of exploring it in a book about Chechnya? Well, one question about the Chechen conflict is why Russian or Cossack minorities in Chechnya weren’t radicalized and mobilized by the Yeltsin government as an instrument to be used against Chechens. Another question is whether Russian minorities in other ethnically complex regions of the former Soviet Union are ever likely to be radicalized and mobilized in this way. Lieven explains:

Transdniestria in fact represents the closest that Russians (or rather ‘Russian-speakers’) have come to adopting the Serbian option and creating a sort of Republic of Kraina or Bornian Serb Republic – indeed, small numbers of Cossack and other volunteers who came from or had served in Transdniestria actually went to support their ‘Serbian brothers’ in Bosnia, though it is not clear that they actually saw any fighting there. Crimea could have gone in the same direction but did not . . .

The rest of the discussion is an attempt to detail the various reasons that Transdniestria went its own way.

As I’ve said before, Lieven’s book is out of date. And the discussion of Transdniestria is brief enough to disappoint anyone gripped by a Hammersley-strength obsession. Still, a very interesting discussion of an obscure place that probably deserves to be much less obscure.

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2004 08 30
I can’t help myself…

Posted by in: Political issues

I would rather come up with my own material to post here, but I just can’t help bringing your attention (again?) to Josh Marshall’s latest post:

Today Scott McClellan went on the offensive against Ben Barnes for describing the “shame” he feels over helping President Bush duck service in Vietnam.

“It is not surprising coming from a longtime partisan Democrat,” he said. “The allegation was discredited by the commanding officer. This was fully covered and addressed five years ago. It is nothing new.”

It turns out that Barnes is such a down-the-line partisan that he supported Texas’s Republican State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn for reelection in 2002.

Strayhorn is Scott’s mom.

Even though the topic covered here is not as important as the Iraq war or the economy, I think this fun little tid-bit demonstrates on its own that the world is a far, far better place with Josh Marshall on it.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 08 29
Firing Offences (a response)

As I mentioned the other day, a recent post asking how anyone could consider voting for George W. Bush received a response from Paul Craddick. The original post was one in a series of posts which takes the form, “X happened on George W. Bush’s watch, and no one was fired. Evidently George W. Bush thinks that X is not a firing offence. What do you think is a firing offence? If X isn’t a firing offence, what do you think would be a firing offence?”

The point of these posts is that, in the absence of a strong countervailing reason, you can’t vote for Bush and still claim to respect a principle of accountability. The posts are meant to be provocative – after all, they make a fairly strong claim. But they also mean to appeal to the pride and self-respect of people who intend to vote for Bush. However angrily they do it, these posts assume that the reader has high standards which aren’t being met, rather than that they have low standards that are.

In the post in question, “X” happens to be Abu Ghraib and other violations of the laws of war. Even if Paul rejects this particular X, I think that there are enough substitutions to keep him busy writing rebuttals for a very long time. For even on the most charitable account of the occupation, it was as a result of Rumsfeld’s decisions very badly undermanned, and that undermanning is generally agreed to be an important part of the story of how the insurgency developed and how the counterinsurgency chose to deal with it. On these grounds alone, Rumsfeld’s resignation would have been demanded by a competent president and insisted on by an informed citizenry. (It is true that there are also reasons to keep Rumsfeld – he’s in the middle of a major transformation of the military. But they would have to be much stronger than they are to outweigh his obvious failures.)

As you’ll see, I think one of my claims was too strong. But for the most part I think I’ll stand my ground on this particular X. I think that Rumsfeld and Bush and others in the Bush administration bear a responsibility for the various prisoner abuses, of which the abuses at Abu Ghraib received the most attention. And I think it’s the kind of responsibility that is a firing offence.

Paul writes:
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Howls of outrage (11)

2004 08 29
Protest Darfur

Posted by in: Political issues, Sudan

If you’re in NYC on Sept. 12th, there is a rally outside the U.N. plaza demanding action on Sudan’s genocide. More information here.

Via Normblog.

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2004 08 28
Two Counterinsurgencies

I am very relieved that round two of the Najaf counterinsurgency operation is winding down, and winding down in a way that is less bad than I can imagine.

Meanwhile, while everyone else has been reading about ongoing counterinsurgency operations in Najaf, I’ve been working my way through Anatol Lieven’s superb book, Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power, which looks at the first round (1994-6) of the crisis in Chechnya. I’m not working with much background knowledge of the Chechen crisis to start with, but Lieven’s book strikes me as remarkably good. Part reporting, part history, part military analysis, part sociology, Lieven’s work aims to understand the causes of the Russian defeat during the first round of the conflict. (The book is seriously out of date, since it was published in 1998. But it’s still very much worth reading.) Highly recommended.

Anyhow, as bad as Iraq is now, if you want to read a story of a real fuck up, Lieven’s book is a fine place to start. Russian incompetence, indifference to human life (both its own soldier’s lives, and the lives of Chechen civilians), indifference to the laws of war, and so on, make the U.S. operation in Iraq so far look like a tightly run humanitarian operation in comparison. Of course, the invasion of Iraq is likely to have more far reaching consequences than Russia’s conflict with Chechnya. Still, the Chechen conflict really was a moral catastrophe, and I can’t help noticing that many of the main perpetrators of the catastrophe never faced any consequences for it.

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2004 08 28
Kissinger’s “green light”

The invaluable National Security Archive has another nice document dump today. This one concerns Kissinger’s “green light” to Argentinian security forces in 1976.

Why do I highlight these things? I want to make clear that the point is not to vilify the U.S. or to imply that the U.S. is somehow uniquely awful in the world. Evil, I hear, came into the world even before the founding of America, and if the world ever limps along after the U.S.’s passing in some distant future, evil will no doubt limp along with it.

The point is that the U.S. has never really come to terms with its past, and that so long as that remains the case, its ability to understand how others see it will be limited, as will its own capacity to do good. Kissinger is a controversial figure in American politics. But a healthy political culture would not have permitted him to become a controversial celebrity in the first place, and a properly functioning legal system would have brought charges against him long ago. Instead, he gets on television as a respected pundit and is invited to all the swanky parties. Instead, he is the current President’s first choice to lead a panel investigating 9/11.

Kissinger is just one figure. Paying too much attention to one man runs the risk of distorting broader patterns of blame, and can lead to superficial analysis of events that had deep structural causes. Still, there he is, prominent, respected by a large portion of the political culture — and scot-free even though many of his misdeeds are public knowledge. His prominence is a constant reminder of a culture of impunity in Washington, a culture which sees just about every triviality as a topic worth yelling about on national television, but just about nothing as a sufficient cause to shun someone from public life.

The National Security Archive’s press release is after the fold:
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2004 08 27
Paul Craddick responds

Posted by in: Political issues

Paul Craddick has responded to my post on firing offenses.

For some reason the trackback feature wasn’t working for that post for a while, so I thought I would mention it.

I’ll try to respond in a bit. The backlog of items deserving a response is getting dauntingly long. I’ll get to most of them eventually, I think. One thing that I despair of getting done, unfortunately, is my long-promised, much bragged about epic Iraq post. The most recent annoyance with it was a computer glitch which destroyed about an hour of work on the post. But it really doesn’t make a huge difference, because glitch or no glitch I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted with it. I’m not sure if I can salvage it. We’ll see.

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2004 08 27

Heh. Bob Dole caught on tape.

You know, I don’t get it. Why would Bob Dole go prostituting himself for George W. Bush? What’s in it for him? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 08 27 has some advice . . .

. . . for Abu Aardvark:

So, I went to Amazon to order Jon Lee Anderson’s forthcoming book, The Fall of Baghdad, which promises to be very good indeed based on his outstanding dispatches from Iraq for the New Yorker.

And Amazon helpfully informs me of this:

“Customers interested in The Fall Of Baghdad may also be interested in:

Baghdad Villa for Sale
Minutes from the Tigress river 1023m2 – $665,000 asking price.

Uh huh.

Have a nice weekend.

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2004 08 27
Sudan closes its embassy

Posted by in: Political issues, Sudan

It appears that Sudan has closed its embassy in Washington, apparently in a move to frustrate anyone intending to protest outside it.

Well, protest is still possible. But notice that there are other embassies and consulates that might also be appropriate for protest, if you’re in the mood for that. There is, for example, the Russian embassy. And the Chinese embassy. Both countries are deeply complicit in Sudanese affairs, since both (especially Russia) enthusiastically sold arms to the Sudanese regime. Both countries (especially China) have significant oil interests in Sudan. Both countries therefore have as much leverage over the Sudanese regime as any outside party to the conflict. Both countries have moral responsibilities which are commensurate with that leverage. And as far as I can tell, both countries have really completely failed to live up to those responsibilities.

Howls of outrage (2)

2004 08 27
Djerejian on Cole

Bush really does appear to have a sadistic streak. As Governor, his ridiculing a last minute appeal before an execution, for example, was pretty sick. Culture of life, my ass. Still, I think that Gregory Djerejian is basically right to complain that this post by Juan Cole was over the top.

It’s not very often that I think Djerejian is talking sense. Savour the moment.

Howls of outrage (7)