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27 February 2005

Guitar Gods

Eric Alterman, on a tangent related to Larry Summers, recently asked why there were no women in the metaphorical pantheon of rock guitar players.

Anyway, while there are plenty of excellent women guitarists, and maybe a great one with whom I’m not familiar, can anyone really argue that there are any in the pantheon that includes Clapton, Page, Beck, Hendrix, Allman, Vaughan, Santana, Garcia and potentially, young Derek Trucks?

Well, except for Derek Trucks, who his early twenties, each of these guitarists is originally a creature of the 1960s, a decade full of freedom, rebellion, and a whole lot of sexism. In the 1960s, it was thoroughly respectable to play guitar in a rock band if you had a Y chromosome. And it was thoroughly respectable to be a member of SDS if you had an Adam's apple. One huge reason for the rise of the feminist movement in the 1970s was that the 1960s, which featured all sorts of social progress, never came close to adequately addressing the relationships between maleness and power. Brothers, go read Sisterhood is Powerful—it's sadly out of print, but lots of used copies are floating around—and see what I mean.

Alterman's plea reminds me of something that the late Edgar Kaplan wrote in the Bridge World in the early 1980s. He noted, correctly, that few of the best contract bridge players in the world were women, and surmised that there were biological reasons, for, after all, there were substantially no female classical music composers. Ah, yes, the golden age of classical music, an era famous for offering female musicians heaps of opportunities to earn a living in music, whether playing, conducting, or composing! (That Clara Schumann wrote what she did seems amazing enough.)

And while Kaplan was right to consider biological reasons for the paucity of women at the highest echelon of his field, there are myriad sociological questions to consider as well. Track and field, where the differences between the best male and best female athletes are significant, is hardly equivalent to playing bridge or guitar. And even in track and field, the differences are skewed by higher participation by male athletes than female athletes. Perhaps there is an athletic component to top-flight guitar playing (although if there is, how did Jerry Garcia get to Alterman's Pantheon), but it's hardly obvious. And perhaps hormones matter, perhaps too much estrogen makes it harder to find a backwash squeeze or play a Cdim7 chord. But perhaps they don't at all.

Posted by Tim W at 2/27/2005 12:47:00 AM

Hello Larry

Larry Summers has finally released a transcript of his remarks at the national Bureau of Economic Research on Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce. And are there ever some choices bits in it.

To take a set of diverse examples, the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking, which is an enormously high-paying profession in our society; that white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and in agriculture. These are all phenomena in which one observes underrepresentation, and I think it's important to try to think systematically and clinically about the reasons for underrepresentation.

Larry, there's this fellow named Karl, who wrote a lot about the economic base of a socierty, and how the superstructure above it rests on that base. But back to Summers's talk.

There may also be elements, by the way, of differing, there is some, particularly in some attributes, that bear on engineering, there is reasonably strong evidence of taste differences between little girls and little boys that are not easy to attribute to socialization. I just returned from Israel, where we had the opportunity to visit a kibbutz, and to spend some time talking about the history of the kibbutz movement, and it is really very striking to hear how the movement started with an absolute commitment, of a kind one doesn't encounter in other places, that everybody was going to do the same jobs. Sometimes the women were going to fix the tractors, and the men were going to work in the nurseries, sometimes the men were going to fix the tractors and the women were going to work in the nurseries, and just under the pressure of what everyone wanted, in a hundred different kibbutzes, each one of which evolved, it all moved in the same direction....

This stands for evidence? Joning a kibbutz does not imply that one magically inherits all of the talents of the kibbutzi—one has skills to start with, and skills that one leanrs while there. Unless Israeli schools teach every students the finer points about tractor repair and horticulture, then Summers is talking errant nonsense.

The second problem is the one that Gary Becker very powerfully pointed out in addressing racial discrimination many years ago. If it was really the case that everybody was discriminating, there would be very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating, because of what it would mean for the pool that was available. And there are certainly examples of institutions that have focused on increasing their diversity to their substantial benefit, but if there was really a pervasive pattern of discrimination that was leaving an extraordinary number of high-quality potential candidates behind, one suspects that in the highly competitive academic marketplace, there would be more examples of institutions that succeeded substantially by working to fill the gap.

Of course, Becker was famous for showing that racial discrimination was not economically rational—and yet any reader with a brain knew that white Americans had presied obver a perversely discriminatory socity for centuries! Further, the problem is not that a few institutions were not promoting worthy female professors, but that the whole wretched system prevents women from advancing in the first place.

My advice to Larry Summers is to stop thinking, when he opens his mouth, "What would John Silber say in a situation like this?"

Posted by Tim W at 2/27/2005 12:33:00 AM

25 February 2005

Potty-Mouthed PBS

Margaret Spellings, where are you when we need you? That Buster Bunny has been flaunting community standards yet again!

One of the places theat Buster visits in the "Postcards from Buster" show is Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and one of Buster's goals when he visits is to see a moose in person. So far, so good. But how does Buster find the moose? As he says repeatedly, he needs to find moose "scat," some of which is shown on camera.

"Scat," as you surely know, is a four-letter term for feces, and showing actual feces on the airwaves should be anathema to any right-minded American.

Posted by Tim W at 2/25/2005 01:07:00 AM

Young Turkey

I almost forgot to provide a little backstory on Boston Globe op-ed regular Cathy Young and her penchant for truth and accuracy. I wrote earlier this month about her smear of Eric Alterman as a "self-hating Jew." If only that phrase were the only recent example of a sloppy and nasty Cathy Young column.

Cathy Young's latest adventure in character assassination reminds me of her 22 March 2004 column, which featured not only a facile analysis (Spaniards should have supported the Iraq war because rejecting it looked like "appeasement") of the Spanish rejection of the conservative Popular Party, but also a sloppy and nasty takedown of Romano Prodi, president of the European Union.

I write "sloppy" and "nasty" advisedly. On 16 March, David Brooks had quoted Prodi, based on an Agence-Presse France story of the day before, as saying "[i]t is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists." Those are fairly stunning words from a mainstream politician, so it's hardly a surprise that Brooks used the quote in his column. Alas, AFP got the translation wrong. And in Brooks's next column, on 20 March, he apologized and gave the proper translation ("force should not be the only answer to terrorism"), a translation that significantly alters what Prodi said.

Two days later, Young's article included the original quote. At the time, I speculated if David Brooks was wholly irrelevant: the New York Times could not get columnists in its own employ (the New York Times Company owns the Globe) to read Davdid Brooks's columns. I nevertheless wrote a letter to the Globe that complained that Young did not care about the truth (and, further, didn't even bother to see what David Brooks had written). The letter didn't get printed. A further e-mail to the ombudsman got a promise of a correction.

And here is where it gets really interesting. Young's 12 April column included the strangest correction that I have ever read. I have seen corrections introduce new errors. I have seen corrections that confuse or mislead. But I have never seen a correction simply restate the original error:

Due to a translation error, I misquoted European Commission chief Romano Prodi in my March 22 column. His actual statement was, "It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists."

Yes, that "actual statement" was the original, outdated, flawed statement that she and her editors should have known not to use.

Conservatives and libertarians of the Boston metropolitan area, this is one of your standard-bearers. Can it be clearer that having such a hack for a representative is hardly beneficial to the public, let alone your philosophies, at least in the long run?

Posted by Tim W at 2/25/2005 12:53:00 AM

19 February 2005

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Jeff Jacoby, of the purportedly liberal Boston Globe actually wrote a sane, thoughtful column on Thursday about Natan Sharansky and how his call for greater democracy has gained little traction among both Israeli or Palestinian politics.

The column is far from perfect—its analysis of Palestinian politics is quite inadequate, for one—but it's interesting in every good sense of the word. Contrast that column with his previous column, on Social Security: that one is rife with Republican talking points, cant, and flotsam. Alas, it is the far more typical of the two.

Posted by Tim W at 2/19/2005 02:27:00 AM

Chilling Rendition

There are a host of issues on which John Kerry would have been a vast improvement over George Bush, but some issues are simply more important than others. And one issue that Kerry could have, and should have, used to walk all over George Bush was the Bush administration's willingness to torture suspected terrorists, in the face of domestic and international laws to the contrary.

Jane Mayer has an excellent piece in the current New Yorker on this topic. What is surprising is the disgust that her sources in the FBI have for "rendition"—the practice of sending prisoners to other countries, such as Egypt, where torture is regularly practiced. (By contrast, the CIA, which runs some of the foreign prisons in question, is all for this practice.)

Former FBI agent Dan Coleman explained why claiming that the War on Terror requires extraordinary tactics is both wrong in theory and wrong in practice:

"Have any of these guys ever tried to talk to someone who's been deprived of his clothes?" he asked. "He's going to be ashamed, and humiliated, and cold. He'll tell you anything you want to hear to get his clothes back. There's no value in it." Coleman said that he had learned to treat even the most despicable suspects as if there were "a personal relationship, even if you can't stand them." He said that many of the suspects he had interrogated expected to be tortured, and were stunned to learn that they had rights under the American system. Due process made detainees more compliant, not less, Coleman said. He had also found that a defendant's right to legal counsel was beneficial not only to suspects but also to law-enforcement officers. Defense lawyers frequently persuaded detainees to coöperate with prosecutors, in exchange for plea agreements. "The lawyers show these guys there's a way out," Coleman said. "It's human nature. People don't coöperate with you unless they have some reason to." He added, "Brutalization doesn't work. We know that. Besides, you lose your soul."

Why has this sort of thing continued? It all comes down to a basic fact. George Bush thinks that torturing prisoners is good. Never mind that torture got us the completely bogus links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Never mind that the British now feel that using torture in Northern Ireland in the 1970s helped, not hurt, the cause of the Irish Republican Army. And never mind that it's just plain inhuman.

[T]he Administration has fought hard against legislative efforts to rein in the C.I.A. In the past few months, Republican leaders, at the White House's urging, have blocked two attempts in the Senate to ban the C.I.A. from using cruel and inhuman interrogation methods. An attempt in the House to outlaw extraordinary rendition, led by Representative Markey, also failed.

And best of all, even if torture produces some important evidence, no court of law or even military tribunal in the United States is going to allow its introduction. In other words, once the torture starts, there isn't going to be a trial. Go read the whole thing.

Posted by Tim W at 2/19/2005 02:05:00 AM

16 February 2005

Tell On News

Here is what is fascinating about the "Jeff Gannon" story. Imagine that it is 1997. Paul and I start Bear Left (four years earlier than we really did), with just the two of us as employees. We then wheedle a string of day passes out of (very hypothetical) friends int he White House and wind up being very useful to press secretary Mike McCurry, who calls on us for questions when the rest of the press is too concerned with Monica Lewinsky for his taste. We get to ask questions like "Is it true that Trent Lott filed an aminus brief against the government in the Bob Jones case? Does President Clinton regard him as an honest representative of all races in Mississippi?"

What is both amusing and befuddling is that Paul and I—who don't use pseudonyms, and don't hind behind shell companies—have arguably better journalistic credentials than "Jeff Gannon" and Talon News ever did.

Posted by Tim W at 2/16/2005 01:02:00 AM

President Weak and Stupid

Sorry, Bartcop, but I had to steal one of your best lines.

I still cannot get over the idea that John Kerry managed to run against George Bush without drilling the idea into every American skull that George Bush, so supposedly concerned with protecting Americans from terror, failed his only comprehensive exam.

In case you need proof, the National Security Archive—no, not the government spooks, but muckraking academics— wrested from the National Security Council a particularly damning document. A memorandum, dated 25 January 2001, from Richard Clarke (the fellow who testified to the 11 September Commission without either a lawyer or a string of "I don't recall" answers) to Condoleeza Rice, entitled "Presidential Policy/Initiative Review—The Al Qida Network."

The memorandum outlines in 11 pages why al-Qaeda was dangerous, and made a host of concrete proposals to counter it. The always-inquisitive president was so moved by the missive that no principals meeting occurred until one week before the attacks. But have no fear, dear citizens: we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Posted by Tim W at 2/16/2005 12:32:00 AM

Hersh So Good

The New Yorker generally provides online a subset of its current issue, but occasionally expands its online offerings for good cause. As of now, one of those good causes is to provide readers with heaps of articles about the Iraq War and associated themes.

Archived there are excellent pieces by Seymour Hersh, Nicholas Lemann, Philip Gourevitch, and Hendrik Hertzberg. If you missed any of Seymour Hersh's excellent reporting about Iraq over the past quinquennium, or if you want some background on al-Jazeera or Colin Powell, this is the place to go.

Posted by Tim W at 2/16/2005 12:20:00 AM

15 February 2005

The Anti-Semitism of Fools

Real life encroached too much in the past several days to post this when it happened. But last Monday, Cathy Young penned what may be the stupidest Boston Globe op-ed piece ever. And that's saying a lot, because Jeff Jacoby has written for the Globe for several years now, and Mike Barnicle* used to write for them as well.

Young had her knickers in a twist because Eric Alterman, a longtime advocate of a Zionist Israeli state and a longtime advocate of a legitimate Palestinian state, had the audacity to suggest that Israel had caused decades of suffering for Palestinians.

[M]aybe the "self-hating" label is justified on occasion. That's what I found myself thinking when I read a stunning recent commentary by author and pundit Eric Alterman on the British Muslim Council's decision to boycott the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The reason given for the boycott was that the commemoration of Nazi death camp victims did not include the Palestinian victims of Israeli "genocide."

On his blog at MSNBC.com, Alterman sneered at critics of the boycott. "I'm a Jew, but I don't expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people's suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters—and in this I include myself—are causing much of theirs," he wrote, suggesting that one might as well expect gays to honor "the suffering of gay bashing bigots." Alterman noted that "the Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world—in the form of the United Nations—reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists. . . . To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic."....

By Alterman's logic, every Muslim is justified in viewing every Jew as the enemy. Alterman frets that his words will be "twisted beyond recognition," but it's hard to see how they can be twisted into something more indecent than they already are. (While he counts himself among Israel's supporters, he seems to regard the creation of Israel itself—not just the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza—as an Arab "catastrophe.")

Young sums up, almost succinctly, the problem with Americans discussing Israel. Within the borders of Israel, debate among loyal Israelis, whether Jewish or Arab, includes full and frank debates about the proper final borders of the state of Israel; the propriety of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza; and even the desirability of a religious state of Israel. Calling for reparations, financial or otherwise, for dispossessed Palestinians won't get you invited to a Likud testimonial dinner, but it won't get you painted by rational Israelis as anti-Semitic, just progressive or leftist.

If one believes that the 1948 formation of the state of Israel was a good thing on the whole, as Alterman believes, it hardly follows that everything about its formation was good. (Would Young really believe that thinking that Native Americans were treated unfairly over the centuries makes one anti-American?)

It is all too common to see conservative, even putative libertarians, conflate legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Only fools and knaves should be mixing the two up.

Update (16 February 2005): Eric Alterman unloaded a fusillade of sharp words at the Globe and its spineless editors in his Tuesday weblog entry. I feel a bit for the editors of the letters page—there is never enough space to include all of the letters one would want without having to edit too much from some of them. But that's no reason not to give Alterman spaced on the op-ed page—this is the same op-ed page that manages to find room for not one but two vapid pieces by Joan Vennochi every week.

*I should have made clear here that Mike Barnicle rarely appeared on the op-ed page; instead, his febrile scribblings appeared in his column in the Metro section. Imagine, if you please, that I wrote "and the op-ed pages have often featured the comedic stylings of George Will" in placed of the second clause of the sentence here.

Posted by Tim W at 2/15/2005 12:55:00 AM

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