Weekend reading recommendations

Here are two interesting articles on a wide range of topics.  I recommend reading them in full, esp. the first two.

Here are the two main features; excerpts appear below.

  1. We’re in the fast lane to polygamy“, Mark Steyn, Macleans, 8 April 2009
  2. Wars Abroad Continue at Home“, Ann Jones, posted at TomDispatch, 31 March 2009

Three other interesting articles, no excerpts provided:

  • GM in bankruptcy“, The Deal magazine, 12 December 2009 — The best analysis I’ve seen of the possible dynamics of GM’s bankruptcy.
  • The Brokest Generation“, Mark Steyn, National Review Online, 14 March 2009 — “Our kids are the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved!”
  • U.S. Judge Dismisses Case of Former Senator Stevens“, Bloomberg, 7 April 2009 — Misconduct by prosecutors is a major problem. If it brings down a US Senator, what chance do you or I have?  For analysis of this see “Policing the Prosecutors“, Clarice Feldman, American Thinker,  April 2009.

 Quote of the Year:

Now we’re being told the federal government has to pick up the tab not just for Henrietta Hughes’s house and GM’s unsustainable benefits and California’s runaway budget, but also for “older investors” seduced by Madoff’s promises of soaraway returns. Why should AIG bonuses be exempt from a federal cash-cow predicated on rewarding failure? As long as there’s one last feedstore clerk somewhere in Idaho putting in an honest day’s work we can all stick it to, who cares?


(1)  We’re in the fast lane to polygamy“, Mark Steyn, Macleans, 8 April 2009 — Excerpt:

Madame L’Heureux-Dubé and her fellow progressives think that women’s rights and gay rights are like the internal combustion engine or the jet plane – that once you’ve invented them they can’t be un-invented. Yet tides rise, and then ebb. Forty years ago Nigeria lived under English common law. Now half of it lives under sharia, and the other half’s feeling the heat.

(2)  “Wars Abroad Continue at Home“, Ann Jones, posted at TomDispatch, 31 March 2009 — Another in a series of articles about the price paid by the men and women in our Armed Forces.  For more information see:

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt:

Some costs of war are, however, far harder to notice, no less tote up, though no less real for that. Ann Jones is a TomDispatch regular, as well as the author of Kabul in Winter (a beautifully written reminder of just how long America’s war in Afghanistan has been going on) and of Women Who Kill, a contemporary classic to be reissued this fall by the Feminist Press. (That invaluable press, by the way, issued in two volumesthe vivid, on-the-spot writings of the Baghdad blogger Riverbend, who, among millions of Iraqi refugees fleeing abroad, has not been heard from since October 27, 2007.) The following essay on war and women has been adapted from Jones’s new introduction to that book.


Wake up, America. The boys are coming home, and they’re not the boys who went away.

On New Year’s Day, the New York Times welcomed the advent of 2009 by reporting that, since returning from Iraq, nine members of the Fort Carson, Colorado, Fourth Brigade Combat team had been charged with homicide. Five of the murders they were responsible for took place in 2008 when, in addition, “charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault” at the base rose sharply. Some of the murder victims were chosen at random; four were fellow soldiers — all men. Three were wives or girlfriends.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Men sent to Iraq or Afghanistan for two, three, or four tours of duty return to wives who find them “changed” and children they barely know. Tens of thousands return to inadequate, underfunded veterans’ services with appalling physical injuries, crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suck-it-up sergeants who hold to the belief that no good soldier seeks help. That, by the way, is a mighty convenient belief for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, which have been notoriously slow to offer much of that help.

Recently Republican Senator John Cornyn from Texas, a state with 15 major military bases, noted that as many as one in five U.S. veterans is expected to suffer from at least one “invisible wound” of war, if not a combination of them, “including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury.” Left untreated, such wounds can become very visible: witness, for example, the recent wave of suicides that have swept through the military, at least 128 in 2008, and 24 in January 2009 alone.

To judge by past wars, a lot of returning veterans will do themselves a lot of damage drinking and drugging. Many will wind up in prison for drug use or criminal offenses that might have been minor if the offenders hadn’t been carrying guns they learned to rely on in the service. And a shocking number of those veterans will bring the violence of war home to their wives and children.

… In April 2000, after three soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, murdered their wives and CBS TV’s “60 Minutes” broke a story on those deaths, the Pentagon established a task force on domestic violence. After three years of careful work, the task force reported its findings and recommendations to Congress on March 20, 2003, the day the United States invaded Iraq. Members of the House Armed Services Committee kept rushing from the hearing room, where testimony on the report was underway, to see how the brand new war was coming along.

What the task force discovered was that soldiers rarely faced any consequences for beating or raping their wives. (Girlfriends didn’t even count.) In fact, soldiers were regularly sheltered on military bases from civilian orders of protection and criminal arrest warrants. The military, in short, did a much better job of protecting servicemen from punishment than protecting their wives from harm.

… The military does evaluate the mental health of soldiers. Three times it evaluated the mental healthof Robert H. Marko (the Fort Carson infantryman who raped and murdered a girl), and each time declared him fit for combat, even though his record noted his belief that, on his twenty-first birthday, he would be transformed into the “Black Raptor,” half-man, half-dinosaur.

… Our women soldiers are a different story. The Department of Defense still contends that women serve only “in support of” U.S. operations, but in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “support” and “combat” often amount to the same thing. Between September 11, 2001, and mid-2008, 193,400 women were deployed “in support of” U.S. combat operations. In Iraq alone, 97 were killed and 585 wounded.

Like their male counterparts, thousands of women soldiers return from Afghanistan and Iraq afflicted with PTSD. Their “invisible wounds,” however, are invariably made more complex by the conditions under which they serve. Although they train with other women, they are often deployed only with men. In the field they are routinely harassed and raped by their fellow soldiers and by officers who can destroy their careers if they protest.

… Shortly after Sgt. William Edwards and his wife, Sgt. Erin Edwards, returned to Fort Hood, Texas, in 2004 from separate missions in Iraq, he assaulted her. She moved off base, sent her two children to stay with her mother, brought charges against her husband, got an order of protection, and received assurances from her husband’s commanders that they would prevent him from leaving the base without an accompanying officer.

She even arranged for a transfer to a base in New York. However, on July 22, 2004, before she could leave the area, William Edwards skipped his anger management class, left the base by himself, drove to Erin Edwards’s house, and after a struggle, shot her in the head, then turned the gun on himself.

The police detective in charge of the investigation told reporters, “I believe that had he been confined to base and had that confinement been monitored, she would not be dead at his hands.” Base commanders excused themselves, saying they hadn’t known Erin Edwards was “afraid” of her husband. Even if true, since when is that a standard of military discipline? William Edwards had assaulted a fellow soldier. Normally, that would be some kind of crime — unless, of course, the victim was just a wife. …

Give Peace a Chance

The battered women’s movement once had a slogan: World peace begins at home. They thought peace could be learned by example in homes free of violence and then carried into the wider world. It was an idea first suggested in 1869 by the English political philosopher John Stuart Mill. He saw that “the subjection of women,” as he called it, engendered in the home the habits of tyranny and violence which afflicted England’s political life and corrupted its conduct abroad.

The idea seems almost quaint in competition with the brutal, dehumanizing effectiveness of two or three tours of duty in a pointless war and a little “mild” brain damage.

We had a respite for a while. For nearly a decade, starting in 1993, rates of domestic violence and wife murder went down by a few percentage points. Then in 2002, the vets started coming home.

No society that sends its men abroad to do violence can expect them to come home and be at peace. To let world peace begin at home, you have to stop making war. (Europe has largely done it.) Short of that, you have to take better care of your soldiers and the people they once knew how to love.

About the Author

Ann Jones is a journalist and the author of a groundbreaking series of books on violence against women, including Next Time She’ll Be Dead, on battering, and Women Who Kill, a contemporary classic to be reissued this fall by the Feminist Press, with a new introduction from which this post is adapted. She serves as a gender advisor to the UN.


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13 thoughts on “Weekend reading recommendations”

  1. Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, the former Supreme Court justice, remains confident the drawbridge is firmly up. “Marriage is a union of two people, period,” she said in Quebec the other day. But it used to be a union of one man and one woman, period. And, if that period got kicked down the page to accommodate a comma and a subordinate clause, why shouldn’t it get kicked again? If the sex of the participants is no longer relevant, why should the number be?

    We can all have great fun frothing over this one; but I thought this article was going to be about China, which now has 30 million more males than females. This has potential implications which are not so entertaining.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Is it “frothing” to wonder about the effect of this tinkering with society’s machinery? Do we assume that it will operate well with any changes? How nice that we have volunteered to be guinea pigs in this grand social science experiment!

    As for China, there are several excellent articles about the male/female imbalance on the FM reference page Demography – studies & reports.

  2. Look, of all the things I’ve ever worried about, ever, polygamy is… well, to be frank it isn’t on the list at all.

    I think what we’re supposed to be worried about here is that the law will give legal protection to polygamists, or something. First of all, we all know that polygamy has been a human practice for as long as there have been humans. Stopping polygamy as a social practice has proved to be impossible. In fact, I read recently with some amusement that Mel Gibson, like a lot of other rich men, has been maintaining a polygamous relationship with a young lady (with money received in part from the Passion of the Christ, no doubt.) Here’s the thing, once a man starts regularly having sex with a woman he has a defacto wife. This concept of “Ex”-wives that a man had children with never ceases to amuse me, especially since his financial responsibility for the children doesn’t end.

    The current way of resolving polygamous relationships is one of two ways, a nasty divorce when wife number one finds out about wife number two (colloquially referred to as a “mistress”) or wife number one decides to put up with wife number two for social, political or economic reasons (the Hillary Clinton approach).

    Now, my fiance has figured out a solution to the whole polygamy thing, it’s the sweet words “I will cut you!” said with enough conviction to convince me.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Looking at these things in such a rigidly binary way does not work in the social science. As in “Since some form of “X” exists at a low level (hard drug use, polygamy, smoking), any efforts to control it are useless.” A biological system — your body, the USA — can tolerate dynamics at low levels that have serious effects when they become widespread.

    Polygamy allows the rich not just to concentrate material things, but also access to women. That will raise the stakes in a society already highly focused on material wealth. Also — the byproduct, a large numbers of single men, will almost certainly have substantial social effects.

    Here we again see American’s willingness to casually tinker with their social machinery, with no visible awareness that it can break.

    “First of all, we all know that polygamy has been a human practice for as long as there have been humans.”

    So has selling wives and slavery. Are you OK with legalizing those in the US?

  3. FM replies: “Is it “frothing” to wonder about the effect of this tinkering with society’s machinery? Do we assume that it will operate well with any changes? How nice that we have volunteered to be guinea pigs in this grand social science experiment!

    The current generation always tinkers with the machinery built by the society before them. How many things do we participate in that our grandparents would find appalling? Undoubtedly the venerable members of the Greatest Generation were seen as [fist shake] “wrecking society” [/fist shake] by their grandparents, too. Of course, we credit Greatest Generation for saving the nation.

    We have met the social science experiment, and it is us. Now get off my lawn.
    Fabius Maximus replies: You must be kidding — to say we make changes, usually slow and incremental, therefore anything goes. American history shows that we make changes only after long deliberation — often too slowly (e.g., civil rights for black Americans). This desire for casual tinkering with the basic machinery has few precedents.

  4. Clearly marriage laws that require two people discriminate against bisexuals, let alone polygamists.

  5. FM replies: “You must be kidding — to say we make changes, usually slow and incremental, therefore anything goes. American history shows that we make changes only after long deliberation — often too slowly (e.g., civil rights for black Americans). This desire for casual tinkering with the basic machinery has few precedents.”

    America was born of violent, rapid change and reforged less than 100 years later in yet another bloody torrent of change. Things have slowed down since then, granted. But if it can be argued (and I believe it can) that marriage contracts between CONSENTING ADULTS is no business of the state then shouldn’t the state remove itself from the equation as much as possible?

    I think you are falling victim to the same fallacy that beset the gay marriage debate: the idea that once polygamy became legal that everyone would rush to the alter with half a dozen fiances in tow. There is a small value of the population that this would impact, most of whom live outside society’s norms and mores, anyway.
    Fabius Maximus replies: In the moral calculus of most people, I believe war is considered a drastic last resort. Not a model process to be emulated. States that encouraged constant revolution — such as China under Mao and Cambodia under Pol Pot — usually end badly.

    You appear to be mis-reading my comments. I have taken no position on these matters, merely urging caution — not ideologically-driven haste. Your last analogy is defective. The substantial effects of major social changes occur only over time — often several generations, as behavioral patterns change slowly. Only fools believe “everyone would rush to the alter”.

  6. There are increasing numbers of single parents with limited access to their children , men who are socially redundant , welfare mums , worn out single working mums , etc etc .An acceptance of ‘extended marriage ‘might be a good idea . Marriage isnt just about one person owning another . Its about in-sickness-and-in-health , finance , care of children and parents , protection , tasksharing , asset sharing ,inheritance etc .
    Participants dont need to live under one roof , as the Prophet found .

  7. I don’t know anything about polygamy and leaving aside it’s obviously racy ‘menage a multiples’ phantasmagorical inuendos, it does seem on the surface that it might provide a workable basis for family continuity in the sense that a) it would presumably be far easier for a family of, say, four working adults, to pay the bills than families of one or two working adults, and that therefore b) such a structure might well provide far more continuity for any offspring involved.

    The big change in this regard is not actually polygamy per se rather the old man-wears-the-pants and woman-depends-on-the-man-with-devotion approach. Now that paradigm has been largely thrown out the window – itself an enormous social experiment of the ilk FM deplores above – polygamy would probably be even more unworkable than conventional marriage has become. Equality is as unworkable in the home as it is in a military unit – or any other group configuration in the human realm for that matter.

    So even if they made it legal, it would probably have very little effect! The damage has already been done on the home/family front.

  8. Marriage is just the installment plan version of prostitution. Polygamy, therefore, is for the rich, and thus out of bounds in our newly impoverished society.

  9. Perhaps we can use this interval before the collapse of western civilization to come up with collective nouns to describe multiples of wives, a carp anyone? a complaint? an exhaustion, or my personal favorite an Impoverishment of wives.

  10. Gay marriage, civil unions, polygamy…people have had all sorts of living arrangements from time immemorial. The push for government recognition is primarily motivated by the same impulse for every expansion of government power.

    Follow the money. It’s all about the money.

  11. Re, “Wars Abroad Continue…”

    I’d take these types of articles (suicide rates of vets, homicide rates of vets) more seriously if the author performed the basic service of providing the rates of commission of these crimes in the Army vs. the same demographic (men 18-24 or whatever) in society at large. The material I’ve seen argues that the Army rates are substantially lower:
    * “The Wacko-Vet Myth“, John J. DiIulio Jr, Weekly Standard, 14 January 2008
    * “The Killer Vet Lie“, New York Post, 17 January 2008

    Instead we get anecdotes which, while tragic and moving, cannot support the author’s argument without comparison to the whole of society.
    Fabius Maximus replies: While you are correct about many of these stories in the mainstream media, there is in fact a large body of research showing that there are serious and rising rates of both suicide and violent crimes by members of the armed forces and veterans. Most of these studies are by the Dept of Defense.

    I suggest reading “Suicides skyrocket among US soliders“, esp the reports listed in the “For More Information Section.” (From memory, your question was discussed at length in the comments) Then you might browse the research listed on the FM reference page An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports, section one “Articles about the Army’s fitness, and the mental and physical fitness of its people.”

  12. Agree with AM. These articles reveal the same type of sloppy indefensible research that supported Lancet’s vastly overblown claims of civilian casualties in Iraq. Turns out the research was based upon a former Saddam epidemiologist who had been responsible for epi-propaganda under the dictator. The entire process was deeply flawed. Propaganda serves no one.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I find your comment astonishing considering my reply to AM. Please read the following s l o w l y: Click on the links that provided to see additional information, describing some of the large body of research on this subject. Much of which was done (or sponsored) by DoD (making your comment about “sloppy indefensible research” quite bizarre).

    People that ignore this research are part of the problem.

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