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Archive for February, 2007


[ 0 ] February 27, 2007 |

All with a passing interest in political theory ought to read Russell Arben Fox’s summary statement on communitarianism, available here. Most communitarianism is annoying (hardly a unique feature of communitarianism), but there’s a set of serious and compelling ideas in there. I will have a substantive discussion/response of my own in this space eventually, but probably not for a few weeks, so for now I’ll just direct you to the post while it’s nice and fresh.


Great. Just great.

[ 0 ] February 27, 2007 |

Here’s a disease vector that Michael Crichton won’t be writing about anytime soon.

Oysterman Jim Aguiar had never had to deal with the bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus in his 25 years working the frigid waters of Prince William Sound.

The dangerous microbe infected seafood in warmer waters, like the Gulf of Mexico. Alaska was way too cold.

But the sound was gradually warming. By summer 2004, the temperature had risen just enough to poke above the crucial 59-degree mark. Cruise ship passengers who had eaten local oysters were soon coming down with diarrhea, cramping and vomiting — the first cases of Vibrio food poisoning in Alaska that anyone could remember.

“We were slapped from left field,” said Aguiar, who shut down his oyster farm that year along with a few others.

As scientists later determined, the culprit was not just the bacterium, but the warming that allowed it to proliferate.

“This was probably the best example to date of how global climate change is changing the importation of infectious diseases,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, acting chief of epidemiology at the Alaska Division of Public Health, who published a study on the outbreak.

But since Al Gore lives in a big house (!!!!!!111!ONE!!111), all this should be filed under “liberal-socialist hysteria.”

In related news, I’m eagerly awaiting illuminations from Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse as to Nancy Pelosi’s responsibility for all this. And since Bob Owens once took a geology course somewhere, I suppose his thoughts will be forthcoming as well.

Great Moments In Bullet-Dodging

[ 2 ] February 26, 2007 |

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And that little boy nobody liked grew up to be…the nation’s chief Inquistor and Underwear Drawer Inspector!

I’m reading Jan Crawford Greenburg’s new book about the Supreme Court, which is pretty good. One thing it emphasizes is how narrow the margin for Roe (as well as other liberal decisions preserved by 5-4 majorities in the late Rehnquist Court) was. Had Reagan appointed Bork first and then Scalia, for example, he may well have gotten both. (Greenburg’s account of the Bork hearings, though, is pretty problematic for reasons I may discuss later.)

Then there’s Souter. Some of you may know that the main alternate choice to Souter was Ken Starr, which would have obviously had a major impact on Roe and any number of other cases. What I didn’t know was why Starr was rejected, leading to Rudman and Sunnunu being able to push Souter. Apparently, it was a dispute within DOJ about a trivial nondelegation case:

The issue dividing [Bill Barr, Michael Luttig, and Starr] was a law that permitted private citizens to sue for fraud against the federal government [and receive a bounty]…Barr and Luttig thought the law infringed on presidential authority, the final straw in a series of court decisions eroding executive authority…But new soliticor general Starr concluded any challenge to the law would be quixotic at best. Barr and Luttog were furious that Starr wouldn’t take their side. They came to think he rejected their position in part to avoid antagonizing Charles Grassley, a populist Republican from Iowa who had sponsored the 1986 amendments to the law and who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Consciously or not, Starr, they thought, had put his own interests above the president’s, possibly because he was envisioning appearing before that very committee as a Supreme Court nominee.

The showdown over presidential power set a pattern which continued after Barr became deputy attorney general the next year and Luttig moved into Barr’s old job. From that point forward, Starr was the odd man out.

[AG Dick] Thornburgh slammed the door shut that Saturday morning, insisting to Bush and other advisers that Starr was unsuitable for the Supreme Court. He suggested he felt so strongly about it that he was willing to resign.


That ended the discussion–and the Supreme Court prospects–of Kenneth Starr. (pp.92-3.)

So David Souter was appointed to the Supreme Court instead of Ken Starr…because some people in Justice thought Ken Starr wasn’t wingnutty enough. Always nice when their incompetence can work in our favor.

" . . . he’s got someone to take care of him"

[ 0 ] February 26, 2007 |

(Via Pandagon)

We’ll be hearing more about this story, I hope, in the coming months as the civil case goes to trial. Three years ago in Cass County, Texas, a handful of drunken mouth-breathers humiliated a developmentally disabled black man for an entire night, then dumped his unconscious body on the side of a road after one of the party tired of him and punched him in the face. This was no ordinary punch — it knocked him into a three-day coma.

Billy Ray had regained consciousness on Wednesday, but the trauma to his head had resulted in permanent brain damage. (Having retained no memory of what had happened to him, he was unable to help investigators.) There was little dignity in his condition; he drooled and soiled himself, and his speech was severely impaired. When he tried to talk, his lips and tongue would not cooperate, and to all but a few family members who grew accustomed to the way he grunted his words, he was unintelligible. He had difficulty swallowing food and walking unassisted, and he often sat in his hospital bed and cried in frustration. After a month, when he still could not feed or dress himself, he was transferred to a nursing home in nearby Texarkana, where he gradually learned to walk again and recovered control of his bodily functions.

After the perps were charged, most of the white community rallied on their behalf, with the mayor opining that the “black boy” (who was in his 40s) had been somewhere he shouldn’t have been — and while the violence was unfortunate, (white) boys will be (white) boys. The mother of one of the accused — apparently recalling Babs Bush’s astonishment at the government largess heaped upon the Katrina victims so lavishly lodged in the Astrodome — even suggested that “[Billy Ray] is better off today than he’s ever been in his life. He roamed the streets, the family never knew where he was. Now in the nursing home he’s got someone to take care of him.” Her son and his friends, she figures, are the worse for wear in all this because their reputations are forever damaged. Perhaps they, too, are “weeping in frustration” and choking on their food.

Two juries decided to allow the defendants to serve minimal sentences; their work was abetted by an apparently worthless DA who couldn’t be bothered to attend the trial, as well as an assistant DA who overlooked evidence that the defendants perjured themselves on the stand. The fact that the defendants had discharged a casual stream of racist epithets against Johnson the night of the assault did nothing, moreover, to persuade the jury that race was a prevailing factor in the crime.

Smile, Peasant!

[ 0 ] February 26, 2007 |

Smiling, apparently, conveys low social status. Who knew?

More on the EFP

[ 0 ] February 26, 2007 |

David at Danger Room has a couple very good posts on the possible origins of the EFPs being found in Iraq. He points out, as Andrew Cockburn noted last week, that the construction of these devices is easily within the means of any Iraqi insurgent with access to a machine shop. David also points out that the case that the military is trying to make regarding these parts is simply incoherent. The fact that Hezbollah has used devices similar to the ones found in Iraq does not prove, or even really suggest, that the parts are being shipped from Iran. At best, it implies that collaboration between Hezbollah and Iraqi insurgents (or between Iraqi insurgents and Iranian go-betweens) has led to similar tactics in Iraq and Lebanon. Note this non-response:

Could copper discs be manufactured with the required precision in Iraq? “You can never be certain,” Major Weber said. But he said that “having studied all these groups, I’ve only seen E.F.P.’s used in two areas of the world: The Levant and here,” meaning in Hezbollah areas of Lebanon and in Iraq. Hezbollah is thought to be armed and trained by Iran.

Which is, essentially, a way of saying that the Army hasn’t the faintest idea where the EFPs have come from.

The distinction between Iranian facilitated techniques and direct support is hardly trivial. Even if Iran supplied the know-how or enabled its transfer, the genie is out of the bottle. If Shiite (and presumably Sunni) militias in Iraq can figure out how to make the EFP disks, then closing off the Iran-Iraq border or even bombing Iran back to the Stone Age wouldn’t make a whit of difference for Iraq. I suspect that Iran probably did have some role, if only through facilitating contact and the transfer of information between insurgent groups, but that’s hardly important now.

Cross-posted to Tapped.

BoBo Imagines Park Slope

[ 1 ] February 26, 2007 |

Ben beat me to this, but indeed Sunday’s Bobo was remarkably devoid of evidence and irrelevant even by the standards of his sociological thumbsuckers. Not only am I, shall we say, unpersuaded that even in Park Slope there are large numbers of parents force-feeding “Brian Eno, Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens into their little babies’ iPods,” I can’t imagine who could give a rat’s ass even if it was happening. Maybe Althouse’s tenure on the op-ed page is actually making the NYT‘s bad columnists even more vapid and unserious through some magnetic force–in that case, MoDo’s next conversation with Al Gore’s bald spot will actually be printed in crayon.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. IV

[ 0 ] February 26, 2007 |

Had an aggressive glioblastoma not gobbled his brain in 1991, the late Republican political strategist Lee Atwater would have turned 56 today. One of the most vile political figures in the pre-Karl Rove era, Atwater was especially skilled at adapting white ressentiment to the post-civil rights landscape.

For several years as a young child in Aiken, South Carolina, Atwater lived down the street from Strom Thurmond, from whom the young Lee must have absorbed by osmosis a certain racial sensibility. Although Atwater was widely known as an R&B musician — having played with Percy Sledge in the 1960s and BB King in 1990 — he was renowned for exploiting the racist sensibilities of white Americans, apparently following the time-honored principle of appreciating black cultural production while throwing the mass of African Americans under the bus. Among other things, he is credited with coining the “welfare queen” term that enabled Ronald Reagan to confect an elaborate fable about race and social programs that proved vital to those programs’ dismemberment in the 1990s.

Alexander Lamis’ Southern Politics in the 1990s includes Atwater’s account of the evolution of such race-baiting from the early years of the Civil Rights movement through the acsendance of Ronald Reagan:

You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me – because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’

Altwater’s most notorious moment came while managing the 1988 campaign for George H.W. Bush, whose election as president he helped secure through an ingenious and despicable television spot known merely as the “Willie Horton ad.”

Had Atwater survived the first term of the Bush administration, the mind can only wonder at the depths to which he would have taken the elder Bush’s re-election campaign. As it happened, however, the inoperable mass inside Atwater’s skull gave him cause to reflect on the harm he had done to the world. He spent his last months of coherence writing letters of apology to people whose careers and reputations he had once sought to destroy.

Thank God For the Rain to Wash the Trash Off the Sidewalk

[ 0 ] February 26, 2007 |

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When it came out, I assumed that The Departed was too good and too alive to be competitive for Best Picture; I’m happy to be wrong, and it’s good that the greatest living American director got his award. I still can’t quite believe that this happened with the AMPSA, but it’s gratifying that he won for his best film in nearly two decades rather than for something like The Aviator. It’s partly a testament to Scorsese and partly a testament to the kind of middlebrow doorstops (and, sometimes, utter crap) that the Academy generally likes that while it obviously doesn’t rank with his very greatest work I think it’s by far the best film to be so honored in the last decade (well, OK, that’s also partly a testament to the fact that I don’t get Tolkien.) Indeed, although this is idiosyncratic almost to the point of perversity, the last Best Picture I unequivocally prefer is Annie Hall, granting that 1)Schindler’s List is (at least before its last 20 minutes or so, and John Williams in that context ugh) a tough case, underrated by some cineastes, 2)The Silence of the Lambs is a good thriller, and 3)I know my belief that Unforgiven is merely very good will get catcalls.

My other question: I know there were a lot of other strong candidates–the Children of Men in particular was visually magnificent–how on earth did Scorsese’s great cinematographer Michael Ballhaus not even secure a nomination?


[ 0 ] February 25, 2007 |

Is it my imagination, or is this thing running long?

…Update by SL: I’ve mostly had it on the background while writing–which is easy given that they’re giving out roughly one award every two hours–but aren’t those human shadow puppet things atrocious even by the standards of pointless kitchy Oscar timewasters?

…Ah, what I’d waited for; the montage of dead people. Who knew that Basil Poledouris had died? Now time for bed.

…SL: It’s really good to see Whitaker win, although not surprising. He was astonishing, and the attached movie was a little better than I expected.

…SL: and, of course, the Greatest Living American Director. More on this later, but it’s good if only because he seemed to want it so much. I’m glad that they didn’t get stiffed for best picture either; when was the last time the best American film of the year actually won the category?


[ 0 ] February 25, 2007 |

Here’s Brad Neely’s catchy follow-up to the acclaimed George Washington music video . . . .

Horrible. Infuriating. Sad.

[ 0 ] February 25, 2007 |

Radley Balko (click through for a summary of all the evidence of how much violence has dropped because of the surge) on the Instapundit-approved evidence-free assertions of Patrick Ruffini:

I wish I could say that it’s merely amusing to watch politicians and war supporters play with other people’s lives to save themselves the embarrassment of having wasted so many lives already. “If only we send a few thousand more other peoples’ kids into harm’s way, this whole “remap the Middle East” plan will finally start to materialize. Then you’ll see. We were right all along.”

Alas. It’s not amusing. It’s horrible. And infuriating. And sad.

Exactly right.

…Roy also points out Ruffini’s claim that the media is devoting wall-to-wall overage of Anna Nicole Smith…as a way of deflecting attention from the success of the surge! Yeah, that’s plausible.

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