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Archive for April, 2007

What Digby Said

[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

This post compels me to steal Atrios’ bit.


Chicago Celebrity Sightings

[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

I was rather annoyed, while eating dinner in my hotel’s retaurant, that they sat a party at the table next to me well after what I was told was the closing time, which I had hurried to make. As tuxedo- and fancy dress-clad people slowly trickled in, however, I recongized Dennis Farina. And then Joe Mantegna — now there’s a Chicago celebrity — asked me for one of my empty chairs. And then Chazz Palminteri asked me for another chair. I have no idea what the event was, but that was pretty cool.


[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

This is perhaps the stupidest question I’ll ever ask on this blog, but here it is:

Which of the following layover scenarios strikes y’all as the least hideous?
(a) Eight hours in Cincinnati;
(b) Six hours in Atlanta;
(c) Nine hours in Seattle.

Each option gets me back to Juneau at the exact same time, and each flight requires that I leave Richmond, Virginia sometime between 6-7:30 a.m.

I’ve spent a lot of time at Sea-Tac, and so I’m inclined to take that option and try to bullshit my way once again into the Alaska Air board room, where the free booze and snacks will shower over me like a ruptured pinata. But I’ve never hung out much at CVG or Hartsfield-Jackson, so I want to make sure I wouldn’t be missing anything really cool (e.g., Ms. Pac-Man machines, hookah shops, Cinnabon, etc.) if I went with Door #3.

Further TIDOS Heritage Month Activities

[ 0 ] April 12, 2007 |

Loomis does some good work with Old Slow Trot, George Thomas. Thomas was, for all intents and purposes, written out of history because he didn’t conform to the post-reconstruction archetype of either a Union or Confederate general. A Southerner who decided to fight for the Union, Thomas’ career moreover demonstrates the absurdity of the “I did it for my state” defense of joining the Confederacy. Loomis further points us to some excellent TIDOS Heritage Month links from Old Hickory, a confirmed foe of Neo-Confederate revisionism.

Last, but not least, Erik gives an eloquent defense of the TIDOS History Month project. There seems to have been some confusion about the nature of this project in comments. We are not arguing that the South is inherently evil, or that the North has presented an admirable model of race relations. What we are arguing against is a particular historical interpretation that tries to create an equivalence between the United States and the Confederate States during the Civil War. This is not a dead or meaningless debate; nostalgia for the Confederate States of America continues to be widely held in the South and among certain presidential candidates. The mythology that has emerged around the Confederacy, and especially the “Lost Cause” is not simply a question of historical antiquarianism; such nostalgia invariably carries a racial component, and is deeply embedded within a narrative of hatred and oppression towards African-Americans. Confederate nostaligia has always included this racial component, and has never been about the “heritage” of the American South. The southern states have been part of the United States of America for 231 years, and were in rebellion for four; that leaves 227 years of potential heritage that don’t involve a brutal war fought in the service of human servitude. As others have noted, Confederate nostalgia is about the hate, not the heritage.

Undercutting every element of Confederate nostalgia, including the idea that men fought for their states and not their ideology, or that African-Americans fought in numbers for the Confederacy, or that the Confederate elite behaved with any honor, or that the Confederacy was even particularly popular among poor Southern whites, is a valuable project. As long as states see fit to have Confederate Heritage Month, it will be necessary to describe the essential perfidity of the Confederacy. In all honesty, I look forward to the day when Confederate nostalgia is every bit as respectable as fond remembrance for Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or Imperial Japan.

A final bit on the treason aspect; it can hardly be ignored that the loudest cries of “Treason!” almost invariably come from those who would treat the Confederacy as an honorable cause. As such, emphazing that Jeff Davis, Bobby Lee, John C. Breckinridge, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and every other bastard who contributed to the death of nearly three quarters of a million Americans were guilty of the foulest treason imaginable against the United States of America. Against that example (as if it were necessary) criticizing the blundering ineptitude of the worst President since James Buchanan can only be understood as the most dedicate patriotism.

Massacre at Ft. Pillow

[ 0 ] April 12, 2007 |

Today is the anniversary of the massacre of Union soldiers at Ft. Pillow, Tennessee, in 1864. Located in Jackson Henning, Tennessee, about 40 miles from Memphis, the fortress complex had been abandoned by the Confederate Army and occupied by 300 Tennessee cavalrymen and 300 Union troops. Of the latter, nearly all were African Americans newly recruited into a war that was now devoted to the destruction of slavery. The Confederate assault was led by Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a plantation owner and slave trader who would rise three years later to the rank of Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Outmatched by 2500 Confederate soldiers, the Union garrison — which had refused to surrender — was overrun within a matter of hours and suffered extraordinary casualties. After resistance had ended, Forrest’s troops shot, burned, tortured and mutiliated both living and dead. Acting Master William Ferguson of the U.S. Navy arrived to pick up survivors and to bury the dead. According to Ferguson’s written report of the event, delivered on April 14 to Major General Stephen Hurlbut,

[a]ll the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen. Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter of our unfortunate troops.

Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.

Forrest somehow managed to avoid prosecution for violating the laws of war. Indeed, he remains perhaps the most famous Tennesseeans of the 19th century. More than 30 monuments and state markers have been cast in his honor, including a statue at the state capitol building in Nashville. A state park bears his name, as did a World War II-era Army base in Tullahoma; the ROTC building at Middle Tennessee State University is named for the Klan leader and war criminal, as are two public high schools in the Volunteer State.


[ 0 ] April 12, 2007 |

Awful, and getting worse. But John McCain can briefly walk around a market with air cover and 100 troops, so the surge is working wonderfully!

The Vote Fraud Fraud, Pt. IV: Prosecutorial Hype

[ 0 ] April 12, 2007 |

The Times has a great followup article today to yesterday’s great article on the federal Election Assistance Commission’s decision to baselessly exaggerate the magnitude of fraud by individual voters. Today’s article looks at changes in the Justice Department’s standards for prosecuting voter fraud, and at the nature of the defendant’s those changes have pulled in:

Previously, charges were generally brought just against conspiracies to corrupt the election process, not against individual offenders, Craig Donsanto, head of the elections crimes branch, told a panel investigating voter fraud last year. For deterrence, Mr. Donsanto said, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales authorized prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against individuals.

Prosecutions of individuals for casting one unauthorized vote at a time really don’t make a lot of sense in terms of use of resources; it’s incredibly unlikely that any such vote is going to affect the outcome of an election, and given that there’s no benefit to the voter from casting an unauthorized vote, odds are there was no bad intent. And this very much seems to be the case when we look at the people who’ve been prosecuted under this new policy:

Ms. Prude’s path to jail began after she attended a Democratic rally in Milwaukee featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton in late 2004. Along with hundreds of others, she marched to City Hall and registered to vote. Soon after, she sent in an absentee ballot.

Four years earlier, though, Ms. Prude had been convicted of trying to cash a counterfeit county government check worth $1,254. She was placed on six years’ probation.

Ms. Prude said she believed that she was permitted to vote because she was not in jail or on parole, she testified in court. Told by her probation officer that she could not vote, she said she immediately called City Hall to rescind her vote, a step she was told was not necessary.

“I made a big mistake, like I said, and I truly apologize for it,” Ms. Prude said during her trial in 2005. That vote, though, resulted in a felony conviction and sent her to jail for violating probation.

While there have been a couple of prosecutions that would have been proper under the old guidelines, for vote buying in local races, most prosecutions for voter fraud in the 2002-2005 period were against individuals like Ms Prude. Now, this is obviously an attempt to hype up the issue for publicity, rather than to preserve the integrity of the electoral process; individual errors, resulting in a vote here and a vote there that should not have been case, have no effect at all on the outcome of elections. If Ms. Prude is the caliber of wrongdoer this sort of politicized drive to uncover voter fraud is turning up, then our current level of security preventing individuals from voting improperly is working very, very well.

Any serious discussion of a solution to a voter fraud ‘problem’ has to be accompanied by some sort of ballpark figures on how many improper votes it’s expected to prevent, compared to how many legitimate votes it’s likely to discourage. Where that analysis is absent, or where, as usual, any reasonable estimate of the number of legitimate voters discouraged is several orders of magnitude greater than the number of illegitimate votes prevented by the suggested safeguard, the person advocating it is not thinking seriously about voter fraud, and the proposed measure is presumptively a terrible, terrible, idea.

(Everyone should go read publius and Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings on this, here, here and here.) (Also at Unfogged.)

Sometimes Abortion Still Is a Crime

[ 0 ] April 12, 2007 |

For the second time in recent months, a young woman is being charged with the crime of self-induced abortion, or attempt thereof.

Via Shakesville, here’s the most recent story:

West Monroe woman is accused of trying to kill her fetus, Oswego County sheriff’s reports said.

The 24-year-old woman, who lives on county Route 11, took several over-the-counter and prescription medications last week in an attempt to abort her 13-week-old fetus, Sheriff Reuel Todd said Tuesday.

“We don’t know exactly why she did it, other than that she wanted to terminate the pregnancy,” Todd said.
Police records show that the woman, Katrina L. Pierce, reported that she was a victim of domestic violence as recently as last month.

A week and a half after that incident, on April 4, someone called the Oswego County 911 Center after Pierce took the drugs, officials said.

West Monroe volunteer firefighters helped the woman before an ambulance took her to a Syracuse hospital, Todd said.

News like this is both sad an enraging. It’s also a clear example of the failure of current abortion policy in most states, which is to just make it as tough as possible for women to get abortions and hope that the procedure just goes away. It won’t. But between 24- or 48-hour waiting periods (so-called “informed consent” laws), restrictions on who may perform abortions and where, and the general lack of access to abortion providers (87% of U.S. counties do not have an abortion provider), it’s getting tougher and tougher for women to obtain abortions legally and early in their pregnancies. The Hyde Amendment, of course, makes all of this worse by banning the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortions. Some states, including New York, have chosen to provide public funding for abortion out of state coffers, but these states are few and far between.

It’s easy to wonder why this woman didn’t seek out NY’s public funding, or why she waited until the 13th week in her pregnancy (making it even more difficult to find a provider, since many places only perform abortions up to 12 weeks). Yet instead of helping figure out what roadblocks might have existed in her path to procuring an abortion, and particularly the influence of domestic violence in this situation, the state throws her in jail and tells her is a criminal.

Sure, abortion is not a crime anymore in the U.S., but it’s legality is strictly limited to very specific circumstances. Circumstances that make legal abortion unattainable for many women.

Lest we think that illegal abortions have gone by the wayside; they haven’t. Between the advent of the internet and information about the side effects of various drugs and the ever-growing obstacles in the way of legal abortion, back alley abortions haven’t disappeared, they just evolved into procedures performed on one’s self. They’ve gone from the proverbial alley to the bedroom. They’ve taken on a more private and medicalized form.

(cross-posted at A Bird and a Bottle)

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

[ 0 ] April 12, 2007 |

Breakfast of Champions was the first Vonnegut book I ever read, and I have to say it really messed me up for quite some time when I was 13 years old. For some reason I really identified with the character of Dwayne Hoover, who winds up going mad and beating the shit out of a load of people in a bar. (Trust me: it’s funnier than it sounds, even though in Palm Sunday he only gave the book a grade of “C.”)

In 1971, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a brief essay for the New York Times that I’ve thought about quite a bit over the past five years but haven’t read again until tonight. Titled “Torture and Blubber,” Vonnegut’s essay wondered

where our leaders got the idea that mass torture would work to our advantage in Indochina. It never worked anywhere else. They got the idea from childish fiction, I think, and from a childish awe of torture.

Children talk about tortures a lot. They often make up what they hope are new ones. I can remember a friend’s saying to me when I was a child: “You want to hear a really neat torture?” The other day I heard a child say to another: “You want to hear a really cool torture?” And then an impossibly complicated engine of pain was described. A cross would be cheaper, and work better, too . . .

I am sorry we tried torture. I am sorry we tried anything. I hope we never try torture again . . . .

. . . And this, from The Rotarian magazine (1972):

When I think about my own death, I don’t console myself with the idea that my descendants and my books and all that will live on. Anybody with any sense knows that the whole solar system will go up like a celluloid collar by-and-by. I honestly believe, though, that we are wrong to think that moments go away, never to be seen again. This moment and every moment lasts forever.

And So it Goes…

[ 0 ] April 11, 2007 |

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007. Rest in peace. You will be missed.

When the last living thing

has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be

if Earth could say,

in a voice floating up


from the floor

of the Grand Canyon,

“It is done.”

People did not like it here.

The Vote Fraud Fraud, Pt. III: The 2000 Election

[ 3 ] April 11, 2007 |

As indicated below, I will be conferencing in Chicago this week and lecturing in Kentucky next week, so will be popping in only sporadically. The good news is that the familiar LizardBreath of Unfogged and a new face, Bean of the terrific (and stylishly designed) a Bird and a Bottle will be here for all your blogging needs, in addition to our regular cast. In the meantime, lest the issue of our voting system seem too abstract, I will quote from Jack Balkin and Sandy Levinson’s 2001 Virginia Law Review Article, “Understanding the Constitutional Revolution“:

[Bush] and the political party that he leads seized power through the confluence of two important events that would have caused widespread outrage and produced vigorous objections from neutral observers if they had occurred in a third world country. [

The first is the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Concerned about alleged voter fraud in the 1997 Miami mayoral election, Florida state officials hired Database Technologies, a private firm with Republican connections, to purge the voter rolls of suspected felons. “Suspected,” it turned out, is the key word, because a substantial number of the purged voters turned out to be guilty of nothing more than the crime of being African-American. Although Database Technologies repeatedly warned that their methods would produce many false positives, Florida officials insisted on eliminating large numbers of suspected felons from the rolls and leaving it to county supervisors and individual voters to correct any inaccuracies. Clay Roberts, director of the state’s division of elections, explained that “the decision was made to do the match in such a way as not to be terribly strict on the name.” Indeed, the list was so inclusive that one county election supervisor found that she was on it.

It is estimated that at least fifteen percent of the purge list statewide was inaccurate, and well over half of these voters were black. When these unsuspecting voters arrived at their precincts on November in order to exercise their “fundamental political right” to the franchise, they were turned away. Any protests were effectively silenced by the bureaucratic machinery of Florida law. As the U.S. Civil Rights Commission put it, “perhaps the most dramatic undercount in Florida’s election was the nonexistent ballots of countless unknown eligible voters, who were turned away, or wrongfully purged from the voter registration rolls by various procedures and practices and were prevented from exercising the franchise.” Those voters, wrongfully excluded from the rolls, were almost certainly more than enough to overcome George W. Bush’s 537 vote margin in Florida. In addition, many African-Americans who did vote nevertheless had their ballots spoiled and thus left uncounted because they lived in counties with antiquated and unreliable voting equipment. The Civil Rights Commission estimated that black voters were nine times more likely to have their votes rejected than white voters.

Because a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, even if conclusively proved, does not give rise to a right to a new presidential election, the story of black disenfranchisement was not effectively covered in the American mass media during the December 2000 struggle over the Florida election. [cites omitted]

It’s almost impossible to overstate how much this matters.

Happy Barbershop Quartet Day

[ 0 ] April 11, 2007 |

On this date in 1938, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America sprung forth into the world in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As it turns out, the distinctive barbershop quartet style actually originated from African American popular music in the early 1890s; the use of call-and-response as well as the distinctive “blue notes” are among the obvious markers of the music’s black cultural roots. By the early 20th century, however, white performers had begun parodying the form in minstrel shows and recording the music for popular consumption. James Weldon Johnson explained in his 1925 book on Negro spirituals that

It may sound like an extravagant claim, but it is, nevertheless a fact that the “barber-shop chord” is the foundation of the close harmony method adopted by American musicians in making arrangements for male voices. … “Barber-shop harmonies” gave a tremendous vogue to male quartet singing, first on the minstrel stage, then in vaudeville; and soon white young men, where four or more gathered together, tried themselves at “harmonizing.”

One of the early popularizers of black barbershop style was a white Richmonder — a slaveholder and former Confederate Army artillery private — named Polk Miller, whose Old South Quartette actually employed black performers until 1912. (You can listen to a sample here.) As Miller himself explained, “It was always troublesome to break in new men, but if a Negro had any music in him – and the most of them have – it didn’t take them long to catch on.” When cultural and economic pressures compelled Miller to reorganize the OSQ as a white troupe, he blamed a “certain class of whites in the South, whose ancestors never owned Negroes and who never enjoyed as I did the kind ministrations of the old Negro mammies and Uncle Toms of Antebellum days.”

As barbershop singing became more popular among white performers and audiences, its historical connections to African American culture were obscured, sometimes deliberately and sometimes unthinkingly — one musicologist, for example, mistakenly traced the roots of barbershop music to England, basing his wishful thinking on an entry int eh Oxford English Dictionary. It comes as little surprise, then, that the SPEBSQSA — easily one the most poorly-conceived acronyms in American cultural history — excluded blacks from membership until 1963. Formed to promote barbershop singing, the organization helped spur a revival of the form in the 1940s, from which time the musical form became almost exclusively the domain of whites.

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