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Archive for April, 2007


[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

Oh, yeah.. And the final out was deeply satisfying.


Strawberry Days

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

We were fortunate to have Dave Neiwert in Juneau last week. The students in my US 1919-1950 course were reading Strawberry Days, Dave’s latest book about the enduring damage caused by the World War II internment, and my university was able to find enough change buried in the library couch cushions to bring him to campus for a couple of days. For those who haven’t read it, Strawberry Days details the effects of racism and bad public policy on a community of Japanese-American truck farmers in Bellevue, Washington. This was an agricultural community that had tactfully avoided competing with larger white producers when its members arrived in the US during the early 20th century. They cleared the deforested land — a difficult process that took considerable amounts of time for stump removal — and then developed an agricultural niche for themselves by developing a market for fresh vegetables that white farmers had neither the patience nor the interest in growing.

Meantime, of course, racist fables about the “Yellow Peril” offered the pretext for restrictions on “alien” land ownership (at the state level) and for exclusionary immigration laws (at the national level) during the years leading up to the start of World War II. As these policies reveal, white hostility toward the Nikkei blended cultural and economic themes that are difficult to disentangle. Already racially despised, Bellevue’s farmers also inhabited land that was increasingly coveted by white farmers and real estate developers. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the logic of internment added a third dimension to the anti-Japanese narrative — the unsustantiated fears of a “fifth column” on the West Coast of North America. Internment satisfied all three fears and desires simultaneously.

Neiwert’s book does an outstanding job of showing how these various tendencies worked themselves out in the lives of Bellevue’s Nikkei community, whose hold on the land was severed by the internment. It also includes a sharp epilogue that reminds us why the internment continues to matter, six decades after the fact. In a media culture that still reserves a place for prehensile, race-baiting shitheads like Michelle Malkin and Lou Dobbs, who peddle grotesque myths about terrorism and immigration, stories like those in Strawberry Days are more important than ever. To my knowledge, Neiwert’s is the first post-9/11 study of internment to make that argument so explicitly. But as he points out in the final chapter, the contemporary relevance of the internment was evident to the Nisei the same day that the 2001 attacks took place. As one of his interviewees explains, “There are things [occurring] that are really distrubing today that in some ways echo what had happened to us. I felt that it was our responsibility to speak out . . . .”


On a completely unrelated note, Dave’s book got me thinking about how cool it would be now to develop a course based entirely on books written by people who blog. I’m not sure what the theme of the course would be, but we could read a little Berube, some Duck of Minerva, some Eric Muller, maybe some Drezner, and who knows what else.

But I promise nothing by this guy or him. And if You-Know-Who wrote anything but crappy law review articles defending Bush v. Gore, she’d probably write something like this.

And no, I wouldn’t assign that book either, though its thesis appears more plausible than Reynolds’.

. . . it may be 700 pages, but Perlstein’s book on Goldwater is in, too. (As luck would have it, I think I’m teaching the US since 1950 next spring….)

And these guys have always seemed pleasant; I don’t teach philosophy, but blood and organ donation is pretty cool. The Republican war on science . . . not so much — but an important subject nonetheless.

. . . and (thanks to Ralph Luker in comments), I see that Juneau could get very crowded next year….

Kennedy’s As-Applied Maze

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

Not surprisingly–given that it’s charged with the task of defending a law that is indefensible under current doctrine–there are many bad elements to Kennedy’s opinion besides its egregious sexism and acceptance of straightforward factual errors. Another weakness is the bizarre illogic of Kennedy’s claim that an “as-applied” challenge to the statute would still be viable. Ginsburg’s dissent identifies the obvious problem:

If there is anything at all redemptive to be said of today’s opinion, it is that the Court is not willing to foreclose entirely a constitutional challenge to the Act… But the Court offers no clue on what a “proper” lawsuit might look like. Nor does the Court explain why the injunctions ordered by the District Courts should not remain in place, trimmed only to exclude instances in which another procedure would safeguard a woman’s health at least equally well. Surely the Court cannot mean that no suit may be brought until a woman’s health is immediately jeopardized by the ban on intact D&E. A woman “suffer[ing] from medical complications,” ante, at 38, needs access to the medical procedure at once and cannot wait for the judicial process to unfold.

The Court appears, then, to contemplate another lawsuit by the initiators of the instant actions. In such a second round, the Court suggests, the challengers could succeed upon demonstrating that “in discrete and well-defined instances a particular condition has or is likely to occur in which the procedure prohibited by the Act must be used.” One may anticipate that such a preenforcement challenge will be mounted swiftly, to ward off serious, sometimes irremediable harm, to women whose health would be endangered by the intact D&E prohibition.


The Court’s allowance only of an “as-applied challenge in a discrete case,” jeopardizes women’s health and places doctors in an untenable position. Even if courts were able to carve-out exceptions through piecemeal litigation for “discrete and well-defined instances,” women whose circumstances have not been anticipated by prior litigation could well be left unprotected. In treating those women, physicians would risk criminal prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment if they exercise their best judgment as to the safest medical procedure for their patients. The Court is thus gravely mistaken to conclude that narrow as-applied challenges are “the proper manner to protect the health of the woman.”

Ginsburg is obviously correct. Clearly, Kennedy cannot be claiming that an “as-applied” challenge would have to start when a doctor is about to begin the surgery and defines a “discrete” circumstance; the judicial process cannot operate that quickly. If the “as-applied” challenge doesn’t mean that, then this litigation would seem as good as any unless the point is to claim that in any situation short of a woman who immediately needs the surgery the suit is insufficiently “well defined” and “discrete.” The correct application of Casey is to tell Congress to come back if it actually obtains serious evidence that the procedure is never necessary, not to put a (nearly impossible) burden of proof on doctors. Waiting for an “as-applied” challenge makes sense in a case where the status quo can be frozen through a stay, but biology makes it completely inappropriate for the abortion context.

Like David Garrow I would like to see doctors perform the procedure when it better protects a woman’s health and go to court to defend their rights. But I can also understand a doctor’s reluctance to do so. First, the doctor would have to hope for a favorable application of a doctrine that is a complete shambles and reflects unremitting hostility towards women and doctors who perform abortions, and can easily be interpreted to make any plausible challenge inadequate. And in addition, doctors may also be aware that a highly politicized Department of Justice will be in charge of enforcing the law. As long as this case remains good law, a chilling effect is inevitable unless doctors are saints.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Husainid

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

In the wake of the Reconquista, Muslims and Jews fleeing Spain found their way in numbers to what would become modern Tunisia. A struggle for control between Spain and Turkey ended when the Ottoman Empire assumed control of the territory in 1574. Various appointees of the Sultan and his court dueled for power until 1705, when Hussein ibn Ali, the descendant of a Cretan tax collector, assumed power and the title of Bey. Although Tunisia remained nominally loyal to the Sultan, the Bey of Tunis was almost completely autonomous, to the degree that he had the capacity to conduct an independent foreign policy. The Bey regularly made treaties with European powers, including various agreements to regulate piracy. In spite of serving as the home to many pirates, Tunis largely avoided the First and Second Barbary Wars.

Beginning in 1837, a series of reformers came to the throne. Bey Ahmad Pasha abolished slavery in 1846, and reformed the civil service. Bey Muhammed Pasha created a constitution in 1855 that (theoretically, at least) limited the powers of the monarch. By 1870 Tunisia was independent for all intents and purposes, and had a constitutional form of government. Unfortunately, Tunisia also had enormous debts, and Britain and France took control of the economy. On the flimsy pretext of a Tunisian attack on Algeria, France invaded in 1881 and transformed Tunisia into a protectorate. Unlike in neighboring Algeria, the French did not consider Tunisia a part of metropolitan France, and the colonial experience was relatively benevolent. French investment significantly improved infrastructure in Tunisia, and continued government reform.

Nationalist sentiment grew in response to French control, and in 1942 Bey Muhammed VII al-Munsif led a revolt against local French authorities. Arriving Free French forces declared the Bey a Vichy collaborator, and put his brother, Muhammed VIII, on the throne. World War II weakened French control, however, and resistance increased in the 1950s. Muhammed VIII avoided directly challenging the French, but facilitated a program of passive resistance against France. In 1956 Tunisia again achieved independence, and Muhammed VIII became King. Habib Bourguiba, leader of the ruling nationalist party, soon concluded that Muhammed VIII was a threat, and decided to end the monarchy. He placed the King under house arrest in 1957, and ended the monarchy. King Muhammed VIII died in Tunis in 1962.

I have had considerable difficulty assessing the state of the Husainid dynasty since the end of the monarchy. They do not appear to have played a meaningful role in Tunisian politics, and no sizeable pro-monarchist party seems to exist. If anyone has further information on the Husainids or their current place in Tunisian society, I’d be happy to hear about it. The current head of the family is listed as Prince Muhammed Bey, although the tendency of the family to name large numbers of its male members “Muhammed” makes it diffcult to assess when he was born or where he lives. Again, any further information is quite welcome. The Husainid dynasty operates by the succession principle of male primogeniture, meaning that the oldest male member of the family assumes power upon the death of the Head.

Trivia: George Washington’s cousin served as an advisor to a monarch of what dynasty?

Appeasing the Unappeasable

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

I don’t really agree with the take of Garance and Ezra on Maureen Dowd’s abjectly horrible column yesterday. The error they’re making, I think, it to assume that these charges have some sort of objective merit to someone, or that there’s some way of avoiding having junior high narratives being developed about you. Consider what similar advice given to Al Gore would look like (and there are many people who blamed Gore for running a horrible, horrible campaign and not adapting to the media.) He wouldn’t be able to wear “earth tone” suits, or casual jackets, or Armani suits, or work clothes…actually, I’m not sure what he could wear. He couldn’t discuss past political achievements because the media would distort them and make them look arrogant. He can’t pass on things a newspaper told him about his friend’s novel because it might not turn out to be fully true. He can’t pay a feminist consultant. And on and on and on. And if he had done all of these things, Dowd, Rich, Connolly, et al. still would have just made stuff up out of whole cloth, as they in fact did. And it’s the same thing with Kerry. If he engages in his actual hobbies, he’s an upper class twit. If he does anything else, he’s a phony. If he talks about NASCAR, Dowd will make him into a phony by lying about what he said. I assume the unwinnable choices and double standards facing Clinton are clear enough that going into detail would be belaboring the obvious.

In other words, I see no benefit to Edwards trying to appease this crowd. If he got a cheap- looking haircut, he would be attacked for that. If he tried to quietly get a mid-price haircut, he would be attacked as a flip-flopper who would really prefer to get expensive haircuts but is being a pandering phony. And then they will attack his suits, and his house, and his teeth, and his previous job, and his decision to betray his wife by staying in the race although she has cancer etc. etc. etc. Precisely because these narratives are 100% vacuous bullshit, there’s no way of avoiding them. If you want to read political significance into ordinary personality traits, a Dowd or a Givhan or anyone else who’s won a Pulitzer for degrading our political discourse will find something. The best strategy is to ignore them, and if they must be engaged the goal should be to point out that they’re clowns who have no business working on major newspapers. Maureen Dowd will be spending the next two years engaging in catty, sometimes dishonest gossip about Democratic candidates, and this will be true no matter what they do. Trying to change your behavior to accommodate this is an inherently futile enterprise.

UPDATE: Since a couple of commenters seem to have misunderstood me, I should clarify that by “ignore” I mean that Democratic candidates should not attempt to change their campaigns in response to these silly narratives; as the Gore campaign demonstrates, this just makes things worse. If the response is to undermine the idiots who make these arguments, I repeat that I support this entirely. See also Matt on how these personality tautologies are part of a larger trap that inexorably tilts towards right-wing outcomes.

Conservative Self-Parody Watch

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

The mass murders at VT were caused by…evil professors! (Well, some of them are professors, some are people the wingnut in question thinks are professors because he’s an idiot.) However, the post seems not to try Cindy Sheehan and Hillary Clinton’s desire to cover up the murder of Vince Foster into the mix, so I can only give it a B+.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. XII

[ 0 ] April 21, 2007 |

James Clayton Dobson takes another step toward God’s mysterious embrace today, as the nation’s informal Guardian of Decency turns 71 years old.

Hard though it may be to believe, Dobson was once a “sassy” child who by his own account needed to be taken down a notch and shown a proper respect for familial authority. In his 1977 guide for confused parents, Dare to Discipline, Dobson fondly recalls the day his mother flailed him with her undergarments:

She knew that backtalk and “lip” are the child’s most potent weapons of defiance and they must be discouraged. I learned very early that if I was going to launch a flippant attack on her, I had better be standing at least ten or twelve feet away. This distance was necessary to avoid being hit with whatever she could get in her hands. On one occasion she cracked me with a shoe; at other times she used a handy belt. The day I learned the importance of staying out of reach shines like a neon light in my mind. I made the costly mistake of “sassing” her when I was about four feet away. She wheeled around to grab something with which to hit me, and her hand landed on a girdle. She drew back and swung that abominable garment in my direction, and I can still hear it whistling through the air. The intended blow caught me across the chest, followed by a multitude of straps and buckles, wrapping themselves around my mid-section. She gave me an entire thrashing with one massive blow!

Seeing the light of discipline through his own tears, Dobson was hooked. Indeed, throughout his life he has argued that Christian parents should spare neither rod nor shoe nor girdle in the cause of raising obedient tots. Because the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child does not acknowledge the liberty of parents to beat the shit out of their kids, Dobson — like most conservatives — has consistently opposed any effort by the U.S. to ratify it. Among the nations of the world, only Somalia has chosen to stand strong with America and James Dobson by refusing to absorb at least some parts of the Convention into its domestic law.

By various turns a psychologist and self-proclaimed Christian minister, Dobson has transformed himself into one of the most powerful political figures in recent American history. From his humble Louisiana origins, Dobson received a PhD in child development in 1967 and navigated his way to a pediatrics professorship at the University of Southern California, where he worked for more than a decade before turning his attention to the cause of public righteousness. Focus on the Family, his Colorado-based juggernaut, began dispensing Dobson’s revelations to a world hungry for the reassertion of patriarchal order. The Family Research Council, founded in 1981 as a division of FOF, peddled bogus “pro-family” social science to lawmakers seeking to thwart the march of gay rights, abortion, and family planning and sex education in the schools. Dobson has also taken strong stands against Bob the Builder, SpongeBob SquarePants, and the Muppets. His immense scientific training also leads him to believe that global warming is a hoax.

Two parts “Dr. Phil” McGraw, two parts Jim Jones, and one part John Rockefeller, James Dobson turned FOF into the largest conservative organization in the world. Dobson advised Ronald Reagan’s administration on issues of juvenile delinquency and tax reform — the latter of which no doubt worked to FOF’s advantage as it collected hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and donations from all over the planet. By the late 1990s, Congressional Republicans were smearing themselves with holy oils cold-pressed pressed from Dobson’s ideological olive groves; Dobson’s 2004 stadium rallies and near-daily radio homilies on behalf of George W. Bush helped the incumbent prevail in the presidential election.

A Hopeful Response to Gonzales v. Carhart

[ 0 ] April 21, 2007 |

Constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein had a column in yesterday’s L.A. Times focusing on Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Gonzales. The dissent, unlike the Court’s abortion jurisprudence, focused on the right to abortion as necessary for women’s equality. As Sunstein notes, Ginsburg has argued for an equality approach to abortion rights since at least the 1980s (the Court continues to push its privacy/Due Process rationale).

Sunstein highlights the clear advantages of an equal protection claim:

For supporters of the right to choose, the sex equality argument has considerable advantages over the privacy argument. Much more than the right to privacy, the ban on sex discrimination is firmly entrenched in constitutional doctrines.

It defies social reality to approach the abortion issue as a mere matter of privacy, as if it could really be divorced from questions of sex equality. Some proposed restrictions on abortion, such as requiring the consent of the father of the fetus, are plainly an effort to revive discredited notions about women’s proper place, and they violate equality principles for that reason.

I agree with Justice Ginsburg (and Professor Sunstein) that there are significant advantages to an equality approach, not the least of which is that equality is explicit in the Constitution whereas privacy is not. But, as I have noted before, the Court’s pregnancy jurisprudence stands between us and an equality rationale for protecting abortion rights. The Court, in a now-infamous 1970s case, Geduldig v. Aiello, held that pregnancy discrimination is not sex discrimination because the comparison is not between men and women but between pregnant people and non pregnant people (a group that includes men and women). It’s a legal fiction and a farce of logic, but it stands. And stands in the way of forward movement on equality jurisprudence.

Still, Sunstein is optimistic:

But Ginsburg has now offered the most powerful understanding of the foundations of the right to choose — and it is important to remember that today’s dissenting opinion often becomes tomorrow’s majority. The equality argument has the support of four members of the court (Ginsburg and justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer). We should not be terribly surprised if, in the fullness of time, Ginsburg’s view attracts a decisive fifth.

Right now, facing decades more of a Roberts court, we can only hope that Sunstein’s crystal ball is as good as Reva Siegel‘s.

(via Grace; also at AB&B.

The Haircut Wars

[ 0 ] April 21, 2007 |

From Pulitzer Prize winner Maureen Dowd. Somerby has a history of the haircut wars, featuring the ‘WaPo‘s own Pulitzer Prize-winning airhead Robin Givhan, and airhead who probably hasn’t won a Pulitzer but does have his own cable show Chris Matthews. It’s never going away. Shoot me now.

Speaking of Althouse, if you can stomach it in this recent BloggingHeads episode she uses Givhan’s inexplicable Pulitzer (is there a “column submitted to the editor in crayon” division? Maybe a “columns rejected by a second-rate junior high student newspaper for for being too frivolous and gossipy” category? That would explain a lot…) to justify her own vacuity. Then comes the sequence where she explains her conflict with online feminists–I swear I’m not making this up (you can click right on the “intra-feminist debate” link)–because they don’t share her MacKinnonite radicalism. You remember all those op-eds MacKinnon wrote arguing that it was completely irrational for progressives to oppose Sam Alito, right? Hmm, neither do I. But, anyway, if I took anything away from Toward a Feminist Theory of the State it’s that feminists should completely ignore radical opposition to women’s rights instantiated in public law and the United States Reports, and focus on politician’s socks.

…via Garance, I see that Givan has already discussed this pressing public issue.

Friday Night Pinata

[ 0 ] April 21, 2007 |

Project Runway, April 20:

What really struck me about that audio clip though was what a gasbag Obama is. I hear a tired-sounding man, who rambles on and on. I know he’s speaking before a group. I hear them respond now and then, when he mentions that Iraq is a war that should never have been waged and when he says teachers deserve higher pay. But if I didn’t know who he was and that there was a crowd there, I would picture an old man slumped in an armchair, expatiating for the benefit of anyone unlucky enough to be within earshot. It’s formless stream of consciousness.

Project Runway, March 28 (as discovered by TBogg):

I suppose we now know how she lives with herself now that her favorite Supreme Court justices have revealed their moderate souls.


[ 0 ] April 20, 2007 |

Season’s Greetings.

Herman Melville: Objectively Pro-Terror?

[ 0 ] April 20, 2007 |

In what may be the silliest wingnutitude since the “a crescent is coming to kill us and take our memorials” fiasco, Jerry Bowers:

Envy, deep and powerful, comes through it all. Resentment against our society. Christianity, capitalism, and sports all take their hits. This was a man who hated the American regime — our very way of life. And he took a Muslim name to register his discontent — Ismail, the preferred Arab spelling of “Ishmael,” Abraham’s first son, the disinherited son who took second place to the wealthy Isaac.

The inimitable Debbie Schlussel concurs, but Austrolabe isn’t convinced:

After discovering the word “Ismail Ax” on the arm of the Virginian killer, the bright minds of the blogosphere quickly identified the name as being part of the opening sentence of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. “This is an obvious reference to the book,” said one blogging anti-Herman harridan. “They hate our way of life and our civilisation. They want to wind back the clock on American literature to the 19th century. We are engaged in an existential struggle with readers of Moby Dick.”

Actually, I jest. Some of the bright minds of the blogosphere did react to the name scrawled on the man’s arm, in the only way they knew how: by trying to cobble together some sort of link between the tragic murders and the War on Terror. “Was the killer an Islamist?” Well, Ismail is indeed a Muslim and/or Arab name and, let’s face the awful truth, Korean is just one letter short from Koran. And that’s pretty damning evidence in the bizarro world that some of these bloggers seem to inhabit.

This seems like Chamberlain-esque complacency to me. It turns out that Cho used the spelling “Ishmael” in correspondance with NBC, which leads to some truly frightening questions. If we are to conclude that Cho was an Islamic terrorist, then doesn’t his apparent admiration of Herman Melville open some disturbing doors? Is the anonymous narrator of Moby Dick actually Mohammed, or perhaps Osama Bin Laden? And if Melville should be properly understood an an Islamist, then what of Hawthorne? Isn’t Hawthorne, through the compromised Arther Dimmesdale, trying to express the basic corruption of Christianity, and (by obvious extension) the powerful attraction of militant Islam? Indeed, have Moby Dick and the Scarlet Letter been part of a long term jihadist/secular liberal plot to undermine America through ideational infiltration of our high schools? The answer seems obvious to me…

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