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Archive for November, 2007

Following the News…

[ 14 ] November 27, 2007 |

Yglesias writes, in reference to the death of Sean Taylor:

It’s best to follow actual news stories on actual news sites

At the risk of using the tragedy of Taylor’s death to discuss a meta-blogging issue, this position on the news seems to be a massive point of divergence between left and right blogistan. The most useless type of post in all the blogosphere is the “why aren’t leftist bloggers writing about this important issue?”; here’s an example from Michael Goldfarb (whose work I generally like) regarding Burma. Part of the answer is that lefty bloggers don’t have the same fantasies about policy relevance that right wing bloggers do; we figure that since there’s not terribly much that the US government can do about Burma, we’re likely to be even less effectual. I think that we also have a certain degree of respect for our readers, in that we expect that people will know without being told that the government of Burma is bad. Note to Ace of Spades; blathering endlessly about a course of events that you can’t possibly affect, then denouncing others for insufficient blather of their own, is rather the definition of “preening in righteous indignation.”

I think, though, that the biggest reason there’s such a divergence is that lefty bloggers don’t imagine themselves as a replacement for the news media at large. While we complain relentlessly about the failures of the MSM, we also recognize that organizations like the NYT have access to resources we don’t in places we don’t, and can usually be relied on for at least a basic narrative of events. We supply commentary, color, and critique, but our role is essentially complementary. I don’t think that this understanding holds in right blogistan; if it’s not featured at Red State, Instapundit, or Captain Ed, then it probably never happened. Of course, this probably goes a very, very long way towards explaining why conservatives tend to have such a poor grasp of basic current events; when Fox News is literally the best that you’ve got, there’s bound to be a substantial gap between perception and reality.


Taking Back Marriage

People are talking about Stephanie Coontz‘s NY Times Opinion column today, in which she advocates that we take back marriage from the control of the states. Here’s the nub of Coontz’s argument:

Perhaps it’s time to revert to a much older marital tradition. Let churches decide which marriages they deem “licit.” But let couples — gay or straight — decide if they want the legal protections and obligations of a committed relationship.

I am with her 100%. When I suggested as much in my property class during my first year of law school, during a discussion of marital assets, people were shocked and appalled by the idea that marriage should be a religious institution and the state should be in the business only of civil unions for all couples, gay or straight. I would like to think that Coontz’s piece is a sign that notions are changing. But then again, that law school discussion was only two years ago.

I also have to say that as much as I support Coontz’s marriage proposal (pun intended), there is something about her historical framing of it that makes me a little uncomfortable. Yes, one strong thing going for the so-called privatization of marriage is the practice’s historical roots. That said, I think we need to be careful not to idealize the marriage of the past, in which women were property and a marriage was a business arrangement. Coontz is completely right to suggest that the state is not the appropriate purveyor of “marriage”; the state should recognize civil not religious unions. But I think we can advocate for this shift without recalling the marriage misogyny of days gone by. It continues strongly enough today as it is.

Oh, to be A Fly on the Wall

Anyone else think from this photo that perhaps the meeting on the environment didn’t go so well?

Related story here. It’s worth noting that Bush didn’t host Gore by choice — the get-together was part of an annual photo op of the president with the Nobel Prize winners.

Naomi Wolf Believes The Children Are the Future

[ 62 ] November 26, 2007 |

Professional concern troll Naomi Wolf explains why the kids aren’t down with civics these days. The piece is mostly an infomercial for her new something-or-other — the American Freedom Campaign for Freedom and Democracy in a Free and Democratic America — but it also aims to supply yet another grand theory about how leftward intellectuals stabbed the nation in the back by “abandoning” patriotism to the Right during the last quarter of the 20th century. After reviewing the Dumb Things College Students Say About Democracy, Wolf gives the predictable stink-eye to all the hippies and college English professors.

Here she is in medias absurdum:

In the Reagan era, when the Iran-contra scandal showed a disregard for the rule of law, college students were preoccupied with the fashionable theories of post-structuralism and deconstructionism, critical language and psychoanalytic theories developed by French philosophers Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida that were often applied to the political world, with disastrous consequences. These theories were often presented to students as an argument that the state — even in the United States — is only a network of power structures. This also helped confine to the attic of unfashionable ideas the notion that the state could be a platform for freedom; so much for the fusty old Rights of Man.

I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how Lacanian psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, and Derridean literary analysis were actually “applied” to American politics during the 1980s. Moreover, I’m curious to know how Wolf arrives the idea that these theories are to blame for persuading anyone that the state is merely an instrument of power or an on-shore holding corporation for late capitalism. Until the sun rises on that day, I’m going to assume that people who follow this line of argument either (a) haven’t ever read Grapes of Wrath or (b) are simply taking advantage of the opportunity to cheap-shot the French and the English Department in the same breath.

I’ve tried to explain this to skeptical friends and colleagues over the years, but — pass the smelling salts — it was completely possible during the 1980s to receive an English degree without reading a single word of Continental literary theory. No, really. Aside from the point that there’s nothing inherently corrosive about any of the intellectual tendencies Wolf mentions, the fact remains that with the exception of about a dozen or so students enrolled at elite universities, almost no one gave a gingersnap about Of Grammatology during the 1980s. If Wolf wants to understand why young people are supposedly feeling “depressed, cynical and powerless,” I can’t imagine why she’d include the reading list for the Yale English Department’s senior seminar.

Will He Also Get Some Ships Named After Him?

[ 22 ] November 26, 2007 |

With #2 Senate Republican Trent Lott apparently set to retire, it seems worth returning again to the Dixiecrat Platform that Lott endorsed in 2002:

4. We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one’s associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to learn one’s living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights.

5. We oppose and condemn the action of the Democratic Convention in sponsoring a civil rights program calling for the elimination of segregation, social equality by Federal fiat, regulations of private employment practices, voting, and local law enforcement.

6. We affirm that the effective enforcement of such a program would be utterly destructive of the social, economic and political life of the Southern people, and of other localities in which there may be differences in race, creed or national origin in appreciable numbers.

7. We stand for the check and balances provided by the three departments of our government. We oppose the usurpation of legislative functions by the executive and judicial departments. We unreservedly condemn the effort to establish in the United States a police nation that would destroy the last vestige of liberty enjoyed by a citizen.

8. We demand that there be returned to the people to whom of right they belong, those powers needed for the preservation of human rights and the discharge of our responsibility as democrats for human welfare. We oppose a denial of those by political parties, a barter or sale of those rights by a political convention, as well as any invasion or violation of those rights by the Federal Government. We call upon all Democrats and upon all other loyal Americans who are opposed to totalitarianism at home and abroad to unite with us in ignominiously defeating Harry S. Truman, Thomas E. Dewey and every other candidate for public office who would establish a Police Nation in the United States of America.

9. We, therefore, urge that this Convention endorse the candidacies of J. Strom Thurmond and Fielding H. Wright for the President and Vice-president, respectively, of the United States of America.

In fairness, after Lott’s claim that this platform would have effectively addressed “these problems,” which should have been unsurprising given his history of ties to racist origanizations, he was briefly demoted from being Senate Majority Leader to being only the powerful chairman of the Rules Committee…

Oh. My. God.

[ 0 ] November 26, 2007 |

At this blog and in other venues, I have for a long time tried to warn America about the robot menace; the inevitable moment when robots will rise against their creators and, mistaking us for bacon, try to eat us.

But have we neglected the monkey menace? Earlier this year I noted that the deputy mayor of Dehli was killed by a swarm of angry monkeys. But it looks as if that’s not the worst:

Wild gorillas have been seen using “weapons” for the first time, giving a new insight into how early man learned to use sticks and stones for fighting and hunting millions of years ago. Researchers observed gorillas in the Cross River area of Cameroon throwing sticks, clumps of earth and stones at human “invaders”. It is the first time that the largest of the great apes has been seen to use tools in an aggressive way.

It’s well known that revanchist elements in the monkey community have long held our advanced evolution and lack of body hair against us. While we’re trying to keep robots out of the front door, do we run the risk of letting monkeys in through the back?

Via Danger Room.

In Non-Defense Of Nepotism

[ 42 ] November 26, 2007 |

I know you won’t believe this if you don’t live here, but on New York talk radio Roethlisberger vs. Eli Manning is treated as if it were a serious topic for debate, when in fact it’s sort of like debating about whether Houston is in fact generally hotter than Yellowknife. Even in 2006, Roethlisberger’s off year, he was better than Manning; the other three years he’s been very good-to-excellent while Manning has been below-average. (See here for the data.) What follows is an exhaustive list of the credentials Eli Manning has to be considered a quality QB:

  • He is related to other, much better quarterbacks.

That’s it. If we were named “Eli Leaf” or “Eli Dilfer” nobody would have thought it was a good idea to effectively trade Roethlisberger and Shawne Merriman to acquire him, let alone think that it was defensible three years later. Or look at it this way — Joey Harrington has (correctly) been seen as a colossal bust; his lifetime QB rating is 69.6. Manning’s is 73.6, and I don’t think that “marginally better than Joey Harrington after 3 years” sounds like a potential elite QB to me; indeed, it doesn’t even sound like a good QB. This year he’s got a 75, playing against a very weak schedule. He’s a lot more comparable to Jason Campbell than he is to Roethisberger at this point.


[ 40 ] November 26, 2007 |

Matt makes a good case that John C. Stennis is the worst American ever to give his name to a major capital ship. Any thoughts from our resident naval antiquarians on the worst human being who’s name has ever graced a capital ship?

The Immolation of Privacy, Cot’d.

[ 12 ] November 26, 2007 |

The latest from the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs, a/k/a where the Constitution goes to die. Wheeler does a very good job of explaining the illogic behind claims that the government doesn’t need probable cause to get access to tracking data; if taken seriously, it would eviscerate large parts of the Bill of Rights. It would also make hash of existing Fourth Amendment doctrine; one doesn’t surrender their constitutional rights by using new private technologies to communicate with other people. As Justice Stewart correctly observed, “the Fourth Amendment protects people — and not simply ‘areas.'” People should be entitled to the reasonable expectation that the state will not have access to private tracking data, email, etc. without some independent reason to suspect wrongdoing.

On the other hand, this does give me another excuse to resist getting a cell…

Beyond the Pyramid

[ 10 ] November 26, 2007 |

Although I don’t think it undermines the key point here — it’s obviously completely irrational to give the majority of federal agricultural subsidies to meat and diary, and most of the remaining subsidies to things other than vegetables — GFR makes a good point about the “food pyramid.” Interestingly, the Canadian government’s recommendations call for lower numbers of servings. The real lesson here, I think, is that all such recommendations are hopelessly arbitrary; it’s pointless to talk about absolute numbers of servings when it depends entirely on what kind of food within the category is being consumed (9 servings of avocado a day probably isn’t a hot idea, whole grains are better than refined grains, etc.), how much you’re exercising, what your overall health picture looks like, etc. The only potentially useful thing is the ratios; all thing being equal you want to be eating more vegetables than grains and more of either than meat or diary, etc. I don’t see the serving-based food pyramid adding much value.

"They Protect America From the Sky; Ahead, a Professor Says ‘Get Rid of the Air Force’"

[ 12 ] November 26, 2007 |

WTVQ 36 Action News! Hopefully they’ll put up the clip; I went with the jacket and no tie to emphasize my academicitude. They contrasted me with a very nice old man who served in the US Army Air Corps…

Release & Re-Entry

It’s no surprise at this point to learn that the prison door is revolving. Recent studies show that up to 2/3 of those recently released from prisons are rearrested within three years. Recidivism is expensive. It’s also preventable, up to a point.

It’s not hard to see why recidivism rates are so high in the U.S. In 1994, Congress cut federal Pell Grant funding for prison education programs, effectively eliminating college education programs for incarcerated men and women (with the exception of a few privately-funded programs, including one in NY run and financed by Bard College). This despite the fact that about one-tenth of one percent of Pell funding went to prison education programs to begin with and despite the knowledge that virtually every study to address the issue shows that educating people while they are incarcerated dramatically reduces recidivism rates. The genesis of such a punitive (pardon the pun) attitude toward the incarcerated is clear:

Even though crime rates were actually dropping in the 90’s, many argued that judges were letting felons off too lightly and that the ”rights” of victims needed to be taken into account. Thus, beginning in the early 90’s, prison regimes were tightened, even as mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws meant more and more people came into the system and stayed. In this climate few politicians were ready to stand up for higher-education programs for prisoners. Before 1995 there were some 350 college-degree programs for prisoners in the United States. Today there are about a dozen, four of them in New York State.

Education can do a lot, but it can’t fix the recidivism problem alone. Support for those re-entering society upon release is vital, too – job training, help navigating the internet, a place to stay while finding a way to be financially independent and stable. But few to none of these support systems exist in any organized, state-funded way. An unusual exception can be found in Texas, where state officials are reacting to the high societal and monetary costs of recidivism by providing job training classes, drug treatment programs, and psychiatric counseling to re-entering men and women.

Still, even those who most undeniably deserve re-entry help — men and women who were falsely convicted and have since been incarcerated — are not receiving much in the way of support. As the NY Times reported in a huge multimedia feature today, exonerees often re-emerge into a world they don’t know, without familial or community support. They often face depression and PTSD, with many even wishing to return to the predictable daily rhythms of prison life. Some receive compensation from the states in which they were convicted, while others get no financial help at all.

It seems to me undeniable that prison education, in-prison counseling, and re-entry support would reduce recidivism rates and make communities safer. It’s not “soft on crime” to want programs that are efficient and, yes, humane. Yet there’s no move to restore even minimal federal funding for prison education, and re-entry programs fight tooth and nail for what little money there is. Still, we pretend that we don’t throw away the key.

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