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Archive for March, 2008

Black in America: Still Better than Living in a Mud Hut

[ 36 ] March 26, 2008 |

Now that the Florida legislature has apologized for slavery, the White Conservative Monologue on Race will certainly achieve new heights of sophistication. Meantime, this poor fellow appears to have done gone and pooped himself:

Far as I am concerned, many Blacks in the US ought to be thankful that no matter how their ancestors got here they are better off in the US than in some shiitehole in Africa, eating scarps of bread, swatting flies and living in mud huts using arrows and clubs to hunt their food.

I suppose there’s not much point in — oh, hi there, Von Helsing from Moonbattery. What’s that, you say? “Charlie Crist wants to pay people for being black?” Why, that’s possibly the most preposterous notion —

Oh, sorry. Do continue.

Possibly the most preposterous notion to come from the radical Left is that blacks should be given free money expropriated by force from everyone else as a reward for having ancestors who were given a hard time — just like the ancestors of every human being on the planet. I won’t insult the reader’s intelligence by explaining the absurdity of thinking this unjust and profoundly moronic concept would improve race relations.

Mmmm, somehow I think insulting your readers’ intelligence might actually be a steeper challenge than you think.

Just to clarify the current state of The Conversation, I offer an important graphic aid. Pictured below: (a) ordinary human being enduring a typically hard time; (b) non-African-living black men from Indiana who didn’t live in mud huts.


It’s So Bad, We Can’t Know How Bad

My brain crush on Adam Liptak had been waning for a few weeks. Until yesterday.

Liptak’s Sidebar column this week takes on the problem of the wrongly incarcerated. More specifically, he addresses our societal failure to really do anything about it, and Justice Scalia’s endorsement of our societal ambivalence (he calls it a “truism not a revelation” that we have some false convictions).

Scalia has for some time now downplayed the enormity of the problem of false convictions. At a recent speech, he said that our false conviction rate was a mere .027% — something we can sleep easy about. But, as Liptak points out, something’s fishy with the Scalia arithmetic:

[Scalia] had, citing the methodology of an Oregon prosecutor, divided an estimate of the number of exonerated prisoners, almost all of them in murder and rape cases, by the total of all felony convictions.

“By this logic,” Samuel R. Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in a response to be published in this year’s Annual Review of Law and Social Science, “we could estimate the proportion of baseball players who’ve used steroids by dividing the number of major league players who’ve been caught by the total of all baseball players at all levels: major league, minor league, semipro, college and Little League — and maybe throwing in football and basketball players as well.”

See the problem? Scalia’s math assumes that the 250 or so people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence are the only people out of the millions of people in American prisons who were wrongly convicted. Which is laughable at best and downright deceitful at worst.

In truth, the problem of wrongful convictions is real, and serious. It’s particularly problematic outside the context of rape, where DNA is usually not available. Even in rape cases, DNA is often not available (either because the convictions are too old, there has been misconduct, or the state was just plain old careless with the evidence). As Professor Gross has suggested, the real false conviction rate may be closer to around 5%. Which is no small number. In fact, it’s a big number: there are now a little over 2.3 million people in American prisons. 5% of that is about 116,000.

That’s 116,000 people sitting in jail who shouldn’t be there. Hey, Justice Scalia, can we rethink our truism now?

Skin me, snatch out my eyeballs, tear out my hair by the roots, and cut off my legs…

[ 8 ] March 26, 2008 |

I’m not sure Blogs for McCain will ever bring the silly quite so memorably as Blogs for Bush, but they earn credit for the effort.

Today, for instance, they remind Bre’r Fox that Bre’r Rabbit would really, really hate being tossed in the brier patch, and so into the brier patch he must be thrown:

Sometimes a good way to judge people is by who opposes them. Here’s a great case in point. Venezuelan Dictator and Socialist Hugo Chavez has said he opposes John McCain’s election as President. In other words, he is more comfortable with Obama or Clinton. That says a great deal.

Because of course the only time that statements from one’s foreign adversaries should be taken at face value happens to be when they say things that might be used against one’s domestic adversaries. Conversely, sincere opposition to US policies from genuine allies and democratic peers — on anything from the environment to capital punishment to illegal wars — proves that we must continue our quest to represent the lowest common denominator. Meantime, I await the thought-provoking follow-up that describes precisely how Hugo Chavez has failed to benefit from eight years of Bush/Cheney, and how a McSame administration would prove equally perilous to his vested interest in antagonizing the American right.

Writing Conservative Critiques of Education: A Template

[ 16 ] March 26, 2008 |

I think this gets most of the obligatory points:

A statement, or paragraph, about “hook-up culture,” preferably with no statistics to back it up, but if you must, you must. General statements about what “students do today,” no individual campus or students referred to, are best. If you must specify, a lurid story will suffice.

A condemnation of all academic subjects that include the word “Studies” in the field name. Include the silliest-sounding title of a queer-studies workshop that you can find. Bonus points if the title includes something about people “of color” or Arabs. A discussion of how well-received this workshop was by the campus community is of course unnecessary. If you wish, however, you may mention this. If the event was well-attended, that’s evidence that higher education, across the board, is in shambles. If it was poorly attended, that’s evidence that students have heard the conservative message, while administrators fight the good fight for PC.

Lip service must be paid to the Great Books. It’s best to say as little about any particular books as possible. Revealing the specifics means a) having read them, and b) articulating why Aristotle matters more than Toni Morrison. This is not necessary, because for your audience this is already assumed. Neither you, the author, nor your audience need read either.

Kids today are dumber than ever before. No one will dispute this, it’s flattering to your 40-plus readership, so nothing is lost by tossing it in.

Keep the thesaurus handy, collect some random anecdotes with indifference to their accuracy, and jumble the order of the points a bit and permanent placement on the nation’s op-ed pages will be yours. I do think, however, that any effort in the genre worth its salt requires a minimum of three paragraphs of horrified whining if a performance of The Vagina Monologues has been held on campus in the preceding five years.

On the second-to-last point, I forgot to mention this at the time, but this reminds me that I would be interested to hear an actual argument in defense of Ross Douthat’s assertion that Dryden is an obviously greater and/or more important artist than Virginia Woolf. (Seems ridiculous to me, but I must admit it’s certainly never occurred to me to return to the former since I got through him in high school. Well, John Dryden, I mean — The Game certainly belongs on every college syllabus!) As it stands, I believe it’s what conservatives call “identity politics.”

…Kvetch is right to note in comments that the typical op-ed also requires “bitter tears over the scourging and crucifixion of St. Larry Summers, Martyr, by the army of vicious lesbofeminazis that controls Harvard.”

The War Diaries Of Hillary Clinton

[ 0 ] March 26, 2008 |

An excerpt from this future bestseller:

As bullets clawed the air around us and screams echoed down the rubble-strewn tarmac, I felt almost peaceful.

It was a simple mission, they had told me – get in, shake a few hands and mouth a few platitudes, get out. Simple. Yeah.

Things had started going wrong while we were still in the air and only gotten worse from there. So here we were, pinned down, choking on the acrid tang of cordite and the heady scent of human blood. The mission was even simpler now: survive. Whatever the cost, survive.

There was a grunt and a clatter of equipment as Sinbad threw himself down at my side. Sweat glistened on his bare arms, and I could see tendons contracting and relaxing as he squeezed off bursts from his M14. The motion was hypnotic, like a snake about to strike. Perhaps, when all this was over-

No. Concentrate. Focus on the mission. Survive.

A shout from my left drew my head around. Sheryl Crow, guitar still strapped to her back, had taken cover behind a haphazard pile of decaying corpses. Her hair, once lustrous, now lank and greasy, was held back from her eyes by a dirty red headband. Her slim nostrils flared in the dirt-smeared oval of her face, seeking air free of the funeral taint shrouding the airfield. Still, I saw a fierce exultation in her expression that I knew mirrored my own.

Her lithe, nimble fingers stroked the top of an M67 frag grenade, strumming a chord of impending doom. With one quick, economical movement, she plucked the pin free and sent the deadly payload sailing toward the ridge concealing our enemies. My eyes traced the arc, willing it to fly true, to rain death on-

“There!” Sinbad shouted. “The convoy!”

This isn’t an especially big deal, but Clinton’s account of the trip to Bosnia was bizarre. In its way, it’s encouraging that Clinton’s actual trivial farcical resume-padding has received comparatively little coverage, while Gore’s entirely fictitious resume-padding dominated coverage of his campaign. And this certainly isn’t because of any pro-Clinton bias; on balance, she still receives egregiously unfair coverage (cf. the recent “blue dress” thigh-rubbing). The War On Gore was really sui generis. And while I agree that Clinton’s fibbing about Bosnia can serve as a synecdoche for the fact that her central claims about superior foreign policy experience are highly underwhelming, the job of reporters is provide voters with the information to make this judgement for themselves, not to let that judgment slant all the coverage of a candidate.

More on the Surge

[ 6 ] March 26, 2008 |

Following up on Scott’s post about today’s outbursts in Baghdad and Basra — which suggest a possible collapse of the Shia cease-fire — here’s Marc Lynch on the other half of the walnut, the Awakenings movement:

I’ve been banging the drum for many long months trying to draw attention to the growing signs that the Awakenings program was jumping the tracks. These problems have been getting more attention of late, what with the alleged accidental bombing of an Awakenings checkpoint; the Anbar Salvation Council’s threat to use force to expel their elected Islamic Party rivals from Anbar (the first deadline passed without incident last week after US mediation, the second deadline is today); the campaign of attacks against the Awakenings forces (blamed, at various times, on AQI, the government, and Iranian-back Shia militias); and their widespread threats to go on strike over late payments and insufficient support from the US . . . . And there’s much, much more across multiple Iraqi neighborhoods and regions that I’ve been tracking in detail over the last few months. Arab and Iraqi media coverage of the Awakenings over the last few months has been dominated by their escalating complaints about the Iraqi government and about the Americans, their fulminations against the “Iranian occupation” of Iraq, and their warnings to return to the insurgency or allow AQI back in.

In which case, the obvious incapacity of the surge to accomplish its primary strategic objective — i.e., the creation of “breathing room” for sectarian reconciliation — will allow the Hundred Year War Caucus to argue once again on behalf of the flypaper theory, as the collapse of the Awakenings councils enables a revival of AQI. Failure is not merely an option — it’s the key to success!

Next Week’s Mark Penn Press Release Today!

[ 18 ] March 25, 2008 |

The latest in arbitrary ex post facto means of determining the legitimate Democratic nominee. And this doesn’t even address the crucial point that Clinton has carried the states of the most recent World Series, Stanley Cup, and Super Bowl winner! I think the superdelegates will know what to do.

Bitter Sweet Tart…

[ 18 ] March 25, 2008 |

Last night in the middle of a lecture on inter-service rivalry in the United States Armed Forces, I bite down on a Sweet Tart that is atop a pile of candy that a student has brought to class. The Sweet Tart cracks, as does my molar. I continue for about a minute before saying “Excuse me; I think that I broke a tooth”, at which point I retreat to the bathroom to investigate the situation. The tooth is, in fact, broken; splintered, nothing missing, the whole thing still basically in the socket.

I return to class, ask if anyone knows a dentist available for emergencies, and proceed to finish my lecture. This morning the tooth was extracted; the damage and the fact that it was one of my two remaining “baby” teeth meant that there was little point in trying to save it. In about two hours I get on a plane for San Francisco and the International Studies Association conference, with a bottle of groovy Vicodin to keep me company.

In summation, without planning to do so I managed to catch the opening game of the 2008 Major League Baseball season, and we can probably expect light posting on my part for the rest of the week.

Wingnuts Find New Ways Around Election Laws

Just, wow.

An Idaho U.S. Senate candidate has changed his name to Pro-Life. Really.

Apparently, he attempted to get on the ballot in 2006 when he ran a losing race for governor as “Marvin Pro-Life Richardson” but was rejected because the state does not allow campaign slogans to appear on the ballot (makes sense). The Secretary of State has said that she has no choice but to allow him to appear on the ballot as Pro-Life now, since it’s his name. In the meantime, the state senate has passed a bill that would require a qualifier to appear after his name, disclaiming that he was “formerly known as”. Seriously.

The best part: he’s running to fill Larry Craig’s seat.

We’re On A Surge To Nowhere

[ 19 ] March 25, 2008 |

Good article about Iraq from McClatchy:

A cease-fire critical to the improved security situation in Iraq appeared to unravel Monday when a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr began shutting down neighborhoods in west Baghdad and issuing demands of the central government.

Simultaneously, in the strategic southern port city of Basra, where Sadr’s Mahdi militia is in control, the Iraqi government launched a crackdown in the face of warnings by Sadr’s followers that they’ll fight government forces if any Sadrists are detained. By 1 a.m. Arab satellite news channels reported clashes between the Mahdi Army and police in Basra.

The freeze on offensive activity by Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been a major factor behind the recent drop in violence in Iraq, and there were fears that the confrontation that’s erupted in Baghdad and Basra could end the lull in attacks, assassinations, kidnappings and bombings.

As the U.S. military recorded its 4,000th death in Iraq, U.S. officials in Baghdad warned again Monday that drawing down troops too quickly could collapse Iraq’s fragile security situation.

The apparent defection of Sadr’s militias illustrates the fundamental problem: the lack of a legitimate state with sufficient coercive capacity. Iraq still doesn’t have one, becuase the temporary security improvements of the surge haven’t led to substantial political progress. The U.S. military simply can’t create an effective state out of thin air. And this is reflected by the assertions of “U.S. officials” that we’ll need to give it some more Freidmans. Given the strategic objectives, “successes” that require the indefinite presence of high levels of U.S. troops to sustain aren’t “successes” at all. Vince Lombardi, unlike Michael O’Hanlon, would understand this.

Opening Day

[ 0 ] March 25, 2008 |

I don’t know how I feel about these mid-week international openings, but it’s pretty cool to get up and have Baseball That Counts on.

This Week In Irritating Moralism

[ 15 ] March 25, 2008 |

I’d been meaning to write about Emily Yoffe’s hectoring of single mothers, but was delayed by a massive pile of Real Work and a bad flu. Fortunately for all of you, Lauren beat me to it. To add a couple quick points:

  • Comparisons of how children fare in existing two-parent and single-parent households have an obvious selection bias problem. Even if in the average case a stable, two-parent household is preferable, to study relationships among couples that stay together is obviously to bias the study toward people who want long-term relationships and are compatible. It doesn’t follow from this that staying in a crappy relationship or being married although it isn’t what you want would provide an equally good environment for children.
  • I’m reminded of Laura Kipnis‘s point that in the U.S. “sentimentality about children’s welfare comes and goes apparently: highest when there’s a chance to moralize about adult behavior, lowest when it comes to resource allocation.” There’s nothing inevitable about the dire financial circumstances and tough choices that many single parents face.

…UPDATE: Good stuff from Amanda as well.

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