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Archive for October, 2012

George Galloway and Libel Law in the US and UK

[ 56 ] October 2, 2012 |

George Galloway, former Labour (he was kicked out of the party in 2003) current “Respect Party” MP for Bradford West, and global lefty gadfly, is suing the National Union of Students for libel.  Yes, he fights what he and others consider to be “the good fight”, but his fight is one that I disagree with as often as I agree, his methods can be interpreted as inflammatory, and arguably he is a discredit to the progressive cause at least as often as he helps.

I have three thoughts on this.  First, suing the umbrella organisation for British university students is short sighted at best.  These people should be a source of support for his various causes for a variety of reasons (e.g. having come of university age under the Tory – Lib Dem coalition, English and Welsh students paying £9000 per year simply to hear people like me talk).  In one move, he is alienating an entire support base.  But then, alienating his support, or the population in general, has not been a barrier to action for Galloway.

At issue is the NUS has banned him for being a “rape denier”, a description that Galloway finds as a defamatory characterisation of his widely known critique that the Swedish allegations against Julian Assange ”don’t constitute rape” and were at worst “bad sexual etiquette.”  It’s not only the NUS who have a problem with this bizarre defense of Assange.  His party leader denounced them (and then was sacked or stepped down, I don’t recall), he lost his gig as a columnist for a Scottish publication devoted to politics, and Rape Crisis found them to be ”offensive and deeply concerning”.

Taking the NUS to court over libel is bonkers, especially after his office desperately attempted to convince the NUS to not take the step of banning him.  Defending Assange on rape allegations when all the facts of the two cases are not in the public domain is reactionary, short sighted, and ludicrous.  Taking the national body that represents seven million British university students to court is not politically adept, but again ludicrous.

My second thought concerns a comparison of libel law in both the United States and the United Kingdom.  I preface this with the obvious: I’m not a lawyer, although I’ve had the occasion to employ several on two continents in the recent past, the present, and into the future.  The key difference between the two is the default status of the allegedly libellous statement, and the onus of argument.  In the United Kingdom (technically here England and Wales), the statement is regarded as false unless those making the statement can prove it to be true.  In this case, the NUS as defendant would have to prove that George Galloway is a “rape denier”.

In England and Wales, a private individual need only establish negligence on the part of the defendant to be rewarded compensatory damages.  Galloway, one of the more unprivate of individuals, needs to show that the defendant knew that the statement was false, resulting from actual malice.  In order to be rewarded punitive damages, both private and public individuals need to demonstrate actual malice.

The United States is far more forgiving on defamation law, for which we in part have current interpretation of the First Amendment to thank.  The burden of proof is (largely) on the plaintiff, and both constitutional and state level statutory law allow for many “outs” for a defendant in a libel case.  By my understanding, this dates back to New York v Sullivan (1964).  To use an example, the infamous parody of Jerry Falwell published in Hustler magazine is not protected in the United Kingdom, and I’d guess damages would have been rewarded to the point where said publication ceased to exist.  In the United States, of course, this resulted in Hustler Magazine v Falwell (1988), which protects parody and the publication of the obviously ludicrous.

My third thought regards, well, me specifically and LGM in general.  Which law holds should, say, Mr. Galloway object to my referring to him as a gadfly and decide to take me to court for libel?  My guess is that English and Welsh law would hold, as I’m making this claim against a British subject, on my laptop located in my house in England.  This will be tweeted to the University of Plymouth’s feed (it was my dean’s idea to tweet my academic / comparative stuff to the university feed, not to refer to Galloway as a gadfly).  However, the “publication” of LGM is based in the United States.  I know that the SPEECH Act (2010) would protect me in American courts as referring to Galloway as a gadfly is protected speech, and British libel law is not consistent with the protections afforded under the First Amendment.

One might imagine that my amateur understanding of variance in libel law has a permanent address in the back of my mind considering that I work, and live most of the year, in Britain, though I would be stunned if anything published in LGM would be considered of a high enough profile to warrant action.  At least I feel pretty safe in my characterisation of Galloway as an “unprivate” individual, considering the clip above from Celebrity Big Brother in 2006.

A Minor Hitch

[ 17 ] October 2, 2012 |

After a few technical hiccups, we couldn’t be happier with our minor slight re-design (thanks again to vs.)

Unfortunately, during the transition the post I wrote on March 31st predicting that the As and Orioles would be 2 of the 4 5 AL playoff teams was mysteriously deleted. I’m not sure what can explain this error, but I’ll try to track it down. In the meantime, I put the blame squarely on Al Gore’s failure to win his liberal home state and expansive readings of the commerce clause.

“To be a football player, you’ve got to have alopecia.”

[ 24 ] October 1, 2012 |

I know Jon Gruden means “amnesia,” since he’s talking about Dez Bryant forgetting that he’s being paid millions of dollars to catch balls. But as a fan of speculative fiction, I can’t help but wonder what it would mean to live in a world where, “[t]o be a football player, you’ve got to have alopecia.”

It’s not just me, right? That’s a strange mistake to make, repeatedly, isn’t it?

Amazing, But True

[ 61 ] October 1, 2012 |

I’m so old I remember when the Red Sox were considered to be one of the best organizations in baseball.   Alas, I lack the hermeneutical chops that would be necessary to reconstruct such a strange, distant universe.

Fellowship of the Ring: Conventions of film, conventions of genre

[ 182 ] October 1, 2012 |

(One of the visual rhetoric posts born of this course. If it seems a little more basic than the rest of those posts, that’s because it’s the first real day of class and I have to start somewhere.)

I have one goal here: to define “high fantasy” as a genre through Fellowship of the Ring. There will no doubt be academic arguments about the particulars—the true extent of Tolkien’s influence, for example, or the necessity of orcs—but I want to sketch out the basic generic qualities of high fantasy in a portable manner, i.e. one that will also apply to Game of Thrones. Meaning the most commonly argued generic feature to qualify as unnecessary baggage is this one:

Works of fantasy exist in a world utterly unrelated to the one in which we live and are therefore purely escapist.

Because, at the very least, whatever work I do with Fellowship also needs to apply to Game of Thrones. That and it’s just wrong. Anything written by a human being in a particular historical moment belongs to that particular historical moment even if it depicts a different or invented historical moment. The rest of the generic features of high fantasy I want to pull from Fellowship via an immanent analysis of the film itself, and what better place to begin than with maps?

Lord of the rings - fellowship of the ring00001

Maps are important because 1) sentences like “Go north until you hit Chicago and hook a left and you’ll end up California” don’t make intuitive sense in fantastic worlds, and 2) the most common plot elements in fantastic works, quests and wars, are map-driven affairs. You need to know who’s where and in relation to what in an invented world, and that requires special attention be paid to maps. Though the visual presentation and manipulation of maps is prevalent in high fantasy—as is evidenced both above, viewing Peter Jackson’s zooming around the map of Middle Earth, or in the opening credits of Games of Thrones—it should be noted that as a film convention, it predates high fantasy as a genre. (Spielberg’s clearly referencing something here.) Another common element in high fantasy would be a token of power:

Lord of the rings - fellowship of the ring00013

Like one of those. In the case of Fellowship, the ring functions as both a token and embodiment of power, whereas in Game of Thrones, the Iron Throne will merely be the token awarded to the winner of the game, but in both cases there’s an item whose acquisition is certral to the plot. In Fellowship, Jackson establishes and maintains the significance of the ring by constantly zooming in on it. The frame above, for example, belongs to a sustained zoom:

Read more…

The Day the Titans of the Left Died

[ 43 ] October 1, 2012 |

Eric Hobsbawm and Barry Commoner, RIP both.

Voter Fraud, Sincere Edition: Holy Crap, it Exists

[ 45 ] October 1, 2012 |

When I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, I argued that voter fraud “simply doesn’t exist”.  Mea maxima culpa.  Unsurprisingly, the right has, yet again, beat the opposition to the punch, and have done so quite cleverly.  They have framed the issue of Voter ID legislation in easily digestible language that is difficult to refute with equal parsimony, knowing full well that the impact will be distributed asymmetrically across SES categories.  Furthermore, by deploying an army of “volunteers”, organisations such as True the Vote, motivated solely by a concern for the crumbling integrity of American elections, have succeeded in harassing legitimate voters predominantly in precincts that vote Democratic.

Simultaneous to playing defense, the right is also playing offense.  The RNC and various state Republican parties had hired Strategic Allied Consulting to lead a registration drive in Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada, and Virginia. Over the past week or so, allegations of fraud in these registration efforts have surfaced in 10 Florida counties and in Colorado, leading the RNC to sack the firm from its registration drive.

The numbers are small; adding the instances discussed in the NYT article amount to little more than 100.  As I argued before, the incentives required to induce somebody to vote once, let alone often, is high enough on an individual basis that to swing even a relatively minor election requires considerable investment.  However, this article also lists two occasions where those registering voters on behalf of SAC dispose of Democratic registrations.  This might be a larger problem.  One notably dim witted employee of SAC lacked the presence of mind required to forgo honesty about the process:

In Colorado, a young woman employed by Strategic Allied was shown on a video outside a store in Colorado Springs recently telling a potential voter that she wanted to register only Republicans and that she worked for the county clerk’s office.

The owner of Strategic Allied Consulting, a Nathan Sproul, has been suspected of systematic fraud in the past.  In 2004, he was investigated by the Justice Department and the Attorneys General of Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada for “widespread” voter fraud.  He was previously Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party.  It is inconceivable that neither the RNC nor the various state parties were unaware of his history when they hired him to do the very job that triggered investigations in the past.  SAC tops the Florida State Republican Party expenditure list for 2012.  They had to know what they were buying.

Balloon Juice sums it up rather nicely, complete with puppies and kittens:

I’ll admit my first thought was that animal shelters and rescues groups keep carefully updated “Do Not Adopt” lists of individuals known to be hoarders, abusers, and/or generally unfit to have pets. You’d think political organizations would have an equivalent “Do Not Hire” list for people previously convicted of voter fraud and other chicanery… unless, of course, that’s exactly the kind of behavior the GOP/RNC/Romney campaign is hiring Sproul to commit?

Righteous defender of Democratic integrity Sproul was also hired by the Romney campaign in June as a consultant.

The story here isn’t that there’s voter fraud in Florida or other places, which requires the perfect storm to have an effect on an electoral outcome beyond insignificant.  Nor is it the ongoing destruction of Democratic registration forms, which if systematic and methodical, could have a larger impact, but still negligible.  The story, of course, is that while the right are deeply suspicious that the left will stop at nothing to “win” an election, including fraud, to the point that they’ve passed voter ID legislation in several states and are out in some force harassing voters in Democratic precincts, no evidence of systematic conspiratorial fraud has surfaced tied to the left, organisations affiliated with the left, Democratic campaigns, or the Democratic Party.  The closest the right has come to identifying anything remotely systematic was ACORN, which, as Brad Friedman notes early and often, is not comparable:

ACORN, the non-partisan, four-decade old community organizing group (which has since been forced into bankruptcy as a result of the years-long GOP effort to mischaracterize them and their work) there is no evidence, to our knowledge, that any of its tens of thousands of registration workers ever screened out potential registrants from one party or another before allowing them to register, as seen in CO.

Neither is there evidence that any of their workers ever changed party affiliations on registration forms, as is being alleged tonight in Palm Beach County, or destroyed Democratic forms, as has been alleged over the years, as noted by Republican Rep. Cannon.

. . .

Of course, there is no real comparison to ACORN. Unlike Sproul’s outfits, the non-partisan community organizing group was never hired by the Democratic Party to do voter registration work. Moreover, it was ACORN themselves who discovered fraud by a handful of its more than ten thousand workers and notified officials of the fraud and the names of those who had defrauded them.

As perhaps best described by former Republican Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah, during a 2009 voter suppression hearing: “The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn’t throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out.”

Sproul’s proclivities were noted by a Republican during a Congressional hearing, yet he was still hired by the Romney campaign, the RNC, and several state parties to continue his questionable practices all the while decrying voter fraud as an evil that could very well undermine the republic itself.

Man, you just gotta love these guys.

UPDATE: in response to a couple commenters, a distinction should be made between voter fraud, and voter registration fraud.  TPM have an article here.  That said, I wonder if this distinction isn’t borderline semantic, and invite discussion.  It could be argued that the end effect is what matters; a fraudulent registration leads to the possibility of a fraudulent vote, and more critically, the suppression of Democratic registration forms eliminates those votes from the electorate, the impact, while unmeasurable, is certainly more significant than fraudlent voting in the first place.  However, ultimately, the result is the same in the aggregate: a fraudlent vote adds one illegitimate vote to the tally of a candidate, a fraudulent (non) registration subtracts one legitimate vote from the tally of a candidate.

 

They Stopped Loving Him Today, WaPo Edition

[ 19 ] October 1, 2012 |

Wow, Paul Ryan has even lost the newspaper that inexplicably signs Robert Samuelson’s paychecks.   The declining reputation of the zombie-eyed granny starver is shocking to me; normally, once somebody gets an entirely unearned reputation is a “fiscal hawk” because they want to impose pain on poor people to fund upper-class tax cuts, they keep it forever.

The Best Laid Plans…

[ 48 ] October 1, 2012 |

So, you’re the New York Jets, self-proclaimed most impressive team in football, despite missing the playoffs. Your defense — good. But your offense features a below-average QB (flashes of promise aside) with a disgracefully fifth-rate supporting cast. The closest thing to an elite skill player, an aging Santonio Holmes, is 1)not that close anymore, and 2)was let go by an excellent organization because of his uneven commitment. You have the basis of a good offensive line undermined by a gruesome hole at RT.

But you have a plan! It looked so good on paper:

  • Sign one of the few regular QBs who is substantially worse than Sanchez, who as an added bonus is a big star despite not really being an NFL-caliber QB, guaranteeing needless controversy.
  • At the last minute, finally trade your world-historically bad RT, for…another massive RT bust.
  • Hire Tony Sparano, fresh from putting together a notably unimpressive offense for the Dolphins, to run the offense.
  • Hire Sparano because you want him to institute a “ground and pound” offense, although 1)this being 2012, it’s a really dumb idea even if it could “work,” and 2)you have an overrated offensive line and nothing remotely resembling a quality NFL running back.

Sounds good, right?  And yet, oddly, it doesn’t seem to be working.   Strange.

New Logo!

[ 86 ] October 1, 2012 |

As you may have noticed, we have a new banner and a new logo.  As you can see, we’re still working through some technical difficulties with regards to fitting the banner onto the header, and in general we’re still tweaking the appearance of the site; expect modifications to the header, and also possibly to the color scheme.  All said, we’re extremely pleased with how both the banner and the logo have come together. The designer was our very own Vacuumslayer, whose work you can find here.

Of course, we have made it possible for you to purchase reproductions of this logo on a wide variety of different consumer products. We encourage you to give such reproductions to friends, relatives, and whatever other various loved ones that you may have.  You can expect responses such as the following:

  • “So… you’re a gun nut now?”
  • “I thought you still loved me.”
  • “I don’t get it.”
  • “What’s a ‘blog?’”
  • “You’re planning to go to law school?  That’s great; I’m glad you’re finally doing something with your life.”

 

Audiences Back Away

[ 29 ] October 1, 2012 |

It’s always reassuring to know that you can go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

I eagerly wait Glenn Reynolds’s post bout how this bellyflop is meaningless because everybody just skips the movies for the DVD nowadays, a rule that oddly applies only to twelfth-rate reactionary agitprop.

“Grand Bargains” — Just Say No

[ 59 ] October 1, 2012 |

In addition to the reasons Krugman mentions, there’s the even more powerful issue that grand bargains aren’t actually enforceable. Even if you could reach a deal to cut the deficit that would be consistent with progressive interests (theoretically possible once the economy improves, essentially impossible in practice), if it worked it would just be raided for upper-class tax cuts again.

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