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I Love The Smell of Georgia Burning in the Morning

[ 21 ] November 27, 2014 |

Here’s something not to be thankful for in American history: treason in defense of slavery. Rebecca Onion has a review of what looks to be a very interesting new book on the sensory impact of the Civil War, exploring how the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the war were experienced by people.

Hancock, intent upon serving as a nurse in the aftermath of the battle, brought that average nose to Gettysburg, where she was too late to smell the flowering peach blossoms and the saltpeter of expended gunpowder, but in plenty of time to smell the dead. She wrote home:

“A sickening, overpowering, awful stench announced the presence of the unburied dead upon which the July sun was mercilessly shining and at every step the air grew heavier and fouler until it seemed to possess a palpable horrible density that could be seen and felt and cut with a knife …”

Hancock, Smith writes, was so overcome by the smell that she viewed it as an oppressive, malignant force, capable of killing the wounded men who were forced to lie amid the corpses until the medical corps could reach them. Hancock’s account, vivid in its horror, proves the limitations of the visual record of war. No photograph of the aftermath of the battle, writes Smith, could “capture the sounds, the groans or the rustle of twitching bodies”—and no image could ever capture that smell.

And the meanings of these sensory experiences was complex:

The senses also had social meaning to mid-19th-century Americans, marking differences between types of people. A 19th-century woman like Cornelia Hancock might process the smell of Gettysburg differently than we do because of the contemporary belief that cultivated people had sensitive noses and should guard themselves from unpleasant odors. The besieged citizens of Vicksburg weren’t merely turned off by the poor provisions during the long siege by Grant’s army; they were horrified at the idea of eating the same kinds of foods as the enslaved people around them. In the South, a sophisticated sense of taste was a marker of social status. Black people’s mouths and palates, by contrast, were considered by Southerners to be “physically unrefined and aesthetically immature,” Smith writes, a stereotype “justifying the allocation of plain, functional, and flavorless food to slaves on plantations.” White residents eating a monotonous cornbread and bacon diet inside the crowded city or in their cave shelters felt their social boundaries collapsing, even as they grew hungrier and hungrier.

I love the smell of Georgia burning in the morning.

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Happy Carbonara Day!

[ 13 ] November 27, 2014 |

Obligatory Calvin Trillin link, supplemented by a Kosher version. But whether you have turkey or choose something that tastes good instead, happy Thanksgiving!

Also, I’ll have more on this later this weekend, but hopefully this is a literal but not figurative #slatepitch.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

[ 159 ] November 27, 2014 |


Let’s learn a bit the lovely people we are remembering today:

On May 26, 1637, a Puritan force fortified by Native allies massacred a Pequot fort in Connecticut, killing as many as 500 men, women and children and burning the village to the ground.

McBride called the Pequot a “complex society” and the Pequot War one of the most controversial and significant events in Colonial history. The attack at Mystic Fort, which was the first of three massacres that occurred during the war, changed the way Native forces looked at warfare.

The massacre, led by English Captain John Mason, was the first documented use of “total war” against American Indians, meaning the English force slaughtered all Pequot they came in contact with, making no distinction between armed warriors or helpless women and children.

“By any standards, it was a massacre,” McBride said. “The English did intend to kill everyone there, but they did not do it to steal land or to control trade. They did it out of fear that the Pequot and their Native allies would perpetuate a region-wide attack on the English.”

Justifying his conduct, Captain Mason declared the attack was an act of God, he wrote in his Brief History of the Pequot War, published posthumously in 1736.

God “laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to scorn making [the Pequot] as a fiery Oven… Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling [Mystic] with dead Bodies.”

Native peoples in North America understood war. They didn’t understand genocide, at least not until the Puritans brought it to them in 1637.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

[ 24 ] November 27, 2014 |

Have a wonderful holiday.  Stay safe on the roads.  Ignore the vicious anti-turkey propaganda emitting from the darker recesses of this blog.

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Milk, Brought to You by Coke

[ 110 ] November 26, 2014 |

Coca-Cola is dealing with lagging soda sales by investing in moo juice:

With soda sales sagging, Coca-Cola is moving into the dairy business. It plans to offer milk with some big differences to the stuff now on supermarket shelves: For starters, it will cost twice as much.

A Coke exec told a conference last week that the company’s Fairlife will be “a milk that’s premiumized and tastes better and we’ll charge twice as much for it as the milk we’re used to buying,” the Guardian reports. Chief Customer Officer Sandy Douglas said the milk, which is being produced in venture involving 92 family-owned farms and will launch next month, will contain 50% more protein and 30% less sugar than regular milk.

A filtering process will also make it lactose-free.

Why, yes, I would love to pay twice as much for my milk! And I know that if there’s one company I trust to produce milk that is lower in sugar and higher in good things for you, it’s Coca-Cola.

I’m not lactose-intolerant so I can’t speak to this, but is there a real appeal to a lactose-free milk that would convince people to pay twice as much as regular milk? I know dairy-free faux dairy products, such as the unfortunate “cheese,” are not great, but there are lots of other ways to cook as well. Just curious here.

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The problem with eyewitness testimony

[ 13 ] November 26, 2014 |

More on the legal process in the killing of Michael Brown.

A host of psychological factors make eyewitness testimony far from reliable. . .The easiest way to sum up those factors is this: People are as a general matter actually quite bad at recalling accurately what they’ve witnessed, and, worse yet, they (we) tend to have great confidence in our ability to recall events accurately. More perversely still, people attempting to judge the credibility of eyewitnesses put great stock in the level of confidence a witness displays in regard to the accuracy of the witness’s recall, even though experimental psychology has demonstrated that there is no correlation between such confidence and accurate recall.

Many other factors conspire to make eyewitness testimony unreliable: confirmation bias leads us to see what we expect to see, even if it isn’t actually there, while misinformation effects produce false memories of things that never happened. A famous example of the latter is a Dutch psychology experiment in which more than half of the subjects recalled seeing film footage of an airliner crashing into a building, after researchers referenced the footage in interviews with the subjects. Although the plane crash was a real event that the subjects all recalled vividly, no footage of the crash ever existed.

In another famous experiment, subjects were asked to count the number of passes made by two basketball teams wearing different colored jerseys. In the midst of the game, a man in a gorilla suit walked slowly across the court. When asked afterward if they had noticed anything unusual during the game, nearly half of the subjects didn’t recall anything noteworthy. Such experiments illustrate our tendency to miss even the most obvious evidence when we are under various kinds of cognitive stress.

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Worker Power on Thanksgiving

[ 34 ] November 26, 2014 |

Last year, Whole Foods was one of many companies to force employees to work on Thanksgiving. The employees were very angry about this and seven went on strike at a store in Chicago. In response to the negative publicity, Whole Foods stores in the Midwest are now allowing workers to sign up if they want to work on Thanksgiving and will pay them double wages to do so. That’s a victory. A bigger victory would be for Whole Foods to just close on Thanksgiving and allow its workers to have the holiday with family or friends. But it’s something.

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Let’s Try To Be As Wrong On As Many Levels At Once As Possible!

[ 41 ] November 26, 2014 |

Shorter Verbatim Kathleen Parker: “Whatever the truth about Cosby, due process has been the victim of what Clarence Thomas once called a high-tech lynching.”

If you think that this was preceded with a specious comparison of the Cosby case with the demonstrations in Ferguson, I’m sad to say you’re right.  As always, any explanation of how drawing the obvious conclusion that it’s massively unlikely that every one of the nearly 20 women accusing Cosby of sexual assault is lying violates Cosby’s “due process” rights is omitted.

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The Canadian Cosby

[ 18 ] November 26, 2014 |

Charged with four counts of sexual assault.

Ghomsehi’s behavior after getting fired — and, for that matter, during the process of getting fired — reminds me of an early episode of Law & Order.  Olivet is sexually assaulted by her gynecologist.  The jury finds her molester guilty but the verdict is thrown out by the judge.  In response, Stone makes sure the local networks are informed that the supremely arrogant and creepy doctor will be giving a speech after his acquittal.  The next day, multiple women filed complaints against him.  Real life isn’t that neat, of course.  But I have to think that Ghomeshi’s self-righteous Facebook post and less-than-frivolous lawsuit had the opposite of their intended effect and encouraged some women to come forward.

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Immigration and the rule of law II: Reply to RAF

[ 90 ] November 26, 2014 |

(Title is a bit off because there’s nothing much about immigration here, but I started the series with “I” and III will return to a substantive discussion of immigration, and this belongs in the series).

Russell Arben Fox has written a thoughtful reply to my last post, in which he also gives his answer to some pointed questions that were posed to him in comments. This post is helpful in that it’s clarifying to me; I think I have a much better sense of what he’s coming from than I did before. That clarity doesn’t move me toward his position, however, if anything it makes me more confident in my own. Russell takes from my post and related discussion four questions for him which he seeks to answer here:

1)  What is the difference between constitutionality and legality, and do I think one is prior to the other?
2) What does procedural traditions, norms, and precedents have to do with either of those?
3) What specific norms do I think Obama’s action violated, in light of the actually existing history of executive orders?
4) Isn’t it irresponsible to toss around terms like “unconstitutional” in our current political climate anyway?

The fourth question wasn’t from me and I’m not particularly worried about it; I could see this being a reasonable worry if he were using his idiosyncratic definition of ‘unconstitutional’ (yet lawful) without further explanation in an op-ed in a major newspaper or something, but in a philosophically inclined intra-blog discussion such worries seem out of place to me. I’m most interested in the third question. I’ll follow Fox in taking the first two together in this post, and address #3 at greater length in a separate post.

Taking the first two together, Fox basically defends a conception of his focus on a conception of constitutionalism and the rule of law that focuses entirely on, as I put it, the relationship between different parts of the government and not the relationship those parts have with the governed, situating himself in a venerable tradition of democratic political theory associated with, amongst others, Hannah Arendt and Sheldon Wolin (One that I’m hesitant to call ‘radical’ even as it has become customary to do so; as Fox’s deployment of it clearly demonstrates it can have quite conservative implications, in both the small-c and contemporary political uses of the term).

The primary source for my disagreement is my rejection of the substantive claim that Obama’s executive order “violates symbolic precedents and procedural norms” and “show(s) disrespect for (admittedly, always evolving) informal expectations and procedural rites” to a degree that we should be troubled by. I’ll take this up again in my next post addressing Fox’s answer to the third question. A more detailed response here would get deeper into the inside baseball political theory disagreements than is necessary, so I’ll limit myself to one clarification and one general observation about the shortcomings of this approach.

A probably unnecessary clarification: in my previous response to Linker I sought to take him to task for conceptualizing the rule of law in a way that appeared to ignored the government/governed relation altogether, and focused entirely on the relationship between the parts of the government. That doesn’t mean I don’t think intra-government relations aren’t important for the rule of law, of course. What I did mean is that I don’t think there’s much value or utility in separating out the two kinds of rule-of-law concerns. The question “what does X mean for the rule of law?” simply can’t be meaningfully answered by bracketing out one half of the equation. The evaluation of X must weigh any rule of law damage to intragovernmental relations (which I don’t grant in this case, but let’s say I did) and weigh it against rule-of-law repair to the government/governed relationship. Neither will ever be perfectly consistent with the rule of law, a goal that will forever remain out of reach (this seems obvious to me, which is one thing that frustrates me about the treatment of the rule of law in much political and legal theory, where it’s treated more like a threshold concept than an aspirational one).

While leads to my more general observation.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a class in graduate school with Joel Migdal, a scholar who influenced me a great deal in how I think, conceptually and analytically, about “the state.” Here’s his not as famous as it should be definition of the state:

The state is a field of power marked by the use and threat of violence and shaped by (1) the image of a coherent, controlling organization in a territory, which is a representation of the people bounded by that territory, and (2) the actual practices of its multiple parts. (from pg. 15-16 of this book).

It is, for my money, a great shortcoming of contemporary political and democratic theory that we discuss the state primarily in terms of (1) at the expense of (2). Some of the most interesting things we might want to say about the state can only come into focus only when we examine (1) and (2) side by side, noting the gaps, tensions, and contradictions between these two faces of the state (my next post will draw on the scholarship of a Migdalian immigration scholar doing exactly that). The state—and its rules, norms, conventions, and practices—only interest us because they interact with society. If we focus on (1) at the expense of (2) we risk becoming dazzled or mesmerized by the image of itself the state is selling, embracing its self-serving ideology uncritically. Another scholar whose work I know Russell finds quite powerful and who helps us keep this danger sharply in mind is James Scott, who does an outstanding job of demonstrating some of the dangers that accompany unofficial ideologies of states (his “seeing like a state” and its high-modernist assumptions about societies and terrain) that only become discernable when we focus on (2) alongside (1). I tried to capture the attitude toward the state I advocated for in this post:

Five hundred-odd years ago, give or take, in Europe, the configuration of social power changed. A kind of entity called the state began to emerge as victorious in struggle for social power. This power grab wasn’t at all noble or particularly justifiable in normative terms, indeed, war making and state building were intimately connected developments. The quasi-monopoly this kind of entity was able to create on the exercise of legitimate violence created extraordinary new opportunities for exploitation but also contributed to an environment that allowed for extended periods of peace and prosperity, at least for certain lucky segments of the population. To state the obvious, the arrival of the state as the dominant form of social and political power was both wonderful and horrible: the state created new opportunities for wealth and security, and perpetrated brutal, oppressive crimes against humanity with staggering efficiency.

In other words, let’s treat states as a historically bounded and contingent form of social power. Let’s avoid, as Jacob Levy puts it, the over-moralization of historical processes that lead us to a teleology of political forms.

This feels a bit vague to me so I’m going to try and sum up my argument with as much clarity as I can muster presently: When evaluating the the legitimacy of state action we ought to attempt to do so, as much as possible, from a position of epistemic and conceptual independence from the state’s legitimating stories.  I think a version of “the rule of law” might be a useful part of that assessment, and living up to their own commitments about how they’re supposed to govern could very well be part of that. But, if we’re starting from such a place of independence we can’t privilege that worry over the worry about the government/governed relation at the level of theory, as doing so concedes far too much ground to the state’s self-serving narratives about legitimacy. In short: I encourage Russell to work on his “anarchist squint.”

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The Last Time Mississippi Will Subsidize Health Care

[ 13 ] November 26, 2014 |

Researching the labor history post on the Black Codes, I ran across this tidbit from historian David Oshinsky:

Nugent was among the lucky ones: he came back alive. More than a third of Mississippi’s 78,000 soldiers were killed in battle or died from disease. And more than half of the survivors brought home a lasting disability of war. Visitors to the state were astonished by the broken bodies they saw at every gathering, in every town square. Mississippi resembled a giant hospital ward, a land of missing arms and legs. In 1866, one-fifth of the state budget went for the purchase of artificial limbs.

20 percent of a state’s budget, just for artificial limbs. I suppose the lesson is don’t commit treason to defend slavery, but while the percentages were must lower in the North, the impact of the returning amputees was just as drastic.

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Guest Post: “Riots” is Racist

[ 66 ] November 26, 2014 |

This is a guest post from Meredith Heller (The Saucy Scholar)

The term “riots” is racist.  Yes, this is about Ferguson.

Last night, our fair-and-just judicial system decided that a White police officer shooting an unarmed Black teen in a town smothered in racism does not warrant a trial. In a community where the major perpetrator of racist violence and injustice are the police, in a community where the legal system doesn’t see this as a big enough issue to even have a trial, the community has little other option than to enact public protest. That protest can get violent, surely. But calling this form of public and sometimes violent disobedience a “riot” is racist. Riot is the term we use for Black protests and the aftermath of drunken sports victories or losses. When White people protest oppressive institutions, we call it revolution. The words we use matter.

I’m not condoning violence. Of course I’m not, that should (but can’t) go without saying. And if you think this is a rant about police, you don’t know me at all. I like the police. Why wouldn’t I? They generally treat me with deference and respect. Also, I’m a White, femme woman with the letters Ph.D. after her name. By the way, that Ph.D. cache didn’t work so well for Arizona State University Professor Ersula Ore. Lucky for me, I also White and femme. But the majority of the community in Ferguson can’t say the same. And when they go out and publicly protest this legal injustice, this is what they will encounter:


A heavily armed, militarized police force trying to suppress Black folk as they protest about police brutality against Black folk. Wait, didn’t I already see how this played out in The Hunger Games?

For Black people to do this, to leave their homes and to publically protest, is scary and brave, because they shoot unarmed Black people in Ferguson. And it doesn’t even warrant a trial. And we call this rioting.

I had the great fortune of working for Dr. Ingrid Banks. In Intro to Black Studies, Dr. Banks shows this picture:


Photo from Black California Dreamin’: The Crises of California’s African-American Communities, Ed. Clyde Woods

It’s a picture of the Southern California Library near Inglewood standing intact during the 1992 L.A. “riots.” Next to it, a liquor store has been burned to the ground. This picture is living proof that riots are not necessarily blindly destructive, that they are not just about hurting people and looting and malicious anarchy. In this particular case, many, many people made conscious choices about how to direct their public anger. What happened in L.A. and what’s happening in Ferguson is clear and directed public protest. Calling it a riot is cultural racism because it maintains sincere fictions that Black people are dangerous, irrational, and violent (they riot) rather than brave or just (they revolt). So lets call what’s happening a revolt against oppressive ruling systems, and a revolt that responds to violence and destruction with violence and destruction. We don’t have to condone it, but we don’t have to dismiss it as a riot either.

It’s important to accurately context this type of disobedience—use words that clearly and directly speak to what’s going down—because, to quote Battlestar Galactica, all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.  Know how I know?


Oh, also #BlackLivesMatter

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