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Category: General

What does an intellectually dishonest review look like? Just ask The Economist!

[ 221 ] July 14, 2015 |

The Economist’s review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me was predictably atrocious, but having just read the book this morning — and remembering the publication’s record on reviewing books about race — I thought it best to subject the atrocious thing to the kind of punishment all of its ilk deserve. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Richard Glossip and the Broken Death Penalty

[ 76 ] July 14, 2015 |


The Breyer/Ginsburg dissent in Glossip v. Gloss made a strong argument that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional, a position that may well become the default position of Democratic Supreme Court nominees. It’s worth noting — as Breyer’s dissent did not — that Richard Glossip is a particularly strong case for the arbitrary, unreliable nature of the death penalty:

Richard Glossip is Exhibit A for problems of reliability and fairness with the process that sentences people to death, particularly when prosecutors rely heavily on plea-bargaining with one defendant in order to convict a defendant who refused to admit guilt.


Richard Glossip is likely to be executed, even though the Oklahoma Supreme Court implied if not stated outright that, given the inconsistencies in the trial record and police reports in his first trial, and decent counsel would have beaten the murder charge, if not the entire conviction.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed even though the witnesses at his second trial were trying to recall events that happened more than seven years ago and at least two justices not known for their liberalism think prosecutorial misconduct biased the jury.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed even though Justin Sneed, who provided the only evidence that directly ties Glossip to the murder of Barry Van Treese, was induced to testify by the promise that he would not be executed. Not exactly the most reliable testimony.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed because no physical evidence can exonerate him. There is no physical evidence in this case. The central issue is whether Justin Sneed lied or exaggerated in order to save his skin.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed even though Oklahoma has decided not to execute the person who actually committed the murder, Justin Sneed. This seems particularly arbitrary given that one of the aggravating factors in the case was the brutality of the murder and Sneed was the person who actually committed the murder.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed even though for almost a decade, Oklahoma was prepared to promise Glossip that he would not be executed if he confessed to the crime. Glossip is being executed because he exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial.

There are some similarities between this case and McKleskey v. Kemp, the 1987 case in which the Supreme Court considered whether the death penalty was unconstitutional if there was proof of systematic racial discrimination. (Majority holding: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) It’s not a prefect comparison: there is the possibility that Glossip is entirely innocent of the murder, whereas McKleskey was part of the robbery that led to the killing of a police officer and was at the scene. But McKlesley was singled out among the four conspirators for the death penalty based on “evidence” that he was the triggerman that came from an illegally paid informant.

To return to Glossip, Thomas’s concurrence responded to Breyer’s lengthy demonstration of the arbitrary nature of the death penalty by describing some horrible crimes committed by people who were executed. But this is just a non-sequitur. Breyer’s argument was not that nobody executed in the United States has convicted a heinous crime. Breyer’s argument was that the death penalty does not reliably single out the worst crimes for the ultimate punishment, even in death penalty jurisdictions, and sometimes results in killing people who were guilty of no crime at all. The facts of the lead petitioner’s case illustrate this. The evidence that Glossip is guilty at all is underwhelming, and even assuming arguendo that he paid for the murder he’s not obviously more culpable or deserving of punishment than the man who committed it.

Potter Stewart said in Furman v. Georgia, the case that temporarily suspended the death penalty in 1972, that the death sentences in question were cruel and unusual “in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” It remains true today.

The GOP in 1 Facebook Post

[ 79 ] July 14, 2015 |

OK rep Party Circle_Elph 485-301

This is the text of a Facebook post from the Oklahoma Republican Party:

The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us “Please Do Not Feed the Animals.” Their stated reason for the policy is because “The animals will grow
dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.”

Thus ends today’s lesson in irony ‪#‎OKGOP‬

No comment is necessary

Homer Simpson Is Real

[ 46 ] July 13, 2015 |

Found this in the archives today. It’s faint, but readable. And it shows that Homer Simpson is real and evidently worked in the Fermi reactor in Michigan during the 1960s.


Sorry for the large size, I wanted to make it as readable as possible.

Further documents suggest it was in fact a beer can.

Does Evangelicalism Have to Be Anti-Labor?

[ 30 ] July 13, 2015 |

No. Although I think the case is overstated here because while there are examples of evangelicals being pro-union during American history, by and large evangelicals have been anti-union a lot more than not.

Conservatives have had it up to here with novelists and their “revisionist fictions”

[ 202 ] July 13, 2015 |

I listen to a lot of stupid conversations every day, but this one — in which Harper Lee is chastised for traveling in time in order to pander to a post-Trayvon Martin, post-Michael Brown, post-Charleston conception of political correctness — may well be the most stupid one I’ve ever subjected myself to.

I’m actually not even sure if that’s what they were actually saying, but fortunately I can take comfort in the fact that they don’t really know either:

“I just don’t get it,” Doocy said, before asking Jackson why Lee would “would reveal that he’s not a hero at all, but a racist? Why the revisionist literature?”

“If you don’t get it,” Jackson replied, “you need to go to racial rehab. The idea of taking Atticus Finch, who was an iconic character and doing what I call ‘revisionist literature’ — because this is revisionist fiction, this isn’t even real.”

“It’s almost that they want to bring it into the forefront and take this guy that’s become and iconic hero of the Civil Rights Movement and make him a racist in the future now,” he added. “It fits a politically correct narrative of today.”

And somehow it even manages to get worse.

National Parks and Minorities

[ 102 ] July 13, 2015 |

Grand Teton National Park

Glenn Nelson challenges the National Park Service to do more to welcome minorities. He notes how very few visitors to national parks are people of color and the very strong disconnect between these central places in the American experience and minorities.

The place to start is the National Park Service. About 80 percent of park service employees in 2014 were white. The parks’ official charity, the National Park Foundation, has four minority members on its 22-person board.

Minorities did not exceed 16 percent of the boards or staffs of some 300 environmental organizations, foundations and government agencies included in a 2014 study for Green 2.0, an initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity in such institutions. Minorities hold fewer than 12 percent of environmental leadership positions, and none led an organization with a budget of at least $1 million, the study found.

The National Park Service is the logical leader to blaze a trail to racial diversity in the natural world. It has a high public profile, and its approaching centennial can serve as a platform for redefinition.

But the agency has so far missed the opportunity. It doesn’t even know how many minorities visit the parks these days because it doesn’t routinely track such information. Its initial centennial-related campaign, Find Your Park, includes but doesn’t specifically target minorities and was delivered mainly to the already converted.

Efforts like handing park passes to fourth graders and their families, firing up Wi-Fi in visitor centers, and holding concerts on seashores or valley floors will similarly miss the mark. The park service should use its resources and partnerships to execute an all-out effort to promote diversity within its ranks and its parks. Its outreach should be tailored to minorities and delivered where they log in, follow, Tweet, view or listen. The park service needs to shout to minorities from its iconic mountaintops, “We want you here!”

There are good points here, but there are a couple of issues worth noting. First, the NPS has done a lot to include minority voices and perspectives in the parks. It has worked very hard on this, to the point where nearly every park has signage about minorities who lived there and points out a lot of the uncomfortable racial past of our history. But a lot of this takes place at the national historic parks, as opposed to the classical national parks that make up the jewels of the NPS. Nelson uses Mt. Rainier for an example. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the visitor center up there so I don’t know if it discusses how Native Americans thought about the mountain for instance. But even if it does, does that resonate with African-Americans in Seattle? No.

But the NPS does actively recruit minority populations and tries to get them into those parks. In 1999, I spent a long summer working at the Martin Luther King National Historic Site in Atlanta. Most of my co-workers were African-American. There was an effort within the NPS to get African-Americans out of just working the urban parks and, specifically in this case, to get them to apply to work at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. My coworkers were not having it. They simply had no interest in living in rural Kentucky around what they felt were hostile white people. And who could blame them? Nelson discusses this in his article and in the end, most of these park jewels in rural places are coded white in many ways. They are largely surrounded by white populations in the small towns around the parks. They were defined as sublime places by whites and preserved to serve white tourists. John Muir in Yosemite and the U.S. Army in Yellowstone fought to keep people of color from using these places in their traditional manner. Hiking and camping and climbing are almost exclusively white activities in our imaginations. Visits to national parks (or national forests or a lot of other nature-based activities–or even Cape Cod) means being surrounded almost exclusively with other white people. So there are a lot of issues here. And there’s no easy answer. It might be that the NPS more directly targeting minority populations would help, but Nelson’s ideas don’t exactly seem to be that well-developed. Tweeting isn’t going to make African-Americans more comfortable in small town Wyoming.

Unions and the Democratic Primary

[ 123 ] July 13, 2015 |


The outpouring of support for Bernie Sanders has included a lot of labor people. That has made labor executives worried. First, Richard Trumka reminded state federations and locals that they don’t have the right to endorse anyone. Then, the American Federation of Teachers came out and endorsed Hillary Clinton.

This doesn’t surprise me and is pretty unfortunate, but is understandable. Union leaders are a lot less interested in primary politics and supporting (likely) losing primary campaigns from the left than in creating solid support from the likely winner. They want to make sure they are close to President Hillary Clinton rather than primary runner-up Bernie Sanders. You might say that unions should be about democracy and their members should have the right to endorse the candidate who most represents their views. I might well say you are right about that. But in the hard realpolitik world of modern class-based politics, with unions facing death, one can see why Trumka, Weingarten, and other labor leaders (expect an SEIU endorsement of Hillary very soon), would rally around the winner and hope to be closer to her inner circle.

But if the Bernie surge continues and he develops a shot to win, labor is going to look pretty bad here.

If You Oppose Academic Freedom, At Least Have the Guts to Say So

[ 78 ] July 13, 2015 |


Bernie Sanders has a higher education plan intended to diagnose its major ills. It would make tuition free — in other words, have the federal government directly rather than indirectly subsidize students. It would also, inter alia, require 75% of courses to be taught by tenure-track faculty and ensure that instructors were provided with office space, participate in the governance of the institution, etc.

Kevin Carey’s reaction:

In other words, states would be required to embrace and the federal government would be obligated to enforce a professor-centered vision of how to operate a university: tenure for everyone, nice offices all around, and the administrators and coaches can go pound sand.

75% of faculty being tenure-track is “tenure for everyone.” (On many levels, it’s not!) The administrative and construction bloat that is driving increases in tuition — as Carey later essentially concedes — is no big deal. Sure, there are schools where inexorably rising tuition funds stuff like multi-million dollar annual salaries for legendarily incompetent coaches, but surely there’s an instructor who got reimbursed for travel to a conference somewhere we can focus on instead — heaven frobid Charlie Weis have to “pound sand” by trying to live on an associate professor’s salary.

But the most offensive line is turning Sanders’s argument that instructors should have access to office space (something many adjuncts don’t have) into “nice offices all around.” As a friend observed, this is the higher ed equivalent of going on about welfare recipents and their Obamaphones and color televisions. Carey should put his money where is mouth is and give up his own office — no big deal, right — while also agreeing to be available to meet with interns several hours a week.

Given the realities of teaching for many people, Carey’s flippant snark is quite repellent. If he believes that even more teaching should be done by adjuncts making starvation wages with no job security or institutional resources so that universities can fund more Associate Vice Provost Deans of Strategic Dynamism, he should make the case for it rather than sneering at the very idea that instructors expected to prepare classes, interact with students, and (if they have any hope of professional advancement) conduct research should have access to office space.

And then there’s this:

Instead of tenure, classically defined, they might protect academic freedom in a different way.

You will be unsurprising to know that Carey does not even hint at how academic freedom can be protected without tenure. The reason he doesn’t do this is that it cannot, in fact, be done. If there’s no tenure, instructors can be fired for expressing unpopular views, the end. The case of Steven Salaita should be instructive two ways here. First of all, it should make it obvious that vague requirements that faculty be fired for cause without the due process provided by tenure would be worthless. Someone has a long cv and excellent teacher evaluations? No problem — some non-experts in the field can skim one of his books and declare that his scholarship is incompetent, and someone who’s never observed him in the classroom can declare he’s an incompetent teacher based on his Twitter feed. And second, the ability of UIUC to fire him depended on the fact that tenure had not formally attached.

Look, you can support tenure, or you can support academic freedom, but to pretend that you can oppose the former while supporting the latter is laughably disingenuous. And you certainly can’t speculate about other methods for protecting academic freedom without even hinting at what those might be.

Selma Lives

[ 14 ] July 13, 2015 |


I was reading this old Pete Axthelm profile of Ken Stabler from 1980. A real classy guy. Among the highlight is when he and his team set up a reporter they hated for a cocaine bust.

The only affair involving Stabler that brings no laughter, it seems, is the ugly incident after the 1978 season, when Sacramento writer Bob Padecky was set up for a cocaine bust in Gulf Shores. The circumstantial evidence against Stabler was considerable. Padecky was one of his least favorite writers, yet was invited to Stabler’s hometown for an exclusive interview. Coke was planted under the fender of his rented car and police were tipped off. Padecky unwittingly trivialized the incident a bit with his frenetic by-lined account of his harrowing jail term—which lasted five minutes before the cops realized it was a prank. But the fact remains that someone had executed a cruel and potentially dangerous stunt, and many observers felt that some of Stabler’s friends had participated—with or without his knowledge. When the subject is raised now, all the whimsical and piratical expressions dissolve into a look of abject innocence. “I just don’t know what happened,” he insists. “Maybe nobody ever will.”

Sure thing Kenny. Typical Raider.

Anyway, there was also this:

Properly fortified, the group raced into Selma, where they visited Pitts’s house and drank some more beer. Then, with no real explanation, the group was off to a predominantly black social club in Selma. There were several rounds and some curious glances before it became apparent that the group was on a political mission. Pitts’s friend, Joe T. Smitherman, was running to regain his job as mayor. He had resigned in July of 1979 for personal reasons. But he figured he could get it back with some classic New South campaigning, including an appearance with an interracial group of football stars.

“I’m the one man who understands Southern politics,” Smitherman was soon telling the group. “As mayor, I ordered the arrest of Martin Luther King down here. I said, ‘Dr. King, don’t march.’ And he marched. So I had him arrested. And got 70 percent of the black vote in my next election. What you Yankees have to understand is that we’re not segregationists anymore. We’re populists.” A couple of the blacks fidgeted. Stabler rolled his eyes and muttered, “Henry’s done it again.”

The speeches were not an unqualified success. The audience cheered politely for the ballplayers, but fell ominously silent when Pitts tried an oratorical flourish of, “We in Selma have not merely overcome. We have conquered.” When Sistrunk followed at the mic, he was barely audible. “Speak up, we can’t year you,” somebody called. Sistrunk stared balefully across the room. “If you can’t hear me,” he said, “you can move in closer.” A chair squeaked and there were a few nervous giggles. Stabler said a few words himself but watched most of the proceedings from the bar. “A situation comedy,” he said.

That’s just great. I’m sure their presence and the ex-mayor gloating about not only overcoming but conquering was super welcome in a Selma black bar.

But that wasn’t the only connection to Selma in the news lately. Bonard Fowler, the cop who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, leading to the famous Selma march, died. Other than killing Jackson, he was also notable for killing other black people as a cop. Then he joined the military, went to Bangkok, and while there got busted for heroin trafficking. That my friends, is a life poorly lived.

Germany to Greece: Drop Dead

[ 367 ] July 12, 2015 |

Austerity today, austerity tomorrow…

“I Want to Get Paid for Not Doing my Job” is a Kind of Principle

[ 236 ] July 11, 2015 |


Good for Beshear:

Beshear on Thursday met with Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who says he objects to gay marriage for religious reasons, prompting him not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Following their hour-long meeting, the governor issued a statement saying that Davis must issue licenses to gay couples.

“This morning, I advised Mr. Davis that I respect his right to his own personal beliefs regarding same-sex marriages. However, when he was elected, he took a constitutional oath to uphold the United States Constitution,” Beshear said in a Thursday statement. “According to the United States Supreme Court, the Constitution now requires that governmental officials in Kentucky and elsewhere must recognize same-sex marriages as valid and allow them to take place. One of Mr. Davis’ duties as county court clerk is to issue marriage licenses, and the Supreme Court now says that the United States Constitution requires those marriage licenses to be issued regardless of gender.”

Very well said. Not only is issuing marriage licenses Davis’s job, treating citizens impartially is Davis’s job. If he doesn’t want to do his job he should resign, and if he won’t resign he should be fired.

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