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That’ll Show Those Dastardly Unions!

[ 85 ] August 30, 2014 |

Today in idiots:

Just when it seemed the right wing couldn’t get any more divorced from reality around here, a local conservative group has launched a protest against what it sees as a pernicious cultural touchstone.

Labor Day.

Yes, bittersweet old Labor Day — the first Monday in September, the holiday that’s been around for generations and is known to most non-ideologically blinkered Americans as an end-of-summer free day honoring all the hard work you put in the rest of the year.

But to the Freedom Foundation, a business-backed Olympia think tank, the day is evidence of the power of unions, which to them equals the decline of America. Rather than stoop to taking a union-backed day off, they plan to fight the power by … working all day Monday instead!

“I can’t think of a problem in society that can’t be traced in some way back to the abuses of organized labor, so it would be hypocritical of us to take a day off on its behalf,” said Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe, in announcing the “work-in.”

That’ll show those unions who control everything around here. Let’s all go into the offices and the factories and work like dogs instead of barbecuing or watching parades! Who’s with me?

Of course, if McCabe followed this principle to its logical end, he’d have to work every Saturday, too. Year round.

If the Freedom Foundation is truly committed to this idea, might I recommend 19th century working conditions and wages as well?

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Cushing and Gettysburg

[ 178 ] August 30, 2014 |

President Obama is granting Lt. Alonzo Cushing, who played a critical role in repelling Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, the Medal of Honor. It’s pretty amazing he didn’t already have it since had Pickett taken the hill, it’s possible at least the war would have ended differently. Personally, I tend to not believe the world changes that much with an individual event, but I’ll grant the possibility. Certainly defeating the Confederates at Gettysburg did kill their chance of moving the war into the North and forcing a peace, something that would have kept millions of people in slavery for who knows how long. Decades at a minimum. Possibly until the present, who can tell.

Speaking of such things, I happened to visit Gettysburg last week. I had a great time. It was super cool to visit the key spots of the battle, try to imagine all the dead on the huge field that the location of Pickett’s Charge, below Little Round Top, and around the battlefield. Much credit goes to the National Park Service for not only emphasizing slavery as the core reason of the war but for enforcing that interpretation. What do I mean by that? For a very long time, the main attraction at the Gettysburg Visitor Center was the cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge. A cyclorama was a Gilded Age entertainment that tried to bring a scene to life through a 360-degree painting. These were a huge hit in France and were imported to the U.S. A cyclorama painter was hired to do one of Pickett’s Charge and people love it. It was a huge reason why people went to the site. You can still see it today and it’s OK. It’s cool as a Gilded Age relic. As something of value outside of that, it’s pretty silly, what with the sound and light show that goes along with it.

In recent years, the NPS built a very nice new visitor’s center. Now in order to see the cyclorama, you have to sit through the 15 minute film intrepreting the battle for you. Morgan Freeman narrates the video and it says in no uncertain terms that slavery was the cause of the war, which is great. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who hate that (one of the first people I saw there was a guy wearing a Stonewall Jackson t-shirt, which in my world is like wearing a Himmler t-shirt), but it was very well done, really expressing the complexity of the situation too. I also discovered that I find discussion of military maneuvers so incredibly boring that even Morgan Freeman can’t make me care. Anyway, the exhibits in the Visitor Center are good throughout, combining the old guns that are crack for American white men who like to wear camo as casual wear with real historical interpretation.

Of course the monuments are among the most interesting parts of the experience. They are all interesting relics expressing martial values at a time when the Civil War generation was beginning to pass away (turn of the century Americans had their own Greatest Generation crisis of masculinity). They were also part of the reconciliation taking place between the North and South during the period that erased the black experience from the war and helped underwrite Jim Crow and segregation. At Gettysburg, the memorials generally went up earlier, in the 1880s, so that meant that the Confederate monuments were put up later and are in one general area, more or less the Confederate lines as they embarked on Pickett’s Charge. But they are there. As you can imagine I find the Confederate monuments irritating. However, I have a foolproof way to deal with that problem. I mock the monuments on Twitter. A couple of examples:

Unfortunately autocorrect on my phone knocked the “i” out of that one.

My wife said that I was having entirely too much fun doing this. But it beat muttering curses toward the Confederacy under my breath. And I did not get accosted by a neoconfederate, so that was something.

There may however be an addendum to this post. I seem to have a mission to be the last Civil War death. While at Shiloh about 15 years ago, I came within a few inches of stepping on a copperhead slithering past the marker I was walking up to. Talk about jumping back! This time, I cut my hand messing around in my car trunk at the battlefield site. If there’s any justice in the world, the gangrene is setting in right about now.

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Erasing Labor

[ 47 ] August 29, 2014 |

A minor detail in this article on the history of Tabasco sauce, but one that is telling about how, when we are talking about “innovators,” we forget who actually does the work:

Accounts differ as to when exactly McIlhenny acquired the seeds for those Capsicum frutescens peppers. But in the years after the war, he began using them to make pepper sauce, a popular Louisiana condiment. His method was a laborious one that involved crushing the peppers with a potato masher and mixing them with rock salt from the island’s own salt mines, then aging the mash twice, adding vinegar in between. After straining the resulting mixture through a series of sieves, he decanted it into castoff cologne bottles.

He began making the pepper sauce? He crushed the peppers? He decanted it into castoff cologne bottles?

Or was it African-Americans doing all of this, probably ex-slaves working for quite low wages and in poor working conditions? The article is titled “Who Made That Tabasco Sauce?” It was workers who made that sauce, even if it was McIlhenny who thought of it, if he even did that.

But when we are talking about the rich, they are deified and thus any mention, not to mention asking questions about, the labor used to make these products is irrelevant. All the credit goes to the supposed innovator.

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Creatures Feature

[ 5 ] August 29, 2014 |

Been a looong time since I had a proper space to make art. I’m still pressed for time, unbelievably pressed, but..

More substantive posts coming soon.

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Judge Rules Texas Abortion Near-Ban Unconstitutional

[ 11 ] August 29, 2014 |

Under the radical theory that forcing the closure of most of the state’s abortion clinics through regulations that have no legitimate medical purpose is an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Evidently, the ruling is unlikely to survive 5CA but at least the opinion is strong.

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Lame Duck Governor Decides To Stop Inflicting Needless Suffering on State’s Citizens

[ 72 ] August 29, 2014 |

Pennsylvania will be taking the Medicaid expansion. Not in an ideal form, although better than the Arkansas version (the administration was right to strike a harder bargain, with Corbett polling in the low 30s.) And, as Sargent says, the next government remains free to make the program more progressive, so it makes sense to let the state proceed now.

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On Reclining Airline Seats

[ 316 ] August 29, 2014 |

This. Very much this.

One would think that a civilized society would, in time, come to some accepted standards for civilized behavior. We are not talking here about anything so crude as laws; we are talking about simple decency towards your fellow humans. We do not require laws to tell people to give up their seat for a pregnant woman, or help an elderly person across the street, or refrain from cursing at waiters. We expect people to do that out of common decency. Those who would refuse to follow such simple rules simply because they are not laws are known as selfish, antisocial monsters who will likely die friendless and alone.

An airplane is an enclosed environment. For most passengers, there is not very much extra room. Space is tight. No one can go anywhere. We are collectively trapped. It is simple decency not to crudely and selfishly recline your seat into the face of your unfortunate neighbor to the rear. Yes, you could recline your seat, legally; but that would make you a selfish, antisocial monster. I trust that you are not that. I trust that you are a good person.

The idea that if you want people to be polite and considerate you should pay should pay them for the privelege should be a reductio ad absurdum of consevervtarian logic, only they’re willing to make the argument themselves.

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Assertive Status Quo?

[ 11 ] August 29, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat suggests caution in interpretation of China’s assertive behavior:

We can agree on certain things. Chinese pilots are not going rogue; there is a logic behind these intercepts, and it’s worthwhile to expose Chinese provocations. All of this tells us less about China’s long-range aims than we might think, however.

Sometimes it’s hard to see whether a state is pro-status quo or revisionist.  Russia appears only recently to have determined, after 15 years of struggle, that it simply cannot live within the international order created and maintained by the United States. For a very long time Imperial Japan sought to understand its own foreign policy as part of the broader colonial project that the European powers had created, before rejecting even that as insufficient. On the converse, in the Cold War the United States determined, eventually, that Soviet Russia was basically an ornery status quo power, different in character from either Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany.

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[ 23 ] August 29, 2014 |

The following poem is by S.M. Hill, a Swedish immigrant to Oregon, circa 1916. I take it from here.


They boast a great deal about equality,
they loudly proclaim you are free.
Without answering I’d rather swallow my annoyance
and not pay attention to our slavery.
Here, gold measures human worth
here, everything is right as long as it succeeds,
here, food is given the highest value,
weak ones are crushed by the iron heel.

We are not tormented by aristocrats,
we don’t sigh under a king!
Nonsense! Here we are ruled by rascals,
the power of the multi-millionaires is oppressive.
Politics is merely a system of plundering,
the penniless become downtrodden
and honesty seems to have left us,
and those who steal gain honor and power.

No, my friend, you won’t find paradise here,
here, too, there’s a difference between rich and poor.
You change your name and receive the prize,
and praise yourself so heartily.
Yes, the race of Adam lives here, too
and sin rules here as well.
The beautiful land that your eyes saw,
lies far away and high above the sky!

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Why I Am Not at APSA This Labor Day

[ 89 ] August 28, 2014 |

changethedateEvery year at this time I receive several queries a day from colleagues, would-be colleagues and students asking me if I’ll be “at APSA” – the Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association - and when we could meet up for a coffee. Every year I reply several times a day: ”Sadly, I won’t be at APSA this year because it conflicts with the start of school for my children.”

This is more or less the truth but I confess it’s not the complete truth. First, I’ve realized this canned response implies I might be there next year, whereas I’ve actually been AWOL from Labor-Day-Weekend APSAs pretty much since my second child hit grade school and it’s time I admit that’s not changing. Second, the “conflict” I described is less of a conflict every year as my kids get older, yet I’m still not coming back to APSA, so that’s less and less the real reason for my absence.

The truer response to the question is that I skip APSA every year not because my son needs me desperately on the first day of school, but because I’m boycotting. I’m boycotting my professional organization for scheduling a conference so as to inhibit work-life-balance and pose an undue burden on parents in the profession, especially mothers. I’m boycotting APSA because they have done this year by year over the protest of their members. What began as an irreconcilable personal conflict for a parent of grade schoolers and partner to a dual-career spouse – what began, that is, as a simple work-life balance choice – has turned over the years into a political statement that I’ll continue to make until APSA’s policy changes. Read more…

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Now This Is An Unhinged Rant

[ 166 ] August 28, 2014 |

Shorter Andy McCarthy: “It’s outrageous that banks that committed widespread mortgage fraud should face any sanctions at all. Because ACORN!!!!!!!!!!! Why on earth are we even funding the Department of Justice at all? The DOJ trying to enforce the law is even worse than taverns that provide free food! I am not a crackpot!”

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Will American University’s law school sue students who drop out or transfer?

[ 46 ] August 28, 2014 |

That’s the question that’s raised by a provision of the school’s Public Interest/Public Service scholarship.

The terms of the scholarship include the following:

Scholars will be expected to maintain matriculation at the Washington College of Law until graduation. Absent compelling circumstances, a scholar who chooses to withdraw or transfer from the law school will be required to pay back the full amount of tuition within 30 days of the end of the last semester of enrollment plus any other WCL grants or scholarships. As a condition of receiving the scholarship, incoming PIPS Scholars will be asked to sign a form indicating their understanding and acceptance of the foregoing terms and conditions of the award.

(There’s no indication on the school’s web site that this is actually a scholarship in the traditional sense of the word, that is, money flowing from an endowment for the purpose which replaces the student’s payment. Instead it looks like a straight tuition discount, which of course means that the vast majority of American’s students who are getting little or no discount off sticker tuition — see below — are actually paying for these “scholarships”).

The PIPS is a full-tuition scholarship, which means a recipient who drops out of law school or transfers to another after the first year will be required to pay the school $49,542 within 30 days of doing so, while a student who drops out after his or her second year is supposed to write the school a check for $100,000 immediately. Let’s put aside for the moment the question of how this much blood is going to be squeezed out of these particular stones, and note a few other details.

(1) For the first five years of its existence — the program was created in 2001 — the scholarship had no repayment obligation of any kind, but recipients were expected to commit to working for at least three of their first five years after graduation for a public interest entity.

(2) Starting in 2006, this condition was added:

Scholars will be expected to maintain matriculation at the Washington College of Law until graduation. Absent compelling circumstances, a scholar who chooses to withdraw or transfer from the law school will have the scholarship converted to a loan and be subject to repayment to the law school.

(3) This year, the conversion of the scholarship to a loan was replaced with the obligation to pay the entire amount of the scholarship immediately.


*As a formal matter, is this new condition legally enforceable? Offhand, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, but my knowledge of contract law is shall we say a bit tenuous at this point, so perhaps a real lawyer or three might want to weigh in.

*As a practical matter, is American actually going to sue somebody who transfers or drops out? In regard to marketing considerations, such a step would seem to make Memories of Butter look like a good idea. Not to mention that 23-year-old law school drop outs and transfers usually don’t have $50,000 stuck in their couch cushions.

*Why did American change the terms of the scholarship? Were too many recipients thumbing their nose at the putative conversion of the scholarship to a school-issued loan and bailing after the first year? (A big chunk of the top of American’s class transfers each year, often to Georgetown or GW).

In regard to this last point, it’s worth noting that American is a famously stingy law school, that gives out very few large scholarships. For example, last year only 38 of 1,522 students were getting full rides, and 97% of the student body was paying more than half sticker (fully 57% was paying sticker). This results in a situation where the 88% of 2013 American grads who had law school debt probably had an average of more than $200,000 in educational debt when their first payments came due in November (The average 2013 American grad who took out law school loans took out $158,636 in such loans, which means that with accrued interest and origination fees this person had close to $190,000 in law school debt alone, not counting undergraduate or other debt).

So it’s a little mysterious as to why American is going to such lengths to keep the tiny handful of its students who have full tuition scholarships from transferring. The LSAT and GPA scores of these students do nothing to protect the school’s plummeting medians, because the only scores that count for ranking and disclosure purposes are those of entering students (which is one reason GULC and GW are more than happy to poach the top of American’s class every year). The marginal cost to the school of these students’ attendance is of course close to zero. The only interest American would seem to have in trying to keep them captive is that they may on average have better job prospects than those of the typical American grad, and the school doesn’t want to lose even one student who might actually get a job as a lawyer.

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