Subscribe via RSS Feed


[ 0 ] September 26, 2009 |

Tom Vu, come back, all is forgiven…


Ertugrul Osman RIP

[ 0 ] September 26, 2009 |

Ertugrul Osman, heir to the Ottoman Empire, died yesterday in Istanbul. I profiled his dynasty here. The head of House Osman is now Bayezid III, who was born in Paris, lived in New York, and once served in the US Army.

Today in NCAA Peonage

[ 0 ] September 25, 2009 |

Just in case you forgot, NCAA rules seem to derive from the concept that everyone should be able to make as much money as possible off of college athletics except for the athletes who actually create the value and take the (often severe) physical risks themselves. Because if they made even a dime from things like, say, their likenesses being sold to videogame companies that would be unethical.

Texas: Executed Innocent Man

[ 1 ] September 25, 2009 |

Hopefully you’ve all read David Grann’s remarkable New Yorker story about Cameron Todd Willingham, an almost certainly innocent man who was executed for arson based on worthless junk science roughly on a par with astrology and the highly implausible testimony of a mentally ill jailhouse snitch. (The kindest construction you can put on the state of Texas here is that — although since he was at the scene of the “crime” you can’t prove the negative — they executed a man despite the fact that there was no reliable evidence at all that he was guilty.) I don’t even want to excerpt it, because it’s all an essential portrait of the death penalty as it functions in the state that executes the most people — state-serving testimony from exceptionally dubious “experts,” inept and/or underfunded defense counsel, irresponsible prosecutors, and an appeals process (in both the judicial and executive branches) that would have to accrue some rigor to rise to the level of being “cursory.”

Emily Bazelon points out, however, that there’s additional blame to go around:

My answer starts with the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which President Bill Clinton signed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings. The Supreme Court also gets a share of the blame for the noose-tightening way in which it interpreted AEDPA. Justice Antonin Scalia has led this charge and went so far as to write recently, in the appeal of Troy Davis, “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” But more centrist justices also lined up on the side of “finality”—the idea that there is value in closing the doors of due process. Grann quotes Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote in a 1993 case that the “execution of a legally and factually innocent person would be a constitutionally intolerable event.” But in that case, Herrera v. Collins, O’Connor ruled against the defendant. And that is one of a string of rulings from her that made it more and more difficult for defendants to bring to light new evidence and to get the courts to pay attention to flaws in their convictions. Cameron Todd Willingham is dead because of a bad and abstruse law and a series of even worse legal rulings from our high court.

And it hardly seems likely that this is the only case where the process has failed to this degree…

…slightly edited to reflect the fact that there is, of course, no evidence that a “crime” was committed at all.

Enjoy her! She’s a perk.

[ 0 ] September 25, 2009 |

I’ve been wanting to write about the differences in culture between American and British higher education, but largely due to my dissatisfaction with my present employer, I’ve demurred, as I do like my job security. Thanks to the Vice Chancellor at Buckingham University, I have an opening.

This is, of course, bollocks. But it does speak to a difference in the culture. We don’t have tenure in the UK any longer, which was one of Maggie’s many reforms. I can’t speak for the entire island, but at my institution, at least, having relations with one’s students is, while not encouraged, also not frowned upon. It’s treated as a natural outcome, and dealt with.

Through paperwork. A lot of paperwork.
We have these end of year meetings: panels and boards. At the panel, which is held at department level, the first item on the agenda is always “does anybody have a declaration of interest?” My first experience with this concept was back in the 03-04 academic year. So, being literally foreign to the concept of the panel meeting itself, let alone its nuances, I raise my hand at this question.
All of my colleagues stared at me from around the table, the look on their faces was “you’ve been here five minutes, and you have a declaration of interest?” When I had the floor, I naively asked, “what is a declaration of interest?”
The response was, basically, “You’re shagging one of your students?”
Holy crap. In the American university culture, there’s only a few ways you can lose your job once tenured, including disagreeing with the Bush administration, or shagging one of your students. Being trained and professionalized in that culture, I look out on my sea of students professionally: I’m paid by the state to teach them, and that’s that.
Not here. I’ve had a couple colleagues who had to fill out the paperwork (one male and one female). I do wonder, however, if the British approach is more pragmatic as opposed to American morality. Even though I personally can’t entertain the notion, it does happen.
Thanks to my friend Jenaya Dawe-Stotz for bringing this to my attention.

Ginsburg Hospitalized

[ 0 ] September 25, 2009 |

Hopefully she’ll be OK.

Rebuilding Your Reputation

[ 0 ] September 24, 2009 |

I just have one thing to say about the Red Dawn remake: I will not complain that it is “too wingnutty.” In fact, I’ll complain if it’s not wingnutty enough. If Barack Obama isn’t depicted as the agent of Communist domination, and ACORN his Fifth Column, then I’m walking out of the theater.

How delusional is Glenn Beck?

[ 0 ] September 24, 2009 |

I realize this is only scraping midway down the barrel of Glenn Beck’s yawning madness, but for reasons I can’t adequately defend I was actually listening yesterday when he explained why he found the idea of an Islamic Anti-Christ to be gentler on the stomach than Walter Lippmann:

I’ve read some pretty excruciating stuff. I have read some stuff — I’ve read about the twelfth Imam. This is the guy who I think could be construed as the Antichrist. The twelfth Imam, the one that today Ahmadinejad is going to say again you mark my words. He will say it again in front of the United Nations, “Oh, Allah, give me the strength to hasten the return of the promised one.” The promised one is the twelfth Imam. I believe that is the Antichrist. It is it has all of the earmarks. I’ve read some pretty dark stuff. I have never closed a book, ever, and said I can’t read this anymore; it’s just wicked stuff. Walter Lippmann. Walter Lippmann, who was one of the guys who was instrumental at CBS. I think he was the head of CBS for a while, he’s one of the guys who started the Council on Foreign Relations. He was one of the guys who did the Versailles treaty, he’s one of the architects of Woodrow Wilson. He is just evil stuff. I couldn’t read it anymore. It’s so dark, it is such a depressing look at humanity where they are saying you’ll never be able to get stupid people to vote; that’s why we have to breed eugenics — breed smarter people to weed out the riffraff. I couldn’t read it anymore.

Which is to say, Beck never read Lippmann in the first place. If he had, he’d know that Lippmann was the precise opposite of a eugenicist — so much so that he wrote a series of articles for The New Republic in 1922 that condemned (a) the belief that “hereditary IQ” could be measured; and (b) the cruel mischief that had already been, and would continue to be, inspired by the World War I-era Army Intelligence Tests. (Given Beck’s views on immigration and his unimpechabley non-racist interpretation of what the Constitution has to say about citizenship, it’s safe to say that Beck shares more in common with Lippmann-era eugenicists than Lippmann himself did.) In those essays — the fourth one being the most scathing — Lippmann warned that testing advocates

have committed themselves to a dogma which must lead to such abuse. They claim not only that they are really measuring intelligence, but that intelligence is innate, hereditary, and predetermined. They believe that they are measuring the capacity of a human being for all time and that his capacity is fatally fixed by the child’s heredity. Intelligence testing in the hands of men who hold this dogma could not but lead to an intellectual caste system in which the task of education had given way to the doctrine of predestination and infant damnation. If the intelligence test really measured the unchangeable hereditary capacity of human beings, as so many assert, it would inevitably evolve from an administrative convenience into a basis for hereditary caste.

Beck’s real aim, of course, is to insist (inaccurately) that Lippmann was a “founding father” of progressivism and to claim that progressives anticipated Hitler, would have wanted to kill Baby Trig, and so forth, so things like “facts” are probably unhelpful to the cause.

I suppose if Beck had actually read any of Lippmann’s work — and someone has obviously summarized/caricatured Public Opinion and The Phantom Public for him — he’d likely be outraged by Lippmann’s (amply rewarded) skepticism that “the people” constitute the repository of all virtue in a democracy. By the early 1920s, Lippmann was of course dismissive of the belief that “the people” exist as an “organism with an organic unity” in the first place — which meant that Lippmann was, among many other things, skeptical of the nostalgic “phantom” community that animated Mussolini’s fascism or the Anglo-Saxon tribalism of the KKK. You’d think that Beck would at least appreciate the fact that Lippmann’s skepticism eventually led him to oppose significant parts of New Deal (including Social Security and the Revenue Act of 1935, which raised top marginal tax rates to 75 percent) and to vote for Alf Landon in 1936. But who am I kidding? Even Jonah Goldberg — our era’s most careful and detailed chronicler of the liberal fascist menace — doesn’t mention that in his book, so how is Beck supposed to know? Besides, he’s busy thinking about other stuff at the moment.


[ 0 ] September 24, 2009 |

Perhaps the funniest (although certainly not the most disturbing) part of Glenn Back’s racist analysis of the 14th Amendment is his claim that to interpret the clause “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” to mean that people born in the United States become American citizens would be a “revision” of the 14th Amendment. A more faithful interpretation, apparently, would be to see that the plain language of the clause doesn’t apply to classes of people that Glenn Beck doesn’t like. But don’t call that racist or anything! And for God’s sake don’t keep reading the 14th Amendment further — many more nutty ideas in there.

This kind of thing might merely be a sideshow if it wasn’t also being echoed by, say, major Republican candidates in presidential primaries and state and federal Republican legislators.

Mullen in Favor of Women on Subs

[ 0 ] September 24, 2009 |

Tom Philpott at Defense Tech:

Women should be allowed to serve aboard America’s fleet of nuclear submarines, the nation’s top military officer, Adm. Michael Mullen, quietly has told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

If the Navy agrees to it, this would be a huge policy change and potentially a significant expansion of career opportunities for female officers and sailors.

Women have been barred by Navy policy from submarines, even as the sea service began 15 years ago to integrate females into other seagoing combat roles including aboard surface warships and in fighter jets.

Mullen, former chief of naval operations and a career surface warfare officer, made his position on submarines known in written responses to questions from the committee to prepare for Mullen’s confirmation hearing to serve a second two-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

“As an advocate for improving the diversity of our force, I believe we should continue to broaden opportunities for women. One policy I would like to see changed is the one barring their service aboard submarines,” Mullen told senators.

Watch as We Pretend that this is a Reasonable Position…

[ 0 ] September 24, 2009 |

It’s unfortunate that these Eastern European leaders feel that they need to humiliate themselves in the cause of solidarity with Saakashvili; the Hitler-Poland analogy is barely worthy of Michael Goldfarb, much less Vaclav Havel. I very much doubt that the EU report will apportion blame primarily on Georgia, despite the fact that almost all evidence revealed since the war has indicated that the Georgian attack on South Ossetia was the proximate cause of the conflict. I suppose it will be a very long time before the screech of “Appeasement!!!” rings entirely hollow…

Separated By The Same Language, Deficit Style

[ 0 ] September 24, 2009 |

according to Mock the Week. Thanks to Simon Dyda and Brieg Powel for bringing this to my attention. It affords me greater optimism every time I look at my monthly pay stub to now know that HM Treasury have at least a grasp.