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Broken beer bottles may be dangerous, apparently

[ 0 ] April 4, 2008 |

Fascinating and Hilarious:

A MAGIC trick went “horribly wrong” at a weekend Melbourne Comedy Festival show, but audience members had to sign a confidentiality agreement to stop them revealing details. The trick went awry during the Something About Razorblades and Nails show at the Northcote Town Hall on Sunday night. An audience member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Confidential that “something went horribly wrong.” She said all members of the audience had to sign a “secrecy agreement” before they left the venue preventing them from telling anyone what happened. The audience member said the trick that went wrong involved a broken beer bottle, but she would not elaborate.

First thought: This sounds like something from Arrested Development. I imagine Gob trying pathetically to force audience members to sign some sort of agreement like this.

Second thought: It would be quite convenient to be able to force all witnesses of one’s various humiliating screw-ups to sign secrecy agreements. I’m going to have some these drawn up before the next time I go out drinking (in case something “goes horribly wrong” with a broken beer bottle, which, let’s face it, is bound to happen one of these days).

Third thought: How can they “force” the audience members to sign this thing? Is there something about this in the small print on the back of the ticket? What happens to the brave audience member who refuses to sign?

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The Czech Just Gets Mean…

[ 36 ] April 3, 2008 |

In a hilarious way:

I decided to go up to the young female students who were passing out their “genocide leaflets” to the students walking by and chat.

I asked each one if they wanted to overturn Roe vs. Wade and make abortion illegal. They all said yes, of course. I asked them if abortion was murder. They all said yes, of course.

I then asked each of them, once this is made illegal, what the preferred prison sentence should be for a woman that has an abortion.

The first girl I talked to seemed bewildered by the question. She literally had never thought about that before. She was willing to stand in front of these horrible pictures and accuse people of murder and genocide, yet she had never even thought what type of penalties women would get if this was made illegal. She looked like a deer caught in the headlights, so I let her go to ponder just what in the hell she’s doing out here.

Read the rest.

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The Casey Myth Once Again

[ 53 ] April 3, 2008 |

Bob Somerby notes Michael Gerson once again repeating the Myth of Bob Casey, blubbering about Casey Sr. being “banned from speaking to the Democratic convention for the heresy of being pro-life” without mentioning that Casey refused to endorse the Democratic ticket. (Not that I think that parties preferring speakers who reflect the party’s values, as well as in this case the values of a majority of Americans, is any kind of scandal even if it was true.)

The rest of the column — about Obama’s abortion “extremism” — is as bad as you’d expect. He dishonestly claims a majority for a near-total ban on abortion. On the authority of Daniel Patrick Moynihan but needless to say making no actual argument on the merits, he attacks Obama for opposing transparently irrational “partial birth” abortion legislation that does nothing to protect fetal life but does threaten the health of women obtaining abortions (something that to Gerson’s friends in the “pro-life” movement is apparently a feature, not a bug.) And then there’s this:

Having endorsed partial-birth abortion, Obama has little room to maneuver on the broader issue. But he does have some. He could take the wise counsel of evangelical Democrats such as Amy Sullivan and come out strongly for policies that would reduce the number of abortions — support for pregnant women, abstinence education, the responsible promotion of birth control.

Except of course, that 1)Obama already supports “the responsible promotion of birth control,” 2)since “abstinence education” doesn’t work it won’t reduce abortion rates, and perhaps we should even do more to support parents after they have children, and 3)supporting access to birth control and rational sex-ed wouldn’t help to create a greater consensus because Gerson’s pathetic attempts to project a non-existent Christian Democratic tradition onto the Republican Party notwithstanding Republican anti-choicers generally oppose these policies, for the obvious reason that support for criminalizing abortion is generally bundled together with reactionary conceptions of sexuality and gender relations. (The fact that Gerson advocates useless abstinence education as opposed to sex-ed that might actually work gives away the show.) And moreover, advocates of reproductive freedom don’t need the “wise counsel” of Amy Sullivan to support policies that reduce abortion rates; they’ve supported them for many decades.

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Confederate Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Heritage Month 2008

[ 32 ] April 3, 2008 |

It begins:

April have [sic] become known as Confederate History Month.

This is a time to remember great Americans like Lizzie Rutherford of Columbus, Georgia who on a cold January day worked to clean the graves of Confederate soldiers. She and the members of the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus led in efforts to take care of Southern soldiers’ graves and get Confederate Memorial Day recognized throughout the South . . . .

Southerner’s were once a proud people who knew who they were…. But, now, how can we expect our children to know about their heritage when school bands no longer play “Dixie”?

Once upon a time the South’s businesses and schools closed in reverent observance of Confederate Memorial Day. This was a special time for parades and memorial speeches at the local soldiers’ cemetery. Tens of thousands of people made their way to the local Confederate cemetery where children delighted in catching a glimpse of a Confederate Veteran. . . .

And here, from one of Rob’s posts last year, is a reminder of why this sort of thing is dumb:

The mythology that has emerged around the Confederacy, and especially the “Lost Cause” is not simply a question of historical antiquarianism; such nostalgia invariably carries a racial component, and is deeply embedded within a narrative of hatred and oppression towards African-Americans. Confederate nostaligia has always included this racial component, and has never been about the “heritage” of the American South. The southern states have been part of the United States of America for 231 years, and were in rebellion for four; that leaves 227 years of potential heritage that don’t involve a brutal war fought in the service of human servitude. As others have noted, Confederate nostalgia is about the hate, not the heritage.

Undercutting every element of Confederate nostalgia, including the idea that men fought for their states and not their ideology, or that African-Americans fought in numbers for the Confederacy, or that the Confederate elite behaved with any honor, or that the Confederacy was even particularly popular among poor Southern whites, is a valuable project. As long as states see fit to have Confederate Heritage Month, it will be necessary to describe the essential perfidity of the Confederacy. In all honesty, I look forward to the day when Confederate nostalgia is every bit as respectable as fond remembrance for Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or Imperial Japan.

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The coming attacks on Obama?

[ 28 ] April 3, 2008 |

So someone has signed me up for a host of wingnut mailing lists. To the merry prankster (if she/he is a reader of this blog): You, your children, and you’re children’s children are banned from this blog for the next three months.

Anyway, many people (including myself) have wondered with quiet horror what the coming swiftboating of Obama would entail. In my optimistic moments, I think it’s possible they’ll go too far, and it’ll backfire.

In that vein, noted without comment, here is an excerpt from what I believe is the 17th email Ann Coulter has sent me today:

Has anybody read this book [Dreams From my Father]? Inasmuch as the book reveals Obama to be a flabbergasting lunatic, I gather the answer is no. Obama is about to be our next president: You might want to take a peek. If only people had read “Mein Kampf” …

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15 Minutes of Lunacy

[ 0 ] April 3, 2008 |

A few things I learned while listening to Bill O’Reilly during my drive to campus this afternoon:

  1. At least half of all American Jews will vote for Barack Obama no matter what — even if Jeremiah Wright were his Vice Presidential running mate — because “it’s ingrained in their culture that you’re gonna vote that way [i.e., Democratic].
  2. John McCain knows a lot about foreign policy, and he’s not likely to provoke a nuclear war with Russia.
  3. Iraq should now “reimburse” the United States for all the money we’ve spent [on a war that wasn't actually their idea in the first place.] Germany and Japan are wealthy now, and if Bill O’Reilly were President he’d “put it on the table” that maybe they could pay us back now for WWII. (He admits, with a petulant sigh, that “it ain’t gonna happen.”)

I’m seriously considering canceling my night class on the grounds that my brains have been siphoned off through the top of my skull.

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Raising — and Answering — the Question

[ 0 ] April 2, 2008 |

There has been a lot of press recently about a pregnant man — or, to be more specific, a pregnant trans man. Thomas Beatie is a man. He’s happily married to a woman. But because he was born a woman and still has the internal reproductive organs of a woman, he can bear a child. And he is. All without ever questioning his gender identity as a man. It’s a really moving and beautiful story.

But, predictably, Thomas’s pregnancy has caused an uproar. It gets right to the heart of people’s discomfort with our new society, in which sex is fluid and genders impermanent.

Which is why it’ll be so interesting to see what happens when Oprah has Thomas on her show tomorrow. Of course the preview frames the segment in the most sensational way possible. But I’m hopeful that the show can present Thomas and his wife in an open and supportive way. Maybe that’s overly idealistic.

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Lawyerly Arguments

[ 38 ] April 2, 2008 |

Writing about the Yoo memo, Jack Balkin reminds everyone that law-talking-guys “can make really bad legal arguments that argue for very unjust things in perfectly legal sounding language.” It’s an obvious point that for some reason needs restating once in a while. In my courses, I make this argument quite regularly in the context of the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was par for the course for social scientists and other putative experts to make comforting arguments on behalf of all sorts of atrocious phenomena (e.g., anthropologists and psychologists offering intellectual cover for segregation and lynching). So the dynamic that Balkin is describing can be applied to a number of other contexts, law being merely one of them. In a famous decision like Plessy, you actually see these forms of expertise working in tandem, with the majority opinion in that case relying on some bogus arguments about “racial instinct” drawn from evolutionary anthropology.

Unlike Scott, I don’t teach much about the Supreme Court, but to follow up on Balkin’s observation, here’s a good example of boring, lawyerly argument that pretty well disposed of American Indian treaty rights and utterly ruined the land base for several lower plains tribes like the Kiowa. It comes from Justice Edward White’s majority opinion in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1906), one of the most important (if not the most important) case in American Indian law. Lone Wolf permanently altered American Indian law by affirming that the US — acting through Congress’ “plenary power” — could pretty much do whatever it wanted with respect to its treaty obligations so long as Congress, in exercising its “plenary power”:

The power exists to abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty, though presumably such power will be exercised only when circumstances arise which will not only justify the government in disregarding the stipulations of the treaty, but may demand, in the interest of the country and the Indians themselves, that it should do so. When, therefore, treaties were entered into between the United States and a tribe of Indians it was never doubted that the power to abrogate existed in Congress, and that in a contingency such power might be availed of from considerations of governmental policy, particularly if consistent with perfect good faith towards the Indians.

So Lone Wolf provided Congress with virtually unlimited authority over Indian treaties, unencumbered by executive or judicial oversight, based on the laughable proposition that it would use its power rarely and forever with the interests of Native peoples in mind. Unlike Plessy or Dred Scott — two of its obvious peers if we’re measuring the injustice of a decision — Lone Wolf remains mostly undisturbed as a precedent. (I’m not sure if this is a measure of its obscurity, but for the sake of trivia if nothing else, I’ll note that the case doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia entry.)

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Deep Rot

[ 10 ] April 2, 2008 |

Although Yoo certainly deserves all of the criticism he’s getting today and far more, it’s also important to remember that his analysis only meant something because he was telling the President and his subordinates what they wanted to hear. Consider this, for example, from GOP Moral Sage James Dobson explaining why he’s not wild about John McCain:

Mr. Dobson took issue with a litany of Sen. McCain’s positions, including support for embryonic-stem-cell research and opposition to a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Those stances, plus Sen. McCain’s discussion of global warming and his push to outlaw torture and shut down the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have “frustrated” conservatives “whom McCain seems to have written off,” Mr. Dobson said.

So McCain’s (nominal) opposition to torture is a good reason to be worried about his tendency. And in these policy preferences, as far as I can tell, Dobson is hardly an outlier. The mean and median GOP voter and public official seems to believe (or at least are not strongly oppose) the ideas that 1)the president should be able to torture people at his whim irrespective of any statutes or treaties, and 2)morality requires that the United States Constitution explicitly make gays and lesbians second-class citizens. The fact that so many people share these views is the real problem here.

And as Glenn points out, Democrats in Congress haven’t covered themselves in glory here either. It’s outrageous that it required an ACLU lawsuit, rather than strong Congressional action, to get these documents (which had no business being classified in the first place) declassified.

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Let’s Discuss Enlargement… No, Not That Kind of Enlargement

[ 0 ] April 2, 2008 |

Like Matt, I don’t have any principled opposition to Ukrainian membership in NATO. It will irritate the Russians, yes, but I don’t have a terrible lot of sympathy for Russia on this point; making it more difficult for Russia to intimidate its neighbors seems, on balance, like a good thing. It also seems as if NATO membership does have a real stabilizing influence on domestic political arrangements. I’m less interested in Georgia, in large part because “frozen conflicts” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that risk putting Georgian and Russian forces in the field against one another.

On the other hand Ukranians, as opposed to a substantial segment of their political elite, don’t seem terribly enthusiastic about NATO membership. NATO membership would have genuine costs for Ukraine, in terms both of Ukraine’s relationship with Russia and Ukrainian military transformation. Like Poland, Ukraine has virtually bankrupted its military transformation process through participation in Iraq. Things have gotten better since the withdrawal, but membership in NATO wouldn’t necessarily make things easier for Ukraine.

Dan at Duck does make a good point, however; how can President Bush claim that NATO is no longer in the business of defending against Russia, while at the same time claim that Ukraine and Georgia need to join so that they can remain sovereign and independent? Who, besides Russia, is threatening the sovereignty and independence of these two states? Dan makes the perfectly cromulent suggestion that robots might be the problem, but I’d still like further clarification from the President.

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Ode to SF

[ 27 ] April 2, 2008 |

First things first, thanks to those who recommended eating establishments. We ended up eating some fine Chinese food, some excellent sushi, and some burritos the size of my head. Advice was much appreciated.

As I suggested before, it was nice to be in a real city again. Standing on the corner of Mission and 16th, you can really understand why Bill O’Reilly and his ilk HATE San Francisco; it represents a challenge to their entire vision of what America is and ought to be. Part of it is the politics, yes, but the culture is more; it’s about being able to hear half a dozen different languages at one time and see people from, literally, everywhere.

For O’Reilly, San Francisco represents a rejection of America, which is to say a rejection of the set of imaginary traditions that social conservatives hold dear. The hopeful thing, I think, is that fewer people share O’Reilly’s vision than he believes; these charts seem to indicate that Americans, on the whole, are pretty tolerant of the cosmopolitan idea. I think that the failure of anti-immigration politics (in spite of the handwringing of folks like Mickey Kaus) to really gain much traction in the last couple of election cycles indicates that more people think about San Francisco in the way I do than the way that O’Reilly does. It makes me optimistic that there’s space for a genuinely (almost uniquely) American civic nationalism, even if that nationalism is at deep odds with those who most enthusiastically wrap themselves in the American flag. I’m also hopeful that, in twenty years, Cincinnati will become more like San Francisco than the reverse, and that we’ll all be the better for it.

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It’s Just That Evil Life Got You In Its Sway

[ 14 ] April 2, 2008 |

The Yoo torture memos have finally been declassified. Emily Bazelon cites their “glib certainty,” which is part of it. But this would be potentially acceptable if its arguments were more plausible and the implausibilities weren’t in service of such reprehensible ends. It’s one thing to, say, confidently assert a very narrow but plausible reading of a statute restricting executive power. Confidently asserting a broad range of arbitrary executive powers (including the power to torture), allegedly beyond the power of the legislature to regulate despite the explicit textual grants of relevant powers to Congress, during a “war” whose battlefield could be the entire planet and whose duration could be infinite, is another matter entirely.

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