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Object of Desire

[ 17 ] January 16, 2008 |

If only my computer would die….now. Now? Anything? Nope. Damn.

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"Judicial Activism": It Means Nothing

[ 22 ] January 15, 2008 |

Hopefully most readers of this site are well aware at this late date that “judicial activism” in ordinary political discourse means absolutely nothing more than “judgifying conservatives don’t like.” Still, claiming that it’s unacceptable “judicial activism” for judges to adjudicate breach of contract disputes takes things to a new level of vacuity. Apparently, according to many conservative bloggers the only thing you need to know about the institutional role of courts is that if Dennis Kucinich wins a case the courts are exceeding their authority irrespective of how central to a judge’s function the underlying case might be.

…Treason In Defense of Slavery Yankee offers this penetrating analysis of the breach of contract claim:

Second, MSNBC claims that an invitation does not constitute a contract.


Well, yes, obviously, if a defendant makes a bare assertion that the suit is without merit a judge’s job is over — case dismissed! Especially if the defendant uses italics! What kind of judicial activist would believe otherwise? I’m not sure why the Supreme Court failed to rely on this well-known doctrine in its holding today; it would have saved a lot of writing…

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Theocracy Watch

[ 68 ] January 15, 2008 |

Wow.

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

This appears to have freaked out even Joe Scarborough, who noted that “evangelicals should be able to talk politics … some might find that statement very troubling, that we’re going to change the Constitution to be in line with the Bible. And that’s all I’m going to say.” Of course, it’s a bit unclear to me what amending the Constitution to “God’s standards” would require, although I presume that it wouldn’t involve the banning of pork products.

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Yep

[ 10 ] January 15, 2008 |

John Scalzi, via Ralph Luker:

Jonah, dude, I don’t doubt that you misspoke. That’s pretty obvious. But, really. How does one — particularly one purporting to write a book on fascism — forget, even for a minute, that Mussolini was called a fascist because he was a Fascist? And not just a Fascist, he was the Fascist; indeed, the Platonic Ideal of a Fascist. Maybe you were nervous about being interviewed — you do it so infrequently, after all — but it’s kind of a big goof. We Americans may not know much about Mussolini, but we know three things: He made trains run on time, he bore an unsettling resemblance to George C. Scott, and he was a goddamn Fascist. It’s not something one easily forgets, nor should forget, especially when one is, say, talking about fascism to the press. Try to do better next time, Mr. Goldberg. You’ll look less of an ass.

Well, I’m not so sure about that last sentence, since it doesn’t appear likely that Goldberg is going to read his Mussolini in the near future. When you have to ask your interviewer what the ur-text of fascism actually contains, you’re never not going to look like an ass.

In other news, it appears that Robert Reich is now a fascist. Curiously, no one has yet mentioned Rich Cohen — who last year grew a Toothbrush Mustache — for inclusion on the list of contemporary liberal fascists.

And as I prepare for the first day of class by looking over my lecture notes on Reconstruction, I realize it’s only a matter of time before Goldberg exposes the Freedman’s Bureau as a fascist wedge organization.

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Drawing out the Implications

[ 6 ] January 15, 2008 |

Barack Obama now says that his favorite Wire character is Omar. Given that Obama also has connections with Brother Mouzone, doesn’t the true structure of the Baltimore drug trade become incredibly obvious? Let me lay it out for you; Barack Obama ordered the execution of Stringer Bell, because Bell was paying off Clay Davis, who’s undeniably the Baltimore face of the Clinton machine.

It couldn’t be more clear.

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This is the Worst Possible Development, at the Worst Possible Time

[ 0 ] January 15, 2008 |

With the economy drifting towards recession and the Wire beginning to suck, true disaster looms. Noah Shachtman:

When our robotic overlords finally do take over, there’s a decent chance they’ll do it with monkey brains.

A few years back, Duke neuroscientists, funded by the Pentagon, figured out how to have monkeys control robotic arms with their little simian minds. Now, if that wasn’t unnerving enough, the same Duke crew has discovered a way for one of the monkeys to make “a 200-pound, 5-foot humanoid robot walk on a treadmill using only her brain activity,” the New York Times reports. How far away are we from the ultimate sci-fi dystopia: Terminator and Planet of the Apes — at the same time!

Alright, it’s time. I’ll be skipping my afternoon class to buy immense amounts of bottled water, canned goods, firearms, and ammunition. I recommend that all LGM readers do the same. If you see anyone you suspect of being a Duke neuroscientist, shoot first and ask questions later; we don’t need any Quislings in the new order. And does anyone know what kind of gun I need to take down a monkey cyborg?

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It Really Doesn’t Even Sound Like Burke

[ 0 ] January 15, 2008 |

Charli Carpenter at Duck:

My quote, attributed to Edmund Burke, read “the only thing necessary for the persistence of evil is for good people to do nothing.” It is commonly quoted by human rights scholars and activists to caution against the bystander effect.

Porter’s essay, replete with exhaustive sources from multiple websites, is a genealogy of the use of this supposed Burkeism, but Porter concludes form his analysis that Burke never actually wrote anything like this.

I’m kind of surprised it took this long. The persistence of evil line doesn’t strike me as Burkean at all; it’s true enough that he supported certain kinds of activism (American Revolution, efforts to strangle the French Revolution), but there’s also such a large and clear strand in his thought that suggests that evil is caused by good people trying to do something, without a well-thought out conception of what that something should be.

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Faldui vs. Pollsters

[ 53 ] January 15, 2008 |

Susan Faludi, she of Backlash and Stiffed, is mad at the pollsters for their failure to understand American women. And she’s not going to take it any more.

In an LA Times column today, Faludi tries to set them (and us) straight. She hones in on the New Hampshire primary and tells us that the talking heads, who said that racism or tears were to blame (or thank) for Clinton’s victory, and tells us why they’re wrong. It’s not compassion, she claims, but mere competence that led NH women to turn out for Clinton.

Faludi analogizes Clinton to the middle-aged power suited woman standing in line at a pharmacy, caring for her ailing and aging mother. She says:

As it happens, I’m not alone in wishing for a nation run by someone whose desire for our well-being is passionate but whose actions on our behalf also exude bedrock competence, someone who lacks any flash whatsoever except the flash that keeps a person assiduously doing the hardest things in life. In New Hampshire and all across the country, many female voters seem to be thinking along the same lines.

The media, punditry and pollsters have been viewing this historic female candidacy, and the candidate herself, through the Madonna-Medea prism they’ve applied since at least the Victorian era to women who venture into American public life. In so doing, they have ignored a whole other model of womanhood that is central to female experience. If they are determined to think of Hillary Clinton in stereotypical female terms, at least they should get the stereotype right.

In other words, by viewing Clinton through the mommy prism as opposed to the caregiver prism, the media fails to see what many women — especially middle-aged women — like about her.

So here’s my issue: I think Faludi’s central point — that women have a role as caregivers for family members other than children (in addition to caring for children), and that that role too often goes unnoticed — is a good one. Women are the primary caregivers in the country not only for the kids, but also for parents, siblings, etc. It takes a toll on women emotionally, financially, and in terms of career trajectory. Sure, the Family and Medical Leave Act addressed this…but it was only a start, and it has amounted to very little for many thousands of women. Faludi’s also right that talking heads fail to understand the complexity of women’s lives in creating their archetypes.

But for me, it boils down to this: why buy into the fact that we’ve got to shove Clinton — or any other politician for that matter — into a stereotype to begin with? Why not argue against that impulse from the start. Faludi, I think, does more damage than good in her attempt to recast Clinton. She should have done away with typecasting altogether.

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Arms Control and Strategic Stability

[ 3 ] January 15, 2008 |

To follow up a bit on what I wrote at TAPPED, there’s some utility in thinking about this point:

David [Mutimer], on the other hand, gave a thought provoking but untitled talk which I will somewhat cheekily dub Why the Left Should Dislike Arms Control. His point (in part) is that the nature of arms control agreements is both shaped by the strategic environment and helps to shape it. He argues that US-Russian bilateral agreements, in particular, can be self-serving in that they help to perpetuate the nuclear primacy of those two nations.

This is kind of interesting, and I think that the point is even more stark when we’re looking at the Washington naval treaties instead of the bilateral arms control of the Cold War. The Washington Naval Treaty, its successors, and its associated treaties amounted in one sense to an agreement between the major powers to let each other feed on the decaying corpse of China (and maintain empires in the rest of Asia) in peace. And although the treaties actually did involve some substantial disarmament and arms production limitation (they forced the scrapping of large numbers of dreadnoughts, and precluded the construction of many new ones) they didn’t do anything to fundamentally change the character of relations between the major powers.

That said, the major retrospective critiques of the treaties seem to be from the right (this is true of both the Cold War treaties and the interwar treaties), centering on the argument that unconstrained American arms production could have either won or headed off future conflict. Part of the issue is a “politics art of the possible” concern; I’m skeptical that it would have been possible to convince state leaders in either period that disarmament was an achievable goal, and thus the agreements themselves were preferable to unconstrained competition. I also think, however, that arms control serves two other purposes that are central to the “liberal” left: saving money, and reducing the chance of war. The data on the latter is a bit unclear, but its persuasive enough to make me think that unconstrained arms competition increases the chance of war, which is a bad thing. The former is also important, because while the liberal left should be reasonably comfortable with taxation to support state expenditure, spending less, rather than more, money on weapons should all things equal be a good thing.

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Wire Season 5

[ 0 ] January 15, 2008 |

[Spoilers]

I’m a little worried that the final season of The Wire is going to be like Sopranos Season 6A (aside from the awful-by-any-standard dream sequence): vastly better than pretty much anything else on TV, but distinctly inferior to the standard previously established by the show. In particular, despite Clark Johnson’s very welcome presence I’m worried about the Baltimore Sun plotline whatever one agrees with the axes Simon has to grind, the resulting villains just don’t shape up to be that interesting, in the way that even the show’s most inept and venal characters usually are. As Matt says, “[e]verything in the Sun plot is being marked out like a runway. Do you think the Unscrupulous Journalist and the Douchebag Editor are going to conspire to cause the Fall of American Journalism? I think they just might!” I also agree with Kay that the opening sequence of Bubbles at the N.A. meeting was a poorly written and acted variation on an especially tired theme; it’s frustrating for precious last minutes of the show to be wasted in this way.

Still, there was a lot of great stuff in both episodes; hopefully the lesser storylines will get better.

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Incredibly Strange Comics

[ 0 ] January 14, 2008 |

So I was doing an image search for George Wallace — inaugurated as Alabama governor 45 years ago today — and I came across this campaign comic book.

The whole thing is worth a look. Check out the other “Comics with Problems”, including my favorite, Captain Alcohol (a Canadian temperance narrative aimed at the Inuit).

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Hilzoy’s Case Against Clinton

[ 37 ] January 14, 2008 |

Hilzoy makes the case against Clinton. I substantially agree, both on policies and politics, but I’m not certain about this:

In this context, I think that nominating Hillary Clinton would be a disastrous mistake. Of all the people whom we are at all likely to nominate, she is the one whom people would be most inclined to believe the worst of. Some of those people — the ones who thought the Clintons had Vince Foster killed and hung crack pipes on their Christmas trees — are presumably unreachable by Democrats. But others — the ones who don’t pay close attention to these things, and came away from the 1990s with a vague sense that the Clintons were just plain sleazy — are people we can reach.

If we nominate Hillary Clinton, then I assume that the Republicans will go after her, and that they will not restrict themselves to attacking her policies and her record. When they do, then all those people who are already inclined to think the worst of Hillary Clinton will, for that reason, be prepared to find those attacks believable. Stories about her sleaziness, her underhandedness, her cold and calculating nature, etc., will be a lot less likely to strike them as implausible, overreaching, mean-spirited, malicious, or vile. And that means that the chances that people will see standard Republican attacks for what they are are dramatically reduced.

Here’s the thing; while we can always say that “it could be worse” I’m not convinced that, in the case of Hillary Clinton, the attacks actually can get worse than those that have already been leveled against her. The Republicans have literally (and I mean literally to read “literally” rather than figuratively) accused her of every crime that it is possible for one person to commit, and she still polls well against the strongest Republican candidates.

There are two potential pro-Clinton narratives to draw from this argument:

  1. Further attacks against Clinton will yield diminishing returns for the Republicans. As she has already been accused of everything (and, as she’s the most identifiable politician in America, I’m unconvinced that any potential voters haven’t been exposed to such attacks) more attacks are unlikely to convince anyone not yet convinced that Clinton is bad, and may in fact produce a backlash; once you’ve said that someone is a drug dealing murdering man-hating lesbian, attacking her health care policy is rather pointless.
  2. Obama has not yet been subjected to this level of attack, and is not likely to be immune to it; whether true or not, the Republican noise machine will cook up some vile line of attack that it likely to see some success, suggesting that Obama’s better poll performance won’t stand the scrutiny of a general election.

This is why I remain reluctant to concede that Clinton is less electable than Obama. In the first place, I think that electability is a very difficult trait to assess, and in the second I can see some specific reasons why current polling of the two prominent Democrats may wrongly assess the situation. That said, Scott and Hilzoy are right to point out that Hillary’s reputation is farther left than her policies, which is a bad thing, and that Hillary may mobilize a huge component of the Republican electorate.

All that said, the vote against the war is important to me, and I expect to vote Obama. But I can’t say that a Clinton victory will disappoint me.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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