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The Good People of Kentucky to Ernie Fletcher: Drop Dead

[ 17 ] November 7, 2007 |

With 90% reporting, its Beshear 59%, Fletcher 41%. Democrats also win Attorney General, Auditor, and Treasurer.

Fletcher had some serious corruption problems that hurt the entire ticket, but it’s still nice to see the Republicans getting crushed in a state that went 60% Bush in 2004. It’s actually rather a pity that McConnell doesn’t have to run at the same time as Fletcher…

"I don’t feel connected in any way to child molesters"

[ 6 ] November 7, 2007 |

D’Ho in fine form, courtesy of Max Blumenthal:

Pacing the stage like a drunken circus clown impersonating some bygone demagogue, and standing beneath a massive image of a woman being shot in the head, Horowitz launched into a long, frenetic rant about his own persecution at the hands of a shadowy liberal conspiracy.

The best part comes at the end, when he drifts off into a soliloquy about Jerry Springer and Jerry Falwell — who, last I recall, surrendered his carbon a while back — bringing social justice at the point of a gun, or something . . .

Those Damned Female Persons!

[ 27 ] November 6, 2007 |

I’m glad that Matt alerted his readers to this classic SDB essay, which helpfully divides humans with vaginas into two categories: “women” (i.e. strippers and women who, hypothetically, will sleep with SDB or at least be incredibly flattered by awkward come-ons from co-workers) and “female persons” (women who won’t sleep with SDB.) This typology would be helpful if applied in other manifestations of wingnuttery. For example, perhaps future idiotic abortion regulations can be more explicit by dividing subjects into classes of “women” (i.e. people who share Rick Santorum’s conception of gender roles and hence can be presumed to be acting freely) and “female persons” (who reject 18th century conceptions of gender roles and hence need to have their most intimate personal choices extensively regulated.) I expect the essay to be quoted in the next Kennedy opinion upholding an arbitrary abortion regulation…

Paging Molly Ivors

[ 0 ] November 6, 2007 |

If you didn’t read Molly Ivors’ latest deconstruction of Maureen Dowd — which appears to be part of a much-needed if unintended series — you owe yourself the pleasure. (It was linked here the other day, with additional commentary from Scott.)

Having done that, you’ll find yourself in greater appreciation of this piece of abject stupidity from esteemed “law blogger” Ann Althouse:

Dowd has always paid attention to truth about the Clintons and feminism. I’ve really appreciated that.

Yes, and Chris Ruddy has always paid attention to truth about the Clintons and Vince Foster. I’ve really appreciated that.

JPod on Waterboarding

[ 0 ] November 6, 2007 |

As to the overall merits of Commentary these days, Scott provided an apt summary the other day. As to the overall merits of the magazine’s blog, I can’t offer much more than this from the new editor, whose views of, say, the Spanish Inquisition or the Amboyna Massacre might be described as awfully generous:

Punishment techniques like waterboarding were invented precisely not to be acts of torture as commonly understood, but rather to simulate acts of torture. In the case of waterboarding, the intent is not to drown or nearly to drown (a classic torture method) but to invoke the primal fear of drowning. In both cases, of course, the purpose is to cause the sufferer to become so fearful that he will do whatever it takes not to endure the experience again. But when someone’s head is held under water, he may actually be drowned. When someone is waterboarded, he will not.

Earlier, Podhoretz confuses torture with mere sadism by claiming that “the intent” of torture is to produce injury; this allows him (or so he thinks) to insist that waterboarding “is actually an avoidance of physical brutality” and thus — like mirthfully smothering your little brother with a pillow — amounts to nothing more than “psychic game-playing,” a “gruesome fake-out.”

Of course JPod is wrong on nearly every count here, just as he stands universally in error about movies and television. I’ll defer to the actual philosophers who read this blog, but his notion of human psychology appears to be frozen somewhere in the 17th century. More consequentially, he seems not to have read anything about the technique he aims to defend. If he had, he’d at least be aware (as Malcolm Nance wrote last week) that the physical risks of water torture are extraordinary; it isn’t, Nance pointed out, a technique that “simulates” drowning; it is drowning. Finally, Podhoretz and others should be reminded that the “gruesome fake-out” is nothing less than a mock execution, which is a violation of international law in its own right. When photos of “gruesome fake-out” firing squads surfaced in Afghanistan in 2004, the Army destroyed them to avoid further embarrassment after the Abu Ghraib disclosures. I have yet to find Podhoretz’s glowing review of this “gruesome fake-out,” but I’m sure it exists somewhere.

All of this is of course beside the point, which is that defenders of waterboarding are now reduced to scribbling one incoherent brief after another on behalf of a practically and morally indefensible procedure. Why anyone would want to stake his or her intellectual and moral reputation on this is beyond me, but I suppose someone with nothing to lose is capable of anything.

Election Day!

[ 4 ] November 6, 2007 |

It’s election day in Kentucky, and Ernie Fletcher is about to become a lame duck. In general, it’s a good idea to be following Bluegrass Roots, Ditch Mitch, Bluegrass Report, and Hillbilly Report. All of them should be blogging all day and into the evening.

In addition to reporting on the robo-calls purporting to be from gay organizations on behalf of Steve Beshear, Media Czech at Bluegrass Roots also recently covertly attended a meeting of the American Family Association of Kentucky, an organization dedicated to uncovering the hegemony of the Jews gays in Kentucky life. Among other things, the Jews gays are responsible for African-American impoverishment in Lexington; this must be the first time that a conservative organization has voiced concern about African-American poverty anywhere…

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

With Friends Like These…

[ 0 ] November 6, 2007 |

The “Abortion hurts women” brigade continues in Wisconsin, where legislators are pushing a TRAP law to limit women’s access to abortion, I mean “make sure women are not coerced into having abortions”…because those poor little women just don’t realize how bad abortion is and if we help them with more “informed (coercive) consent, then abortion will just disappear and they can keep having lotsa babies!”

Of course, the bill’s not actually designed to help anyone make a more educated decision about whether or not to have an abortion. A bill to do that would (1) provide funding for poor women to have abortions so that they may have the same “choice” as other women; and (2) let doctors do their jobs. But instead, these TRAP laws are tactics to discourage women from seeking abortions and make it harder for those who do to procure them. Amanda lays it out for us:

he irony in all this is that there’s probably more of a threat of women being coerced into pregnancy by people around her (and of course by the law) than into abortion, if for no other reason than you’re getting thorough counseling when you get an abortion that you don’t get in other situations. Feminist-minded gynecologists (the pool from which abortion providers generally comes) are far more likely to be hip to the care standards that are growing in gynecology of looking for signs of domestic violence. But it’s far too delicate in most cases to ask a woman if she’s being coerced into having the baby, even if you suspect that she is, because of the official social customs that greet every non-terminated pregnancy as an occasion of joy and congratulations. The legislators are clearly not interested in using the law to stop coerced pregnancy; in fact, they want to use the law to coerce pregnancy.

SO remember, when reading about abortion law in the US, the “abortion hurts women” argument is just code for “those stupid little ladies just can’t handle reproductive autonomy so we better take it away.”

The Case For D*n B*este

[ 0 ] November 6, 2007 |

Although he’s blocked any access to the post Matt references here (and that earned him a special judges’ prize), Kieran Healy had the relevant excerpts:

De facto [France is] allied with Saddam even if there’s no publicly-declared treaty or agreement; so will they be willing to intervene militarily? Will they smuggle some sort of weaponry in? Or ship it in openly?

If 20 cargo jets take off from French territory and head towards the middle east, what will we do? If they ignore all attempts to prevent them from reaching Iraq, would we be willing to actually shoot one or more of them down?

Just how far are they willing to take their opposition to us? They’ve reached the point where it seems as if they’re willing to make any sacrifice. Do they see the stakes as being high enough so that they might actually threaten to nuke us?

The context, of course, being that the idea of opposing deposing secular a regime that posed no threat to the United States or France and replacing it with an Islamist quasi-state was so irrational that France must have been an actual enemy of the United States. This kind of lunacy really did pass for serious analysis among warbloggers (and propelled many of them to mainstream media gigs.) Who still make these kinds of arguments — remember Glenn Reynolds surmising that we haven’t engaged in an even more disastrous invasion of Iran…because of the nuclear weapons they already possess, presumably strapped to unicorns with a very long range.

The Terminal MA

[ 29 ] November 6, 2007 |

Over at Duck, PTJ has an interesting post about a student who decided to pursue a terminal MA in international relations in order to “certify idealism”. PTJ is a bit hostile to this notion, for some good reasons, but I have to say that I find it rather compelling.


I have to admit that at some level I simply do not understand the idea of a terminal MA degree in international relations, although I teach in a policy school that awards large numbers of them every year. I do not understand what is supposed to be gained through the course of study that most MA students engage in, since they don’t do enough coursework to develop a real scholarly grasp of the field (or even of their specialized portion of it) and at least in my experience they generally don’t do enough concrete skills-training to really develop themselves as competent professionals (and when they do, it comes in their internships rather than in the classroom, which is what virtually any MA in international relations will tell you if you ask them where they learned the most during their graduate school experiences). So as far as I can tell it is largely a certification and networking exercise, and an expensive one at that.

I’m not sure that I’d agree with this. The courses in a terminal MA program (at least the one I’m part of) are far more policy oriented, with a correspondingly greater focus on the empirical over the theoretical, than students would encounter in a political science program. Memos are a learned skill, as is the ability to skim the news for noteworthy events, manage time, and so forth. I design my own courses to familiarize students with the major policy debates; for example, I characterize my Defense Statecraft course as “what civilians ought to know about military affairs”. Now, it’s possible that nothing genuinely productive is happening here, but I’d really like to think that students emerge with a firmer grasp of the debates, a stronger sense of the empirical, and a few skills that they’ll need in the workplace. As such, it’s really irrelevant whether they have a scholarly grasp of the field; indeed, such a grasp might even be counter-productive.

PTJ further writes:

When I teach and work with MA students I am generally looking for those students who really wanted a Ph.D. but perhaps didn’t know it yet. Either that or I am looking for those rare MA students who are actually interested in scholarship as a vocation. This is both because I don’t know what I have to specifically offer the young professional who is primarily interested in learning a thing or three about transnational crime or the Balkans or whatever and then going out to work for some NGO (my rolodex is not really all that filled with people who work for consulting firms and policy institutes in downtown Coruscant), and partially because as a professor I largely only have one thing to offer to anyone: I press people to clarify their arguments and to take the implications of their commitments more seriously. Period. In my experience a very small minority of MA students find this helpful, and I primarily work with those students. I neither know nor care what this contributes to their “certification,” since I’m only interested in their education.

There are a lot of different kinds of students in my program, including some who aspire to Ph.D.s What I’ve noted, though, is that there isn’t really a strong relationship between academic aptitude and interest in further education. A few of my very best students have had the (eminently healthy) attitude that an MA is sufficient for their career goals. A few are interested in further academic study, although not always in a social science field. This may be a personal difference between myself and PTJ, but I came to the conclusion very, very quickly that looking for potential Ph.D. candidates would be a serious mistake, both in terms of projecting my own interests onto students who didn’t care, and in shortchanging those very talented students who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the arcane debates that define the academic study of international relations. In general, I’ve been very reluctant to encourage even the most capable students to pursue further study, in no small part because I think that they’ll have more lucrative and productive careers outside of academia than within.

It’s odd to find myself in the less cynical position, but I have to say that I’ve very much enjoyed teaching at a terminal MA program. MA students have two things that undergraduates often lack; a commitment to the subject matter, and a set of basic academic skills. Moreover, while I do enjoy teaching theory, I’ve found that I rather prefer teaching policy; delving into the Counter-Insurgency Field Manual is not only more fun than immersing oneself in the methodological critiques of the concept of strategic culture, it also strikes me as a lot more productive.

The Moon Landing Was Faked, Too…

[ 11 ] November 5, 2007 |

Don Surber:

[Melanie] Bunting goes on to blast the media for not reporting “the real story about what their government has done in Iraq.”

Here’s the problem with that: It has.

The trouble is so many of those Americans-are-evil stories turned out to be untrue or exaggerations at best.

The lies began before the war with CNN fronting for Saddam Hussein for 10 years just to keep its bureau open in Baghdad so it could brag about its foreign reporting. Instead of shuttering the bureau and then reporting the horrors from Atlanta, CNN stayed and kept its mouth shut.

That was just the start. Adnan Hajj staged and Photoshopped photos for AP and later Reuters that were sent around the world.

There is Captain Jamil Hussein, a police officer whom AP relied on repeatedly in 2006 for horror stories about Iraq. The military and the Iraqi government often denied the incidents. When Michelle Malkin and others questioned his existence, AP furiously defended him and insisted he was real — and stopped quoting him.

There is “Scott Thomas,” a pseudonym for a very real soldier, who sold outlandish lies to the editors of TNR. Apparently The New Republic learned nothing from Stephen Glass.

Bunting now blames the media for not reporting the horrors of war because if it had, the public would want the troops to be brought home immediately.

Seems to me that happened.

And yet we stayed and seem to be winning.

Wow. I’ll confess. I didn’t actually think it was possible for a wingnut to argue that the cases of Adnan Hajj, Jamil Hussein, Scott Beauchamp, and — no shit — Stephen Glass proved that the American war in Iraq had actually turned out pretty well. After all, the Adnan Hajj controversy involved a single Reuters photographer who digitally altered several images during his coverage of Israel’s summer 2006 war against Hezbollah. As far as I can tell, (1) this has no bearing on the Iraq War, and (2) Hajj’s photographs did not exactly fabricate the rubbling of Beirut, which did in fact occur, Photoshop or no. Moreover, the instances of Jamil Hussein and Scott Beauchamp appear to be as “settled” as the claim that Bill Clinton once delayed air traffic in LA because he was receiving a haircut.

But I suppose when one lives in the dark, all cats look grey, and Don Surber — being an idiot — can only be expected to handle three or four data points when trying to form a narrative about a war whose clusterfuckery is beyond comprehension.

Oh No–Teh Gay!

[ 37 ] November 5, 2007 |

Gay-bashing with some regional ressentiment; the only tactic that state GOPs have left. Pat Boone was a nice touch, though, especially when you’re trying to convince people that it would be horrible if Louisville was turned into San Fransisco. (“And next, the Dhimmicrats will force oldies stations to play Little Richard’s version or “Tutti Frutti” rather than my respectable version! Head for the hills!”)

Lethal Injection and Moral Seriousness

[ 0 ] November 5, 2007 |

An interesting article by Elizabeth Weil on the strange origins of the current formula for lethal injections now under challenge at the Supreme Court:

Hoping to coat the nastiness of killing with a veneer of medical respectability — and also hoping to save the state the expense of fixing its electric chair — Dr. Jay Chapman, then the chief medical examiner in Oklahoma, devised the three-drug cocktail in 1977. Dr. Chapman has described himself as “an expert in matters after death but not in getting people that way,” and he has acknowledged never having done any research on how best to kill a man. Nonetheless, some version of his three-drug cocktail is now used by the federal government and the 37 states that kill inmates by lethal injection. (Nebraska, the 38th state with a death penalty, uses the electric chair.)

The three-drug cocktail is meant to mimic the induction of general anesthesia and it works like this: The execution team inserts an IV line into the condemned prisoner and then delivers a dose of sodium pentothal, an “ultrashort-acting barbiturate,” intended to render the inmate deeply unconscious. A second drug, pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, then paralyzes all skeletal muscles including the diaphragm. (This keeps the inmate from gasping, moaning, flopping around on the gurney or otherwise disturbing the witnesses; it also keeps him from breathing.) The third drug, potassium chloride, stops the heart.

In theory this method should kill inmates quickly and painlessly. The problem is that in practice lethal injections are botched routinely. In May 2006, in Ohio, Joseph Clark raised his head in the middle of his own execution to say, “It’s not working.” In December 2006, Angel Diaz, in Florida, grimaced on the gurney for 26 minutes. He sustained 11-inch and 12-inch chemical burns on his left and right arms respectively, and took 34 minutes to die.

So, basically, we have a set of procedures that don’t always work, that we literally consider insufficiently humane to use on animals, and were developed by someone with no relevant expertise in the field — and yet they were quickly adopted by every state. And as Weil points out, the second, paralyzing drug — which prevents us in many cases from seeing if the prisoner was executed in intense pain — is part of the formula to exempt witnesses from having to see the consequences of the state’s action, which is an especially bad reason to do it.

Also interesting is this case, in which various public officials have reacted in a fury against a judge in Georgia who has taken the radical step of requiring the state to provide adequate resources to a defendant in an extremely complex capital case. This is part of a trend towards death penalty prosecutions that are failing because the state is unwilling to provide the necessary resources, which rather tends to undermine claims by death penalty advocates about its importance to criminal justice. If the death penalty has a powerful deterrent effect, reflects the Moral Seriousness of the Community. etc. etc. then spending the resources necessary to ensure a fair process seems relatively trivial in the context of what the state spends. That many advocates aren’t willing to face these choices simply reinforces my assumption that the death penalty in fact doesn’t accomplish much of anything that imprisonment doesn’t.

And even if (like me) you think that the Constitution does not categorically forbid the death penalty for first degree murder, both of these cases are instances where judicial intervention is appropriate. Assuming arguendo that the death penalty is permissible, it has to be carried out in manner consistent with the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. If states can’t be bothered to design a means of execution that minimizes the possibility of someone being tortured to death, or to provide the resources necessary to mount a competent capital defense, then it shouldn’t be allowed to execute prisoners at all.

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