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And Make it Snappy!

[ 6 ] April 15, 2008 |

One more way that the criminal (in)justice system is whittling away at the small pleasures in life for the incarcerated in a Florida county: now their loved ones have to write extra teeny tiny. That’s because now, based on a new directive, they will only be allowed to receive postcards. No S.W.A.K. allowed.

Here’s more:

Pictures will have to be printed on postcards, and envelopes won’t be allowed, unless they contain legal correspondence.

Capt. Tom Eberhardt, assistant commander of corrections services, said the new policy is in response to the biohazard threat that locked down Charlotte County Jail last month when a mail clerk fell ill after opening a letter containing a white powdered substance.

“That’s happening more and more in the country because of the times we’re living in,” Eberhardt said. “We’re doing this for the safety and security of the staff and the inmates.”

As acallidryas says in her post (linked above), this is a serious overreaction. There’s no indication that the white powder was a biohazard and the jail has already strengthened its mail-checking procedures. For many people, the letters from home and the pictures contained in them are the most frequent and strongest connection to home. Nevermind that many incarcerated men and women participate in correspondence courses (how’s THAT going work?).

Beyond being just plain silly, the program helps ensure that recidivism rates will remain high. How? Well, it’s commonly accepted that people who return home to a family or other community support are less likely to reoffend. The harder it becomes for people to stay in meaningful touch with those family members, the harder it will be for them to reconnect with family upon community re-entry.

The Second Chance Act (signed into law last week) is a great step. But what happens between that first chance and the second one matters a whole lot too.

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The Dream Life of Glenn Reynolds

[ 15 ] April 15, 2008 |

It involves robots and, one suspects, a mop.

A song in honor of the perfesser’s misfit love.

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Carrier Blogging

[ 28 ] April 15, 2008 |

A couple of aircraft carrier related links for your afternoon…

  • Via Danger Room, Martin Sieff has a new series at UPI on the vulnerability of carriers to submarine attack. Galrahn has a very useful critique here, pointing out in particular that the ASW component of the typical carrier battle group has shrunk in the past fifteen years. I’d add that several of Sieff’s historical assertions are plainly wrong; there were only 24 Essex class carriers, not “over 40″, and only 17 were commissioned prior to the end of the war. Also, interwar naval theorists and tacticians thought a lot about the threat that aircraft and submarines could pose to capital ships. Like Sieff, I wonder about the vulnerability of the modern supercarrier to attack, a subject which was discussed in this thread. No one has ever tried to sink a 90000 ton warship with a conventional torpedo before; I suspect that it would be rather a difficult task, even if a Chinese submarine got the drop on a US carrier.
  • An LGM correspondent forwards this, in which a Russian admiral again declares that the Russian Navy is planning to build five or six new carriers, and divide them between the Northern and the Pacific fleets. The target date? 2050, which is still probably a bit optimistic, given Russia’s history with carrier aviation.
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Subjective Intent Isn’t the Issue

[ 0 ] April 15, 2008 |

One thing to say about this thread, which has won a coveted Belle Waring Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence in Trolldom, is that given the inevitable displays of racism we’re going to see as Obama runs for president we’re going to be seeing a lot more of one of the central arguments there. That is, the “you can’t say that anything is racist, including an experienced border state politician calling an adult African-American man “boy,” without unequivocal evidence of that person’s intent” argument. The beauty of this standard — which his trolls also used to defend George Allen — is that you can never prove racism because the knowledge in question is unknowable. How can you know to an absolute certainty what’s in David Duke’s mind? You can’t.

It’s essentially irrelevant anyway. It’s fair to use people’s statements to make inferences about intent in most cases, but more importantly the intent doesn’t matter; the comment is racist whatever was in Davis’s mind. Just as George Wallace’s ringing defenses of apartheid were racist even if they were in considerable measure just political posturing. When it comes to public rhetoric, it’s public meanings not private intent that matters.

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[ 23 ] April 14, 2008 |

Fans of the corporate pranksters known as The Yes Men will recall their straight-faced proposal to students at SUNY-Plattsburgh that McDonald’s recycle human shit and feed it to consumers in the developing world.

Today, via aimai, we read of this:

Scientists using federal grants spread fertilizer made from human and industrial wastes on yards in poor, black neighborhoods to test whether it might protect children from lead poisoning in the soil. Families were assured the sludge was safe and were never told about any potential risks.

Nine low-income families in Baltimore row houses agreed to let researchers till the sewage sludge into their yards and plant new grass. In exchange, they were given food coupons as well as the free lawns as part of a study published in 2005 and funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

. . . There is no evidence there was any medical follow-up.

Comparable research was conducted by the Agriculture Department and Environmental Protection Agency in a similarly poor, black neighborhood in East St. Louis, Ill. Residents there also were not told of the potential risks.

Of course, no one seems to know what the potential risks might actually be, since — surprisingly or unsurprisingly, depending on your point of view — there are few data on the health effects of sludge exposure and consumption in children.

Perhaps the data gap could be filled it HUD would simply pay someone to mix the sludge with the kids’ oatmeal.

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What Real Informed Consent Would Look Like

[ 0 ] April 14, 2008 |

We all know that so-called “informed consent” abortion laws are totally BS, since the laws are not ensuring informed consent so much as endorsing government coercion of doctors, care providers, and pregnant women.

Which is why I was so happy to see Ema at the Well Timed Period take on what a real informed consent bill would look like — particularly on the heels of new statistics about the prevalence of post-partum depression. Bottom line: it wouldn’t look anything like the laws we see now.


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Red-Baiting, Live From 43rd Street!

[ 10 ] April 14, 2008 |

When did Bob Owens get a gig with the NYT op-ed page? Nobody tells me anything anymore.

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"I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says…"

[ 0 ] April 14, 2008 |

Poor Fredo.

In related news, see Gene Healy on John Yoo and the Neoconstitution.

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Jack Sparrow Meets Joan of Arc

[ 10 ] April 14, 2008 |

Since the US-engineered fall of the Islamic Courts Union, piracy off the coast of Somalia has increased dramatically. Pirates like this area for a couple of reasons. First, because pirates need friendly bases from which to operate, they tend to do well in failed states. No one in Somalia right now is interested in preventing pirates from plying their trade. Second, pirates thrive when the density of local naval force is low. Piracy was really big in the Straits of Malacca four or five years ago, but naval expansion on the part of Malaysia and Indonesia, combined with facilitation efforts on the part of United States Pacific Command, helped to make the environment much less congenial to the profession. This is also why we almost never see piracy in the Persian Gulf. Several countries make regular anti-pirate patrols off of Somalia, but the density of force doesn’t approach that in the Straits, and probably won’t for a long while.

In any case, about a week ago a group of Somali pirates seized a big (almost 300′) French yacht that was on its way back to Europe. The French tracked the yacht, made contact, and paid the $2 million ransom that the pirates were demanding. They also brought up the Jeanne D’ Arc, a helicopter carrying cruiser. Shortly after the ransom was paid and the hostages freed, French commandos in helicopters landed and seized the pirates. Unfortunately, some locals may have died, although the French deny this.

France launched the raid in order to demonstrate that piracy doesn’t pay, although of course piracy does pay, and will continue to pay for as long as the basic local conditions allow it to thrive. Expect more incidents like this in the future.

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Bitter Gaffe

[ 29 ] April 14, 2008 |

I don’t have an enormous amount to add about Obama’s comment. Evidently, on the merits the controversy is stupid; as Roy says, the comments were a takeoff for politics-of-resentment silliness “in the precise manner Obama described.” And, yes, I wish that Clinton wasn’t discussing it using Page 1 of the Republican playbook, but that’s just another way of saying that I wish Obama had already knocked her out of the race. As long as she’s in, not using it would be to fail Campaigning 101, especially given her base in Pennsylvania.

It does, however. remind me to link to this fine recent piece by Eric Alterman about the ridiculous use of the epithet “elitist” by conservatives:

John Podhoretz, the son of neoconservatism’s second couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who attended elite private schools and the University of Chicago before his father’s connections helped him secure jobs in the media empires of Sun Myung Moon and Rupert Murdoch, also professes to see America through rose-hued glasses. “Bush Red is a simpler place,” he explains, on the basis of a visit to Las Vegas. It’s a land “where people mourn the death of NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, root lustily for their teams, go to church, and find comfort in old-fashioned verities.” His comrade in anti-intellectual arms, former CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg, who has spent a career working within what conservatives would call the “liberal media elite” and who wrote a book comparing his former friend Dan Rather to a “prison bitch,” has sworn off all association with liberals even when he agrees with them, he says, “because of their elitism. They look down their snobby noses at ordinary Americans who eat at Red Lobster or because they like to bowl or they go to church on a regular basis or because they fly the flag on the Fourth of July.”

In red-state America, explains the slumming blue stater David Brooks, “the self is small”; whereas in blue-state America, “the self is more commonly large.” Unlike the citizens of the states that voted for Al Gore, according to Andrew Sullivan, they can even be trusted not to betray their country on behalf of Islamic terrorists. Yet while unelite America is wonderful in every way, it’s just not a place where Laura Ingraham or Rush Limbaugh or Bernard Goldberg or Ann Coulter or John Podhoretz or Newt Gingrich or Peggy Noonan or Andrew Sullivan or David Brooks would ever choose to live.

This isn’t to exculpate Obama for his comments; it was bad politics to frame his perfectly banal point in the precise way that he did. But wealthy urban conservatives and quasi-liberal pundits pretending to be offended on behalf of working-class rural people is a stupid kabuki, as well as considerably more condescending than anything Obama said.

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The Greatest Silence

[ 0 ] April 14, 2008 |

I haven’t had a chance to watch the new HBO documentary about the revolting amount of gang rape in the Congo and its heartbreaking aftermath yet, but Lauren has and gives it her recommendation.

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NY Prisons & Race Event

[ 0 ] April 13, 2008 |

For all you NYC-based LGM-ers, here’s information about a great event coming up this Thursday at NYU (organized by the Wagner School of Public Policy). I won’t be there as bean, sadly, will be in class. But hope some of you will go and report back. Here’s the info:

The American Constitution Society, Wagner Student Criminal Justice Group, Wagner Students of African Descent Alliance, & The Correctional Association of New York:

Prisons, Police, Race and The War on Drugs

Join leading academics, activists, political figures and lawyers in a discussion on a critical, oft-neglected, public policy issue of the day: how police, prosecutorial and prison related practices lead to the dramatically disproportionate confinement of poor people of color.

Date: Thursday, April 17
Time: 6:30-8pm
Location: Rudin Family Forum for Civic Dialogue, Puck Building (295 Lafayette St., 2nd Fl.)

- JEFFRION L. AUBRY, Assemblymember and Chair of the Assembly Committee on Correction.
- KAMAU KARL FRANKLIN, Racial Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-chair of the National Conference of Black Lawyers.
- ROBERT GANGI, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York.
- DENNIS SMITH, Associate Professor of Public Policy at NYU Wagner.

MARY PORTER, Lecturer in Public Administration, Assistant Dean at NYU Wagner and former prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

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