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Thursday Cat Bombing

[ 0 ] June 21, 2007 |

This has got to be a joke.

The most creative way to use a cat as a weapon happened in World War II. The United States’ OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA) needed a way to guide bombs to sink German ships. Somebody hit upon the inspiration that since cats have such a strong disdain of getting wet and always land on their feet that if you attached a cat to a bomb and drop it in the vicinity of a ship, the cat’s instinct to avoid the water would force it to guide the bomb to the enemy’s deck. It is unclear how the cat was supposed to actually guide a bomb attached to it as it fell from the sky but the plan never got past the testing stages since the cats had a bad habit of becoming unconscious mid-drop.

Via Danger Room. The kitten pictured above is from WWI, and was presumably not dropped on a German ship. Also at BBC.

The Fashionable Academic-Intellectual Left

[ 0 ] June 21, 2007 |

I’m no Rushdie scholar, so I don’t know if the “fashionable academic-intellectual left” really does hate Salman Rushdie. It would have been nice, however, if Geoffrey Wheatcroft had cited a single specimen from that class in his article about people who don’t like Rushdie, rather than simply asserting that “this man can unite Muslims, conservative nationalists, and the fashionable academic-intellectual left in hatred of him,” then providing examples only of the first two. Wheatcroft might also have benefitted his readers by drawing a helpful distinction between those who actually hate Rushdie and those who just think that his recent novels kind of suck.

Right on Target, So Direct

[ 0 ] June 21, 2007 |

Holbo on the range of acceptable debate among the Bealtway elite and its implications for assertions about whether parties have “new ideas” and “vigorous debates”:

Let’s take it from the top: if the Republicans have got a guy who wants to spend money building a wall against Canada, that’s intellectual vibrancy. If the Democrats get someone who wants to expand health insurance or combat global warming, that’s a canary dying in the coalmine of the Democratic party’s political extremism?

It’s a nice illustration of a dilemma for Democrats. The only way they can get credit for ‘having ideas’ is by turning Republican – not because the Republicans have ideas, but because the range of media-acceptable impulses you can exhibit runs the gamut from the far right to the right-leaning left.

Right. And to be clear, having vigorous debate within your party about whether torture and arbitrary executive power are good things is really not a selling point.

Make It Stop.

[ 0 ] June 21, 2007 |

Amazingly, the appalling Scottsboro Boys/Duke analogy has reared its ugly head again in the pages of the nation’s most prestigious clearinghouse for irrational wingnuttery, with (natch) a hearty heh-indeed from the blogosphere’s ditto. Let us summarize some of the key reasons why this analogy is grossly inappropriate:

  • The unjustly accused young men in the Scottsboro case were effectively denied legal counsel, provided at the last minute with a single lawyer unfamiliar with Alabama criminal procedure and who had every incentive not to put on more than a token defense. The unjustly accused young men in the Duke case were able to afford good lawyers.
  • Most of the first group were sentenced to death after what was essentially a formalized lynching. The second group were released before trial.
  • Even after their first convictions were overturned, most of the Scottsboro boys were given more show trials, and served between 5-20 years in prison. I think you can see the difference here.

There is, in short, absolutely no basis for comparison here. The injustices involved in these two cases are different not merely in degree but in kind. Some members of the Duke faculty behaved irresponsibly (in the kind of way that in America doesn’t necessarily stop you from getting your own cable news show), but not only does Gordon have no substantiation for his claim that the rush to judgment was “racist,” but rather more importantly they don’t have the power to sentence people to death. And as Blue Texan notes, what’s especially odious is the implication that privileged white men at Duke are in a situation in any way analogous to blacks in the apartheid south, an exceptionally offensive implication even by the standards of the Politics of Resentment.

The Goggles! The Earplugs! They Do Nothing!

[ 0 ] June 20, 2007 |

Ye gods. I guess this is the “nuclear option” in all future YouTube wars…by the way, who is the other singer in the video?

…Apparently this was widely linked a while ago. But clearly it’s more relevant than ever!

The Guardians of Our Liberty!

[ 0 ] June 20, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

To those who demand competent acting, I say “Vaffanculo!”

I, for one, am happy that an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court is taking jurisprudential lessons from sixth-rate torture porn. What’s doubly scary is that he at least seems to favor jury nullification in torture cases rather than simply ceding unlimited arbitrary power to the executive, which I believe puts him well to the left of the current Republican Party…

Today Show Headscratch Moment of the Day

[ 0 ] June 20, 2007 |

At the gym this morning, I glanced up at the TV screen to see this question scrawled out across the screen below Matt Lauer’s talking head:

“Are the Democrats too Liberal?”

To which I can safely answer, no. Unless you think that Bush et al. are just liberal enough, that is.

The Fabled Goodridge Backlash

[ 0 ] June 20, 2007 |

I have an article up at TAP about the recent rejection of an anti-gay constitutional amendment in Massachusetts and its implications for claims that using litigation is a counterproductive strategy. I also discuss the extent to which normative attacks on Goodridge rarely come from any kind of coherent democratic theory. At times like this, it’s especially useful to strip away too-clever-by-well-more-than-half “contrarian” arguments and explain what’s actually happening:

Despite the attempts of contrarian pundits to muddy the waters, what happened in Massachusetts is simple, and a straightforward win for equality and justice. Under American constitutionalism, for better or worse, the judiciary scrutinizes legislative enactments to ensure their compliance with state and/or federal constitutions. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reached a decision that did not contradict the text or purpose of the relevant provisions of the state constitution, and as far as I know nobody has argued that the decision was inconsistent with principles previously expressed by the Court’s majority. While contestable, in other words, the court’s holding was hardly an illegitimate “usurpation” of democratic prerogatives. Since the court’s decision, same-sex marriage rights have grown more popular in the state, and supporters of equality have fared better at the ballot box than opponents. Less than five years later, opponents of same-sex marriage were unable to scrounge up even the bare 25 percent of the vote necessary to permit a vote on an amendment to go forward, and polls suggested that the referendum would lose in any case.

And while you’re there, check out Kay Steiger’s article about strategies for overriding Ledbetter.

Bloomberg and Libertarianism

[ 0 ] June 20, 2007 |

Matt notes that libertarians may be irrationally unsympathetic to Michael Bloomberg because of his support for relatively trivial nanny state regulations like public smoking and trans fat bans. (As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that public smoking bans have a serious non nanny-state, if not quite libertarian, justification: even I’m libertarian enough to oppose smoking bans to protect the health of smokers or patrons, but they’re defensible insofar as they protect the health of workers.) However, there is a serious reason libertarians should be skeptical of Bloomberg: the appalling string of arbitrary detentions with no serious justification during the 2004 GOP convention. With Giuliani (in my view) effectively out of the race, it’s conceivable that Bloomberg’s stance on crucial issue of lawful constraints on executive power could be worse than even the GOP nominee.

Revenge of NYC

[ 0 ] June 20, 2007 |

Davida asks:

If it’s Bloomberg vs. Giuliani vs. Clinton in the general election, does Clinton become the candidate of the other 49 states?

The Offensive

[ 0 ] June 20, 2007 |

I’m as skeptical of the latest offensive effort as of just about all the other offensives that US forces have launched in Iraq, and I’m wondering whether the planning and execution of this operation reveals some frustration in the Army with the Surge. The very first thing that a counter-insurgency expert will tell you is that sweeps don’t work; the insurgents always manage to escape, and there’s no way to cover all of the exits:

Taking the fight to insurgents from Al Qaeda did not so much destroy them in Anbar Province as dislodge them, prompting the fighters to build up their strength elsewhere, including Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province.

So the planners of this latest operation are attempting to plug the holes that have allowed the insurgents to escape in the past. The goal is not merely to reclaim western Baquba from insurgent control, but to capture or kill the estimated 300 fighters to 500 fighters who are believed to be based in that part of the city.

Now, maybe this offensive will achieve what no other counter-insurgency offensive has achieved (barring perhaps some minor local successes), and actually trap the 500 or so fighters that look like everyone else amid a civilian population that hasn’t fled. If history is any guide, however, they won’t; they’ll catch and kill some, many more will escape, plenty of civilians will either be killed or have their houses destroyed, and little of any significance will be accomplished.

Part of the point of the Surge was to allow the possibility for traditional counter-insurgency operations, in which insurgents were forced to launch their own offensives against American forces, and consequently be destroyed. This was, given the trivial size of the Surge compared to what Petraeus own counter-insurgency manual demanded, a forlorn hope. That the US has apparently returned to pointless and destructive sweep operations may be a recognition of that within the command structure. These operations are emotionally satisfying, but by and large have never worked, and almost inevitably cause more damage than they prevent.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

The Problem with Prosecutorial Discretion

[ 0 ] June 20, 2007 |

Genarlow Wilson, a promising high school sports star who was also a whiz in the classroom, was sentenced to ten years for having consensual oral sex with a fifteen year old girl (he was the recipient, for inquiring minds). When he was seventeen. He had no criminal record. He was by most accounts a good kid.* He was arrested on the day he was to sit for the SATs. And yet, ten years. Sounds crazy, huh?

Well, it is. The Georgia jury that convicted Wilson had no choice (other than jury nullification) — the archaic law under which Mr. Wilson was convicted made no so-called “Romeo and Juliet Exemption,” recognizing that consensual sex between teens who are close in age is not a crime. The state’s Romeo and Juliet law exempted actual intercourse but not oral sex. Go figure. The woman who he supposedly “molested” did not want him prosecuted. The community opposed the prosecution. Yet it continued. As the New York Times wrote in a December 2006 editorial called “Free Genarlow Wilson Now”:

On June 11, a Georgia judge finally voided Wilson’s sentence and sentenced him to time served. But the state Attorney General, a seeming wingnut named Thurbert Baker, has announced that his office will appeal this new development and will try to keep Mr. Wilson incarcerated for the full ten years of his sentence (he has already served over 2 years). Wilson will likely remain in jail while the appeal is pending. Baker claims that he has no choice. But a simple comparison of two cases shows that that’s not at all true:

The sexual act took place during a party involving sex, marijuana and alcohol, all captured on a graphic videotape. But that does not make Mr. Wilson a child molester. When high school students engage in consensual sexual activity, that is not the same as an adult molesting a teenager or a teenager molesting a child.

What makes this case more absurd is that if Mr. Wilson and the young woman had sexual intercourse, he would have been guilty only of a misdemeanor and not required to register as a sex offender, thanks to a provision in the law meant to avoid just this type of draconian punishment for consensual youthful indiscretions, the “Romeo and Juliet” exception. And since Mr. Wilson’s conviction, the law has been changed to exempt oral sex as well. But the courts say that can’t help Mr. Wilson retroactively.

At the same time Wilson was being tried, Kari McCarley, a white 27-year-old teacher, was being tried in the same courthouse for having sex with a 17-year-old student. She got 90 days in jail and 3 years of probation. While Wilson’s prosecutor, David McDade, has claimed that he was “standing up for African-American victims in this case,” he hardly seems credible, since the “victim” did not want to press charges and did not even testify for the prosecution.

Therein lies the problem with prosecutorial discretion. They have a lot of it when they want it and none of it when they don’t. And it just so happens that the discretion seems to disappear when the suspect is poor, black, an immigrant, and increasingly, a woman.

It should be noted that Ampersand has a post up about an alleged second sexual assault at the same party. I don’t know anything about this and haven’t read about it elsewhere. I also don’t think that it complicates the matters in this specific case at all — even if Wilson was involved in that other alleged rape, he didn’t “sexually molest” this fifteen-year-old young woman. Anyway, in the interest of full disclosure and so not to have someone fling this at me in comments, I’m flagging it here.

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