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Rhythmic Admirer of the Month

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Melinda Henneberger. Her accomplishment should not be understated; within op-ed pages that regularly publish Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd, and that gave a month-long guest slot to the Simpsons’ crazy cat lady, I would be shocked if this isn’t the worst thing the Times publishes this year.

See Bean, if you haven’t already. Then Paul and Ezra. And then Digby Tristero and Barbara. (She’s the political editor of the Huffington Post? Jeebus.) And the thing is so bad I’m sure there’s something we all missed.

Friday Cat Blogging/Counterproductive Fisticuffs Blogging

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Dr. Zaius. I took care of The Doctor — one of my best friends’ cats — for about a year while dedicating my life to a project otherwise known as Not Writing the Goddamned Dissertation. Dr. Zaius, at the time, weighed in at around 18 pounds of glorious feline flesh, and I spent the better part of the next year gradually working him down (through a combination of reduced diet, increased exercise, and subtle, persistent ridicule) to a much healthier 15 pounds. MeMe Roth would have approved, and I must say I’m as proud of that accomplishment as I am to have received the Ph.D. 17 months after Dr. Zaius moved out.

In any case, I had the good fortune to hang with Dr. Z and relive the good old days while I was in Chicago last weekend. I also got the chance to see the second near-no-hitter of my life (the first being a Danny Darwin one-hitter at Fenway in 1993), and the first bench-clearing brawl in 20 years of attending major league baseball games.

For the record, the last fight I tried to instigate — sometime in early 1983 — looked pretty much like this one (e.g., two empty punches and a swarm of idiots.) I did intentionally plunk an opposing hitter in the summer of 2000, but that was during a slow-pitch softball game, and the provocation didn’t work out quite as I had hoped.


[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Depressingly, the “because having a bare majority in one house of Congress was not enough to entirely strip the executive branch of its powers, the Democrats are equally responsible” routine being trotted out by Nader-exculpating voters here. I guess we need to return to Jon Chait on this:

Before the election, a New York Times editorial rebutted Nader’s Tweedledee-and-Tweedledum analysis by citing the two candidates’ starkly different approaches to using the budget surplus — with Bush favoring a massive tax cut for the rich and Gore preferring other governing priorities. In his memoir, incredibly, Nader throws this back in the Times editors’ faces. “So what happens in June 2001, with the Democrats taking over the Senate?” he asks. “The Democrats call a $1.3 trillion Bush tax cut a victory for their side, as indeed numerous Democrats voted with the Republicans.” While repellent, the collaboration of a minority of Democrats with the Bush tax cut hardly vindicates Nader; quite the opposite. The tax cut fiasco, like Supreme Court nominations, demonstrates the difficulty of stopping a president’s agenda from moving through the legislative branch. But it was Nader who argued (at least implicitly) that controlling Congress mattered more than controlling the White House. He claimed all along that his candidacy would help the Democrats win Congress; indeed, he asserted that the extra turnout he spurred gave Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) her winning margin and that this would offset any advantage Republicans gained by controlling the presidency. The tax cut showed that Nader was wrong and that the Times was right: What really matters in setting governing priorities is which party has the White House. Nothing resembling the Bush tax cut could have passed with Al Gore in the Oval Office.

To listen to Nader explain himself on these questions, then, is to stumble into a funhouse world of illogic and trickery. His systematic dissembling was necessary to hide something he could not, for political reasons, admit: Helping elect George W. Bush was not an unintended consequence but the primary goal of his presidential campaign.

Then there’s the claim that the possibility of Clinton running means that the Dems are just as bad because she’s just responsible. Now, I won’t be supporting Clinton in the primaries, and please criticize her awful vote on the war as heartily as you like. But as for apportioning responsibility, I think this is pretty straightforward:

  • If Clinton votes against the war, we would have had the Iraq war.
  • If Nader doesn’t run in 2000, no war.

This is pretty straightforward–their relative responsibilities are not remotely comparable.

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Bartleby

Why It’s A Mistake to Pin the Dems’ Problems on Abortion

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

I tried to go into today’s NY Times op-ed column “Why Pro-Choice is a Bad Choice for Democrats” with an open mind. I really did. But it’s going to take a better column than this one to convince me that Democrats should soften their stance on abortion rights (more than they already have).

Here’s why: the points that the author, Melinda Henneberger, makes in the article are riddled with holes.

For example, Henneberger states that one of the reasons Democrats lost so-called security moms in 2004 was the party’s rigidity on abortion:

Again and again, these voters said Democrats are too unwilling to tolerate dissent on abortion. It is a point of orthodoxy no more open to debate within the party than the ordination of women is in Rome.

That might have been true in 2004 — maybe (I concede nothing). But it’s not now. The Democrats have shown that they are willing to tolerate dissent — look at the candidacies of Bob Casey Jr. and Heath Shuler. Henneberger is right that Dems were slow to broaden the tent when it comes to abortion rights, but it seems as if they have been recently. To pin Democrats’ chances in 2008 on this is a false excuse.

Henneberger also hitches her wagon to the star of Gonzales v. Carhart. She calls the Democratic candidates’ condemnation of the decision as wrongheaded and contrary to public opinion.

Today, in a similarly oblivious way, the leading Democratic presidential contenders are condemning the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold a ban on the procedure known as partial-birth abortion. An overwhelming majority of Americans, polls show, support a ban. Legal scholars have underscored the narrowness of the ruling in the partial-birth case, Gonzales v. Carhart, which does not even outlaw all late-term abortions. Yet the leading Democratic candidates, all of whom are lawyers, choose to overstate its impact.

To me, the phrasing here seems either disingenuous or honestly confused. Either way, it’s utterly without nuance. Yes, the Dem candidates — lawyers all — are making a big deal out of the case. It is a big deal. Because despite what may appear to be a narrow ruling, the case will have a huge ripple effect. The case essentially declared that a health exception is unnecessary and that the federal government can stick its head not only into the doctor’s office but between a woman’s legs. And what’s more, women — regardless of their stance on abortion rights — should be appalled by the sexist language in the Carhart decision.

The Democrats had a lot of problems in 2004. Perhaps the party’s somewhat staunch support of abortion rights was one of them. But it wasn’t the only one. And given the softening in 2006, that’s not an excuse anymore. I’m also not convinced that being the party that supports reproductive justice is a bad thing. The democrats just need to focus on reframing not retreating. They need to start talking about real reproductive justice: about child care, health care, paid parental leave, and, yes, about abortion access and medicaid coverage and real sex-ed. The problem is not abortion. But abortion is everyone’s favorite scapegoat. Including, it seems, Melinda Henneberger’s.

Brian Fuentes Will Have His Revenge on Seattle

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Ah, yes, nice to see the Rockies accomplish what the BoSox couldn’t. Even a bug turned into a feature, as the fact that TV audio wasn’t working at the gym meant that I got to hear Sterling go ballistic about St. Derek of Pastadiving’s baserunning blunder for two innings. Sweet! (I guess it would have been even funnier if it was a Fox broadcast and McCarver explained that Jeter had no choice but to light out for third on a grounder to short with one out because the moons of Neptune were in his eyes, but that option wasn’t on the table.)

Meanwhile, watching Brian Fuentes reminds me that while Peter Bavasi’s reputation as a gold-plated numbnuts is fully justified, Pat Gillick didn’t exactly depart in a blaze of glory in his own right…

Um, What?

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Shorter Dick Cheney: I belong to the branch of government that, being not something that can be created by any “Constitution,” is beyond any standard of law or morality.

…a valuable civics lesson!

The Man Who Gave Us Iraq and Alito Mounts His High Horse

[ 0 ] June 21, 2007 |

Saint Ralph:

Ralph Nader says he is seriously considering running for president in 2008 because he foresees another Tweedledum-Tweedledee election that offers little real choice to voters.

And the problem is, given his asceticism he’ll never sidle up to the bar, flag the bartender, and order the double shut the fuck up on the rocks that he needs to drink until they’re picking him off the floor.

Letting The Misogynist Cat Out of The Bag

[ 0 ] June 21, 2007 |

I have a post over at TAPPED noting that Kennedy’s opinion in Carhart II was a “gaffe” in the Kinsley sense of telling the truth. And in this case, the truth was particularly inconvenient for the anti-Roe pro-choice position. What I had in mind in particular was this claim in Rosen’s mock opinion in What Roe v. Wade Should Have Said:

The only evidence we have of the purpose of the legislators who passed the abortion laws (as opposed to the doctors who lobbied for them) is their text, and that text clearly suggests that the primary purpose of the laws was to protect fetal life…We must, I think, take them at face value; and search for hidden purposes to enforce stereotypes would be empirically fraught and hard to sustain.

I agree that it’s the text, as opposed to the subjective intention of legislators, that is most important, but (as Balkin’s mock opinion demonstrated in detail) the assertion that it’s clear from the text that the sole purpose of these laws is to protect fetal life is exceptionally unconvincing. The case of “partial-birth” abortion bans make this especially clear. It’s hardly necessary to search for “hidden motives” when the anti-choice lobby enthusiastically supports legislation that can injure women but doesn’t significantly protect fetal life even in theory. If Kennedy had been strategically savvy enough to not mention this it wouldn’t have changed this fact, and the only good thing to come from Carhart II is that is makes the extent to which debates about abortion are debates about 19th and 21st century conceptions of women very clear.

Hear No Evil, Know No Evil

[ 0 ] June 21, 2007 |

I saw “Inherit the Wind” last night. There’s a scene during the trial in which the judge bans virtually all of the defense’s witnesses on the grounds that they — scientists and experts on evolution — are irrelevant.

I couldn’t help but think of that scene reading Dahlia Lithwick’s most recent article today. Lithwick reports on a Nebraska state judge who is presiding over a rape trial and who granted a defense motion to bar the attorneys from saying the words “rape,” “rape kit,” “victim,” “sexual assault,” or “sexual assault kit.” The prosecution responded by seeking to have the words “sex” and “intercourse” banned, as those words seem to suggest consent in the same way as the use of the word “victim” connotes lack of consent. The judge denied the prosecution’s motion, noting that without those words, there’d be nothing left to describe the alleged rape. And the jury has been kept in the dark the whole time – they don’t know that the attorneys have been prohibited from using these words.

The woman pressing charges, of course, hasn’t taken kindly to this. But Nebraska state law gives the judge broad discretion:

Bowen [the alleged victim] testified for 13 hours at Safi’s first trial last October [now headed for a retrial after a hung jury], all without using the words rape or sexual assault. She claims, not unreasonably, that describing what happened to her as sex is almost an assault in itself. “This makes women sick, especially the women who have gone through this,” Bowen told the Omaha World-Herald. “They know the difference between sex and rape.”

Nebraska law offers judges broad discretion to ban evidence or language that present the danger of “unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury.” And it’s not unheard-of for judges to keep certain words out of a courtroom. Words like victim have been increasingly kept out of trials, since they tend to imply that a crime was committed. And as Safi’s lawyer, Clarence Mock, explains, the word rape is just as loaded. “It’s a legal conclusion for a witness to say, ‘I was raped’ or ‘sexually assaulted.’ … That’s for a jury to decide.” His concern is that the word rape so inflames jurors that they decide a case emotionally and not rationally.

So both sides are left with the word “sex” to describe what happened. Which is strange in itself. What’s even stranger, as Lithwick points out, is that this phenomenon of banning loaded words seems to be confined to rape trials. No one is banning the use of the words “assault” or “gun” from other criminal trials. Lithwick’s not pleased:

You needn’t be a radical legal feminist to cringe at the idea of judges ordering rape complainants to obliterate from their testimony any language that signifies an assault. At worst, that judge is ordering her to lie. At best, he is asking her to play at being a human thesaurus: thinking up coded ways to describe to the jury what she believes to have happened. If Mock, Safi’s attorney, is correct in stating that “trials are competing narratives of what happened,” why should one side have a lock on the narrative language used? Can it really be that the cure for the problem of ambiguous courtroom language is to permit less of it?

I’m fascinated by this issue. I can understand a defense attorney’s desire to do whatever she can to ensure a fair trial for her client (including not referring to the alleged victim as a victim). But I also see how this is frustrating for crime victims and maybe (at least at this extreme) even for the search for truth — supposedly the underlying motive of a trial. The issue is particularly complicated in rape trials, which have become increasingly fraught as high profile charges rise. Still, it seems that taking the issue to the absurd, which this case is teetering on the edge of, does nothing but confuse the jury and challenge the attorneys to figure out how many different ways they can say “sex,” using only that one word.


[ 0 ] June 21, 2007 |

Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee, who has been a good source of material for quite some time in these here parts, is looking for work.

I assume he’s going to keep his part-time job at the gun counter — but aside from that, who knows what sort of madcap adventures Bob Ownes might get himself into, now that he’s soon to be free from the estrangement of labor and all its associated drudgeries?

Where will he go? What will he do?

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.

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