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Community Theater of the Absurd

[ 5 ] March 30, 2008 |

The national dialogue on race continues inside Mister Leonard Pierce’s head.

One of these days, someone — more specifically, someone who is not me — should compile a list of the memorable short plays written by this generation’s finest bloggers. I don’t think conservatives do this sort of thing, because both science and common sense inform us that your average conservative blogger is a boorish jackass who cares that David Mamet is an inept political thinker but who wouldn’t actually go see a showing of American Buffalo. Consequently, they have no use for the Brechtian alienation that accompanies a reading of, say, “Playing Poker with Dick Cheney.”

Any such list, I think, would also have to include the various works of Matt Duss. Beyond that, I’m drawing a blank, which is why I shouldn’t be the one to compile the list.

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Braganza

[ 0 ] March 30, 2008 |

This is a guest post courtesy of Mr. Trend of Alterdestiny.

Brazil’s House of Bragança (also spelled Braganza), which ruled Brazil from 1822 to 1889, was a unique experience in Latin America, as it was the only (non-indigenous) monarchy in the Americas. Formed when Dom Pedro I of Portugal declared independence and the establishment of the Brazilian empire in 1822, it had only two emperors in its 77 years – Pedro I and Pedro II, who was ultimately overthrown by the military in 1889, when the Brazilian republic was finally declared.

The Brazilian House of Bragança is a direct offshoot of the Portuguese house of the same name. The Portuguese Braganças had inherited the throne in 1640, when João II, the Duke of Bragança, successfully led the rebellion against Spain’s control of Portugal (the two crowns had been united under Philip II of Spain in 1580 when the line of succession became muddy), re-establishing the Portuguese monarchy with now-king João IV at its head. The Braganças remained in Portugal until 1808, when Napoleon’s armies invaded the Iberian peninsula. The Bragança court picked up and relocated to Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, declaring the American colony the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarve (thereby becoming the first European monarchy to rule its empire from a colony).

The Braganças liked Brazil enough that they remained there well after Napoleon had been defeated; only in 1821, with the Portuguese nobles’ threats of rebellion did João VI return to Portugal from Brazil. Upon his return, he demoted Brazil back to a colony, leaving his son Pedro I as regent in Brazil. However, after 13 years of serving as a political center, Brazilian elites and politicians did not want to return to being a colony, and when Pedro was ordered to return to Portugal, he refused. After several incidences between Brazilians and Portuguese troops in Recife and Bahia (involving bloodshed and guerilla warfare), and on September 7, 1822, after gaining the support of the states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo, Pedro I formally broke with Portugal, creating the Empire of Brazil. (It’s most likely he did so after being pressured by Brazilians interested in breaking with Portugal, though some biographers insist he did it of his own free will and his love of freedom – either way, the thought of being emperor of Brazil instead of waiting for his dad to die and Pedro’s ascension to the Portuguese thrown must have seemed like a pretty sweet deal to Pedro I).

Pedro I’s honeymoon with his new empire was short-lived. By 1824, he had already closed the Constituent Assembly when the latter drafted a constitution that would limit Pedro I’s powers, making him an equal to the judicial and legislative branches in the way the President of the United States was. With the Assembly dissolved, Pedro established indirect elections and gave himself “moderating powers” over all elections and the right to appoint “senators for life.” Pedro I also made few friends in his effort to abolish slavery. Brazil’s economy, based on coffee and sugar, had become extremely dependent upon slave-labor, and the slavocracy had enough control in the government to prevent any real efforts at abolition. Tensions between Pedro I and Brazilian elites and nativists grew, and when the military and the people turned against him after he dismissed his cabinet in 1831, Pedro I abdicated and returned to Portugal, leaving the throne to his 5-year-old son, Pedro II.

During the 9-year regency of Pedro II, Brazil’s political landscape changed, as the different regions of the country gained more control as the government in Rio de Janeiro decentralized its authority. A number of small revolts broke out sporadically throughout the country over a number of issuese, including secession, slavery, and even the restoration of the monarchy in place of the regency. With this turmoil, elites who hungered for a stonger nation-state, supported Pedro II’s ascension as emperor in 1840, when he was still only 14 years old.

Pedro II would govern Brazil for another 49 years. In this time, he strongly re-centralized his authority, using the 1824 Constitution to act as a “moderating power,” continuing to dismiss the legislature, declare new elections, and appoint senators. On the slave issue, Pedro II was predictably slow to act. Brazil only ended the slave trade in 1850, when the United Kingdom exerted pressure (including authorizing British ships to seize slave ships heading for Brazil), yet slavery continued to be central to the Brazilian economy, and the internal slave market remained strong, especially as slave-owners in the Northeast’s sugar-based-economy began selling slaves to their counterparts in the growing coffee-economy of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

As time went on, Pedro II’s power gradually diminished, although it wasn’t always obvious at the time. Of particular importance was the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), which saw Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina going to war with Paraguay. Argentina and Uruguay quickly withdrew their troops, leaving Brazil’s unprepared and under-equipped army to face a strong, organized, and much larger Paraguayan army. Both sides villified the other in strong racial terms (Brazil characterizing Paraguay as a bunch of uneducated Guaraní Indians; Paraguay portraying Brazil as a bunch of racially-mixed slaveowners). Brazil eventually won the war, with upwards of 50% of Paraguay’s population dying (much of it from disease). However, the war revealed the Brazilian military’s lack of organization and material, for which they blamed the government. From this point onward, the military in Brazil would be a political actor, and its dissatisfaction with Pedro II only grew in the coming years.

Pedro II’s rule gradually unraveled in the 1870s and 1880s. Brazilian republican sentiment was growing rapidly, stoking anti-monarchical sentiment. The War of the Triple Alliance had left the military brass disenchanted in its perception of the monarchy, and as more and more officers entered politics, they chipped away at the Crown’s power and authority. The Catholic Church also caused problems for Pedro II, whose government entered into conflict with the Church in the wake of the First Vatican Council, where the Church authorities established papal infallibility and the Vatican’s control over the Church worldwide. Pedro II continued to try to exercise his authority over the Church, leading to a crisis between the Church and the State.

The slavery issue was the final nail in the coffin for the Portuguese Crown. Brazil had already been working towards abolition, freeing slaves who served in the military in the War of the Triple Alliance. In 1871, the state established the freedom of any child born to a slave woman, and in 1885, it freed all slaves who were 60 years old or older. Attitudes throughout society had been gradually shifting in favor of abolition, even among landowning elites and planters, who had begun using immigrant labor to replace slave-labor. Slaves were freely abandoning plantations, and in 1888, Princess Isabel abolished slavery. No longer dependent on the emperor to defend their slave-holding interests, plantation owners supported republicans and the military in demonstrations against Pedro II. On November , 1889, Pedro II was overthrown, bringing to an end Brazil’s House of Bragança.

The heir to the throne, Princess Isabel, returned to Portugal with her mother and father. The line of ascendence passed to her son, Dom Pedro Henrique de Orleans de Bragança. Today, Isabel’s grandson, Dom Luís Gastão Maria José Pio Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orléans e Bragança e Wittelsbach (who turns 70 on June 6 this year) is the heir to Brazil’s throne, having assumed that position upon the death of his father, Dom Pedro Henrique Afonso Filipe Maria Gastão Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orléans e Bragança e Bourbon, in 1981. Born in France, Dom Luís moved to Brazil in 1945, and currently lives in São Paulo. The likelihood of the House of Bragança’s return to Brazil’s throne seems microscopic, particularly given that the current leader, popularly-elected president Luís Inácio “Lula” da Silva, a former metalworker and union leader, is as far from inherited royalty as one can be. The Brazilian people have seemed to cast their stone, and it is not to the House of Bragança’s favor.

Trivia: The last King of what dynasty rose to the throne after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt that killed the reigning King and the Crown Prince?

Cross-posted to Alterdestiny.

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John McCain: The Economically Irresponsible American President that Americans Who Didn’ Think Bush Was Irresponsible Enough Have Been Waiting For

[ 9 ] March 29, 2008 |

Yglesias is right that McCain’s reliance on the advice of Phil Gramm shows that the straight-talking maverick just doesn’t care about economic policy. The fact that Gramm equipped the Glass-Steagall Act with concrete shoes is certainly damning enough; it would be analogous, I think, to asking for Douglas Feith’s advice in scaling the difficult crannies of foreign policy.

Don’t forget, of course, that Gramm was a footsoldier in the Enron Revolution, setting the tables for the catastrophe that really should have spurred a national conversation about bringing back the gallows for corporate felons. Wendy Gramm, while at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, carved out a regulatory exemption for Enron in 1992 before resigning to work for the company until 1998. All the while, Enron continued donating to Gramm’s political campaigns as well as to several hundred other members of Congress. In December 2000, Gramm co-sponsored a recycled deregulatory bill that was inserted into an appropriations bill as a rider; it passed, Clinton signed it, and the the rest is history.

Ordinarily, this is the sort of association that might be disastrous for a presidential campaign, but I’m given to understand that Barack Obama consorts with Angry, Crazed Negroes, so I expect there will be other things for the press to discuss while they’re eating Butterfingers on the Straight Talk Express.

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Casey as Veep

[ 24 ] March 29, 2008 |

Matt is of course right that Bob Casey would be an extremely poor choice to join the Obama ticket. Going with a proponent of criminalizing abortion would be bad on the merits, bad politics, and especially bad considering the need to bring supporters of the Democratic runner-up back into the fold. (I would be especially interested in hearing Scheiber explain how this slap in women’s faces would be good for party unity.) Besides that, Casey is a notably non-dynamic speaker whose name recognition wouldn’t mean much outside of Pennsylvania, and it would also mean vacating a Senate seat the Dems wouldn’t be guaranteed to hold.

Remarkably, after Giuliani’s historic flameout, I don’t recall countless media stories about how the GOP is in deep trouble if they don’t broaden their tent and consider running someone who’s pro-choice. Indeed, let me know if I missed something but as far as I can tell the number of pundits making this argument was “zero,” although people are still whining and moaning about poor Bob Casey not speaking to the Democratic convention in 1992 even though he refused to endorse Clinton 15 years later. And this double standard exists although the Democratic Party actually represents the majority position on reproductive freedom. Why, it’s almost as if these arguments are about indifference and/or hostility to women’s reproductive rights rather than being about politics…

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Innumerate Lancet Criticism

[ 0 ] March 29, 2008 |

It never dies.

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Lawsuit of the Day

[ 22 ] March 29, 2008 |

Funniest lawsuit I’ve heard about in a while:

But Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.” Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

In short: the search for a higgs bozon might swallow the earth. and – oh yeah – they forgot their EIS. Almost the best part? They filed suit in Hawaii. Because CERN is definitely going to show up to court there.

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Friday Cat Blogging

[ 0 ] March 28, 2008 |

Henry, ignoring Elmo’s supplications, chooses the less complicated path of self-love.

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Finally, A New Idea!

[ 0 ] March 28, 2008 |

As the primary season drags on, you might be getting tired of always hearing about the same stuff. Fortunately, someone has a brand new idea: Democrats throwing reproductive freedom under the bus! Kinda!

Winters ­who is the author of a forthcoming book, “Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats,” ­ thinks Clinton could expand her support in the Pennsylvania primary (and in the general election) by distancing herself “from some of the more extreme pro-abortion arguments.” He elaborates:

She could say that the Democrats need to move beyond simply defending Roe and find alternatives to abortion or new ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. She could repeat her husband’s mantra that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” and point to ways that might make it more rare.

If one wants to give this a charitable interpretation, the obvious problem is that Clinton has already done this, which should have taught us for the umpteenth time that when given the choice between preventing unwanted pregnancies (and hence reducing abortions) and regulating female sexuality, American anti-choicers have an extremely strong tendency to choose the latter. I don’t see any evidence for the existence of a free ride where Democrats can pick up lots of anti-abortion voters without changing their substantive positions at all. I also don’t know what “extreme pro-abortion” arguments Clinton and Obama subscribe to, but presumably the problem is that they believe that women other than affluent ones who live in cities should have access to safe abortions instead of believing that some classes of women should be subject to a blizzard of irrational regulations.

In a similar vein, Amy Sullivan goes into her views on the subject at greater length. In addition to the free ride problem, her discussion is centered around an alleged contradiction that isn’t hard to explain. She claims the views of many Americans are incoherent because they have moral qualms about abortion but don’t want it to be illegal. But, of course, there’s not really a contradiction here: many more Americans believe that adultery is immoral than believe that adulterers belong in jail. This is particularly true given the ineffectiveness of and gross inequities inherent in criminalizing abortions, and it remains extremely frustrating that Sullivan and others who share her views generally refuse to discuss this. “I think abortion is immoral,” full stop, isn’t going to expand the pro-choice coalition or convince people to vote for Democrats.

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Just A Reminder

[ 41 ] March 28, 2008 |

To echo thoughts directed at those claiming that they’ll take their balls and go home if the wrong candidate wins the primary, allow me to quote the following from John Paul Stevens’s dissent in Bethel School District v. Fraser:

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

When I was a high school student, the use of those words in a public forum shocked the Nation. Today Clark Gable’s four-letter expletive is less offensive than it was then.

Wait–it’s worse than that. I’m pretty sure that Justice Stevens is misremembering and was in fact a college student at the time. (He got his BA two years after Gone With the Wind was released.) And then note that the possibility of Antonin Scalia becoming the median vote on the Supreme Court isn’t the worst thing that could happen if John “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” McCain were to be elected. Just sayin.’

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Nice Work if You Can Get It

[ 23 ] March 28, 2008 |

During the last summer I was was writing my dissertation, I took a variety of short-term temping jobs to stave off financial ruin. I’d spent previous summers temping (and writing about temping), and I typically found myself with the usual assignments inside a glass office tower, where I’d play Minesweeper and nod off for months at a time. This time, though, I really needed to finish my degree, so I explained to the agency that I was only interested in leaving the apartment twice a week. As a result, the offers I received consisted almost exclusively of single-day assignments or spot work that lasted a few hours at most.

The ad hoc-kery of the system worked well for my writing schedule, but it also satisfied the side of me that wanted to do weird things for money. One morning, for example, I was asked to rush out to the Mall of America and fix defective purse clasps with needle-nose pliers for half a day. The project only took 45 minutes, but I earned four hours’ pay. I still rank that day among my life’s greatest financial accomplishments.

Another job involved making an appearance at a stockbroker’s lunch, where I was paid to pretend to work for a San Diego-based company that was marketing a fantastic new device for heart surgery. An actual representative from that company was on hand to push his overlords’ stock, but my job was to lend the impression that this company was wealthy and caring enough to send a young and talentless man in a suit to collect business cards from brokers. In preparation for the only acting gig of my life, I memorized a few street names from San Diego just in case anyone asked where in the city I lived, and then I watched a room full of white guys oversalt their steaks and listen to a half-hour rap about angioplasty. I earned $150 for this.

Anyhow, all this is a preface to the fact that lately, I’ve been doing a little bit of freelance editing and writing — mostly to fund my corrosive drug habits subsidize various home improvement projects and to pay for my dog’s new knee. Part of this involves trawling freelancing sites for small jobs that require little effort but pay reasonably well for the time commitment. Some of the posted projects are genuinely interesting. This summer, for example, I’ll be writing content for a K-12 educational website about historical figures like Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, and Sigmund Freud.

Others projects — which the unreconstructed temp worker in me is really compelled to pursue — are simply bizarre. Here’s one:

We need someone to write 100 unique articles for a website all about toilets. We need articles about the following categories:
  • Toilet Products
  • Toilet Training
  • Toilet Science

You will have a special login that will allow for you to post all of your articles right on the website. Each article must be unique content that might appeal to readers.

And then there’s the occasional opportunity to put my dormant Marxism to good use:

Looking for a ghost writer for my book and bring my ideas to life. Subject will cover why some people are rich and most are not. I will provide my general ideas. Writer must be able to take my ideas and expand on them.

I will be allowed 1-2 revisions. Book will be about 5.5″ x 8.5 and between 200 – 250 pages. More is better.

I suppose we might begin by pointing out that one way people become rich is by farming out their labor to others. I can’t imagine how I’d fill the other 199-249 pages, though. So I’ll have to pass.

And finally, there’s this effort to find someone to turn a broad concept and plot into a detailed, humorous script for an animated short.

The basics: Crazy chimps are trying to break out of the zoo. They never get far, but cause problems for all. A group of Orangoutangs think they’re better than the chimps. Two elephants have a love/hate relationship. And a street-wise Squirrel is the go-to man. People don’t know that the animals can talk — the animals all live double lives. A Giraffe thinks he is from the military.

At the moment we are only looking to produce a 4min trailer, a short story if you will. In the trailer we’re just looking for something along the lines of the chimps using the elephants to sneeze into a tree canon to blow the chimps over the wall. Instead the chimps go nowhere but get covered in snot.

Sounds great, but I’m afraid this one has been done:

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As I’ve Been Saying.

[ 0 ] March 27, 2008 |

Yet another reason why prisons are a feminist issue.

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Knocked Up? Your Job Might be on the Line.

[ 100 ] March 27, 2008 |

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that discrimination against pregnant women is on the rise. Up14% in the past year, to be exact. And yet, pregnant women have very little recourse.

Jezebel (linked above) explains pregnant women’s legal bind: “Employers can fire, lay off and refuse to hire knocked up ladies, but they have to provide ample proof that they held men to the same standards. They also have to provide maternity leave, as they would provide leave for any other medical issue, but in 48 of the 50 states, that leave doesn’t have to be paid (readers in California and Washington State, you’re the lucky ones).”

That’s pretty much right. There is a Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but it’s protections are limited. And it doesn’t require affirmative protections for pregnant women but rather restrains companies from treating pregnant women worse than men and women who are not pregnant. In fact, the Supreme has specifically rejected any requirement of affirmative protections for pregnant women.

Of course, this all goes to the point that we live in a society that doesn’t really care about having women as equal citizens, or really about children and even fetuses (except when they can be used as political pawns). Call me crazy, but I’d argue that firing a woman or treating her badly during her pregnancy is certainly not the way to assure a healthy pregnancy and birth.

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