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Hack Apologist for Arbitrary Executive Power of the Day

[ 0 ] May 18, 2007 |

Douglas Kmiec.

Answer to title question: “No. No, they can’t.”

Free Maggie

[ 0 ] May 18, 2007 |

Not to put too fine a point to it, but zoos are depressing, y’all.

Alaska’s only elephant had to be hoisted to her feet for the second time in a week, renewing concerns about the health of the 7,500-pound animal.

Maggie was down for six or seven hours before she was lifted upright Wednesday in her enclosure at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. On Sunday the 25-year-old African elephant was down on her concrete floor for as long as 19 hours before she was set back on her feet.

The incidents have renewed calls by animal advocates to relocate Maggie to a warmer locale where she can exercise in a more natural environment and be around other elephants. Critics said Maggie’s lack of exercise might be causing degenerative muscle problems or arthritis.

I can’t imagine too many places less suited for a captive elephant than Anchorage, Alaska. Because of the frigid winter climate — which resembles nothing of this African elephant’s natural haibtat — Maggie is stored in a concrete “elephant house” during the coldest months of the year, then brought out to amuse the masses during the summer. Unable to walk and forage, Maggie has been trained to walk on a giant treadmill, which she does about as reluctantly as one might imagine. The animal is overweight, suffers from chronic dry skin, and has not seen or heard another elephant since 1997, when the zoo’s other captive — Annabelle — died prematurely of foot rot. Still, the Alaska Zoo refuses to relocate Maggie to either of the two elephant sanctuaries in the US.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. My state is a national embarrassment.

Let Freedom "Family Feminism" Ring!

[ 0 ] May 18, 2007 |

Ann Friedman, despite being a figment of my imagination, points us to this piece by the mythical Katha Pollitt:

The video, originally posted on, a Kurdish website, is now plastered all over the Internet: a young girl in a red track-suit jacket and black underpants, beaten, kicked and stoned to death by a mob of excited, shouting men. It’s a gruesome marriage of twenty-first-century technology and medieval barbarity. At one point, bloody and dazed, the girl tries to protect herself, whereupon a man drops a big rock or lump of concrete on her face, killing her. Her crime? As an Agence France-Presse story explains, Doaa Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old member of the Kurdish Yazidi religious minority, a non-Muslim sect, had fallen in love with a Sunni boy and possibly converted to Islam. For this “crime” against family and community, Doaa was murdered in the small village of Beshika, near Mosul, in a collective act of woman hatred, led by her brothers and uncles. In the video you can see local policemen watching and one man recording the killing on his cellphone.

This is the new Iraq, where women were going to be free and equal–no more “rape rooms,” no more psychopathic Uday Hussein summoning young virgins to the palace for his pleasure. In the early days of the occupation, we heard a lot about building schools, starting women’s health programs, funding women’s microenterprises. At the 2005 State of the Union address, Laura Bush sat with proudly purple-fingered Safia Taleb al-Suhail telegraphing the message that women’s rights and democracy went together and that both were part of the big plan for Iraq. Well, scratch that.

Women’s status was never as high under Saddam as opponents of the war sometimes asserted, and it was already declining throughout the 1990s, as Saddam embraced Islam to distract the populace from the effects of the Gulf War, UN sanctions and his own depredations. But Iraq today is even worse for women: more repressive, more violent, more lawless. As if car bombs and suicide bombers weren’t horrific enough, criminal gangs, religious militias and death squads kidnap, rape and kill with impunity, with special attention to women professionals, students and rights activists. According to the United Nations’ most recent quarterly report on human rights in Iraq, domestic violence and “honor” killings are on the rise–Kurdistan, often described as comparatively peaceful and orderly, saw more than forty such killings between January and March of this year; in the province of Erbil, rapes quadrupled between 2003 and 2006. Women who’d worn Western clothes and moved about freely all their lives have been terrorized into wearing the abaya and staying inside unless accompanied by male relatives. In Sadr City and elsewhere, Shariah courts mete out misogynist “justice.”

Hmm, it’s almost enough to make me think that expending immense amounts of resources that could be used to genuinely help women (although, admittedly, as long as the current administration remains in office, not if it might enhance women’s reproductive freedom–can’t have that!) installing an Islamist quasi-state in Iraq will not be a positive development for Iraqi women. But since I’m not a good “family” or “equity” feminist but am rather one of those man-hating lacking-in-common sense types who doesn’t think that sexual double standards and traditional patriarchal family structures are a good basis for social organization, I would think that.

Raise the Green Lantern

[ 0 ] May 17, 2007 |

( . . . for anyone who thought this post title was clever, it was — when Scott first used it back in November . . . My bad!)

The laughing-stock of the historical profession is at it again. Bernard Lewis, appearing at the WSJ Wingnut Open Mic Night, delivered his latest free verse poem decrying the will of Americans to effectively smoosh the Islamic menace. This time, however, instead of offering the embarrassing doomsday predictions of August last, Lewis decides to mangle the history of the cold war Middle East in order to prop up his thesis that Americans have not brought the pain in sufficient quantities to the proper recipients.

A sample of the insanity:

During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: “What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?”

Much of the piece reviews the standard right-wing history of American “appeasement” that runs from Tehran through Beirut and onward to Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen — an allegedly continuous narrative that concluded with the Bush Doctrine, whose ferocious application in Iraq momentarily stupefied an Islamic world used to viewing Americans as cowards. We also get the usual “clash of civilizations” fable that refuses to acknowledge meaningful historical discontinuities between the 7th and 21st centuries. In its own right this is all bad enough, but I want to focus on Lewis’ other suggestion — that the Soviets were more feared in the Middle East than the US — because it’s also an astonishing statement from someone reputed to be an historian.

Lewis is understandably reluctant to provide examples to support his insistence that Muslims submitted to “Soviet authority” from Afghanistan to Libya, because such examples are non-existent. The simple fact is that while the Soviet Union sought — especially during the 1950s — to assert some counter-pressure against the United States in the Middle East, those efforts had by and large foundered by the time Kennedy came to power in the US. Although the logic of the cold war continued to govern US policy in the region, and anxieties about Soviet influence in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, or Yemen continued to shape the work of ever president from Carter through Reagan, there’s no credible path to suggest that the Soviet Union acted as a region hegemon in any way comparable to the position enjoyed by the US until 1979. It was not the Soviet Union, after all, that engaged in “swift and dire” actions such as toppling the government of Iran to thwart nationalist economic policies; or attempting to guide or orchestrate coups in Syria and Iraq on multiple occasions in the 1950s and early 1960s; or by providing lists of suspected internal communists to the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and Iran (who disposed of their adversaries in all the predictable ways); or by offering Israel a green light (and then material support) for its humiliating invasion of Lebanon in 1982. I realize this shouldn’t bear repeating, but if the US became a target for Islamic resistance in the Middle East, it did so by virtue of its authority there — not because the Soviets had somehow cowed the region into submission.

But here again we see how conservatives like Lewis depend on the fable of the US as morally weak, its responses to crisis ineffectual and belated, its presence in the world driven by naivete — and always more sinned against than sinning. Why these people hate America, we’ll likely never know.

Lemieux’s Law 1: The Principle of Misogynist Obsessives

[ 0 ] May 17, 2007 |

This thread reminds me to finally get around to articulating the following principle:

As a discussion thread on a liberal blog grows longer, the probability of a troll indulging his (or, in rare cases, her) consuming obsession with Amanda Marcotte irrespective of her relevance to the thread in question approaches one.

On conservative blogs, of course, such obsessions are more likely to be found in the main text of posts (cf. Ace O. Spades, heterosexual.)

The Argument From Tradition

[ 0 ] May 17, 2007 |

Thers quotes the first half of the Scalia quote approvingly cited by Ann Althouse. I’d like to deal with the second:

“What Shakespeare is to the high school English student,” Scalia said, “the society’s accepted constitutional traditions are to the prudent jurist.

“He does not judge them, but is judged by them. The very test of the validity of his analytic formulas—his rules—is whether, when applied to traditional situations, they yield the results that American society has traditionally accepted.”

The real heart of Scalia’s jurisprudence isn’t “originalism” or “textualism” but his belief in “traditions” he attributes to (and often projects onto) “the people.” As he argued in U.S. v. Virginia–the case in which the Court, with Scalia as the lone dissenter, ruled that Virignia’s exclusion of women from a particular form of education was unconstitutional–”[w]hatever abstract tests we may choose to devise, they cannot supersede–and indeed ought to be crafted so as to reflect–those constant and unbroken national traditions that embody the people’s understanding of ambiguous constitutional texts.” In terms of intellectual merit, I think the illiberal claim that traditions are self-justifying has little. As a jurisprudence, it has many of the problems associated with originalism, most notably facilitating a judge’s ability to switch between various levels of abstraction and ways of construing issues in order to reach the desired result. (Is the “tradition” at stake in U.S. v. Virgina that American tradition of discriminating against women, of the tradition of expanding rights to previously discriminated against individuals and treating people equally before the law? Everything turns on the answer, and invoking “the traditions of the American people” is unhelpful.) Talking about the traditions of “the people” in a pluralistic society is not terribly useful, and will for obvious reasons tend to deny constitutional protection to classes of people who most need it. And like orginalism, it is a political as opposed to strictly legal choice (nothing about the nature of constitutionalism demands any method of interpretation) designed to produce reliably reactionary policy results. It is not surprising that the particular tradition adduced by Scalia in the VMI case happened to be the one consistent with the most conservative wing of the Republican Party.

But we should be clear about the implications of Scalia’s theory. To the extent that it has any content at all–that its conception of national traditions isn’t so open-ended that it could justify any outcome in any interesting case–Brown v. Board and Loving v. Virgina, for starters, are clearly incorrectly decided. The text of the equal protection clause is ambiguous, and there were long, deeply embedded national traditions of requiring segregated schools and prohibiting interracial marriages. Once we’ve decided that national traditions bind courts and pre-empt the critical assessment of institutional practices and their consistency with the requirements of the Constitution, one can’t pick and choose which traditions count and which don’t. Far from being an attractive method, Scalia’s concept of unassailable traditions of injustice is at war with the best traditions of American constitutionalism.

Torture Mark Green

[ 0 ] May 17, 2007 |

On Air America’s website, the brilliant Mark Green (the newest incompetent owner) has an open comments thread so you can let him know what a great job he’s doing. I suggest you head on over and let him know. You’ll have to register to put in your comment.

I went back to listen to the “Lionel” show again today. He took a caller that gave a very detailed critique of the Bush administration, and his response was basically, “forget about that stuff, what you need to realize is that Bush is a dry drunk”, and then spent 30 minutes talking about that instead. And then he went into his 9/11 conspiracy nonsense. ughhh….

Those of us who purchased XM Radio solely to listen to Air America miss you Sam Seder.

(cross posted at BlueGrassRoots)

UPDATE: Sam Seder’s Sunday show debuts this Sunday, with Atrios joing him. His new website looks quite zesty too. Its a sad substitute for those with boring day jobs like me, though.

Books To Make You Change Trains

[ 0 ] May 17, 2007 |

This is a very good list, granting that #4 should probably be #1. Becks offers a good alternate suggestion. I would like to add this, which courtesy of Rob and frequent commenter JRD remains the greatest joke gift of all time. (And yes it does consist entirely of stuff Rand scrawled in the margins of various books.)

Nation-building, 2007

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

Some international relations analysts worry that the Bush regime has destroyed the prospects for nation-building. It’s a variant of the “Iraq syndrome.

Never fear, however, Bush allies have solved the problem: PR is the new nation-building.

It’s cheaper and yields better results.

For me to prove my point, you’ve got to see the photo of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiling broadly and shaking hands with notorious dictator Teodoro Obiang, president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. I’d simply post the picture, but Rob didn’t say anything about stealing photo credits when he handed over the keys.

According to Mother Jones, Rice said this when shaking Obiang’s hand: “Thank you very much for your presence here,” she cooed. “You are a good friend, and we welcome you.”

The article describes how Cassidy and Associates, a D.C. lobbying and communications firm, helped “re-image” Equatorial Guinea. Apparently, the firm is worth the $120K it gets per month:

Obiang rules the country with an iron fist: According to State Department reports, suspects have been tortured to death and prisoners raped by police. Still, Cassidy has delivered results for Obiang in D.C. “A few years ago, at least U.S. officials wouldn’t talk about the relationship with Equatorial Guinea, or they would admit all the problems and horrible human rights abuses,” says Frank Ruddy, the former U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea. Now, he adds, “you would have thought this is Mother Teresa’s brother running Equatorial Guinea.”

I wonder how much Musharraf’s people had to pay to get the President of the United States to declare this in 2004? “You’ve got a democracy in Pakistan.

Going out with Dignity

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

So Wolfie is now holed up in his office with a shotgun and a year’s supply of Twinkies, and he’s not coming out without a deal, ya stinkin’ pigs.

Meantime, Rick Perlstein nails it:

Let’s review the nut of the charge against him: he ordered the World Bank’s head of human resources to give his girlfriend a promotion and raise worth $193,000.

Let’s review what Wolfowitz made his central crusade at the Bank: refusing debt relief to countries he says are corrupt.

One of those countries is the Republic of Congo. That $193,000 is about a thousand times what the typical citizen of the Republic of Congo makes in a year. Save face? Anything short of seppuku, and the guy deserves more shame than Bill Buckner.

Perlstein also notes that Wolfowitz will be able to purch $375,000 worth of Dapper Dan when he actually does leave the World Bank, a sum that amounts to about two thousand times the daily wage of oodles more than the average worker in Congo makes. [No, I'm not the money guy here....]

Oh, and if Wolfie doesn’t get his way, he’s going to drown and eat this puppy tomorrow morning:

Shorter Althouse: "Screw Reading"

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

I know it’s redundant to use a phrase like “Althouse reveals her ignorance,” but in this post the dumb just clings to her words like fresh morning dew:

And why does reading even need to be a separate subject from history in school? Give them history texts and teach reading from them. Science books too. Leave the storybooks for pleasure reading outside of school. They will be easier reading, and with well-developed reading skills, kids should feel pleasure curling up with a novel at home. But even if they don’t, why should any kind of a premium be placed on an interest in reading novels? It’s not tied to economic success in life and needn’t be inculcated any more than an interest in watching movies or listening to popular music. Leave kids alone to find out out what recreational activities enrich and satisfy them. Some may want to dance or play music or paint. Just because teachers tend to be the kind of people who love novels does not mean that this choice ought to be imposed on young people via compulsory education. Teach them about history, science, law, logic — something academic and substantive — and leave the fictional material for after hours.

Althouse clearly hasn’t ever spoken with anyone who teaches middle school language arts or high school literature courses. Aside from the obvious point that social studies and science teachers are usually incapable of teaching basic grammar and other academically and substantively vital reading and writing skills, it’s of course both arbitrary and condescending to suggest that certain subjects — music, art, literature — are somehow stripped of their emotional or creative authenticity if they’re included in primary and secondary school curricula (which, thanks to NCLB, is less and less the case anyhow). Given that we can’t predict which academic subjects are “tied to economic success in life” for any particular student, it makes more than a little sense to offer them a comprehensive range of intellectual experiences. But I suppose in Althouse Land, every home offers a safe, nurturing and supportive environment for kids to read books if they feel so inclined. And if not, who cares? There’s lots of good television to watch!

. . . UPDATE! EXCLUSIVE! MUST CREDIT LGM! In comments, Scott goes on deep recon and discovers that Althouse ain’t much of a novel-reader. She claims she’d rather be “learning about things that are true and hearing great ideas.” Um, ok. I suppose explains why she thinks Bush v. Gore was correctly decided.

One Step in the Right Direction

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

XM suspends Opie & Anthony 30 days for the hye-larious rape fantasies on their program. (I’m not going to say “jokes,” because they weren’t. They weren’t even in the form of humor.) Although at least their program isn’t simulcast on a major national news network, it’s also much worse than what Imus was fired for.

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