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Idiot

[ 30 ] May 18, 2010 |

Great — one of the Senate seats that should be relatively easy to maintain in a bad political year, and we have a Tim Johnson on our hands. Time to find someone else to be the Democratic candidate.

Added (by davenoon): There’s much to loathe about Blumenthal in this story, but arguably the worst angle to it — at least from an historian’s vantage point — is his apparent willingness to repeat the conspicuously untrue legend that returning soldiers were routinely spat upon and otherwise assaulted at war’s end:

In an interview, Jean Risley, the chairwoman of the Connecticut Vietnam Veterans Memorial Inc., recalled listening to an emotional Mr. Blumenthal offering remarks at the dedication of the memorial. She remembered him describing the indignities that he and other veterans faced when they returned from Vietnam.

“It was a sad moment,” she recalled. “He said, ‘When we came back, we were spat on; we couldn’t wear our uniforms.’ It looked like he was sad to me when he said it.”

Fables about soldiers being spat upon were, of course, central to the right wing narrative that our loss in Vietnam had everything to do with gutless opponents of the war and nothing to do with the fact that the US decided to squander two decades in the effort to create, sponsor and fight on behalf of a South Vietnamese government that was loathed by the majority of its people and never stood a chance of surviving on its own. There’s no hope, I suppose, that these myths will ever be removed from popular memory of the war; the fact that media coverage of Blumenthal’s other lies will completely ignore this one will only underscore its baleful durability.

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Being a secret socialist is hard.

[ 5 ] May 18, 2010 |

I’m still a few days behind the news cycle, what with volcanoes and not picking up people to take them to the airport, so I just now ran across this item which, for reasons that boggle the mind, has been linked pretty much everywhere.  As someone who, unlike Kagan, wrote an actual dissertation on the impact of early 20th Century socialism on American thought—reconciling Jack London’s Darwinism and socialism requires discussing his socialism, after all—I wondered how easily I could be branded a traitor to this great nation on the basis of cherry-picked quotations, and as it turns out I’m doomed.  Just consider the charges against me.

Of course I believe in change:

[Jack] London wanted to believe that if industrial life could ravage a body in so short a time, social and cultural change could improve a society over a shorter span than the “deep time” geology-influenced evolutionists believed was required. London wanted to believe that a new social order could create a new, superior species in units calculable in years instead of eons.

Of course I believe in progress:

Received wisdom had the trajectory of social evolution necessarily moving—progressing—toward increasingly complex forms of collective behavior.

Of course I want an undemocratic socialist tyrant in charge:

Telic actions cannot be performed by acephalous organizations; democracy is hamstrung by “by the arrant idiocy of political organization.” Such actions can only be undertaken by undemocratic organizations whose leaders are chosen not because they represent society at large, but because they do not. Such leaders will accelerate the process London believes already at work: namely, that “from the facts of [human] history . . . the trend of [social] development is toward greater and greater collective wisdom.”

Of course I believe socialism is the product of natural selection:

As Thomas Huxley wrote in a letter (27 October 1890) to William Ball: Have you considered that State Socialism—for which I have little enough love—may be a product of Natural Selection? The societies of Bees and Ants exhibit socialism in excelsis.

Of course I believe that the death of capitalism is the fiat of evolution and the word of God:

You are perishing, and you are doomed to perish utterly from the face of society. This is the fiat of evolution. It is the word of God. Combination is stronger than competition.

Of course I believe the Fish-Eaters are the chosen of God:

When the tribe complains of hunger, the Bug “sang a song of how good it was to be a Fish-Eater[, how] the Fish-Eaters were the chosen of God and the finest men God had made[, and] how fine and good it was for the Fish-Eaters to fight and die doing God’s work, which was the killing of the Meat-Eaters.”

And if that weren’t enough, of course I want to kill puppies:

For a week it appears as if Big-Tooth may indeed bring about the domestication of the dog, but then he returns home one day to find his friend Lop-Ear “had killed the puppy and was just beginning to eat him.”

If some patriot doesn’t put a stop to me soon, I’m gonna be forced to take action myself.

Smoking (Torpedo)

[ 11 ] May 18, 2010 |

Hard to commit the perfect murder of 46 South Korean sailors these days:

The joint investigation team has reportedly found screw pieces of torpedo, probably causing the sinking of the Navy patrol ship Cheonan, near the border waters in the West Sea where the incident took place in late March.

The Korea Broadcast System (KBS) reported Tuesday that the team has launched close checking of the findings in a non-destructive testing. “The manufacturers of the screw are shortlisted to two countries Russia and China,” KBS reported, quoting government officials who were not identified.

The screw, which is a part that creates power to propel the torpedo in the tail, has been regarded as a decisive clue to the cause of the incident as it does not destruct in general even during an explosion.

The government is ready to make it clear that the corvette was sunk by the torpedo and North Korea will be responsible for torpedo attack as the government has already secured pieces of material evidence, including screw part, when it announces investigation results May 20.

Couple observations:

1. When the forensic technology of the modern state is focused on a question like this, the amount of information that can be acquired is truly remarkable. I suspect that the North Koreans understood that South Korea would divine the true cause of the loss of Cheonan, but I wonder whether they realized that the South Koreans would be able to effectively demonstrate North Korean responsibility.

2. Noting that the torpedo was of Russian or Chinese vintage is a nice touch; it puts extra pressure on Moscow and Beijing to take the lead in sanctioning and pressuring North Korea.

3. Horatio Caine would be proud:

Saudi Woman Beats Up Virtue Cop

[ 4 ] May 17, 2010 |

The Saudi Gazette reports:

Al-Mubarraz police are investigating a complaint that a Saudi woman in her twenties allegedly punched and beat up a staffer of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a). The staffer had to be taken to a medical center because of the bruises to his face and body. Apparently the Hai’a staffer suspected the young woman of being in the company of an unrelated man in an amusement park because the couple appeared to be acting in an inappropriate manner.

When the Hai’a staffer approached the couple to confirm their identities and the relationship between them, the young man collapsed. It was then the young woman allegedly unleashed a fierce attack on the Hai’a staffer with her fists.

Plenty of “you go girl” accolades like this percolating outside Saudi Arabia. It’s actually kind of serious though: the woman could be penalized with jail time and flogging if she is charged for assaulting a government official, so the human rights movement had better prepare a campaign to protect her from the predictable backlash from the state. But as described in the Jersualem Post, this incident may also be symptomatic of a gradual yet significant shift in Saudi society away from its entrenched culture of gender apartheid.

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QOTD

[ 9 ] May 17, 2010 |

Edroso:

“[Racist nuts who think that the Miss America pagent was a DhimmoIslamoCommieNazi conspiracy] are just mad they’re not old enough to have protested Jackie Robinson signing with the Dodgers.” Nearly as amusing is La Althouse speculating that it was also an anti-federalist conspiracy. Don’t forget the saucer people!

Relatedly, Jonah Goldberg thinks that birthers have some very interesting ideas and he’d like to subscribe to their newsletter.

Giving Away the Show

[ 57 ] May 17, 2010 |

Shorter Daniel Pipes: the only explanation I can come up with for why some Muslim women win beauty pageants is that there’s some nefarious affirmative action conspiracy; after all, who could consider women of color or non-Christian women attractive? I am not a racist crackpot.

…I wish I could say that this was confined to one crank, but alas this isn’t the case. (Adam has more.)

Update (Paul): I particularly like this insight from Michelle Malkin:

“I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it’s a controlled substance,” Fakih said.

Imagine if those words had come out of the mouth of Carrie Prejean or Sarah Palin.

Between the NYTimes, MSNBC, Jon Stewart, and the late night talkers, we wouldn’t hear the end of it.

The left-wing media bias couldn’t be more obvious, could it? Right-wing beauty queen and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is inexplicably held to a higher standard in regard to knowledge of public issues than fatwa-wielding Islamoterrorist* beauty queen Rima Fakih (I confess I had to look up whether birth control pills qualify as controlled substances.)

The best take on Pipes is from trex in comments at Political Animal:

On his blog yesterday, Pipes pointed out five other Muslim women who’ve won beauty contests in the U.S., Britain and France over the last five years. “They are all attractive, but this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants makes me suspect an odd form of affirmative action,” he wrote.

The surprising frequency of media commentary by the racist, xenophobic conspiracy-theorist Daniel Pipes makes ME suspect an odd form of affirmative action, one funded by right-wing nutjobs.

h/t Glenn Greenwald

Civil Confinement And Federalism

[ 5 ] May 17, 2010 |

The Court’s holding today in U.S. v. Comstock presents a real dilemma. The federal “civil confinement” law at issue in the case — which permits the federal government to detain an sex offender after their sentence expires — raises some obvious civil liberties concerns. In a couple recent cases at the state level, the Court’s more liberal members have expressed concerns about the adequacy of the due process safeguards put in place for some of these programs, while Scalia and Thomas have voted for granting states very wide leeway to confine individuals they claim to be dangerous. The case today, however, did not deal with whether the federal law was consistent with the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, but whether the relevant statute was within the powers of the federal government. This presents a real potential dilemma for many of the Court’s justices (and for me.) So, reluctantly, I would agree with the majority that the law is within the federal government’s powers under the necessary and proper clause. But I also have a certain amount of respect for Thomas and Scalia, who (despite a general lack of sympathy for the legal claims of individuals detained under civil confinement laws) argued that the law exceeds the constitutional powers of the federal government.

There’s a dilemma for 7 of the 9 justices, anyway. For Alito and Roberts, figuring out that the policy is consistent with Republican policy goals pretty much ends the constitutional inquiry, so they voted to uphold the law. (Amusingly, a couple days ago David Nieporent claimed that Alito’s 20 year record of utterly orthodox Republican statism on the federal courts isn’t enough to conclude that Alito is an utterly orthodox Republican statist without any of the libertarian streak or competing legal values of Scalia and Thomas. Right — I’m sure any day now Alito will take off the mask and reveal himself as the next Richard Posner. In related news, Nieporent also thinks it’s outrageous to suggest that the Yankees will have a better record than the Orioles this year.)

Court Holds Life-Without-Parole For Juveniles Unconstitutional

[ 24 ] May 17, 2010 |

Deciding an appalling case in which a 17-year old was given life without parole for a violating parole, the Supreme Court held today that life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders violate the Eight Amendment to the Constitution. And while I had feared a “minimalist” opinion that would create a balancing test that state courts would always resolve in favor of the state, in the majority opinion (see Part III C) Justice Kennedy argues convincingly that a categorical rule is necessary in this case. Chief Justice Roberts — in what I’m guessing was an attempt, if not to get a minimalist majority opinion, at least to prevent 5 votes for a categorical rule — wrote a concurring opinion arguing that the sentence should be ruled unconstitutional based on a case-by-case balancing test, but didn’t find any takers.

Clarence Thomas’s dissent — joined entirely by Scalia and in its most important aspects by reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s conservative Sam Alito — does make one convincing point: Kennedy’s argument that there’s an “emerging consensus” against life-without-parole for juveniles is unconvincing. The Court’s majority opinion does indeed reflect an “independent judgment” that the Eighth Amendment bans such sentences. Where I disagree with Thomas is that there’s something wrong with this. Exercising independent judgment is what courts do when exercising judicial review. And, of course, when policy outcomes they cherish are at stake Thomas and Scalia are perfectly happy to exercise their “independent judgment” that decisions made by electorally accountable officials are unconstitutional even in the absence of an emerging consensus or a compelling argument that as originally understood the Constitution forbade those practices. And sentencing is one area where where the normative unattractiveness of originalism is particularly stark. Reminding me again while I’ll miss him, Stevens sums it up devastatingly in his brief concurrence:

Society changes. Knowledge accumulates. We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes. Punishments that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time may, in the light of reason and experience, be found cruel and unusual at a later time; unless we are to abandon the moral commitment embodied in the Eighth Amendment , proportionality review must never become effectively obsolete.

While Justice Thomas would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old, the Court wisely rejects his static approach to the law. Standards of decency have evolved since 1980. They will never stop doing so.

And you know who agrees with this in his more candid moments? Antonin Scalia, who has expressly said that he would not uphold a sentence for flogging even though it would seem to be permitted under an originalist understanding of the Eight Amendment was right. Not only is that Scalia right, but it’s impossible to explain why the framers wrote the Eighth Amendment the way they did if they meant only to proscribe a small, specific set of punishments that were illegal at the time the Bill of Rights was ratified. In this sense, the majority opinion is actually more consistent with the text and original meaning of the Constitution than the dissent.

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What’s at Stake in the NPT Debate?

[ 3 ] May 17, 2010 |

At Shadow Government, William Tobey covers the ongoing Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference and provides a useful overview of how the debate is being shaped by strategic framing of the treaty’s core rules:

A key question being debated at the Review Conference is: What is the central bargain of the Nonproliferation Treaty? A leading South African diplomat, Abdul Minty, argues that the core of the treaty is a pledge by states without nuclear weapons to forego them, in return for a promise by states with nuclear weapons to work for their elimination. By this logic, any threat of nuclear proliferation is the fault mainly of the United States and Russia, because they have not met their disarmament commitments.

During the 2005 Review Conference, the United States held the central bargain of the Treaty instead to be: “if non-nuclear weapons states renounce the pursuit of nuclear weapons, they may gain assistance in developing civilian nuclear power.” By this logic, states like Iran that violate their obligations should be denied international assistance. That would mean halting Russian construction of the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr, and foregoing just-announced discussion of Russian assistance in building a Syrian nuclear power plant.

But Tobey argues that neither description of the Treaty’s trade-offs is fully accurate: Read more…

“Why Middlesex Matters”

[ 1 ] May 17, 2010 |

John Protevi pens an article for Inside Higher Ed in which he asks, and answers,

Why were so many American academics, many of them besieged by budget crises at their own universities, so upset at this decision made so far away? Why did Middlesex matter to those thousands who so quickly became involved, and why should it matter to all American academics, even those who are only just now hearing of it?

If you happen to be one of those just hearing about it, John’s link-rich article is the place to start.

The Wake of a North Korean Collapse

[ 5 ] May 16, 2010 |

Minxin Pei thinks that the Pyongyang regime is unlikely to survive a transition from Kim Jong Il to his son. While the prospects for a collapse of the North Korean state are debatable, it’s unquestionably true that the regional states ought to be thinking and talking (at least privately) about how to respond:

What is most worrying about a possible North Korean collapse is that the key players in the region are not talking to each other, even informally, about such an eventuality. It’s almost certain that these powers—China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and, possibly, Russia—have all drawn up their own contingency plans for Pyongyang’s quick collapse. However, they’ve done nothing to explore a collective response to what is without doubt a geopolitical game-changer.

As a result, many crucial questions remain unanswered. For instance, how should the United States and South Korea react if China sends combat troops into North Korea to conduct ‘humanitarian assistance’ missions? In all likelihood, Beijing will be tempted to do so if millions of refugees start fleeing into China. Which country will take the lead in securing nuclear materials? How will China respond to the crossing of the 38th parallel by South Korean and US forces? Who will take the lead in reaching out to Pyongyang’s post-Kim regime? What will be the collective security architecture after the Korean peninsula is reunified?

These critical issues are deemed too sensitive for US, Chinese, Japanese and South Korean government officials to discuss. As a result, few are thinking about these difficult issues, let alone exploring workable solutions that could help avoid a possible conflict between China and the United States over a collapsing North Korea and construct an enduring peace after the departure of the Kim dynasty.

There seems to be an implicit assumption in this discussion that the North Korean state will simply cease to exist following a leadership crisis. Collapse is certainly a possible outcome, but it’s also possible that the North Korean state could survive, at least for a while, under some sort of non-Kim military dictatorship. The attitudes of Seoul and Beijing would be particularly important in this respect; the health of a post-Kim North Korea would be greatly affected by China’s willingness to underwrite the regime, and by South Korea’s approach to manifesting claims on Korean national identity. In the German case, the Russians had no interest in continuing to prop up the Berlin regime, and West Germany was happy to advance the claim that it was the only legitimate German national regime. It’s also worth noting that nationalist sentiments could override such a pedestrian concern as the utter economic disaster that incorporating North Korea would wreak upon South Korea.

Via Unleashing Chiang.

Off to the silver mountain

[ 2 ] May 16, 2010 |

R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio, taken by stomach cancer rather than dragons or evil women, as many of us would have predicted. Alas, we’ll always have the memories of his unappreciated presidential run.