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QsOTD: Celebrating Treason In Defense of Slavery Edition

[ 18 ] April 7, 2010 |


A lot of you have e-mailed me to note that Virginia governor Bob McDonnell has decided to honor  those who fought to preserve, and extend, white supremacy. I don’t really have much to say. The GOP is, effectively, the party of willfully unlettered Utopians. It is the party of choice for those who believe global warming is a hoax, that humans roamed the earth with dinosaurs, and that homosexuals should work harder at not being gay.
That the party of unadulterated quackery also believes that Birth Of A Nation is more true to the Civil War than Battle Cry Of Freedom, is to be expected. Ignorance does not respect boundaries. It is, at times, qualified and those who know more, often struggle to say more. But people who believe that the Census is actually a covert attempt to put Americans in concentration camps, are also likely to believe that slavery was incidental to the Civil War.

This is who they are–the proud and ignorant. If you believe that if we still had segregation we wouldn’t “have had all these problems,” this is the movement for you. If you believe that your president is a Muslim sleeper agent, this is the movement for you. If you honor a flag raised explicitly to destroy this country then this is the movement for you.


As James McPherson, dean of Civil War scholars, commented on learning of Mr. McDonnell’s proclamation: “I find it obnoxious, but it’s extremely typical. The people that emphasize Confederate heritage and the legacy, and the importance of understanding Confederate history, want to deny that Confederate history was ultimately bound up with slavery. But that was the principal reason for secession — that an anti-slavery party was elected to the White House. . . . And without secession, there wouldn’t have been a war.”


I don’t totally understand why Republicans seem to think that the Confederacy’s willingness to wage war against the United States in order to preserve the institution of chattel slavery is something that should be lionized. But it seems to me that if you’re going to “honor” what Confederate soldiers fought for, you should at least have the honesty to acknowledge what exactly that was — the “freedom” to own black people as property. Anything less is cowardice.

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London Calling

[ 45 ] April 6, 2010 |

This Friday, I’ll be leaving my home country of Kenya to visit England for this conference. I’ve never been to England and am a nervous traveler, so you can do the math: I’m not sure what to do for the five days I’ll be there without a conference to hold my hand. In other words, if you had four days in England to do whatever you wanted with, what would you do?

“The conflict between slavery and non-slavery is a conflict between life and death.”

[ 27 ] April 6, 2010 |

Well, sheeeeeeeeeeyit.  It’s Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Heritage Month again, so I suppose we need to remind people like Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell what the “shared history” of Virginia’s Confederate heroes actually entailed. Here’s a choice excerpt from a speech given at Virginia’s February 1861 secession convention by the South Carolinian John Preston, one of the Confederacy’s great apostles of disunion:

You may, as you are at this moment doing, centralize a coercive power at Washington stronger than the Praetorian bands when the Roman eagles shadowed the earth “from Lusitania to the Caucasus,” but you cannot come nearer coalescing the people of Virginia and the people of Vermont, the people of the St Lawrence and the people of the Gulf, than did Rome to make one of the Gaul and the Dacian, the Briton and the Ionian. No community of origin, no community of language, law or religion, can amalgamate a people whose severance is proclaimed by the rigid requisitions of material necessity. Nature forbids African slavery at the North. Southern civilization cannot exist without African slavery. None but an equal race can labor at the South. Destroy involuntary labor and Anglo Saxon civilization must be remitted to the latitudes whence it sprung.

Preston’s speech sent the audience at Mechanics Institute Hall into peals of ecstasy; Richmond newspapers praised his logic. He was unable to convince the delegation to vote in favor of disunion, but when it finally did so less than two months later, it did so entirely within the spirit of that February address. The fact that McDonnell is recognizing — and I think pretty clearly celebrating — the Lost Cause is at some level no better or worse than what Georgia or Mississippi does each year.  At the same time, however, Virginia’s importance to the entire history of the Confederacy means that, for McDonnell, hailing the state’s role in the Confederacy means hailing the state’s role in assuring that the entire nation suffered through a war that killed well over 600,000 people and took four years to conclude.  The state was, of course, critical to the lunatic aspirations of the Deep South planter class.  Its manpower, industrial wealth and agricultural resources (to say nothing of its geographic value, perched across the Potomac from the Great Bearded Satan) were essential to the mission of preserving the institution of slavery against the imaginary assaults being made against it by the miscegenationists in the Republican party.  Lacking Virginia, the Confederacy could easily have been choked to death by a prolonged naval blockade; of course, lacking Virginia on the Confederate side, the war would probably never have turned into an abolitionist crusade, so we can at least thank Virginia’s dead sons for that much — though I don’t suppose Bob McDonnell would appreciate the more self-defeating aspects of Confederate Heritage.

In any event, and for what it’s worth, I’m proposing that April be known henceforth as West Virginia Appreciation Month. Feel free to e-mail the Governor’s office and ask him to take a few moments this April to recognize the patriotism of those nearly three dozen Virginia counties that refused to make war in defense of white supremacy.

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[ 6 ] April 6, 2010 |

Reading this definitely takes me back to my Seattle days at the turn of the last decade, when one spoke and read from many people who seemed willfully blind to the fact that unless your city can afford a new subway system there’s no may of transporting lots of people that doesn’t have some kind of substantial aesthetic effects.    (And this definitely includes multi-lane freeways.)   I also note that Seattle had lots of overhead wires for buses, and yet its downtown is certainly nicer than most of D.C.’s…

Tourney Challenge Winner

[ 12 ] April 6, 2010 |

Due to Duke’s tragic victory in last night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament final, C. Betley has won the LGM Tourney Challenge.

Mr. or Ms. Betley should contact me (e-mail available on first right sidebar) for prize information.

That’s Just The System.

[ 6 ] April 6, 2010 |

As the election has now been called, expect a lot of such breathless pieces describing the fact that the British “electoral system” could produce a result where one party receives a plurality of the popular vote, and yet the other party may actually form the government and have the prime minister.

The better of this genre may make some historical allusion, a criterion this one satisfies;  trotting out a laconic pipe-smoking Harold Wilson to emphasize that the losing party very well may win, and has before! certainly burned a couple paragraphs.  I eagerly await the hack handed deployment of democratic theory as applied to the state of Florida, 2000, and the requisite British exhortation that ‘well, we may screw it up a bit, but just look at what the Americans get up to!’

What I would like to see, yet do not expect, is an analysis that digs a little deeper that this:

It wouldn’t matter that the Tory lead in votes, even in the ICM poll, is actually larger in the poll than between Tony Blair and Michael Howard in 2005. That’s the system. David Cameron could protest. He could call for new parliamentary boundaries. He could try trigger a second election. But he’d be on the opposition benches – and that’s what counts.

That’s the system?  That’s the best you can do?  Yes, in a sense, it is the system; it’s called First Past the Post (or to those of us a bit more electoral-system hip, SMD/Plurality), which logically allows for this result whenever one’s support is inefficiently geographically distributed.  It’s not specific to the British electoral system.  Such an outcome is more likely when there is a strong third party in the mix, as well as a fleet of geographically based minor / nationalistic parties that have a chance at winning seats.

There are ways around this, even if one assumes the problem at present is the Tory over-concentration in the south and south east of England.

2010 AL Preview

[ 16 ] April 6, 2010 |

East: 1. NYY 2. BOS (*) 3. TB 4. BAL 5. TOR I don’t like it either, but let’s start here: the Yankees were the best team in baseball last year, and got younger in the OF and added an outstanding starter basically in exchange for 2 fourth outfielders and a lefty one-out specialist. So what’s going to stop them from still being the best team? Right, they are older than an actor playing a high school student in an early 80s Canadian music video. And, sure, Posada and *&^%$ Jeter are likely to be down this year (though not Slappy), and Rivera probably only has another 30 or so years injury-free years as the best closer in history left. But both of these guys can lose ground and still be among the best in the league at their positions, and they have a lot of company — this is still the best team in the division, and hence baseball. The Red Sox are interesting, and I do like the additions of Cameron and Beltre. I think the lack of a first-rate power bat in the middle of the lineup is a worry, but the depth is definitely improved over previous years (with Varitek reduced to backup a major plus.) Great bullpen too; they can certainly win, although Beckett pitching like an ace in the regular season would help. Sabermetric types seem to think of the Rays as co-favorites in this division. If you agree, answer me this: where are they better than New York or Boston? Better than both in left, than the Red Sox at 3rd, as good as Boston and better in New York in right if Zobrist is for real, probably not much worse than Boston at short, similar in center if Upton comes back, and…that’s about it. Given that their rotation, while excellent, is also inferior to either team (and the bullpen substantially inferior), I just don’t see how you can pick them. It’s tragic that the third- or fourth-best team in baseball plays in a division with the other two, but them’s the breaks. They’re good enough to take advantage of a lot of injuries on the part of either, but you can’t pick them. The Orioles are finally in the hands on competent people, which is different than actually being a good team or anything. It will be a very sad situation in Toronto, a rebuilding team not overflowing with young talent in a brutal division; it’s hard to see the road back for a while.

Central: 1. MIN 2. CHI 3. DET 4. CLE 5. KC
Two picks here are pretty easy. The injury to Nathan is regrettable but livable, and their lineup — featuring a real second baseman and shortstop for the first time since the Clinton administration — is easily the best in the division. You’d like to see a real ace in the rotation, but it’s mostly at least decent and they’re not exactly going up against the ’96 Braves in this division. On the other hand, the Royals are by far the worst team in the league; to paraphrase Bill James on Hank Peters’s tenure with the Tribe, I know there’s a lot of respect for Dayton Moore throughout baseball, but Jesus Christ what a pathetic operation he’s running. It’s a shame that Greinke and Soria are stuck with an organization this unserious. (And I don’t want to hear about revenue imbalances when you’re paying an ungodly sum to Kyle Farnsworth.)  The rest of the division is just…eh. Chicago and Detroit define mediocrity, with the latter having more upside but more holes. I could see either winning if things break right, at least, which is more than I can say for the Tribe. I can sort of see Neyer’s point about the new manager, but…the pitching looks ghastly, the offense unexciting, and I’ll believe in Carmona and Pronk when I etc.

West: 1. SEA 2. TEX 3. ANA 4. OAK
As everyone has already said, a weird division, with at least three decent teams and no especially good one. Given that it’s throwing darts for once instead of a reverse hedge I’ll make a counter-backlash pick. I’d feel a lot more comfortable with picking Seattle if Lee was healthy, but assuming he’s back in two weeks Seattle’s pitching + defense is the strongest component any team in the division has, and their biggest weakness (power in the corner spots) is the one most easily remedied by trade if they’re in the race, and they should be. Texas is the new trendy pick, and they could win, but while we’re used to them having a fine offense I find it pretty underwhelming (especially with Kinsler’s status uncertain.) It’s also awfully hard to develop young pitchers in that park, so I’ll give Seattle that .01% extra chance of winning. Since I pick the Angels to fall off every year I can’t stop now, especially since their rotation features exactly one guy I’d be confident will be healthy and above average, and Weaver ain’t exactly King Felix or Lee. Their underrated offense and correctly highly rated manager will keep them in the race, though. The Prospectus projects the A’s to be over .500 and hence well in contention in baseball’s egalitarian division. They also project Sheets and Duchscherer to pitch upwards of 300 quality innings, their bad-peripheral young starters to also be healthy and effective…good luck with that, especially with an offense that will be hard pressed to outscore the Mariners.

Ticking Time Bomb

[ 6 ] April 6, 2010 |

It seems very likely that yesterday’s disaster in West Virginia was at least in part the result of corporate negligence:

For at least six of the past 10 years, federal records indicate, the Upper Big Branch mine has recorded an injury rate worse than the national average for similar operations. The records also show that the mine had 458 violations in 2009, with a total of $897,325 in safety penalties assessed against it last year. It has paid $168,393 in safety penalties.

“Massey’s commitment to safety has long been questioned in the coalfields,” said Tony Oppegard, a lawyer and mine safety advocate from Kentucky.

Those concerns were heightened in 2006 when an internal memo written by Mr. Blankenship became public. In the memo, Mr. Blankenship instructed the company’s underground mine superintendents to place coal production first.

Coal is indeed not “cheap energy.”

The Morons are Out in Force Today…

[ 20 ] April 6, 2010 |

You just knew that the announcement that the US wouldn’t respond to a chemical attack with nuclear weapons would bring out the real idiots. Thers is on the case, but let me make a few points clear:

1. Just because nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons are lumped together doesn’t mean that they have comparable effects. “WMD” is a nearly worthless term, because nukes really aren’t like chem or bio weapons in scale of effect.

2. The US has massive conventional superiority over any foe or potential combination of foes. This, as they say, provides a deterrent.

3. The threat to use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological attack wasn’t credible in the first place, in part because of the difference in scale, and in part because of the aforementioned massive US conventional superiority.

Of course, none of this will stop the stupid; it’s just useful to keep such things in mind.

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The Tea Party’s love affair with tokenism.

[ 20 ] April 5, 2010 |

Remember all those older, white conservatives who were upset when I pointed out that most Sarah Palin fans were older, white conservatives?   They do.   The headliners of the current Tea Party Express include a few token minority participants whose presence is designed to prevent critics like me from pointing out the obvious, i.e. that the Tea Party consists of old white people who’d denounce their Medicare benefits as fascist if they had sense enough to self-reflect.

You don’t have to take my word for it: one of their token minority presences unwittingly admitted as much in a post intended, ironically enough, to prove that the Tea Party has no problem with race:

I am a black performer/activist traveling on my third national Tea Party Express tour. We just finished our rally in North Platte, Neb. Two white families asked me to hold their newborn babies and pose for pictures. Excited white grandparents who are fans of my articles and music asked me to pose for pictures with them and their grand kids. Numerous white patriots shook my hand with tears in their eyes thanked me for what I was doing for our country. A white woman who said she was 86 years old gave me a big hug in thanks for my efforts. Polatik, our young Hispanic conservative rapper, got his usual huge positive response from the mostly older white crowd. [emphasis mine]

Needless to say, trying to demonstrate that the Tea Partiers have no problem with race by saying that the “mostly older white crowd” loves its token minorities is counterproductive.   But it also, and importantly, reminds us why the logic of tokenism is so pernicious: when your version of “diversity” involves placing in positions of power the one or two minority candidates who buy into your backward ideology, you’re inevitably going to end up with a host of Michael Steeles.

Creating structural incentives that level the playing field, however, allows for actual talent to rise through the ranks.  Instead of establishing a system in which talent will out, conservatives would rather elevate an untalented token for P.R. reasons, which is a pretty clear indication of what they’re up to: they need to protect the future status of their own marginally talented children, and if that means having to brook the presence of a Michael Steele, really, what choice do they have?

May 6

[ 8 ] April 5, 2010 |

A poorly kept secret: tomorrow morning Gordon Brown will go to the Queen and do that thing he has to do in order to dissolve Parliament and have an election.  Every general election since 1997 has been held simultaneous with local elections, this year was widely assumed to be no different, that day is 6 May.

With a month to go then, the Tories have opened up a ten point lead on YouGov’s tracker, up from +6 on 31 March.

Me?  I’ll be boarding a flight to return to the UK on May 6th.  Not chiefly by design; the cheapest return date by some distance was the 6th.  So I’ll miss it.  I’ll grab a paper when I land.  The papers, assuming they’re still in business in a month, might talk about the election results.

Precision Targeting At Work

[ 85 ] April 5, 2010 |

Wikileaks has just released this “classified US military video” depicting what appears to be the slaying of unarmed civilians by a military helicopter in Iraq in 2007. Two were Reuters journalists; two of the injured were children.

I will definitely be using this film in my class next year. But as an example of what I haven’t decided.

The disjuncture between the images captured by the camera and the information being verbally reported by the helicopter crew is striking. (For example, the crew reports that they are seeing adult males armed with AK47s, but the men on the ground appear unarmed.) Could the film be a fake, and how would we know? (Wikileaks has provided almost no information on its website about the video’s source other than a non-working link. The big “Click here to donate” link above the video on the Wikileaks site works fine, which is troubling.)

I am not saying I don’t believe some Apache gunners made gross errors and the military covered it up, only that user-generated content should always be verified before conclusions are drawn, and Wikileaks’ confidentiality policies make that difficult.

If the footage is completely genuine, what cognitive process is at work here that is leading the pilots to so drastically misinterpret what they are seeing? Or are they in fact wilfully mischaracterizing it and why?

What fascinates me the most is the almost relaxed professionalism with which the chopper crew and ground troops are operating. Does this allow us to infer anything about the rules of engagement US troops were operating with around that time? What can we infer from such footage that can help us in other low-intensity conflicts?

One thing is certain: this doesn’t look like a “firefight with insurgents” that the DoD claimed. BBC has a story about the video with some useful links. Michael Collins at The Agonist has more.

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