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News Flash: Bush Official Facilitates Torture

[ 29 ] December 15, 2007 |

How about that: new, Chuck Schumer-approved Attorney General Michael Mukasey stonewalls an inquiry into the destruction of CIA torture videos. I reiterate these remarks.

This seems like a good time to savor this bit of High Contrarianism from Ben Wittes:

I know what you’re thinking: If they confirm Mukasey without answers, the Democrats will once again be caving and letting the administration escape accountability. But the Democrats actually don’t have to cave here. They just have to wait a few weeks. While Mukasey cannot answer these questions before confirmation, that inability will not persist long once he takes the reins of the Justice Department. Senators can make clear that they will let him take office but will also expect him back before the Judiciary Committee within two months of his accession to address questions of coercive interrogation, that they will expect answers far more straightforward and candid than they got from his predecessor, and that they will demand these answers–to the maximum extent possible–in public session.

The Democrats have a big club to wield over Mukasey’s head to make sure they don’t get snookered: Without a strong working relationship with them, he won’t be able to get anything done. The lack of such a relationship gravely impaired both of his predecessors, albeit for different reasons. And, with only a year to serve in office, Mukasey’s clock will tick loudly from the start.

Yes, the Dems will actually if anything have more leverage over Mukasey once he’s confirmed! Because, er, he won’t be able to “do anything” –like, oh, just for a random example, obstructing a Congressional inquiry into the obstruction of justice surounding state-sanctioned torture — without them. And the Attorney General requires Congressional approval to fulfill most of the office’s functions because…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!

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Unofficial Bachelor Party Update

[ 2 ] December 15, 2007 |


Though I was unable to attend the festivities for Rob and Davida this weekend, inside sources have passed along raw footage of the bachelor party in Atlantic City. Like the song says, “it’s all worse than you think.”

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Inside the Stalinist Gulag

[ 24 ] December 14, 2007 |

So while scanning the list of Academics for Ron Paul, I noticed that one of the signers had interviewed and been rejected for a job at my university several years ago. Given the recent squabbles here about liberal bias in academia, the story of that job search seemed like an interesting supplement to David Maranto’s anecdote about being rejected from a job once (or so he believes) because he professed his allegiance to the Republican Party. Obviously, I won’t divulge any specific details here, but the candidate in question came very close to actually receiving the position in spite of some gross flaws that had nothing to do with his/her political views.

Like most state schools these days, my university operates within conditions of great material scarcity (at least where faculty and staff are concerned; our administrative expenses, by contrast, are scandalously bloated). As a result, this particular position needed to be filled quickly so that students in several different programs would not be delayed in their progress toward graduation. We needed someone who could teach virtually all the courses within his or her discipline, who could be counted on to do his/her share of university service, and who would be able to publish some articles or a book before going up for tenure. After our dream candidate withdrew to accept an offer at another university — something that happens with nearly every job search here — we were left with several backups who appeared acceptable on paper. Campus interviews proved those appearances wrong, as one candidate after another delivered miserable job talks or teaching demos, until we were left with the future Ron Paul supporter.

Long story short: S/he interviewed capably and gave a teaching demo that was well received by comparison with the efforts of previous candidates. In the end, though, the committee rejected her/him because in every “non-performance” situation — that is, during causal conversations, meals, drives about town, and so on — this person indicated that s/he probably would not be an acceptable colleague, mostly because the candidate seemed interested in nothing beyond his/her own research and its arcane theoretical underpinnings. Again, for discretion’s sake I’ll spare the details, but I’ll simply note that political views never came anywhere near the surface of conversation, because we were too busy trying to have conversations about the job itself.

And therein rests my beef with most of the complaints about “liberal bias” in higher education. To read the standard accounts, one would assume that American universities are institutions of vast material privilege, where employees actually have time to hatch deliberate, exclusionary plots or fulfill unacknowledged fantasies of an ideologically pure faculty. They’re not. I’d venture that most departments are happy to find colleagues who can share the burden and won’t turn out to be complete jagoffs. In our case, we rejected the candidate because we’re a small, resource-starved, teaching-centered campus with overworked faculty who serve a diverse student body, many of whom are first-generation college students from rural areas of a remote state. And while it would certainly have been in our short-term interest to hire someone — anyone — who could fill an empty spot in the classroom, we couldn’t risk hiring someone who showed little understanding of what it meant to be a good “university citizen.” Sure, we could have added a Republican to our faculty, but really — outside of every other consideration, what good would that have done?

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[ 0 ] December 14, 2007 |

I see in this excellent Meghan O’Rourke article [via MY] that Katherine Heigl had (correctly) called Knocked Up “a little sexist.” The film makes an interesting contrast with Juno. The more recent film may seem like a classic Overrated Quirky Indie on paper but in practice it’s very, very good. It’s not as funny as Knocked Up — a tough standard– but it’s very funny, and while in the beginning the witty-in-a-very-stylized-manner dialogue is indeed almost as forced as Gilmore Girls it loosens up a little. But another nice twist of the movie — and here’s the contrast with Knocked Up — is that the relationship between the adoptive parents looks like it will be a classic case of a humorless shrewish wife taking all the pleasure out of her husband’s life, but turns out to be a lot more complex and interesting. (In fairness, as O’Rourke points out there’s a little of this in Knocked Up too, but I agree with here that it seems pro forma.) And this is true of the rest of Juno — every time it gets too close to cliche it veers sharply leftward. Even the part of the script that seems the most didactic on paper — Alison Janney’s response to the assistant’s condescension towards her stepdaughter — is something the character would say; she can’t resist condescension either, but is also someone who will fiercely stand up for her loved ones. I suspect that we’re in for a major anti-Juno backlash, but it’s the work of people with real talent. I think Cody will deserve her screenwriting nomination in the end.

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NJ To End Pointless Expensive Boondoggle

[ 12 ] December 14, 2007 |

The New Jersey legislature has voted to abolish the death penalty, and Corzine says that he will sign the bill. Good. Some death penalty supporters will undoubtedly mention that a majority of the state’s citizens still support the death penalty, but this is misleading. When residents are asked to choose between the viable alternatives, what the legislature did was in fact consistent with public opinion:

Where there is a discernable shift underway — and what has partly driven the repeal in New Jersey — is when residents are offered an alternative; the death penalty, or life in prison without parole. Given the choice, New Jersey residents backed life without parole over the death penalty, 52 percent to 39 percent.

This abolition is the formalization of existing practice; New Jersey hasn’t executed anybody since 1963. I think it’s worth noting that although the death penalty is often cited as a uniquely American phenomenon among current liberal democracies, it’s really a regional eccentricity; the vast majority of executions since 1976 have taken place in 5 states, and many states that keep it on the books rarely use it. Unusually harsh sentences for nonviolent offenses, conversely, are a truly national phenomenon.

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Voting the Althouse Way

[ 42 ] December 14, 2007 |

Well at least we know she was also vapid 30 years ago:

I was all set to vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976. I’d voted for Carter in the New York primary when he was still a face in a crowd of candidates. But the day before the election, I saw a TV interview in which a reporter asked Carter what he would do if he didn’t win. He said he’d go back to his peanut farm. This answer — does it seem innocuous to you? — gnawed at me overnight, and, as I was walking to my polling place, I sat down to talk about it with someone who was also planning to vote for Carter, and the two of us changed our vote to Ford. It wasn’t so much Ford. It was Carter. I’d decided he was a small man. He didn’t fit the Presidency. Did Ford? But Ford was already President. In truth, no one deserves to be President. But Ford did not select himself as President. He had only selected himself to represent one legislative district. I found that appealing.

Wow. Good thing she didn’t get a glimpse of Ford in a pair of shorts or something. She might have cast her vote for Lyndon LaRouche instead.

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The Afternoon Debates

[ 5 ] December 14, 2007 |

While waiting with djw for a train to D.C. in Wilmington this afternoon — alas, we weren’t able to tour a screen door factory — I noticed that a Democratic debate was on the teevee; I assumed that it was a replay, but close inspection revealed that, in fact, the debate was live. I was baffled as to why a debate — especially one so close to the primaries — would be on with the nation at work. Yglesias specultates : “I wonder if the scheduling is just a slight post-modern nod at the reality that the chattering class is, in fact, the real audience for these things.” I certainly can’t think of a better explanation…

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I’m Goin’ In!

[ 0 ] December 13, 2007 |

Tomorrow I will take an 8 hour federal courts take home exam. 8 hours. of exam. in federal courts. It will be shocking if my brain does not ooze out of my ears at the end of the day….

That said, I am signing off until this beast is toast. In the meantime, check out Malika Sadaa Saar’s post on pregnant and birthing incarcerated women over at RH reality check. Here’s a snippet:

Our reproductive rights community has yet to be a voice for mothers behind bars, or a voice against the disproportional removal of vulnerable children from the care of their mothers. Whereas our mainstream reproductive movement has addressed women’s right to choose what happens to our bodies and our right to choose when to be a mother, low-income women of color are routinely denied the basic right to be mothers. The parameters of reproductive health and rights discourse must be expanded to also include the very right to mother and to raise one’s children with dignity and healing. Otherwise, we are in danger of playing out what we correctly criticize the pro-life community for doing — only demonstrating concern for the fetus.

See you on the other side.

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[ 17 ] December 13, 2007 |

Yglesias on the Jesus-Lucifer brotherhood thing:

[Jess L. Christensen] clearly seems to think Mormons have some distinctive doctrine on this point. Kim Farah, while not quite contradicting anything in the latter excerpt, is clearly trying to give the reverse impression . . . that Mormons just believe what “other Christians believe.” From where I sit, this particular doctrine doesn’t sound especially odd (two brothers: one good, one evil, destined to eternal struggle for the souls of men — what’s wrong with that?) so I don’t really know why the church would be weird about it.

Beats me as well. So long as one of them stays locked in the attic eating buckets of fish heads, I don’t see any cause for concern.

Someone should, of course, be asking Huckabee and every other self-professed Christian candidate about the batshittery that — at least as far as I’ve found — makes a sober reading of the Bible all but impossible.

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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 34

[ 0 ] December 13, 2007 |

Note: I wrote this last year before the birthday series actually started; in the spirit of inclusion — and because I just received a large pile of stuff to grade — I’m reposting it today….

Ted Nugent — rock guitarist, walking phallus and self-parodying right-winger — turns 59 today. He shares his birthday with the legendary Alvin York, who led a devastating attack on a nest of German machine-gunners during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in 1918; on more than one occasion, Nugent has expressed hope that Sgt. York might be “cloned,” in spirit if not in fact.

Ted Nugent also shares a birthday with Mary Todd Lincoln, who was gibbering mad.

Rising to fame in the 1970s with a string of somewhat well-regarded, jizz-splattered albums, “The Nuge” has spent the last two decades descending the evolutionary tree with artistic and political statements that grate against the ears with equal degrees of intensity. Only the long arc of history will allow us to judge whether Nugent’s greatest crime was to participate in the objectively awful “supergroup” Damn Yankees — or to become the Charlton Heston of his generation, promoting firearms with onanistic glee in one of the most violent nations in human history. Nugent, who obsessively congratulates himself for his environmental consciousness — eating, as we know, only what he kills — has nevertheless vigorously supported both wars in Iraq, declaring quite frankly that “some Arab numb-nut” should not be entitled to control “all our fuel.” As perhaps the greatest chickenhawk in modern rock history, Nugent received a student deferment for enrolling in Oakland Community College; in 1977, however, he told High Times that he stopped bathing, soiled his pants deliberately, and took crystal meth in the weeks leading up to his physical. Given the opportunity to atone for his self-confessed cowardice, Nugent has traveled with the USO to Fallujah and to Afghanistan, where he was allowed to play with automatic weapons and defacate in one of Saddam Hussein’s toilets. He later offered his uninformed assessment that the United States’ difficulties in Iraq have resulted from an unwillingness to “Nagasaki them.”

An avid admirer of George W. Bush, Nugent moved from Michigan to Crawford, Texas, several years ago. Nonetheless, he has suggested that he might return to his native state to run for governor. Should his political ambitions bear fruit, one wonders how well his views on early childhood education would fly with the voters of Michigan. A few years back, Nugent outlined his thoughts on firearms education, arguing that all American children should be given weapons training in elementary school. As he explained, the first day of the firearms course would conclude with a trip to what he called “The White Room,” where the lessons of firearms safety would be rendered with all the subtlety of A Clockwork Orange

The children would be led into a properly constructed prefab shooting range chamber with all white walls, ceiling and floor, with a nice white table at the far end. On the white table would sit six all-white gallon cans of tomato juice with yellow smiley faces on them.

The kids would be seated and provided ear and eye protection. The instructor would then put on his ears and eyes, look squarely and sternly into the faces of the children, slam back the bolt of his AR-15 with the muzzle pointing back at the juice cans. He would then speak in a loud, clear voice, saying, “Pay very close attention, please.” At which point he would level the .223 and in a smooth, rapid succession, commence to annihilate three cans in a shower of exploding red juice, splashing violently all over the pretty white walls, table, ceiling and floor, himself, and even some of those in attendance. Slinging the long arm onto his shoulder, our shooter would then unholster his sidearm and do the same to the remaining three cans with the same dynamic results. Holstering his handgun, he then would turn to face the roomful of stunned kids, fold his arms across his chest, and allow blatant facts to permeate and stain the psyche and souls of everyone there.

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"A revolution but half-accomplished"

[ 37 ] December 12, 2007 |

Reading part of an econ dissertation linked by Yglesias, I’m reminded Carl Schurz’s famous description of Reconstruction. In her project, University of Michigan graduate student Melinda Miller examines the post-civil war economic status of Cherokee freedmen and measures it against the livelihoods of emancipated slaves throughout the rest of the former Confederacy:

The Cherokee Nation, located in what is now the northeastern corner of Oklahoma, permitted the enslavement of people of African descent. After joining the Confederacy in 1861, the Cherokee Nation was forced during post-war negotiations to allow its former slaves to claim and improve any unused land in the Nation’s public domain. To examine this unique population of former slaves, I have digitized the entirety of the 1860 Cherokee Nation Slave Schedules and a 60 percent sample of the 1880 Cherokee Census. I find the racial gap in land ownership, farm size, and investment in long-term capital projects [was] smaller in the Cherokee Nation than in the southern United States.

The whole paper (available as a PDF here) is quite interesting. She notes, for example, that the more stable patterns of Cherokee land tenure allowed its freedmen to invest in agricultural projects — like fruit orchards — that were extremely lucrative compared with corn or cotton. More than half of all Cherokee freedmen earned income from fruit cultivation, whereas less than three percent of Southern blacks found themselves in a position to do so.

For a historian, though, the larger question remains whether the results of this “exogamous exogenous variation” among the Cherokee could have been duplicated throughout the rest of the South. I don’t think it could have been. There’s no question that any morally just outcome to the Civil War would have included massive agrarian reform, including the total liquidation of the plantation economy and the redistribution of the region’s land without regard to race or previous condition of servitude. The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 made some effort in this direction and — had it been applied to more than five states, and had it actually hacked apart the viable plantations lands that were largely restored to their previous owners — it might have worked some of the effects that Miller finds among the Cherokee.

But very little decent land was actually conveyed to freedmen and poor whites, and after a decade the law was repealed — offering another piece of evidence to opponents of Reconstruction, who yowled constantly about the foolishness of government action on behalf of the oppressed. By that time, in any case, Northern Republicans and “New South” Democrats — most of whom were former Whigs and racial moderates — had reached an agreement that the reconstruction of the South did not require political, economic and social liberty for blacks. Within a decade, those moderates were forced aside by even more reactionary elements who reintroduced herrenvolk order throughout the South. If emancipated slaves had actually been offered a fair opportunity after the war to own the lands they’d worked for generations, the white reconquest would arguably have been bloodier than it actually turned out to be. That would certainly have been a war worth fighting, but it wasn’t a war that Northern whites were prepared to endorse.

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Do They Still Believe This Crap?

[ 18 ] December 12, 2007 |

Bush vetoed S-Chip today. Again. As in, for the second time. Why? Well, here’s what White House Spokesperson Dana Perino had to say:

“This Congress failed to send the president legislation that puts children first, and instead they sent for a second time one that would allow adults onto the program, expand to higher incomes, and raise taxes.”

Right. Because a bill that expands to provide healthcare to more children doesn’t put children first? As a law school professor would say, that certainly doesn’t pass the laugh test.

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