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Upward Mobility

[ 16 ] December 5, 2007 |

TBogg is dead — long live TBogg!

Adjust your RSS feeds accordingly.

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Another Reason Why Judicial Review Is Necessary

[ 45 ] December 5, 2007 |

The Washington Post has a story today about Murat Kurnaz, a German man of Turkish origin who wasted away in Guantanamo for four years despite conclusive intelligence reports that he is not an enemy combatant or a terrorist. He was finally released in May 2006. His story brings into sharp relief what’s at stake in the Boumediene case the Supreme Court will hear today.

Despite clear statements from the intelligence community that Kurnaz posed no threat to the United States, he was kept at Guantanamo for four years based on the conclusion of a brigadier general in a memo on which members of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) that determined him to be a combatant relied. The memo included these tidbits, based on which one – I guess – could surmise (or did surmise) that Kurnaz was an enemy combatant:

the tribunal members relied heavily on a memo written by a U.S. brigadier general who noted that Kurnaz had prayed while the U.S. national anthem was sung in the prison and that he expressed an unusual interest in detainee transfers and the guard schedule. Other documents make clear that U.S. intelligence officials had earlier concluded that Kurnaz, who went to Pakistan shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to visit religious sites, had simply chosen a bad time to travel.

This was enough to keep a man at Guantanamo for four years. A 19-year-old, no less. Based on this, and on other quotes and context provided in the Washington Post article alone, one would be hard pressed to conclude that the CSRTs and the military tribunals in Guantanamo are operating in a way even close to just. The Court’s decision in Boumediene won’t necessarily fix this, but it could ensure that the courts are available as an important (and, it seems, necessary) check on the executive run amok.

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The Unserious Huckabee

[ 26 ] December 5, 2007 |

A couple of things:

  • Melissa McEwan makes a good point with respect to Huckabee wanting to have it both ways when it comes to religion and politics. You can’t not only repeatedly stress your background as a preacher and your religious values and muse about teaching the non-science of “intelligent design” in public science classes and then complain when people ask about the latter.
  • Both Yglesias and some commenters here are advancing the claim that Huckabee’s surge should be seen as evidence that Huckabee is a serious contender for the nomination. I still think the original bank-shot conventional wisdom — that Huckabee could inflict serious damage on Romney but not actually win — remains correct. In the course of explaining why claims that someone is “peaking too early” don’t make much sense and distinguishing between Obama and Huckabee, Publius makes the key point. As Huckabee’s apparently not having heard about N.I.E report on Iran or understanding its implications makes clear, he just doesn’t have the campaign infrastructure for a serious bid. After Iowa and New Hampshire Huckabee’s exceptional retail campaigning skills become virtually irrelevant, and he just doesn’t have the organization to take advantage of an early victory. Even worse, the fact that the Hair Club For Growth and other pro-business factions within the party are strongly opposed to him means that not only is he not going to get the resources to quickly build an organization, but whoever emerges as his strongest opponent will be lavishly funded. I suppose the race remains too fluid to completely rule out anybody who can win Iowa, but I still rank Huckabee a distant fifth among GOP candidates in terms of their chances of winning the nomination.
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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 33

[ 16 ] December 5, 2007 |

Strom Thurmond, one of the US Senate’s greatest sexual profligates and enduring racist icons, was born 105 years ago today.

As the Democratic governor of South Carolina, Thurmond joined fellow Negrophobe Fielding Wright — a Democratic Congressman from the governor of Mississippi — in a protest campaign intended to unseat fellow party member Harry Truman from the presidency in 1948. Truman, hoping to keep liberal voters from migrating to Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party, had nudged the Democrats ever so gently away from its 19th century herrenvolk roots, mostly by establishing a presidential commission to investigate the condition of civil rights in the US. Fearful that Truman would devote a second term to more specific, concrete devaluations of white privilege, nearly three dozen party delegates left the Democratic convention in Philadelphia and recast themselves under Thurmond’s leadership as the States’ Rights Democratic Party.

Warning that civil rights was the first step toward the creation of a “Police Nation” in the US, Thurmond rallied the Dixiecrats, who insisted that the nation’s “racial integrity” be preserved through segregation and anti-miscegenation statutes. Warning that the “nigger race” would never be admitted into his theaters, swimming pools, homes and churches — he of course had little to say about the rules of entry to his bedroom — Thurmond called upon the federal government to cease its interference with “individual rights” by mandating equality, a principle the party adamantly rejected.

Although the States’ Rights campaign failed in 1948, it did manage to dislodge four states from the “solid South,” taking South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi and nearly tossing the presidency to Thomas Dewey. Over the next several decades, the 1948 Dixiecrat walkout would be duplicated on a wider scale. As the national civil rights movement crested with the support of Democrats like Lyndon Johnson, Thurmond himself switched to the GOP and campaigned for Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon. From the 1960s through the 1980s, disgruntled Southern white voters followed Thurmond and gradually migrated to the Republican Party, whose revanchist racial politics aimed to roll back the impact of a civil rights movement that Thurmond and others had been unable to prevent in the first place.

Over the rest of his career, Thurmond acquired an almost completely undeserved reputation as a convert to the mission of racial equality. Although he occasionally and vaguely congratulated African Americans for “developing” beyond the condition of menial servitude, he never actually repudiated his segregationist views, and his few moments of “enlightenment” — voting, for instance, to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., with a federal holiday — hardly compensate for his decades of sturdy labor on behalf of white supremacy.

During the summer of 2003, Thurmond at last ascended to the great Whites Only swimming pool in the sky, several months after the most notorious birthday party in his unnecessarily long life.

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If Only I Celebrated Christmas

[ 0 ] December 5, 2007 |

…I would definitely buy this little ornament (via Jill):

As if the ornament itself were not enough, there’s a hilarious (NB: and fake) product description that goes along with the beautiful little fetus:

Protect our troops – from the womb to the war. What if the fetus you were going to abort would grow up to be a soldier bringing democracy to a godless dictatorship?

Plastic replica of an 11-12 week old fetus, 3″ long, holding a firearm in its precious little hand, with an assortment of other military paraphernalia, encased in a translucent plastic ornament, with a patriotic yellow ribbon on top. Includes a metal ornament hanger. If only a womb were this safe, attractive and reasonably priced!

Show that you support the “culture of life” by buying and proudly displaying one of these patriotic unborn Americans.

Also available in a “Brown” model

The description is fake — or at least tongue in cheek. But the product is not. It is actually for sale. In both colors. The purveyor, Miss Poppy, is an “Adult Christian” shop run by a born-again Christian woman that sells “anti-masturbatory cream” (which you are to “keep applying until you get relief”) as well as upside down American flags intended to express the owner’s displeasure at the evisceration of civil rights. The thread that ties these products together under the banner of an alternative christian shop? Making Money. Because, as the website’s tagline informs us, “What a Trend We have in Jesus!” Religion…a great way to get rich!

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McCain is the New Kerry?

[ 0 ] December 4, 2007 |

“I’m waiting for pro-life voters to remember this guy named John McCain,” says Yglesias. Relatedly, Tom Schaller lays out the case that McCain could be the Republican Kerry, the guy who slips up the middle when the frontrunner implodes.

There are a couple things to be said for this. In terms of his opportunity, there’s no serious question; Romney is in a considerably more shaky position than Dean was at a similar time, and Guiliani and Thompson both have obvious problems. And logically, I agree that McCain (assuming that Huckabee can’t win) seems like the best choice for ordinary social conservatives; my opinions about that aren’t terribly relevant, of course, but actual social conservative Ramesh Ponnuru makes a persuasive case. The problem, however, is that — especially after what McCain said about various cultural conservative leaders in 2000 and for a couple years after — McCain is disliked by a lot of people within his own party, who (rightly or wrongly) seem to see him as a Republican Lieberman. And this is the biggest difference with Kerry. Nobody in the Democratic Party had any particular issue with him; he was ideally positioned as the plain vanilla liberal to take advantage after Dean’s campaign was mortally wounded in Iowa. McCain really isn’t in the same position. He has a lot of important enemies within the party.

Admittedly, I also thought Kerry was dead in 2003. And with Huckabee unacceptable to the most powerful faction in the GOP and Thompson seemingly campaigning from a hammock, there’s really no Kerry-equivalent plain vanilla conservative who’s both 1)a strong candidate and 2)lacks strong opposition. But I still think a McCain win is a real longshot, and I think Romney can survive losing in Iowa.

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Injustice and Felony Murder

[ 20 ] December 4, 2007 |

Via Plumer, Adam Liptak discusses the case of a 20-year-old in Florida serving life without parole for lending some friends his car. What’s particularly useful in the article is that Liptak makes clear how unusual it is for the U.S. to have retained the concept of felony murder that holds accomplices equally responsible for murders committed by others regardless of their intentions:

Most scholars trace the doctrine, which is an aspect of the felony murder rule, to English common law, but Parliament abolished it in 1957. The felony murder rule, which has many variations, generally broadens murder liability for participants in violent felonies in two ways. An unintended killing during a felony is considered murder under the rule. So is, as Mr. Holle learned, a killing by an accomplice.

India and other common law countries have followed England in abolishing the doctrine. In 1990, the Canadian Supreme Court did away with felony murder liability for accomplices, saying it violated “the principle that punishment must be proportionate to the moral blameworthiness of the offender.”

Countries outside the common law tradition agree. “The view in Europe,” said James Q. Whitman, a professor of comparative law at Yale, “is that we hold people responsible for their own acts and not the acts of others.”

The point here is not that Holle is entirely innocent, but it seems far more appropriate to sentence him as an accomplice before the fact than as a murderer. (And when combined with another distinctive feature of the United States compared to other legal regimes — maintaining the death penalty — the potential for injustice is even more severe.)

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If You Like Phillipe Rushton…

[ 0 ] December 4, 2007 |

Searching around in a hurry for some reading material for the gym, I found an issue of Esquire on my magazine pile, and came across this from Certified Teller of Hard Truths James Watson:


Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified. Just like some anti-Irish feeling is justified. If you can’t be criticized, that’s very dangerous.

Although, as he goes on to make clear, the unspecified “dangers” arising from exemption from “criticism” apply only if you’re engaging in crank racialist stereotypes; criticizing a university president with a bad record of hiring and retaining female faculty for asserting that women lack the genetic necessities to become professors in many fields, on the other hand, is completely beyond the pale of civilized discourse. You can see why people who take Pihillipe Rushton seriously are inspired to claim that Watson is justified by Teh Science…

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Discussion of Issues Of Greater Interest To Readers Than Me

[ 93 ] December 4, 2007 |

Megan stakes out her preference:

I believe that just as there are Elvis people and Beatles people, there are Rowling people and there are Tolkien people. Sure, you may enjoy both, but you’re always going to prefer one to the other. So one of the other reasons why I kept putting off reading HP is because inevitably whenever people recommended it to me they would go on and on about just how creative Rowling was. To which I would inevitably think, that may be true, but no one is ever going to create as rich and complete of an imaginary world as Tolkien (hi, multiple appendices of lineages and fully developed languages with pronunciation keys). So I’m a Tolkien person.

Somewhat oddly for someone of my general social circles my choice here would be “none of the above.” Although for different reasons, because I have actually read some Tolkien (read all of The Hobbit and tried unsuccessfully to get through The Lord of the Rings a couple times) and know he’s not for me while I’ve never read word one of Rowling. I don’t even mean that to be hostile; like Chuck Klosterman I secretly suspect that they’re actually not bad, but I also know I’ll almost certainly always have other priorities. And yet, I can sort of see what Megan is saying about the old stuff; although the LOTR movies are accomplished pictures that often make my mind wander and that I have no desire to watch again, it would be foolish to deny the scope of imagination the films demonstrate, and while that’s partly a credit to Jackson but however alien his sensibility is to me it’s also largely a credit to Tolkien. (With respect to the Potter movies, I haven’t seen them, but I have a very hard time believing Megan’s claim that they got worse after firing Chris Columbus.)

With respect to the perennial “Beatles/Elvis?” question, the correct answer of course is “the Stones.”

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That Had to Hurt…

[ 6 ] December 4, 2007 |

Stephen Metcalf hits back at Saletan, and leaves a mark:

The crux of Saletan’s pieces was his Liberal Creationist analogy. The analogy is hopeless along several competing dimensions, but it reminded me of the Dilettante’s First Law of Empirical Narcissism. In a moment of controversy, the temptation to proclaim yourself an avatar of truth, and your opponent a faith-based inquisitor, is natural enough. But Darwin is Darwin thanks to generations of independent corroboration. By definition, generations of independent corroboration do not stand behind a thesis that is still being hotly contested. In claiming Darwin (or Copernicus or Galileo) for his cause, a person is often by implication saying: There would be consensus here, but for you damned critics! This is an odd definition of consensus. Conversely, when one’s angry reaction to an idea is being adduced as evidence in its favor, one should ask: What does my anger have to do with the truth-content of your idea? If you told me there was a genetic basis to Jewish avarice, I would be angry. So what? What does my anger have to do with your crappy research?

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Oh, and that Other Thing…

[ 0 ] December 4, 2007 |

For the last two years, we have justified putting a missile defense system in Eastern Europe explicitly around the threat of Iranian ballistic missiles. In addition to the extraordinary financial costs, this project has resulted in increased Russian hostility to the United States and to Russia’s neighbors. And are we now to believe that this expensive and unpopular system is justified by the need to protect Poland from Iranian ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads?

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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No Country…

[ 0 ] December 4, 2007 |

It’s not at all unusual for me to change my opinions of Coen brothers’ films on repeated viewings; I like The Big Lebowski and Intolerable Cruelty more each time I see them, while O’ Brother and Fargo have dropped (although not precipitously) with time. So with that caveat in hand, I’ll say that I liked No Country for Old Men more than Scott liked it.

It’s important at the outset to exclude the “but it was in the novel” defense; the Coens chose to make a movie from McCarthy’s weakest recent novel, and then chose to hold almost exactly to the text, so any flaws in the film can’t be blamed on the book. That said, I think what they’ve done is quite impressive, given that they managed to turn a mediocre novel into an outstanding film. Of course, a mediocre novel from one of the two or three best American novelists of his generation isn’t the same as, you know, a mediocre novel, but the point still stands; the Coens improved on the source material.

Scott and Roy didn’t care for the telling-but-not-showing elements of the film, including particularly the Tommy Lee Jones narration. I have more of a tolerance for this kind of thing (especially when it’s done well, and it can be done well or badly), so it didn’t bother me as much in the first place. In the second, I think that the telling-not-showing was part of the point. The Coens have experimented in number of films with unreliable narrators, from The Stranger in Big Lebowski to H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona. Tommy Lee Jones seemed to me to be part of that family; he has a limited grasp of what’s actually going on while at the same time conveying the image of the wise lawman. It’s not all that surprising that Jones is ineffectual, unable either to find the killer or to save the protagonist or his family. More important is the realization that Sheriff Ed Tom Bell experience isn’t novel, either; there’s nothing particularly new, important, or notable about what happens to him. This is an important part of the film; it runs counter to the “country’s going to hell in a handbasket” move that Ed Tom Bell wants to make, and contributes to the mythic quality of the landscape. It’s not just that I don’t think that telling-but-not-showing was the only way to make this point; I think that exposing the sheriff’s inability to do anything through his extended monologues was itself part of the point. And as Bell’s conversation with Deputy Ellis suggests, the strategy of making folksy commentary about events without actually affecting them in any way is in itself indicative of vanity.

But then again I love McCarthy, and my appreciation of Coen brothers films tends to vary over time, so it’s no certainty that I feel this way on a second viewing.

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