Monday, December 21, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: The Smoking Gun as a Stake Through the Heart

In a rare emergence at Peevish, we got into a discussion of Bush administration criminality and Republican obstructionism, and I said:
We need the smoking gun. We need proof that Bush and Cheney and Libby and Rove and Kagan (and Kagan, and Kagan, etc.) and Kristol and Rumsfield actively conspired to put partisan success over national welfare, put ideological barriers in the way of reality, put profit ahead of people. I can see the bullet holes, you can see them too, but until we can put that gun in their hand and their prints on the trigger and the bullets, people will consider the Republicans to be just another political party, rather than a treasonous criminal conspiracy. If we can do that, we can make the Republican party as dead as the Whigs and the Know-nothings, and we can get on with our lives. There will still be a conservative movement, a business party (a big chunk of the Democratic party qualifies!) an anti-liberal movement. But they will have to abjure the Republican legacy to remain legitimate.

All I want for Christmas is a smoking gun email....

Monday, December 07, 2009

Picture: 1941 Nickel

I wasn't really planning to remark on Pearl Harbor Day, but look what I got in my change at Wal-Mart:

For sixty-eight years, that nickel's been working its way through our economy. Maybe it lived in a jar for a while, but still.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Soft-handed hypocrisy

In a discussion of the new Senate report on the failure to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora I wrote

Rumsfeld’s argument at the time, the report says, was that deploying too many American troops could jeopardize the mission by creating an anti-US backlash among the local populace.

I haven’t seen anyone point out the irony of this argument. If it’s sincere, it represents a bizarrely uncharacteristic soft-handed approach by an administration which routinely denigrated anyone who publicly suggested such a direction. I suppose you could just chalk that up to rank hypocrisy, which is plausible.

Or it could just be a smokescreen for incompetence. Either works.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: The Dark Side of Thanksgiving

After reading a devastating revisionist history of the origins of Thanksgiving (really: if you're at all sentimental about the history of the holiday, don't read it. If, like me, your sentiment is reserved for the modern practice of the holiday, the admittedly invented traditions and family memories, you should be fine.) I wrote:
I'm having a more complex reaction to this post, though. As it notes, huge numbers of Native Americans died as a result of disease rather than direct European action: this sets up a causality problem. Even in the absence of European eliminationist violence, Native American communities were going to be devastated in the short run, and possibly the long run, due to disease. Conversely, even in the absence of the "Columbian Exchange" diseases, European eliminationist violence was going to disrupt and dislocate Native American society in the long run, though it might have looked different in the short run.

I'm having trouble imagining plausible alternative histories. It's a failure of imagination on my part, perhaps, but that's where I am at the moment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: God and Vegetarianism

Over at Acephalous, where I learned that the creators of South Park also wrote a musical based on the Packer expedition, I commented on Sarah Palin's invocation of the immortal sentiment, "If God didn't intend us to eat [X], then why did he make them edible?" I remarked:

The theology is twisted. God didn't intend for humans to eat animals. Genesis, Chapter ONE*:

29: And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30: And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

Only later, after the abomination and destruction of all life but Noah&Co., does God permit the eating of meat. Chapter Nine:
1: And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
2: And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
3: Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

God then goes on to start writing the rules of Kashrut. God may have made animals (and people) edible, but allowing them to be eaten was Plan B.

* KJV, since I'm sure she wouldn't accept any other translation.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Quoted: We can do that?

Just browsing through some ScienceBlogs stuff and ran across the following passage:
Producing proteins in the lab (often in bacteria) is pretty routine work. However, producing a posttranslationally modified protein can be much more difficult, because you generally have to have access to an enzyme that will perform the desired modification. On the other hand, it is generally much simpler to mutate the source DNA, and then use that DNA to produce a modified protein (generally with one amino acid substituted for another)

Routine? Simpler to mutate?


Friday, November 06, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Quis Custodiet Psychiatrists?

In a discussion of the Fort Hood tragedy over at archy, I noted that:
What's actually interesting to me about this, as it develops, is how normal this case is looking: harassed but intelligent loner, desperate circumstances, civilian handguns (and lots of ammo), lashing out at the institution which he blames for his plight. This is a thoroughly American slaughter.
I also said that, because the Major was a psychiatrist, that "There are going to be a lot of awkward quis custodiet discussions in counseling offices over the next few months."

Friday, October 30, 2009

History Quotations

It's been a while since I posted some new quotations.

Here's a great collection of quotes about history that I found via Winter Rabbit (whose discussion of rights, religion and law is quite provocative). Some good ones:

E. L. Doctorow:
History is the present. That's why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth.

Edward Gibbon:
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.

Etienne Gilson:
History is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of thought.

Friedrich Von Schiller:
The history of the world is the world's court of justice.

George Bernard Shaw:
We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.

George Bernard Shaw:
We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.
P.S. it's not exactly a history quote, but I just ran across Terry's posting of the full "We are the music makers / we are the dreamers of the dream" poem cited in Willy Wonka. The last line is one I might use in my history collection: "For each age is a dream that is dying, / Or one that is coming to birth."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Epicurus would not be an Epicurean, but I would

It's been a while since I did a life-defining online quiz. Thanks, Brandon:

Your recommended philosophy-guru is EPICURUS.

Key fact: Epicurus, founder of Epicureanism, is probably the most misunderstood philosopher of antiquity.

Must have: A delight in the countryside and gardens.

Key promise: Peace and tranquillity.

Key peril: Boredom.

Most likely to say: "The true hedonist can find as much pleasure in a glass of chilled water as in a feast for a king."

Least likely to say: "He who tires of the city, tires of life."

The quiz itself is short and, like so many of its ilk, contains either-or questions that really produce "depends on circumstances" answers. Of the six options, though, I'm reasonably satisfied with this.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Krugman's Rules

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman's four rules for research [via]:

1. Listen to the Gentiles

2. Question the question

3. Dare to be silly

4. Simplify, simplify

Friday, October 09, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Obama: Officially Not Bush

Over at Progressive Historians discussion of this morning's Nobel Peace Prize announcement I wrote
What's to be baffled? This is one case where my first reaction is almost certainly identical to the reaction from the right side of the US political spectrum: it's not about Obama, but about Bush. He's not Bush, and they are very, very happy about that.

Don't get me wrong: he's saying some great things, and has made some moves in the right direction. Some. But, as the NYtimes pointed out, the nominations for this year's prize closed just a few weeks after his inauguration.

Granted, pickings were slim this year -- though there's all kinds of humanitarian and civil rights organizations they could still pick from -- but I'm unpleasantly surprised by the shallowness of this choice. Not that Obama couldn't become that kind of President, but he hasn't yet.

On the flip side, the Little Anachronism has been reporting some anti-Obama comments from school -- "likely to be one of our ten worst presidents" -- and this was dramatic balance.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Underreported? 2009 Head to Head

As is tradition here, I give you the Project Censored "Top 25 Censored Stories" and the WorldNetDaily "Most Ignored Stories" lists. Unfortunately, they're on somewhat different cycles, with WND working from calendar years and PC working on more of an academic year. As usual, I will bold the ones I've heard of. I make no claims about the truth of any of these stories, only that they are considered underreported; I have edited them slightly for length and clarity.
Project Censored, 2008-2009
1. US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street
2. US Schools are More Segregated than in the 1950s
3. Toxic Waste Behind Somali Pirates
4. Nuclear Waste Pools in North Carolina
5. Europe Blocks US Toxic Products
6. Lobbyists Buy Congress
7. Obama’s Military Appointments Have Corrupt Past
8. Bailed out Banks and America’s Wealthiest Cheat IRS Out of Billions
9. US Arms Used for War Crimes in Gaza
10. Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate
11. Private Corporations Profit from the Occupation of Palestine
12. Mysterious Death of Mike Connell—Karl Rove’s Election Thief
13. Katrina’s Hidden Race War
14. Congress Invested in Defense Contracts
15. World Bank’s Carbon Trade Fiasco
16. US Repression of Haiti Continues
17. The ICC Facilitates US Covert War in Sudan
18. Ecuador’s Constitutional Rights of Nature
19. Bank Bailout Recipients Spent to Defeat Labor
20. Secret Control of the Presidential Debates
21. Recession Causes States to Cut Welfare
22. Obama’s Trilateral Commission Team
23. World Water Forum a Corporate-Driven Fraud
24. Dollar Glut Finances US Military Expansion
25. Fast Track Oil Exploitation in Western Amazon
WorldNetDaily, 2008
1. Charges that Barack Obama is not a natural born citizen of the U.S.
2. hundreds of top scientists tell Senate they believe claims of man-caused global warming are fraudulent
3. The true causes of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, which point directly to the Democratic Party
4. Obama's ties to terrorists and extremists
5. The campaigns of third-party presidential candidates, especially Ron Paul's
6. The stunning success of the Iraq war
7. The sources of Obama's campaign contributions
8. Obama's far-left voting record
9. Bush's refusal to pardon imprisoned border agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean
10. Suppression of Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders' film, "Fitna," which posits worldwide threat from Islam

This is the first year, I think, that I've actually heard all ten of the WND stories, probably because it was election year stuff which actually got a lot of play. This is typical for WND, though: their list is made up of stories which should have, they think, changed things; the fact that they were widely reported, usually debunked, and people moved on is evidence, as far as they're concerned, that the story was under-reported. It's not the same thing.

I'd heard of six of the top ten PC stories, 11 out of 25: I think that's a bit low for me (hmm, checking the past years, it's actually on the high side), but some of these, if true (and not overstated), clearly are under-reported. The ones I've heard of, mostly come from my leftist sources, but almost never make it into the wider, so-called "mainstream" media in any detail or depth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Zero-Risk Culture

Over at Terry's place I wrote:
I’m not the first to make this point, but our nation’s “zero-risk” approach to life is going to paralyze us if we don’t start pushing back on it pretty hard.

Terry turned that into a very interesting and personal discussion of the nature of risk and fear. Some key points
Taking a chance means being willing to fail in order to succeed, and we should be able to evaluate those odd objectively. Going for a morning run in the park is a reasonable risk, as is taking a solo vacation, or submitting a novel. Yes, there’s a chance of failure, but the potential reward makes it a good payoff.

That doesn’t mean being stupid, however. We need to recognize when danger is real and respond accordingly, by locking our house doors, checking references of daycare providers, making sure the brakes on our cars are in good working condition. And that also means stopping to question whether what we’re hearing on the tv is told to scale or if it’s inflated to sensationalist proportions in order to win ratings. Quite often, there’s more at work than just the facts.

I couldn't agree more.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Quotation: "It subverts meritocracy."

Via Andrew Sullivan, Paul Campos relates a tale from a Mr. Harry Hopkins (yes, it's third-hand. Doesn't mean it isn't true.):
"I remember back in the late 1990s, when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture. Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol during the first Bush administration.

The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics.

Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.

"With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. 'I oppose it,' Irving replied. 'It subverts meritocracy.' "

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Photo Essay: Things I Destroyed With My Hedge Trimmer, aka, Of course I take my camera with me when I'm doing yard work, don't you?

It'd been a year with no trimming of any kind for the border plants and small trees, not to mention the vines and weeds. I don't mind a slightly wild yard, mind you, but it was getting hard to mow around them and the holly, in particular, wasn't playing nicely when the ball rolled that way. I didn't kill the hibiscus, I don't think, but I did take off a bunch of flowers and got it back on our side of the fence.
I'm sure the spiderweb didn't survive the trimmer, but I'm sure the spider lived to spin another day. It'll just have to move a lot further in, now. I do wish the picture had come out better, but after swinging the hedge trimmer around for a while, my arms just didn't have the patience for a lot of that shoot-check-shoot again-check again stuff.
Here's a sight you really don't want to stumble on suddenly in the midst of a vigorous trim! Fortunately, the wasps were out and about, or something. Just one flew around for a bit, and I continued on my destructive path, unmolested.
Actually, this little worm/caterpillar/larval something is probably just fine. Maybe even happier with the new layer of foliage on the ground to burrow around, though that won't be there long: tomorrow the mulching mower does the cleanup!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

My rainbow is Brown?!?!?!

Your rainbow is shaded brown.


What is says about you: You are a deep thinking person. You appreciate the roughness of nature. You feel closer to people when you understand their imperfections.

Find the colors of your rainbow at [via]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: The Birther Game

Over at Washington Monthly I wrote:
I've become convinced that the Birther meme is a long-term game. Nothing that happens now or in the near future matters, as long as the issue remains in the news on a regular basis. What matters is 2012, when Obama's electoral filings are going to be challenged everywhere. While those challenges have very little chance of succeeding individually, the complete derailing of political discourse -- and the potential for a bad judicial or commission decision is small but real -- will almost certainly be destabilizing.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Where we are and what to do?

In response to Sara Robinson's frightening but well-argued description of our current crisis, I wrote
Mrs. R,

I'm looking forward -- sort of -- to the second post. I have two thoughts for the moment. First, since I've never read Paxton, I don't know how he handles the case of Imperial Japan, but it provides an interesting counterpoint to the European fascists. Japanese political culture meets many of the definitions of fascist at the time, but without having a political movement as such: a sense of crisis and wide popular support for radical military cliques because they were "patriotic" more or less covered it. Japan's crisis, like ours, had its roots in the failures of capitalism and the price of imperialism. (see 1 and 2)

Second, in resisting these developments, not all voices are equal. As a very liberal, Jewish educator, I'm pretty much part of the problem, as far as the right -- or middle -- of the body politic is concerned. My views are considered predictable, easily dismissed (unless we can prove beyond the whisper of a shadow of a doubt that they are mainstream rather than elite and extreme. This is what I'm looking for in your next piece: how my voice can actually do any good in the resistance to radicalization given the rhetorical environment?

I'll post a link to the second part of her discussion when it's available.

Picture: Butterfly on Ground

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Now, Less Vile!

Near what we all hope is the end of a long and difficult argument, one of my interlocutors said:
Thank you, Ahistoricality. You are far less vile than your brethren.

What better testimonial from your enemies?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Seasonal Flamewars

Usually I just let these things go by, but Scott appreciates a meta-discussion more than most, so I gave him one
Every genre has to have it's quality v. popularity debate every couple of years. They start with a screed decrying the popularity of low-quality work; the rabid amateur base (in history, we call them "buffs"; in speculative fiction and comics, you say "fanboys"; in knitting and hunting, it's "hobbyists"; etc.) screams back with the anti-elitist gambit; some people go off on practitioner v. consumer tangents while others try to bridge the gap with mollifying words about quality and popularity not being mutually exclusive. There's always a bunch of definitional arguments: what is or is not within the genre; does the genre have boundaries and do they change (and the traditionalist v. modernist argument always has its own ring in this circus); what is quality, anyway; what is popularity when comparing different media; etc.

It doesn't end: it just peters out with everyone's pre-existing prejudices about each other and the genre confirmed, and two years later someone will put out another rant and the whole thing starts over again.

Enjoy yourselves, fellas.
p.s. I'm assuming that everyone's Harry Potter posts are getting lots of traffic, which is why this is my most popular post at the moment.... or is it me?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Harry Potter's Sixth Movie

In response to Scott Kaufman's positive review of the latest installment, I said
It may well be that the movie benefits from not reading the book. Since Dargis' review -- aside from that Fiennes thing -- pretty well jibed with my reading of the book, I took it to be a pretty faithful adaptation.

I got through the books so I could discuss them with my spouse, who likes them. I'll get through the movies when the Little Anachronism is old enough for them, and then mostly so that I can describe the action to my spouse. I suppose it's nice to know that there's something to look forward to near the end....

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Thursday Lyrics: I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas

The Little Anachronism was watching a video purporting to teach some math and economics. I was mostly ignoring it, but I couldn't help overhearing something about having a thousand dollars, and the possibility of buying a pet hippo with that money. That struck me as a bit unrealistic: wouldn't a hippo cost more than that? Being a nerd, I decided to see if I could figure out quickly (i.e. with some google work) what a hippo would cost. I couldn't find much, honestly, but in the discussion thread for this song, I did find the claim that you could buy a hippo in 1953 for $3000. Based on purchasing power parity measurements, that's roughly the equivalent of $24,000 today. I still don't know how much a hippo actually costs now, but it's enough for now.

Apparently my spouse encountered this song at camp. I never did, but it's cute, and in honor of the question, here it is.

Words and music by John Rox
performed by Gayla Peevey (1953)

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
Don't want a doll, no dinky Tinker Toy
I want a hippopotamus to play with and enjoy

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
I don't think Santa Claus will mind, do you?
He won't have to use our dirty chimney flue
Just bring him through the front door,
that's the easy thing to do

I can see me now on Christmas morning,
creeping down the stairs
Oh what joy and what surprise
when I open up my eyes
to see a hippo hero standing there

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses
I only like hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me too

Mom says the hippo would eat me up, but then
Teacher says a hippo is a vegeterian

There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage
I'd feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage

I can see me now on Christmas morning,
creeping down the stairs
Oh what joy and what surprise
when I open up my eyes
to see a hippo hero standing there

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles or rhinoceroseses
I only like hippopotamuseses
And hippopotamuses like me too!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Comments Elsewhere: Iran

It won't be coherent, but you can follow the links and it'll make more sense.

In response to an open Iran thread, I wrote:
All protests are terrorism and therefore what’s happening in Iran is an insurgency.

I'm being facetious, of course, but follow the link and prepare to be mind-boggled.

In response to a very personal response to the Iran situation, I wrote:
When this happened twenty years ago in China, I made the mistake of assuring a friend that the protesters were protected from violent group reprisal by international attention. I was stupid then, naive, and I’ve seen plenty more cases in the two decades since I learned my lesson about predicting the future with certitude.
I can also say this: the Myanmar junta is not safe and secure because of their massacre; the Chinese government has been paying a slow but real price for Tiananmen (and Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs just came out, which really stung), and trying to assuage the Chinese people with prosperity (which isn’t a bad thing, mostly). Just because they survive in the short term doesn’t mean that they were unscathed; just because our lives go on doesn’t mean we forget or forgive; just because the protest ends doesn’t mean the discontent is gone.

I was also in this discussion about rhetoric and counterfactual history, but my comments don't really stand alone all that well. I did get a nice reply from one of the other commenters, though:
Gosh, you're smart but snotty as hell. Though I suppose that is part of your charm.

I have snotty charm!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Twitter Tracks

Thinking about the remarkable use of twitter we've seen in Iran, I said
It really is remarkable, but there are a lot of other forms of communication still working, too: phones (including land lines!), copy machines (seriously underappreciated for their role in breaking down Soviet thought control), personal communication.

Twitter, though, is visible to the rest of the world, and much harder to filter quickly than blogs. Still, I’m actually concerned, a bit, about this: it leaves a record, one that’s very difficult to erase, and if the regime regains control, there will be a vicious backlash against identifiable twitterers.

Update: Apparently I'm not wrong.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Strategic Silence

SEK made a point that I've seen elsewhere: expressed US support for the pro-democracy protesters in Iran would hurt their cause by associating them with foreign power. I responded:
In theory, then, the Obama administration ought to announce immediately and loudly that it accepts the results of the election as announced, and is looking forward to working with Ahmedinijad on critical regional and bilateral issues.

This would result in the implosion of any number of crania, probably to the good.

Actually, it probably should be "cranii."

For more detail on the uprising in Iran, see Andrew Sullivan. But be forewarned: he has a policy of showing violent and disturbing images, if they're real and relevant.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quoted: Obama in Cairo

I thought of this today:
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful.

Nothing else I'm thinking is printable.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Judeo-Calvinism?

on Winchester: “Judeo-Calvinist dreariness”?????

It’s bad enough we get folded in with Christendom, but you’d think the culture that produced the Song of Songs would get an exemption from accusations of Calvinst Victorianism.

[Yes, I know "Calvinist Victorianism" is a linguistic and historical atrocity. That's my point.]

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Pseudonymity and Politics

In response to the unmasking of Publius, I asked
There have been three fairly prominent pseudonymous bloggers outed in the last two months (Hilzoy, Alaska Muckraker, and now Publius), all two by conservatives. Can anyone name a pseudonymous blogger -- conservative or liberal -- outed by a liberal for something other than vicious harassment or sock-puppetry?

I've discussed my pseudonymity here (and a little bit here).
Update: Someone at WashingtonMonthly reminded me that the Alaska case actually involved a Democrat; that doesn't mean that he's not a conservative, especially in Alaska, but I don't actually know.

Update (6/9): Shockingly, the culprit has apologized. It even appears to be a fairly sincere and complete apology, which is very unusual for a lawyer (or a blogger):
On reflection, I now realize that, completely apart from any debate over our respective rights and completely apart from our competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging, I have been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Publius. Earlier this evening, I sent him an e-mail setting forth my apology for my uncharitable conduct. As I stated in that e-mail, I realize that, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to undo my ill-considered disclosure of his identity. For that reason, I recognize that Publius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate.
He does not seem, in this, to be retracting any of the supposedly substantive arguments he and his supporters made against pseudonymity. But it's more than I expected, and a very positive result. Publius has "of course accepted." Moving on....

Picture: Pine Fingers

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Compare and Contrast: Killings in Kansas and Arkansas

There's been a lot of discussion, primarily on conservative blogs, about the different reactions to the Tiller assassination and the Little Rock Army-Navy Recruitment Office attack which killed Private William Long. Most of the discussion is based on a logical fallacy: that one must be entirely consistent in one's condemnations to be taken entirely seriously on any of them. "But what about..." is a classic rhetorical tactic, shifting the grounds of an argument and sometimes derailing it entirely.

That said, though, I'm largely in agreement that all violence needs to be taken seriously -- I'm a procedural liberal who thinks that political processes need to be settled by political and legal means, and I want to be protected when I make unpopular stands.

Still, I think there's a reasonable question: what, if anything, are the differences between these cases that might explain different reactions? Some of this is, clearly, speculative, as we haven't gotten the full details on either (alleged? Seems unnecessary) killer yet, but I'm working from the information available.

First, the similarities:
  1. unmistakeably violent murders, illegal acts
  2. May 2009
  3. used legal firearms
  4. apparent religious motivation
  5. clear political motivation
  6. perpetrator seems to believe they are acting in defense of the innocent
  7. victim was a firm believer in their cause
  8. individual perpetrators without organizational support, no conspiracy
  9. targetting respected social institutions (medicine, the military)
  10. targets demonized by political partisans, in long-running, public and intense disputes
I may be overstating some of the similarities, but the parallels are strong, nonetheless. Now, the differences:
  1. abortion rights v. the military
  2. civilian v. military victim
  3. handgun v. assault rifle
  4. individual target v. institutional target
  5. individual target v. potential mass casualties
  6. mission-critical individual v. low-ranking support staff (or, to put it another way, tactical v. symbolic)
  7. high-profile target v. previously anonymous victim
  8. domestic policy v. foreign policy
  9. at church v. at work
  10. older family man v. younger unmarried

The conservative charge of hypocrisy is based on the assumption that difference #1 is the critical one, really the only one. But it's #6 and #7, I think, which actually drive media coverage: the immediate effects of these deaths are different, as are the likely long-term effects. To a large extent, I'd say that #8, because it directly impacts more people's lives locally, and #2 also, are significant factors. Not to downplay the tragic death of this member of the military, but it is an occupation in which violent death in the line of duty is less shocking.

My final thought is one which others have also made. Given the parallels between the cases, why have so many prominent conservative voices failed to call the Tiller assassination an act of domestic terrorism, and to address the implications of that for domestic politics?

[edited to add images; crossposted at Progressive Historians]

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Murder Movement

Describing the murder of Dr. George Tiller, one-third of the doctors in the US who could and would provide late-term abortion procedures when necessary, Ann Friedman said "It is the culmination of an ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment against someone who was providing completely legal health-care services."
My response
My only question is why would you call this "the culmination" of anything? For the last quarter-century there's been a fairly steady stream of intimidation, harassment and violence directed at abortion providers. True, assassination murders have been rare compared to, say deaths in traffic (but not compared to Muslim-originated terror attacks in the US) but Tiller himself was the subject of a half dozen physical and vandalism attacks since the last abortion doctor assassination murder. The killing is a tragedy, but entirely within the normal range of operations for the movement which has been pushing against reproductive rights for the last 25 years or more.

This isn't an "end" or "peak" in any meaningful sense, unless there is some kind of political and cultural shift which actually pushes these radicals out of the mainstream.

To clarify, I'm quite sure that the anti-rights movement is going to move on to another target, which will inevitably "culminate" similarly, then another, and another....

For more, I recommend Sara Robinson and Digby. Meanwhile, over at Terry's I said
You know what I just realized?

Operation Rescue had an immediate statement ready, with just the right mix of violence-rejection to cover their asses and not-backing-down-abortion-is-murder brimstone to let us weak-kneed liberals know that they aren’t going to let some negative attention shift their rhetoric or tactics. They knew something like this was going to happen, and they don’t care.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Google Meme: Fun with autocomplete

Via EotAW:
Newest mental toy:

1. Go to Google.
2. Type in the beginning of a common phrase (e.g., “how do I..”, “where are…”, “is barack…”)
3. Look at the drop-down list of suggested searches.
4. If appropriate, laugh riotously.

My result was, for me professionally, deeply disturbing
Read 'em and weep:

history of valentine's day
history of basketball
history of soccer
history of the internet
history of israel
history of mardi gras
history of st. patrick's day
history of computers
history of baseball
history of football

What comes up for you?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Don't tell the kids....

I was reading detailed analysis of Sotomayor's past decisions and came across the following potentially explosive revelation [emphasis added]:
United States v. Santa, 180 F.3d 20 (1999), involved a question the Supreme Court eventually considered this term in Herring v. United States, No. 07-513. At one time, there had been an arrest warrant issued for Mr. Santa. That fact was put into a statewide computer database. The warrant was subsequently recalled, but that fact never made it into the database. When the police arrested Santa, wrongly believing there was still a warrant out for him, they searched him and found drugs. He moved to suppress the evidence as the result of an unconstitutional arrest (i.e., an arrest without probable cause or a warrant). Judge Sotomayor, writing for the majority, ruled that the evidence should not be suppressed under the exclusionary rule – the same conclusion reached by the Supreme Court in Herring. Judge Newman joined the opinion but wrote separately to voice his disquiet over the fact that the defendant had been arrested by the local police but was prosecuted in federal court because New York courts would have suppressed the evidence as a matter of state law had he been prosecuted locally.

Humor aside, as a matter of law, Sotomayor's decision was a correct application of a deeply disturbing existing precedent....

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Comments Elsewhere: Quips

I got in a couple of good lines at Terry's place and elsewhere.

On the pandemic:
Since H1N1 includes both avian flu and swine flu material, we could call it the “pigs fly flu.”
On computer problems:
And backups? Like true love, you don’t really understand backups until you don’t have one….
On Souter's retirement:
don’t conservative justices ever get sick? And why do the liberal ones keep eating in the cafeteria?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Bill of Commandments

John McKay has translated the Bill of Rights into King James English:

  1. Thou shalt not make laws respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
  2. Thou shalt not not make laws abridging the freedom of speech nor the freedom of the press.
  3. Thou shalt respect the right of the people peaceably to assemble and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  4. Thou shalt not infringe upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
  5. Thou shalt not quarter troops during peacetime in any house without the consent of the owner.
  6. Thou shalt not perform unreasonable searches. Neither shall thou seize without warrant.
  7. Thou shalt not hold a person to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, without first indicting by a Grand Jury. Neither shall thou twice put a person put in jeopardy of life or limb for the same offense. Neither shall thou compel self incrimination.
  8. Thou shalt give speedy and public trial and preserve the right to trial by a jury of peers.
  9. Thou shalt not impose excessive bail or fines. Neither shall thou inflict cruel and unusual punishments.
  10. Thou shalt preserve for the States and the people those rights not delegated to the United States by the Constitution.
Awesome. Go ye and sin no more.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday Lyrics: The John Birch Society

At some point last week, the line "To get this movement started we need lots of tools and cranks" started going through my head....

Chad Mitchell Trio : The John Birch Society
by Michael Brown

Oh, we're meetin' at the courthouse at eight o'clock tonight
You just walk in the door and take the first turn to the right
Be careful when you get there, we hate to be bereft
But we're taking down the names of everybody turning left

Oh, we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks
To get this movement started we need lots of tools and cranks

Now there's no one that we're certain the Kremlin doesn't touch
We think that Westbrook Pegler doth protest a bit too much
We only hail the hero from whom we got our name
We're not sure what he did but he's our hero just the same

Oh, we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Socialism is the ism dismalest of all
Join the John Birch Society, there's so much to do
Have you heard they're serving vodka at the WCTU?

Well you've heard about the agents that we've already named
Well MPA has agents that are flauntedly unashamed
We're after Rosie Clooney, we've gotten Pinkie Lee
And the day we get Red Skelton won't that be a victory

Oh we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Norman Vincent Peale may think he's kidding us along
But the John Birch Society knows he spilled the beans
He keeps on preaching brotherhood, but we know what he means

We'll teach you how to spot 'em in the cities or the sticks
For even Jasper Junction is just full of Bolsheviks
The CIA's subversive and so's the FCC
There's no one left but thee and we, and we're not sure of thee

Oh, we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society holding off the Reds
We'll use our hand and hearts and if we must we'll use our heads

Do you want Justice Warren for your Commissar?
Do you want Mrs. Krushchev in there with the DAR?
You cannot trust your neighbor or even next of kin
If mommie is a commie then you gotta turn her in

Oh, we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Fighting for the right to fight the right fight for the Right
Join the John Birch Society as we're marching on
And we'll all be glad to see you when we're meeting in the John
In the John,
in the John Birch So- ci- i- teee.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Chronology and consistency

In response to an interesting article about political philosophy and civility post-9/11, I raised the following concern:

I have a—typical of an historian, perhaps—chronological problem with the set-up. It’s interesting, to be sure, to measure someone’s actions against their stated principles, but it’s much more convincing if the actions in question come after they’ve stated those principles.
Perhaps I should have added that there's virtue in changing one's mind; not all inconsistencies are hypocrisies. But I want to see if there's any reply (and what sort) before I get too involved in a discussion over there.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: underwear economics

In response to the news that underwear sales are down, I wrote
Actually, with population growth slowing, the steady sales of underwear were actually based on inflated expectations and overconsumption; the dip is a correction to a more appropriate level given the backlog of product in people's drawers. It's an underwear bubble, and it's been popped.

And I did my best to make that sound normal, not obscene, and I'm pretty sure I failed.

To be fair, I didn't try all that hard....

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Tea Party Goals

In response to Steve Benen's comment about the Tea Party movement,
Meanwhile, I suspect one of the problems with the Tea Parties is that it's not altogether clear what they're rallying for. They're conservatives who don't like the Democratic domestic policy agenda; this much is clear. But usually there's some kind of point to organized political events, and the Tea Parties are still a little vague.

I take it they don't like the economic stimulus package, but that's already passed. They don't like budget deficits, unless they're run by Republican presidents. They don't want their taxes to go up, but Obama has already passed a significant middle-class tax cut, which by most measures, is the largest tax cut ever signed by a U.S. president.

So, angry, right-wing activists are going to get together to demand ... what exactly? A 36% top rate instead of a 39.6% top rate? A $3.1 trillion federal budget instead of a $3.5 trillion budget? It's hardly the stuff of a credible and coherent political movement.

I responded
angry, right-wing activists are going to get together to demand ...

The abolition of the IRS, the FDA, HHS and the Dept. of Education, the elimination of restrictions on gun and ammunition ownership, a return to the gold standard, "whites only" immigration policies and probably a return to gunboat diplomacy and 54-40.

This isn't about rolling back a few recent changes: it's about taking the opportunity of a loss to organize, finally, a radical right wing movement that doesn't (apparently) have its origins in the Klan.

Crosspost and Comment: Exceptionalism and Permanancy

President Obama, 4 April 2009, Strasbourg [via]:
"I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

"And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

"Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

"And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can't solve these problems alone."

Passover is my nostalgic holiday. That and Thanksgiving, I guess: these are the holidays where the family comes together, or the community, or friends (or, since you can have multiple seders over Passover, all of the above!), where the food is distinctive and deeply rooted. Also, the preparation is fairly intense, so there's a period of anticipation and planning that hightens the experience.

So if you're wondering what I've been doing this last week, it's the usual, plus a bunch of extra shopping and planning. And next week will be a cavalcade of ritual: recipe following, haggadah-reading, actual seders, informal get-togethers, and more recipe following (I'm a very improvisational cook, usually, but not with Passover recipes; if you don't get them right, the results can be really unpleasant).

What are you up to these days?

That was my "Open Thread" post at Progressive Historians. I also left the following comment:
Twice in the last two weeks, at two different blogs, I've seen a post on which I'd left a comment deleted. In one case the author decided that it was a draft, not ready for prime time; in the other, the post remained crossposted elsewhere, where it got much friendlier comments.

One of the reasons I started my comments elsewhere tag was the sometimes fragile nature of the internet, but I need, apparently, to move more quickly on these things.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Who would have guessed?

For whatever reason, my comments on Kevin Drum's post about the Iowa ruling, a unanimous victory for marriage equality, keep getting eaten as spam. Here's what I said, roughly (lost it in the spam filter)
Who would have guessed?


High average levels of education, a long tradition of diversity and tolerance, an authentically progressive tradition of politics, and a quiet cosmopolitanism that puts much of both coasts to shame. Possibly the most authentically liberal place I've ever lived.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: the life of a blog commenter

Over at Crooked Timber, where I rarely comment, a query on commenter behavior provoked this from me
Once a certain quantity of comments is reached, hardly anyone new to the conversation will read all the comments before commenting. If the purpose of commenting is to have one’s comment read, then it doesn’t make sense to contribute to already-long discussions.

I tend to avoid commenting on heavily-commented posts, because those usually feature well-worn positions without much chance of substantive contributions making much difference, and are usually dominated by a fairly small clique of frequent commenters (this isn’t directed at CT specifically, but it does happen here; I’m a member of the ingroup at some blogs myself, so I see it happening from both sides) who are focused on their ingroup interactions and don’t pay that much attention to comments from outsiders (unless they are flamingly provocative).

This is one of those posts that invites everyone to share their experience without really adding up to a conversation. There's sort of a discussion going on but, as I expected, nobody's addressed my point at all. Eventually, if it goes the way CT discussions often do, someone will make more or less the same point, but ignore the fact that I've made it already.

Update: The comments morphed into a discussion of "comment bait" -- what topics inspire the most comments. My contribution to that was
Declare the “END OF” something. Books, teaching, good television, bad doctors, an era, and epoch, a school of thought, a social pattern, a word, a meme, etc.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Quotation: "We are what we imagine."

"Myth has been called "the smoke of history," and there is a desperate need for a history of the Hindus that distinguishes between the fire, the documented evidence, and the smoke; for mythic narratives become fires when they drive historical events rather than respond to them. Ideas are facts too; the belief, whether true or false, that the British were greasing cartridges with animal fat, sparked a revolution in India in 1857. We are what we imagine, as much as what we do." -- Wendy Doniger [via]

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yeah, I'm liberal.

You can take a 40 question quiz in which you rate policy issues on a ten-point scale to gauge your depth of feeling. archy put his score in comments. I'll do it in white, so you can highlight the post if you want to see just how liberal I am....

295 out of 400

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Patriotism, Dissent and the benefit of the doubt

In response to a justified but slightly excessive rant at Progressive Historians I wrote:
There has always been something of a divide between liberalism and conservativism on the issues of rights and responsibilities. Liberals emphasize rights over responsibilities except in the case of property rights, which are subject to public need; and conservatives are exactly the opposite, emphasizing responsibilities over rights except in the case of property rights which are nearly absolute.

What's most galling, to my mind, is that the criticism and sometimes blatant anti-Americanism on both sides is rooted in idealism, in the belief that an American which doesn't adhere to certain standards isn't authentic and legitimate, but the left gives the right the benefit of the doubt under these circumstances, rarely questioning the patriotism of secessionists and eliminationists, whereas the right rarely, if ever, gives the left any leeway, questioning the patriotism of even mainstream interlocutors.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Social Network Cynicism

Terry at I See Invisible People has been discovering that Facebook, for all its utility and entertainment value, also has blazingly insensitive aspects. My comment
Facebook is like a TV station, a cable channel, or a magazine, or a newspaper: they provide a service which attracts an audience. Then they sell access to that audience to advertisers: advertisers will pay more for an audience that is more likely to be interested in their product, so Facebook, which knows a lot about its users, should be able, in theory, to sell high-potential audiences to advertisers for good money.

Someone who uses this prescription gift app is giving Facebook a lot of information about themselves and/or the recipient.

So far, Facebook has been treading a fine line (i.e. a big gray area): trying to be useful to their advertisers without blatantly prostituting their users or violating their individual privacy. But I’m not sure they’re making all the money they think they should be making, yet. So they’re being more aggressive about extracting information, and they’re being more aggressive about finding ways to draw in advertisers, and they’re being more aggressive about attracting the high-value 18-35 demographic (though I still don’t know why that is; they’re not the ones with all the money) by being “edgy”….

Yeah, it’s a little cynical. OK, it’s a lot cynical, but I didn’t make up the business model.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Quotation: Malthus on the search for truth

From the first chapter of Thomas Malthus' Essay on Population:
The advocate for the present order of things is apt to treat the sect of speculative philosophers either as a set of artful and designing knaves who preach up ardent benevolence and draw captivating pictures of a happier state of society only the better to enable them to destroy the present establishments and to forward their own deep-laid schemes of ambition, or as wild and mad-headed enthusiasts whose silly speculations and absurd paradoxes are not worthy the attention of any reasonable man.

The advocate for the perfectibility of man, and of society, retorts on the defender of establishments a more than equal contempt. He brands him as the slave of the most miserable and narrow prejudices; or as the defender of the abuses. of civil society only because he profits by them. He paints him either as a character who prostitutes his understanding to his interest, or as one whose powers of mind are not of a size to grasp any thing great and noble, who cannot see above five yards before him, and who must therefore be utterly unable to take in the views of the enlightened benefactor of mankind.

In this unamicable contest the cause of truth cannot but suffer. The really good arguments on each side of the question are not allowed to have their proper weight. Each pursues his own theory, little solicitous to correct or improve it by an attention to what is advanced by his opponents.

The friend of the present order of things condemns all political speculations in the gross. He will not even condescend to examine the grounds from which the perfectibility of society is inferred. Much less will he give himself the trouble in a fair and candid manner to attempt an exposition of their fallacy.

The speculative philosopher equally offends against the cause of truth. With eyes fixed on a happier state of society, the blessings of which he paints in the most captivating colours, he allows himself to indulge in the most bitter invectives against every present establishment, without applying his talents to consider the best and safest means of removing abuses and without seeming to be aware of the tremendous obstacles that threaten, even in theory, to oppose the progress of man towards perfection.

Just ran across it. Not thinking of anything in particular except that the public sphere is bigger and faster than it used to be, but not all that much better, perhaps.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Color Coded Fiscal Crisis

In response to this story and this story about state government budget impasses leading to the brink of shutdowns, layoffs, etc. -- in the comment section here, I made a suggestion (color added):

We’re going to need color-coded maps:
  • Red = Republican-induced Shutdown
  • Orange = Republican Brinksmanship
  • Yellow = Budget Impasse but still solvent
  • Blue = Blue Dog Democrat Capitulation slashes social, educational funds and corporate taxes
  • Green = Sane people still in charge.
[Welcome, Avedon Carol readers!]

Monday, February 02, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Pony Chokers

I wrote:
A quarter-century from now, when one of your students asks you when “pony-choker” became slang for the old Republican party, you can say that you were there at the creation….

A millenium for now, some enterprising anthropologist will note that the absence of large-scale pony graveyards in the styrofoam strata suggests that the ancient tales of “pony-choking republicans” were apocryphal. Or perhaps that the tradition of pinata can explain the idiom.
You have to go read the original to see why, and it's worth it.

(also, I noted the overlap of neo-confederate and anti-New Deal/stimulus thought....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

If you don't answer any questions, the result is "fearless"

Your Word is "Why"
You see life as complicated and intriguing. The only thing you know for sure is that you haven't figured it all out yet. You question everything and believe very little. And whatever you believe is likely to change.

You are interested in theories, philosophies, and religions... even if you don't buy into any of them. You are also fascinated by how things work. You'd like to understand as much in the world as possible.
Also, odds are good that, had I lived in the 17th century, I'd have been a peasant, or, at best, a clerk, not an artist, inventor, explorer, poet or philosopher. Oddly, that wasn't an option.

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

It's been a while since I bothered updating my Impeachment Index, partially out of exhaustion, attention to other matters, etc.

But the latest issue of Vanity Fair has An Oral History of the Bush White House which is a fairly extensive "greatest hits" based on interviews with a whole bunch of highly placed people. [via]

I'm too much of an historian not to say "take it with a grain of salt." But it's fundamentally consistent with the view we've had for years from the outside: they lied, and broke laws, and got most of the important stuff wrong over and over and over again.

My favorite two bits (though the whole thing is worth reading, despite its length):
Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister and vice-chancellor:
I was invited to a conference in Saudi Arabia on Iraq, and a Saudi said to me, Look, Mr. Fischer, when President Bush wants to visit Baghdad, it’s a state secret, and he has to enter the country in the middle of the night and through the back door. When President Ahmadinejad wants to visit Baghdad, it’s announced two weeks beforehand or three weeks. He arrives in the brightest sunshine and travels in an open car through a cheering crowd to downtown Baghdad. Now, tell me, Mr. Fischer, who is running the country?
Not only did they screw up the Middle East, they thought nothing of screwing over their own people:
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: The Cheney team had, for example, technological supremacy over the National Security Council staff. That is to say, they could read their e-mails. I remember one particular member of the N.S.C. staff wouldn’t use e-mail because he knew they were reading it. He did a test case, kind of like the Midway battle, when we’d broken the Japanese code. He thought he’d broken the code, so he sent a test e-mail out that he knew would rile Scooter [Libby], and within an hour Scooter was in his office.
Yeah, the VP's office was spying on the NSC. I actually laughed out loud at that one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Lyrics: Power and Glory

The Power and the Glory
by Phil Ochs

Come and take a walk with me thru this green and growing land
Walk thru the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk thru the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk thru the sun and walk thru the rain
Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all (on us all)
From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?
Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pride, or Pardon?

So, we're down to the wire. I've been watching the White House News Site as well as the usual outlets, and haven't seen any hint of pardons yet. What's President Bush going to do? Will he:
  1. Issue pardons tomorrow morning on his way out the door? If so, will they be a select few, or a huge blanket pardon? The potential for prosecution is real, and it's their last chance to insulate themselves against the consequences of their actions.

  2. Not issue pardons at all? He and Cheney seem so convinced of the rightness and legality of their actions that it would be hypocrisy to pardon anyone. More importantly, someone who is pardoned can't invoke their right to silence in the face of self-incrimination, which means that those pardoned could well be compelled to testify against unpardoned individuals.

I think the latter course more likely, but I'm going to keep watching. What do you think?

Soundtrack: Presidential Rag by Arlo Guthrie.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why do we only psychoanalyze the misstatements of politicians we dislike? I don't know but we do.

"I'm telling you there's an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That's the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best."
-- President George W. Bush, 12 January 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Comment Elsewhere and The Ten Rules of Poststructuralist Prose

In response to an Orac takedown of New Age pseudo-scientific quackery, I wrote
The challenge in studying semiotics or postmodernism is that, unlike studying literature, or history, or medicine, they are not first-order fields. Both of them are the study of the way in which we think, and as such have been very useful. Scholars like Pierre Bourdieu, Thomas Kuhn, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault have really expanded our understanding of our own linguistic and cultural habits, the ways in which we both comprehend the world and limit our scope of action therein.

That said, there have been some truly awful intellectual and linguistic directions taken by postmodernism and semiotics: the former lends itself to a kind of nihilistic relativism which denies truth and meaning entirely; the latter to a kind of free-association in which things end up meaning rather the opposite of what everyone intuitively expects. There's junk science in every field, and these are relatively new fields; the ratio is still kind of high and both tend to attract "maverick" and "ooh, it's new and cool" types.

As I said before, the woo-use of semiotics draws on the way in which "signifier" and "signified" can be very different things: the way the flag stands for the nation, or "White House" stands for the presidency (or the nation). The wooists are taking that fairly straightforward process of unpacking meaning from language, and turning it into sympathetic magic. It's no different from their use of quantum mechanics, and you won't understand semiotics or postmodernism by reading Milgrom more than you'll understand Heisenberg.

One thing I didn't say is that postmodernists and semioticists have been responsible for some of the most opaque and bizarre prose in academic history, which is part of why they are so useful to voodoo peddlers. I remembered a piece I read back when post-modernism was just getting a foothold in US academia, and it was still called by its more linguistic term, "post-structuralism." It's a funny piece, still, for those of us who have to read this stuff:

Ruth and Kenny Mostern, Z Magazine, June 1991, p. 7.

1. Change all appearances of the verb "to be" to "can be represented as." Corrolary: Always refer to the word "is" as the copula.

2. Never "analyze"; always "deconstruct."

3. Never refer to "ideas" or "thoughts"; replace these concepts with "episteme," "habitus," or "ideological structure."

4. Actions are "always already overdetermined" by the categories in rule 3.

5. Feel free to add the following prefixes and suffixes to any word in your vocabulary: "post," "neo," "dis," "over," "quasi," "co," "de," "ism," "ize," "ify," "ness," "ology."

6. Use parentheses and dashes in the middle of words.

7. Every activity is "writing"; all things are "texts"; all people are "subject positions"; all collections of things are "structures"; all that is outside a structure is a "margin."

8. Conclude all discourse with several options and a question.

9. Call anything you don't understand "essentialist" and denounce it.

10. Refer to at least one of the following three French authors in everything you write: Foucault, Derrida, Lacan. Corollary: Appropriate all untranslated French words from your English versions of their texts.

Oh, that takes me back....

See also here and here and here.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bigotry Still Rules

Sometimes you read something you have to share:
In the summer of 2006 I attended the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard. One of the guest presenters was ninety-five year old Johnnie Carr, the woman who took over the Montgomery Improvement Association in 1956 after the successful bus boycott when Martin Luther King, Jr. went on to form the Southern Christian Leadership Convention. Carr told stories and fielded questions. I'm not sure how the topic of gay people came up but at the mention of the word "homosexual" her face shriveled up and she moved her hand in a wide sweeping gesture, then exclaimed, "Those DISGUSTING people!" She made some inaudible comments then said the word “DISGUSTING” again. She said this even though Bayard Rustin, the man who co-founded SCLC with King, who assisted in the creation of the Committee on Racial Equality in 1942, organized the first freedom ride and the March on Washington, and helped King convert wholeheartedly to non-violence, was gay. I looked at Waldo Martin and Pat Sullivan, the two seminar leaders, and they looked away but, to their credit, they did not stop the tape recorder.

After Carr left and our group reconvened, I looked around and asked (it took no small amount of courage for me to raise this question and risk losing their respect or being seen as a troublemaker): "Did she really say that gay people were disgusting?” Everyone shrugged it off. An African American professor from North Carolina said, "Oh, that's just her generation." Martin replied, "She's a devoted church lady, that's just the way they see things." I responded, "That doesn't make it hurt any less."

Now imagine someone lobbed the same spiteful word at a black person in 1955, at a time when key constitutional rights were not yet secured and violence or at least censure was always a risk. That person's entire character would be defined as essentially racist. It would not be shrugged away, especially not now because we as a nation have come to understand the history and impact of bigotry on African Americans.-- Lisa Szefel

Read the Rest