Saturday, February 17, 2007

Juevos Grandes, Amigos

I'm not sure how reliable it is as a general defense against airplane hijackings, but I have to say this was pretty baller:
A cunning pilot thwarted a hijacking by discreetly warning the passengers in French - a language the gunman didn't speak - that he would knock the attacker off-balance with a rough landing, and that they should be ready to pounce.

The plan worked.

As Capt. Ahmedou Mohamed Lemine landed the Air Mauritania Boeing 737, he slammed on the brakes, then abruptly accelerated, throwing the hijacker to the floor, officials said Friday. The forewarned passengers and crew threw boiling water from a coffee maker on the man's face and chest, then beat him into submission.

Nice.

The Great Texas Sodomy Debate

Andrew Sullivan has a great YouTube clip on Texas' sodomy and anti-dildo laws. Far and away, the best part is the debate in the Texas House on an amendment to ban heterosexual sodomy. The exchange is between Rep. Warren Chisum (R) and Rep. Debra Danberg (D) (it starts with about 4:41 to go), and it is breath-taking, in one of those senses where it would be horrifying if it wasn't so funny.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Don't Backslide!

No! Regress! Regress!

After his crazy comments on Keith Ellison, I congratulated Virginia Representative Virgil Goode for expressing a willingness to meet with representatives from the Muslim community, commenting that "If nothing else comes out of this controversy, hopefully it will be one Congressman broadening his horizons a little bit."

Apparently, I spoke too soon, as Goode apparently got up on the House floor to say that America is in danger of coins that say "In Muhammad We Trust" if we don't stop the raging Muslim hordes attempting to immigrate to America. Or don't approve the Iraq surge. Or something like that.

It's also amusing to hear Rep. Goode lecture on the virtues of religious toleration and the First Amendment, but we'll let that lie for now. Goode also appears to oppose the "Save Whomever We Can" option, by which we allow the Iraqis who bravely worked with the CPA and assisted our efforts to bring democracy to the region to gain refugee status in America. The alternative, of course, is for all of them to be brutally slaughtered as a thank you for assisting us. But that doesn't really seem to bother Goode that much. Having read recently of Otto Frank's desperate and futile attempts to get to America and escape the Nazi genocide, I'm a bit more sympathetic, but that same history makes me quite pessimistic. People with immigration views like Goode's have some of Anne Frank's blood on their hands as well. When we turn away people who are attempting to reach our borders (our friends, no less, in Iraq), knowing that they will be killed in their homes, our conscience is stained and our souls are tainted. But apparently, Virgil Goode can live with that. Moral values, I suppose.

All in all, a large step backwards for Representative Goode.

(And my God, is his voice annoying or what?)

Whiteness and Journalism

I'm a bit confused about this case.
In September, the [Center for Individual Rights] filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of Emily Smith, 16, who said she was accepted last spring to the Urban Journalism Workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University. One week later, she said, she was rejected after program sponsors learned she was white.

The program settled out of court and agreed to no longer use race in its decision processes. But there are certain very relevant facts that I think matter in how we view what happened here.

My intuitions on this case hinge very strongly on several facts which are unclear. First, was the program explicitly limited to minority students, or was their just a preference? If it's the latter, than I think Smith has a far stronger claim. Basically, if the program is explicitly labeled as being for minority students, then Smith should have seen this coming--indeed, if that was the case, then I'd almost suspect that she was applying just to sue. If, however, this was not clear, then my sympathies lie with Smith a lot more strongly--randomly receiving a letter a week after getting into a program saying "sorry, you're White, so you can't come" is pretty traumatizing if there was no reason to see it coming. The other question, of course, is whether or not there are available Urban Journalism programs out there that are not race-linked. My support for programs which are specifically targeted at minority students hinges on the fact that there are also plenty of programs that are available to the general student population. For example, at Carleton we have the Mellon-Mays fellowship, which is targeted at prepping minority students for graduate level academic research, and that's fine because we have lots of other fellowships available to the broader student body which White ol' me can pursue. But if these programs are filling a unique niche in Urban Journalism, such that Ms. Smith really didn't have any other options available to her, I think that's a different matter entirely.

Via Volokh

Extemp

I had my radio show today. Normally, it has at least one other contributor on, who comes with a list of topics to discuss. Today, however, he decided not to show up. I realized he wasn't coming with about one minute before air-time. Since I done no preparation and had no notes, I was in a bit of a bind. And so I then proceeded to spontanously speak off the cuff on a variety of political topics--for 30 minutes straight. The Iraq surge debate, US/Iran, Global Warming, Presidential Endorsements (Kaine & Rush for Obama, Swift for McCain), and GOP candidates all running to the right.

It wasn't the best show, but under the circumstances I'm quite pleased.

And also, I have to say thank you, because had I not browsed through some blogs prior to walking to the radio station, I'd have been utterly lost.

Kill Hannah

It's the new band I'm listening to (found via my Birthday Music Bleg). They're pretty good--not spectacular, but definitely worth listening too. I have to admit, though, I feel guilty. I know several Hannah's, and by and large they are very good people. Certainly, I don't want any harm to come to them.

So, to clarify to the Hannah's I know: I don't want you to die!

This reminds me of something my cousin said to me once while looking through my iPod:

"You know, for someone so mellow you listen to some angry music."

Test Message

I'll admit that I fear change, and so this move to the new blogger is rather scary. I don't like having to login with a gmail address I never use. Aside from that, nothing seems to be different but some minor stylistic issues. Which I don't like. Because they're different.

But since I need to write a post to confirm that this new version truly is the blogger cataclysm, here we go. A Washington Post article on Barack Obama's message man, David Axelrod, contained the following blurb:

Campaigns are narratives annotated with policy discursions.

True? I think so. And unfortunately, nobody reads the annotations. On the other hand, Obama's strength--fairly or no--is in the packaging more than the substantive content. So even though I think Obama could and should win on a policy race alone, in the political campaigns we get stuck with, he's pretty well positioned too.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Liberals Say....

Apropos a class discussion more than anything else, I want to reveal one of my pet peeves. Basically, it involves arguing against a strawman of some liberal bogeyman (feminists, the "political correct") as a justification for opposing a certain group or claim. For example, my roommate once lamented the manner in which politically correct speech has made discourse ridiculous. I asked him for an example, and he cited calling short people "vertically challenged." I then queried if ever, in his life, he had met someone who had demanded he refer to short people as "vertically challenged."

He hadn't, because virtually no one, including the feared arbiters of politcal correctness, is that insane. And when pressed for examples he had actually had experienced, my roommate couldn't think of one directly. Thus we have a problem--a parade of horribles which exists only in the mind somehow gets transfered as a key policy of a group that advocates nothing of the sort. So we hear about how feminists hate men (which ones?), or Democrats want us to lose in the war on terror (name names?). It's not that there are no people who believe spectacularly stupid things out there--and yes, I have encountered self-declared "feminist" writers who really do hate men. But these people are tiny, tiny fringes--completely marginal to the movement at large, with no institutional support and no relative power. Alternatively, you'll have a single position get ascribed to a whole group that really is having an uproarious internal debate on the subject. For example, I can't tell you how many times I hear feminists get blamed for creating our contemporary raunchy, sex obsessed culture, and yet there are plenty of feminists who have been at the forefront of opposing these developments, including the ultimate feminist bogey(wo)men, Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, who went as far as to call pornography a civil rights violation. Nearly every time I read a conservative "critique" of post-modernism, I am left more convinced than ever that these people don't have the foggiest idea what post-modernism entails--and I suspect some of the more honest ones would admit that they have not read any of the major works. Yet somehow that doesn't stop them from launching into long diatribes about how the post-modern worldview is devilish and evil.

So, moral of the story: When critiquing a group for arguing X, a) make sure that they've actually said it, b) make sure that it's all or most of the group that said it, rather than a point of contention within the group, and c) know exactly what the group is talking about when it says it supports X.

In other words, don't be ignorant. Sheesh.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Obama Report

Paul Mirengoff forwards the claim that "The fact is that, but for his race, no one would even consider Barack Obama presidential material in 2008." I refer the Powerline blogger back to Cass Sunstein's thoughts on the matter:
I have no idea how Obama would be regarded if he were white. (He might be regarded as this generation's Jack Kennedy; the two have a similar quickness, youth, charisma, and capacity for humor.) But for any successful politician, there are many necessary conditions for their success. Would George W. Bush be president if his last name were not Bush? Would Al Gore have become vice-president if his last name had not been Gore? Would Senator McCain be a serious candidate for the presidency if he had not been held prisoner in Vietnam? Would Bush, Gore, or McCain be where they are today if they were African-American or Hispanic? (What kinds of questions are these?)

Of course, as I've noted, the experience issue should not be solely thrown at Obama. Indeed, if I recall correctly, of the major players in the '08 race, Obama has more elected experience than all the other top candidates save John McCain (comparing to Romney, Giuliani, Edwards, and Clinton). Indeed, if you want to talk about a candidate who we should be hitting on experience grounds, how about Rudy Giuliani, whose electoral experience is two terms as mayor. Yes, I know New York City is really big, but still--I don't think one can credibly say that Obama doesn't have enough national experience to become President when you're seriously considering a candidate whose never even risen to the level of state government.

Meanwhile, in this list of early '08 endorsements, I noticed that Obama had picked up the support of Illinois Democratic Representative Bobby Rush. Rush, of course, faced a primary challenge from Obama in 2000, which he beat back by labeling Obama "not Black enough" for the district. I would have thought there would still be some bad blood from that. But it's all for the best--it would be highly embarrassing if Obama had a defector from his home congressional delegation.

Busy Day

Busy day today. I was on BBC radio to talk about the surge in Iraq. I preceded Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R), who was mistakenly identified as my own representative. This must have been one of the more confusing parts of the show. I mentioned to the hosts that I too was from Maryland, and they took that to mean I lived in his district, which isn't true (Gilchrest represents the eastern shore, while I live in a D.C. suburb represented by Chris Van Hollen (D)). Plus, they identified me as calling in from Minnesota. Anyway, I noted that while I didn't think the surge would work, the real test for those of us (including myself) who supported the war, as politicians or as statesmen, is to recognize that we made a mistake, and that we'll have to leave recognizing that our operation was a failure. To Gilchrest's credit, he did not reject the formulation of the war as a "mistake", though he did not wholeheartedly endorse it either, and went on to hedge about successes we've had preventing Iraq from getting WMDs or harboring al-Qaeda training camps (!?!). But Gilchrest does appear to be voting against the surge, and is calling for an orderly withdrawal, preferably within the year.

Next, I had an interview with Chalmers Johnson, head of the Japan Policy Research Institute, and author of the acclaimed Blowback trilogy, which recently concluded with the publication of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. For those of you who don't know, Johnson wrote Blowback in 2000, arguing that US meddling in global affairs will inevitably lead to a backlash against us by people who feel crushed under the weight of a virtual American empire. It was met with a crushing wave of indifference until September 11th, 2001, when his hypothesis went from radical to prophetic. Since then, Dr. Johnson has become ever more pessimistic about the state of the American Republic, culminating in his latest book, where he literally claims that the US is faced with the choice between its democracy and its empire.

This interview will appear in a few days exclusively on The Debate Link, and then will be published in the Spring 2007 edition of The Lens Magazine.

Prison Rape and Extra-Legal Violence

Ezra Klein wrote a series of posts on Prison Rape that are really worth reading. As it happens, my roommates were busy cracking jokes about prison rape while I was reading them, and I kind of flew off at them. Accuse me of having no sense of humor, if you will (and they did), but when the conceptualization of a problem as a popular joke is one of the key barriers to fixing it, I don't think it's a neutral action to play right into that structure (this distinguishes it from ironic humor designed to show the absurdity of a given practice--a joke about racism that derives its humor from the fundamental ridiculousness of racial hierarchy is different from one which thinks racism itself is funny).

The post series itself is important, because this shouldn't be a joke and this shouldn't be a problem that we allow to fester any longer. The issue isn't even that we ignore the occurrence of prison rape. Much the opposite, as Robert Farley noted, "the public at large has simply concluded that a) rape is an integral part of prison life, such that a five year prison sentence automatically includes five years of rape, and b) that anyone who goes to prison is irredeemably besmirched, and thus deserving of constant rape." Klein says that in a very real sense, the rights violations we tacitly approve and sanction in our own prison system are qualitatively worse than what occurs in Guantanamo Bay. Indeed, a New Republic article from 2004 made precisely that point, noting that the abuses that captivated the public eye when shown from Abu Gharib would have been just another day in a Texas penitentiary.

The irony is that if you ask it very bluntly, most people won't put their money where their mouth is. While a great many people will say that we should kill killers, far fewer would agree that we should rape rapists, much less drunk drivers or money launderers. Of course, this creates a legal fiction that allows us to dodge our own complacency in the abuse--because we don't specifically authorize rape as a punishment, we can dodge accounting for it even as it occurs under our watch, our jurisdiction, our mandate. I imagine that even the most oppressive governments don't have laws specifically designating rape and torture as punishments--and as a democracy, we don't have the excuse of not being at least partially responsible for the actions of our governments. The fact that it happens, and it shouldn't, is enough to justify demanding the government at least pretend to care about it.

Farley continues to offer an explanation for why we're so disturbingly sanguine about prison rape in our borders: that in American discourse, there is a "conviction that society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together." The Making Light blog expands on this theme, arguing that its most pernicious form is when it goes on to argue that this something all wise people just know. If you believe that society can exist without extra-legal violence, you're deluding yourself. This is what brings together the heroic torture in 24, the wink-and-nod attitude towards lynching in the early 20th century, and the idea that whatever prisoners get while in prison--even if nominally not sanctioned by the law--is their just deserts. It's a sick view, and if left unchecked it will spell the end of rule of law in this country--as it did in the lawless post-reconstruction South, as it did in the lawless Jim Crow America, as it's doing in lawless Black sites we've established around the world.

UPDATE: This topic actually got a lot more play, from a far more diverse array of bloggers, than I would have expected.

James Joyner:
That homosexual rape is routine in our prison system is so widely acknowledged that it is part of our pop culture humor. Yet there seems little outcry. I don't have any sympathy per se for complaints about "overcrowding" of convicted felons but the jungle atmosphere that pervades our penitentiary system is a national disgrace and rather clearly violates the letter and spirit of the 8th Amendment.

Professor Bainbridge notes that "[Convicted Tyco Executive] Dennis Kozlowski faces spending the rest of his life worrying about prison rape," and argues that this very real prospect should factor into our larger debates about corporate fraud. While I don't particularly like the idea that prison rape will only become an issue because rich White men are threatened, he's not wrong.

Booman Tribune, on prisoner abuse more generally:
[G]iving someone HIV and subjecting them to rape, assault, and torture is inhumane, it's illegal, it's immoral, and, in this case [a DUI conviction], it is completely incommensurate with the offense. It's appalling what goes on in our prisons. I saw another piece on American prisons on 60 Minutes last night. A prisoner with mental problems was allowed to die of thirst in a Michigan prison. They were strapping him to his bed for 18 hours a day. They caught his death on tape.

Shakespeare's Sister observes a distinct difference in the discourse employed regarding these rapes--specifically, "No one is suggesting that rape victims in prison are 'crying rape' for ulterior motives."

Reason Magazine on why the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act does not do enough to solve the problem--rather than criminalizing prison rape, it simply adds another oversight bureaucracy (hooray!). Having passed it, we're back to the norm of making fun of prison rape:
We were funding [the act] because the shame of prison rape had finally boiled over to the point where people wanted to feel like they were "doing something" about it. Having "done something" about it, we are back to the norm of wanting to beat up bad guys and lock people in prison. Sean Hannity, who ruthlessly mocked Abner Louima after he was sodomized by New York City police, has two TV shows. Bill Lockyer, who gleefully talked about Ken Lay getting raped in prison, left the office of California attorney general... and became California treasurer. Here's his 2010 campaign site. Smugness about prison rape is to looking "tough on crime" as smugness about torture is to looking "tough on terror." It is easy, and there are no repercussions.

Echidne also articulates the "put the money where the mouth is" by saying we should explicitly write into law all the punishments one can expect (and that we'll tolerate) when you are sent to prison:
What is it that the inmates are stripped of? What rights do we think they should no longer have? Note how many states have decided that ex-felons should never be allowed to vote again or not for a long time at least. Perhaps we should list all the different types of punishments in a legal form so that everybody knows what it means to go to prison. It's not just the restraints on a person's freedom of movement.

Megan McArdle rehashes her old post:
I do not believe the state is morally allowed to do that which individuals are not morally allowed to do; I do not believe that prison sentences should have "off label" uses; and I think that if you are willing for the state to impose a sentence in your name, you should be willing to carry it out. I am not willing to execute a prisoner, or to rape one. Therefore, I don't authorise the state to do things for me. Nor do I want those tasks delegated to some fiendish thug in order to give myself plausible moral deniability.

If you do think that rape is an appropriate punishment for securities law violations, then you should say so. You should pressure your representatives to write these penalties into law. And when volunteers are needed to carry out the sentence, you should be willing to put your name in the hat.

And she adds this capper: "I do not think that there is any crime for which the appropriate punishment is rape."

Amen.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Giuliani/Lieberman '08

Jon Chait comments on the prospect of a Giuliani/Lieberman ticket in 2008. It's an interesting possibility, and not inconceivable. Basically, this ticket would mean the GOP is doubling down on the security issue after getting thrashed on it in 2006. In normal circumstances, I'd say this is a losing proposition--for very good reasons, the GOP has been running scared of Iraq and like issues, knowing that they will be hung like a weight around their neck in 2008. Could a Giuliani/Lieberman neutralize the CW on this issue? Giuliani reminds America of the time immediately after 9/11--scary, to be sure, but they associate it generally with the moral clarity and focus we're missing now, and him specifically with leadership and vision bringing NYC together in the wake of the attack. Maybe a self-deceptive recollection, but it's what's out there.

Chait elaborates:
Lieberman strikes me as both a shrewd choice for Veep and a likely candidate to get it. Republicans have been largely discredited, so their best chance is to persuade the public that the Democrats are not a legitimate alternative. Lieberman, as a nominal Democrat, would have the best chance of making the case that his party has been taken over by a left-wing fringe. Indeed, that's pretty much what he's saying now. In fact, I think he's trying to set himself up to run on the GOP ticket in 2008.

I want to say that, as someone who supported Jim Jeffords' party conversion in 2001, I think Lieberman has every right to leave the Democratic Party and run on a GOP ticket if he sees fit. But we shouldn't delude ourselves--him and Giuliani on a ticket would represent an endorsement of the Bush foreign policy in which Americans have largely lost faith. The only question is whether or not Americans will know what they're voting for. And that will require the media to resist the easy narrative about a "moderate" GOP ticket, and point out that on arguably the most important issue facing the electorate in 2008, Giuliani/Lieberman would represent the status quo. If they're going to run that ticket, Americans deserve to know what they're being presented with.

My Old Firm In The News

Donald Rumsfeld has been spotted in the offices of Williams & Connelly, a top-caliber DC law firm.

Your host worked in the library at WC in the summer and winter of 2005, an experience I liken to interning at Wolfram & Hart. Very nice people, you understand--but very much in the service of evil. WC does a lot of things (some of them quite innocuous, like agent work), but it tends to be called into service by people who are a) very rich and b) very much in trouble. Reading the press clippings around the office, the phrase that popped up most often was "scorched earth tactics."

But hey, maybe he was there to get a book agent.

TNR Blog Rolls

I'm unfortunately too sick to really add anything substantive today, but I wanted to call attention to three stellar items which all showed up on various TNR blogs today.

The first is by David Greenberg on the media's sheep-like insistance on calling Rudy Giuliani a "moderate". Wrong, wrong, wrong. While Giuliani may indeed be "moderate" on the issues of abortion and gay rights (and it is unclear whether those stances will survive the GOP primary), these are not the only issues by which one's moderation is judged. Greenberg notes that in governing philosophy, Giuliani has displayed a frankly disturbing affinity for near-authoritarianism--silencing dissent, purging critics, and even trying to extend his own term in the wake of 9/11 chaos. It's worth noting that this form of conservatism, while perhaps not as viscerally infuriating as radical right positions on the culture war issues, is really the biggest threat currently coming out of the right. This has been the signature aspect of President Bush's conservatism--not social issues, where the Christian Right feels betrayed. Americans deserve to know if their vote will be a referendum on this "style" of governance.

The second is about Pat Buchanan, who continues to intrigue me as one of the few conservatives who outwardly seems to dislike Jews more than Blacks. So many conservatives have made it their mission to convert the Jews to Christ the GOP that it's very rare to see one who is so overt in suspicion towards us.

The third is by the incomparable Sacha Zimmerman, who details how the US is refusing to let in refugees who are fleeing from sexual violence (specifically, from countries whose governments don't provide adequate protection against sexual and spousal violence), apparently because it would mean we'd have to...let in refugees. And "huddled masses" takes yet another step towards historical trivia.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Excuses

Professor Farnsworth adequately sums up my feelings towards playing floor hockey tonight:
Farnsworth: Forget it, I'm not going! I have my reasons! Shut up, all of you! My hip hurts! I'm in the middle of cooking a turkey! I have warranty cards to fill out! I am not just making excuses! Alright, I'll go!

Objectively speaking, there is no reason I should be playing tonight with my headcold. Subjectively speaking, I love floor hockey. And it just wouldn't be my 21st Birthday if I didn't do something that is both fun and recklessly dangerous in the evening. Since floor hockey is both more fun and less dangerous (to me anyway) than drinking, floor hockey it is.

Calypso

Today, at 6 AM on my 21st Birthday, I achieved a dream I've been pursuing for several years--identifying and then acquiring the song "Calypso" by Spiderbait. It's from the movie "10 Things I Hate About You," but it's not on the official soundtrack. So I only knew it by the 25 second clip it got in the movie.

Sunshine, on my window, makes me happy, like I should be
Outside, all around me, really sleazy, then it hits me....


It's also not on iTunes, which meant I had to acquire it through less...scrupulous means. But I did request that iTunes add it to their library, so future patrons will pay retail.

The upshot? Disappointing, as a whole. But the first 25 seconds rock as much as ever.