Friday, October 12, 2007

All That Jazz

We Real Cool
-Gwendolyn Brooks-

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

I don't generally like poetry (with notable exceptions), but this one has always stuck with me. It was in an anthology textbook I had in high school AP English. This poem wasn't assigned, but I stumbled across it since it was on the page after the one that was assigned (which I don't remember at all).

Girls Prep

Sooooo adorable!

I particularly like the girl who wants to be a vampire when she grows up.

Single-sex education is a difficult topic. But without a doubt (as has been noted elsewhere), there are right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it. And it looks like this school is doing it right.

Via Feministing

Attracting the Wrong Sort

Reports The Denver Post:
State Rep. Debbie Stafford, a longtime Republican known for her passionate arguments on behalf of abused animals and foster kids, ditched her party Thursday to join majority Democrats.

The Aurora lawmaker's surprise move - announced as she stood with a dozen cheering Democrats - was the first time in 20 years that a state lawmaker switched parties.

Republican reaction ranged from flippant to seething, as the Democrats' House majority climbed to 40-25 and Republicans were left with just five female lawmakers in the state Capitol.

"I am not leaving the Republican Party as much as the Republican Party left me," Stafford said. "I decided it was time to place myself, and my self-respect, ... with the Democratic Party."

DKos uses the defection as a jumping off point to note just how many Republicans have recently become converts to our cause. It's a signal of the way politics is changing, he said, and proves that our party is on the way up, while the GOP brand is on the decline.

Perhaps. But reading the Post story, a vague flash of memory went off in my head. "Debbie Stafford," I thought, "that sounds really familiar. But why would I have heard of a random Colorado State Representative?"

Oh yeah. This is why:
But Rep. Debbie Stafford, R-Aurora, said at the caucus that she was upset that the bill exempted children under 18.

"We're helping create the next generation of terrorists," she said.

The bill Rep. Stafford was referring to was one that sought to deprive illegal immigrants of all non-critical governmental services. Stafford was pissed that we weren't sufficiently tough on nine-year olds, and had the gall to say that treating them like human beings was akin to a terrorist training camp.

I understand that politics is a numbers game and it's good to have more folks on our team. But let's not forget who this person is, just because she's on our side now. It's not that she's "tough on illegal immigration" -- I recognize my party is split on this. But Stafford's "we're helping create the next generation of terrorists" comment was one of the paradigmatic displays of the extremist anti-immigration hysteria that has gripped too many people in this country. It was ugly, it was hateful, and it displayed a near inhuman attitude towards children.

As much as I'm pleased to see many Republicans coming to their senses and recognizing that their movement has left them, I cannot welcome folks like Stafford to my party.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Interesting Figure

James Russell, a top authority on Armenia at Harvard University, is an interesting fellow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On the Armenia Resolution

The House Foreign Relations Committee just passed a resolution labeling as "genocide" the WWI Turkish killing of Armenians. The vote was 27-21 (if anyone has the vote breakdown, I'd be obliged). Such resolutions have passed House committees before, but never made it to the full body for a vote. That looks to change this time, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has a large Armenian-American constituency and is thus strongly committed to getting it passed.

Publius offers the standard, mature view (taken by every living Secretary of State, incidentally), that this is not the right time. Turkey is one of our closet Muslim allies. Moreover, unlike quotation mark "allies" like Saudi Arabia, it is a bona fide liberal, democratic Islamic state. It also is one of the few Muslim states to recognize and have diplomatic relations with Israel -- a relationship it has been issuing veiled threats against in the event that this resolution passes. And it happens to border Iraq, where it could if it so desired cause all manner of trouble under the pretext of dealing with its "Kurdish problem." This event happened a long time ago, Publius argues, so why stir up the fuss?

My first response, I admit, is emotional. Turkey's absolutely childish reaction to simply acknowledging historical fact is unbelievably grating to me, and at this point the inevitable temper tantrum they've threatened to throw is a perk, not a disadvantage, to me. As I wrote back in August when Turkey wanted to "send a message" to American Jews about the implications of this vote, my own message back to them is "grow up". It's long since time. And if they want to enter societal adulthood kicking and screaming, well, so much the worse for them.

But more substantively, contra Publius I think recognizing past human rights atrocities -- particularly those in which the perpetrators have tried desperately to deny their crimes -- has significant contemporary import. I'm reminded of this excerpt from Charles Briggs:
[D]ebates about genocide are themselves political events that bear powerfully on creating, legitimating, and challenging violence.... Actions generally come to be referred to as genocides -- and as 'events' -- post facto. The labeling shapes how they are perceived and remembered and their implications for the future. Constructing an event as genocide places it in relationship to other acts and creates conduits for the circulation of accusations. The architects of genocide are often as concerned with suppressing discourse about the event as with the killing itself. [Charles Briggs, "Genocide," in A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies, David Theo Goldberg & John Solomos, eds., (Oxford: Blackwell 2002), 38]

The people who contemplate genocide pay attention to how society has reacted to similar events in the past. Hitler, we recall, was encouraged in his own Final Solution because "who remembers the Armenians?" When genocidal regimes perceive that they can infinitely stave off the day of reckoning for their actions via a variety of diplomatic shuffles, threats, and bluster, we lose one of the few non-military deterrents we have to the violence. Particularly in this age, where it has become clear that the world community either doesn't have the heart or stomach to physically intervene to stop genocide, it becomes all the more important to utilize whatever resources we have in our arsenal to stave them off before they occur. In this fight, moral suasion is a surprisingly effective weapon -- but only if it is known that it will be deployed.

And what of the opposition of all the Secretaries of State? I think it's important to understand where they're coming from. Certainly, passing this resolution would make their jobs harder. Turkey undoubtedly will retaliate as best it can, and this will harm many vital US interests across the board. I concede that. But guess what? Our diplomats aren't supposed to have easy jobs. They're supposed to do their jobs. And their job is to negotiate American interests and morals within an ethical framework we set up that, on occasion, obliges us to do things that make our life harder. It might be easier for us to crush the insurgency in Iraq if we were willing to carpet-bomb the nation. But we recognize that "ease of victory" is not the only consideration. Basic ethical guarantees -- such as that genocide should be recognized and its perpetrators should not get a free pass -- should not be seen as chess pieces to be manipulated to our greatest advantage. They should be built into the playing field as part of the reality our diplomats have to deal with. It's tougher terrain than if we simply jettisoned ethics all together. But you know what? Sometimes, that's what it means to be the good guy in the world.

Nebraska Senate Ad

The DSCC hits the Republican front-runner, former Governor and Agricultural Secretary Mike Johanns.

Kos likes it and thinks the "quitter" narrative is effective. I kind of think it's a cheap shot. Politicians of all stripes resign from their current post while running for the next one. This isn't aberrant behavior. It's typical -- even expected. When Joe Lieberman didn't resign from the Senate to run for Vice President, folks were really annoyed at him. A lot of the time, the argument is made that a Senator or Representative whose running for higher office can't concentrate on representing her district, and so should resign to focus on her campaign. This ad is the epitome of taking a neutral or beneficent act, saying it in a nasty voice, and hoping uninformed voters will take it badly.

It's not quite at the "I hear his sister is a thespian" level, but it's in that family.

Backhanded Compliment

Michelle Cottle on Fred Thompson's debate performance:
I tend to agree with the post-game analysis that Big Fred looked considerably less senile in the last half of last night's proceedings than in the first.

Unfortunately, Cottle proceeds, the debate was so dull few people probably even lasted into the second half.

Oh well. At least Thompson can still charm the ladies.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Guilty Ones

In my post on dead civil rights leaders, I noted that even the scion of light, Dr. Martin Luther King, was the subject of vigorous and vicious attacks from the mainstream right at the time of his activism. These attacks take very similar forms to the contemporary assaults the right regularly lobs at modern-day civil rights activists, which should be grounds for suspicion. Apropos of that, I happened to be assigned an old National Review article written in the aftermath of the Los Angeles race riots, by (I regret to say) Jewish theologian Will Herberg. Here's an excerpt:
It did not come easy for us in this country, under the weight of the vast influx of immigrants and the residual effects of the frontier tradition, to consolidate a secure internal order based on custom and respect for constituted authority; but finally we managed. This internal order is now in jeopardy; and it is in jeopardy because of the doings of such high-minded, self-righteous "children of light" as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his associates in the leadership of the "civil rights" movement. If you are looking for those ultimately responsible for the murder, arson, and looting in Los Angeles, look to them: they are the guilty ones, these apostles of "non-violence."

For years now, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his associates have been deliberately undermining the foundations of internal order in this country. With their rabble-rousing demagoguery, they have been cracking the "cake of custom" that holds us together. With their doctrine of "civil disobedience," they have been teaching hundreds of thousands of Negroes -- particularly the adolescents and the children -- that it is perfectly alright to break the law and defy constituted authority if you are a Negro-with-a-grievance; in protest against injustice. And they have done more than talk. They have on occasion after occasion, in almost every part of the country, called out their mobs on the streets, promoted "school strikes," sit-ins, lie-ins, in explicit violation of the law and in explicit defiance of the public authority. They have taught anarchy and chaos by word and deed -- and, no doubt, with the best of intentions -- and they have found apt pupils everywhere, with intentions not of the best. Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind. But it is not they alone who reap it, but we as well; the entire nation.

It is worth noting that the worst victims of these high-minded rabble-rousers are not so much the hated whites, but the great mass of the Negro people themselves. The great mass of the Negro people cannot be blamed for the lawlessness and violence in Harlem, Chicago, Los Angeles, or elsewhere. All they want to do is what decent people everywhere want to do: make a living, raise a family, bring up their children as good citizens, with better advantages than they themselves ever had. The "civil rights" movement and the consequent lawlessness has well nigh shattered these hopes; not only because of the physical violence and insecurity, but above all because of the corruption and demoralization of the children, who have been lured away from the steady path of decency and self-government to the more exhilarating road of 'demonstration' -- and rioting. An old friend of mine from Harlem put it to me after the riots last year: "For more than fifteen years we've worked our heads off to make something out of these boys. Now look at them--they're turning into punks and hoodlums roaming the streets.

Will Herberg, "'Civil Rights' and Violence: Who Are the Guilty Ones?", The National Review Sept. 7th, 1965, pp. 769-770.

If you read carefully, nearly all the familiar tropes are there. Casting civil rights leaders are the real villains in America's racial drama? Check. Calling them demagogues, rabble-rousers, or race-baiters? Check. Pinning the blame for racial tensions on Black cultural institutions? Check. Refusing outright to engage in the substance of the Black claims? Check. Claiming that they're the ones really looking out for Black interests? Check. Hell, they even played the "my Black friend" card with the citation to his "old friend from Harlem." It's all there. The same arguments, thrown out just as easily against Dr. King as they are against any Black leader with the temerity to speak up against White racism.

Gentrification Story

This post by Racialicious on the complexities of gentrification is excellent in its own right, and particularly so for me since it focuses on my home land of Montgomery County, Maryland. Though not immune to gentrification by any means, MC has attempted to maintain some level of economic integration by aggressively demanding mixed-income housing from any new developers -- a requirement they can swing because of the red-hot real estate market in the area. The results haven't exactly stymied the exiling of working and lower-middle class people to far-flung exurbs, but it has slowed the tide to a much greater extent than one would expect for a region with our socio-economic profile.

Another interesting factoid (to me, anyway). Here is the racial breakdown of Montgomery County, according to the most recent census:
64.78% White
15.14% African American
0.29% Native American
11.3% Asian
0.05% Pacific Islander
5.0% from other races
3.45% from two or more races.
In addition, 11.52% of the population was Hispanic or Latino, of any race

Relatively speaking, that isn't horribly segregated, but still no race other than White breaks 16% of the population.

But Montgomery County currently has a Black County Executive (the top elected position in the local government), Ike Leggett. He won in a 2006 landslide (after winning a tightly contested primary). But I'm curious how many governmental entities the size of Montgomery County (or higher) are represented by a Black public official when the size of their African-American population is around 15% (or less). My casual observation is that it is quite rare for Black public officials to be elected out of regions that are less than, say, 35-40% Black -- i.e., places where Blacks are a significant voting bloc. Montgomery County may be an interesting exception to this rule -- and one that I, for one, am proud of.

Black People Don't Grow Old

...they just fade away.

Via Steve Benen comes the story of how Georgia's "voter ID" law -- a thinly disguised attempt at disenfranchising Democratic voters that was rightfully struck down by a federal judge -- managed to get past the DOJ's voting rights section. You may remember this law as the one justified by its sponsor on the grounds that if Black people "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls."

Anyway, Paul Kiel reports that the head of the voting rights section, John Tanner, overruled career DOJ employees who argued that the law would facilitate racial discrimination in Georgia. Tanner argued that those most burdened by Voter ID laws are not Blacks but the elderly. Now, the more perceptive among us could note a flaw in this logic: aside from the fact that the law could burden both, the bigger problem is that, in theory, one can be Black and old at the same time. Well, that's what I thought anyway. Tanner begs to differ, arguing that "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first."

Like Bill O'Reilly at a Harlem restaurant, Tanner might be shocked to know that a great many Black people do manage to survive their gang-banger lifestyle and live to the ripe old age where they might be called "elderly." Perhaps he could be introduced to some of these brave survivors, so that his horizons might be widened, and he'd stop making idiotic arguments like this.

Secrets Are No Fun

This is the tale of Khaled El-Masri, a German national taken into custody by we-who-do-not-torture:
El-Masri, a car salesman and a father of four, says his ordeal began on New Year's Eve 2003 when he was pulled off a bus after it crossed the Serbian border into Macedonia. His passport was taken, and he was questioned for days by agents who said he was a terrorist. They refused his request to contact German authorities.

After 23 days, he was blindfolded, taken to the airport and turned over to U.S. authorities. In an interview in 2005 with the Los Angeles Times in Berlin, he described what had happened then:

"I was led into a room. The door closed behind me and I was beaten from all sides for about one minute. They bent my arms to my back and cut off my clothes. . . . I saw seven to eight men all dressed in black and wearing masks. . . . They put me in diapers and a dark blue sweatsuit with the legs and sleeves cut out."

His appeal to the court says he was then put in a plane, "chained spread-eagle to the floor," injected with drugs and flown to Baghdad and then on to Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent the next four months in a CIA-run prison, the appeal says.

In late May 2004, U.S. officials had apparently concluded they had the wrong man. El-Masri was loaded onto a plane, blindfolded, put into the back of truck and dropped off on a hillside in what turned out to be Albania. From there, he made it back to Germany, where an investigation was launched.

Lest we think this is he-said/she-said about El-Masri being a terrorist, according to German officials we have already admitted we got "the wrong guy." And Germany actually went so far as to issue arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents involved in his abduction (they have since dropped the effort).

El-Masri sued the US, but the Supreme Court just denied cert, upholding rulings by lower courts that allowing the case to proceed would violate the "state secrets" doctrine -- a doctrine that even conservative law professor Douglas Kmiec, who has emerged as one of the Bush administration's most prominent academic defenders, said was "not sustainable" in its current breadth.

Also, fun fact: the LA Times dug up the case which originally established the "state secrets" doctrine:
The case tests the outer reaches of the so-called state- secrets privilege, a rule established during the Cold War to block a lawsuit after the crash of a B-29 bomber. Three widows of crewmen sued and sought the official accident reports. The Air Force said the reports could not be revealed because the bomber was on a top-secret mission to test new equipment.

The Supreme Court ruled for the government in the 1953 case, U.S. vs. Reynolds, saying the reports must be suppressed because they could reveal military secrets.

(When the accident reports were declassified in 2000, they revealed only that the aircraft was in poor condition, evidence that might have helped the widows win their suit.)

I suspect that hearing this case would reveal similarly valuable information that would put American lives at risk.

In any event, just remember: This Country Does Not Torture People (tm). But occasionally, it does pluck random folk off the street, hold them incommunicado, beat them up for several months, them drop them off blindfolded on an Albanian hillside.

Some other blogs:

Captain Ed says to El-Masri: "Tough luck." Ed's commenters to him: "I hope this happens to you in the near future, then." I do give him a little credit for admitting in updates that he was too glib. But only a little, since I don't really accept that we can call ours a legal system and have no remedy for torturing innocent people for several months.

The Plank: "You'd think if it really were a case of mistaken identity, the Bush administration would want to just pay him whatever damages he's asking for and dispose of the whole thing, rather than going through the trouble (and bad publicity) of fighting him in the courts, even if they've ended up winning. But apparently not."

Michael Dorf tries to read some tea-leaves behind the cert denial. But whatever small comforts can be drawn, they won't "do El-Masri any good."

Monday, October 08, 2007

Prison State

Junior Virginia Senator Jim Webb is talking about prison reform. Good for him. Prison reform is one of those issues that's really pressing, but never gets talked about, because what politician wants to stand up for prisoners rights? But when you read the stories about what happens in our nation's prison cells, up to and including officially-sanction rape, and it becomes evident that somebody needs to take a stand. Because when you can't tell Abu Gharib and Texas apart, something has gone horribly wrong.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Boxing Blogging: "I Didn't See Nuthin'" Weekend

Hey y'all. Being at Carleton, I don't get HBO (much less PPV), so this is the time of year I don't really get to see many of the big fights going down. Which is a shame, because there are some great ones (Pavlik/Taylor, especially, was one I'd have loved to see). But I still follow the news, and I figure I'll give some quick takes on some of the boxing tales that have been washing up these past few weeks, starting with the fights last night.

Though Barrera/Pacquiao was the main event, the person who seemed to impress most last night was Librado Andrade (26-1, 20 KOs). Coming off his first career loss to Super Middleweight Champion Mikkel Kessler (who will attempt to unify the division against Joe Calzaghe in a monster fight later this year), Andrade was put down on the mat for the first time against Yusaf Mack (23-2-2, 14 KOs), whose only loss prior to last night was against current titlist Alejandro Berrio. Andrade, apparently, is built like a mack truck -- the shot that put him down was one that many observers said would have been a 10 count for most other fighters, and throughout the fight he was simply walking through huge punches by Mack. Finally, in round seven, Andrade's sustained, relentless attack wore down Mack, who went down three times before the fight was called off.

Also on the undercard of Barrera/Pacquiao was Steven Luevano (34-1, 15 KOs), who convincingly out-boxed a game Antonio Davis (24-4, 12 KOs) to retain his share of the featherweight title. Finally, contender alum and former titlist Steve Forbes (33-5, 9 KOs) scored a mild upset over prospect Francisco Bojado (18-3, 12 KOs) in a tightly fought split-decision win. This was a bounce-back fight for both men -- Bojado in only his third fight after a three year layoff after losing to Jesse James Leija, and Forbes after being absolutely robbed in a match he dominated against Demetrius Hopkins. Forbes fought this bout three weight classes higher than his title days as a super featherweight champion, and even in that division he wasn't known as a power puncher. But he's a very, very slick boxer, and got the better of a decision tonight that could have gone either way.

Meanwhile, in New York, Kali Meehan (33-3, 27 K0s) pounded DaVarryl "Touch of Sleep" Williamson (24-5, 20 K0s) into submission, the latter losing when he didn't come out for round seven. Andrew Golata (40-6-1, 33 KOs) knocked out Kevin McBride (34-6-1, 29 KOs), apparently without ever straying below the belt. Good for him. But the real fight of the night was the "Nigerian Nightmare", Samuel Peter (29-1, 22 KOs) surviving a major scare against Jameel "Big Time" McCline (38-8-3, 23 KOs). People tend to deride McCline, who is now 0-4 in title shots, but I don't think that's fair. He has wins against some quality people (future champ Shannon Briggs, Lance Whitaker, Michael Grant, plus pumped-up cruiserweights Terry Smith and Rob Calloway), and some early career losses make his record look worse than it is. What is true is that McCline tends not to be able to finish people off. He lost to Calvin Brock in a fight he knocked him down solidly in the seventh. In his best title performance, he lost a split decision to Chris Byrd after putting him down in the second. He also has had his share of bad luck -- blowing out his knee in the third round of his title fight against Nikolay Valuev in a fight he started off strong in. And so, tonight, McCline continued his habit of hurting people and then letting them come back to win. He had Peter down three times in the fight, all prior to the fourth round, and had the champ badly hurt. But he didn't press the action, and faded badly as the bout went on. Peter ended up winning the fight unanimously, and even McCline couldn't protest, which shows how lopsided rounds 4-12 were. Fun historical fact: Peter's only loss was in his first title shot against Wladimir Klitschko, in a fight where he, too, put his opponent down three times only to lose the fight in a unanimous decision (by not winning any second of the fight where he wasn't knocking the champ down).

Over at ESPN, the Contender, Season Three is starting. It's an interesting batch of fighters -- definitely some of the strongest resumes we've seen thus far on the show. However, it's also somewhat unbalanced -- some of the fighters are significantly more accomplished than others. Sakio Bika (22-3-2, 14 KOs) and Sam Soliman (33-9, 13 KOs) would appear to be in a class of their own in this field. Also of interest: not one, but two of the fighters on the show are known primarily for being knocked out by Allan Green. Jaidon Codrington (16-1, 12 KOs) was drilled by Green in 18 seconds in the 2005 knockout of the year. While this made him a YouTube phenomenon for awhile (and not in a good way), I wouldn't make too much out of it. Anybody can get clipped, and even though I think he's mildly overrated, Green is still a fantastic fighter who is dangerous to anyone. Codrington has a strong amateur background and has won eight straight since then, including his first Contender fight against previously "undefeated" Brian Vera. The second fighter to be put down by Green is Donny McCrary (23-6-2, 13 KOs), who almost became known for scoring one of the biggest upsets in ESPN boxing history when he caught Green and had him out on his feet. Green went down, but managed to steady himself and rally for a 6th round knockout. Despite coming significantly closer to beating Green than Codrington, McCrary is without a doubt the inferior fighter -- unlike Codrington, he was brought in as a record padder for Green (he did show that there is no such thing as a guarantee in boxing), and unlike Codrington, he's really been regarded as a journeyman for the bulk of his career. Also unlike Codrington, he lost his opening bout in the Contender, getting picked apart by a far superior Sakio Bika.


Finally, I admit the whole reason I wrote this post was to have an excuse to embed this YouTube video, which, as BadLeftHook puts it, is the best fight promo ever.

The dolphin'll have to wait!

Game on, Ibragimov.