Saturday, May 03, 2008


In the wake of my mildly famous post on Black Conservatism, one of my professors from earlier this year (History of the Civil Rights Movement) invited me to give a presentation before his African-American History class this term. I was setting up a meeting with him to discuss plans for the class, and mentioned off hand that I would be attending the University of Chicago Law School next year. He looked at me and smiled, and noted that I'd be sharing institutional affiliation with Rev. Jeremiah Wright (who attended Chicago's Divinity School). I laughed and said, "guess I can never run for President then." (among other reasons).

Apropos of that, David Bernstein has a post up seeking stories of Obama's time as a constitutional law lecturer at the University of Chicago. "Waldensian" repsonds:
I took one of his classes, and I'm a bad person. Sadly, Obama still hasn't gone far enough in renouncing me and my views.

Sadly, a roughly accurate portrayal of how I fear this whole election cycle will progress.

Jindal for VP

There's got to be a reason I never thought of it before. Andrew Sullivan reports rumors that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal may be on John McCain's list of potential VPs. It'd make a great political counter to an Obama candidacy. Jindal's Indian-American, so it isn't an exact parallel (but that makes it easier to dodge the inevitable pandering charge), while still being historic (Indians are a special race case anyway). And it's not like he'd be plucked from complete obscurity -- Jindal's been a GOP rising star for awhile now, and has a good many people in the Party excited.

Americans tend to like it better when Republicans usher in their great progressive leaps forward (cf., Nixon goes to China), because it gives them all the symbolism without the risk that anything substantive will change. It'd be interesting to see how much significance would be ascribed to Jindal's ascension as VP. Obama's potential election as President has led a certain class of White pundits to proclaim it as evidence that anti-Black racism is effectively over. Would Jindal's election still be used to justify the same claim (because Whites have overcome their racial animosity as evidenced by Jindal, ipso facto Whites no longer harbor racist sentiments toward Black people)? It'd be convenient, but still rather difficult I think to argue.


I rarely drink alcohol. And when I do, I only drink very small amounts (not even enough to get buzzed). It's a source of much amusement to me that this means I can likely never run for President (admittedly, there are plenty of reasons why I can never run for President -- this is just one of the more absurd ones).

But it goes beyond alcohol. Despite four years of debate and four years of college, I don't drink coffee, or any coffee related drinks. Nor do I drink tea. I rarely even drink soda (I'm practically Mormon!). Juice, water, and Gatorade are my fluids of choice.

So it was with a wry smile that I read this hilarious, apparently serious bit from Commentary Magazine trying to make hay out of Obama's choice of Orange Juice over Coffee at an Indiana diner.
The switch from juice to coffee is a rite of adulthood. It's not that Obama seemed to hold himself above the coffee drinkers. It's that he seemed to lag behind them. He's still on fruit juice while the adults are sipping bitter and bracing coffee.

To be fair, even Commentary's readership seemed to think this was a bit ridiculous. But I thought it was uproariously funny, if only to show how thin the anti-Obama gruel is getting. And at least mildly hopeful, in that it appears to have finally hit the extreme outer limit of when campaign gossip gets too frivolous that even sympathetic readers finally rebel.

Friday, May 02, 2008

What We Need

Ross Douthat complains about how mainstream movies don't portray terrorists as Muslim extremists often enough:
Even in films that aren’t taking thinly veiled jabs at the Bush administration, terrorist baddies turn out to be Eurotrash arms dealers (2006’s Casino Royale), disgruntled hackers (2007’s Live Free or Die Hard), a sinister air marshal (2005’s Flightplan), or the handsome white guy sitting next to you in the airport lounge (2005’s Red Eye). Anyone and anybody, in other words, except the sort of people who actually attacked the United States on 9/11.

In respons, dNa points out the obvious:
Because in an age of detention without evidence or trial, torture, and preemptive war, what we really need is movies that make us feel better about doing all those things to a certain "sort of people."

I think this is exactly right, and gets at something important. Different circumstances call for different discourses. I can certainly imagine a situation where America was beset by ennui, was faced with an existential or otherwise significant crisis and could not motivate itself to face it with heart and determination, or refused to forthrightly identify the enemy at all (in a way, I think this is descriptive of America on racial issues). But, at least in the realm of contemporary America foreign policy, this is not our problem, and (in the words of Tim F.) the possibility that Americans will forget that their are Muslim extremists out there "seems vanishingly unlikely when at any given time a Republican is running for office somewhere." In the past seven years, we've launched two wars in Muslim states, set up extra-legal detention centers for terrorist suspects, held people indefinitely without trial, abducted and tortured innocent people, imprisoned journalists -- and that's just what's been institutionally sanctioned. Our problem is not that we're too disconcerned with this radical Islamic extremism thing. Our problem is that we've a) let this threat explode way out of proportion to its actual menace, b) used it to justify appalling violations of human rights that cut against every moral fiber that America was founded upon, and c) allowed to expand until it represented the totality of America's international security interests, ignoring other important strategic and moral considerations on the international horizon worthy of our concern.

In other words, Americans are plenty convinced that there are scary brown people out to get them, even without Hollywood shoving it down their throat. I'm not saying there is no threat from Islamic extremism, because clearly there is. I'm just saying it's not a bad thing to restore our collective sense of balance and proportion -- something that, in the age of "Black Sites" and Guantanamo Bay, is sorely and conspicuously absent at the moment.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

And Another Thing

Responding to Tom Friedman's column explaining why a gas tax holiday makes no sense, John McCain remarks:
Appearing on CNN's "American Morning," McCain noted his respect for the Pulitzer winner but said Americans deserve "just a little break this summer."

But then he went further.

"And I understand in New York City that you don't really drive a long way most of the time," McCain said. "But -- and then maybe you're chauffeured."

But McCain can't even get his digs right. Friedman doesn't live in New York City, he lives in Bethesda, Maryland (a DC suburb), and, as the article notes, drives a hybrid.

In the meantime, John Chait gives four reasons why Obama's refusal to pander on the gas tax holiday, and, of course, every economist in the world agrees with Friedman and thinks McCain is wrong here.

And Another Thing

Responding to Tom Friedman's column explaining why a gas tax holiday makes no sense, John McCain

From Jeremiah to Jonah

Two of my Carleton professors forward me this article by Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell, on Rev. Wright's self-identification with the prophetic tradition. Harrs-Lacewell argues that the Obama campaign has shifted Wright from being Jeremiah ("among the truth tellers who regularly warn the government that divine destruction is imminent if the nation continued to oppress the powerless.") to Jonah (fleeing from his obligation to preach to those he does not want to deal with -- i.e., mainstream Whites).
I believe Jeremiah Wright likes preaching to his own people, black people, embraced by the relative comfort of shared knowledge and practice within the African American church. I do not think he wanted to talk to white America or to try to bridge the painful, difficult, often personally brutalizing, racial divide. I believe that he has great and healing things to say to our nation, but that when called to do so he has resisted because he is angry about the evils of racism, imperialism, patriarchy and partisanship.

It's a good piece -- and there are few more insightful commenters on question of race in America than Professor Harris-Lacewell. Well worth your time.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Beauty and The Truth

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) is offering a compromise plan to help break the deadlock over nominations for the Federal Elections Commissions. The FEC is moribund at the moment because it doesn't have a quorum. It doesn't have a quorum because all the nominations are tied up over whether Hans von Spakovsky, a Bush administration apparatchik who has dedicated most of his public career at making it harder for the poor and minorities to vote. Von Spakovsky doesn't have the votes to be confirmed on his, which is why Republicans are demanding that all the nominations be grouped together and voted on as a package.

Reid's compromise would guarantee that another (already nominated, non-controversial) GOP FEC candidate would immediately be confirmed to take von Spakovsky's seat if he is rejected. But the compromise is reportedly dead in the water, because Republicans refuse to budge if von Spakovsky is not part of the deal.

But that obscures the real issue. Republicans don't actually care if von Spakovsky gets on the FEC or not. They just know that they can use him to block the nominations in general and make the FEC impotent during the election, removing any risk of independent oversight and making it easier for sleazy and/or illegal campaign tactics to go unabated. The "compromise" is dead because Democrats can't give Republicans what they want -- a free field to break the law in 2008.

Compel This!

Monday the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, upheld Indiana's voter ID law. You remember that one: the law which was justified to combat voter fraud, despite the fact that Indiana has never had a voter fraud prosecution in the history of the state? Now, to be fair, Indiana did recently have a problem with fraud in a local mayoral election. But it was perpetuated by absentee ballots -- the only type of voting exempted from the voter ID requirement. In general, the voter fraud "epidemic" is a myth used to suppress legitimate voting by Democratic-leaning voters. So we have a situation where the "interest" Indiana uses to pass a voter-suppression law is literally mythological. Maybe we can convince Maryland to pass a law prohibiting Republicans from voting on the grounds that they're more likely to secretly be fire-breathing dragons. It's no less removed from reality.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Verdict

Now I can die happy. 10 seconds from now, when Calculon kills us. -- Harold Zoid.

Ladies and gentleman, the die has been cast, and the (e-)letter is in the (e-)mail. Next year, I will officially join the University of Chicago's class of 2011.

I've been vague about how this whole law/grad school thing was playing out. Didn't want to jinx anything. But now that it's over, I can give y'all the full run down.

In terms of success rate, I batted a solid 8/20 -- 6/9 law, and 2/11 Ph.D (so, less solid on that front). I was admitted at the law schools of UVA, Michigan, Berkeley (Boalt), NYU, Columbia, and Chicago, and rejected at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford (no waitlists for me!). As for the Ph.Ds, I got in at UVA and Berkeley (Jurisprudence and Social Policy for the latter, Political Science for UVA and all the others) and was turned down at (*breath*) Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, NYU, Michigan, Brown, and Princeton. As my roommate said, potentially this was sign that law school was the better place for me. Or as Phoebe and Amber would say, maybe I'm just not bright enough for Ph.D work. As for me, I'm blaming my "interesting" (in the wrong way) statement of research interest (that was by a prof at Berkeley's JSP program -- one of the programs that admitted me!).

But that's old news now, and law school was really always my first choice over grad school. The J.D. I know I need for what I want to do, the Ph.D I specifically hope I don't need.

So why Chicago specifically then? Well, I was always making my choice based on what would best get me positioned to enter legal academia. In the interest of not agonizing over too many choices, I let that cut the list down to NYU, Columbia, and Chicago. NYU had the Furman Academic Fellows program, which looked interesting, but then they didn't admit me to it, which was demoralizing. They also put a time limit on their financial aid offer that expired well before I was ready to make a decision (ironically, it appears they extended the deadline until today without telling me, but by now I'd already dismissed them as an option). That left Chicago and Columbia, the only two schools I actually visited.

Both, it should be said, were fine schools and I felt quite happy and comfortable at each when I visited. When I asked if anyone had any inclination towards one or the other, my adviser at Carleton (who, I believe, is starting to sicken of me) told me: "David, flip a coin if you have to." I didn't quite do that, but I did end up making my decision on very "soft" factors: namely, that something about NYC rubs me the wrong way, and that Chicago's smaller size just felt more comfortable to me. Chicago in general had a "vibe" that I liked -- it reminded me much of Carleton, in fact. Really, I had nothing to go on but my gut instinct, which (very tepidly) leaned towards Chicago. With the deadline looming, and no stronger reason to go one way or the other, I went with it.

So that's that. But I can't resist giving a few superlatives at the end of this process.

The Silent Treatment Award goes to Stanford University, held onto my application wordlessly for about five months before denying me. Harvard took just as long (well, actually they denied me one week before Stanford did), but at least they sent periodic emails letting me know I was still on the planet (not to mention their wonderful J.D. admissions blog). And when I wrote them an email, they wrote back (albeit, to tell me that they don't accept emails, so please mail them). Stanford maintained a studious silence throughout the whole ordeal. I actually wondered if my rejection had got lost in the mail (I assumed rejection, because I figured if I had been admitted they would have followed up at least once to insure I was still alive).

Most Enthusiastic: UC-Berkeley. The Berkeley people were very helpful whenever I wrote to them, but that's not why they get the award. Around the time I got admitted to Berkeley, a spammer got ahold of my telephone number and started making bogus calls to me for about one week. During that week, I got four calls from the spammer -- and five from Berkeley. Advantage, California.

Most Guilt-Inducing: UVA. First, they admitted me to both their J.D. and Ph.D program. Second, one of my former Carleton professors (who now is at UVA) specifically went to bat for me come selection time -- responding to the specific objection that I likely wouldn't attend (prescient, that one). Third, the political science department nominated me for a very prestigious fellowship. All of this occurred with it being extremely unlikely that I'd attend. And then, when I turned down the law school, they asked me to fill out a survey explaining why, which was very awkward.

Oh, and you might be wondering about the Futurama quote at the top of the post. That's because I'm expected PG to send trained assassins out to kill me now. She's graduating law school, she can afford it. So, it's been quite a ride, and nice knowing everyone.

The Will to Power

"What do you want to do today, Brain?"
"Same thing we do everyday, Pinky.... Take over the world."

In response to my denial post, Mark argues that America's problem isn't denial but a failure of the will to confront evil. At root, this is Green Laternism gone totally haywire, as Mark seems to think every problem in the whole world could be solved through strong application of American Will. But while this practically unrealistic (not every problem can be solved by mere willpower, and America doesn't possess infinite resources to enact will into policy), the disjuncture with reality is actually less frightening to me than the theory itself. The "will" Mark demands America use would appear to involve the US invading, occupying, bombing, or otherwise attacking a huge chunk (well over half) of the world over the course of the last 60 years.*

But Mark doesn't just want to impose American will on any country. It's not even the relatively simple metric of imposing our will on evil countries. Evilness is certainly a part of Mark's criteria. But the bigger one is alignment. Countries which are doing nothing actively wrong, but seem broadly aligned on an anti-American axis, are legitimate targets of our Will (Chile, 1973). And, as Mark's post was a prolonged justification for allying with undeniably evil groups (such as death squads) so long as they were on "our side", I assume the reverse is also true: a country that is aligned with us ought to be spared facing America's Will -- or even get the support of American Will against rebel forces. Beyond that, for countries or organizations who are not aligned for us or against us (or perhaps, are too unimportant to matter), then evilness becomes the defining factor (Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, for example).

So, using that as our criteria, which countries in the post-WWII era should have faced (or benefited from!) America's Will? Well, let's start with the one's that Mark appears to explicitly endorse in his post: Chile, Nicaragua, North Korea (he says we shouldn't have accepted the "stalemate" at the end of the Korean War), Vietnam, Uganda. Where else? Well, there are the other locations where America has Exerted Our Will since World War II; places such as Iraq, Columbia, Granada, El Salvador (hell, virtually all of Central America saw US Marines at one point or another during the 20th century), The Balkans, and Iran (imposing the Shah). Each of these would seemingly be okay with Mark. But now let's move into hypotheticals. Where did American Will fail to manifest itself, when it should have?

Start with the Americas. We already mentioned that basically all of Central America was forfeit, but Cuba deserves special mention for being the Communist Big Papa -- and the Bay of Pigs hardly was a sufficient statement of Will. Venezuela, today, is an easy mark (and we did support a coup there). Bolivia? Maybe. Brazil escapes because it went socialist (Lula) after the Cold War ended, but during the Cold War it was an ally (so who cares that it tortured folks constantly?).

In Europe, we have -- the entire Soviet Bloc. And the Soviet Union. But particularly Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Could France be considered anti-American enough to render it vulnerable to America's Will? Maybe.

Africa is another place where we could justify sending troops nearly anywhere this side of Botswana, either to overthrow communist leaning dictatorships or to support Western-leaning regimes against communist backed rebels. But certainly, Libya, Sudan (even prior to Darfur, with the North/South civil war), Ethiopia, Rwanda, Rhodesia (supporting the White apartheid government), South Africa (ditto), and Angola all were legitimate targets of The Will.

The Middle East, amazingly, gets mostly a pass, on the grounds of "alignment". Iraq is an exception -- but only after the Cold War (when they actually were gassing their own people, they're cool. Invading Kuwait is a problem). Syria, too, probably should face the Will of America. But Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, UAE? All okay.

Central Asia is a fun one. Pakistan escapes -- narrowly -- on alignment grounds. Uzbekistan, despite being far eviler than Pakistan, is an easier non-call than Pakistan, as it is firmly on our side. But Afghanistan gets to enjoy US will twice: once in support of the Taliban against the Russians, and once in support of the North Alliance against the Taliban. Iran, obviously, must face American Will again.

East Asia also sees plenty of action. We already got Korea, and China, too, is a definite. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are further obvious choices. Indonesia gets supportive Will of America in its anti-communist fight as Suharto slaughtered 300,000 people. He may be a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch, after all.

So what's the final tally? Basically all of Latin America and Eastern Europe, and most of Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, Chile, Venezuela, Columbia, the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Iran (twice), Afghanistan (twice), Iraq, Syria, Korea, and Libya. And possibly France. Some places we did attack (but in many of these, Mark thinks that still our Will was not sufficiently imposed), some we did not

I don't oppose the use of military force in all circumstances. But this...this is imperial hell. I am glad we have not "The Will" to undertake it.

"I believe in something greater than myself. Building a better world. A world without sin...."

"I don't murder children."

"I do. When I have to."

* * *

* In the comments, Mark denies that his "will" is necessarily military force. But every example he's ever given of the proper use of will was a military option, and I can't conceive of a non-military response he would find sufficiently "willful" in most of the countries I'm laying out. Indeed, in some of the cases, he finds even what military response the US did initiate to be insufficient (Vietnam, Central America). But for the sake of defusing conflict, I'll refer to what Mark wants to do to these nations as "imposing our will."