Tuesday, December 29, 2009

So are we *more* healthy, or . . . ?

Pew's polling yields Mississippi as the most religious state in the U.S., followed by Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. All but Arkansas were also in the top 10 happiest states.

Least religious: NH/VT tie for the bottom, with Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine, and another tie between RI/CT rounding out the five. Maine was # 10 in happiness.

For some reason, ABC News has this on its "Health" page.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Odds & ends

Back on the internet, which shows no signs of having missed my presence, rather like a cat in that respect. A few notable things that popped up during the hiatus:

  • Epcot turned out to sell Linie aquavit, whose nature (and pronunciation) merit a click-through.

  • Over at the NYRB, Timothy Snyder shines a penlight at an obscure Ukrainian clergyman who "welcomed the Nazis and saved Jews," and Rory Stewart has a much more measured response to Obama's Afghanistan policy than Garry Wills's inane bleating.

  • Adam Begley has a charming NYT article on Stendhal and Parma, though Begley's laud for the execrable Richard Howard translation is unfortunate. (Avoid also the old Penguin, though the new one by Sturrock is all right; I prefer Mauldon's version for the Oxford World's Classics.) No one familiar with Stendhal will be surprised by Begley's opening:
    From a practical point of view, “The Charterhouse of Parma” makes a lousy guidebook. An ardent fan of all things Italian, and a brilliant, impressionistic travel writer, Stendhal could have bequeathed to the ages an unforgettable prose portrait of Parma, the small, sleepy, provincial northern Italian city where most of the action of his great novel takes place. But instead he made it up; his Parma is imaginary.
    Why trouble over petits faits?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

About damn time, too.

Appellate Court Enforces Permanent Injunction against Microsoft Word.

Not, alas, for completely sucking and driving any sane person insane. Rather:
The i4i district court decision created some turmoil this past summer when the Eastern District of Texas court ordered Microsoft to stop selling versions of its flagship MS Word product that infringe i4i's patent covering xml editing technology. The injunction was stayed pending appeal, but now the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) has affirmed the lower court's findings of validity and willful infringement and its award of enhanced damages and permanent injunctive relief. The only modification made by the court was to push-back the effective date of the injunction from sixty-days to five months (from the original order). Thus, "[t]he injunction's effective date is now January 11, 2010."

To be clear, the permanent injunction "applies only to users who purchase or license Word after the date the injunction takes effect. Users who purchase or license Word before the injunction's effective date may continue using Word's custom XML editor, and receiving technical support." Beginning January 11, 2010, Microsoft will be prohibited from "(1) selling, offering to sell, and/or importing into the United States any infringing Word products with the capability of opening XML files containing custom XML; (2) using Word to open an XML file containing custom XML; (3) instructing or encouraging anyone to use Word to open an XML containing custom XML; (4) providing support or assistance that describes how to use Word to open an XML file containing custom XML; and (5) testing, demonstrating, or marketing Word's ability to open an XML file containing custom XML."

Because the injunction only applies to future purchasers, Microsoft does not need to back-fix its already-distributed software. Rather, it only needs to ensure that software sold on or after January 11, 2010 is non-infringing. Microsoft may request another emergency stay of relief in order to seek en banc review of the decision. However, that process has a low likelihood of success. Because of the large damage award of $240 million, Microsoft will likely push-forward with requests for rehearing en banc and eventually a petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.
More at the link.

TBA hates Word because Word teems with preconceptions about how we cannot possibly mean what we type. "Here, let me indent that for you! You think you want your margin here? No no, try this!" etc. Thank god the legal profession has hung onto WordPerfect.

We now return to our promised hiatus. Word-hatin' knows no season.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Noël, and no blog either

Between joining my family at Disney World and tweaking a cert petition in an utterly absurd tire case, I fear that TBA is going to receive short shrift these next few days.

But for your sake, I sincerely hope you're spending your holidays better than by reading blogs in general, and this one in particular.

Merry Christmas!

The trouble with Pakistan is ... Pakistan.

Tony Karon writes that Pakistan can't be bought, because its interests diverge too much from ours:
The reality is that while the war against the TTP is backed by a firm national consensus against those who would seek to impose Taliban rule at gunpoint in Pakistan, there is very little Pakistani support for the US war in Afghanistan.

Even as it pursues the Pakistan Taliban, the military continues to make non-aggression pacts with those jihadists who confine themselves to attacks on western forces across the border in Afghanistan. If, instead, the Army went after the Afghan Taliban as well, they risk igniting a generalised rebellion among the Pashtun population that could fatally undermine its counterinsurgency efforts against the TTP.

Then there’s the matter that the Haqqani network – which controls the key Afghan border provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost – as well as Hekmatyar and the Taliban leadership under Mullah Omar are all longtime clients of the Pakistani security forces. Many in the military have viewed these groups as an important strategic asset in what they see as an ongoing regional struggle for influence in Afghanistan, which Pakistan’s generals expect will intensify when the US inevitably departs in the next couple of years.

American officials like to console themselves that this is simply a case of Pakistani fear of abandonment by the US, to which they respond by professing long-term commitment to Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s generals have a good enough sense of what’s going on the ground, with Nato’s supply lines, and with the US economy, to know that Obama’s surge can’t be sustained.

Moreover, while the US objective is to prop up the government in Kabul, Pakistan’s military leaders see that government as a Tajik-dominated regime that serves as a cat’s paw for India. The Afghan Taliban insurgency is viewed as a Pashtun backlash against a government from which the country’s largest ethnic group is alienated – a government that Pakistan has little interest in propping up. While not favouring a rerun of the 1996 Taliban march on Kabul, Pakistani military chiefs are said to favour a negotiated outcome in which many Afghan Taliban elements, and especially Haqqani and Hekmatyar, agree to a power sharing formula that strengthens Pashtun representation – and Pakistani influence – in Kabul, and devolves power to the regions, which would put its allies in charge of the south and east. Far from going after the insurgent groups against whom the US is demanding action, such a scenario requires that Pakistan position itself to broker terms with them that would allow for a US withdrawal.
One wonders if it's even possible to persuade Pakistan's military to at least favor the less antagonistic Taliban-style factions as against those more likely to support al-Qaeda. But as long as we remain hostile to making such fine discriminations, it's even less likely that Pakistan will do so.

... Whereas Mike Crowley at TNR thinks that Pakistani anti-Americanism is the fault of ... the Pakistani media!
At the heart of this problem is the anti-Americanism and conspiracy-mongering of Pakistan's media, which I saw first-hand when I read through a large stack of local papers at the embassy. So I was glad to find on my return to Washington this week that the latest print issue of TNR features a really top-notch article by Nicholas Schmindle about Shireen Mazari, a Pakistani journalist who's been dubbed "the Anne [sic] Coulter of Pakistan," and who has been responsible for countless stories like the one that recently speculated about whether a Wall Street Journal reporter in the country is actually a CIA spy, potentially endangering his life. When I was in Islamabad, one newspaper (I believe it was Mazari's The Nation, which is generally the worst offender) ran a story which included the wacko claim, attributed to Seymour Hersh, that a "death squad" backed by Dick Cheney was behind the 2007 assassination of Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto as well as the 2005 murder of Lebanese prime minister Raffik Hariri.
The idea that the media is following public opinion, rather than leading it, does not seem to occur to Mr. Crowley -- that Pakistan's distrust of the U.S. creates an appetite for such stories.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sometimes, you just don't care if it's Photoshopped.

Great pic, regardless. Feel free to suggest captions. "Reindeer clearing chimney in 3 ... 2 ..."?


Hume deriving an "ought" from an "is"?

NMC directs me to an article on Robert George, the philosophical darling of the Christian Right, who has enjoyed some success in encouraging Catholics and others to jettison any such putatively Christian notions as social justice or concern for the poor and uneducated, in favor of the fundamentalist focus on abortion and gays.

He claims to do so by appeal to "natural law," but as NMC observes, his arguments are unconvincing. This should surprise TBA readers so little that I will simply direct them to the article.

The article bears mention mainly because it points me to an instance of Hume's apparently contradicting himself. The article summarizes George's take on Hume:
Against Aristotle, Hume argued that the universe includes facts but not values. You cannot derive moral conclusions from studying the world, an “ought” from an “is.” There is no built-in, objective reason for me to choose one goal over another — the goals of Mother Teresa over the goals of Adolf Hitler, in George’s hypothetical. Reason, then, is merely a tool of whatever desire strikes my fancy. “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions and may pretend to no office other than to serve and obey them,” George said, paraphrasing Hume, just as he does in seemingly every essay or lecture he writes.
The "paraphrase" turns out to be a near-verbatim quote from the Treatise of Human Nature, 2.3.3.

The problem of course is that, if we can't derive an ought from an is, then Hume cannot say that reason *ought* to be the slave of the passions, merely because she is so in fact (according to him). I am a little surprised that this contradiction goes unremarked by the Nortons in their Oxford Philosophical Texts edition of the Treatise.

While the Treatise continues to have legions of students, I have always suspected that Hume was not without reasons for repudiating it in favor of the later Enquiries, and the foregoing contradiction -- like the fact that the "is/ought" argument does not appear in the Enquiries -- "ought" to suggest to students that Hume's repudiation should be taken more seriously than it is.

... Searching the text of the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals for the "slave of the passions" quote, I don't find it repeated, but do stumble upon this gem of a note:
Solon's law forbids paederasty to slaves, as being an act of too great dignity for such mean persons.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tasteless TBA post of the month

The notorious "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" (Work sets you free) sign over the gate to the Auschwitz death camp has been stolen.

Possibly it was needed for the centerpiece of Joe Lieberman's alternative health care plan. No reports yet whether the senator has been questioned by authorities.

... Sign found, hacked into three pieces. No Lieberman connection disproved as of this writing.

States of well-being

Mississippi is the 6th happiest state in the Union, saith happiness science. Indeed, 6 of the happiest 10 are in the South:
1. Louisiana*
2. Hawaii
3. Florida
4. Tennessee

5. Arizona
6. Mississippi*
7. Montana
8. South Carolina
9. Alabama
10. Maine
Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.

*Pre-Katrina data, n.b.

Has Haley Barbour ever met a woman-killer he didn't like?

That seems to be a good question, reports Slate:
I happen to think Huckabee’s getting a raw deal on the Clemmons case; instead, we should be talking about the truly bizarre pardon record of one of Huckabee’s possible competitors for the nomination, Haley Barbour. The governor of Mississippi has simultaneously ignored increasing evidence that there may be a disturbingly high number of innocent people in prison in Mississippi and handed out pardons to the convicted murderers who just happen to do work on his house….

….Over the last two years, as reported by the Jackson Free Press, Barbour has pardoned, granted clemency to, or suspended the sentences of at least five convicted murderers, four of whom killed their wives or girlfriends. Those four are:

Bobby Hays Clark, who in 1996 shot his ex-girlfriend in the neck and beat her boyfriend with a broom handle. Clark, who had a previous aggravated assault conviction, was sentenced to 38 years. Barbour pardoned him last year without notifying the family of Clark’s victim.

Michael David Graham, who in 1989 shot his ex-wife point-blank with a shotgun while she waited at a traffic light. Barbour suspended Graham’s life sentence, and he was released.

Clarence Jones, who stabbed his ex-girlfriend 22 times in 1992. She had previously filed multiple assault and trespassing charges against him. He was sentenced to life in prison. Barbour pardoned him last year.

Paul Joseph Warnock, who in 1989 shot his girlfriend in the back of the head as she slept. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1993. Barbour pardoned him last year.
They're just good ol' boys, really.

But wait! There's an exception to the rule:
Barbour also pardoned William James Kimble, convicted and sentenced to life for robbing and murdering an elderly man in 1991.
Maybe Mr. Kimble was mistaken, and thought he was murdering an elderly lady instead.

... Article by Radley Balko, who notes the contrast between Barbour's woman-killin' buddies and the governor's apparent indifference to the possibility that many people in Mississippi have been wrongly convicted based on the hack science of Steven Hayne and Michael West. The article has plenty of follow-up links for those interested.

(H/t bellesouth.)

... UPDATED 1/9/12 to fix expired Slate link, and to note that Barbour's tolerant view towards uxoricide continues:
In 1993, David Glenn Gatlin leveled a gun at the head of his wife, Tammy, and killed her while she held their 2-month-old child, then turned the gun on family friend Randy Walker and shot him in the head as well. Walker survived.

Gatlin was convicted in 1994 in Rankin County and given life for murder, 20 years for aggravated assault and 10 years for residential burglary. He has been a trusty at the Governor's Mansion since Nov. 19, 2009, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections' Website.

That status apparently is what has helped Gatlin, now 40, get a pardon from Barbour.
He's jes a good ol' boy, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Self-defeating judiciary tricks

Speaking to the Madison County Bar Association today, Judge Rhesa Barksdale riffed on some points of appellate practice in the 5th Circuit. He was astounded by the number of appellants who don't file reply briefs. (FOR NON-LAWYERS: appellants file initial briefs, appellees file response briefs, and then appellants can file reply briefs; ordinarily no further briefing allowed.)

In the Q&A at the end, someone pointed out to the judge that the court's own online practitioners' guide does not seem to encourage reply briefs:
The rules allow for an appellant to file a reply brief to address arguments raised in the
appellee’s brief, FED. R. APP. P. 28(c); however, just because it is allowed does not mean that every appellant has to file one. If your reply brief merely reiterates what is already in your opening brief, it serves little purpose and only delays consideration of your appeal. Reply briefs should be filed only if necessary to rebut an important argument in the appellee’s brief.
None of that is *wrong*, but the tone does not seem to encourage reply briefs, and some lawyers inexperienced in appellate practice might take the guide to be discouraging them from filing reply briefs unless they have some special reason. Certainly, the guide doesn't make them sound nearly as important as Judge Barksdale thinks they are.

The amusing thing was of course that the good judge was only faintly aware of the existence of said document, and not at all of its contents. I wonder who writes those things? They probably do get circulated to the court, I'd imagine, but judges are busy folks and not all of them really care to read a 60-page document they don't actually *have* to read.

Bayer at bay?

Law blogger Will Bardwell shows some love for ex-governor Ronnie Musgrove's oral argument at the en banc state supreme court the other day.
Musgrove argued on behalf of the state this morning when the Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral arguments in State of Mississippi v. Bayer Corporation, a (surprisingly interesting) pure civil-procedure dispute wrapped in a Medicaid settlement. Apprising an advocate's persuasiveness is a little like judging a boxer's punching power -- folks sitting in the audience really aren't in the best position to make the call. But from the point of view offered by the peanut gallery, Musgrove looked great. He was impassioned but deferential, appeared to weave the justices' questions back into his argument very well, and balanced the questions of pure law with policy considerations supporting his position. His suit didn't look bad, either.
TBA is not without some interest in the outcome of the suit, so we won't comment, but we wanted to pass this along.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Death of a philosopher

Stephen Toulmin has died, one of those philosophers more heard about than read. The only book (half-book?) of his that I've read is Wittgenstein's Vienna which he wrote with Allan Janik.

The NYT obit makes an unnecessarily cryptic quotation:
In the introduction to a 1986 edition of his first book, “An Examination of the Place of Reason in Ethics” (1950), he wrote that “having been trained as a natural scientist, I had always hoped to relate philosophical issues to practical experience, and could never wholly side with Hume the philosopher against Hume the backgammon player.” His bent, he wrote, was toward “practical moral reasoning.”
This is of course an allusion to the famous passage at the end of book I of A Treatise of Human Nature, where Hume wrote:
But what have I here said, that reflections very refin'd and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This opinion I can scarce forbear retracting, and condemning from my present feeling and experience. The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have, I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.
More amusingly, the University of Southern California attempts to memorialize its famous professor, and ends up embarrassing itself:
Toulmin’s most influential work was the Toulmin Model of Argumentation. In it, he identified six elements of a persuasive argument: claim, grounds, arrant, backing, qualifier and rebuttal.
I myself have seen some arguments where the "arrant" predominated, but I believe that the correct Toulmin term is "warrant."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Amazing fact of the week

Over at EOTAW, Kid Bitzer relays this curious -- nay, "mindblowing" -- account:
Now. Are you ready to have your mind blown?

Who might you guess is the earliest president, chronologically, to have a grandchild alive today? Don't cheat. Guess.

My immediate guess was the aforementioned Theodore Roosevelt. Knowing that he had two children who were born in the 1890s, it seemed conceivable that a grandchild might be alive today albeit very old. Sure enough, TR has one surviving grandkid: son Archie's daughter Nancy is alive and 85 years old. But she doesn't take the cake.

Keeping in mind that Barack Obama is the 44th President, does it blow your mind to know that the correct answer is John Tyler? The tenth President!? The man who was President in 1841? As ridiculous as that sounds, it happens to be entirely true. As noted earlier, Tyler had a very productive wang. And it didn't tire with age: his last three children were born when Tyler was 63, 66, and 70. The first of that trio, Lyon G. Tyler (bitchin' name, for the record), inherited his father's reproductive prowess. Lyon, born in 1853, also had children throughout his life and into old age. In fact he had sons born in 1924 and 1928 when he was 71 and 75, respectively. Those two sons, Lyon Jr. (!!!) and Harrison Tyler, are alive today.

So Mr. Harrison Tyler, a chemist, and Lyon Tyler Jr., a college history professor, can tell people that their grandfather was President … twenty goddamn years before Abraham Lincoln. Their grandfather, as a child, made regular weekend visits to hang out with Thomas Jefferson. Their grandfather was born before the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.
We are not such an old country as we sometimes seem to be.

We seek no wider war

Via Kevin Drum, we learn that Predator-drone attacks are now vitally necessary inside large Pakistani cities:
The prospect of Predator aircraft strikes in Quetta, a sprawling city, signals a new U.S. resolve to decapitate the Taliban. But it also risks rupturing Washington's relationship with Islamabad.

The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option. Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta — or at least threatening to do so — is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.
I've been gingerly supportive, or non-oppositional, of Predator attacks in remote areas where Pakistan effectively doesn't exercise sovereignty; but this is just nuts. Isn't it nuts? Explain to me how it's not nuts.

Sure, they want to scare Pakistan into policing Quetta. Fine. But if things have gotten to where (1) Pakistan won't apprehend Taliban/Qaeda members anywhere in its borders, and (2) we can't or won't send in our own ground-teams, presumably for fear of Pakistani interference ... well, isn't it time to declare war on Pakistan? Are they doing any less to "harbor" the Taliban and al-Qaeda than the Taliban did re: Qaeda? And we invaded Afghanistan, didn't we?

... Steve Coll had some relevant thoughts back in October testimony to Congress:
If the United States signals to Pakistan’s military command that it intends to abandon efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, or that it has set a short clock running on the project of Afghan stability, or that it intends to undertake its regional policy primarily through a strategic partnership with India, then it will only reinforce the beliefs of those in the Pakistani security establishment who argue that nursing the Taliban is in the country’s national interests. This in turn will exacerbate instability in Pakistan itself.

At the same time, if the United States undertakes a heavily militarized, increasingly unilateral policy in Afghanistan, without also adopting an aggressive political, reconciliation and regional diplomatic strategy that more effectively incorporates Pakistan into efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, then it will also reinforce the beliefs of those in the Pakistani security establishment that they need the Taliban as a hedge against the U.S. and India.

Between withdrawal signals and blind militarization there is a more sustainable strategy, one that I hope the Obama Administration is the in the process of defining. It would make clear that the Taliban will never be permitted to take power in Kabul or major cities. It would seek and enforce stability in Afghan population centers but emphasize politics over combat, urban stability over rural patrolling, Afghan solutions over Western ones, and it would incorporate Pakistan more directly into creative and persistent diplomatic efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and the region.

Such a sustained policy, combined with heavy new investments in Pakistan’s success, even beyond the commendable achievements of the Kerry-Lugar legislation, will provide the best chance that Pakistan’s army will, over time, continue to share power and accept strategic advice from Pakistani civilians, and eventually cast out the Taliban and similar groups as a hedge against the U.S. and India. That in turn is the best--arguably the only--path to a modernizing, politically plural, economically integrated South Asia.
That 3d paragraph strongly suggests that an "Afghanistan surge" needs to be focused on securing the cities, with Afghan troops handling the rural side, and more security than terrorist-hunting.

The problem remains that the Taliban grew with Pakistan supplying the Miracle-Gro, and even Coll's "middle option" is hopeful at best about the army's disowning its adopted children.

... This story, the NYT version of the LAT story above, dovetails with Coll, but the interesting question is whether more stories like this will find their way into the news, supporting a "get tough with Pakistan" approach:
Demands by the United States for Pakistan to crack down on the strongest Taliban warrior in Afghanistan, Siraj Haqqani, whose fighters pose the biggest threat to American forces, have been rebuffed by the Pakistani military, according to Pakistani military officials and diplomats.

The Obama administration wants Pakistan to turn on Mr. Haqqani, a longtime asset of Pakistan’s spy agency who uses the tribal area of North Waziristan as his sanctuary. But, the officials said, Pakistan views the entreaties as contrary to its interests in Afghanistan beyond the timetable of President Obama’s surge, which envisions drawing down American forces beginning in mid-2011. * * *

The demands have been accompanied by strong suggestions that if the Pakistanis cannot take care of the problem, including dismantling the Taliban leadership based in Quetta, Pakistan, then the Americans will by resorting to broader and more frequent drone strikes in Pakistan.

Not about slavery?

The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports on David Livingston, a Hume scholar with a sideline in Southern revisionism, and the founder of the Abbeville Institute, "named after the South Carolina birthplace of John C. Calhoun."
Abbeville's scholars contend, for example, that the Civil War--or as they often refer to it, the War of Northern Aggression or the War to Prevent Southern Independence--was not about slavery (the system was on its way out anyway, they argue) and that the antebellum Southern states had every right to secede. They say they are not able to make these points to their campus colleagues, however, without being painted into a corner as racists. So instead of discussing them with professors down the hall, they turn to Abbeville.
Unfortunate, if true, because the proper response is to tell them they are bad historians. One should not prate about the causes of the Civil War without examining what the seceding states had to say about it. Mississippi, for instance:
A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
(I always get a rueful laugh out of that "imperious law of nature.")

South Carolina's declaration was less succinctly phrased, but shows the same gravamen:
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. [I.e., what the Abbeville Institute professes to believe was the case -- TBA.]

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
It's like they had Glenn Beck back then!

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.
You get the idea.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Representing those who pay her to do so

Kevin Drum catches one of those moments when the fundamentally corrupt nature of our "elected representatives" is illuminated in a flash:
From Olympia Snowe, on the idea of allowing 55-64 year-olds to buy into Medicare:

I can’t see it. I am talking to a lot of my providers this afternoon and I know they are mighty unhappy.

Maybe she should try talking to some of her constituents instead?
(Yes, some of her constituents are providers. But still. The unconscious emphasis is clear.)

Half a loaf for Minor, Teel, Whitfield

The Fifth Circuit has tossed Bill Minor's bribery convictions, while leaving intact his "honest services" fraud and racketeering convictions. The chancellors Minor caused to be "loaned" money, Whitfield and Teel, likewise had their bribery convictions reversed but their "honest services" fraud counts affirmed.

Given that the SCOTUS is reviewing the validity of the "honest services" statute, it's unsettled just where all this will end up.

(H/t commenter Ampal at NMC.)

... The bribery convictions were tossed simply because they were based on the notion that Teel and Whitfield, as recipients of grants from the state's Administrative Office of Courts (AOC), which is partly funded by the feds, they were agents of a federal program. The 5th Circuit quite properly held that Teel and Whitfield were alleged to have committed judicial misconduct, whereas the AOC grants had nothing to do with their judicial role per se.

... In the unlikely event that anyone reading this didn't already know, NMC is the go-to blog for discussion of this stuff.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A difficult law to break

MISS. CODE ANNOTATED, SEC. 63-3-1205. Driving through defiles or canyons or on mountain highways.

The driver of a motor vehicle traveling through defiles or canyons or on mountain highways shall hold such motor vehicle under control and as near the right-hand edge of the highway as reasonably possible and, upon approaching any curve where the view is obstructed within a distance of 200 feet along the highway, shall give audible warning with the horn of such motor vehicle.

SOURCES: Codes, 1942, Sec. 8221; Laws, 1938, ch. 200.
Is there a defile, canyon, or mountain highway anywhere in Mississippi?

The cult of personality continues!

Michael Bérubé on this statue:
LOCAL KID MAKES GOOD. Apparently that’s the inscription at the base of the new “young Barack Obama” statue recently unveiled in Jakarta--on a site that was once an athletic field used by Obama’s elementary school. In what appears to be a deliberate provocation to the American right, the young Obama holds in his left hand a crumpled copy of his Kenyan birth certificate, which according to the laws of Othercountriestan entitles him to Indonesian citizenship.

Rumors that the base of the statue contains hidden “death panels” are as yet unsubstantiated.

“We welcome the statue, which is designed to give Indonesian children the spirit to become President of the United States,” Central Jakarta Mayor Sylviana Murni said.

“There is a message through the young Obama statue that any child and anyone from any background can become President of the United States if they fight for it persistently--and make sure to destroy their original birth certificate,” she added.
More at this link.

Headline of the week

Obama defends U.S. wars as he accepts peace prize.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A billion hymens removed, just like that!

Is it history's most gigantic mass defloration, exceeding anything the Mongols or Soviets accomplished?

Nah, it's just Sweden:
There is too much mythology and confusion surrounding that crucial body part known as the hymen, and a new name should help to dispel some of the myths, according to the Swedish Assn. for Sexuality Education, which goes by the acronym RFSU. That new name, which the group believes is more descriptive, is the "vaginal corona."

Etymologically, the term hymen comes from the Greek word for membrane. In Swedish, it is called the modomshina, which translates as "virginity membrane." In fact, there is no brittle membrane or curtain, but rather multiple folds of mucous membrane. A vaginal corona, in other words.

"The vaginal corona is a permanent part of a woman's body throughout her life," said Asa Regner, RFSU secretary-general. "It doesn't disappear after she first has sexual intercourse, and most women don't bleed the first time. The myths surrounding the hymen were created to control women's freedom and sexuality. The only way to counteract this is by disseminating knowledge."
Uh, "disseminating"? Really?

So now, vaginas have crowns. Show reverence accordingly.

(Via Bookslut, who apparently is now crossing her fingers for "panties" to be renamed. Maybe next year.)

... Looking up "mass rape" at Wikipedia to look for guesstimates on the Mongols' rapine, I stumbled upon an article about a novella describing alleged "joy divisions," supposedly "groups of Jewish women in the concentration camps during World War II who were kept for the sexual pleasure of Nazi soldiers." In violation of the Nuremberg Laws, presumably. Anyway, that suddenly made the choice of "Joy Division" for a band name very, very creepy, none the less so for their reforming as New Order after their singer died.

Regrets of the season

Sinfest (click da pic for readable version):

All three men were found to have rags inserted in their throats

While I'm looking over at Democracy in America, may as well relay the extremely depressing Seton Hall study on some Gitmo "suicides":
The report's key findings:

• The original military press releases did not report that the detainees had been dead for more than two hours when they were discovered, nor that rigor mortis had set in by the time of discovery.

• There is no explanation of how three bodies could have hung in cells for at least two hours while the cells were under constant supervision, both by video camera and by guards continually walking the corridors guarding only 28 detainees.

• There is no explanation of how each of the detainees, much less all three, could have done the following: braided a noose by tearing up his sheets and/or clothing, made a mannequin of himself so it would appear to the guards he was asleep in his cell, hung sheets to block vision into the cell--a violation of Standard Operating Procedures, tied his feet together, tied his hands together, hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling, climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around his neck and released his weight to result in death by strangulation, hanged until dead and hung for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards.

All three men were found to have rags inserted in their throats to a point where it would have impeded breathing. The camp commander, after first ordering guards to make sworn statements, retracted his order and forbade them to make sworn statements, instead holding a group meeting that appears to have been intended to get their stories straight. And these are just some of the most glaring inconsistencies; there's much, much more in the report.
Click through for more.

Of course, Obama's administration will do nothing about this. Blood under the bridge, and all that.

The public is an ass

Via the Economist's "Democracy in America" blog, these poll figures:
Percentage of Americans who believe in angels: 55

Percentage of Americans who believe in evolution: 39

Percentage of Americans who believe in anthropogenic global warming: 36

Percentage of Americans who believe in ghosts: 34

Percentage of Americans who believe in UFOs: 34
I wish they'd asked about the sum of a triangle's angles, while they were at it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Yoo again

Mary at Emptywheel on John Yoo:
The hugely relevant (at least, in the context of a completed but unreleased Office of Professional Responsibility investigation) John Yoo has taken to the heavily trafficked pages of the Chapman Law Review to pursue his personal war – on law. In his piece titled, Lincoln and Habeas: Of Merryman, Milligan, and McCardle Yoo utilizes the resources of Boalt Hall and Chapman to finally find and discuss the Civil War case of Ex parte Milligan; a case which managed to elude Yoo during his time spent writing memos for the Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo chooses the cases of Ex Parte Merryman and Ex Parte McCardle to bookend his claims of the “irrelevance” of Milligan, and of law in general, during times of war.
Links, and her opened-up can of whoop-ass, here.

Angelo alert

Rod Jetton, Republican consultant and former speaker of the Missouri House, is in a bit of trouble -- "felony assault" trouble -- over "an S&M session gone wrong":
What Was Rod Jetton's Safe Word?

That's the question everyone's been asking since news broke last night that the former Missouri House Speaker was charged with felony assault that allegedly happened during an S&M session gone wrong.

According to one blog that covers Jeff City politics, the Republican leader-turned political consultant actually used a pair of safe words: Green Balloons.
An unconfirmed report of the incident, from the point of view of the lady -- who was not, it seems, Mrs. Jetton -- has Jetton doping her up, hitting and choking her, and then, when she regained full consciousness and wondered why she had bruises, telling her, "You should have said 'green balloons.'" A local TV station has the probable-cause affidavit.

Jetton's views on sexual matters are documented on the internet:
“I’m all over the state traveling, and I talk to people, both Republican and Democrat,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R.-Marble Hill and a member of New Salem Baptist Church in Marble Hill. “People really do believe, as a whole, that marriage between a man and a woman is the core of our society. They feel like the homosexuals are forcing this lifestyle on them, so I think that we will have a large number, 65 percent-plus, vote for this.”
How far from the core, compared to homosexuality, is "S&M with hookers"? Could someone draw us a map here?

"That lifestyle can lead to some problems," said Jetton of homosexuality. Problems? Do tell.

(H/t Political Wire.)

Our drunken forefathers

Distilling whiskey was good business because, to the astonishment of foreigners, nearly all Americans -- men, women, children, and sometimes even babies -- drank whiskey all day long. Some workers began drinking before breakfast and then took dram breaks instead of coffee breaks. . . . During court trials a bottle of liquor might be passed among the attorneys, spectators, clients, and the judge and jury.
-- Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic 1789-1815, at 339-40.

... "Nearly all" seems like hyperbole, but annual consumption of distilled spirits alone went from 2.5 gallons/person in 1790 to nearly 5 gallons/person in 1820, and as Wood points out, once you disregard slaves with little or no access, that is an even larger amount. Given the social consequences, such as casual violence and easy destitution, alcohol then starts to seem like meth now, and temperance begins to seem less puritanical.

Colonel Korn, Esq.

Colonel Korn was the lawyer, and if Colonel Korn assured him that fraud, extortion, currency manipulation, embezzlement, income tax evasion and black-market speculations were legal, Colonel Cathcart was in no position to disagree with him.
-- Joseph Heller, Catch-22, ch. 21.

... This quote really should find its way into a brief in Padilla v. Yoo.

Monday, December 07, 2009

In defense of the My Fair Lady soundtrack album

I'd always heard that the 1956 Broadway cast version of My Fair Lady was far superior to the 1964 film soundtrack, presumably because it had Julie Andrews rather than Audrey Hepburn Marni Nixon. So the other day, I picked up a copy.

Knowing the film version pretty well, I had to distinguish mere familiarity from aesthetic preference. But after many listens, I think the 1964 version comes off better overall.

The main reason is that Rex Harrison's phrasing is much, much superior in the film version. The lack of meaningful emphasis in his 1956 songs is remarkable in contrast to the 1964 album. Possibly he'd had longer to think about them and develop how to enunciate. He may also have done better speaking the lines in context rather than in studio:
Rex Harrison declined to pre-record his musical numbers for the film, explaining that he had never talked his way through the songs the same way twice and thus couldn't convincingly lip-sync to a playback during filming (as musical stars had been doing in Hollywood since the dawn of talking pictures). In order to permit Harrison to sing his songs live during filming, the Warner Bros. Studio Sound Department, under the direction of George Groves, implanted a wireless microphone in Harrison's neckties, marking the first time in film history that one was used to record sound during filming.
Andrews is of course delightful, but I would even venture the heresy that Nixon is a more convincing Cockney than Andrews.

Some of the minor characters are difficult to judge by the albums, but Robert Coote's Pickering sounds inferior to 1964's Wilfrid Hyde-White. Thank god they got Stanley Holloway for the movie too!

Also, some of the lyrics are better in the film. It's a shame to listen to the 1956 version and not hear the magnificent rhyme,
"I know each language on the map," said he,
"And she's Hungarian as the first Hungarian Rhapsody!"
Cole Porter should've been jealous.

Pearl Harbor

The Clarion-Ledger interviews A.C. Hillman, who was a Marine stationed there on December 7, 1941, and who remembers one sailor particularly well:
Hillman, 89, who now lives in Lucedale, was aboard the battleship USS California when the Japanese attacked. Hillman said he was headed to see a friend on the ship when the order for "general quarters" came. He looked out a gun port and saw two planes over the USS Pennsylvania dropping aerial torpedoes that headed for the ship.

"They came straight at us," Hillman said. "I didn't know what to do. My life passed before me in about three seconds."

When a bomb exploded below deck, it set off an anti-aircraft ammunition magazine that killed about 50 men, and by the end of the fighting at Pearl Harbor, 98 of the ship's crewmen were lost and 61 were wounded, according to the California State Military Department.

Hillman was at a gun position high above deck during the fighting. His ammunition lasted about five minutes. The damaged California lost power, so more shells couldn't be sent up. Hillman had to sit helplessly. He could see inside the cockpits of passing planes.

Many other ships were hit. Hillman saw the USS Arizona blow up in an attack that killed 1,177 crewmen. He also saw the USS Oklahoma turn over after being hit by torpedoes - about 400 crewmen were killed. It all happened so fast, he said.

"It was on us just like ants on a piece of bread."

The California began to sink into the mud and only the superstructure remained above the waterline. Hillman said the order to abandon ship came and he had to swim to Ford Island, which is in the middle of Pearl Harbor. Fuel and oil on the surface had caught fire, leaving large areas of burning sea, which forced Hillman and the others to swim underwater for much of the distance. Hillman tried to climb aboard a boat headed to the island, but a sailor told him he couldn't ride.

"He stepped on my hand and made me get off," Hillman said. "That's when I liked to have drowned."
Hillman survived, to enjoy the privilege of taking a bullet in the ribs as part of the first wave ashore at Iwo Jima.

... Silbey considers how we've remembered Pearl Harbor and our other disasters.

... The paper also runs a list, via the state archives, of Mississippians killed at Pearl:
USS Arizona

Burnis L. Bond, Wiggins

Paxton T. Carter, Hattiesburg

Charles B. Chadwick, Coahoma County

John B. Dial, Hattiesburg

Alvie C. Fortenberry, Magnolia

Glen H. Green, Paulding

James A. Menefee, Jackson

Richard P. Molpus, Meridian

Robert E. Moody, Utica

Jessie H. Murphy, Picayune

Lonnie H. Oglesby, Jackson

Cecil R. Ruddock, Pass Christian

Walter T. Smith, Gunnison

George H. Thornton, Blue Springs

Volmer D. White, Kokomo

USS California

Cullen B. Clark, Laurel

Herbert S. Curtis Jr., Kilmichael

USS West Virginia

John R. Melton

Joe E. Mister, Grenada

Hickam Field

Eugene B. Denson, Canton

James E. Gossard, Electric Mills

Theodore K. Joyner, Canton

USS Oklahoma

James W. Davenport Jr., Hattiesburg

Charlton H. Ferguson, Kosciusko

Jim H. Johnston, Wesson

Jerry Jones, Stonewall

Cecil H. Thornton, Mississippi

Durrell Wade, Calhoun City

Wheeler Field

James Everett, Madison

John A. Price, McComb

Sunday, December 06, 2009


He was a very serious, very earnest and very conscientious dope. It was impossible to go to a movie with him without getting involved afterward in a discussion on empathy, Aristotle, universals, messages and the obligations of the cinema as an art form in a materialistic society. Girls he took to the theater had to wait until the first intermission to find out from him whether they were seeing a good or a bad play, and then found out at once. He was a militant idealist who crusaded against racial bigotry by growing faint in its presence. He knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it.
-- Joseph Heller, Catch-22, ch. 8.

100 best last lines from novels

Via Yglesias, on PDF. A reasonable list, saving the absence of "He has just won the Legion of Honor," but who the fuck had the nerve to put apostrophes in the last lines of Absalom, Absalom!?
I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!
I mean, why not punctuate the last lines of Molly Bloom's soliloquy while you're at it?

(Keep meaning to get I dont hate it! etc. on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker. Surely one could sell those in Oxford or hereabouts.)

Friday, December 04, 2009

"President Obama rides to the defense of John Yoo"

So writes Dave Hoffman. He's not wrong.

... Naturally, Scott Horton is all over this. H/T to Jonathan Adler for the Hoffman link; y.t. holds forth in Adler's thread.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Remember Bhopal

This is the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster, an epic mess that started one night when a pesticide plant owned by the American chemical giant Union Carbide leaked a cloud of poisonous gas. Before the sun rose, almost 4,000 human beings capable of love and anguish sank to their knees and did not get up. Half a million more fell ill, many with severely damaged lungs and eyes.

An additional 15,000 people have since died from the aftereffects, and 10 to 30 people are said to die every month from exposure to the hundreds of tons of toxic waste left over in the former factory. But amazingly, the site still has not been cleaned up, because Dow Chemical, which since acquired Union Carbide, refuses to accept any responsibility. The groundwater is contaminated; children of the survivors suffer from genetic abnormalities; and the victims have long since run out of their measly compensation and are begging on the streets.

I have traveled to Bhopal and seen the post-apocalyptic devastation, seen the sick, seen the factory. Methyl isocyanate is a deadly chemical used to kill insects. The night that 40 tons of it wafted out of the factory is, for the survivors, a fulcrum in time, marking the before and after in their lives. They still talk about “the gas” as if it were an organism they know well — how it killed buffalo and pigs, but spared chickens; how it traveled toward Jahangirabad and Hamidia Road, while ignoring other parts of the city; how it clung to the wet earth in some places but hovered at waist level in others; how it blackened all the leaves of a peepul tree; how they could watch it move down the other side of the road, like a rain cloud seen from a sunny spot.

All over India, when misfortune strikes — when a child is ill, for example — people burn chilies to drive away the evil eye. The gas smelled like chilies burning, and people said to one another, it must be a powerfully evil eye that’s being driven away, the stench is so strong.

Fleeing the gas, the Bhopalis clutched their children. Some babies fell, gasping, and their parents had to choose which ones to carry on their shoulders. One image still comes up over and over in their dreams: in the stampede, a thousand people are stepping on their child’s body.

In 2001, the maker of napalm married the bane of Bhopal: Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide for $11.6 billion and promptly distanced itself from the disaster. If Union Carbide was at fault, that was too bad; it had just ceased to exist. In 2002, Dow set aside $2.2 billion to cover potential liabilities arising from Union Carbide’s American asbestos production. By comparison, the total settlement for Bhopal was $470 million. The families of the dead got an average of $2,200; the wounded got $550; a Dow spokeswoman explained, that amount “is plenty good for an Indian.” As Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey observed in 2006, “In Bhopal, some of the world’s poorest people are being mistreated by one of the world’s richest corporations.”

Union Carbide and Dow were allowed to get away with it because of the international legal structures that protect multinationals from liability. Union Carbide sold its Indian subsidiary and pulled out of India. Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide chief executive at the time of the gas leak, lives in luxurious exile in the Hamptons, even though there’s an international arrest warrant out for him for culpable homicide. The Indian government has yet to pursue an extradition request. Imagine if an Indian chief executive had jumped bail for causing an industrial disaster that killed tens of thousands of Americans. What are the chances he’d be sunning himself in Goa?

The Indian government, fearful of scaring away foreign investors, has not pushed the issue with American authorities. Dow has used a kind of blackmail with the Indians; a 2006 letter from Andrew Liveris, the chief executive, to India’s ambassador to the United States asked for guarantees that Dow would not be held liable for the cleanup, and thanked him for his “efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate.”
-- Suketu Mehta, "A Cloud Still Hangs Over Bhopal"

Cold-weather poetry

Michael Bérubé referred offhandedly (in this thread, I can't link to his comment) to Stevens's "The Snow Man" as "puzzling."
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Stevens is reflecting upon the inevitability of the "pathetic fallacy" for the imagination. Only a "snow man" could *not* imagine misery in the sound of the wind. Ultimately, the alleged fallacy rebounds upon the critic; a viewer without imagination is "nothing himself," and if he beholds nothing that isn't there, then there is nothing there. Cf. Nietzsche on the world as value-neutral without the philosopher (priest, poet) to create values.

He returns to this early statement of one of his great themes in a late poem that I like better, "The Plain Sense of Things":
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as necessity requires.
Faced by brute facts "as if" there were no imagination possible in the face of unadorned, cold reality, the poet retrenches: "Yet the absence of the imagination had itself to be imagined." One's very sadness demonstrates that one is not, after all, merely an empty recorder of neutral facts. "Inevitability" is not in the landscape, but in the beholder. And I always like the image (perhaps my own imposition) of the poet as "a rat come out to see."

New Fowler's, same as the old Fowler's

Apparently responding to the outcry over the descriptivizing of Fowler's Modern English Usage in the 3d edition, Oxford is reprinting the first.

I have the 2d edition by Gowers -- "remarkably successful . . . in retaining Fowler’s ipsissima verba while making the minor corrections and qualifications that time has made necessary" -- so probably will not feel the need to acquire the first. But I'm glad it's back in print. There is no shortage of books telling the reader that there is no correct way to write.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Well, I happen to have Gen. Petraeus right here ...

One cool thing about being Tom Ricks is that, when you wonder out loud on your blog what General Petraeus thinks about Obama's Surge 2.0, you get a response from Petraeus answering your question:
My comment for your blog, Tom, in the wake of the speech:

I agree with General McChrystal that the situation in Afghanistan is "serious," but the mission is "doable." Needless to say, the tasks there are and will remain exceedingly challenging, complex, frustrating, and downright difficult. But we need to do all that we can to ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for Al Qaeda as it was before 9/11. The President's policy establishes a clear mission (on which Secretary Gates will elaborate in his testimony) and provides the resources to accomplish it. We need to get the extra US and NATO/non-NATO coalition forces to Afghanistan as quickly as we can -- and that's what we'll endeavor to do.
Now, all the Republicans who acted like it was a Constitutional duty to defer to Petraeus will ... um ... completely ignore this.

... TBA is agnostic on the Obama plan, though we take a strong stand against calling it the "Afghan Plan," given that it wasn't made by Afghans.

The bookshelf

Andrew Roberts, Salisbury. Not a Roberts fan by any means, but his ponderous bio of Salisbury gets evenhanded praise, and fills the Prime Ministerial gap between the age of Gladstone and that of Asquith. Next I shall have to find something on Melbourne or, more interestingly, Peel. But I'm not even halfway through this monster, an exemplar of the "definitive" biography, which means a biography so long and detailed that you will never want to read another biography of that person.

Rudiger Safranski, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil. If they weren't going to go with the wicked German title, A Master from Germany, couldn't they've made it the subtitle? The book is horribly translated -- "validity" is obsolete as the noun for "having value," and indeed sounds like a bad Heidegger translation -- but thus far of interest in illuminating early Heidegger and the many ephemeral figures in German philosophy who appeared important in his day.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I read a library copy when this came out, and found it charming at first, then dramatic, then blah. But I've forgotten just where the "blah" came from, and its mention on a couple of best-fantasy-novel blog posts (here and here) got me thinking I should give Clarke another try.

... Better than I remembered the first time around; no "blah" here.

John Farmer, The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11. That's what it is, padded out with transcripts of air traffic controllers trying to figure out WTF. Essentially an amplication of the parallel portions of the 9/11 Report, pointing out the lies and CYA that accreted to the story. Just the thing to get from the library without paying for.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A fortiori, the internet

Very little is read. This is the fact dissimulated by the enormous diffusion of authors and books.
-- Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation at 134.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Poetry break

Scott Horton translates a poem by Nietzsche:
The Lonely One

I detest following, but also leading.
To obey? Never! And just as bad--to govern!
He who wishes not to be terrified, will summon no terror for others:
Yet only he who peddles fear can lead others.
I even detest having to lead myself!
Like the creatures of the forest and the sea, I love
To lose myself for a while,
In meek error thoughtfully to cower,
Drawn home at length by distant things,
Being enticed by myself to my Self.
I think Kaufmann says somewhere that Nietzsche is a "good bad poet" per Orwell's definition, sort of a German Kipling.

(Commas added per Horton's transcription of the German text.)

When reading the review is more fun than reading the book

This being an Auster novel, accidents visit the narrative like automobiles falling from the sky.
-- James Wood, reviewing Paul Auster's new novel and generally hatin' on Auster in general.

The relationship of this review to Wood's laurels for the collected stories of Auster's ex-wife, Lydia Davis, would make a good subject for a 3-page Davis story, or "story," or whatever the hell those things are. I'm halfway through the Davis, and thinking that avant-garde belles lettres are a bit beyond me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dead poets

Via Bookslut, Poetsgraves.co.uk. Some of the pix (such as of Byron's various plaques) cry out to be enlargeable, but still, very cool. Of course they include what may be the second-most-famous poet-grave in England, Plath's. But not just English sites -- Baudelaire's, for instance.

... I have to believe that Shakespeare's grave is the most famous.

When I was 8 or 9, I read a horror comic about grave-robbers snatching Sh're's bones. The bones were NOT amused.

But my insurance STILL won't pay for my Scotch

More on the wonder drug, alcohol:
Drinking alcohol every day cuts the risk of heart disease in men by more than a third, a major study suggests. * * *

The study was conducted in Spain, a country with relatively high rates of alcohol consumption and low rates of coronary heart disease. * * *

For those drinking little - less than a shot of vodka a day for instance - the risk was reduced by 35%. And for those who drank anything from three shots to more than 11 shots each day, the risk worked out an average of 50% less.

The same benefits were not seen in women, who suffer fewer heart problems than men to start with. Researchers speculated this difference could be down to the fact that women process alcohol differently, and that female hormones protect against the disease in younger age groups.

The type of alcohol drunk did not seem to make a difference, but protection was greater for those drinking moderate to high amounts of varied drinks.

The exact mechanisms are as yet unclear, but it is known that alcohol helps to raise high-density lipoproteins, sometimes known as good cholesterol, which helps stop so-called bad cholesterol from building up in the arteries.
Of course, the Brits are appalled at the reckless Spaniards:
UK experts said the findings should be treated with caution because they do not take into account ill-health from a range of other diseases caused by excess drinking.

"Whilst [Whilst! I love it! -TBA] moderate alcohol intake can lower the risk of having a heart attack, coronary heart disease is just one type of heart disease. Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, is associated with high alcohol intake and can lead to a poor quality of life and premature death," said the British Heart Foundation's senior cardiac nurse, Cathy Ross.

"The heart is just one of many organs in the body. While alcohol could offer limited protection to one organ, abuse of it can damage the heart and other organs such as the liver, pancreas and brain."

The Stroke Association meanwhile noted that overall, evidence indicated that people who regularly consumed a large amount of alcohol had a three-fold increased risk of stroke.
Even the Brits concede that moderate drinking is probably good for you, nonetheless. TBA has one drink most days, zero drinks some days, 2 or 3 on one day a week at most.

"Officer, my son won't eat his broccoli -- would you please tase him?"

That seems to be the next logical step:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A prosecutor wants Arkansas State Police to open a criminal investigation after an Ozark police officer used a Taser on a 10-year-old girl.

David Gibbons, the prosecuting attorney for the 5th Judicial District, made the request Thursday in a letter to state police director Col. Winford Phillips.

State police spokesman Bill Sadler says Phillips received the request and passed it along to the commander of the agency's criminal investigation division. Those two officials will discuss the request.

Police were called to the home Nov. 11 after the girl's mother couldn't get her to take a shower. Officer Dustin Bradshaw's report says the girl was "violently kicking and verbally combative" when Bradshaw tried to take her into custody.

He said he delivered "a very brief drive stun to her back."
The Smoking Gun has the incident report:
According to the below Ozark Police Department report, when Officer Dustin Bradshaw arrived at the residence last Thursday, he found the girl "screaming, kicking, and resisting every time her mother tried to touch her." Bradshaw added that, "Her mother told me to tase her if I needed to." After Kiara continued to refuse her mother's instructions, the cop concluded that "there was not going to be a peaceful resolution of the issue." Bradshaw warned the girl that she was "going to jail," but the child continued kicking and crying and resisted his attempt to handcuff her. During the tussle, Kiara "struck me with her legs and feet in the groin, reported Bradshaw, who countered with a brief "stun to her back" with his Taser. The child, not surprisingly, "immediately stopped resisting and was placed into handcuffs. She would not walk on her own and I had to carry her to my police car."
21st-century parenting. Just one of the many services of the modern State.

(Alternate post title: "Don't tase me, Mom!")

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's a constant of nature, like Planck's

Kevin Drum is astonished that 52% of Republicans think ACORN somehow stole the 2008 election for Obama:
There aren't words for this. Something like 40 million Republicans are now convinced that ACORN (!) somehow managed to steal an election that McCain lost by seven percentage points. Another 20 million think they might have stolen it but aren't sure. The Fox/Limbaugh/Palin axis, which probably directly reaches maybe 10 million people on a regular basis, has nonetheless convinced six times that number to buy into a conspiracy theory that makes the Area 51 crowd look sane by comparison.
Drum's chart however makes the answer clear: 26% of all persons polled buy the ACORN theory. And that's well within the margin of error of the 27% Crazification Factor.
John: You realize this leads to there being over 30 million crazy people in the US?

Tyrone: Does that seem wrong?

John: ... a bit low, actually.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Against italics

And this is why the practice of putting single words into italics for emphasis (again the Victorians are guilty) is so vulgar; a well-constructed sentence should be able to carry a stress on any of its words and should show in itself how these stresses are to be compounded. Both in prose and poetry, it is the impression that implications of this sort have been handled with more judgment than you yourself realise, that with this language as text innumerable further meanings, which you do not know, could be deduced, that forces you to feel respect for a style.
-- William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity, p. 28.

... We might concede his point for poetry, but does it really carry over to prose? Note that what Empson asserts is that level emphasis is what "forces respect" because it implies that the text has more meanings than we realize, perhaps than we can realize. (Oops, see, there I go.)

Polysemy would not seem to me to be indispensable for respecting a work's style. It rather seems to assume the desirability of a "stylistic sublime," which is corroborated in some degree by Empson's saying that polysemy "forces respect"; force and respect are elements of the sublime. But we can admire a style that is clear and unambiguous, at least for some purposes.

Note Empson's definition of poetry:
... two statements are made as if they were connected, and the reader is forced to consider their relations for himself. The reason why these facts should have been selected for a poem is left for him to invent; he will invent a variety of reasons and order them in his own mind. This, I think, is the essential fact about the poetical use of language.
(P. 25; emphasis, of course, added.) In other words, parataxis is the essence of poetry.

That is the exact opposite of what rhetorical prose seeks to do: it wants the reader to carry away exactly one meaning and thus to be persuaded in the manner the author intends. Naturally, TBA thinks of lawyers' briefs. Courts do, to their sorrow, occasionally confront briefs of which they are "forced to consider their relations" and to "order them in their own mind," but they are not typically pleased to be put to the labor, and it does not bode well for the poetical brief writer's chances of success.

And in briefs, certainly, TBA frequently resorts to italics (I try to reserve boldface for blockquotes). A poet may owe his reader the respect of supposing that said reader is unreservedly literate, educated, attentive to nuance, and replete with free time. These are not assumptions I would make about judicial clerks and their supervising judges, and I daresay those readers would not want me to make that assumption. If well-placed italics can help them avoid wondering what the main point is supposed to be, then bring 'em on.

Sarah Palin, fluent in English AND German!

Palin on Israeli settlements:
I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.
Shorter Palin: Lebensraum, baby, Lebensraum!

H/t Matt Yglesias, who spells things out:
But of course the population of the United States is growing. Does that mean we should start colonizing portions of Canada? Almost every country is experiencing population growth--and that growth with be accommodated within those countries’ boundaries. After all, the population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is also growing. Should their be Palestinian settlements inside Israel?
Silly Matt fails to realize that Israel is entitled to enjoy the population density of Alaska, a/k/a God's Country.

Not Bush's worst AG, but most disappointing

Scott Horton tears Michael Mukasey a new one:
Former Bush Administration Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey addressed the Federalist Society only hours after his successor, Eric Holder, announced his plan to bring a group of Guantánamo prisoners up on federal charges in Manhattan. He offered harsh words, claiming that the trials would prove a “circus.” Such attacks on the nation’s criminal justice system have become routine on the political right. * * *

Will the trials be a “circus”? No doubt there will be a circus on Fox News and in the pages of the Weekly Standard. But in the courtroom? An example is furnished by the case of the “blind sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, tried in a New York courtroom in 1995. The government charged that he planned to set off five bombs simultaneously, striking the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, and a federal building housing the FBI. They showed videotapes of defendants mixing bomb ingredients in a garage before their arrest in 1993. The trial was a major test of the ability of prosecutors to present a terrorism case and of federal judges to manage it. The defendants wanted to use the case to turn themselves into martyrs, but the case was handled with exemplary decorum and fairness, producing convictions in 1995. There was no “circus.” The judge who presided over the case made his reputation through it. His name is Michael Mukasey.
What a sad, sad little man. No one ever had high hopes of Ashcroft or Gonzales, but many (including Horton) hoped for better from Mukasey. They erred.

Pia fraus?

The reviewer is justifiably bemused by a book entitled Pious Nietzsche:
The argument in this volume is that Nietzsche retained his native Pietism. He was brought up in a Pietist home and broke away from the beliefs which it housed, but he did not thereby cease to be religious or pious. He aspired to become a disciple of Dionysus, a devotee of Life, of which Dionysus is the symbol. This determination to pursue a way of life is rightly called "piety" when we observe the continuities between Nietzsche's background Pietism and his later quest. His Pietism was a way of life rather than a set of doctrines. The form remains where the content changes. In pursuit of what changes, Nietzsche sought out a musical askesis. Benson explores this carefully. Ask sis is a form of spiritual exercise in self-transformation. It is not identical with asceticism, which carries connotations of bodily denial. It is affirmative of bodily life as well as negative toward spiritual sickness and the enemy of decadence, also carefully explored by the author, which Nietzsche self-consciously fought in himself. * * *

* * * a question goes unanswered: what difference does it make whether or not we regard Nietzsche as pious in Benson's sense or religious in any sense? It surely strains language beyond what is permissible to describe the mature Nietzsche as a kind of theist, but I shall not pause here to quarrel over language or, for that matter, to analyze types of Pietism and therefore the language of "piety." Nietzsche is called pious in this volume because of certain structural similarities between his Dionysian faith and Pietism, abstractly considered (the latter is shorn of its Christian content). Possibly Nietzsche was "pious" in a sense arrived at by (relative) abstraction; possibly Nietzsche should be called "religious" in some non-trivial sense of that word. But what does it matter? What exactly do we forfeit if we refuse to call him "religious" or "pious"?
But when we're presented with a book arguing for a religious Nietzsche, we should respond as did Dr. Johnson with regard to the woman preacher: it matters less whether it's done well, than that someone tried to do it at all?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


My concern is these students are in this developmental phase, and I don't think it's a good developmental practice to just tell somebody to just sit around and masturbate. I don't think that promotes relationships.
-- Father Joe Vetter, of the Duke (Univ.) Catholic Center, re: an on-campus study recruiting Duke coeds to participate in "sex-toy parties" a la Tupperware, in which they will "view sex toys and engage in sexually explicit conversation with other female Duke students."

Father Vetter's concern is for the students' souls; TBA is still just trying to figure out how the "behavioral economics" guys got this past the school's human-research ethics committee. And when the videotaped interviews will hit the internet.
Michael Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs, said that all kinds of research are important on university campuses and that the sex toy party project went through a peer review process before any students were sought.

"Not all research will make people comfortable," Schoenfeld said.
But evidently, some research will make some people very comfortable indeed.

(H/t Tyler Cowen.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike ...

I guess you either like "Tyler Durden's" kind of humor or you don't, but I do, so:
Fight Club’ is unquestionably the best movie ever made, and tomorrow, finally, it comes out on Blu-Ray and a special DVD to celebrate its 10th anniversary. In high school me and my friends used to get together and fight for no reason other than to do it, and that was before this was even a movie, so maybe that’s why it still resonates with me. I mean we didn’t actually punch each other, because I would have been frightened and I didn’t have any friends, but on Friday night I would make popcorn balls with my mom, and she would send me to my room if I ate too many and then I would kick my stuffed animals, so in that sense it was still very much like ‘Fight Club’.
... In unrelated but similarly lurid news, Belle de Jour reveals herself. "Who?" you ask. You have spent your time on the web much too responsibly. But you can change that.

Surreal Sarah

"Surreal" is, to TBA, the proper word for the spectacle of Steve Schmidt, in his role as campaign advisor to John McCain, Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States of America, trying to convince McCain's choice for vice-president that evolution is a fact:
"But your dad's a science teacher," Schmidt objected. "Yes." "Then you know that science proves evolution," added Schmidt. "Parts of evolution," I said. "But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt." Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.
Has Sarah Palin ever in all her born days *not* "felt she was on solid factual ground"?

(Hint to Sarah: a species that changes and adapts, becomes another species.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Please refrain from glorifying the terrorists

Matt Yglesias puts it very well:
In political terms, the right likes the war idea because it involves taking terrorism more “seriously.” But in doing so, you partake of way too much of the terrorists’ narrative about themselves. It’s their conceit, after all, that blowing up a bomb in a train station and killing a few hundred random commuters is an act of war. And war is a socially sanctioned form of activity, generally held to be a legally and morally acceptable framework in which to kill people. What we want to say, however, is that this sporadic commuter-killing isn’t a kind of war, it’s an act of murder. To be sure, not an ordinary murder--a mass murder--but nonetheless murder. * * *

After all, do we really want to send the message to the world that a self-starting spree killer like Nidal Malik Hasan is actually engaged in some kind of act of holy war? It seems to me that we don’t. A lot of people in the world are interested in glory, and willing to take serious risks with their lives for its sake. Insofar as possible, we want to drain anti-American violence of the aura of glory. And that means by-and-large treating its perpetrators like criminals.
It's like if the Fort Hood shooter had killed 3,000 people and we decided that was "war" (but executed him anyway).

If Khalid Sheikh Muhammad plotted the 9/11 attacks as an act of war, then we should be ruefully praising his ingenuity. How is 9/11 more of a war crime than Dresden or Nagasaki? But it's not an act of war. Al-Qaeda doesn't get to "declare war" any more than Tim McVeigh did. It's not a sovereign state. It's a criminal organization, like the Mafia, and its members need to be put on trial like the criminals they are, rather than like the warriors they fantasize themselves to be.

At the most extreme, one could suggest that the Right insists on calling the terrorists "soldiers" because the Right shares the terrorists' fantasy of private insurgency against the American government. But that is another story.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Slave morality

Just like every pediatrician's waiting room used to have volume one of The Bible Story, one always sees volume one of the Harvard Classics on folks' bookshelves. I don't think I've ever seen a complete set.

I did finally crack open my sis-in-law's copy, and read some Epictetus for the first time:
For men sell themselves at various prices. This was why, when Florus was deliberating whether he should appear at Nero’s shows, taking part in the performance himself, Agrippinus replied, ‘Appear by all means.’ And when Florus inquired, ‘But why do not you appear?’ he answered, ‘Because I do not even consider the question.’
Very old-school.
When we are invited to a banquet, we take what is set before us; and were one to call upon his host to set fish upon the table or sweet things, he would be deemed absurd. Yet in a word, we ask the Gods for what they do not give; and that, although they have given us so many things!
Jesus would've been proud to add that one to the Sermon on the Mount.

... Volume 2, says the Bartleby link above. Damn if I've ever seen the alleged vol. 1 however: Ben Franklin, William Penn, and "John Woolman"?

Fascinating anyway to see what was considered indispensable at the time.

So what am I looking long into, then?

In the course of spending too much time with numbskulls at the VC re: Heidegger, I happened upon some more thoughtful commenters, one of whom observed:
[Heidegger] was at least smart enough to understand that the loss of God and the sacred is a big problem, which is better than the typical nitwit we have now running around practicing nihlism without the abyss.
Which led me to a thought I hadn't had before:
I do have some hope that Nietzsche pointed us towards post-abyssal philosophy, as it were. Perhaps the philosopher can dance on the edge of the abyss because he knows there is no abyss?
I will have to bear that in mind if I go back through Zarathustra.

(Excessively obscure blog title explained here.)

... At the same thread, Salamantis links to a series of 8 columns by Simon Critchley in the Guardian, a sort of mini-course on Being and Time. Mark Wilson also linked to a podcast of Hubert Dreyfus's B&T course at Berkeley (which it seems, like Dreyfus's commentary, confines itself to the first half of the book).