Speechless

Just like Maddow after Jindal, I am rendered speechless by the DOJ memos released on Monday. Most were by my former Con Law professor; among the notable exceptions was the repudiation of these policies last October.

Holy Constitutional Law, Batman.

* DOJ – Office of Legal Counsel memos

* NYT (3/3)
* LAT (3/3)
* links to the memos with brief annotations at salon.com

* Jack Balkin @ Balkinization (3/3 7am)
* Scott Horton @ Harper’s (3/3 716am)
* Dan Froomkin @ the Washington Post (3/3 12:52 pm)
* Glenn Greenwald, 3/3

bad ideas like bad pennies keep turning up

A Louisiana state Representative is considering a plan to pay poor women to have their tubes tied, to stave off additional reproduction by undesirables.

One wonders just how bad history classes have to be in Louisiana for John LaBruzzo to have actually failed to learn about the many, many times governments have tried programs like this based on bizarre ideas about biology and economics — and let’s please not forget the unbelievably asinine and heinous beliefs about race and class and gender that underlie such proposals. (My partner points out that actually this history wasn’t in any of our primary school history classes — she learned about Puerto Rico, Native Americans, laws of dozens of American states, and on, and on, from independent reading. “And you too, Laura — you didn’t learn that shit in Alabama.”)

Honestly it just makes me tired. What the fuck is wrong with people? Why do people not have any more self-knowledge and/or humility than to at least understand how pig-ignorant they are, before attempting to set social policy?

seen on broadsheet

energy “expert” à la William Carlos Williams

Sarah Palin recently made a strange and nearly incoherent comment about US energy policy when asked about keeping domestic oil production in the US (WarRoom 9/19):

Of course, it’s a fungible commodity and they don’t flag, you know, the molecules, where it’s going and where it’s not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first. So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it’s Americans who get stuck holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It’s got to flow into our domestic markets first.

WarRoom linked to Obsidian Wings’ interpretation of this comment, which appears to be (mostly) a suggestion that Congress would ban exports of oil. There’s good analysis of why this is a bad idea — such a bad idea that it really ought to be obvious to our energy “experts”.

Of course, according to McCain, his VP candidate is an expert (but not one of those elitist experts) who “knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America”, probably because her state is in charge of producing 20% of the nation’s energy needs — no, that’s not right: 20% of the nation’s oil and gas production — no, not quite: 20% of the nation’s oil? — no, try again: around 18%, but falling to 13% during the first two years of Palin’s gubernatorial administration. Yes, there we go. Which is of course a decent amount, if only the McCain team didn’t lie about it.Gary Farber’s comment on same post.

Anyway, MaryL on the comments thread had this retake which I thought deserved a bit more attention:

This is Just to Say

I have flagged
the molecules
that were in
Alaska

and which
you were probably
saving
for Canada

Forgive me
they were fungible
so sweet
and so cold

Chortle. I love WCW and literary mashups and political absurdity — to have all together at once made a very pleasant start to a Saturday otherwise full of work.

escapist reading about our “leaders”

an upsetting day. so, reading the news.

Farewell to the crown, farewell, the velvet gown, won’t you all come tumbling down? Goodbye to the crown! (Chumbawamba, “Farewell to the Crown”)

Nepal votes out their monarchy and institutes a republic. Gyanendra has to vacate the palace within two weeks or face eviction. Also, he had to start paying his own electric bills a while back. Ha ha, I love that. It is balm to my troubled soul. The palace building will be turned into a museum.

The NYT also reports that former Illinois governor George Ryan, with six years left on his prison term for racketeering and fraud, will seek executive clemency from Bush.

The lawyer, James R. Thompson (also a former Illinois governor), said any larger purpose in the conviction and sentence of Mr. Ryan, 74, had been served. “The man has gone from being the governor of the state of Illinois to being a prisoner in a federal penitentiary,” Mr. Thompson said, later adding: “His career is gone. His reputation is gone.”

Ah if only that were the standard for all prisoners. Anyway I will say that Ryan did a good thing by ordering a moratorium on the death penalty after learning of wrongful convictions.

And, finally, the NYT reports on McCain’s use of Bush for fundraising:

Despite the efforts by the McCain camp to keep at arm’s length a president with an approval rating stalled at 28 percent, it is worth remembering that that 28 percent can be fiercely loyal and often wealthy. … “He is very popular with high-dollar donors,” [conservative economist] Mr. Bartlett said of the president.

updated 5/29: Also this note on how the presidential fundraising travel expenses get billed:

By blending official events with party fundraising, Bush dramatically reduces the cost of presidential travel that’s charged to the political campaigns. Taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab.

alabama – imprisoning pregnant women like it’s 2020 in Gilead

How did I miss this Alabama story?
Greg L. Gambril, a DA in south Alabama (Covington County), is prosecuting women for endangering their fetuses under a chemical endangerment law intended to protect children from meth labs — “chemical endangerment of child”.

“When drugs are introduced in the womb, the child-to-be is endangered. It is what I call a continuing crime.” He added that the purpose of the statute was to guarantee that the child has “a safe environment, a drug-free environment. No one is to say whether that environment is inside or outside the womb.”

Tiffany Hitson spent her daughter’s first year in Julia Tutwiler Prison. He has prosecuted at least eight women under this law.

WTF is wrong with this asshole? Does he really not have anything better to do? Can’t someone disbar this motherfucker for blatant prosecutorial misconduct in using a law (a) to target crimes not intended to be reached, and (b) in violation of women’s constitutional rights to privacy?

Oh, no, wait — I forgot. Alabama is fucked up and the rest of the country just lets it stay that way. Women in Alabama, women in religious cults in Texas — fuck ‘em.

I know the ACLU of Alabama is overburdened, but come on.

Scientific American fisks Expelled

Scientific American‘s reviews of “Expelled”, the creationist movie with Ben Stein, are the best yet: the one by John Rennie is particularly helpful. It dissects the rhetorical tricks, and fills in the facts that were left out of the film’s assertions about punitive action taken towards experts. Expelled Exposed, from the NCSE, is developing point-by-point rebuttals of the assertions in the film. (Their tagline is: “Flunked, Not Expelled”.)

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“dangerous even for children to know of atheism”

That’s a paraphrase of what an Illinois state Rep. Monique Davis told a man who was protesting the state of Illinois’ $1M grant to a church. Read more at Eric Zorn’s Chicago Tribune blog.

link from an David S-J on an atheist mailing list

4/11 update: Rep. Davis apologized, sort of, after being excoriated in the media for days. [link from pharyngula]

professorial copyright wackiness

This professor is claiming that a student note service violates his copyright on his lectures. (wired 4/4, link from Fred @ EFF on a mailing list)

Student note services gather actual student notes of lectures, and sell them to students — who presumably missed a lecture, took bad notes themselves, or want to see another professor’s take on the matter.

What am I missing? The professor is giving an oral lecture, based on his copyrighted “lecture”. (What, notes? sentences? powerpoint slides?) Unless he reads his copyrighted lecture verbatim in class, then his lecture as given is not the same thing as his copyrighted lecture. Copyright requires fixation in a tangible medium, so I don’t see how he has a copyright in the lecture as given.

He argues that he fixes his lecture in writing on overhead transparencies. That’s not going to be a fixation of the lecture as given, either.

Then he also argues that he records his lecture. That’s more solid, but I’m not sure simultaneous fixation is going to work in the non-broadcast setting.

At any rate, notes from a session would seem to be inarguably fair use, or even non-infringing. There’s an early 1900s English case that actually dealt directly with lecture notes and held that they were not infringements. I’ll have to dig that up.

I’ll be interested to see what the pundits think about the legal specifics of this and where I’m wrong. In the meantime I’ll just note that the word “schmuck” leaps to mind.

federally funded censorship about abortion

Jenna Freedman posted an outrageous story about a medical database: Popline has made the word “abortion” a stopword, meaning you can’t search on the term; the database ignores the word as it ignores words like “the”.

Why? Popline responded that “We recently made all abortion terms stop words. As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.”

They recommend instead searching “fertility control, postconception”.

I fail to understand this rationale. Was their pressure from within PopLine or outside from the funders to hide information about abortion? Or did they decide for some reason that it was strategically better to hide information about abortion given the anti-choice climate at the Bush administration?

Either way, hiding information is not the right solution.

The contact information is:
Debra L. Dickson
POPLINE Database Manager/Administrator
INFO Project
111 Market Place, Suite 310, Baltimore, MD 21202
ddickson@jhuccp.org
Tel: 410-659-6300 / Fax: 410-659-6266

and more information is available at Jenna’s page.
cross-posted at sivacracy

update fri 3pm:
The Dean at John Hopkins (which manages Popline) has ordered the decision reversed. See statement from Johns Hopkins (link from women’s health news); see also crooks & liars coverage

parents pray; kid dies

These Wisconsin parents prayed while their kid lapsed into a diabetic coma and died. So, Madeline Neumann was born to parents who let her die only eleven years later. Her parents think she may be resurrected yet.

I usually think of religion as inherently funny, but it’s also stupidity, and stupidity is dangerous and not particularly funny.

link from pharyngula

the missing “than”

The NYT had the germ of an interesting idea today: What I’d Be Talking About if I Were Still Running, op-eds from presidential candidates who have dropped out. It was only a germ because it turned out that the op-eds were only very short, virtually substance-less talking point-level comments. Now if the NYT followed this up with, say, articles doing journalism that examined the current candidates’ positions on these issues, comparing rhetoric to record, we might have something.

Anyway, I was browsing through these and — I should have known better but I clicked on Sam Brownback’s “A Family Crisis”. He had very little of interest to say — more of the tired “marriage is in a crisis” bullshit — but he did this nice little rhetorical dance that I thought was worth noting. He says:

Children brought up with a mom and dad bonded in marriage are, on average, far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.

Now, words like “more” or “less” are comparative terms. Good grammar requires we include the concepts being compared. Political rhetoric, apparently, permits leaving these things unvoiced. Politicians say the positive, and leave the negative for the readers’ minds to fill in. Grammatical deniability.

These children are “on average far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.” More likely than whom? The unmarried parents discussed in the editorial, sure, but also this clearly suggests same-sex parents. The “on average” lends it a bit of scientific gloss, and ties it into the false and misleading reports of research that are frequently circulated by rightwingers like Brownback.

Pretty slick way to politick.

Elsevier’s environmentally-unfriendly licenses

Why does Elsevier hate the environment and all the trees and all the little children who will be living in a world 50 years from now harmed by Elsevier’s really stupid insistence that its electronic documents be PRINTED and then SCANNED IN before being sent out for ILL ????

Seriously, faculty should really reconsider submitting to Elsevier journals. What a waste of human effort as well as trees.

Open Access News has the rest of the scoop. Although this isn’t new news, it seems like an opportune moment to bring it to people’s attention.

See also digital koans.

The Republican Shuffle

Following hot on the heels (ahem) of Larry Craig, another Republican politician got caught seeking a little bathroom action, leading to more denials and resignations etc. My partner Michele has dubbed this “the Republican shuffle”. (She’s good with naming things. You should see some of her reagent names. <g>)

For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to just jot down sex scandals of hypocrites. They’re coming fast & furious and this is just what I can remember or noted in the past few weeks.

2007 ongoing – the DC Madam Scandal. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey clients include:
* David Vitter (Republican Sen. from Louisiana) – dressed in diapers !!!
* Randall Tobias (Republican official; “AIDS czar”; administrator of US Agency for International Development) – resigned April 27, 2007

February:
* Feb. 27: Zachary Daubenmire, son of David Daubenmire (founder of “Pass the Salt Ministries” and “Minutemen United”) convicted of possession of child porn. [
Columbus Dispatch
, Feb. 27, 2007.]

June:
* Gary Aldridge, Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama, died of “accidental mechanical asphyxia” — he “was found hogtied and wearing two complete wet suits, including a face mask, diving gloves and slippers, rubberized underwear, and a head mask, according to an autopsy report. Investigators determined that Rev. Gary Aldridge’s death was not caused by foul play and that the 51-year-old pastor of Montgomery’s Thorington Road Baptist Church …” [Dead Reverend's Rubber Fetish, Smoking Gun]

July:
* Glenn Murphy: Head of Young Republican National Federation; Republican county chairman from Indiana; sexually assaulted another (male) [YR 2007/7/29]
* Tommy Tester, Virginia Southern Baptist minister, caught urinating in front of children at a car wash, with an open bottle of vodka & empty oxycodone bottles in his car. [WBIR 7/31]

August & ongoing:
* Larry Craig – US Senator and Mitt Romney campaign exec caught seeking some glory-hole action.

October:
* Joey DiFatta, running for state office in Louisiana, also caught toe-tapping in a public restroom [nola blog]
* Oral Roberts University president forced to resign – Richard Roberts’ wife Lindsay was accused of having sexual relations w/ a 16yo boy; Richard was accused of mismanaging funds to lead an extravagant lifestyle [NYT 10/18]
* Donald Fleischman, 37yo Republican Chairman of Brown County, Wisconsin, faces criminal charges for fondling a 16yo boy & plying him with beer & pot. [Green Bay Press Gazette]
* Richard Mellon Scaife, right-wing mega-magnate & bankroller of hate politics, has to get a divorce after his wife caught him frolicking with hookers. [pharyngula 10/22]

November:
* Jehovah’s Witnesses settles NINE lawsuits over child sex abuse by multiple J-dub pastors. These were covered up by the J-dub hierarchy. Abusers include: Frederick McLean, a church administrator (“ministerial servant”); James Henderson, a J-dub “elder” and “Presiding Overseer”, whose abuses were known by the church and other elders; Alvin Heard, another member who was “disfellowshipped” from one church but, with full knowledge, admitted to other churches where he molested again; Larry Kelley, a children’s entertainer in Texas; Timothy Silva, who taught “adolescent book studies” at a J-dub congregation in California even after the church knew of his problem; and three others — eight total alleged abusers whose misdeeds were enabled by Jehovah’s Witness official-dom. [msnbc 11/21]

Also in 2007:
* Brand-spanking-new creationist museum: one of the video spokespeople turned out to have been a porn star
* Bob Allen: Republican Florida legislator solicited undercover cop for blow-job

2008:
* In Christian school founder extorts sex from student’s parent – Here we have someone who is unusually ethical compared to many of these people: Instead of trying to extort sex from children, LaVern Jordan, founder and “spiritual backbone” of the Parkway Christian School, simply tried to extort sex from their parents. He told one mom that he wanted to fuck her, and thought for waiving the fee of $300/week that he should get to do that “several times”. He later offered to give her child credit for classes he had failed, again tying it to sex.

I know I missed a lot. But seriously. What is wrong with these people? Lying, hurting other people, hurting themselves — why? Because their morality is founded on irrationality or politics or both, and not on simple, obvious ethical points like do no harm to others, sub-clauses consensuality and honesty.

Christian freaks.

newborn citizens denied healthcare

In a time of many horrors, my eye was caught by this outrage [NYT 11/3]:

Under a new federal policy, children born in the United States to illegal immigrants with low incomes will no longer be automatically entitled to health insurance through Medicaid, Bush administration officials said Thursday.

“Children born in the United States” — i.e., US citizens.*

Now, when a woman gives birth on Medicaid, her child is only eligible for care once the parents get the birth certificate & file a Medicaid application. Of course illegal immigrants may be leery of filing paperwork, and even if they do, it can take a long time to process — weeks or months. So infants in their first few months of life may not receive preventive care and care for chronic conditions.

Thanks, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA). What a good idea, you ass-hat.

S. Kimberly Belshé, California’s secretary of the Health & Human Services Agency, said: “By virtue of being born in the United States, a child is a U.S. citizen. What more proof does the federal government need?” Georgia citizens should try to recruit her to replace Rep. Asshat.

* To be completely fair, I think infants — all people — should get medical care regardless of citizenship. But surely even the hardest anti-immigrant folks have to quail at the thought of newborn US citizens being denied healthcare they need and have a right to simply because of bureaucratic delays.

portfolio diversification in your income

Firefighters who want to live in high-priced cities can work two jobs, said W. Michael Cox, chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “I think it’s great,” he said. “It gives you portfolio diversification in your income.”

[NYT 7/23] Words fail me. Actually, polite words fail me.

judy miller, unreliable narrator

What the New York Times has not figured out yet is that Judith Miller is an extreme example of the unreliable narrator. She increases our doubt in the story as she tells it.

Priceless. [PressThink 10/21, link from sivacracy]

Wherein I Defend Ann Coulter from Charges of Plagiarism (Pro Bono)

Ann Coulter recently took some heat in the blogosphere for allegedly ‘plagiarizing’ from conservative magazines in her 6/29 article, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Religion”. [why are we back 7/20; the rude pundit 7/1; Raw Story 7/20] Raw Story “found Coulter’s work to be at worst plagiarism and at best a cut-and-paste repetition of points authored by conservative religious groups in the early 1990s.” Gods forbid I actually defend that person, but let’s be a little less free with tossing around terms like ‘plagiarism’. The concept of plagiarism is to some extent a ‘moral’ counterpart to copyright infringement, and suffers from some of the same absolutist tendencies.

Plagiarism is an attempt to take credit for someone else’s work. It could be reasonably used to describe either passing off the substance of someone else’s work as one’s own, or as passing off the exact written expression as one’s own — this latter form might also be copyright infringement. Wikipedia [7/27] describes it as

Plagiarism refers to the use of another’s ideas, information, language, or writing, when done without proper acknowledgment of the original source. Essential to an act of plagiarism is an element of dishonesty in attempting to pass off the plagiarised work as original.

It’s quite obvious that Coulter cut-and-pasted descriptions & paraphrased descriptions. Her article is better described as a list with a short 3-paragraph diatribe at the end. Coulter did source some of her list items, when they included full quotes; she failed to source the paraphrased list items. A problem in an academic article and, one might argue, a problem if you are hoping to be taken seriously. But not really a serious problem for someone like Ann Coulter who dashes random crap off in the form of a diatribe. In fact, while acknowledging each & every source of an “idea[], information, language, or writing” might be lovely, it is not common practice. And especially not in the world of editorial columnists & pundits. Wikipedia points out that an essential element of plagiarism is dishonesty. Not to be all morally relativistic here (Ann would hate that), but what qualifies as ‘honesty’ is circumstantial: in some circumstances an omission might be dishonest, and in other circumstances it would be expected or welcomed, and the inclusion of the information might be distracting, misleading, or unnecessary.

In this instance, Ann’s paraphrasings are pretty short and generic to that particular perspective. The point of listing the individual items is to describe the works of art, not create a bibliography of conservative scholarship. Could she have cited to the original articles that she saw the description in? Sure, that would have been helpful. Does it really matter? Eh. So she’s scholastically lazy. That’s hardly the worst of her sins. And it’s not like people are going to be quoting her for her deathless prose.

Rather than trying to diss Ann Coulter for her sloppy citation methods (which sounds a lot less serious than ‘plagiarism’), it would be more interesting & helpful & informative to address the substance (such as it is) of her commentary: explain & contextualize the art of Andre Serrano, Annie Sprinkle, etc.

judith miller, the NYT, and journalism

from slate: Programming the Slammer Film Festival – Readers choose the most enlightening fare for Judith Miller. By David Edelstein

7/8 update: here’s a couple more good commentaries: avedon carol [sideshow] and Rosa Brooks in the LAT. Money line from Rosa Brooks:

If a source with a clear political motivation passes along classified information that has no value for public debate but would endanger the career, and possibly the life, of a covert agent, is a journalist ethically permitted to “out” the no-good sneak? You bet. And if the knowledge that they can’t always hide behind anonymity has a “chilling effect” on political hacks who are eager to manipulate the media in furtherance of their vested interests, that’s OK with me.

Word.

The Forwarding-government-propaganda privilege: Somehow, just not so compelling.

… In the interests of fairness, a few thoughtful pieces on protect-judy side: billmon wrestling with his desire to justify jail for judy … And the Columbia Journalism Review (Jan/Feb 2005) ran a good article outlining the pro-Judith-Miller position and the general threats to the press that have happened of late. The author asks concernedly at the end: Would people rise up in defense of the reporters’ privilege, and reporters, if these two reporters go to jail? And answers his own question: I didn’t think so. The article details (a) various attacks on the “fourth estate” by government in the last few years; and (b) why people distinguish what Judith Miller is doing from what they want to see protected.

… But now that I’m thinking about I just have to get in 2 or 3 more cents: From one perspective, Judith Miller may, indeed, be just another front in a general way by the state on the press. As such, Judith Miller should have been just another footnote, an example of when the RP shouldn’t apply, or why it can go too far, or why good privileges sometimes produce bad results … So the problem is not with Judith Miller invoking a reporters’ privilege & going to jail for it. The problem is that the NYT chose to put forward Judith Miller as the poster-child for the reporters’ privilege, and chose not to profile and highlight and defend the other cases. Hard cases make bad law, as they say. And the NYT chose a hard case to make law on: hard as in not appealing, factually bad, not getting to the essence of why the reporters’ privilege is important. Why did the NYT do that? I think the NYT is trying to make itself look good: Oh, look how we defend freedom of the press.

Putting Judith Miller together with the NYT’s actual reporting on freedom of the press issues, I don’t see a very pretty picture. It looks to me like the NYT ignores the broader issue of reporters’ freedom when it could actually do some good, and instead puts forward the case only when its narrow self-interest is involved. If the NYT was actually interested in freedom of the press, for instance, then why not more coverage and pressure and amicus briefs on behalf of journalists who are protecting sources for important information we needed and otherwise would not have had? Or for that matter, why not more coverage of the record numbers of dead reporters in Iraq? The targeted bombing by the US of Al-Jazeera? Etc. ….

“Now, you say you love me. Well, just to prove, you do, you can cry me a river; I cried a river over you.”

8/12 update:

Another good post on the topic, by Charlie Anders of Other Magazine:

Actually, Anita Bartholomew had it right: the real reason not to give Miller the award is that she was protecting confidential sources who were trying to silence whistleblowers instead of blowing the whistle themselves. It’s a pretty basic distinction, and one the mainstream media seems to have forgotten. Back when I was starting out as a reporter, we were warned to use confidential sources sparingly and to be aware of their agendas if we did use them. If your source works for the government and is pushing the government’s agenda (or ditto for a corporation) then he or she is just a cowardly shill.

Et tu, Louisiana?

Not content with their shared top-ten ranking in teen births, Louisiana State Rep. A. G. Crowe (R-Slidell) wants Louisiana to join with Oklahoma and Alabama in segregating (or banning) gay books.

Good for you, Rep. Crowe. You tackle those problems that Louisiana is facing (high cancer mortality rates, high teen pregnancy rate, low education rates, high infant mortality rate) by, umm, micro-managing library collections. Let me know how that works out.

ding-dong

John Ashcroft is retiring. Yes, I’m sure that Bush will show us how it could be worse, but for right now, I’m taking my pleasures where I can. [nyt 11/9]

The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved.

Not yet, John, but your resignation is a good first step.

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