Thursday, December 27, 2012

What's the deal with "a well-regulated militia"?

In his opinion in DC v. Heller, which ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual right to keep and bear arms, Justice Scalia essentially ignores the first clause of the amendment: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state..."

I was teaching a class in the History of the U.S. Constitution this fall and we puzzled over this amendment. One of my students opined that it was intended to give the people the right to organize militarily against their own government. I think that's the standard view of many assault-weapons supporters; but it seems clearly crazy to incorporate a right of sedition into a document designed to create a more perfect union, particularly just four years after the trauma of Shays' Rebellion, which demonstrated the need for a strong central government in the first place.

So, if we at least provisionally take off the table the idea that the Second Amendment was designed to protect the right of insurrection, what are we to make of the militia language?  What did the founders mean about the militia being necessary to a free state? Why might a lot of Americans be worried that the new federal government might try to suppress militias?
Proclamation Line of 1763

Let's look at who the militias of the 1780s were created to defend against. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Right: they were formed by western settlers who kept pushing into Indian and Spanish territory and provoking retaliatory raids by the locals. Not surprisingly, the Congress found this activity annoying because they couldn't control it, and it destabilized relations with our neighbors. The settlers were worried that the new federal government might want to sign treaties with the bordering tribes and European colonial powers and try to force them out--just as the British had tried to do to enforce the Proclamation Line of 1763 after the French and Indian War. There was no way the Western settlers were going to support a central state that could take away their lands.

This is the best way to understand the totality of the Second Amendment in its own context, I would argue. The frontiersmen of 1788 stood in roughly the same relation to their government as the Israeli settlers on the West Bank: on the one hand, they were the tools of the policy of the state; on the other, their homes were in constant potential danger if the state decided to change that policy.

And, as Joseph Ellis reminds us in American Creation, the state did intend to rein the settlers in:  "the leadership of the new national government created by the recently ratified Constitution declared its determination to avoid a policy of Indian removal at almost any cost" (p. 128).  But Amendment II to the Constitution essentially took the government's ability to prevent it off the table from the outset.

How do we know the Second Amendment was not about individual gun rights? Imagine if the Israeli government proposed to take away the settlers' guns. Given the security conditions on the West Bank, or really throughout Israeli territory, such a proposal would be literally unthinkable. The same situation existed in the early republic. Nobody passes a law to prevent something that nobody would ever propose. That's why you have to take the militia clause of the Second Amendment seriously.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Miscegenation: a non-concept

This is the 149th anniversary of the publication of Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Race, Applied to the American White Man and the Negro, a sham pamphlet by journalists David Goodman Croly and George Wakeman published to discredit the Republicans in the election of 1864. The pamphlet, supposed to be written by an anonymous abolitionist, championed the policy of intermixture between whites and blacks as a solution to the race problem.  It was written plausibly enough that real abolitionists were wary of denouncing it.  

Miscegenation was exposed as a fraud in November 1864, but by that time the word had entered the language. It remains enshrined in dictionaries to this day.

To use the word “miscegenation” uncritically is no different from employing seriously the term “drapetomania,” Samuel Cartwright’s medical term for slaves’ “stealing themselves,” i.e. running away. Both are neologisms giving names to false concepts—stigmatizing and pathologizing phenomena that had not previously had their own names. (The original word for interracial mixing was "amalgamation," which also denoted erasing the line between Federalists and Republicans.) Each term denotes violating an artificial and unjust rule. We don’t use “drapetomania” anymore without quotation marks; neither should we use “miscegenation,” coined just thirteen years later, except to understand the political function of the concept of race.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why Americans Need Assault Weapons: Rep. Louie Gohmert

Hats off to Rep. Louie Gohmert for offering the only honest reason for civilians to own assault weapons: to engage in sedition.

WALLACE: I understand the right to bear arms and the Supreme Court has made it clear that the founders meant what they said when they put the right to bear arms in the Constitution, but let me ask you the question Dick Durbin asked. Why do people need these semi- automatic weapons?
I was reading about the Glock he had and the Sig Sauer he had, five bullets a second. There is the Bushmaster. I mean, these were created for law enforcement. These were created for the military. Why does the average person -- I can understand a hunting rifle, I can understand (inaudible), why do they need these weapons of mass destruction?
GOHMERT: Well, for the reason George Washington said a free people should be an armed people. It ensures against the tyranny of the government. If they know that the biggest army is the American people, then you don’t have the tyranny that came from King George. That is why it was put in there, that’s why once you start drawing the line, where do you stop? And that’s why it is important to not just look emotionally our reaction Chris is to immediately say let’s get rid of all guns, but that’s why you do that as a judge, you react emotionally, but you use your head and you look at the facts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Peter Salovey to be president of Yale

Peter Salovey
I had heard rumors that Peter Salovey was under consideration for this post, but didn't dare to believe them. This is a stunningly good decision. I must say, though, that I miss Peter's Groucho Marx mustache.

See the Times article on Salovey here, and Salovey's Yale bio page here.

Friday, November 09, 2012

United Colors of Benneton (relatively speaking)

I receieved an email inquiry from a journalist with the Times and the Atlantic this morning who is writing a web article asserting that "the United State is amongst an era of decentralized and divided life maybe not [seen?]  since the Civil War era." In the 19th century, the main issue dividing the country was slavery, he noted, and the nation was "split into contiguous blocs" (I guess that's the North and South); today, however, it is divided along urban/rural lines, "and for the first time in a long time, we are living in a nation where some people can live some lives in some place and others"--gays, "people looking for assisted suicide," "those that engage in subversive lifestyles"--"can't."  

So is America more polarized than at any time since the Civil War? After Tuesday, I don't believe it. Here is what I wrote the journalist:

Certainly one can make a case that this is the most polarized period since the Civil War. Actually, I don’t think so. It’s important to remember that slavery was not just an “issue”; it was the practice of brutal unchecked violence and domination over almost 4,000,000 people. There is not a county in America that would vote to defend that practice today. We are polarized in our news sources, which creates the impression that we are polarized politically; but when Americans are polled on specific questions— particular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, or issues about economic fairness— it turns out that the division is more on the order of 60-40 or 70-30 than the 50-50 or 51-49 breakdown we see in the aggregate. This tells me that disinformation is at least as important as division. And the $6,000,000,000 spent on campaign advertising this year, to virtually zero electoral effect, seems to confirm this.

You write that “for the first time in a long time, we are living in a nation where some people can live some lives in some places and others can't. For gay people, for people looking for assisted suicide, for those that engage in subversive lifestyles-- some parts of America are green lights, other parts red lights, and its not contiguous at all.” This is true; but you are overlooking the bigger fact that in much of the country all of these ways of life are now acceptable, which they were not just a few years ago.  And while today it is true that there are parts of the country in which people practicing such lifestyles might not feel welcome more comfortable, unlike in the 1860s, there are vanishingly few, I would hazard a guess, where they would be killed for them.

Look again at your map: as you write, “every major American city voted for Obama except for Phoenix and Oklahoma City.” It is the cities that have changed most dramatically, not the nation; and by my calculation, eight predominant rural states gave their electoral votes to the president. I’ve been trying to find a county-by-county map of the results, which I strongly suspect would indicate a great deal less unanimity among red-state voters than the state map would suggest.

Presidential election, 2008;  Cartogram of county-level results. Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. Forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press. Trinity College (CT) web-book edition, Spring 2012,

To take simply one of your categories, the revolution in attitudes towards sexuality is perhaps as significant as the civil rights movement, and has been accomplished in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the violence. The one vocally anti-gay speaker at the C PAC conference two years ago was booed off the stage. And this year, in an election in which the Republicans launched frontal assaults against immigrants and single women, their rallying cry of 2004, opposition to gay rights, barely registered above a whisper. As George Will put it—several years ago— for today’s young people, being gay is about as significant as being left-handed.

This points to a far more important divide in America than the geographical: the temporal. The only group in which Republicans hold a solid and unshakable advantage is the old. And it is in the nature of things that that group will shrink as time passes.

Being an aspiring member of the aged myself, I suppose I have given up on the dream of a truly united United States where we would all hold hands and walk up the hill together like that old Coke commercial. But the perspective of age has also enabled me, I think, to see the picture from a wider perspective. And from where I stand, compared to the United States of 1860, the America of 2012 is more like the United Colors of Benetton.

So, Josh, I actually think you’ve got the wrong storyline. There are going to be a lot of stories published in the next few days and weeks about our divided heart. Yours could really stand out from the crowd if it took the longer view.

All best,


We're no angels--but not devils either

‎"Conservatism is realism, about human nature and government's competence." --George F. Will 

That may have been true once. Modern conservatism--of the brand that was "shellshocked" by Tuesday's results--is fanciful idealism and perfectionism unconnected to the scruffy reality of human society. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary." People are neither angels nor devils; that's why they *need* government, and why they are able to frame a government they can live under.

Monday, October 22, 2012

George McGovern, 1922-2012

A highly political eighth-grader who hated Nixon with a passion, I showed up in the winter of 1972 at the McGovern for President headquarters on Cambridge St. in Boston. It was a hectic, disorganized office helmed, if memory serves, by former Kennedy press secretary Pierre Salinger. Our candidate was one among a constellation of better-known figures starting with Maine's Senator Ed Muskie, the prohibitive favorite--until he showed emotion after an attack on his wife by the editor of the Manchester Union Leader. I will never forget that first Tuesday in March when the returns rolled in and  we realized that George was taking second place--vaulting him to the front of the pack. Before the Massachusetts primary in April, the campaign sent me to every part of the city, from Haymarket to Ashmont. I recall the squinty stares I got from suspicious commuters at Andrew Station, who were more inclined to vote for Scoop Jackson--or George Wallace--than the pinko liberal from some Gawd-fahsaken snowdrift in the Midwest. (Lesson learned that season: campaigns will ask anything from small thirteen-year-olds.)  I took considerable personal pride when our guy won the primary, and then it was a long, bruising, improbable ride to the Miami convention in July.

On the morning of July 13(at 3:00 a.m.!) that McGovern won the nomination, I was out of the country, traveling through Aberdeenshire on my own. The news of the Eagleton fiasco reached me at a youth hostel in the Grampians. I bawled over The Scotsman until the landlady told me to pull myself together.  There was at least the vindication of Watergate, and the smug pleasure of proudly displaying our "Don't Blame Me, I'm from Massachusetts" bumper stickers (which we had to look back on with shame four years later, after the busing crisis, when Scoop Jackson and George Wallace came in first and second in that year's Massachusetts primary).

I never lost my affection for George McGovern, however, and it was a pleasure a few years later to be his neighbor in the Kalorama section of Washington, D.C., where we walked together several times down Connecticut Avenue and talked about politics, and where his lovely wife Ann would infuriate the neighbors by feeding the pigeons (superfluously, most believed) in Kalorama Square. I felt a little guilty that I hadn't voted for McGovern when he ran again in 1984.

Over the years I've followed his career with affection, pleased (if bemused) when he followed us to Connecticut and bought the Stratford Motel (I think Jo attended a conference there when he was the proprietor), and deeply saddened by the tragic death of his troubled daughter Teresa in 1994 and the loss of his beloved Ann five years ago. It was always a joy to hear his unvarnished, gentle, Great Plains accent on Fresh Air or the Diane Rehm show or the Colbert Report in recent years. We would have had to have been a much calmer, kinder nation than we are to have elected him president; but that he did so well in that spring and summer of 1972 speaks well of us.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gimmee that!

My children, when young, gave me a fine illustration of the purpose and function of government.  I was holding a toy which they had been fighting over, which Rachel (age 5) had been refusing to share with David (age 3). As we walked down the street, Rachel exhorted David about the injustice and oppression of Dad:

RACHEL: We don't want grownups to take away our toys, do we, David?


RACHEL: Kids should make their own decisions without grownups telling them what to do, right, David?

DAVID:  Yeah!

RACHEL: We kids deserve our toys back, don't we, David?

DAVID:  Yeah!

RACHEL AND DAVID: Give us back our toy! Give us back our toy!

DAD:  (Hands toy to David.)

RACHEL: (Grabs toy away from David.)  Gimmee that!

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Prove that you're not a robot"--Comment Posting Anxiety

 Why do I have to "prove that I'm not a robot"? Isn't it a little early for that--by at least a century or so?   But the real reason I hate filling in the hidden words is that I'm afraid I will get them wrong--and about a third of the time I do. There are few tasks of everyday life better calculated to uncover my latent dyslexia. I've tried clicking the sound verifier instead--that's worse. The magic words are so deeply buried under a cacophony of annoying noises that it calls to mind trying to decipher "I buried Paul" in the fade-out of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Frankly, I have to think hard about whether it's worth all the tsuris to comment at all.  I'm not a robot. I wish Blogspot would take my word for it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

President Rick Levin of Yale

I have had my problems with Rick Levin's tenure at Yale, but there is no question he has been good for Yale and for New Haven.

Senior Fellow, Yale Corporation
10:34 AM (1 hour ago)
to Yale
August 30, 2012

To:The Yale Community
From:Edward P. Bass, Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation
In light of Rick Levin’s decision to step down next June after completing two decades as President of Yale University, I write to convey the heartfelt gratitude of the Yale Corporation for all that Rick has done to advance this University.

Rick’s accomplishments as President have been extraordinary—perhaps unsurpassed in the history of this University—and we have been blessed to have had his leadership for so long. The last Yale President to serve 20 years was Arthur Twining Hadley, who took office in 1899. None of the 60 other Presidents represented in the American Association of Universities has served as long as Rick, and the current Ivy League presidents have had, on average, less than a decade in office. Every year that Rick has been President has been one of advancement for the institution. The Corporation and the Yale community are profoundly indebted to him.

As Rick explained to the Fellows of the Corporation, a number of important projects undertaken in recent years are now well launched: the West Campus has gained the necessary momentum with the establishment of the six new Institutes and the move of the Nursing School there; Yale School of Management’s new campus is funded and under construction; the new liberal arts college in Singapore has recruited its inaugural faculty and will open next summer; and the hard work to reshape Yale’s budget after the national economic downturn will be accomplished by the end of this fiscal year. Characteristic of Rick’s time as President, there are exciting new projects, programs and initiatives in the pipeline, not least of which are new research and teaching facilities for Science Hill and the two new Residential Colleges. Rick is of the view that now would be an opportune time for a new leader to assume the Presidency and to work with the Corporation and with the entire Yale community to shape the next great period of Yale’s future.

In due course we will have the occasion and take the time to celebrate Rick and Jane’s innumerable contributions. But at this time I would like to mention some of the high points of his achievements. Rick leaves every part of Yale stronger than when he assumed office in 1993. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the faculties in each of the Professional Schools are larger, more diverse and cumulatively stronger. He spearheaded the internationalization of Yale, and he has been a champion for Yale intensifying its leadership in science.
The physical campus has undergone a renaissance during Rick’s tenure. The School of Art and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies have new homes, and the School of Nursing will soon; Engineering and Medicine have new buildings; the Schools of Divinity, Architecture, Music and Law have undergone comprehensive renovations, as has virtually all of the laboratory space in the School of Medicine; and a new campus is under construction for SOM. All twelve residential colleges have been renovated, and 70% of the space on campus has been partially or comprehensively renovated since 1993.
Students have benefitted in innumerable ways from new programs, improved facilities, and especially from dramatic improvements in financial aid, a priority throughout Rick’s presidency. Yale’s student body is far more diverse and far more global than it was two decades ago.

Rick has been a remarkable steward of the financial resources of the University. He has been most gifted in attracting support for the University, raising more than $7 billion during his tenure. Literally thousands of alumni have been inspired by him to “invest” in their alma mater. These donations to Yale, coupled with the remarkable investment management by David Swensen and his team, have resulted in an increase in Yale’s endowment from $3.2 billion in 1993 to $19.4 billion this year
After decades of disappointing relations between Yale and its unions, Rick and his team have worked in concert with union leaders to secure two successive labor contracts peacefully, including the new contracts signed this summer that extend until January 2017.
From his first month in office, Rick has made partnership with New Haven a priority, and we are all the beneficiaries of the improvements achieved from the combined efforts of the City of New Haven and Yale. From the New Haven Homebuyers Program initiated in 1994 to the University’s investments in downtown New Haven to the new program of support to encourage local students to attend college, the City and the University have been made stronger by Rick’s vision and leadership and by Yale’s many partnerships in the City and region.

These examples are only the beginning of the roster of Rick’s contributions. A fuller description of Yale’s progress during his presidency is available at
I will write in the near future concerning the upcoming presidential search, but for now, I wanted to underscore the Corporation’s great appreciation for an extraordinary job well done. On many occasions, Rick has quoted Rabbi Tarfon: “We cannot complete the work, neither are we free to desist from it.” Rick has never desisted from the work of Yale, and by his inspiring example, we shall not either.

Edward P. Bass, Senior Fellow
For the Yale Corporation 

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Let us stipulate that the policemen who opened fire on Jeffrey Johnson as he took aim at them on Fifth Avenue, did the right thing.

Nine people besides Johnson were shot. The NYPD has announced that all nine wounded bystanders "were struck by one of the 16 police bullets – or fragments or ricochets from those rounds – that were fired by the two officers who confronted Mr. Johnson."

A description of the incident from the Times: "Andrew Pellenberg, 23, and a friend, both from New Jersey, were also nearby, thinking about visiting the Empire State Building. 'We heard 10 to 15 gunshots,' Mr. Pellenberg said, 'and it was all in a 30-second span.'"

Again, it seems clear that the officers acted correctly and professionally.  And yet nine innocent people were wounded, thankfully none of them critically.

Can anyone think it would be an advantage to public safety in situations like this if ordinary public citizens were armed?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt on the corruption of government

Progressive Covenant with the People

 Listen to a recording of Roosevelt's speech here.

Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great staffs, both of the old parties have ganged aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them in martialling [sic] to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day. 
                   --Theodore Roosevelt, 1912

Monday, August 20, 2012

Block the vote

Somebody stepped over a line: 

“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, chairman of the county Republican Party and elections board member who voted against weekend hours, in an email to The Dispatch. “Let’s be fair and reasonable.”

He called claims of unfairness by Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern and others “bullshit. Quote me!”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"That's so wrong."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

H. A. Crosby Forbes, 1925-2012

UPDATE: A memorial service for Crosby Forbes will take place on June 23, 2013 at the Harvard Club of Boston. All are invited.

Thanks to Karina Corrigan at the Peabody Essex Museum for this beautiful biography.

From: Karina Corrigan <>
Date: Mon, Jul 23, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Subject: Henry Ashton Crosby Forbes
To: Every User <>

Last night, we received the sad news that Crosby Forbes, Curator Emeritus of Asian Export Art died peacefully over the weekend in New Haven.

A descendant of Robert Bennet Forbes, one of America's great China trade merchants, Crosby charted an unlikely path for himself when, in 1965, he founded the Museum of the American China Trade in a home he'd inherited from his great aunt.

One of the earliest scholars to look specifically at this type of cross-cultural art and history, Crosby was a leading force in the field for over forty years. He was a frequent lecturer and writer on all aspects of Asian export art and in 1975, Crosby wrote (with John Devereux Kernan and Ruth Wilkins) Chinese Export Silver: 1785-1885, which remains the definitive volume on the subject.

Crosby continually expanded the scope of the field, later redefining the museum's collecting goals to include works from throughout Asia and for diverse markets - Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. In 1984, the China Trade Museum (as it was then called) merged its Asian export art with the Peabody Museum to form one of the world's great collections of this type of art. A rigorous scholar, Crosby and his wife Grace were also generous donors, contributing hundreds of works from their own collection to the museum.

He led a vibrant life outside of the museum, serving on boards of many organizations and was always willing to share his considered opinions - sometimes with people who were perhaps less eager to hear them. A passionate preservationist, Crosby was never afraid to challenge his alma mater and neighbor, Harvard University, about the disposition of its many historic structures.

He was the devoted husband of Grace Pierce Forbes, a book editor and Russian scholar, loving father of two sons, Robert and Douglas Forbes, and grandfather of Rob's two children Rachel and David.

Crosby was too ill to make it up from New Haven this year, but I feel confident that he would have been delighted by the fresh breeze that Freeport [No. 5]: Michael Lin has brought the Asian export art wing including the silver galleries that bear his name. I hope you'll take the opportunity to spend some time this week in the collection he helped to build, remembering the life of this inspiring, charming, and wonderful man. And I'm sure he'd be delighted if you had a piece of chocolate cake in his honor as well!

Burial will be private, but a memorial service is planned for later this year. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Violence Lobby

I spent several years in the 90s working on gun control. Almost made it a profession. Along the way, I had some successes and learned a lot: for example, the campaign (unsuccessful) to fend off the Connecticut assault weapons ban was coordinated from Dade County, Florida--at the time the main U.S. entry point for cocaine. The gun lobby is the professional criminals' lobby--and they carry the amateurs like the Aurora killer along with them.

For decades--from the 1880s through the 1940s--Congress failed to pass a bill against lynching. Lynching is plain and simple murder. It set law and order at naught and brutalized and debased an entire region, the American South. It should hardly be necessary to outlaw murder, but the extrajudicial murder of black people had the sanction of society--or rather, the sanction of those who were prepared to use lethal violence.

Thus it was not just "politics" that prevented passage of an anti-lynching law. It's never just politics when lethal violence and the threat of violence is employed.

More after the jump.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Constitutional rebus

Figure it out, then post your own.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Yale & Unions not in the news--and that's good

I just received the following in an aldermanic update from Adam Marchand, alderman for Ward 27:
Last week the members of Locals 34 and 35, the two largest unions at Yale, overwhelmingly ratified new contracts with the region's largest employer.  These agreements on wages and benefits are themselves an economic boon to our community, and the fact that the parties avoided the kind of strife associated with past negotiations should be applauded.  Of great interest to New Haven was the inclusion in these agreements of commitments to recruit, train, and hire New Haven residents into good, stable jobs at Yale.
The fact that a ratified contract between Yale and the unions is not news, is big news. Those who have been in New Haven for several decades will recall the days when each contract expiration portended an ugly, bitter, protracted conflict, providing front-page news for weeks. These days, the unremarkable details of contract settlements are relegated to the B section of the Register. This speaks well of all concerned, starting with Mayor DeStefano, who presided over the ceasefire almost twenty years ago.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

For shame.

Seventeen Democrats joined Republicans in voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress. They are: Jason Altmire (Pa.) John Barrow (Ga.) Dan Boren (Okla.) Leonard Boswell (Iowa) Ben Chandler (Ky.) Mark Critz (Pa.) Joe Donnelly (Ind.) Kathy Hochul (N.Y.) Ron Kind (Wis.) Larry Kissell (N.C.) Jim Matheson (Utah) Mike McIntyre (N.C.) Bill Owens (N.Y.) Collin Peterson (Minn.) Nick Rahall (W. Va.) Mike Ross (Ark.) Tim Walz (Minn.) Eleven of these are in extremely tough reelection campaigns. Their votes are still shameful. The other seven have no excuses at all.

Another great day

How great?  This great.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Historic day at UVa: Sullivan reinstated!

My profound congratulations to the steadfast community at the University of Virginia. Make no mistake, this is a very important development. The Daily Progress reports on it here.
President Sullivan addresses UVa Comunity

Money = Speech?

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down a 100-year-old Montana law barring corporate money in elections--extending the Citizens United decision, in other words, to the states.

The underlying legal theory here is that money is a form of speech, and that limits on money constitute an infringement of the First Amendment.

Here's a better analogy.
Pittsburgh Police sound cannon Weapons Tear Gas At G20 Summit

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Southern Baptist Convention breaks from racist past

This is a remarkable step. The Southern Baptist Convention, formed in 1845 as an explicitly pro-slavery denomination, is poised to elect the Rev. Fred Luter, Jr., an African American pastor, as its president.

"Given the history of the convention, this is absolutely stunning," said Michael O. Emerson, an expert on race and religion at Rice University.

Read more:

Happy birthday Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Still edible!

I'm noticing that a lot of claims on packaging seem to be nudging us toward an era of lowered expectations. No, I'm not talking about all the products that superfluously label themselves as "gluten-free!" or "0 grams cholesterol," although that's somewhat irritating. Instead, I'm thinking about the frozen pizza with the notice, "100% Real Cheese!", as if that was something to brag about. The cover of the Chock Full of Nuts coffee can reads "100% Coffee! No Nuts!", which I guess is the result of focus-grouping with stupid people. But what are we to make of the Ben & Jerry's container that proudly informs us "Still a pint!" This should not be necessary, but is, because Haagen Dasz has reduced its "pint" from 16 to 14 ounces. All this stuff reminds me of the spontaneous demonstrations of thanks for increasing the chocolate ration in Orwell's 1984, which take place a day after the chocolate ration has been reduced.

The Ousting of a President

The Charlottesville free paper The Hook has been doing some great reporting on the developing scandal of the removal of President Teresa Sullivan at the University of Virginia. Read all about it here.

Governor Bob McDonnell is claiming ignorance about the ouster--athough the chair of the board of the Business School, Greenwich venture capitalist Peter Kieran, stated in an email that "no major decision of this kind can be made at Virginia without the support and assent of the Governor." (Kieran evidently clicked "reply all" on this cataclysmically embarrassing email, and is now the former chair of the board.)  
"As the Hook reported, financier and UVA alum Paul Tudor Jones II appears to have had a key role in removing Sullivan, as her ouster may have been a condition of a major donation from the Greenwich, Connecticut billionaire. However, Jones also had a key role in McDonnell's 2009 election campaign as a major donor, giving the candidate $100,000."

So what's behind the coup at UVA?  ""The theory I have is that Goldman Sachs’s Education Management Corporation, a for-profit education provider, wanted to make or made a bid to offer online education through UVA," writes Anne-Marie Angelo on a blog that's been turning heads."  

There's no question that the UVA president-removal fiasco will be a staple of B-School cases on catastrophic decision-making. More importantly, it's a window into the arrogance and corruption at the heart of modern corporate efforts to commercialize the academy. To quote The Hook:
"In the 21st century," writes UVA-based media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan in Slate following Sullivan's ouster, "robber barons try to usurp control of established public universities to impose their will via comical management jargon and massive application of ego and hubris."

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Furor at UVA

If you haven't been paying attention to what's going on at the University of Virginia, you should be.  What's happening there is nothing less than the struggle for the soul of the academy. You can catch up by going to the Faculty Senate homepage. (An informed speculation on the backstory is here.)  I'm waiting for the Governor to dissolve the Senate and for them to reconvene in some tavern.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Human Rights and Environmental Crisis in Uzbekistan

My post on the catastrophe in Uzbekistan caused by government production of cotton, which the Uzbek government took down, is back up.  Go to it here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Take that, new wave posers!

Dead on target. So much for the 80s. 

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Our Man in Moscow

Very interesting profile of US Ambassador to the Russian Federation Mike McFaul in this month's issue of Foreign Policy (but originally appearing in GQ Russia).  Readers of Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, about the experiences of our ambassador to Germany in the early 1930s, will find a few unnerving parallels. 

Big Yellow Taxi

I love this song, but I think we've got it all wrong. Joni laments paving over the trees for a parking lot, but glosses over the hotel, the boutique, and the "swinging hot spot." Is it heresy to consider this appropriate land use? (Particularly if the hot spot is genuinely swinging.) And anyway, her real complaint is that her "old man" has walked out on her. The rest is just misdirection.
(As a footnote, the Counting Crows cover is the worst thing they've ever done.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

On this day in 1849, Denmark became a constitutional monarchy.Says Wikipedia: "Denmark ranks as having the world's highest level of income equality.[9] The country has the world's seventh highest per capita income. It has frequently ranked as the happiest[10][11] and least corrupt country in the world.[12]"

Monday, June 04, 2012

Which came first--the First Party System or the Second?

Professor Joyce Appleby, in her presidential address to the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic, provocatively suggested that the American Revolution was the second great democratic revolution; the French Revolution was the first.

What she meant by this, she explained, was that the French Revolution forced a reevaluation and reinterpretation of the American Revolution, a process led by Thomas Jefferson, giving a meaning to the experience unknown and unanticipated before.

I would like to suggest that something similar occurred in the late 1820s with regard to parties. A number of the papers at the recent Princeton conference, "Jeffersonian Democracy: From Theory t o Practice" (May 17-19) suggested a far greater sectionalism and lack of coherent party discipline and purpose to the Jeffersonians than has typically been assumed. By the end of the conference, I was beginning to question whether one could legitimately call it a "party system" at all. Certainly, the anti-party animus of Washington's Farewell Address stands as a beacon for the period, and Ralph Ketcham's Presidents Above Party and other works demonstrate the persistence of this outlook. My own work on the Missouri crisis argues that President Monroe sincerely believed in a non-partisan (or "uni-partisan" republic and tried to implement it during his administration--only to be thwarted by the professional politicians who came of age well after the Revolution.

Did the First Party System come into existence after, and as a consequence of, the Second? Did Martin Van Buren play the role of reinterpreter that Jefferson did of the Revolution? If so, does this not require us to reevaluate the period from 1791 to 1828 in the light of the Democracy's myth-making?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Wren Song

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give him a treat.

Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
And give us a penny to bury the wren.

2. As I was going to Killenaule,
I met a wren upon the wall.
I took me stick and knocked him down,
And brought him in to Carrick Town.
3. Droolin, Droolin, where’s your nest?
Tis in the bush that I love best
In the tree the holly tree,
Where all the boys do follow me.

4. We followed the wren three miles or more,
Three mile or more three miles or more.
We followed the wren three miles or more,
At six o’clock in the morning.

5. I have a little box under me arm,
Under me arm under me arm.
I have a little box under me arm,
A penny or tuppence would do it no harm.

Anyone know why the wren is the king of all birds?

Friday, June 01, 2012

Modern-Day Predestinarianism

Why do so many middle-class Americans give their support to the fabulously wealthy so completely? The usual explanation is that Americans hope to become fabulously rich themselves, and want to benefit from favorable tax policies and other benefits when they get there. But this view truly underestimates the intelligence of the American people; they are not so deluded as to think that they will ever benefit personally from such policies.

So what is it then?

No, not Hopkins--George Whitefield.
I posit that it is the modern version of the New Divinity, whose greatest exponent was the Rev. Samuel Hopkins, that over-enthusiastic follower of the great Calvinist preacher Jonathan Edwards. Edwards clearly explained that the overwhelming majority of humanity were predestined for hell, that only a tiny fraction were among the Elect. But that was perfectly okay, since human beings were such insignificant, loathsome insects in comparison with God that they merited damnation, and should be eternally grateful just to be part of God's plan. 

Hopkins reduced Edwards'system of theology to a simple, terrifying question:

 "Are you willing to be damned  for the greater glory of God?"

The gulf between the modern Elect and the rest of us is nearly as unfathomable as the distance between the sinner and his angry God. We'll never achieve Mitt's status, and we know it.  "I don't care about the very poor"--and why should he? We should be grateful to have the opportunity simply to glorify him and his fellow heavenly beings.

So the basic principle of the New New divinity:

"Are you willing to be damned for the greater glory of the One Percent?"

Monday, April 02, 2012

Civil War even bloodier than we thought

First new analysis of Civil War mortality in over a century: "With all the uncertainties, Dr. Hacker said, the data suggested that 650,000 to 850,000 men died as a result of the war; he chose the midpoint as his estimate. He emphasized that his methodology was far from perfect. “Part of me thinks it is just a curiosity,” he said of the new estimate. “But wars have profound economic, demographic and social costs,” he went on. “We’re seeing at least 37,000 more widows here, and 90,000 more orphans. That’s a profound social impact, and it’s our duty to get it right.” See the New York Times article here.