Do you know how or why it is some articles get marked with a "special" blue politics tag? It's happened to my work a few times and when it does, they seem to get more visibility. I'm not sure how it works, though.
A few years ago, Tumblr created a number of curated tags. Or, rather, they turned uncurated tags into curated ones and put people in charge of stocking them with featured posts. One of them is “Politics” and there are certain posts — usually at least ten each day, sometimes as many as fifty — that allow Tumblr users who follow the Politics tag to see a diversity of posts they might not ordinarily see; these tags are also a good way to find new blogs, by following the people whose posts are featured and by following the editors.
Some of the editors are employed in some way by Tumblr; some are volunteer editors who are asked by Tumblr to curate the tag. I’m one such volunteer. I’ve been doing it — shockingly — for two years now (which seems like a pretty long time, especially because I think I was asked to do it for six months or something like that). When I see an interesting post, I can click a button and “promote” the post to the Politics tag; this is how the post gets the highlighted blue Politics tag on it that people might see in their dashboard; it also sends the post over to the Politics tag and people who follow the tag might see a notification in their Search bar to let them know that there’s a new post to be seen at the tag’s page. That’s how the posts get more visibility.
I participated in my first Pidyon Ha’Ben ceremony today.
For those who aren’t familiar with the whole concept of Pidyon Ha’Ben, here’s some info straight from Wikipedia:
According to the traditional rabbinic interpretation, in the early part of the Bible, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, the duties of a priest fell upon the eldest son of each family. The first-born was to be dedicated to God in order to perform this task.
Following the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, after the nation had sinned with the Golden Calf, the priesthood was taken away from the first-borns, and given to the tribe of Levites, specifically to the Kohanim, High PriestAaron, his children, and their descendants. At the same time it was instituted that the first born of each family should be redeemed; i.e. they would be ‘bought back’ from the dedication to God that would previously have been required of them.
The ceremony is relatively rare, so I was both honored and very pleased to be asked by good friends of ours here in Omaha who wished to redeem their first-born son by offering me some sheqalim in exchange for him. I was happy to oblige in making the trade and the cantor from our synagogue helped out to make the ceremony a really beautiful one:
The Shulkhan Arukh states that when a Jewish woman gives birth to a firstborn male by natural means, then the child must be “redeemed”. The father of the child must “redeem” the child from a known Kohen representing the original Temple priesthood, for the sum of five silver Shekels, or equivalent in country’s currency (if it has silver currency of the correct weight). The procedure does not apply when the father is a Kohen or Levite, and does not normally apply when the mother is the daughter of one.
As “a known Kohen,” my grandfather participated in these ceremonies with some frequency for many years; I felt a particular connection with him today in taking part in my first.
The seemingly obvious answer to this provocative question is clearly “No,” but that’s not the conclusion at which the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals arrived in a recent ruling.
As Andrew Cohen explains:
The 8th Circuit’s decision on January 24th, in a case styled In re Lombardi,is one of many rulings the court has recently had to issue as it seeks to bring order to the chaos that now exists over Missouri’s execution methods. The reasons for this chaos are long and complicated, but the thing to know is that a federal trial judge gave defense attorneys permission to get basic information about the new (and largely untested) drugs that are to be used in upcoming executions, and the 8th Circuit overturned that ruling.
Attorneys didn’t need to have access to that information because it was “not relevant to any claim” the defendants could make under the Eighth Amendment, the 8th Circuit held in Lombardi. Why? Because, the court concluded, any such constitutional claim would have to include an allegation by the defense “that the risk of harm arising from the State’s current lethal-injection protocol is substantial when compared to known and available alternatives.” According to the 8th Circuit, the reason the defense attorneys had no right to access the drug information was because they did not “allege that a different lethal-injection protocol, or a different method of execution (e.g., lethal gas, electrocution, or firing squad) is more humane.”
Cohen’s conclusion seems to me to be the only possible conclusion:
The decision to review this case shouldn’t be a close call for the justices. They have to correct what the 8th Circuit has done. The Supreme Court cannot allow a rule that forces capital defense attorneys to become agents of the state—and consultants about which lethal injection procedures are better than others—to the detriment of their clients.
But that, of course, doesn’t mean the Supreme Court will necessarily take up the case, let alone rule in the way that seems obviously correct to pretty much everyone.
There’s a fairly long history of terrible jurisprudence on the death penalty, so, you know, I’m not holding exactly holding my breath even though this seems totally obvious. After all, I also thought it was totally obvious that a claim of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence would be grounds for federal habeas relief … and it’s not.
An interview I did with my old friend Dave Nelson is up at the Ann Arbor Chronicle. We talk about Woody Allen, death row inmates, war criminals, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, moral decision making, disconnecting artists from their art, and the way an honest narrative impacts how we think about all these things.
I want to talk about Dylan Farrow’s open letter, published on the New York Times blog on February 1. But I don’t particularly want to talk about Woody Allen, or rape, or patriarchy, or the law.
I want to talk about rhetoric.
I want to talk about rhetoric, and moral decision making, and a funny little blind spot built into our cognitive hardware.
Farrow’s rhetorical touch is brilliant, because she sidesteps our rationalizations, and directly engages our deep-seated imperative to distance ourselves and our loved ones from anything unclean.
As such, Dylan Farrow’s question is much larger than one specific time and place, or one specific artist’s work: In everyday commerce, how do we decide how deeply we want to engage with people who we are fairly confident have done terrible things?
Over at the Huffington Post, Sabrina Siddiqui and Sam Stein have done a nice job poking holes in “the media’s tradition of dubbing every major obstacle before Obama his ‘biggest’ or ‘greatest’ test.”
Prior to this week’s biggest test — the unfolding situation in the Crimea — Obama has faced a whole lot of other biggest tests, including:
The financial crisis; the Mumbai terror attacks; the Arab-Israeli conflict; Afghanistan; passing Obamacare; reducing America’s debt; the BP oil spill; firing General McChrystal; the 2010 midterms; Libya; the debt ceiling standoff; the Supreme Court challenge to Obamacare; the death of North Korea’s dictator; the Keystone XL pipeline; visiting Israel; the crisis in Syria; and the Obamacare website.
It’s hard to guess what the next biggest test of Obama’s presidency will be. But one thing’s for sure: Between now and the end of 2016, we can expect a bunch more biggest or greatest tests for Obama.
This whole overhyped notion of “the biggest test” would be funny except that it makes it that much more difficult for the average American to figure out exactly how serious or challenging some policy issue or foreign crisis actually is for the White House.
Just for the next little while, I’ve changed the name of my blog from “Running Chicken” to “Ari Kohen’s Blog” … just to make it easier for people to figure out whose blog it is they’re reading and to then spell my name correctly when they quote me.
I’m thinking about possible subtitles now.
Maybe “The Blog of Ari Kohen” or “The Once and Future Chicken.” Some suggestions I’ve gotten already include “Chickens of Future Past,” “Kohen Blog,” and “The Kohen.”
To be sure, if we read a foundational text like John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, we find a natural right to punish anyone who would harm us in our life, liberty, health, or possessions. In the state of nature, Locke tells us, each person is effectively judge, jury, and executioner unto herself. And, of course, it’s precisely the problem of a lack of independent judgment in the state of nature that leads people to join together to form a political community.
But for people to establish a political community, Locke asserts that people must give up to the government their natural right to punish criminal behavior and agree to have the government settle grievances. This is why we have standing laws that are meant to be applied equally by independent officers of the law and by the courts.
Lindgren takes me to task because he thinks I either haven’t read, don’t understand, or don’t care about Chapter 3 of Locke’s Second Treatise. As Lindgren rightly notes, there are two half-sentences in Chapter 3 that support his argument that the natural right to defend oneself transfers once we leave behind the state of nature and enter civil society. The first is in Section 17:
He that, in the state of nature, would take away the freedom that belongs to any one in that state, must necessarily be supposed to have a foundation of all the rest; as he that in the state of society, would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth, must be supposed to design to take away from them every thing else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.
In this section, Locke is discussing enslavement, the removal of freedom, which Locke extends in Section 18 to include thievery (though, in 18, Locke doesn’t mention civil society at all). Then, Locke makes a second reference to civil society in Section 19:
Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature. But force, or a declared design of force, upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war: and it is the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an aggressor, tho’ he be in society and a fellow subject.
This is the sum total of Locke’s discussion of how citizens of a commonwealth ought to deal with threats to their lives, liberty, or property — and it comes, off-handedly, in the middle of a discussion of the state of nature, not civil society.
To be sure, Lindgren provides several other quotations from Chapter 3, but each one is actually referring to the state of nature, not civil society.
Despite these two quotations, upon which Lindgren relies, I continue to hold to my position that Locke would want to minimize our use of self-defense on our own recognizance in civil society. I do so in no small part because Locke’s position in Chapter 3 is directly challenged by other quotations we can find later in the Second Treatise where Locke is specifically discussing civil society rather than the state of nature (for example, Sections 87-89 and 128-130, to which I refer you rather than inserting a whole bunch of very lengthy quotations).
In each of these sections of the text, one could probably find a half-sentence in which Locke might be preserving citizens’ ability to take the law into their own hands, but one could much more easily, I submit, read Locke making clear his preference for giving up to the rightful authorities our natural right “of doing whatsoever he thought for the preservation of himself” (Sec. 129).
Thus, apart from two half-sentences in Chapter 3, on which Lindgren entirely relies in his criticism of my old blog post, there seems not to be any other case that Locke mentions in which it would be acceptable to harm or kill a fellow citizen and, instead, several complete sections in which Locke seems clear that we give up our right of executive enforcement of the law because we’re no longer in the uncertain realm of the state of nature, where each person is necessarily judge, jury, and executioner.
As much as I like Steinbeck, I’d say this is not the best advice … especially for my graduate students working on their dissertations. You are going to finish.
I’d amend Steinbeck’s advice to say, “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to feel like it’s finished.” Nothing I’ve ever written has felt finished to me (as in, nothing more I could possibly do to improve what’s on the page). But that’s not the same thing as being finished and sending it off. I could keep tinkering with what I write indefinitely. But at some point, it’s important to say, “This isn’t perfect, but it’s done” so then you can move on to the next thing.
From their first mention of “organized homosexuality” and their concern trolling about how gays are poorly served by leaders who “suffer from oppression envy” to their claim that compulsory gay marriage nicely demonstrates the totalitarian nature of our society, the editors of the National Review have let their homophobia completely cripple the part of their brains responsible for logic and reasoning.
Their chief complaint is that because it’s become so difficult to discriminate against gays and lesbians, diversity of opinion and freedom of conscience have been all but obliterated. In that light, the legislation in Arizona that permits businesses to refuse service to homosexuals is really just a last-ditch attempt to defend good old-fashioned American pluralism, which “organized homosexuality” has beaten down in its attempt “to use the courts and other means of official coercion to impose their own values upon those who hold different values.”
In the world in which the National Review editors live, gays and lesbians don’t want “toleration or even equal righrs but official victim-group status under law and in civil society.” And they refuse “to extend to those who do not share their views the same tolerance to which they feel themselves entitled.”
In other words, the big problem that led us to Arizona’s legislation is the way that homosexuals refuse to tolerate those who oppose them in their desire for equal treatment. If gays and lesbians had just been willing to allow people to discriminate against them (on the basis of their faith or whatever other reason, really), Arizona’s legislature wouldn’t have had to specifically protect people who want to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Instead of aggressively attempting to gain legal recognition of their equality, gays and lesbians would have done better by just “living and letting live,” which is what they want for themselves. In this way, the editors believe that “organized homosexuality” is hypocritical: gays and lesbians are claiming for themselves the right to live their lives as they want, but they don’t want people who oppose them to be given the same opportunity.
Now imagine the editors writing the same piece about Jews or blacks or women. In 2014. Seriously.
“I have never heard of anyone testing out the safety of a gun by pointing at their head and pulling the trigger.”—
That’s Oakland County, Michigan Undersheriff Michael McCabe, who has now heard of precisely that. He’s commenting on what was either an accidental or intentional suicide, or the worst gun safety lesson ever:
The man’s girlfriend told deputies the victim had been drinking most of the day.
She told authorities that he had begun showing her how to use his three handguns and demonstrating how safe they were when they were empty, which he did by placing the gun to his head and pulling the trigger.
But remember, everyone: The fewer restrictions and regulations there are when it comes to access to firearms, the safer we’ll be.
This is a fascinating account of the way that military heroes are sometimes manufactured:
After his death in 2004 in Fallujah, Sgt. Rafael Peralta became perhaps the most lionized Marine of the Iraq war. Shot in the head during an intense firefight, the story went, the infantryman scooped a grenade underneath his body seconds before it exploded, a stunning act of courage that saved the lives of his fellow Marines.
The Navy posthumously awarded Peralta the Navy Cross, the service’s second-highest decoration for valor; named a destroyer after him; and made plans to display his battered rifle in the Marine Corps museum in Quantico, Va.
The tale of heroism has become emblematic of Marine valor in wartime. But new accounts from comrades who fought alongside Peralta that day suggest it may not be true. In interviews, two former Marines who were with Peralta in the house when he was shot said the story was concocted spontaneously in the minutes after he was mortally wounded — likely because several of the men in the unit feared they might have been the ones who shot him.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole story is this quote from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California), who believes that Sgt. Peralta should be awarded the Medal of Honor even though forensic evidence and changes to the narrative suggest that Peralta didn’t use his body to shield his comrades from a grenade blast:
“When you have young Marines saying, ‘I’m not dead, because he jumped on the grenade,’ that’s all we need to know. There’s no reason to complicate this.”
In other words, the hero narrative — once established — is both incredibly powerful and useful. Digging into the story, and potentially taking apart that narrative in favor of the truth (especially if the truth is just one more tragic story about the war), has very little appeal.
He’s a prominent individual who has spent a fair amount of time raising money and stumping for Republican politicians; he’s also made a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and violent comments, the most recent of which — calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” — earned him a pretty rare rebuke from several Republicans.
Most of the time, though, the GOP is happy to call Nugent a friend and not worry too much about what he’s saying. He speaks to a part of the Republican base and gets them fired up without the politicians themselves having to say the sorts of things these people apparently want to hear.
This reminds me of the problem Ron Paul had a few years ago. If you regularly associate with (and profit from an association with) people who believe and say some absolutely vile things, you probably shouldn’t be overly surprised by the presumption that you support what those people are saying.
Politicians can’t fall back on the argument that they just agree with the other things Nugent believes, especially if they’re not critical of him when he launches into the truly vile stuff that’s become his stock in trade. I’m just not going to believe someone who says, “I like hanging out with this guy; we have lots of stuff in common. Not the birther stuff or the sexism or threatening the president, of course, but lots of other stuff. So don’t think I agree with the birther stuff or the sexism or the threats; it’s everything else I agree with, plus I just like his company. I’m not going to say anything about the birther stuff or the sexism or the threats, but you should assume by my silence and my hanging out with this guy that I disagree with the offensive stuff.”
If you have bad friends, people are liable to think badly of you.
I have a serious case of buyer’s remorse after binge-watching Season 2 of “House of Cards” over the past six days. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy the second season; it’s because now I’ve watched all the episodes I’ll have for a year. There’s something really enjoyable about letting the episodes just bleed into one another, but then there’s also something important about pacing oneself (or having a show pace itself for you).
Having said that, here are some spoiler-filled thoughts on the second season:
First of all, I’m not someone for whom plausibility really matters. I liked the “Breaking Bad” and I liked the first season of “Homeland” and I liked the first season of “House of Cards” and I liked some of “Dexter” and on and on … and the plot points of these shows don’t exactly map onto my experience of the world. I think it’s possible to tell an entertaining story in a compelling way, even if some unrealistic things take place. So I’m leaving aside the plausibility problems of, for example, very highly-placed elected officials murdering people.
Having said, I really enjoyed the second season. Things didn’t come together quite so neatly for Frank Underwood and his coterie. I mean, his political goals were wrapped up in a nice little package — too easily, of course, but see my “First of all,” above, about plausibility — but Claire has a much more difficult time of things this season and, of course, Doug gets his head bashed in by the object of his affection.
Leaving Rachel as the one big dangling problem heading into the third season nicely mirrors Zoe at the end of the first season. That said, Zoe and her crack team of journalists seemed like a much more serious problem for Frank than Rachel the rogue ex-callgirl … and we all saw how easy it was to deal with them. Of course, everything would have gone better for everyone (except Rachel) if Frank had pushed Rachel in front of that train instead of Zoe. And we wouldn’t have had to deal with all the internet intrigue surrounding one of the McPoyles and his gineau pig. I have to wonder whether all the Dark Web stuff will be resolved as easily at the beginning of the third season as the Slugline plot was resolved this season.
Three things I really would have liked to see this season:
A little more oomph from Jackie Sharp. There are some great moments for this new character, like when she pushes around a couple of her male colleagues to get the votes she needs, but I can’t shake the feeling that she still spends too much time being manipulated by men like Frank and Remy. I’m hoping that the third season lets such a powerful woman make more decisions; it was good to see her win against Claire, I suppose, but I think Remy and Raymond Tusk were really behind her decision to take on Claire. Why she’d oppose making it more difficult for men to sexually assault women in the military needed a fair bit more explanation than an opposition to civilian oversight. And giving Jackie more authority and more autonomy would make life more challenging for Frank, which would be more fun for the audience.
Some clarity about Raymond Tusk. He’s malevolent, but it’s never entirely clear why. Sometimes he seems to be motivated entirely by vengeance, sometimes it’s money, and sometimes it’s power. This gets to the heart of something Frank apparently said to Remy, about the poor choice of selecting money over power. Tusk seems to have concocted an elaborate scheme to funnel illegal contributions to the Democrats in order to ensure access to the political upper echelon. He uses this access to make more money. Leaving aside the fact that it’s not clear how this plan works since no one knows he and his Chinese friend are behind the money, it’s not clear why Tusk chooses money over power … especially considering how much money he already has. Clearly, it’s a false dichotomy, but the shows relies on it and doesn’t do enough to explain why, in a world where power is better than money, someone as smart as Tusk wouldn’t use his money to get power instead of more money.
Filling out President and Mrs. Walker’s empty suits. The most powerful couple in the world also seems to be the easiest to manipulate in no small part because they never think for themselves. The President’s decision-making process seems to involve asking a group of people for their thoughts and then picking whatever the last person said. It’s also uncanny the way in which he always manages to select the option Frank wants him to select, whether it’s because Frank tells him to choose it or not to choose it. This is true whether we’re talking about dealing with the Chinese or taking a nap in the Oval Office. “You look tired, Mr. President.” “I am tired, Frank.” “Maybe you should take a nap.” “I can’t do that, Frank.” “You’re right, Mr. President; napping is a terrible idea.” “You know, perhaps I will take a nap, Frank.” ‘If you think it’s best, sir.” Given the way Walker seems so easily manipulated by Underwood in pretty much every situation, there’s no real tension at the dénouement, when Frank volunteers to take the fall for Walker, because we all know Walker’s going to choose Frank and burn Tusk. How did this man become President?
All of these issues basically boil down to the same thing, and it’s the way I began: I want more. That means more depth of character for Frank’s opposition and thus more challenges for Frank. Claire was provided with some serious challenges this season and, as a result, had to make some decisions that were difficult and costly for her. I want more of that.
Following a debate on concealed handgun permits, responsible gun owner/former police officer/current elected official forgets his loaded concealed handgun in the committee room:
In the moments after lawmakers and visitors cleared a committee room Feb. 6 following a debate on concealed handgun permits, Rep. Jonathan Singer found a black canvas bag under the table where lawmakers sit.
Inside, Singer discovered a loaded handgun that belonged to Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita, who sits next to him on the House Local Government committee.
“I feel it’s my duty to be a first responder wherever I am at,” said Wright. “That’s why I carry it.”
A spokesman from [Governor] Hickenlooper’s office said Wednesday the incident had been resolved and Wright “agreed to be more careful” about keeping the gun in his possession.
I eagerly await the gunsplainers who will tell me that this wasn’t such a big deal or that this guy isn’t a responsible gun owner or that the desperate need for vigilante lawmakers far outweighs the danger of those same lawmakers accidentally leaving behind their loaded weapons.
Besides, he’s “agreed to be more careful” next time. What more can we ask for?!
I learned this afternoon that my 6th grade Hebrew teacher, Riva Thatch, passed away yesterday at the age of 92.
While I don’t use the vast majority of the things I learned in Mrs. Thatch’s class these days — my Hebrew is awfully rusty — I know she laid the foundation for all the rest of my education by doing something so simple: Mrs. Thatch loved me. She wanted the best for me and she somehow managed to make that clear to me — and remember, I was a rambunctious, goofy, irritating, nerdy, girl-chasing 6th grade boy. I’m not so naive as to imagine that Mrs. Thatch was alone in caring about me and about my education as much as she did; it’s just that, at that impossibly awkward and important time in my life, I really noticed her caring.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had many truly excellent teachers, from my kindergarten teacher to my undergraduate and dissertation advisors. My own decision to become an educator was so obviously shaped by these generous men and women who assigned me homework, graded my papers, corrected my many mistakes, encouraged me to learn, and cared so deeply about me as a person.
“When people can see with their own eyes that a talented person made a great fortune fair and square, they tend not to resent it.”—
That’s Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw, going another round in the unending class warfare discussion we’ve all been having of late, in a New York Times piece entitled “Yes, the Wealthy Can Be Deserving.”
Mankiw has some fun examples, like Robert Downey Jr., E.L. James, LeBron James, and Steve Jobs. These are all people, he thinks, who deserve their astronomical salaries because they possess great skill or talent, or because they do something that society deems very valuable or take great risks.
And, Mankiw argues, no one should be angry about these salaries because not only do the rich deserve their wealth, but they’re also paying a lot of money in taxes that benefit all of us (who are by extension, I suppose, deserving of our lack of wealth).
But this whole notion of someone deserving wealth or poverty seems so misguided to me in no small part because of the utter capriciousness with which a) talent gets doled out and b) society assigns value to various skills. Mankiw isn’t even going the traditional route of claiming that these people work harder than the rest of us; he’s relying on the facts that they’re exceptional and that they pay their fair share back to all of us to make the claim that they deserve their wealth.
What he’s arguing, in short, is that the rest of us who aren’t exceptional don’t really mind when we see someone who is exceptional getting paid for their talent … as long as the person isn’t in finance or banking or something like that. We resent those people, but we don’t resent actors and athletes, and so Mankiw wants us to start thinking about CEOs as being akin to athletes and actors: Better than the rest of us schlubs in some important way that justifies their earnings and explains our lack of earnings.
For my own part, I don’t resent any of the (many, many, many) people who make more money than I do. But I also won’t buy the claim that there’s something intrisically better about them when I compare them to me or to people who aren’t doing as well financially as I am. What seems more likely to me is that under different circumstances we’d all wind up in different places on the economic ladder and that kind of messes with the whole notion of what someone deserves.