Guantanamo Detainee Charged

April 7, 2008

Last week there was a very short news story about the U.S FINALLY charging one of the so-called high value detainees at Guantanamo Bay.  We have learned more now.  Ahmed Ghailani is charged with war crimes for his alleged role in the bombing in Tanzania that is the subject of a very good book called, In the Moment of Greatest Calamity:  Terrorism, Grief, and the War on Terror.  You should read this book.  And, if you are in the Chicago area, come to our reading group about it April 17th.

But I digress . . . We charged someone!!  He was held in secret prisons from 2004 – 2006 and in Guantanamo from 2006 until now.  So war crimes — an interesting charge by this administration.  And we will try him for these war crimes?  I guess it would be too scary for us to allow the International War Crimes Tribunal do it because then we would be conceding that these international organizations have authority.  And that could be scary for the people that detained this guy for FOUR YEARS before charging him with anything. 

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Some (in)famous guy is coming to my town

March 23, 2008

Channeling Garrison Keillor:  it’s been a big year for my little hometown.  First we get a Top 11 American Idol contestant.  Now Bill Clinton is coming to little ol’ West Lafayette, Indiana.  He’ll be at West Lafayette High School on Monday night. 

My question to him is going to be something along these lines:  “Mr. President, Senator Clinton said in February that she was honored to run against Senator Barack Obama.  If she really meant that, I wonder, can you tell me, what kind of campaign she’d be running against someone she actually didn’t respect?  I mean, you played the race card in South Carolina.  You just played the patriotism card on Friday.  And she personally played the Muslim card on 60 Minutes.  So what’s left for her to do except just run as John McCain’s VP?”

Whaddya think?  Snarky yet pointed?  Humorous yet biting?  Think you can do better?  Feel free to supply suggestions until 6:30 p.m. Monday (eastern time–Indiana’s on Eastern time now!). 


Truth, Justice, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and the Social Sciences

March 21, 2008

This month’s Law and Society Association Newsletter, just published, leads off with a message from our president, Rick Lempert.  Lempert sounds a mournful tone in describing the tactics employed in this year’s presidential election primary campaigns.  He bemoans the whatever-it-takes-to-win approach deployed by “campaign professionals” who see winning the nomination as their only goal, often burning their candidate’s chances for the general election in the process.  Lempert then reflects on the signal changes in elections themselves, particularly the use of early voting, voter ID laws, and the issues raised by voter fraud.  “Much of what social science can contribute is law-related,” Lempert concludes (p. 3). 

So far, so fairly conventional.  But Lempert’s analysis then takes a more startling turn.  “In the Harry Potter books, Harry and his fellow would-be wizards have to take a course in Defense Against the Dark Arts.  The time has come for social scientists to devote more attention to producing the material for such a course. . . . [We] need to know how we can aid people to assess the sense and truth of persuasion attempts, to perceive when attempts are being made to manipulate their views through quotes out of context, half-truths and outright lies, and to resist the attempts perceived” (ibid.).  Lempert argues that an electorate so armed will be more able to resist emotional appeals and to make decisions about candidates based on the higher virtues of reason and wisdom.

Though I’m not likely to contribute to the social scientific literature on, for example, ex-felons and the franchise or the actual extent of voter fraud in the 2004 election, I can report that I have already supplied Lempert with one deep reading of the intentional misdirection in Harry Potter.  I wrote this paper for the 2006 LSA meeting in Baltimore and explained my theory to anyone who would listen before the final book came out.  Much as Barack Obama tried valiantly to introduce complexity and ambiguity into the national discussion of race and identity on Tuesday, I try in this paper to show how the most interesting character in the HP novels is the most morally complicated one:  Severus Snape.  Snape embodies the conflict between good and evil that lies at the heart of every morality tale.  Understanding how something fundamentally good can sometimes be concealed within something (or someone) who appears distasteful, unappealing, or even hateful is a pretty demanding thing to ask of readers of fiction.  Given the reactions to Obama’s speech the other day, it’s apparently even more difficult for an entire nation that’s been primed to regard the racial Other with suspicion, even dread, for centuries, to muster the will to try.  But that is exactly where we social scientists can marry popular culture and empirical knowledge.  We can train our students to aspire to higher levels of discernment when it comes to assimilating information that is crafted to slant opinions in the heat of election seasons.  And if Harry Potter helps us model that, I’m all for it.


Whom would you hire?

March 7, 2008

So I have been out of town for a few days — but I’m back and this really gets my goat:

I was watching the today show in a hotel room on Wednesday morning and Hillary said something like, It comes down to this: who would you want to hire for the job of being President, Obama or me?

This bugs me because racism in employment discrimination is RAMPANT in this country. I have mentioned the book before, but Devah Pager’s, Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration demonstrates quite convincingly that your chances of getting called for a job interview after submitting an application are significantly higher if you are a white man WITH A FELONY CONVICTION than if you are a similaryly qualified black man WITH NO FELONY CONVICTION.

To Recap: White FELONS have an easier time in the job market than black with no criminal record.

Now, do I think Hillary said this as a subtle encoding of race to get more votes? Not sure. But, encoded racial messages in elections are nothing new — another great book (I mean great book) about this is The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality which shows how this stuff works by Tali Mendelberg. Put these 2 books together and it makes you think.

Just when I was convincing myself that Hillary could not have meant to do this kind of race-baiting, I heard her say on NPR that something like, McCain would bring experience to the white house, she would bring experience to the white house, and Obama would bring a speech. Seems like an encoded racial message about not working to me.

She is going to ruin him so effectively that if he is the nominee the Republicans won’t have to. I think it is outrageous and Democrats should not stand for it.

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New books for the reading list?

January 31, 2008
  • The Times has a very nice review of Anthony Lewis’ new book, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate. It’s subtitled “A Biography of the First Amendment” but appears to include both history and predictions for the next 100-odd years.
  • Slate published three excerpts from Richard Thompson Ford’s The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse. I found the second one, on the issue of champagne and hip-hop culture, particularly interesting… though I will say that none of this seems like rocket science, at least at first glance.