Go Ahead, Make Your Best Case Against the Oxford Comma

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 11:59 AM EST

Atrios is singing my song:

The one "grammar debate" I don't get is the Oxford Comma debate. Of course there should be one. There's no argument for leaving them out, and a million obvious ones for including them. There is no debate. Include it, barbarians.

I've never gotten this either. Even if the lack of a final comma creates ambiguity only one time in a hundred, why not use it for that one time in a hundred? It's completely harmless the other 99 times, isn't it? Seriously: what's the argument against the Oxford comma?

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Look at These Sexist Campaign Buttons Some Dude Is Selling at a Republican Conference

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 11:32 AM EST

In an election rife with racist and sexist insults and one Donald Trump, sexist crap aimed at Hillary Clinton should not be surprising. And yet:

The fun buttons, spotted at this year's Sunshine Summit– the annual, two-day, GOP confab in Florida—are actually old news. They were first spotted in 2013. But their reemergence today is a reminder that, like any hardy perennial, misogynistic trolling will always remain in vogue for at least one robust fringe of the Republican party.

This Election Is Not About the Economy

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 11:16 AM EST

Ezra Klein says America is doing a whole lot better than Republican presidential candidates make it sound:

They would be surprised to find that unemployment is at five percent, America's recovery from the financial crisis has outpaced that of other developed nations, the percentage of uninsured Americans has been plummeting even as Obamacare has cost less than expected, and there's so much money flowing into new ideas and firms in the tech industry that observers are worried over a second tech bubble.

....This leaves Republicans with two problems. The first is that the economy simply isn't as bad as they're making it out to be — and so the apocalyptic rhetoric may well run into month after month of good jobs numbers during the general election....The second is that Republicans are increasingly focused on economic problems they don't really know how to solve, and don't have much credibility to say they will solve.

This is all completely correct, but I think there's an interesting point buried here: Republicans aren't really talking about the economy when they adopt this "apocalyptic" rhetoric. In fact, so far this hasn't been an election about the economy at all.

It's a culture war election. The topics that have really driven the campaign so far are illegal immigration, political correctness, abortion, Obamacare, Vladimir Putin, the war on Christianity, and so forth. By contrast, the attacks on the economy mostly feel pro forma and are used primarily to add flavor to the real issue driving Republican voters. And right now, that issue is the apparent feeling among many conservatives that the America they love is spiraling down the drain, becoming weak and dependent and altogether too brown.

Obviously this has been building for years, but it feels like this is the first election in which it's really front and center. Of course, if America is really sinking into socialism and social degeneration, then the economy must be doing badly too. So all the candidates do their best to make it sound like Democrats have driven us into a ditch. That's normal politics, but this year it's also a stand-in. When they say the economy is doing badly, what they really mean is that America is doing badly. And their audiences are eating it up.

Jennifer Lawrence Slams Her Republican Roots, Predicts "End of World" Scenario for Trump Presidency

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 10:09 AM EST

In the newest issue for Vogue—and umpteenth edition of Jennifer Lawrence being so "real" and so "hilarious"—the Hunger Games actress reveals why she's disavowing her Republican roots, particularly in light of a potential Donald Trump White House.

"If Donald Trump is president of the United States, it will be the end of the world," Lawrence tells Vogue's Jonathan Van Meter. "And he's also the best thing to happen to the Democrats ever."

Lawrence, who is the world's highest paid actress, also didn't mince words when it came to Kim Davis, the defiant Kentucky county clerk who made national news by refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses back in September.

"I just can't imagine supporting a party that doesn't support women's basic rights," she said. "It's 2015 and gay people can get married and we think that we've come so far, so, yay! But have we? I don't want to stay quiet about that stuff."

When Van Meter asked her about Davis, Lawrence called her "that lady who makes me embarrassed to be from Kentucky."

"All those people holding their crucifixes, which may as well be pitchforks, thinking they’re fighting the good fight," she goes on. "I grew up in Kentucky. I know how they are."

As for Trump, Lawrence describes her opinion as "pretty cut and dried."

Somewhere, Hillary Clinton is nodding in agreement.

Donald Trump Just Did a Dramatic Reenactment of Ben Carson's Stabbing

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 8:41 AM EST

Donald Trump is trailing Ben Carson in Iowa and it's starting to get to him. On Thursday night, he told an audience in Iowa that Carson is "pathological, damaged," and sought to prove his point by reenacting the pediatric neurosurgeon's infamous childhood stabbing, in which he claims to have thrust a knife at his relative's abdomen, only to be stopped by a belt buckle. Trump used the incident to paint Carson as both a pathologically violent maniac and a fabulist who couldn't possibly have committed such an act of violence. "How stupid are the people of Iowa?" he asked. "How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?"

Update: Trump continued piling onto Carson's knife story with a web ad released Friday:


Happy Friday the 13th

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

The Strain of Losing to Ben Carson Has Finally Driven Donald Trump Crazy

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 12:58 AM EST

From a Republican strategist upset about the state of the primary race:

We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job. It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?

So there you have it: The only thing worse than electing Hillary Clinton president is the possibility of not electing Hillary Clinton president.

A few hours later, as if to prove this guy's point, Donald Trump staged a 95-minute meltdown (video above) apparently brought on by the ungodly strain of making four campaign appearances in four days:

He said he would "bomb the s---" out of areas controlled by the Islamic State....He accused Hillary Rodham Clinton of playing the "woman's card," and said Marco Rubio is "weak like a baby." He signed a book for an audience member and then threw it off the stage....And he spent more than 10 minutes angrily attacking his chief rival, Ben Carson, at one point calling him "pathological, damaged."

Gone was the candidate's recent bout of composure and control on the campaign trail....An hour and 20 minutes into the speech, people who were standing on risers on the stage behind Trump sat down. The applause came less often and less loud. As Trump skewered Carson in deeply personal language, a sense of discomfort settled on the crowd of roughly 1,500. Several people shook their heads or whispered to their neighbors.

Carson wrote in his autobiography that as a young man he....[tried] to stab a friend, only to have the blade stopped and broken by the friend's belt buckle....Trump said he doesn't believe Carson is telling the truth and questioned how a belt buckle could stop a blade. He stepped away from the podium and acted out how he imagined such an attack would happen, with his own belt buckle flopping around.

....And yet Carson is doing well in the polls, Trump said in disbelief. "How stupid are the people of Iowa?" Trump said. "How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?"

I remember a lot of people wondering how Trump would handle things if the time came when he was no longer leading in the polls. I guess now we know. It's too much for his ego to stand, and the phenomenal self-discipline he's been showing recently is utterly shattered. Can you imagine what Trump would be like if he ever had a genuinely stressful job, like, um, you know?

POSTSCRIPT: For three months, all the other candidates have been shaking their heads and muttering, "I'm losing to this guy?" Now Trump knows how they feel. And I don't really blame any of them. Trailing either Trump or Carson is enough to make anyone start to doubt their own sanity.

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The First Viral Video Ever Was Recorded 45 Years Ago Today

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 8:06 PM EST

On November 9, 1970, George Thornton, an engineer at the Oregon Department of Transportation, had a mission: remove a 45-foot sperm whale washed ashore the Oregon coast just south of the Siuslow River. But how?

As The Oregonian's Stuart Tomlinson puts it in Thornton's obituary in 2013:

ODOT officials struggled with what to do with the whale. Rendering plants said no thanks. Burying was iffy because the waves would likely have just uncovered the carcass. It was too big to burn.

So the plan was hatched: Let’s blow it up, scatter it to the wind and let the crabs and seagulls clean up the mess. So Thornton and his crew packed 20 cases of dynamite around the leeward side of the whale, thinking most of it would blow into the water. At 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, the plunger was pushed.

The whale blew up, all right, but the 1/4 mile safety zone wasn’t quite large enough. Whale blubber and whale parts fell from the sky, smashing into cars and people. No one was hurt, but pretty much everyone was wearing whale bits and pieces.

At that moment on November 12, 1970—45 years ago today—the decaying whale erupted into the public consciousness and eventually became a viral sensation. It was keyboard cat before cats had keyboards. "[It] went viral before the internet had the infrastructure to support viral videos," Andrew David Thaler wrote in Vice's definitive history, "when mailing a six minute clip via USPS was faster than downloading."


Conservatives Need to Admit That Racism Still Exists

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 5:33 PM EST

I hopped over to The Corner to see what was going on, and the answer is....political correctness. Here are first few headlines I saw:

The Hidden Cost to Crazy Leftist Domination of Universities

Yale & Missouri: Power Play

The Left Is Starting to Tear Itself Apart: College Coeds Are Like Yazidi Slaves?

Campus Cattle [Actually, I believe the correct term is "veal." -ed.]

The Mugging Continues

Conservatives are really flooding the zone over this. And since there's obviously been some bad behavior on the part of the Yale and Missouri protesters, they have an easy time mining a few days of outrage over it. As for myself, I haven't said much of anything, for a couple of reasons. First, I'm not just a middle-aged white guy, I'm a middle-aged white guy who grew up in Orange County and now lives in Irvine. Off the top of my head, I can remember only one black schoolmate while I was growing up, and pretty much none in the neighborhood I live in now. So I'm not exactly well placed to have any deep insights on interracial relationships.

Second, when things like this erupt, it's often the case that the proximate cause is merely the last in a long series of things that already have everyone simmering. So the provocation itself (say, a fairly anodyne email about Halloween from a residential master) is often easy to mock because it really is sort of trivial on its own. And the reaction ("friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals") can seem absurdly delicate. But fixating on a single incident like this is as silly as trying to figure out why all those European countries really cared so much about Archduke Ferdinand. In both cases, you're missing the forest for the trees.

And this is why the conservative reaction to this stuff always seems so shallow. Sure, students shouldn't scream at people. Sure, professors shouldn't call in "muscle" to kick people out of public spaces. Sure, yet another demand for more diversity training can seem tiresome. Go ahead and criticize all this stuff. Plenty of people on the left have done so too.

But at the same time, if you are going to comment on these affairs, take the time to understand not just the (possibly trivial) proximate cause, but the underlying problems that have been building up for months or years. At least acknowledge what the real grievances are. I haven't spent a lot of time reading about the Yale and Missouri protests, but even I know that there are a whole raft of complaints about racist behavior that have been accumulating for some time. Is it asking too much for conservatives to at least mention this, and perhaps condemn it? Even a "to be sure" paragraph would be better than nothing.

For what it's worth, I think the hair trigger that campus lefties seem to have for all manner of isms often goes too far. It's not just tiresome, it's counterproductive, since it convinces too many people that they shouldn't engage with these issues at all. One wrong word at the wrong time bears too much risk of career or education-threatening blowback—especially in an era when social media can randomly pluck people out of obscurity to become sacrificial lambs. Better to just hunker down and say nothing. Unfortunately, the result is that you lose the engagement of some of the very people it would be most helpful to have on board. Just a thought.

This GOPer Wants to Sabotage a Missouri Student's Dissertation Because It's About Abortion

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 4:41 PM EST

A state lawmaker is trying to stop a graduate student at the University of Missouri from studying the effects of one of the state's abortion restrictions, claiming that her dissertation violates state law and is an abortion marketing ploy.

In a letter to University of Missouri officials, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) argues that Lindsay Ruhr, a graduate student in the School of Social Work, is illegally using public funds to conduct her dissertation research on the state's law that requires a 72-hour waiting period before a woman receives an abortion. Ruhr is using Planned Parenthood data to analyze the effects of the law on women's decision making. In Missouri it is illegal for public employees and facilities to use state money towards "encouraging or counseling" a person to have an abortion not necessary to save her life.

"This is a concerning revelation considering the University's recent troubling connections to Planned Parenthood," wrote Schaefer. "It is difficult to understand how a research study approved by the University, conducted by a University student, and overseen by the Director of the School of Social Work at the University can be perceived as anything but an expenditure of public funds to aid Planned Parenthood."

A university spokeswoman told the Huffington Post that the doctoral student received neither scholarship money from the school nor state grant money for her research. "We must stay committed to the discovery, dissemination, application, and preservation of knowledge to support our mission while abiding by state and federal laws," said Mary Jo Banken. "We will continue performing life-saving research in our laboratories while providing the highest quality of educational opportunities to our students."

Ruhr told Al Jazeera that she stands by her project and the objectivity of her research.  "The whole point of my research is to understand how this policy affects women," she said. "Whether this policy is having a harmful or beneficial effect, we don't know."

But Sen. Schaefer, who chairs the state's recently-created Committee on the Sanctity of Life, contends that the dissertation is nothing but a "marketing aid for Planned Parenthood."

About half of states have 24-hour waiting period laws on the books, which require that a woman meet with a physician a day before getting an abortion. Missouri is one of a handful of states that require women wait 72 hours. In September, amid nation-wide investigations into the organization over its fetal tissue research, the University of Missouri responded with a number of measures against the women's health organization. It canceled its contracts with Planned Parenthood that eliminated the option for medical students to do clinical rotations at the health care network. A month later, the nursing school reinstated its contracts with two Planned Parenthoods, but with a clause that prevented students from learning about abortion by prohibiting any student from helping to provide them. The university also revoked Planned Parenthood's hospital admitting privileges, which allows the clinic to offer medication abortions, a safe and effective method of first-trimester termination. Without admitting privileges for that center, Missouri will be left with only one abortion clinic, in St. Louis, 125 miles from the university.

Planned Parenthood officials have asked the University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who recently announced his resignation over mounting racial tensions and student protests, to reinstate the admitting privileges contract with the health care organization. "Before assuming a new role, we urge Chancellor Loftin to immediately reinstate appropriate clinical privileges to ensure there is no disruption in health care services for the residents of this community," Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Kansas Mid-Missouri, said in a statement on Monday. They have not yet received an answer.

While the university works on its response to Schaefer's request for documents, Ruhr's research will continue with the school's backing.

Ben Carson Just Dropped This Pretty Insane Immigration Policy on the Nation

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 2:57 PM EST

In a Wednesday press conference at Liberty University, a day after the GOP presidential candidates' most recent debate, co-frontrunner Ben Carson aired his views on one of the race's most contested topics: immigration. The former surgeon echoed Donald Trump on the magical powers of a heavily policed border fence and pushed back against his rival on the desirability of purging 11 million undocumented people, expressing concern for the plight of "farmers with multi-thousand acre farms" and hotel owners, who, he fretted, would have trouble finding workers to harvest crops and clean rooms.

The answer to stemming the (alleged) tide of undocumented workers coming from the south is easy, Carson suggested: US companies simply need to set up shop in Central and South America and teach them how to farm.

Then he dropped a whopper. The answer to stemming the (alleged) tide of undocumented workers coming from the south is easy, he suggested: US companies simply need to set up shop in Central and South America and teach them how to farm. His model, he said, is Cameroon, where US agribusiness firms are "helping to develop millions of acres and incredibly fertile land, growing record crops, [and] getting big profits," which, he added, "is great for them; I like business."

These companies are doing well by doing good, he argued, "building the infrastructure of a nation, creating jobs there, and teaching them the ag business so they carry on themselves, while at the same time creating friends for the United States." And if US firms repeat this feat south of the US border, "people won't feel the necessity to come here."

Whoa. First, Cameroon makes an odd model for foreign-led agriculture development. The nation has seen overall food production rise and malnutrition rates drop, but that's the work of domestic smallholder farmers growing for the local market, not multinationals. Foreign firms have played a large role in converting forest into large palm oil plantations, but those efforts have generated at least as much controversy as "friends for the United States." The Belgian-owned company Socapalm is locked in a "bitter land rights struggle" with villagers over expansion plans, The Guardian reports. And earlier this month, the government sentenced Cameroon environmental activist and NGO leader Nasako Besing to three years in prison for his role in opposing a hotly contested palm expansion/deforestation project by US firm Herakles Farm.

Then there's the vexed history of US interventions in Mexican agriculture. The Green Revolution—the effort, funded by US foundations, to bring industrial-style agriculture to the global south—started in Mexico in the 1940s. As the historian Nick Cullather shows in his fantastic 2010 book The Hungry World (which I reviewed here), the Green Revolution did transform agriculture in Mexico's north. The result: "narrowing of [domestic agriculture's] genetic base, supplanting indigenous, sustainable practices; displacing small and communal farming with commercial agribusiness; and pushing millions of peasants into urban slums or across the border."

There's strong evidence to net Mexico-to-US migration (the number of new arrivals minus the number who leave) is at or near zero.

Thus Mexico's Green Revolution experience triggered what 1950s US policymakers would call the "wetback problem"—1.5 million migrants crossing the border each year in search of gainful work, Cullather shows. And that led directly to President Eisenhower's infamous Operation Wetback, the very round-'em-up-and-purge-them scheme that Carson's opponent Trump repeatedly trumpeted (though not by name) in Tuesday's debate.

Of course, the last big wave of Mexican migration was also directly linked to US agribusiness. Implemented in 1994, NAFTA removed trade barriers and inspired Mexican policymakers to withdraw support for Mexican farmers. The result was a flood of subsidized US corn going south, a plunge in corn prices, and a tide of displaced Mexican smallholders heading north, as the Mexican analyst Ana de Ita and others have shown. US firms like Archer Daniels Midland profited handsomely.

In more recent years, though, immigration from Mexico has slowed dramatically, brought down by a variety of factors, from better corn prices in Mexico to less pull from the sluggish US economy. There's strong evidence that net Mexico-to-US migration (the number of new arrivals minus the number who leave) is at or near zero. You won't hear Carson or Trump talk about that, or the fact that current undocumented immigrants pay billions in annual taxes, both federal and state/local, in exchange for low-wage labor on farms, in restaurants, etc. On the immigration issue, Carson and his main rival to the GOP presidential throne are spewing noxious fumes about nothing in particular.