Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Sentence of the Week: The Dark Side of Moby Dick

| Sat Feb. 12, 2011 6:57 PM EST

Image: Wikimedia CommonsImage: Wikimedia CommonsTwo sentences, actually. Researchers have found the remains of a ship captained by the real-life inspiration for Captain Ahab. Josh Rothman writes:

After the Essex sunk, Pollard and his men drifted around the Pacific for weeks, eventually resorting to cannibalism - Pollard ate his own cousin. Incredibly, he went back out to sea, only to have his second ship run afoul of a reef off the coast of Hawaii.

Whoops! The initial reacton here is to wonder, "Why did he go back to sea?" but when you think about it, it doesn't seem like Pollard had much of a choice. Cannibalism may not have been expressly forbidden in 19th-century Nantucket, but it was certainly frowned upon. Under normal circumstances, one's family might be the group that's most likely to look past such an episode, except in this case Pollard had literally consumed his cousin (Worst. Lifetime movie. Ever). If not broached with a certain level of tact, that's the type of thing that can really tear a family apart.

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The Week in Sharia: Texas Has Its Sputnik Moment (Updated)

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 3:30 PM EST

Now with 100-percent more maps:

  • The big news out of Egypt (also, Earth) this week was the departure of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, prompting furious speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood would take over the country and impose strict Islamic law. That's no sure thing. But if they can't have Egypt, the Brothers at least have a pretty good consolation prize: According to Red State, "there are Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, apologists, and fundamentalists sponsoring and speaking" at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference. Also speaking at CPAC? Anti-Sharia activist Pamela Geller, who says that criticism of her is basically "the second wave of the 9/11 attacks."  Awwwwwkward.
     
  • Georgia state rep. Mike Jacobs told reporters that he couldn't think of any instances of Sharia being forced on the good people of his state—but just to be sure, he introduced the "American Laws for Georgia Courts Act" earlier this week to block foreign or religious laws from being cited in state courts. A total of 16 states have passed or introduced anti-Sharia legislation since last February.
     
  • Speaking of which: I made a map.
     
  • Good news, Mansfield, Texas: Your school district won a $1.3 million federal grant to introduce students to a "critical" foreign language and culture, a development that's sure to boost cognitive skills, intellectual curiosity, and future employment prospects. Bad news, Mansfield, Texas: Because that language was Arabic, a bunch of parents warned that their children would be indoctrinated with Islamic principles, and now the district has put the program on ice indefinitely. If you're wondering, yes, this is what losing the future looks like.
     
  • Minus-10 gold stars for Gretchen Carlson of Fox News, who informed her viewers that the school intended to make Arabic mandatory for kindergartners. Crazy! Also, false. The Arabic-language classes are electives, and only for seventh- and eighth-graders; fifth- and sixth-graders would get 20 minutes of Arabic "language and culture" per day as part of their social studies classes; kindergartners would, presumably, continue to eat paste. This is all spelled out not only in the clarification issued by the school, but in the informational sheet (pdf) which it had released prior to the controversy, and in the grant proposal (pdf) itself. I found all of that on Google in, like, 12 seconds.

Map: Has Your State Banned Sharia?

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 11:40 AM EST

Earlier this week, a Georgia legislator introduced the "American Laws for Georgia Courts Act," a bill designed to block the implementation of Islamic law in state courts. As state rep. Mike Jacobs told the Fulton County Daily Report, he couldn't think of any specific instance of Sharia law affecting Georgia's justice system, but the government needed to take action. It's a familiar pattern: While actual Islamic law is virtually non-existent in the United States, efforts to combat the scourge of Islamic law are becoming increasingly common.

Just how common? According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states have introduced legislation to prevent courts from using foreign or religious law in their decisions. But that's just in the last two months; if you include last year's efforts—including Arizona's inspired attempt to ban karma—it goes all the way up to 16. Anyway, I made a map. Full details below; we'll update this as the dominoes fall:

 

Passed: Both Tennessee and Louisiana passed variations of the American Public Policy Alliance's "American Law for American Courts" legislation in 2010.

Working on it: Alaska; Arkansas; Arizona; Georgia; Indiana; Kansas; Nebraska; Oklahoma; South Carolina; South Dakota; Texas; Wyoming.

Tried but Failed: Florida; Mississippi; Utah.

What Was the President Smoking?

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 6:00 AM EST

On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that her husband has been cigarette-free for a year. This is great news for President Obama's life expectancy. But is it good for his legacy?

Obama was hardly the first occupant of the Oval Office to light one up every now and then. The overwhelming majority of American presidents have consumed tobacco in some form or another, and a few of them have even dabbled in other, more ilicit substances. So is there a correlation between, say, walking around with a wad of chewing tobacco in your cheeks and totally tanking as president? What about swearing off substances all together? Here's a crude comparison of our 10 greatest presidents and our 10 worst, based on C-Span's 2009 survey of historians. Erudite analysis and methodology below the jump:

Rick Perry Runs For President, From Budget

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 9:00 AM EST

At this time last year, Arizona was facing a catastrophic budget crisis, the byproduct of building an entire economy on a real estate bubble that finally burst. It was a pretty daunting challenge, and so legislators chose to take their minds off of things by inventing new problems, and then solving those instead. As Ken Silverstein noted in Harper's:

Lawmakers have turned racial profiling into official policy...Another new law bans the funding of any ethnic-studies programs in the public schools, while a third prohibits "intentionally or knowingly creating a human-animal hybrid." Lawmakers declared February 8 the "Boy Scout Holiday," took time out to discount fishing-license fees for Eagle Scouts, and approved a constitutional right to hunt.

Mischief managed. Now, a similar situation is playing out in Texas. The Lone Star State faces a $25 billion budget deficit in 2010, so naturally, Gov. Rick Perry has put the legislature to work on a package of entirely unrelated emergency items. Politico says this means Perry's running for president, in which case his agenda is great fodder for potential primary voters. It's less great, however, for women, immigrants, and poor people. Here's a breakdown:

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