Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. 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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Music Monday: The Presidential Mixtape

| Mon Feb. 21, 2011 7:56 AM EST

As you're surely aware, today's Presidents Day. And what better way to celebrate than with a mixtape? We scoured the Internet for a song about each president—44 in all, provided you count Grover Cleveland twice. The result is an odd mix, probably inappropriate for your next house party, but redeeming in its own way: Come for the Blind Willie Johnson, stick around for the straight-to-YouTube ballad performed by a Martin Van Buren impersonator (it's a niche market). In a neat twist, the most difficult president to find a song for, Chester A. Arthur, was also the one with the richest musical legacy: Chester Arthur Burnett, whom you know as Howlin' Wolf (Warren G., alas, is not short for Warren Gamaliel).

Anyways, check out the playlist here. And in the meantime, here's my all-time favorite: "No More Kings," by Schoolhouse Rock, via Pavement:

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SD Rep. Who Authored Abortion Bill Nixes Sharia Ban

| Fri Feb. 18, 2011 2:38 PM EST

On Tuesday, MoJo's Kate Sheppard broke the news about a controversial new bill in front of the South Dakota legislature that would (in some instances) classify murder in defense of an unborn child "justifiable homicide." After initially defending the language, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, caved, and legislators scrapped the bill on Wednesday. Now he's backed down from another piece of controversial legislation which, according to legal experts, could have had similarly drastic consequences.

As Adam Serwer noted when the news first broke, Jensen was also the the author of HJR 1004, a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban the use of "international law, the law of any foreign nation or any foreign religious or moral code" in state courts. Sharia, in other words. Jensen couldn't just write that, because so explicitly targeting a religious tradition would, as Oklahomans learned, pretty much make the law DOA in the event of a lawsuit. So Jensen used the vaguest language possible—and it turns out, that can backfire too.

According to Roger Baron, a professor of family law at the University of South Dakota, the ammendment's prohibition on foreign laws would remove the state from a number of agreements concerning child custody and child abduction. Because those agreements hinge on reciprocity, "foreign countries will not enforce our custody decrees," he warned in a letter to policymakers in Pierre, which he provided to Mother Jones. "The result will be that a disappointed custody litigant will have every motivation to improperly take the child to a foreign country and remain beyond the reach of international law."

The Mississippi River, Reimagined as Public Transit

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 6:12 PM EST

I'm not sure if this, via Frank Jacobs, is necessarily the best map I've seen all month, but it certainly has to be a part of the conversation. Behold the Mississippi River drainage network, reimagined as a sprawling and somewhat ungainly public transit system:

Courtesy of Daniel HuffmanCourtesy of Daniel Huffman

Ok, so this thing's obviously in need of some connecting routes, but that's nothing a canal here and a portage there couldn't fix. I'd also extend a branch out to Chicago, which is a natural transfer point to the Great Lakes system. But it's pretty awesome, and captures in full the river's unique Flying Spaghetti Monster qualities.

Huffman, who put together the map of Twitter profanity that won the Internet last month, also mapped a few more river systems, which you can check out here.

Was Friday Night Lights Xenophobic?

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 2:00 PM EST

Flickr/Evoo73Flickr/Evoo73Friday Night Lights ended its fifth and final season last week. Needless to say, we're devastated. But as a small consolation, the show's ending means that lots of people on the Internet are now posting long-winded scribblings about what it all meant.

Over at Time, James Poniewozik makes a bunch of interesting points in his eulogy for the show, but I have to take issue with his grand takeaway:

The underlying theme is, we need each other. Everyone, even a teenager, is part of a web of dependence. You could see the show, from the right, as an example of how the best social programs are a job, a family and self-discipline; you could see it, from the left, as an argument for the crucial importance of an under-funded government institution, the public school. You would be right both ways.

I suppose I agree with this in a micro-sense—the show is about relationships, not football—but I think the larger point is that FNL didn't so much bridge the red state-blue state divide as sidestep it. Given how overtly political the original book was, that took some work. The real-life inspiration for Tim Riggins took Buzz Bissinger hunting and complained that Americans don't make things anymore, while lamenting the fact that we didn't finish off the Japanese when we had a chance. Bissinger described a town gripped by a tea party-like fervor twenty years before the tea party, but the Dillon, Texas of FNL is exceptionally apolitical.

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