Thursday, January 17, 2013

January 20 is Inauguration Day why is this year's inauguration on Monday the 21st (the Martin Luther King holiday), and not the day before?

It's for the same reason that Sally tells Harry they don't make Sunday underpants: because of God.

Which is to say, because it's Sunday.

I had thought that this was constitutional, but it's not: it's just a tradition.  You can read the brief version here.  This happens -- roughly -- once every 28 years (there are disruptions for various reasons).  It happened with Reagan in January of 1985, Ike in January of 1955, and Wilson in March of 1915 (remember what I said about disruptions?).  The current tradition (which was done with all three of those earlier gentlemen) is to have a private swearing-in on the actual, uh, inauguration day, and then a big public hoopla on the following day, including a do-over of the swearing-in ceremony.  (Which happens: they had to do it last time too, after all, albeit for different reasons.)

It would be awkward if there was actually a new President, and not a second term, but coincidentally that's only happened twice, and not for well over a century: the two times were Hayes in 1877 and Taylor in 1849.  (The first of these lead to the fanciful notion that David Rice Atchison was actually acting President for a day.)  The other four times -- the three Twentieth Century ones, plus the first occurrence, with Monroe in 1821 -- all happened to be, as this one is, a reinauguration.  It certainly hasn't come up since the Presidency became what it is now, i.e. the sort of office where you need to know at every moment who is in it.  (In 1848, a day here or there wasn't that big a deal.)

Perhaps that will happen next time, which will be (unless unforeseen disruptions occur) on Sunday, January 20, 2041.  (If not then, then next up is Sunday, January 20, 2069, and then Sunday, January 20, 2097.)

(To say it's ridiculous to speculate about parties and presidents 28 years into the future is to wildly understate the matter.  (Will there even be the same two parties?  Will our constitutional structure have changed?  Who knows.)  Nevertheless, I can't help but pointing out that since WW2, with one exception, the parties have alternated eight-year stints.  (The exception is that under this scheme Carter should have won the 1980 election, so that that particular sixteen year stint was divided 4/12 instead of 8/8; change that outcome, and no other, and the pattern holds precisely.)  I consider it extremely unlikely that this pattern will hold for twenty-eight more years.  (Indeed, I hope it doesn't: a Republican administration in 2016 would be a disaster for the Republic.)  But if it happened to, then January 20, 2041 would indeed see the inauguration of a new President, and not a reinauguration.)

Normally I would natter on about this -- intersecting, as it does, various of my obsessions -- but I don't have to, because this marvelous post I found in looking into it says everything I'd want to say about it and more, including remarkably complete histories of each of the previous incidents, explanations of both disruptions of the 28-year-cycle, etc.  If you've read this far, and you're still interested, click on over.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Two Weeks Ago I Had Jury Duty

...and I live-tweeted it.  Since (rather to my surprise) a number of people mentioned that they liked the tweets I decided to wildly overreact to what was doubtless mere politeness collect them all in one place for the pathetic gratification of my swollen ego anyone who might be interested. Think of it as a performance piece about boredom.

So here they are. I hope they are at least as a tenth as pleasant as jury duty itself w...  Nah, I can't wish that on my Noble Readers.  But click through if you're curious.

(PS: For more exciting experiences in sheer dullness, you can follow me on twitter here.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Aaron Swartz (1986 - 2012)

I haven't posted on the untimely death of Aaron Swartz prior to now, because I didn't know him and didn't have anything particular to add, and because I can't imagine that anyone who reads this blog needs me to tell them about (or link them to) Aaron Swartz, whom the entire internet, it seems, has been morning for nearly a week.  But in trying to type up a 'recent links' post, I found it swamped by Swartz-related links, so I decided to ignore the fact that this is all probably old news to all of you, and throw a few links together.  It seemed wrong to mix this topic with random political stories, to say nothing of amusing tales about hats.  Though I learned of him by reading his obituaries, I -- like many others -- have come to feel great grief for Swartz's heartbreakingly-young death, and great anger at those who drove him to it.  So whether it's needed or not, yes, I'm giving him his own post.

Besides, the man deserves it.


• First, in case I'm wrong, and someone reading this hasn't yet heard about Aaron Swartz, the two must-read obituaries, that will give you a well-rounded sense of the man, are this one by Cory Doctorow and this one by Rick Perlstein*.

• Also recommended: Henry Farrell, Larry Lessig.  (Lessig was also the featured guest on Democracy Now when they spent the hour on Aaron Swartz's life yesterday; they also replayed his speech about SOPA in its entirety -- worth listening to if you haven't heard it.)

• Swartz was a genuinely incredible guy, as a glance at those obituaries will tell you.  I would have said that, prior to his heartbreaking death, I'd never heard of him, and this is in some sense strictly accurate.  But I had read his work: I distinctly remember reading, and being extremely impressed by, his review of Chris Hayes's (marvelous, as the review says) book Twilight of the Elites.  (At the time I thought Swartz had gotten one bit of his summary of Hayes's book wrong; rereading it now, I think so still; but I shan't say what, because I am by no means confident that I'm right and Swartz is wrong -- I'd want to go reread the book to confirm my judgment!  Just, as with any article ever, caveat lector, and always check the original yourself.)  I've also started browsing Swartz's other writings -- such as this essay on How To Be More Productive, which I liked -- and have been benefiting from them.  I expect to read more in days to come.

• On the more specifically political aspects of Swartz's death, there are a lot of them, starting with petitions to fire the U.S. Attorneys Carmen Ortiz & Stephen Heymann, who seem to have the most direct culpably for Swartz's unjust persecution (sic).  And I'm in favor of it -- any scrap of accountability for our hideous elites (see above re: Hayes) is welcome, and it may well serve as a (minor and insufficient) deterrent to others with similar power to abuse.  That said, I think that emptywheel is right about this:
I didn’t know Aaron personally, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would seek individualized solutions to systemic problems.... If we want to fix the injustice that was done to Aaron Swartz, we need to fix the aspects of the system that rewarded such behavior. We need to fix the law that empowered the prosecutors gunning for him. We need to put some breaks on DOJ’s power. And we should start by getting rid of the guy who has fostered this culture of abuse for the last four years.
More on the political side of Swartz's death: Corey Robin on why Swartz should not be posthumously pardoned and Matt Stoller on Swartz's broader politics, and on the role of corruption in Swartz's death.  (Still more from Glenn Greenwald.)  Oh, and Swartz's family and partner see the prosecutors as central to, and culpable in, his death; they see him as someone who died in a political cause.  The politics here is not imposed by outsiders to Swartz's life.  (Update: Greenwald has a second piece -- talking about the connection between punishing prosecutorial overreach in this case and more generally, which is here.)

• If you're misguidedly inclined to a 'where there's smoke there's fire' take on the fact that Swartz was hounded to death by a prosecutor, you should read "The Truth About Aaron Swartz's 'Crime'", by an expert witness who was going to testify for the defense.  And also Tim Wu in the New Yorker: "Basically, under American law, anyone interesting is a felon. The prosecutors, not the law, decide who deserves punishment."

• Finally, I will say that I thought the best line I saw about Swartz's death -- at least the one that moved me most, and had the most relevance to those of us who weren't his friends when he lived -- was this from Quinn Norton, Swartz's ex-lover -- who also wrote an incredibly moving eulogy for Swartz here -- who wrote on twitter:
May we make it so.

Swartz accomplished a stunning amount in his life; save for the fact that all of his accomplishments are too tied into recent developments, his resume could be mistaken for that of a man who died at 76, not 26.  I do not take this fact

Swartz was, by all reports, an amazing (if also sometimes personally difficult, in the way some amazing guys are) guy.  I wish I'd known him; I wish mostly, more strongly than I would normally feel for someone who died (even young), that I still had the chance to know him.

Rest in peace.

* On a tangential point: holy shit, Rick Perlstein is blogging again!  Fabulous news.  Adjust your bookmarks now.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Poem of the Day: Ogden Nash's "Kind of an Ode to Duty"

In honor of my first day of jury duty today, the poem of the day is...
Kind of an Ode to Duty

O Duty,
Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie?
Why glitter thy spectacles so ominously?
Why art thou clad so abominously?
Why art thou so different from Venus
And why do thou and I have so few interests mutually in common between us?
Why art thou fifty per cent martyr
And fifty-one per cent Tartar?

Why is it thy unfortunate wont
To try to attract people by calling on them either to leave undone the deeds they like, or to do the deeds they don’t?
Why are thou so like an April post-mortem
On something that died in the ortumn?
Above all, why dost thou continue to hound me?
Why art thou always albatrossly hanging around me?

Thou so ubiquitous,
And I so iniquitous.
I seem to be the one person in the world thou art perpetually preaching at who or to who;
Whatever looks like fun, there art thou standing between me and it, calling yoo-hoo.
O Duty, Duty!
How noble a man should I be hadst thou the visage of a sweetie or a cutie!
Wert thou but houri instead of a hag
Then would my halo indeed be in the bag!
But as it is thou art so much forbiddinger than a Wodehouse hero’s forbiddingest aunt
That in the words of the poet, When Duty whispers low, Thou must, this erstwhile youth replies, I just can’t.

-- Ogden Nash

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

"Forever Free": 150 Years Ago Today

Lincoln wrote (and thus did*) this:
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States...

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free.
Some important context from James M. McPherson, probably the greatest living historian of the Civil War:
The final proclamation exempted from emancipation the border states and some parts of Confederate states controlled by Union forces. They were deemed not to be at war with the United States; therefore the president’s power as commander in chief to seize enemy property could not apply to them. These exemptions gave rise to the accusation that Lincoln “freed” the slaves in areas where he had no power, and left them in slavery where he did have power.

Nothing could be more wrong. For one thing, tens of thousands of ex-slaves lived in parts of the Confederacy that were occupied by Union forces but were not exempted from the proclamation. They celebrated it as their charter of freedom. For that matter, so did many slaves in exempted areas, which included the four slave-holding states that never left the Union (Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland) as well as Confederate areas that had been returned to Union control, such as New Orleans and the forty-eight Virginia counties that would soon become West Virginia. They recognized that if emancipation took hold in the Confederate states, slavery could scarcely survive in the upper South.

The proclamation officially turned the Union army into an army of liberation—if it could win the war. And by authorizing the enlistment of freed slaves in the army, the final proclamation went a long step toward creating that army of liberation. If the Emancipation Proclamation was merely a piece of paper that did not actually free anyone, as skeptics then and later charged, the Declaration of Independence was likewise a mere piece of paper that did not in itself create a new nation. Both outcomes depended on victory in a war to which these documents gave new purpose.
A great step forward for the history of freedom and justice.  Worthy of taking a moment to remember, and reflect upon, today.

* Generalized nod towards J. L. Austin.