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Archive for July, 2005

Westmoreland

[ 0 ] July 19, 2005 |

Westy is dead.

The disaster of Vietnam has many fathers, including civilians such as John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Robert McNamara. Whatever hope of victory might have existed, however, was squandered through the pointless, ineffective, and enormously destructive tactics pursued by Westmoreland. The Army under Westmoreland broke every rule of counter-insurgency combat, and not in a good way. Rather than engaging in the careful self-examination that might eventually lead to organizational learning, Westy blamed civilians for his failures, insisting that the war could have been won if only “the politicians” had allowed him to invade Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam. That the US Army could not even defeat the indigenous South Vietnamese insurgency, much less its North Vietnamese allies, apparently never entered his calculations.

On the upside, he was always skeptical of the bombing campaigns against northern cities, and never believed that strategic attacks against civilians could bring North Vietnam to the table.

Whiskey River, Take My Mind

[ 0 ] July 18, 2005 |

In a pleasant surprise, apparently I will be going to see Willie Nelson–who I have never seen before–tonight. Plus Kathleen Edwards opening. Seems pretty promising, all things considered…

Small Media Scott

[ 0 ] July 18, 2005 |

My review of the revised edition of Mark Tushnet’s The NAACP’s Legal Strategy Against Segregated Education in the Law and Politics Book Review is now online. (Well, it beats “my Tech Central Station Column is up”, anyway.)

Against Tacitus

[ 0 ] July 18, 2005 |

Exhibit Z for Thad. To each their own, but from my perspective any unironic use of the phrase “they’’re not antiwar, just on the other side” provides dispostive evidence that someone is not worth taking seriously. Might as well just go all the way and read Glenn Reynolds if that’s your thing.

Baseball Challenge Standings, Week 15

[ 0 ] July 18, 2005 |

The field is larger for the second half. Dave Noon returns to his traditional position of dominance this week. . .

D. Noon 205
E. Loomis 176
S. Lemieux 153
P. Maniloff 143
J. Dudas 139
P. Mcleod 133
J. Daw 122
P. Kerwin 103
R. Farley 74
D. Watkins 0
K. Jepsen 0

Focus on the Power

[ 0 ] July 18, 2005 |

I am frankly baffled by the fact that, for anyone who claims to be a progressive, their first reaction to the Olen column would be “she had it coming for telling her employer about the blog,” with in some cases a further recitiation of the obvious point that Olen was within her legal rights to fire her. Well, yes, of course Olen can use her discretion to fire somebody because she makes her feel stodgy, just as “Ivan Trimble” has the right not to hire someone beccause she has a hobby more youthful and time-intensive than collecting Jim Nabors records. But let’s not lose sight of the real issue here: the use of irrational norms to enforce social hierachies, to keep employees cowering and uncritical, something even worse when presented in the passive-agressive language of Olen or “Trimble”. Since it has been said well elsewhere, allow me to outsource to Et al. (via Perfesser B.):

Taking recourse in “appropriateness” allows the person passing judgment to preserve the veneer of postmodern sophistication in these kinds of rants; “See, look at me, I know that monitoring my nanny’s sexual fantasies/my job candidate’s penchant for Star Trek reruns is actually beneath me, and that it should probably have no bearing on my position as an employer.” At the same time, of course, the judgment is clearly being passed, and the blogger is found to be beyond the pale.

“Appropriate” has such a nice, commonsensical ring to it. Of course you wouldn’t want a drug-crazed nymphomaniac taking care of your children, right? Or a Star Trek conventioneer at your department meetings? But the tyranny of appropriateness seems to go more and more unnoticed in society, so that it works as a kind of de facto Truth, a kind of everyman’s litmus test for behavior. In practice, of course, it’s anything but benign, and anything but “common” in the universal sense. Instead, it elevates various socially and economically and politically specific beliefs to the status of inarguable fact, while appearing instead to reduce them to “choices” that are clearly within the individual’s control. All the nanny would have had to do to keep her job, we argue, is to avoid the stupid mistake of giving her weblog URL to her insecure and bitchy boss. And why, for heaven’s sake, we cry, would any job candidate in this horrific market send prospective employers to the website where she wrestles with her secret problems with self-mutilation and affection for the paintings of Thomas Kincaide?

No one is savvier about this truth than my students. They know that conformity is ALWAYS the right choice, and few of them can imagine feeling strongly enough about any issue of personal expression–sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion–to risk being “inappropriate.” They know that all of our talk about the death of Truth is total b.s., and that in place of a hierarchy based on white patriarchal and economic power, we have instead a hierarchy based on “appropriateness” [as determined within white patriarchal and economic power]. They are scornful of students whose desire for personal adornment leads them to body art that the Fortune 500 would disapprove. They know better than to stand up to injustice, if doing so would require raising their voices.

Read the whole etc. See Patrick and Lindsay too.

Dog and Pony Show. Without The Pony.

[ 0 ] July 18, 2005 |

So yesterday, as I mentioned, my flight was just cancelled, for no obvious reason. Today, my connecting flight out to Montreal was merely delayed by 4 hours, rendering it useless. This forced me to go through Toronto on a tight schedule (a problem because you could fly to Singapore in the time it takes to switch terminals there.) Miraculously, I made it on time for my connecting flight to Calgary–which was cancelled. I did manage to make it out on the next flight somehow. Needless to say, my luggage did not make the same trip.

The service was at least nicer today, but Jeebus H. Christ on a popsicle stick what a bush league operation the fine folks at Air Canada are running. You get really spoiled flying Jetblue…

Death Is Not Option

[ 0 ] July 17, 2005 |

Who would you rather have to spend 15 minutes with, Helaine Olen or “Ivan Tribble”?

Obviously, this is a choice too horrifying to have to contemplate, like having to choose between spending the next year with the films of Joel Schumacher or Tom Shadyac. The best you can say for Tribble is that he at least seems to make no bones about being a pompous, irrational reactionary–his sniggering about “geeks” and body piercings and how someone with other interests may leave you is quite unapologetic–while (as Amanda also notes) Olen tries to pretend that she’s actually really open-minded and progressive, when Ivan Tribble’s sensibility lurks about a millimeter below the surface. On the other hand, I think spending time with Tribble would hit too close to home to be endurable. Since I work in the same profession, having to spend time with someone who would be far better suited to being a manager of a TGI Friday’s than running an academic search would be just too depressing to deal with. Anyway, I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have to sit through the film version of The Phantom of the Opera than do either….

Air Douchebag

[ 0 ] July 16, 2005 |

If you’re a fan of flights cancelled at the last minute in perfect weather, missed connecting flights, rude and uninformative customer service, and lost luggage…I really can’t recommend Air Canada strongly enough!

The Melky Way

[ 0 ] July 15, 2005 |

Wow, the Yankees sure were smart to get Bernie Williams out of center field–otherwise, a routine single could get played into an inside-the-park homer!

Hopefully the Yankees will continue to ignore this–I here the Mets might be willing to part with Ice Williams–but all of our readers should remember this crucial principle: never walk away from Option A until you know what Option B is.

Borking is not a Pejorative Term

[ 0 ] July 15, 2005 |

Jonathan Chait is, of course, correct that stopping Robert Bork’s appointment to the Supreme Court is something for which Democrats can be extremely proud, as his subsequent writings make very clear. I’ve cited Bruce Ackerman’s review of The Tempting of America (“Robert Bork’s Grand Inquisition,” Yale Law Journal, 99 1419 (1990)) before, but with respect to that volume he said it well:

Bork has succumbed to his own temptation. Proclaiming his fidelity to history, his constitutional vision is radically ahistorical. Pronouncing an anathema on value relativism, his jurisprudence brings skepticism to new heights. Insisting on the sharpest possible line between law and politics, his bitter concluding section transforms a legal treatise into a Red-baiting political tract. Tempting reveals that Bork’s ordeal has transformed him into a human type that I, at least, had previously encountered only in Dostoyevsky novels. Mutatis mutandis, he is America’s Grand Inquisitor — grimly excommunicating heretics in the name of a Cause he has inwardly betrayed.

And the scary thing is, Chait doesn’t even bring out the heavy artillery; after Tempting it gets worse. Actually, you can actually see the transition in that book itself; the first part is merely tendentious, reactionary hackwork–”originalism” almost entirely devoid of historical evidence– but the second part an embarrassingly self-pitying reply to his critics in which he has clearly lost whatever bearings he once had. The effects of this can be seen fully in his (for lack of a better term) book Slouching Towards Gomorrah.
I’ll try to discuss this book in more detail in coming weeks. As an appetizer, allow me to excerpt my favorite passage [pp:128-9]:

One evening at a hotel in New York I flipped around the television channels. Suddenly there on public access channel was a voluptuous young woman, naked, her body oiled, writhing on the floor while fondling herself intimately. Meanwhile, a man’s voice and a print on the screen informed the viewer of the telephone number and limousine service that would acquaint him with young women of similar charms and proclivities. I watched for some time–riveted by the sociological significance of it all. [my emphasis]

Yes, it’s for the sociology. Won’t someone please think of the sociology?!?!?!?!?!? (When Ann Coulter dreams of Ben Shapiro being put on the Supreme Court, she must be doubly bitter than someone who pioneered Shapiro’s research methodology was rejected.)

Alas, while the book isn’t always this laugh-out-loud funny, it’s all equally unserious and shabbily argued, based almost entirely around wingnutty generalizations derived from random anecdotes. Whether the fact that someone with this judgment and temperament being rejected from the Supreme Court was a great tragedy, I leave to you to decide. I won’t quite give STG the slacktivist-on-Left-Behind treatment, but I’ll try to uncover some more gems in subsequent posts…

Rehnquist and Life Tenure

[ 0 ] July 15, 2005 |

Sanford Levinson makes an interesting point:

William Rehnquist has been on the court for 34 years, 19 of them as chief justice; his immediate predecessors, Warren Burger and Earl Warren, together served only 32 years. Judges should have the self-discipline to know when to retire, but they clearly do not. Another scholar, David Garrow, demonstrated in a University of Chicago Law Review article several years ago that all too many justices have stayed on the court even after they had become seriously debilitated. (The most egregious instance was William O. Douglas, who refused to resign even after a serious stroke; his colleagues secretly voted in effect not to allow Douglas to cast a decisive vote in 5-4 cases.) However much one might admire Rehnquist’s personal valor, it is, frankly, a scandal that the seriously ill chief justice refuses to resign. Such long terms are a disservice both to the court and the country.

What would be best is getting rid of life tenure and adopting, say, 18-year non-renewable terms of office, with each president getting two guaranteed appointments per term. This would go a long way to limit the problem of the debilitated judge. Alas, such a sensible proposal is not on the current agenda, in part because even most scholars who oppose life tenure believe — wrongly, I think — that it would take a constitutional amendment to end the practice. (This is Calabresi’s and Lindgren’s view, which is disputed by, among others, Duke University professor Paul Carrington and Cornell University professor Roger Cramton.)

I think that this is correct, and it’s important to see the connection between the two. For the reasons that Prof. B suggests, it’s difficult to be too hard on Rehnquist; staying on the court may literally be keeping him alive. Nor can presidents be blamed for making youth considerationon in Supreme Court nominations; the incentives of the system encourage it. Most countries have fixed tenures for high courts, and I think a (non-renewable) fixed tenure is clearly the best policy. (There are alternative ways of doing it; Canada, for example, has an age limit. This strikes me an inferior, because the incentive to appoint young judges remains.) In addition to the problems Levinson discusses, fixed tenures have the additional advantage of greatly lessening the randomness of which Presidents get to appoint justices. A party, under a fixed tenure system, can only dominate the Supreme Court if it is able to consistently win the White House and Senate. (This is relevant to other federal courts too, of course, but less so: the workload in other federal courts is far more demanding and the position is less powerful, so few justices stay on for lengthyty period.) Some people protest that this will make Supreme Court appointments a more prominent part of Presidential campaigns–this strikes me as a feature, not a bug. Voters should take the issue into consideration if they think it’s important, and should be aware of the stakes in advance.

I doubt that it will ever happen, but fixed tenures for court appointments would be a significant improvement.

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