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Archive for December, 2005

Disgrace

[ 0 ] December 22, 2005 |

For a hockey fan, the Olympics can actually provide something useful: an equivalent to soccer’s World Cup. The level of hockey in Salt Lake in 2002 was incredible, showing what a game that had grown logy could be, and culminated in a terrific final game, with the good guys winning. (It was also beneficial for my parochial interests, as the final game demonstrated Jarome Iginla having made the transition from very good player to player good enough to drag the Flames within a goal of the Stanley Cup.) I’ve been looking forward to the 2006 tournament for a long time.

Unfortunately, the experience–particularly for a fan of Team Canada–will be sullied by the inclusion of Vancouver Horsefuckers Canucks thug Todd Bertuzzi, who at the culmination of a series of brawling initiated by the Canucks in response to a (perfectly legal) hit in a previous game, grabbed onto the jersey of Avs forward Steve Moore and then sucker punched-him in the back of the head, and tried to continue to pummel Moore as he laid on the ice with a broken neck. (Had players intervened a second later, Moore might not be alive right now.) Inexcusably, Gary Bettman allowed him to return this year, although he missed only the tail end of the ’04 season and the Canucks’ glorious 7-game upset playoff defeat. His inclusion in the Olympic Team is even worse. What’s particularly bad is that the selection is borderline at best on the merits; in the high-tempo, large ice surface Olympic game younger, better, faster and more disciplined young players like Spezza, Staal and Crosby would be far more useful. And there’s also some serious nepotism going on here with Canada’s 3-man management team: Hockey Canada’s Steve Tambellini is a longtime Canucks executive, and the other marginal picks (Ryan Smyth, Shane Doan, and Kris Draper) have some connection to Gretzky, Lowe, or both. But to have Bertuzzi represent Team Canada would be indefensible even if he actually deserved to be selected.

Hopefully they will be overruled by the Olympic Committee. If not, there’s always the women’s team to cheer for unequivocally…

NR–Fifteenth Amendment: Views Differ

[ 0 ] December 22, 2005 |

Brad DeLong notes that the National Review now has an online archive, which is going to do some serious damage to the “conservatives have always been liberals” narrative favored by the National Review as well as the Sean Hannitys of the world. (After all, some liberal Republicans thoroughly despised by movement conservatives voted for the Civil Rights Act, so really, it’s liberals that opposed civil rights!) I think I may have to shell out 5 bucks for a 4-pack myself–1964 and 1965 should be amusing. Anything else I should be looking up?

Kong

[ 0 ] December 22, 2005 |

I share Matt’s impression of King Kong. I enjoyed the film, but it was clearly a mess. Easily 45 minutes should have found its way onto the cutting room floor. People too often seem to think that directors have a perfect vision for their films, one that is somehow more genuine or authentic than that of producers or studio execs. To some extent this is true, but a producer can and should force a director to exercise some discipline.

That said, the story remains compelling, and there are some interesting elements. Jack Black’s performance has been treated as an Orson Welles impression, but I felt that Black was playing Peter Jackson. He seemed, to me, to embody Jackson’s quest to put Kong back on the big screen, from the clearly laudable elements to the very troubling. The least necessary addition to the story was the inclusion of a friendship between two members of the crew. The relationship took up a lot of time, but was not well fleshed out, and its meaning was unclear. Perhaps most awkward was the discussion of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which fell completely flat.

This last is somewhat interesting, because I think that a comparison of Kong and Conrad could prove productive. The represent very different interpretations of the collision of the West with the colonial other, both of which are subversive in their own way. However, it’s painfully obvious that the flick was not the place to play this conversation out.

Stark Raving Terror

[ 0 ] December 22, 2005 |

A tale of horror and redemption from the Washington Post:

When Linda Cerniglia went back to school, it took her almost seven years to get through all the prerequisites, the labs, the research. And it took a thief just moments to grab her purse, with the only copy of her master’s thesis stored on a tiny jump drive inside.

Hold the snide remarks about not backing up your thesis, and consider the true horror of this. Your thesis is gone. Gone. Gone. All that work, gone. I might have just had a heart attack at that point. Read on…

She designed an experiment, analyzed CT scans, ran statistics, studied research and — slowly — began to write her thesis.

“It was so painful,” she said. “I would rather go outside and dig a hole all day long than write.”

She tried to trick herself into working on it, by going to a coffee shop or finding a sunny picnic table in the park. She could use a computer anywhere, because she had all the research on a jump drive, a tiny, portable memory-storage device about the size of a cigarette lighter.

Heh. How true. I wonder if it would be easier re-writing the thesis, given that you’ve already broken down the mental barriers necessary to put something into words. My guess is no; from my experience of losing posts on Blogger or long e-mails, I can report that I usually just get bitter and angry, sometimes returning to an idea, sometimes not. For a whole thesis, I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say that I’d bag the whole thing after losing a hundred pages or so, but it would be really, really difficult for me to go on. Anyway…

That night she couldn’t sleep, tortured by visions of her lost jump drive. The next morning, Cerniglia began to think about what she would do if she were the thief. Get out of there fast, speed out on the Beltway, then dump the purse.

There was a chance, just a chance.

She was going to retrace his steps, go to every store he hit. She would talk to security guards, check lost-and-found, scour the parking lots.

So that day, she drove to Greenbelt, and as soon as she parked she saw a big trash bin behind a Wendy’s, like a beacon. It was perfect. “It was open. It was hidden. I thought, ‘That’s it — if it’s going to be anywhere, it’s going to be there.’ “

She started pulling out broken-down boxes. She didn’t care about the trash, even if it was greasy slop from a fast-food place. “No cockroach, no rat, no creature from the dark was going to keep me from my jump drive,” she said. “Nothing is as bad as the thought of rewriting that thesis.”

She saw a flash of aqua cloth. Her heart pounded — it looked like her workout pants. “Then I see my gym bag. I jumped into the dumpster. I’m throwing things out of the way. I see my driver’s license.”

And there, at the bottom, was her black leather purse. She unzipped it, reached in, and felt her fingers close around — her jump drive.

People driving by stared: A 5-foot-4 43-year-old woman jumping up and down in a trash bin, screaming.

The obvious lesson is to back up early and often. All of my relevant files are on my home desktop, my laptop, my work desktop, and in cyberspace. The second lesson is that the proper response to having the only copy of your thesis stolen is not a two week bender, which would have been my solution, but rather a carefully thought out and efficiently executed recovery plan.

Strike Advance

[ 0 ] December 22, 2005 |

According to the press conference being held now by the mediator, if I understand it correctly, the union leadership in the NYC transit strike will recommend a return to work for later today. This doesn’t guarantee an end to the strike, but the affirmative recommendation from leadership makes it likely. Hopefully there will be a fair deal, and Mayor Rich will stop his disgraceful rhetoric.

One more point I think should be made. One of the key conservative talking points about this strike is that it hurts working people the most. This is, of course, correct. A transit strike does indeed hurt poor people the most (although in NYC the pain is far more broadly felt than in any other American city; I work in a middle-class profession, and not a single one of my colleagues commutes by car.) But it’s also neither here not there; to blame the union for these effects is just begging the question. The predictable effects of the strike are the responsibility of those who are responsible for the strike, and given their last-minute sabotage of the negotiations I believe the bulk of the responsibility of the MTA. Moreover, the class effects of a transit strike are true of pretty much every strike; if you can only strike in contexts where there are completely neutral effects, strikes will be rare indeed. If grocery workers go on strike, wealthy people can better afford to order groceries by delivery, to eat out, to drive to the Whole Foods that isn’t on strike. etc. etc. etc. Having money makes life more convenient; it’s pretty straightforward. But the class effects of a strike are not an argument against a strike unless you’re opposed to it in the first place.

Greenhouse has the story.

…this is a great point by Atrios:

There’s a really weird class resentment going on. White collar workers “know” they deserve more money than blue collar workers. Some blue collar workers, ones in unions and skilled workers, can make decent money. Since a lot of white collar workers actually don’t get paid very well, they resent the hell out of the fact that some uneducated lout gets to buy a nicer house than they do. And, thus, we get the out of touch media coverage of the NYC transit strike.

Yep. And in addition, a lot of people seem to ignore the fact that there are other important things about a job aside from the pay. It’s true that many journalists (and academics) don’t get paid exceptionally well. But it’s also true that these jobs are considerably more pleasant than, say, picking dead rats off of subway tracks. People in physically demanding blue collar jobs should be paid well. When you have a job that you actually enjoy doing, that’s both a rare privelege and a significant utility beyond your salary. Quit sneering at blue collar workers who have the middle class incomes they deserve.

Fake Conservertarianism Ends In Camps

[ 0 ] December 21, 2005 |

I think it’s worth noting the implications of believing that the President has the inherent authority to trump legal requirements during wartime, and then applying this claim to the unendable “war on terror,” whether this manifests itself in indifference to or active support for effectively superconstitutional presidential powers. If this argument is correct, then it’s not just the Fourth Amendment that’s affected; presumably the president’s authority to work within the “war paradigm” transcends other constitutional limits as well. And as we know from WWII, the Supreme Court argued that this included the Fourteenth Amendment as well:

It should be noted, to begin with, that all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect. That is not to say that all such restrictions are unconstitutional. It is to say that courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny. Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.

[...]

It is said that we are dealing here with the case of imprisonment of a citizen in a concentration camp solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States. Our task would be simple, our duty clear, were this a case involving the imprisonment of a loyal citizen in a concentration camp because of racial prejudice. Regardless of the true nature of the assembly and relocation centers — and we deem it unjustifiable to call them concentration camps, with all the ugly connotations that term implies — we are dealing specifically with nothing but an exclusion order. To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military dangers which were presented, merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and, finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders — as inevitably it must — determined that they should have the power to do just this.

You can recognize in Black’s reasoning here every element of the arguments used by apologists for the illegal wiretaps. The executive should be accorded great deference; Congressional delegations of authority should be interpreted as broadly as possible; and even explicit constitutional provisions don’t really apply to presidential actions in wartime because the war changes the nature of the actions in a fundamental way. Except that there’s one difference: the legal arguments in favor of the internment are stronger. The internment at least took place during a clear-cut military conflict of immense scale between nation-states, rather than an operation of inherently indeterminate length against an ever-changing array of stateless organizations that contains elements of both armed conflict and ordinary police action. And Congress actually did grant the relevant authority in the internment case (although, of course, irrelevant to me, since Congress cannot confer on the President the power to violate the Constitution, although a grant of authority can legitimately compel greater deference to the executive on more ambiguous questions.) If you accept the view of Posner, Goldstein et al., then Korematsu was right. And, therefore, the president has the right to strip a class of people of their property and force them to relocate to camps based solely on their race with no individualized suspicion and scant evidence of a genuine military threat, as long as there’s a war on. And, as Rob and Katherine point out, since unlike WWII a war on a method has no formal endpoint, this would mark a radical and permanent change in our constitutional structure on extraordinarily shaky grounds.

And, of course, my claim that this chain of reasoning ends logically in justifying Korematsu isn’t merely hypothetical, starting of course with Malkin, whose extraordinarily shoddy book was enough to cause Glenn Reynolds to reconsider his purported opposition to the internment. And this logic has–in a sense, to his credit, at least as far as intellectual inetgrity is concerned–been embraced by Posner himself:

This commenter takes issues with a statement that I once made to the effect that I thought the Supreme Court had made the correct decision in the Korematsu case, when it refused to invalidate an army order, approved by President Roosevelt (and by Earl Warren, who at the time was the governor of California), removing persons of Japanese extraction from the west coast in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor. In hindsight, it is apparent that the order was erroneous–that the Japanese-Americans did not pose a threat to the nation and that the order was influenced by racism. But the wisdom of hindsight is treacherous. In March of 1942 when the order was issued, just three months after Pearl Harbor, there was not only fear that Japan would attack the continental United States, but also a need to demonstrate resoluteness in a war for which the nation was not prepared.

So let’s be clear about what the logic of this Schmittian position is: in wartime, the President can trump the 14th Amendment rights of American citizens, despite extensive evidence of racism and little evidence of military necessity, merely to “demonstrate resoluteness.” And we’re in a war now, and there’s no conceivable way of ending the war. This is where Bush’s apologists want to take us. I don’t know about you, but I’m not coming along. I prefer to fight to protect constitutional governance from the terrorists rather than capitulating pre-emptively.

Damon to the Yanks

[ 0 ] December 21, 2005 |

Bleh.

It’s too much money, not that it matters to the Yankees. Damon has been a plus defender in centerfield, although there are some signs of decline. Offensively, he was worse in 2005 than 2004, but he’s been kind of up and down over the course of his career, and I wouldn’t be stunned to see him pull together some good years at the plate with the Yankees. There’s no question that Damon is significantly better than the mess that was Bernie Williams and Bubba Crosby.

My thinking is that it makes the Yankees better for two years, then becomes a problem. Given that the Yankees have a LOT of aging players, it’s not too bad of an idea to try to win right now.

Erasing History

[ 0 ] December 21, 2005 |

Eric Muller has an interesting finding with respect to Concerned Alumni for Princeton, the group whose concern was that women and minorities would ruin campus life and make it harder for unqualified legacies to be admitted. Ultra-reactionary judge Sam Alito, as most of you know, was still expressing pride in his membership in this racist and sexist organization in 1985. Muller was interested to see a 1984 article in KKKCAP’s newsletter, which drew national attention by revealing a Princeton freshman woman’s name and discussing her sexual history. I suppose what happened isn’t surprising:

I thought it’d be interesting to see what the offending article actually said, so I asked someone at Princeton to track down the magazine in the campus library and send me a copy. It turned out there was a long wait for this obscure publication; not only was it already checked out, but another patron was in the request line ahead of my researcher.

My researcher finally got his hands on the issue yesterday.

The article in question has been cut out.

(Also razored out, incidentally, is an article entitled “Sexuality at Old Nassau” in the March 1975 issue of CAP’s magazine.)

Seems like the right punchline for a story involving Strip Search Sammy and our Royal President.

Endless War

[ 0 ] December 21, 2005 |

The warrantless wiretap issue has grown too complex for me to comment substantively on, but a few points in this Jeff Goldstein post leapt out at me.

The first is Goldstein’s advice to the Democratic Party. Channeling Bull Moose, he asserts that questioning executive power is a bad strategic move

The Dems are putting themselves in a position just now to argue that what will no doubt be seen as legal technicalities—and those points are in dispute, even!—should have prevented him from taking steps necessary to protect the homeland, steps that DID in fact protect us. And by extension, they will be arguing that as a group they would have worried more about a contentious legal battle over a now unworkable statute (getting warrants on automated phone chains—which it is not clear were even legally necessary, provided the AG gave notice—would have been impossible) than they would have about taking bold actions to protect the country, knowing that we are indeed at war.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating here: just because some Dem elites don’t believe we are actually “at war”—preferring instead to think of terrorism as essentially a law enforcement problem that can be well-handled within the purview of the criminal justice system—that doesn’t mean we are not, in fact, at war.² Otherwise, their authorization of the use of force against al Qaeda could be seen as cynical at best and disengenuous at worst.

First, even if such criticism were unpopular, it would be necessary; the role of an opposition party in a democracy IS to question the activities of the executive, especially when that executive seems to be pressing against (let alone leaping over), its legal boundaries. Second, and more important, I get the sense that Goldstein is whistling past the graveyard. A fair number of conservatives, all with more integrity than he, seem to have been very troubled by the creeping power of the executive. Goldstein (and Wittman’s) response to genuine concern on the part of the opposition seems to be a squeaky “You’ll be sorry!” without resort to any analysis of (and, really, having little interest in) the actual political situation. The long and short of it is that Goldstein can save his advice for someone who cares. The Democratic Party would be ill-served to take advice from those who would be delighted by its destruction.

Second, I hope that Goldstein and others understand that when they derive extended executive power from the authorization of force against Al Qaeda (and I cannot comment substantively on whether that is a legitimate interpretation), they quite literally (and I mean this in the intended sense) are endorsing increased executive power forever. The war against Al Qaeda cannot be won, such that there will be a surrender signed on the deck of a battleship (or a UAV) at its completion, bringing hostilities to an end. To launch a war against Al Qaeda and terror more genuinely, then treat it as an actual war rather than as a military/police action, is to create a permanent set of hostilities. To then go so far as saying that this state of hostilities justifies additional executive power is a two-step; Goldstein ought to just go ahead and endorse the expansion of the purview of the executive, because what Congress, the courts, and the people give up to it now ain’t never coming back.

Third, and given that I come to this as an observer with no legal experience, this would concern me if I wanted to agree with Goldstein:

On several fronts, then, the legal question is murky (and the paradigm you choose will affect the degree of murkiness you see)—but there should be no doubt that, wherever you come down on that front, simply that there is a compelling legal argument to be made on the President’s behalf

Citing the fact that there is an argument to be made, rather than making and endorsing the argument, seems to me to be a sign of weakness. In his post, Goldstein does much more of the former than the latter. I would prefer to hear, were I a Bush administration supporter, that the argument was actually more compelling than the arguments on the other side. That Goldstein liberally dribbles his post with suggestions that the activities would be cool even if they weren’t legal would make me even more uncomfortable if I wanted to believe my President wasn’t breaking the law.

The Strike

[ 0 ] December 21, 2005 |

Like Roy, I had an uneventful day today, but I will be venturing into Manhattan tomorrow, and will also have to go in Friday because my parents are in town. I’m putting the over/under on walking to the Upper East Side from Astoria at 70 minutes…

On the political issue, the latest revelations about the strike make it clear that the union is right. Just as they were about to reach a deal, the MTA decided to ask for a huge increase in pension contributions from new workers:

On the final day of intense negotiations, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, it turns out, greatly altered what it had called its final offer, to address many of the objections of the transit workers’ union. The authority improved its earlier wage proposals, dropped its demand for concessions on health benefits and stopped calling for an increase in the retirement age, to 62 from 55.

But then, just hours before the strike deadline, the authority’s chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, put forward a surprise demand that stunned the union. Seeking to rein in the authority’s soaring pension costs, he asked that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay. The union balked, and then shut down the nation’s largest transit system for the first time in a quarter-century.

Yet for all the rage and bluster that followed, this war was declared over a pension proposal that would have saved the transit authority less than $20 million over the next three years.
[...]

Robert Linn, a former New York City labor commissioner, questioned the transportation authority’s decision – with the backing of the mayor and governor – to go to the mat over pensions with a union that can exact huge pain on the city in a year when the authority was enjoying a $1 billion surplus.

“They might have picked a union that was more willing to consider the subject,” Mr. Linn said. “It not just the considerable economic power of this union, it’s also the timing,” just before Christmas. “It’s tremendously problematic.”

Appalling–the union had no choice, and it’s just unconscionable that the government would force this strike at this time. Julia also makes the very important point that Bloomberg and Pataki wanted the MTA–which is now willing to force a strike over $120 million–to sell a billion-dollar plus piece of property for a fraction of the market value to build a stadium New Yorkers didn’t want. I would add as well that the MTA has been forced to take on debt because the state government has forced the MTA to borrow rather than receiving the subsidies that suburban road-building seems always to be able to get, and the MTA (stuffed with Pataki’s lickspittles) hasn’t done anything about it.

And, of course none of this is surprising. Pataki is serving upstate and wealthy interests–that’s what he was elected to do–and Bloomberg is his poodle. Here’s an idea: maybe the New York Times should stop endorsing Republicans for state and local offices. They don’t represent the city’s interests. (Not, of course, that they’ve learned anything. There seems to be a WSJ-sized disconnect between the editorial and news pages, as the paper is continuing to back its anti-urban, anti-mass transit Republican buddies.)

More from Lindsay and Steve.

The Smell Of Burning Straw

[ 0 ] December 20, 2005 |

Predictably, Glenn Reynolds jumps on the silly and utterly beside-the-point “but Bill Clinton did it!” bandwagon with both feet, while equally predictably being dishonest enough to conflate the crucial difference between Clinton’s rhetoric and Bush’s policies. He’s as constant as the tides; you have to give him that.

The other notable thing about the post, however, is that he uses the word “Bushitler” twice, arguing that “this is the line that’s being pushed” while not offering, of course, a link to a single Bush critic using the term. This is another classic wingnut strategy, which I’m sure you’ve noticed before. For example, if you see the word “womyn” being used in an argument and the Reagan administration has ended, it’s safe to say that you’re dealing with a reactionary anti-feminist. Similarly, if you see the words “Bushitler” or “Chimpy McHitlerburton” 9 times out of 10 it’s being used by a reactionary administration hack, and the phrase is inserted where a substantive argument would more usefully belong. You’re most likely to see the term, of course, whenever someone like Reynolds might otherwise have to confront a conflict between his nominal commitment to civil liberties and his very real commitment to the big-government conservatism of the modern Republican Party. Yes, yes, we get it–Bush is, in fact, much better than the worst dictators in history. Not all forms of government illegality are equally odious, and genocide is indeed orders of magnitude worse than illegal wiretaps. Can’t argue with that. If that’s the standard you have to use, it makes your support of him despite your alleged non-partisan libertarianism even more pathetic than it already is.

…although, admittedly, he’s not afraid to make substantive arguments if it’s about expressing sneering contempt for working people and people who live in cities, or his fondness for union-busting.

Campaign costs

[ 0 ] December 20, 2005 |

Here’s a question: at what level of popularity does a Governor or Senator not need to bother to run for reelection? Alex Oveis mentions the story of William Proxmire’s 1982 campaign, on which he purportedly spent $145.10. An icon by this point, he won with 64% of the vote. In the same post, Alex notes CT Governor Jodi Rell’s top aide is under investigation for some possible illegal campaign solicitations. Elsewhere in the blogosphere today I learned that Rell is the nation’s most popular governor, with a staggering 77/16 approval/disapproval rating. A scandal seems like the easiest way to bring those numbers closer together. But with those kind of numbers, unless there’s a very well known and popular Democrat being groomed for the race, it’s hard to see why Rell is bothering much at all with fundraising, let alone legally questionable fundraising, especially fundraising that might appear to conflict with her earlier pledge about not taking money from the Republican Party. I’m not suggesting many incumbents could get away with a non-campaign, but those with the political icon-status and/or approval ratings above 70% seem like they certainly might be able to. Have political campaigns changed so much since 1982 that Proxmire’s approach is untenable in all statewide races? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for Rell to have that campaign money go to state house races?

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