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Archive for August, 2006

[ 0 ] August 25, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

Break Up The Reds!

[ 0 ] August 25, 2006 |

Having beaten the Giants while the Cardinals were busy getting swept by the Pedro-and-Glavine-free Metropolitans, I note that Rob’s Redlings are now tied for first in the Central. I doubt they’ll be able to win it, but it really is remarkable–and predictable before the season–how much the Cards have let themselves go. It’s hard to say why the NL is currently in such a down cycle, especially now that the Mets are back under competent management, but the Cardinals’ fascination with low-OBP vets and third-rate reclamation projects has caught up to them, as has John Schurholz’s, while the high-resource Cubs have a similar fetish without the kind of core those teams have; they’re becoming the same kind of joke they were in the late 70s. And meanwhile, the Giants have been squandering Bonds’ last years by trying to assemble a team that saves healthcare costs because everyone on the team qualifies for Medicare. (Although admittedly even at age 39 Vizquel is as good as any shortstop in the league except Reyes, and Moises can still hit when he’s healthy.) As for who will win the wildcard, beats me; I think Rowand’s injury all but eliminates the Phils, and while I stubbornly think the Braves are the best of the non-division leaders they’re too far back. The Reds may still hold on to a playoff spot.

Ok, Lee, Now is the Time to Step Away from the Computer…

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

Self-parody cannot describe the place that Lee Siegel has gone. I must admit that I now have deep sympathy for anyone working in the offices of the New Republic. Watch out for the crazy old man, Brad, and this time I don’t mean Marty Peretz. We now learn that the Democrats are out of power because, apparently, they condone pedophilia…

Is it any wonder that conservatives run the country when liberals respond like growling Pavlovian dogs to any suggestion that people cannot indulge their every sexual appetite?

[...]

And all the liberal automatons, these clueless knuckleheads, who have been programmed by some Woodstock genome to applaud any sexual impulse, praise Kincaid’s concern for children, and for innocent citizens persecuted by the law.

In his rage, Siegel has forgotten to provide even a hint of evidence that James Kincaid condones pedophilia, nor does he bother to show that liberals are inclined to “applaud any sexual impulse”. All he can manage in inchoate rage, lashing out at imagined demons. But it gets worse:

I hope I won’t upset anyone’s world-view if I say that in regard to fucking and to various other sexual practices, I am an unbridled, even unrestrainable, enthusiast

This is exactly the last piece of information that I ever wanted to receive about Lee Siegel. I thought that “Descent” was kind of scary, then I come home and find Siegel ranting on about his raging libido. Not good. Not good at all.

This last paragraph I just couldn’t make out at all. It seems like a group of unrelated sentences strung together. I leave it to your interpretation:

I also believe that progressive politics or social attitudes have absolutely nothing to do with open sexual expression. Some of the biggest creeps I’ve known screw with total abandon, and some of the most decent people I’ve known are not sexual at all. Do you want a Democratic president, and a Democratic Congress? Cut the cord between progressive politics and the ethics of cultural abandon. The tortured debate over abortion isn’t about the biological status of a fetus. It’s about the limits of sexual permissiveness. Which, in the case of pedophilia, is about commodifying helpless persons.

If I’m reading the last part right, Siegel is not only confirming Scott’s argument that opposing abortion is really about constraining female sexuality, but is suggesting that this is the only meaningful justification for abortion laws, and, moreover, is arguing that abortion and pedophilia are more or less the same. Did I get that right, or am I misinterpreting?

UPDATE: Ezra has done some remarkably rich research. Apparently Lee remains troubled that he did not become aroused in the face of a flirtatious, 16 year old Uma Thurman.

Happy Birthday

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

Happy 107th, Jorge.

My favorite Borges is The South.

They went outside, and while there was no hope in Dahlmann, there was no fear, either. As he crossed the threshold, he felt that on that first night in the sanatorium, when they’d stuck that needle in him, dying in a knife fight under the open sky, grappling with his adversary, would have been a liberation, a joy, and a fiesta. He sensed that had he been able to choose or drean his death that night, this is the death he would have dreamed or chosen.

Descent

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

Uh…

Not going spelunking anytime soon. No no no…

Good Riddance, Tiny Pluto

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

I, for one, welcome Pluto’s expulsion from the family of planets. Why don’t I think Pluto should be a planet? Because it’s obviously not a planet; it’s very small, way out there, a lot like a bunch of other non-planet objects, and has a weird orbit. Weird space object? Yes. Planet? No.

Goodbye, Pluto. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Crackpot Tax Protesting: It’s Not Just For A Minority of the Libertarian Party Anymore

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

To given an indication of how much worse things could get, a veritable Federalist Society All-Star panel of judges on the D.C. Circuit (Douglas Ginsburg–who, if I he [much as I'd like to take credit for that--ed.] didn’t smoke pot with his students would probably be on the Supreme Court today– Judith Rogers, and Janice Rogers Brown) held that the federal government doesn’t have the authority to tax damages gained in a suit by a whistleblower after she was blacklisted, arguing that such damages are not “income” and hence beyond the scope of the 16th Amendment. Reaction from tax law profs has been overwhelmingly hostile; see also Marty Lederman and Stephen Bainbridge (“Let a 1000 lawsuits bloom. Every tax nut in the country is probably getting ready to file suit challenging some tax or another using Murphy as a template.”) At TaxLawProfs, Steve Bank explains the peril of law office “originalism”:

This is an odd application of original intent or even original meaning analysis (assuming you agree that either is relevant). The court acknowledges that there were a number of revenue acts before Congress even addressed damage recoveries, thus providing at least five years of separation from the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment to any opinion on this issue. Five years is not long, but the onset of World War I in the intervening years, plus the dramatic increase in the top marginal rates from 6% in 1913 to 65% in 1918, radically changed the landscape under which the issue was considered. That renders the 1918 view of the situation hardly the final word on what was the commonly understood meaning in 1913, prior to World War I. Even then, the opinion was from the Attorney General and not from Congress or any committee of Congress. More importantly, during this period, the definition of income was far from settled. The income tax was only five years old and Congress was borrowing from economic definitions, legal definitions, and popular definitions. The economic understanding of the term “income” at the time was arguably evenly split between those advocating an accretion tax notion of income (e.g., Haig) and those advocating a consumption tax notion of income (e.g., Fisher). The latter would not have supported a tax on capital gains, although the Supreme Court held that it was permissible in a 1921 decision. As I have argued in the context of tax-free reorganizations, the provisions adopted in 1918 were an attempt to compromise between these conflicting definitions of income so as to assure a proper revenue to pay for war expenses while still maintaining the appearance of fairness and responding to heavy lobbying from business and the wealthy. The notion of taxing people who recovered damages during this war period may have violated our sense of fair play when war profiteers were seeking to avoid paying tax on their bounty.

Under the Murphy Court’s analysis, it is not clear whether stock dividends should be taxable (since Treasury held them to be so soon after the 16th amendment was ratified in 1913) or not (since the Supreme Court held their taxation to be unconstitutional – in the only instance in which a tax statute was struck down as unconstitutional – in 1920 in Eisner v. Macomber). There are many other examples, including examples of Treasury flip-flopping on its own positions. The law was in flux in part for the very reason that there had been no “commonly understood” definition of income for tax purposes at the time the 16th amendment was ratified.

Of course, even if the historical analysis were less cursory than what Ginsburg’s, this demonstrates one of the fundamental problems with originalism: attributing a fixed, singular meaning to broad, ambiguous concepts whose definition is often a point of significant political contestation. For most constitutional questions of any interest, this is simply impossible, and assertions of centrainty generally represent policy choices on the part of the judge.

Why Founding A Publication Based on the Principle of Contrarianism For Its Own Sake Is A Bad Idea, Part MCLVII

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

Shorter Jack Shafer: I have yet to be convinced that an article exclusively about why men shouldn’t marry women with incomes over $30K isn’t gender neutral. The fact that the author took gender-neutral data and used it entirely to bash “career women” just proves my point! (Via Feministe.)

Write Some More About the Baseball Caps, Lee

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

Via Ezra, Lee Siegel denounces James Kinkaid for daring to wonder why so many people find the Jon Benet Ramsey story so fascinating. Siegel writes

Like a lot of academics who had their heyday in the theory-ridden eighties, Kincaid thinks that the more media attention something gets, the less reality it has. He apparently has never tried to imagine what kind of society would let the murder of a little girl pass without massive amounts of attention and anxiety.

which is about the least helpful thing that someone could write about JonBenet Ramsey; as Ezra correctly points out, and as James Kincaid pointed out in his Slate piece, thousands of children are killed and molested every year, and virtually none of them received the kind of attention that this case did. It’s obvious that something else is going on (Ezra suggests class and race, Kincaid suggests a cultural fascination with child sexuality), but Siegel would prefer not even to think about the question of why the Ramsey story, rather than some other tale of child-rape and murder, has gripped the media.

It gets worse. Siegel goes on to suggest that Kincaid (who has done a lot of academic work on the sexualization of children) is in favor of adult-child sexual relationships. He doesn’t consider Kincaid’s main point, which is that there’s something more to the public fascination and disgust with child beauty pageants than we’ve been willing to let on. Kincaid:

As many as 800,000 are beaten horribly. Even more are subject to emotional abuse and neglect. How much attention do they get? Instead, we focus our attention, almost all of it, on stranger-danger: things like abductions, of which there are between 100 and 200 annually. Our carefully controlled outrage is generated for our own purposes, certainly not to protect the children.

And when kids are indeed abused, who is doing it? Mom and Dad and Uncle Ted and Aunt May. As little as 2 percent of child abuse is committed by strangers. Again, why are we exercised over JonBenet?

The case does many things for us, of course. It makes us feel both titillated and virtuous; it makes us feel smart. Most centrally, it makes flattering distinctions between good parents (us) and bad parents (the Ramseys). Even if the Ramseys didn’t kill their daughter, they exposed her to lascivious eyes in beauty contests, which is about as bad. Notice how much press is directed to abusing the Ramseys, to suggesting that (unlike us) their relationship to their child was unhealthy, vicious, exploitative.

Right. It doesn’t take a genius to note that we are as a culture obsessed with child sexuality, and that the child beauty contest represents a space on the continuum of that obsession rather than something radically alien to a “healthy” culture which would never, ever, ever display children in an even mildly sexualized fashion. Nor is it absurd to say that we derive a certain joy from seeing people like the Ramsey’s get what they “deserve”, just (as Kincaid points out) we get immense satisfaction from the depiction of the distinction between the normal and unhealthy at the end of Little Miss Sunshine.

None of this is to say that child beauty pageants aren’t bizarre and troubling, but the story isn’t nearly as simple as Siegel would like to believe.

UPDATE: Siegel has moved past simply suggesting that Kincaid might be a pedophile, and is now asserting that, in fact, Kincaid IS a pedophile. The evidence? A quote from Kincaid’s work taken, out of context, by the NAMBLA website. The quote:

It is possible that the pedophile’s marginal position alerts him not only to self-interest but the pains suffered by all the outcast. This is not a necessary consequence of pedophilia, of course, any more than virtue is of poverty. Still, that passion for helping the child is so strong in relations [between men and boys] that even the police acknowledge it.

If you’re Lee Siegel, writing the above is definitive evidence that you like to screw little boys. If you’re sane, the above is obviously about the motivation and self-justification of the pedophile, and is hardly surprising; of course the pedophile thinks that he’s doing the kid a favor, and of course the police take such self-justification into account.

Christ, where does the TNR find such people? Say what you will about blogofascism, but I don’t recall Kos ever casually tossing around allegations of pedophilia…

Plan B Finally Approved

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

The FDA does, at long last, the right thing. I’m not going to give much administration much credit for finally getting beyond letting the likes of David Hager interpose his crackpot beliefs between American women and the scientific evidence. But kudos to Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray for forcing the issue. And when a Democratic administration takes over hopefully the pointless and arbitrary age restriction–do we consider teenage pregnancies more desirable?–but this is a major step in the right direction.

When Affirmative Action Was White

[ 6 ] August 24, 2006 |

Ira Katznelson’s recent book is a tour de force, a lucid account of an important historical phenomenon which incorporates the insights of historical institutionalist analysis without bogging down in jargon. The book–which begins with a discussion of LBJ’s “To Fulfill These Rights” speech–consists largely of demonstrating how the great social programs of the New Deal and Fair Deal had the paradoxical effect of increasing racial inequality, and moreover shows that this was not an accidental byproduct but a quite deliberate effect of the way these programs were structured. (There is also a concluding chapter about the implications of this history for affirmative action, a discussion I’ll leave for a subsequent post.)

It is true that the major social programs of the New and Fair Deals–the most important of which are the bundle of programs that fall under the Social Security Act and the G.I. Bill–did not explicitly apportion benefits on the basis of race. But, of course, this does not prove a lack of intent to discriminate–as most of you know, African Americans were almost entirely disenfranchised in the South for many decades although even in its most reactionary periods the Supreme Court held explicit racial denials of the vote to violate the Fifteenth Amendment. What happened is that Southern legislators–especially in the Senate–used their overrepresentation both in terms of seats and in terms of leadership in committees–to carefully structure programs so that they would not threaten Jim Crow (which, of course, depended on large numbers of African Americans being held in de facto peonage relationships and in a general lack of economic equality.) Democratic Presidents, who needed Southern votes to get the programs through, had little choice but to acquiesce, and civil rights leaders–who understood that the programs helped African Americans in absolute terms and knew that it would be impossible to pass more equitable legislation–were placed in a terrible bind but generally (and rationally) supported the legislation.

With Social Security, the key provision was the exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers, fields that (especially in the South) were overwhelmingly African American. In addition to that, the administration of New Deal programs was left to state officials, who in the apartheid states applied them as arbitrarily as you would expect:

By 1935, ten southern states had lower relief rates for rural blacks than whites [although blacks were more likely to objectively qualify], representing not actual need ‘but discrepancies in administrative practices and standards’ in situations where there was wide local discretion. In some Georgia counties, for example, federal relief monies excluded all blacks; in Mississippi relief was limited to under 1 percent. (37)

The programs under the G.I. Bill had similar structural factors that actually increased material racial inequality. First of all, segregation of the Armed Forces and the much higher rejection rate for blacks during W.W. II meant that a much lower percentage of blacks were eligible for the programs in the first place. Second, the segregation of higher education and the often decrepit state of primarily black vocational schools in the South meant that education opportunities offered by the government were far more beneficial to whites, and the federal government did not initially make any effort to use its spending power to disadvantage segregated schools. And, finally, as with the New Deal a significant degree of local administration was maintained. Rather than having the government administer the loans for subsidized mortgages, for example, the government largely went through private banks–who, of course, especially in the South were far less likely to provide capital to blacks. As Katznelson concludes, this legislation constituted affirmative action for whites–the largesse of the government’s social programs was not apportioned based strictly on need, but greatly (and intentionally) favored white people.

In addition to the obvious injustice involved, there are three more general points that I take from Katznelson’s analysis:

  • Looking at the effects of the G.I. Bill and its widening of racial inequality provides, I think, compelling evidence for the Krugman/Yglesias position that government policy affects ex ante distribution as well as changing existing patterns. Particularly since (as Katznelson emphasizes) differentials in wealth are much more enduring than differences in income, having access to higher education and home ownership has a major impact on future generations–and the fact that African Americans had much less access to these benefits surely continues to have large effects on distributions of wealth today.
  • Calling the Senate “the world’s greatest deliberative body” is something close to the opposite of the truth. Its malapportionment–far greater than could be justified by any reasonable interest in geographical representation–and the various rules that allow a minority of Senators to block legislation is largely undemocratic in itself. And these effects are compounded because the substantive views of the majority white southern legislators who have always benefited most from the malapportionment have frequently been appalling. Had the New Deal and Fair Deal legislation been designed in a Parliamentary system, many of these structural defects wouldn’t have existed.
  • This history also provides further evidence against the fetishization of “local control.” Sometime local administration can be valuable in providing particular expertise and adapting to local conditions, but it also increases the chances for arbitrary enforcement and the use of discretion to reinforce existing hierarchies that may be cross-cut to some degree at the national level. The presumption that local control and federalism are ipso facto good things lead to things like the U.S.’ completely irrational federal election system. There are many contexts in which federal administration and/or federal standards are very good things, and this is a particularly stark case in point. (And this also demonstrates a very large potential problem with funneling social spending through religious organizations, which–especially is they are given wide discretion–could easily lead to considerable discrimination against unpopular minorities.)

A Man Doesn’t Need A Maid

[ 0 ] August 23, 2006 |

Frequent contributor gmack sent me a link to this bit of self-parody, which is apparently part of a “make Steve Forbes’ economic theories look rational by comparison” campaign. Fortunately for me, its idiocy has already been thoroughly demonstrated by various sources. (Even Dr. Helen is willing to call it “sexist.”) To this commentary, I add only two points: 1)as is often the case, this kind of sexism is, in its way, as contemptuous of men as of women. The author doesn’t seem to consider than men might enjoy the company of intelligent, accomplished women, or indeed to consider that getting married might be anything but a way for men to avoid having to pay nannies, housekeepers, and hookers; 2)to mount my old hobbyhorse, I will note that aside from “pick up a broom” the other obvious answer to the possibility that if your wife has a job she’ll do 1.9 hours less housework per week is “who gives a shit?” Perhaps we should consider the possibility that this is a rational allocation of priorities rather than a horrible failure to meet the Platonic Ideal of Meaningless Domestic Busywork. Anyway, if having a neat house is important to you, nobody’s saying you can’t sacrifice your own work and/or leisure time, but if you’re not willing to perhaps you should ask yourself if you care if the bookshelves have a little dust on them.

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