Home / General / On Vick (and Sorkin)

On Vick (and Sorkin)


I’m glad Obama did this. I think that the following points should be obvious, although there seems to be substantial disagreement about them:

  • Convicted persons who have paid their debt to society have the right to earn a living.  You don’t have to root for Vick, of course, but I find the idea that the NFL should have suspended him for life or something is bizarre.
  • In the abstract, there is a very good argument that Vick deserved the severe punishment he received, perhaps more severe.   Perhaps as severely as the countless DUI cases playing the NFL who were slapped on the wrist and allowed to play with a minimum of controversy actually deserved.      But given the norms of actually existing American society, in which animals are systematically tortured and the fruits of this torture are widely and legally distributed and consumed, I find it pretty hard to justify giving Vick 2 years in federal prison.

While I’m on the subject, Anna North is 100% right about this silly Aaron Sorkin piece.   Let’s play “spot the glaring logical flaw” with respect to Sorkin’s argument that his anti-animal actions are so much more moral and ethical than Palin’s anti-animal actions:

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it’s hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting.


I’m able to make a distinction between you and me without feeling the least bit hypocritical. I don’t watch snuff films and you make them. You weren’t killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals. I can make the distinction between the two of us but I’ve tried and tried and for the life of me, I can’t make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing.

Granted, there’s a point there about Vick, although I derive a different lesson from it. But Sorkin’s whole argument collapses on the “killing for food/shelter/fashion” and “killing for fun” distinction. At least for someone of Sorkin’s location and income bracket, eating, wearing and/or sitting on animals is something you do…for pleasure. He doesn’t need to consume animal products, and the products he consumes are almost certainly derived from inhumane treatment. The fact that he prefers someone else to do the dirty work if anything makes him ethically worse than Palin, not superior — the bad faith on Sorkin’s part is worse. To be clear, as I say in the link above, my practices are no better than Sorkin’s — which is precisely why you’ll never in a million years see me getting up on my high horse about someone hunting, even if they’re filming it for a crappy reality show.

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  • Warren Terra

    I agree with Obama’s broader point, but I’m uncertain with this case because of the nature of the job. Vick is an entertainer; more than that, we’re constantly told that successful professional athletes are heroic figures, role models. I think there might be more leeway for ostracizing a professional entertainer and role model on the basis of their past actions for which they were punished than for other jobs.

    That said, I follow neither sports nor Vick, and I assume he has been ostentatiously penitent since getting out, if only to serve the PR needs of the Eagles and his own career. Maybe being out there in public living a reformed life makes his job as a professional entertainer all the more appropriate, and my more knee-jerk reaction is precisely wrong.

    • John

      Wouldn’t it be better to stop viewing professional athletes as role models?

      • wengler

        Our society propagates the idea that “success” is attained by someone who makes a lot of money and/or is famous and well-known.

        Athletes aren’t going to stop being role models anytime soon.

      • Warren Terra

        Well, I don’t tend to view them as role models – as you might have guessed when I said that I don’t follow sports. Somehow, though, my example doesn’t seem to be swaying society.

        More generally, as a would-be academic it really troubles me that our colleges absolutely dominate the airwaves one day a week, Saturday, but it’s just their sponsored sports teams, featuring a group of people essentially none of whom are really students; on that day and the rest of the week there is essentially no coverage of all the wonderful things our universities do.

  • Joe

    Obama used an entertainer to make a point and the fact he is more well known than some reformed drug addict might help more people think about it.

    I was a bit iffy on having the feds get involved in what amounts to an animal cruelty matter, the other stuff not likely to get this much attention (or probably prison time) w/o that.

    But, even with factory farming (of which, I’m no fan), I think is defensible to prosecute him. Our standards might be a bit arbitrary, but so be it. Lines are drawn and he crossed them. Equal protection doesn’t apply to animals yet, sorry Mr. Singer.

    Sorkin is mostly off. The animals, let’s say a veal calf, is not really too impressed with his argument. He seems a tad to gleeful about the “fun” he has with the products of animal cruelty to really have much of a case. No great fan of hunting, but he doesn’t come off that well.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I should be clear that I don’t object to his prosecution — he broke the law, and what he did was horrible. The sentence seemed a bit harsh.

      • Joe

        The overlap is not completely but I think the length of time also to some extent is influenced by the factors I referenced.

  • strategichamlet

    “we’re constantly told that successful professional athletes are heroic figures, role models”

    We are? Since the late 80s at least I feel I’ve been bombarded with the message that pro athletes are mostly flawed figures and the media will never ever tire of making us feel superior by gleefully digging into all their personal and moral failings.

    Scott, I think you hint at it, but would you agree that there is at least a whiff of racism in the whole anti-Vick stance? Certainly the hypocrisy on different types of animal abuse is deafening, but when it is also class and culture linked one can’t help but wonder.

    • Paul Campos

      Not speaking for Scott of course, but IMO there’s definitely more than a whiff of racism in the peculiar horror evoked by Vick’s crime. Dog fighting is strongly associated in the public mind with poor urban blacks.

      (Cornell law professors might want to note I’m not arguing that laws against dog fighting are racist).

      • cer

        There’s also a peculiar horror among people who have or spend a lot of time with pit bulls and hear people refer to them as “those fighting dogs like Mike Vick had.” It’s frustrating that that public image gets used in support of legal nonsense like Denver’s pit bull ban. The damage done is much deeper than the few dozen dogs he personally tortured.

        And people’s association of pit bulls with poor urban populations is also what allows people to demonize the breed.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Agreed with both Paul and cer.

        • As the once-owner of a Rottweiler, I concur.

      • Joe

        Perhaps, but the horror I read and heard (including on sports radio) did seem to focus on the fact people like dogs. This horror at times came from inner city minorities.

  • Juskimo

    I think this is a case where the crime that people are up in arms about is not the more significant crime. To me, the reason Vick got 2 years in federal prison had more to do with the fact that he was running an interstate gambling ring than that he was mean to dogs.

    • Kurzleg

      Perhaps, but I suspect it was the abuse of dogs that got the public’s sympathy, not the gambling.

      • cer

        I agree that the prosecution was so aggressive was the gambling which is precisely the reason why some of us aren’t totally cool with Vick and his amazing comeback story. Dogfighting is generally not taken seriously. I can completely get behind the sentiment that people coming out of prison should not be treated like pariahs but when the underlying justification directly or indirectly implies that torturing dogs is no big thing that’s a problem. It would be much more bold to come out in support of someone convicted of a drug crime. Hell, for that matter I don’t see a lot of people rallying behind Ricky Williams for openly discussing his drug use and mental illness.

        • Scott Lemieux

          That’s fair. For that matter, I wish Obama would speak up for Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire…

          • cer

            Yeah, when I think about victims of the drug war they’re not really who springs to mind.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Oh, of course; I was thinking of people similarly situated to Vick, but obviously no highly-compensated athlete is as deserving of presidential support as an actual drug war victim.

  • Anonymous

    Seems more like you got on your high horse about eating meat. Yawn.

    • Kurzleg

      Seems to me someone’s dismissive of legitimate issues inherent in the “meat industry” that supplies most of the meat people eat. Yawn.

      • Homer

        Seems to me someone is trying to drum up sympathy by equating the legitimate issues in the meat industry with the wanton killing of dogs.

        If you honestly believe that meat producers are engaging in behavior as heinous as Vick’s, you would be out taking violent action against them. Since you aren’t, I conclude your objection is merely a convenience that allows you to feel morally superior to others.

        • Kurzleg

          I’m not trying to draw any moral equivalence at all, and goodness knows I don’t feel morally superior to anyone when it comes to eating meat. It just bothers me that there are commenters like anonymous who seem so indifferent to the ways in which animals suffer so that we can get 99 cent cheeseburgers.

        • Malaclypse

          If you honestly believe that meat producers are engaging in behavior as heinous as Vick’s, you would be out taking violent action against them. Since you aren’t, I conclude your objection is merely a convenience that allows you to feel morally superior to others.

          Well, no. Obviously Vick’s behavior is as heinous as Vick’s, yet nobody is “taking violent action” against him. It is possible to find some behavior wrong, without believing that terroristic reprisal is the proper response. Since you presumably do not engage in violent reprisal, I’ll conclude that this debate tactic is one you think will score cheap points.

  • Kurzleg

    For a long while I had great disdain for hunting. It didn’t make sense to me that you’d want to go out and shoot a deer (for example) when you could buy chicken/beef/pork much more easily at the grocery store. It seemed inhumane to shoot an animal, almost as if hunters went out of their way to make the animals suffer.

    I’ve turned 180 degrees on this issue. With the knowledge of the quality of life that most animals raised for meat have, it has become clear to me that hunting is far more humane than our “meat industry.” And that’s without getting into the horrors of your typical abatoir. (Implied are the caveats that hunters eat what they kill and kill what they eat skillfully. I have not tolerance for so-called “trophy hunters.”)

    Sometimes I feel like we ought to thank hunters. They’re bringing into view something that’s utterly and completely hidden from the public’s view. That deer on the roof of the truck is a stark reminder of something we’ve largely forgotten: that in order for us to be able to pick up a steak in the grocery store or buy a Big Mac or Whopper an animal was killed.

    I can’t remember who said it, but the saying goes something like if people ever saw what went on in abatoirs they’d become vegetarians on the spot.

    Personally, I know that if I had to slaughter the animals I eat I’d eat much less of it. I try to limit my meat intake, and I try to buy organic & free range if only to increase the chances that the animal had a reasonably good quality of life before slaughter.

    • ChrisS

      Another thing about hunting is that since humans have pretty systematically eliminated large predators from the lower 48, there are no other checks on large herbivores (e.g., whitetail deer). Except them starving to death when there’s significant snow cover in the winter time.

      Hunting isn’t for everyone and, frankly, Palin shooting a caribou (six times), is pretty pointless other than for her to burnish her mama grizzly image. When she isn’t trying to shoot wolves from planes in a misguided attempt to improve an ecosystem.

      • Kurzleg

        Good points. I don’t hunt, but the people I know who do enjoy it but also are responsible about it (unlike Palin). The worst thing they can think of is wounding an animal and never finding it. There’s always that risk, which is why they try to be prudent about the shots they take and diligent about practicing their shooting.

        • DocAmazing

          Well, shooting another hunter, or a nearby householder, or a passenger in a car driving by are also quite bad, and I am aware of cases of each. Hunting’s like driving: recognize that you’re doing something inherently unsafe and take all necessary precautions (including staying sober, the thread that ties all the foregoing accidents together) before beginning.

    • Anonymous

      I differentiate between pure trophy hunting and the hunting which the vast majority of American Hunters do in which the kill is eaten– the former is frankly better than eating factory farmed meat, the latter is indistinguishable (other than cultural tropes) from Dogfighting- seriously how is say Riding Down a fox or hunting at a Game farm more moral than fighting Pits or Rotties?

  • If Vick had raped women instead of fought dogs, the public outrage against him would be far, far less. This is deeply disturbing.

    • Craig

      If Vick had raped women and been caught and convicted he’d be fucked forever and ever and there would be no comeback because he’d be in prison until way past his playing days were behind him. The reason Kobe Bryant (to use one example) gets off relatively free in the public mind is because no one convicted the guy, so it’s easy for people to believe he was innocent of the charges. People make a (correct, in my opinion) distinction between those who are convicted of crimes and those who are accused of them.

      • Malaclypse

        If Vick had raped women and been caught and convicted he’d be fucked forever and ever and there would be no comeback because he’d be in prison until way past his playing days were behind him

        Mike Tyson did 3 years. Not that much longer than Vick.

        • Craig

          I meant to put an italics around “women” to illustrate that it meant “more than one woman” but you’re right, the conviction that Tyson received for his crime was pretty lenient. But that’s a separate issue from public sentiment – I would argue that Tyson’s public image was harmed far more than Vick’s, and that the conviction essentially destroyed any possibility of painting him as a sympathetic figure. Vick has inspired a lot of teeth-gnashing about the nature of his crime and where he should fit in the American public arena – Tyson became an unloved pariah, without anything near the sort of soul-searching that Vick has gotten, and it’s taken him almost 20 years and a complete crazification process to become palatable to America again.

          • SeanH

            Tyson’s public image was harmed far more than Vick’s, and that the conviction essentially destroyed any possibility of painting him as a sympathetic figure

            What’s your evidence for this? From where I’m sitting – cameo in The Hangover, guest-hosting Monday Night Raw, Hall of Fame induction, in the shower with Jimmy Kimmel – the worst thing that’s happened to Tyson’s public image is that it has become “hilariously ironic”.

            • mark f

              You forgot Crocodile Dundee 3. Good God, how could anyone forget Crocodile Dundee 3?!?

              But this rehabilitation, if that’s what you call “hilariously ironic” cameos in the latest unfunny Funniest Movie Ever!!!, took time, and the joke’s only predicated on him being a mentally unstable loose cannon who doesn’t (any longer) commit serious crimes.

          • Ricky Fatton

            After his rape conviction, Tyson made a highly-promoted comeback and became a heavyweight champion again. It wasn’t until his second fight with Holyfield (the ear fight) that he became something of an unloved pariah.

            Closer, I think to Erik’s point: the way a lot of sportswriters/ESPN types rallied around Ben Roethlisberger this summer was disgusting. Too many played the ‘he wasn’t convicted, so he shouldn’t be punished’ card, even though the facts of the case made it clear that a) something disturbing happened; b) it would be near-impossible to prosecute him for it because of the condition of the victim. The people who were outraged over Vick show almost no outrage about Roethlisberger.

            • This is why a Steelers/Eagles Super Bowl would be such an interesting media event. How would the NFL handle it?

              For that matter, although it is moot now, how would the league have handled it if the Vikings had made it? Would Brett Favre have been the subject of a fawning piece vaguely alluding to his focus and his ability to ignore distractions? I think we know the answer: being accused of sexual harassment is close to being a non-story. Is this attributable to some sort of inherent misogyny, or is it simply denial?

              • Jberardi

                Is this attributable to some sort of inherent misogyny, or is it simply denial?


        • Scott Lemieux

          Moreover, the difficulty with prosecuting alleged sexual offenders isn’t a random accident.

          • cer

            It’s funny, I am perfectly capable of thinking both rape and the torture of animals are heinous things. Not clear on the relevance of this thread.

            • My point is that the American public has vilified Vick for fighting dogs to a significantly greater extent than they do for rape. This suggests that a lot of people care about dogs more than they do about women.

          • RK

            Thank you for this point.

            • cer

              The American public has vilified Vick? I live outside of Philly and currently Vick is making $1.6 million dollars (salary, not counting endorsements) and gets standing ovations in Philly. Not seeing the vilification. On the other hand, I am perfectly capable of finding Vick and Rothlisberger abhorrent human beings. If Vick’s horrible sentence is that people will forever talk about the fate of the animals he tortured (and that he cannot own a dog which, yes, he complained about) then, yes, I hope rapists get much greater vilification.

              People don’t take the sexual assault of women or the physical assault of animals seriously. And, frankly, neither does this post which blithely points out that the author recognizes the horror of factory farming but has no intention of changing his own practices. It’s kind of like one-upping Sorkin who is blissfully unaware of his own complicity in the torture of animals but continues to engage in practices that perpetuate it. What about those who are not unaware and continue to engage in those practices?

              Vick was an exception when it comes to prosecuting animal abuse. Those, like me, who continue to critique Vick hope to make this fact better known. That does not in any way impact how I feel about rape. Indeed, the way in which the issue is inserted reminds of the way that generally when feminist issues are raised someone will raise the issue of how dare you discuss the matter of harassment/sexist imagery in culture/etc. when there are wars, famine, Guantanamo Bay etc. in the world!!! Concern about one issue does not distract from concern about another. And, frankly, most of the people I know who are bothered by the torture of animals (enough to do something about it) are also bothered by the abuse of women, generally enough to do something about it, too.

  • “Fair and Balanced” Dave

    Logical flaws aside, IMO the real problem with Sorkin’s piece is that it’s exactly what Sarah Palin and her fans were hoping for. Palin’s popularity with the wingnuts is based primarily on her ability to enrage liberals. The fact that her stupid little hunting trip enraged a “Hollywood Librul” is catnip to her fans.

    • Joe

      Yes. If hunting is bad, it’s bad, but tossing in Palin basically makes it about her, not hunting.

      Or, so it will seem to many.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Sorkin’s piece could have been a Weekly Standard satire of smug urban liberal elitists.

    • djw

      It’s almost as if Sorkin is playing a character from an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.

  • RepubAnon

    It’s important to distinguish between the type of hunting shown on Sarah Palin’s Alaska (underlying political motivations aside) and Dick Cheney’s infamous quail “hunt” where captive birds are released like feathered skeets.

    • witless chum

      Yeah, with the type of hunting I was raised around I never got the idea that shooting animals inside a fence was what you’re supposed to do. Do these people fish in bathtubs, too?

      • Holden Pattern

        No, they just put the fish in barrels and shoot them.

      • ChrisS

        They would like to. In the northeast there are several “private” fishing waters that are stocked with fish. In MT, WY, and elsewhere, land developers and other upper 1%-ers are trying to inculcate this same mindset, where prime trout water can be cordoned off from the undeserving and great fishing can be reserved for the highest bidder.

        In upstate NY, the first two miles of the famed NYSDEC stocked Salmon River is, thanks to a legal battle, private water and fishing is limited to those who purchase passes (from a long-time NY GOP-connected family of politicians).

    • Terence

      Canned hunting is disgusting. There is, as you point out, a distinction between proper hunting and captive animal shooting.

      I see that, though, as relevant to the Palin case. Others in these comments have discussed the issues surrounding killing animals for food, fashion and sport very well. I respect those who are vegetarians, and I respect those who hunt. What Sarah Palin is doing in that now infamous clip is not hunting. It is posing with and then repeatedly discharging a high powered rifle (more than one) in the direction of a live animal for the benefit of television ratings or a political career.

      The fact that she eventually managed to bring the animal down and may perhaps eat it one day does not excuse the damage she does to the image of responsible hunting and sport shooting, and the example she could set for others who might go out and scatter the ridgeline with shots for fun, too.

      • Holden Pattern

        This. Also, from the reports of the show that I’ve read (I refuse to watch it), she has no goddamn clue about how to handle a rifle, which one suspects means that, just like El Rancho de Bush el Pequeño, it’s a fucking act to con the rubes.

        Has anyone else noticed that the Republican base, though they *think* that they’re smart and savvy because they object to being “fleeced” by all of the gummint spending on the undeserving, are actually marks for every con that conservative “thought leaders” can run.

        • Terence

          Thanks. In terms of the TLC program (what a joke it is to put this show next to an acronym standing for The Learning Channel), I don’t think you’re missing much. I’ve flipped by it a couple of times, and have, of course watched the infamous YouTube clips. The thing is, I literally couldn’t stand to watch her show for more than the space between a couple of commercial breaks. Maybe I’m missing something. The thing is, if you just watch a taste of her show, and check out the much-talked-about clips, it’s obvious she’s either a poseur or somehow felt the need to act as such. One doesn’t need to claim to be Orion, nor William Tell, to call BS on her act. Seeing her out walking on the tundra: gee whiz, this is harder than it looks! and, of course, the caribou incident, in which her father works the bolt on the rifle for her, gave me, at least, the impression that she is all, all, all talk and no game.

        • David M. orent

          Seriously, I can’t understand how those Republican charges about liberal elitism resonate with the electorate. What with all the respect liberals show for people who disagree with them.

          • Holden Pattern

            Well now, given that Bush’s ranch WAS a stage set that he moved off of as soon as he could after his presidency, and Palin really doesn’t know how to handle a gun, but conservative promoters fetishized their frontier bona fides as proof that they’re REAL AMERICANS, and the Republican base totally bought both scams (or promoted the scams if they didn’t believe it), saying so isn’t “elitism”. Unless you mean “elitism” to be something like “not Republican”, which is certainly the working definition from Republicans.

  • witless chum

    I bet Sarah Palin engenders more critiques from ostensible liberals that other liberals criticize than any other conservative figure. A lot of that is just attributable to sexism (not this case, I wouldn’t think) but she does really set people off. She’s not really that much more stupid and mendacious than a lot of Republican politicians and sorta politicians. (She’s certainly ready to be the Fred Thompson of 2012.)

    I’m not sure which of the people involved who irk me more. I’ve always disliked Sorkin’s writing for some reason and Palin is just a TV star at this point, so I don’t think you can make a case that she’s that much more pernicious.

    I think I’ll continue to root for Vick to get injured every time he plays. I think Louis Delmas must love dogs.


  • Dan

    I’m sensing an opening for a Lemieux vegetarian conversation.

  • bobbo

    I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t get on my high horse about people hunting, or for that matter about people who eat meat, because people who get on their high horse about people hunting or about people who eat meat are just obnoxious.

  • Call me crazy but giving Michael Vick a dog is like invitibg Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs) for dinner.

    • John

      Thanks for clarifying which Hannibal Lecter you meant. Otherwise I would have been confused. Are you, by chance, a writer for Jay Leno?

      • Malaclypse

        See, it is especially funny, because nobody actually gave him a dog, or talked about giving him a dog, or referenced putting him in charge of any animals.

        I hear they will call this new segment “Kaywalking.”

  • Ben

    Yes, Sorkin’s piece was smug and condescending.

    Yes, he doesn’t deal with the hypocritical stance of decrying animal cruelty while being the cheering beneficiary of different (and probably much worse) forms of cruelty.

    But it seems he does have a point in there, though the smug and hypocrisy bury it: reveling in cruelty is distinct than just using its fruits, and should be condemned.

    It seems like the stance Sorkin wants to (or should) make is that, hey, everyone should recognize that there are huge ethical problems with eating meat, given the abject horror that is industrial meat processing. There are severe ethical issues in eating meat slaughtered in that fashion.

    But whatever those issues are, they are separate from actually partaking in that slaughter yourself, in reveling in it and glorifying it, in basing your public identity around harming animals for sport. Whatever you want to say about the amount of cruelty involved in shooting a deer that does not immediately die vs e.g. hanging a chicken upside down and slitting its throat, the distinction that seems valid is that while one form of cruelty is condemned, the other is being glorified.

    This is Sorkin’s point about snuff films, though he doesn’t use it very effectively. Palin’s hunting involves celebrating cruelty in a manner which we condemn when we encounter it in other situations.

    Whatever the problems in Sorkin’s piece, it seems like this point is a valid one.

    • I don’t think so. Does the clueless distance most of us have from the torture of animals in feed lots make us less morally culpable than Palin’s snuff films? I’m not sure that it does. We might protest that we have to watch Palin beat a halibut to death with a bat, but if we don’t like it, we probably shouldn’t be eating halibut. Palin’s joy in killing may be particularly loathsome, but we benefit from a system of animal torture every single day. If we are really that outraged by this, maybe we should do something about our consumption patterns.

      I go into more detail about this at my place:


      • Ben

        I think I’m viewing Palin’s behavior as a difference in kind rather than degree, while most others are doing the reverse.

        To extend Sorkin’s snuff metaphor, suppose for the sake of argument that run-of-the-mill pornography is demeaning to women. Would we make no distinctions between someone who watches run-of-the-mill pornography and someone who watches a snuff film? I don’t think so; I think we would recognize a difference in kind between one behavior that uses demeaning content and another behavior whose very purpose is to revel in that debasement. And the very reason is the relationship between the user and what we find objectionable.

        So too with eating tortured meat and Palin’s torturing of animals. Yes, eating tortured meat while ignoring the torture is wrong, and the ignorance allows for more gruesome forms of torturing the meat, etc. But there isn’t a reveling in the torture, as there is with Palin. That isn’t simply another behavior to throw in the general category of “bad things that happen when humans eat meat”, but is an entirely different behavior altogether that should be condemned in its own right.

    • larryb33

      No. He does not have a point. His argument does not stand up to scrutiny. Actually, Palin’s point is more valid. I read this piece when it was published and I was dismayed that hardly anyone was calling him out on his hypocrisy.

      • Ben

        I agree that Sorkin’s piece fails since the point I’m trying to argue as valid is not developed and in any event completely undercut by the smug and the hypocrisy.

    • Anonymous

      So am I to assume that Sorkin never enjoys the look of a leather jacket or the taste of veal- because if he’s using said fruits in more than a simply utilitarian context then I’d argue that its not that much different frankly from the stuff he disdains hell it might be worse because at least hunters (though not from what I’ve seen Palin) are respectful and never forget the actual costs of their hobby.

      • Malaclypse

        Periods would be your friends, if you would just let them.

        Also, assuming Sorkin disdains leather and meat would be kind of foolish, since he talks about he likes leather and meat.

  • RobW

    Convicted persons who have paid their debt to society have the right to earn a living.

    Excuse me, but when the hell has this ever been the case? A prior felony conviction is, and has always been, considered a perfectly valid reason to reject an applicant for ANY job. McDonald’s may hire you, but nothing says they have to.

    If your job requires that you be a public figure, or just to face the public at all, you’re damned right that your past convictions are a legit reason not to hire somebody.

    A lawyer or doctor with felony convictions would be drummed right of their profession by their own professional associations and by state licensing agencies based on the evidence of poor morals. Prior felonies would prevent a bartender or card dealer or waitress from getting a Sheriff’s card to work in Las Vegas.

    Vick has no more of a right to work at his pre-conviction job than a taxi driver convicted a felony has.

    • CJColucci

      All of that is true as far as it goes, and if every team in the NFL that might have needed a quarterback decided, individually, not to hire Vick, I’d have no problem with it. And if there were some generally-applicable rule of football that said no violent felons need apply, I’d have no problem with that either. But absent such a rule, Vick has as much right as any other felon who has done his time to peddle his skills to anyone willing to take a chance on him. Whether he is reformed or not, only time will tell.

    • mark f

      Vick has no more of a right to work at his pre-conviction job than a taxi driver convicted a felony has.

      Why, it’s almost as if he recognizes this and was arguing that the taxi driver with a felony record is as deserving of a second chance as Vick is. Imagine that; the President of the United States, who happens to be a trained lawyer, addressing a real social problem instead of benignly spouting ignorance like some lout at a water cooler. Next you’ll be telling me he’s black, too.

      • Impressed

        Dibs on “some lout at a water cooler.” That will be a fine handle for drive-by commenting on lots of different blogs.

      • Terence

        And next you’ll be telling us that society would benefit if people with felony records were able to support themselves and their families by holding down legitimate productive jobs and paying taxes and contributing to the community… why, you would be right!

    • djw

      Rights language can be descriptive of legal-formal reality, and it can be aspirational appeals to an ideal of justice. While sometimes context fails to make clear which use of rights language is being deployed, this doesn’t appear to be one of those times.

  • Law Prof

    (1) Reveling in cruelty is worse than the act itself. Most of society recognizes that intent and process does matter. Shooting a dog because it’s old is not ideal. Strangling or drowning the same dog is cruel, because it suffers and that matters. Killing a dog because it’s fun to kill dogs, or the dog is inconvenient, is evil. Spanking a 4-year child as carefully considered punishment may be acceptable (depending on one’s upbringing), or at least not criminal; decent people believe that punching that child, or even just hitting that child for fun, would be wrong. The means matter; the intent matters.

    (2) Your entire argument presumes that society should, in all cases, determine that the incarceration time satisfies as the entire punishment. Incarceration is often limited in light of the public’s resources to support jails. There is nothing wrong, and indeed everything acceptable, with continuing the punishment for some evil scum like Vick using societal ostracization. It is simply unfortunate that the NFL (and too much of society) diminishes the significance of his crimes to give him the ostracization that he deserves.

    Most released prisoners should be able to get a job to support themselves is a reasonable view — perhaps moral, perhaps just utilitarian. However, there is no reason that a released prisoner is morally entitled to be able to make millions of dollars, simply because he has the skill to do so. Let him be a sports-gear salesman (no offense to others in the vocation), and make $40K. That would be getting close to sufficient punishment.

    Yet another reason (among more significant ones) that, while I will vote for Obama again as the lesser of two evils, I will continue to dislike him.

    • mark f

      Let him be a sports-gear salesman (no offense to others in the vocation), and make $40K.

      I think it’s outrageous that athletes make millions to play a game while teachers barely survive. The president should do something about this.

      (P.S., $40K working at Dick’s? Maybe (maybe) if he’s the manager. Fuckin’ grocery scanners – how do they work?)

      • Jberardi

        I think it’s outrageous that athletes make millions to play a game while teachers barely survive.

        Worst. False. Dichotomy. Ever. One has nothing to do with the other.

        • mark f

          So the cops knew internal affairs were setting them up?

        • Malaclypse

          Worst. False. Dichotomy. Ever.

          I think his next line about how Obama should fix this is a hint that he was being sarcastic. I hope I’m right, but who can tell in this thread?

          • mark f


            Since we’re talking dichotomies now, Law Prof’s last three sentences are are confused along the lines DJW laid down in the post currently just above him:

            Rights language can be descriptive of legal-formal reality, and it can be aspirational appeals to an ideal of justice . . . sometimes context fails to make clear which use of rights language is being deployed[.]

            While in a legal-formal sense there may be some need to allow the exclusion of certain kinds of ex-felons from certain kinds of employment, as an ideal of justice (extralegal punishment) it quickly becomes arbitrary.

            • mark f

              And necessarily reliant on some kind of Decider, hence my comment about relative salaries; I wasn’t commenting upon the dichotomy between athletes and teachers (a common complaint from non-fans), I was attempting to distinguish a society that would work that way from one that doesn’t.

              As these two posts probably make clear, the sarcastic approach is pretty much all I’ve got.

            • Malaclypse

              While in a legal-formal sense there may be some need to allow the exclusion of certain kinds of ex-felons from certain kinds of employment, as an ideal of justice (extralegal punishment) it quickly becomes arbitrary.

              Yes. As an example:

              He has simply been released from prison; his debt has not nearly been paid.

              How on earth will we know when Vick’s debt gets paid, if completing the assigned punishment is not sufficient? Will the Voice of Yahweh sound a trump, or will it be something more mundane?

    • Kal

      “Reveling in cruelty is worse than the act itself.”

      Bullshit. The torturer who thinks he’s just doing his duty (“it’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it”) is no better than the torturer who is a sadist. The professional assassin who kills for money is no better than the ordinary murderer who kills out of a desire for revenge.

      • Terence

        Point taken, but–I think part of the issue is in the use of the phrase “reveling in cruelty”. The first torturer in your scenario is specifically setting out (through patriotism, a sense of duty, professionalism, whatever, as you posit) to perform a task which is specifically defined as and intended to be cruel. It is one question whether there is a greater moral opprobrium inherent to the torturer who revels in their job vs. the one who submits dutifully to an unpleasant task. The other question is broader, and that’s where the specifics in Law Prof’s point 1 come into focus–is shooting the dog inherently an act of cruelty, or is it the strangling, etc., mentioned?

        What you have addressed, and I think it is an excellent point, is how much the horror of the act is affected by the feelings of the actor–but in your scenario, the exercise is limited to an act of cruelty from the beginning, which is not the stipulation of at least the first case in Law Prof’s point.

        To bring it back to hunting, I think there is a difference between causing harm to an animal and causing intentionally excessive suffering to an animal in the course of doing it harm. The point that you both seem to address beyond that is the sadism or lack thereof of the actor. In reference to my point above, I think Sarah Palin is acting in a reckless fashion that, through her incompetence and generally breezy disregard for what she is doing, risks causing excessive suffering to the animal in question. It is then to ask whether she would be an even worse person (as I would think) if she got pleasure out of acting in such a way.

    • Justin

      so, as a “law prof” do you have any actual legal argument here? Ex-cons should be able to sell their labor for market value if their labor isn’t particularly valuable, but not if it is? How would you suggest we but this idiotic principle into practice?

      • At the heart of so many arguments in the US today, and they often seem to come from conservatives (though I have no idea whether “Law Prof” is or not) is the barely-concealed notion that the key to success is simply to make up rules or barriers to disqualify people from the American DreamTM.

        Committed a crime and served your time? The best you should do is sell sporting goods.

        Went through a period where you couldn’t afford health insurance? Pre-existing conditions, you’re out of the race.

        Lost your job? Shouldn’t have taken out a mortgage 10 years ago, no unemployment for you.

        It’s as if their idea of “competition” is just “Survivor” and the only way to win is to vote everyone else off the island. Gee, I wonder why it’s so hard to get people interested in saving the middle class as a concept.

        • Law Prof

          For the record, I am a very solid liberal. Short of one exception (William Weld in MA), I have always voted for the Dem, and have supported, with cold hard cash, almost all progressive causes. It is precisely because I sympathize with the helpless underdog (pardon the pun) that I have zero pity for a person who tortures animals for fun and does so needlessly — that is, he did not do so in a context where he had few other life options. It is why I would not likely support the death penalty (only life) for the average gang-banger who kills a grocer, but wouldn’t hesitate to pull the switch on the Preppie Central Park Killer.

          There is no applicable legal principle. (“Law Prof” has been my nom-de-plume here for years, not an argument.) But an outcome doesn’t have to be a legal requirement for it to be the one society chooses to impose. Even most Madoff family friends (those few who weren’t victims) have apparently cut off connections. I had simply hoped — not expected, but hoped — that he wouldn’t have been welcomed back. But while I’m not surprised by the NFL owners, I am disturbed by the number of LGM commenters who see his acts as anything less than monstrous.

          • Justin

            It is precisely because I sympathize with the helpless underdog (pardon the pun) that I have zero pity for a person who tortures animals for fun and does so needlessly

            I have no pity for him either. He is one of many people for whom I feel a good deal of contempt and little more. As far as I can tell, that’s neither hear nor there when considering whether he should be permitted to sell his labor at a market rate. Perhaps I’m being dense; what, precisely, is the connection here?

            I happen to hold the view that our society would be better, fairer, more humane, and more just if people who’d committed crimes and served their debt to society weren’t placed at the disadvantage they currently are, and that includes employment discrimination. It seems to me this principle is more important than my reaction to some ex-con whom I find particularly appalling. Do you disagree?

            • Ed

              I certainly do disagree. Vick has the right to gainful employment sufficient to support his family. He isn’t necessarily entitled to endless burbling in the media about his “redemption” and another shot at the millions of dollars he elected to throw away in the first place. (He did get that chance because he is a talented QB and his employer needed one enough to take a chance.)

              In particular there was no need for the leader of the free world to ring up said employer and tell him what a splendid fellow he was for making the hire.

              A refresher, if one is needed, about the torments meted out to the animals in Vick’s charge:


              John Goodwin of the Humane Society said the manner in which losing or unwilling dogs were killed was especially troubling.

              “Some of the grisly details in these filings shocked even me, and I’m a person who faces this stuff every day,” he said. “I was surprised to see that they were killing dogs by hanging them and one dog was killed by slamming it to the ground. Those are extremely violent methods of execution — they’re unnecessary and just sick.”

              • Justin

                He isn’t necessarily entitled to endless burbling in the media about his “redemption” and another shot at the millions of dollars he elected to throw away in the first place.

                Of course he’s not entitled to this particular outcome. What is in entitled to is the right to sell his labor, which is what he did. And sports commentators have a right to spout all manner of inanities as long as their employers tolerate it.

                If the argument is “As far as ex-cons go, Michael Vick has been undeservedly lucky” you’ll get no argument from me. But the arguments seem to be going quite a bit farther than that.

              • Joe


                The lead link aside, it is not apparent that it was the reason for the call.

                It was mentioned in a call in which the President “praised the team’s ambitious plans to power its stadium with alternative energy.” “While” the call went on, Vick was addressed.

                No “refresher” is required. Meanwhile, unlike many players who abused their girlfriends and such, he served time in federal prison and various other things referenced in the article.

                And, again, the basic principle of second chances is what stands out. “If Vick gets one, ‘x’ should …” will be in many people’s minds.

            • David M. orent

              If you want to make it easier for convicted felons to secure employment upon their release from prison — and I agree with both Barack Obama and Scott that this is a worthy goal — then perhaps you could speak to the stalwart Democratic Party special interest group, the trial lawyers. It’s rather risky for an employer to hire a convicted felon because if that felon reoffends and harms a member of the public in any way remotely connected to his job, first entity to be named as a defendant in the resulting civil suit will be the employer, for negligent hiring and/or supervision.

              You may also want to consider the supporters of the regulatory state who want to license more and more professions, and who tend to exclude felons from those entitled to licenses. Famous story in NY (well, famous among libertarians): NY teaches barbering to prison inmate, then when he gets out, refuses to permit him a barber’s license (!) because he’s a felon.

              • Law Prof

                Here is where some of us (myself and Ed) disagree with some others (Justin, et al.) — and it’s an important distinction. Being released from prison does not mean that Vick has “served their debt to society”. That language is simply inaccurate. He has simply been released from prison; his debt has not nearly been paid. If nobody is slamming Vick’s head into the ground (sans helmet), then he’s doing better than his dogs.

              • David Nieporent

                Being released from prison does not mean that Vick has “served their debt to society”. That language is simply inaccurate. He has simply been released from prison; his debt has not nearly been paid.

                My comments don’t depend on the notion that Vick and other felons released from prison have “paid their debt to society,” whatever that cliche means. My comments depend on the notion that Vick and other felons released from prison have been released from prison. Either we intend for them to starve to death (in which case we might as well execute them), we intend to provide them with a welfare check for the rest of their lives (which seems an odd form of punishment), or we intend for them to support themselves. And if the last, then it seems rather dumb to put up de facto or de jure barriers to them doing so.

  • Law Prof

    [That] Most released prisoners should be able to get a job to support themselves is a reasonable view — perhaps it’s a moral [view], perhaps just utilitarian [view].

    Stupid fingers.

  • shah8

    This is kind of a sad thread, but it’s also very, very, funny.

  • Jberardi

    Sorkin isn’t being honest with himself. Fortunately, we have Louis CK, who’s honest enough for all of us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3c0THQbdDE

    “…And I think it’s wrong to eat tuna. And dolphin, and cows, and everything. But I eat them. I eat them all. Because I don’t care that it’s wrong… so what if it’s wrong? It tastes good.”

    People who eat factor-farmed meat yet somehow look down on hunters have their heads far, far up their own asses.

  • lout at a water cooler

    Don’t want to be disrespectful, but a lot of you people are just cracking walnuts in your ass, as the man said.

    You tend to confuse Alasko-grift public relation moves with hunting, meat, veggies, dog-fighting, animal husbandry, and couch football. And the only thing most of you know anything about first-hand is the observational football, and maybe the meat or veggies, depending on your party of affiliation.

    Please take the advice of a certified lout at the water-cooler, and look north, south, east, west, and up and down before you spout off. There is a lot more in this world than you see on your television screens.

    Love to all you struggling dudes, and hopes to you never have to kill the holiday turkey or defend your research before a committee of tenured druids.

    Lout at the Water Cooler

    • Slocum

      I hate it when there are druids on my research evaluation committee.

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