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Archive for February, 2012

Food Trucks

[ 52 ] February 23, 2012 |

I don’t agree with all of Yglesias’ analysis here on cities regulating food trucks out of business, but the overall point is fairly sound. In the comment section for my post on Cleveland the other day, I suggested that cities trying to revitalize themselves need to spend more time creating the infrastructure that would allow people to create exciting urban life organically rather than try to find the next gigantic project that will save the city. In Cleveland’s case, this is the baseball stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, both of which have their charms but have not revolutionized Cleveland’s downtown as promised. Rather, the happening places in Cleveland are away from downtown, in Ohio City and Tremont, where people are creating very fun neighborhoods without significant municipal assistance.

Food trucks are an excellent example of how a city can create this infrastructure. The food truck phenomenon is overrated in terms of the quality of food and the experience of standing around eating, but it does have real benefits. Food trucks are cheap, fast, often good, and create eating experiences for people on the go. This can be workers catching a quick lunch or people leaving the clubs at 2 a.m. Restaurants are not nor should be the only eating out experience we can have. In Portland and Austin, where the food carts have taken off, they have become central to the urban landscape, reinforcing what makes those cities some of the nation’s most vibrant urban spaces in the early 21st century. But as Yglesias points out, the restaurant industry is outraged and has lobbied city councils to eliminate the threat. That is suboptimal.

At the same time, I do have some sympathy for the restauranteurs. That’s often a low-profit business with a high chance of failing. Yglesias notes that “Space is scarce and rents are high in the centers of major American cities. If new competition can bring prices down, we’ll all be better off in the long run.” Well, lower prices mean lower wages for workers. It’s not as if most waiters are getting rich. I like a cheap piece of pizza or a taco as much as anyone, but workers’ wages and overall employment numbers are worth studying in the food truck-restaurant debate.

Mining Companies Are Our Friends

[ 11 ] February 23, 2012 |

You can tell that mining companies have our interests in mind because of their deeply-held commitment to ensuring that poisonous heavy metals don’t seep into the ecosystem.

Photographs of variously mutated brown trout were relegated to an appendix of a scientific study commissioned by the J. R. Simplot Company, whose mining operations have polluted nearby creeks in southern Idaho. The trout were the offspring of local fish caught in the wild that had been spawned in the laboratory. Some had two heads; others had facial, fin and egg deformities.

Yet the company’s report concluded that it would be safe to allow selenium — a metal byproduct of mining that is toxic to fish and birds — to remain in area creeks at higher levels than are now permitted under regulatory guidelines. The company is seeking a judgment to that effect from the Environmental Protection Agency. After receiving a draft report that ran hundreds of pages, an E.P.A. review described the research as “comprehensive” and seemed open to its findings, which supported the selenium variance for Simplot’s Smoky Canyon mine.

None of this is remotely surprising. Not the fact that mining would cause deformed fish. Not that Simplot would say that this is fine for the environment. Nor that it would be Simplot who was behind this, one of the most evil corporations in the country. And not that an EPA, weakened by decades of industry pressure and lack of funding, would go along with it.

This is also evidence in our desperate need for an aggressive regulatory regime that fines the socks off mining companies (or other industries) for pollution that severely denigrates the ecosystem.

You Consider Yourself an Important Journalist. And Then One Day You Wake Up and You’re Glenn Reynolds in a Bowtie

[ 33 ] February 23, 2012 |

It’s not that easy to get Greenwald and Chait to agree on a foreign policy issue, but the genocidal ravings of Little Rambo Carlson seem to have done the trick.

The Cashill Standoff: Day Three

[ 17 ] February 23, 2012 |

Gauntlet thrown … and there it is, still on the ground. I kicked it, but nothing doing. Not that I did expect or am expecting any different, but it’d be nice to see someone with the guts to defend their argument in a public forum. Otherwise, we’re liable to become a nation of Goldsteins, too “sick [and] tired [to] care” or even pretend to. Because that’s what “rightwing bad boy[s]” do these days: make unsubstantiated claims before bowing out on account of the vapors they’ve given themselves to avoid ever having defending their specious arguments.

The First Amendment Value of (Not Criminalizing) Lying

[ 52 ] February 23, 2012 |

The reporting of Garrett Epps and Dahlia Lithwick suggests that the lawyers representing Xavier Alvarez — the habitual liar convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act — had trouble coming up with a decent response to Antonin Scalia’s assertion that “there is no First Amendment value in falsehood.”  But whether he was able to convince the Court, I think the argument that the Stolen Valor Act is inconsistent with the First Amendment is very strong.

If PolitiFact has taught us anything else — and it hasn’t! — it’s that applying Scalia’s logic as a general principle would subvert fundamental First Amendment values.   If it were a criminal offense to tell lies about political opponents, say, we could all end up in jail for accurately describing the consequences of Republican policy proposals if people like the editors of PolitiFact were in the DAs office and the jury.   Scalia might respond that the editors of PolitiFact are just idiots who can’t distinguish between a lie and a normative disagreement, which is true enough but isn’t an adequate response — what constitutes a lie and what constitutes a mere reasonable disagreement is often a point of political contestation.    Some supporters of the Sedition Act of 1798 saw it as progressive because — in contrast to British law at the time — truth was permitted as a defense against sedition prosecutions.   Only this protection turned out to be essentially worthless, because the Federalist judges applying the law took the virtue and goodness of Federalist politicians to be an unassailable fact.   Among other things, the First Amendment presupposes that some things that are considered truths will turn out not to be.   As Epps and Lithwick both imply, the concept of “breathing space” is a very important one; criminalizing lies would inevitably mean that some true and some defensible statements will be treated as criminal.

So if it can’t be consistent with the First Amendment for mere lies by individuals (as opposed to actual fraud or commercial misrepresentation) to be made illegal, I think we can see the Stolen Valor Act as similar to the flag-burning statutes the Court has held to be unconstitutional.    The government seems to be saying here that while just bragging about things you did that you haven’t actually done can’t be made criminal, it can be made criminal to lie about military achievements, because this is uniquely unpatriotic or contrary to national values.   But this fundamentally seems like a viewpoint-based restriction to me.   The narrower version that Congress is prepared to pass — which makes the lies criminal only if they are made in the service of material gain — strikes a much balance that is much more protective of First Amendment values.    Harmless lies, even about military honors, shouldn’t be criminalized, and to do so is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

“Some Degree of Airpower”

[ 57 ] February 23, 2012 |

A cowardly, mendacious editorial from The New Republic on Syria:

To be clear, we do not want to see troops deployed to Syria. We are not arguing for another Iraq or another Afghanistan—both of which have offered cautionary lessons about the limits of American power. We are not even necessarily arguing for another Libya, since the geography of the Syrian conflict might not permit as extensive an air campaign as was used against Muammar Qaddafi. All we are recommending is that the United States and its allies look for ways to help the rebels hold off Assad’s troops, by arming them or using some degree of airpower on their behalf, or both.

“Some degree of airpower” is really a fun little phrase, isn’t it? You would wonder how such a sloppy phrase made it to print, except that the answer is obvious; the writers of the editorial don’t have the faintest idea of what airpower is or what it can do. Here is what “some degree of airpower” in Syria would require:

1. A major initial attack, led by cruise missiles and potentially stealth aircraft, to disable and destroy the Syrian Air Force and the Syrian air defense network. This would be demanded by any air commander from any country, in order to ensure the security of follow on strikes. The Syrian Air Force has ~400 fighter aircraft alone, plus ground attack. It’s not hard to envision an attack that would destroy the entire SAF without chance of substantial American/NATO losses, but it would be a MAJOR undertaking. Similarly, Syria has a large air defense network, mostly of Cold War vintage. Not terribly difficult for a modern air force to destroy that network, but it would take a while and require a lot of strikes. “Some degree of airpower” in this case means a massive, sustained air assault against the Syrian military just to kick the door open.

2. Air attacks directed against Syrian artillery and armor in urban areas, in close contact with rebels. This is doable, but requires a substantial investment of recon assets to track the movement of Syrian Army forces and to distinguish between them and rebels. This will also require tight coordination with the rebels, which in the past has required the presence of Western special forces. To level the playing field between Syrian heavy forces and the rebels, the campaign would likely have to be considerably more substantial in terms of aircraft and ordnance than the Libya campaign, which targeted a much smaller, much less professional military force under considerably more favorable geographic terms.

3. A political commitment by NATO or the United States to the survival and victory of one or another rebel coalition. We can pretend that  the US would destroy the Syrian Air Force, bomb the Syrian Army, and then just hope that Assad and the rebels came to some kind of friendly accommodation, but eventually we reach a “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it!” moment.

“Some degree of airpower,” indeed. If TNR wants regime change, it should call for forcible regime change, with a massive air campaign backed by naval assets and SOF. If it doesn’t, then the editors of TNR should take a break, buy a Kindle, go to the beach, and start reading about what airpower is and does. Might not reduce the stupid quotient, but couldn’t hurt.

Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue

[ 48 ] February 22, 2012 |

It’s probably been more or less proven by now that I spend my days a) finding weird stuff in the past, b) getting angry at the past, and 3) teaching my students about weird stuff or evil people in the past. And that’s more or less true, along with writing about weird stuff and evil people in the past. The advantage of having this blog platform is that now I can force more people to listen to me go on like Texas about this stuff.

And this leads me to tonight’s joy, Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue, produced by those saints at the Gutenberg Project who should all make $250,000 a year but probably make more like $2500. This is amazing. A few of these very English entries for your nightly pleasure. Actually, let’s go for an even 10.

1. “ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. One who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite to him. SEA PHRASE.”

2. “HORSE’S MEAL. A meal without drinking.” Is this like vegetarianism or something?

3. “GAP STOPPER. A whoremaster.”

4. “HUCKLE MY BUFF. Beer, egg, and brandy, made hot.”

5. “IRISH LEGS. Thick legs, jocularly styled the Irish arms. It is said of the Irish women, that they have a dispensation from the pope to wear the thick end of their legs downwards.” There are a good number of anti-Irish bits in this.

6. “MACCARONI. An Italian paste made of flour and eggs. Also a fop: which name arose from a club, called the Maccaroni Club, instituted by some of the most dressy travelled gentlemen about town, who led the fashions; whence a man foppishly dressed, was supposed a member of that club, and by contraction styled a Maccaroni.”

7. “LOUSE LAND. Scotland.”

8. “TOKEN. The plague: also the venereal disease. She tipped him the token; she gave him a clap or pox.”

9. “MELTING MOMENTS. A fat man and woman in the amorous congress.”

10. And last, but most definitely not least: “GAYING INSTRUMENT. The penis.”

This may actually be the greatest book ever published.

Shorter Republican Candidates

[ 10 ] February 22, 2012 |

“The problem with the auto bailout is that evil workers actually benefited.  Had all the money gone to obscenely wealthy parasites like Mitt Romney, they might have been fine.”

…shorter #2: “The consequences of teenagers not using contraception proves that contraception is evil.”

DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional in Federal Court

[ 24 ] February 22, 2012 |

A good first step, anyway. More when I have a chance to read the opinion, although we can be confident that the George W. Bush appointee Jeffrey White is some sort of free-thinking anarchist.

Time can be rewritten. And will be. Try and keep up.

[ 23 ] February 22, 2012 |

(This will be the second-to-last Who-related visual rhetoric posts for a bit. It concerns the complicated conclusion of the fifth season, which is why it’s the second-to-last. It’s also a sequel of sorts to this post, though I reserve the right to introduce new material and present spoilers so inscrutable to the casual fans that unless you’ve watched the series three times through they won’t even register as such.)

At the conclusion of “The Pandorica Opens” we learned that all of the Doctor’s old enemies had formed a committee and decided the Doctor was responsible for the universe unwriting itself. They weren’t wrong. As I noted in the post on “Vampires of Venice,” the Doctor tells Rosanna:

Doctor who 01

He may have even wanted to believe this at the time, but he changed his mind in the next episode, “Amy’s Choice,” after vicariously experiencing the death of Rory Williams through Amy Pond, who asked him quite the cutting question. If you can’t go back and change time,

Doctor who 02

At the time, the only answer he could provide was that he someone becoming accustomed to either causing mass extinctions or standing idly by while entire species are wiped from existence. The former may be a more morally reprehensible action, but the passivity of the latter brings him no glory. In order to redeem himself—and I’m going to insist that this season is, among other things, a redemption narrative—he needs to rethink his relation to universe he tends. Which is precisely what happens in the episode “The Big Bang.” He discovers that the point of him is that he can change time, so writer and showrunner Steven Moffatt and director Toby Haynes proceed to do exactly that. “The Big Bang” opens with a repetition of the slow tracking shot from the first episode of the season, “The Eleventh Hour”:

Read more…

“Rather than turning to my local politician for prenatal advice…”

[ 10 ] February 22, 2012 |

I intended to link to this yesterday, but here is an outstanding piece of testimony to the benefits of the very kinds of prenatal testing that Bishop Santorum regards as indulgent and murderous. Mittens inevitability aside, I do hope our Man of the Froth eventually wins the GOP nomination, if for no other reason than to facilitate our long-delayed national debate over the merits of 20th century obstetric techniques.

The End of Grutter?

[ 24 ] February 22, 2012 |

I would like to buck the conventional wisdom, but I agree with everybody that the grant of cert in Fisher v. UT Austin is almost certainly the end of affirmative action in higher education. Certainly, four of the necessary votes are not in question:

The bad news is that Kagan’s recusal probably doesn’t matter because her vote will be irrelevant. Everything points to there being five votes to overrule Grutter. Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are sure votes—not only did they dissent in Grutter, they have consistently held that all affirmative action programs are unconstitutional (even though this is flagrantly inconsistent with the “originalism” they claim guides their interpretation of the Constitution). Samuel Alito and John Roberts were not on the Court when Grutter was decided in 2003, but the 2007 Parents Involved ruling, authored by Roberts and joined by Alito, is an ominous sign. Chief Justice Roberts’s Young Republican debate society koan “[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race” strongly suggests that the two George W. Bush appointees will adhere to the Scalia/Thomas absolutist position.

So this leaves us with Kennedy, who as Liptak notes, “has never voted to uphold an affirmative action program.” So I think we know where this is headed.

I think this is a good time to cite Stevens in Parents Involved:

There is a cruel irony in The Chief Justice’s reliance on our decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The first sentence in the concluding paragraph of his opinion states: “Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin.” This sentence reminds me of Anatole France’s observation: “[T]he majestic equality of the la[w], forbid[s] rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” The Chief Justice fails to note that it was only black schoolchildren who were so ordered; indeed, the history books do not tell stories of white children struggling to attend black schools. In this and other ways, The Chief Justice rewrites the history of one of this Court’s most important decisions.

The Chief Justice rejects the conclusion that the racial classifications at issue here should be viewed differently than others, because they do not impose burdens on one race alone and do not stigmatize or exclude…

[...]

If we look at cases decided during the interim between Brown and Adarand, we can see how a rigid adherence to tiers of scrutiny obscures Brown’s clear message. Perhaps the best example is provided by our approval of the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1967 upholding a state statute mandating racial integration in that State’s school system. Rejecting arguments comparable to those that the plurality accepts today, that court noted: “It would be the height of irony if the racial imbalance act, enacted as it was with the laudable purpose of achieving equal educational opportunities, should, by prescribing school pupil allocations based on race, founder on unsuspected shoals in the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Admittedly, I don’t agree with the vote-counting at the end of Stevens’s dissent (“It is my firm conviction that no Member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.”) After all, William “Plessy was right and should be reaffirmed” Rehnquist was on the Court then, and he’s always been at the forefront of tying to stand Brown on its head. But, otherwise, Stevens is right. Alas, on a Court dominated by Republicans the silly idea that as soon as a centuries-old caste system is formally disbanded formal equality is sufficient to provide real equality of opportunity will hold sway.

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