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Archive for March, 2012

Kentucky Basketball Tonight

[ 18 ] March 31, 2012 |

In the course of what amounts to an aesthetic argument on behalf of the Louisville Cardinals, Dennis Berman argues:

This should be a moment of elation for Kentucky fans. Their team plays a ruthlessly beautiful brand of basketball. Their starting lineup is better than the New Jersey Nets.

And yet there is something lurking underneath: A sense that winning is, in its own odd way, making UK’s fans miserable. Their expectations of triumph—be it recruiting battles or tournament games—has hardened into a coarse entitlement. It’s gotten to the point where even a championship will feel like anticlimax.

My best friend, a rare species of Louisville-turned-Kentucky turncoat, admits it. “It’s not fun,” he says. “We expect it.”

There’s something to this. While I appreciate that the state of Kentucky basketball since my arrival in the commonwealth has been unusually tumultuous (the graceless exit of Tubby, the trainwreck called Billy Gillespie), I’ve generally found Kentucky fans to be knowledgeable, committed, but curiously joyless about the object of their affection. I count myself as a fan now (I lack the contrarian spirit, except in extreme situations), and it seems that at certain atmospheric dread backdrops every game; the Wildcats will probably win, and will in all likelihood destroy the opponent of the day, but what if they don’t? After the final Gillespie year, when it seemed that the center of power in the SEC might be drifting permanently south, this dread became palpable.

I wonder; do Notre Dame football fans feel this same way? Is it characteristic of dominant programs that may be on the wane? Will this atmosphere of dread and apprehension lift if the ‘Cats win the title, at least for a while? I hope so; cheering for the Cats is altogether more trying that cheering for the Ducks, even if I’m a great deal more enthusiastic about Oregon football than Kentucky basketball. I suppose that the Ducks would have to have a very long run of success before the legacy of the program itself became weighty.

In any case, go ‘Cats! Brutalize the Cardinals! Louisville isn’t really even in Kentucky…

…and as for the LGM NCAA Tourney Bracket:

If Kansas wins and is beaten by Kentucky, tb_slash wins.

If Ohio State wins and is beaten by Kentucky, mwbugg wins.

If Ohio State beats Kentucky, grinchgalleriesofoysterbay wins.

If Kansas beats Kentucky, rapayn01 wins.


Hack of the Month

[ 24 ] March 31, 2012 |

Rich Lowry. See also. To write something that transparently stupid in complete sentences is a real achievement in its own way.

Foreign Entanglements: Duss vs. Birnbaum

[ 4 ] March 31, 2012 |

On this week’s Foreign Entanglements, Matt Duss speaks with Ben Birnbaum regarding indications that Israel may not strike Iran:

Keep At ‘Em, Joe

[ 29 ] March 31, 2012 |

Nocera with yet more good stuff on the NCAA Cartel:

It was amusing this week to watch Emmert trot out “the collegiate model” as he was confronted with the reality of the “one and done” freshman. “One and done” freshmen — or players who have no interest in college and are enrolling only until they turn 19 and become eligible for the professional draft — have been a hot topic in the runup to this weekend’s Final Four. That’s because John Calipari, the Kentucky coach, has become the master of recruiting them — and his team is favored to win the championship. Calipari is completely upfront about what he is doing: He is gaming the system by bringing in players who need a way station until they are old enough to turn pro. Indeed, Calipari tells them when he is recruiting them that he doesn’t expect them to stay for more than a year.

Calipari, complained Emmert, was “throwing away the collegiate model.” But, he’s not, because in the big-money sports of football and men’s basketball, the collegiate model is a fiction. Rather, Calipari is dispensing with the hypocrisy that everyone else goes along with, including our basketball-mad president, who allows himself to be interviewed while filling out his March Madness brackets, but can’t bring himself to utter a word on behalf of the athletes that college sports so ruthlessly exploits.

In his great novel about totalitarianism, “1984,” George Orwell described the three slogans of The Party: War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance Is Strength.

The N.C.A.A. has its own equivalents. Athletes Are Students. College Sports Is Not About Money. Graduation Is The Goal.

By the way, the NBA deserves its own criticism for its own collaborating with the NCAA cartel. Particularly given that NCAA athletes aren’t permitted just compensation, the exclusion of 18-year-olds from the draft is outrageous.

Today in Green Lanternism

[ 280 ] March 31, 2012 |

Robert Wright is wondering why the Affordable Care Act wasn’t just a straightforward use of the tax power, and his analysis is of course focused on the median votes of the Senate and the leverage these conservatives had over the legislative process.

Hahaha, just kidding! When discussing the ACA, as Drew Westen has taught us, we have to consider a fantasy of politics “in which the president in the not only the most important figure, but his most powerful weapon is rhetoric” rather than actual American politics:

If the Supreme Court rules against President Obama on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, there’s a sense in which he’ll deserve it. After all, there was an easy way for him to make the act impervious to this fate, and it wouldn’t have entailed a single change in how the program works.


I’ve long thought President Obama wasn’t using the bully pulpit creatively enough–particularly on the issue of taxes. As establishment Democrats said the “political climate” didn’t permit him to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, he made no attempt to change the climate by using his considerable oratorical skills. (It seems to have taken Occupy Wall Street to clue him in to the fact that there’s some class resentment out there to be harnessed.)

Granted, it might have taken a bit of extra rhetorical work to sell a health care bill with the word “tax” in it. But the tax wouldn’t have applied to most voters, and, anyway, the upside would have been that the bill would seem less like coercion and more like an incentive. A bit of courage and creativity a few years ago might have prevented what could be a major policy disaster come June

Um, no.

  • There is no evidence that the bully pulpit can shift public opinion, and voluminous evidence that it cannot. Conveniently, Ezra Klein has laid this out in extensive detail in the New Yorker. Whatever Aaron Sorkin or Aaron Sorkin-influenced shows and movies have told you, politics is not a debating society.    It’s nice to think that we’d have public policy outcomes like Denmark had Michael Dukakis just thought up that clever rebuttal you wrote for him after the fact, but this isn’t actually how politics works.
  • But let’s leave that aside, and assume that Barack Obama could change public opinion on the issue.   Perhaps we may want to consider how the American legislative process actually works, and why the architects of the ACA may not have wanted to use straightforward taxing and spending.   It’s not 2 or 3 extra percent of the public you have to worry about.  It’s, you know, Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln and Joe Lieberman and every other conservative Democrat in the Senate who would love to use the excuse that you’re proposing the Biggest Tax Increase In Recorded Human History to vote against a bill they don’t care about and their corporate paymasters don’t want.    And using public opinion as leverage — even leaving aside the fact that the president can’t move public opinion — doesn’t work against senators who 1)aren’t running for anything again but are planning on cashing big paychecks from the kind of entrenched interests who don’t want the ACA, or 2)are running in states where the president is extremely unpopular.   I agree that this was dumb, but take it up with James Madison.
  • Let’s assume that Barack Obama could have engaged in a Game-Changing Use of the Political Capital of the Mandate and Bully Pulpit on Steroids to Throw Oily Conservative Democrats Who Are Really Secret Socialists Under the Bus to get the funding for the ACA structured as a “tax” rather than a “penalty” and still get 60 votes for it.    Why on earth would you think that this would make the bill impervious to legal challenge?    What’s to stop the Court from discovering that this particular tax is an invalid use of the federal taxing power, or that the use of the federal spending power that would inevitably be involved is too “coercive” to be constitutional?   Yes, nobody would have thought while the plan was first being formed that these arguments would be taken seriously, but then at the time nobody could have thought that the mandate would be considered unconstitutional either.

By the Time You Get to Phoenix

[ 73 ] March 31, 2012 |

Your uterus will belong to the state.

The Ballad of Peter and Peggy, Redux, in “A Little Kiss”

[ 26 ] March 30, 2012 |

(It goes without saying that this is another one of those posts.)

Poor self-defeating Pete, trying his best to become the very Draper whose misery’s invisible to him. Remember when Pete had hope, and director John Slattery hammered the possibility of it home via reverse shots? How Pete saw Peggy longing for him:


Returned her implicit, medium long offer in kind:


And was returned in kind:


And again:


And again, an almost final invitaiton?


Of course, between them in each reverse shot is the not-insignificant–and increasingly significant, given the racial aspects entering the series in future episodes–glass door separating the firm from the world it claims to represent. As I wrote in the post linked above:

The viewer is looking at Peter looking at Peggy in the first medium close up in the scene.  (There is a slight unreality to this point of view shot: it zooms in on the pair in a way only cameras can.  The zooming seems to act as a cinematic proxy for attention or concentration.)  Slattery made sure the nearly invisible wall separating them remained visible, which creates a tension between the intimacy of the close up and the reality of the glass walls separating them.  That he chooses a more intimate when these two are in different rooms is, for obvious reasons, significant.  She sees him peering at her and, by its positioning, the camera acknowledges the bond that will remain despite the increasing distance between them: the baby they had together.

But now Peter’s a father, only not of Peggy’s baby, but of his own. Who’s screen presence exists as such:

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See the baby? The one he had so he could be more like Draper? It’s sitting there, frame central, hovering invisible in that tacky chair he should’ve had the decency to replace if he’d had any sense of style. He’s becoming Draper–disappearing into the life he mistakenly believed he wanted. No children to greet him, just cold dinner and a warm shot of whisky. Don’t believe me? Let’s rewrind to the first season and remind you of a similarly framed shot:

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In this case, however, Betty’s lying about going to the community center to watch them film the pool–she’s off to watch pretty things die, as per the episode’s title, for”Sport.” But there’s something more than sport to her deliberations. She wants to savor the experience of watching something die. First she feeds the children, then she does the laundry:

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Then the camera acknowledges that she’s had an idea and zooms into a close-up to reiterate that fact:

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Note the joy on her face. Knowing that her idea is one that–whatever joy it might bring her, society would disapprove of, she ponders her decision for a moment:

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Moments are fleeting:

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Her decision has been made. Cut to exterior:

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Relief. Betty’s just a central figure staring at the sky in wonderment at all God’s creations:

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Look at those birds? The fact that they’re incapable of being centrally staged only emphasizes their freedom. The frame can’t constrain them! They’re free! If only Betty had an equivalently symbolic emblem of relinquishing societal constraints:

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She does. Her feelings of entrapment are nothing a healthy dose of nicotine can’t cure. Except why has she shifted stage-left? She had occupied the central portion of the screen, but now it’s as if she’s making room for something else. Whatever could that be?

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Of course, she being an American, the only thing she can do with her symbol of freedom is shoot it with … another symbol of her freedom. I wasn’t able to capture her aiming the gun, which is why the space on the right side of the frame had to be cleared, but that’s why it was. Oddly, her cigarette still occupies the central portion of the frame, as if, like the nicotine it delivers into her blood, is calming her down, making her transgressive violence possible. Can’t be sure. However, visually speaking, the indication is that Draper’s created/creating a sociopath, and the implication is that Peter’s following a similar path. He began his morning commutes in “A Little Kiss,” you’ll remember, alone and engrossed in a paper:

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His loneliness is highlighted by both the empty chair beside him and the man with the solitaire board across from him. By episode’s end, things seem a bit different, though:

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Wonder why that might be? Couldn’t have anything to do with, say, this:

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Nothing at all there. Not between Peggy and Pete. Not with a viable baby hanging out right there in a carriage.

Sometimes A Devastating Defeat Is Just a Devastating Defeat

[ 141 ] March 30, 2012 |

Given the amount of pushback, I decided to make my argument about legitimacy and the ACA at much greater length. A lot of people seem to think that this particular politically controversial decision with substantial elite support will somehow be different than the many other politically controversial decision with substantial elite support the Supreme Court has made. I don’t see it:

It is true that a decision striking down the ACA would inevitably be 5-4, which many legal observers believe would decrease the legitimacy of the decision. The problem here is that evidence that the vote lineup influences public or elite support for judicial opinions is scant. Consider the most divisive Supreme Court decisions in recent history. Miranda v. Arizona was 5-4, but that’s the exception. Brown v. Board and Cooper v. Aaron—both of which the directly affected states and their representatives not only bitterly opposed but refused to implement—were of course unanimous. Engel v. Vitale—the 1962 school prayer case that generated more hate mail than any case in the Warren Court era and also had serious implantation problems—had a mild solo dissent. Roe v. Wade was 7-2. It’s substantive results—not the number of dissents—that determines the reaction to Supreme Court decisions.

One potential counter to this is that a decision striking down the ACA would be different, it would be a 5-4 decision that would break down along strict partisan lines. By showing the Court to be nakedly political, it might undermine the Court in a way that previous rulings have not. My response to that would be simple: Kelo v. New London. The fact that the opinion was written by one Republican nominee and joined by two others didn’t stop it from being fiercely criticized by Republicans and sparking a legislative reaction in many states. And this makes sense when you think about it. In essence, the argument that the partisan breakdown changes things assumes an audience sophisticated enough to be aware of recurrent ideological vote patterns on the Supreme Court but unsophisticated enough to think that the Court is nonetheless apolitical if these ideological divisions map onto 1950s party coalitions rather than 2010s party coalitions. I’m not sure how big this audience is, but I’m confident that it could comfortably fit in a single-occupancy freshman dorm room. No conservative Republicans think of John Paul Stevens or David Souter as being on their team no matter who appointed them.

This is not to say that the Court can do anything it wants and remain its standing with elites and the public. A decision completely lacking in elite or popular support might have this effect. Unfortunately, this scenario wouldn’t describe a decision striking down the ACA. Such a decision would have the strong support of the political party that controls the House of Representatives and 48 seats in the Senate, and if current polling holds up would have the support of a majority of the public as well.

I also think some people are way too optimistic about the policy that would emerge should the Court just strike down the mandate, but…well, read the whole etc.

Can We Raise Our Standards A Bit?

[ 87 ] March 30, 2012 |

I’ve been around the intertubes long enough not to be surprised by the fact that many people are happy to feed trolls whenever an interesting discussion threatens to break out. But I’d like to think that around here it would at least take some moderately clever trolling to stimulate thirty+ comment digressions. The fact that “YOuR aLL CoMMUNisTS! OooGA [email protected]!” seems to be more than enough recently is pretty depressing. Would it hurt to make trolls work for it a bit at least?

The Slippery Slope Argument Against the ACA: Unserious

[ 52 ] March 30, 2012 |

Akhil Reed Amar is making sense:

I start with the Constitution here. It’s the power to regulate interstate commerce. Is this a regulation? Yes. It’s just a regulation like regulating a well-regulated militia with a mandate. Is this interstate? Yes. And I’ve given you reasons why. Third, is it commercial? Yes, it’s purely about who is paying.

EK: In terms of liberty, I think what Barnett and other opponents of the mandate are arguing is that this is a slippery slope. First you’re saying I have to buy health insurance. Then you’re saying I have to eat broccoli.

ARA: The most important limit, the one we fought the Revolutionary War for, is that the people doing this to you are the people you elect. That’s the main check. The broccoli argument is like something they said when we were debating the income tax: If they can tax me, they can tax me at 100 percent! And yes, they can. But they won’t. Because you could vote them out of office. They have the power to do all sorts of ridiculous things that they won’t do because you’d vote them out of office. If they can prevent me from growing pot, can they prevent me from buying broccoli? Perhaps, but why would they if they want to be reelected? So if you ask me what the limits are, I’d say read McCulloch vs. Maryland. And reread it. And keep reading it till you understand it. The Constitution is a practical document,. it’s designed to work. And the powers are designed to be flexible in order to achieve the aims of the document.

On their economic ignorance, see Krugman.

Legitimacy and the ACA

[ 221 ] March 30, 2012 |

Jon Cohn has a good post about a subject that’s on a lot of minds given the hostile reception the ACA received at the Supreme Court this week:  judicial legitimacy.  It’s worth unpacking the different things this might mean.   Certainly, from the standpoint of my personal normative evaluation, I agree with Jon that a decision striking down the ACA would not be legitimate.  If you’re going to strike down the centerpiece legislation of an incumbent administration, you’d better have better arguments than were on display over the last three days.  (I especially like the point that “if the justices strike down the Affordable Care Act, they would be stopping Congress and the President from achieving a constitutional goal via constitutional means just because they didn’t use constitutional phrasing to describe it.”)

Another element of the question, however, is whether a decision striking down the ACA would significantly effect the legitimacy of the Court among the general public.   My guess is that it would not.   Certainly, I doubt that the 5-4 margin would matter, and nor do I think the fact that the ideological fault lines of the court now map precisely onto partisan divides means much.    I think Sandy Levinson is fundamentally right here:

So, when the five Republican conservatives decide how to vote, will they genuinely have to worry about a significant “backlash” against the Court in the country at large? The answer is almost definitely not. After all, the Republican base would praise the decision as “just what the Constitution means.” Another percentage would say something like “I ‘m not sure I agree with the decision, but, hey, I’m not a lawyer, and we hire the Supreme Court to tell us what the Constitution means, and even if they sometimes make mistakes, the country is blessed to have such an institution, and we should all accept its conclusion and move on.” Even partisan Democrats are likely only to fulminate, but how many will say, “You know, I think that Oliver Wendell Holmes and Mark Tushnet have gotten it right, and we should simply eliminate the very power of judicial review, at least with regard to any federal legislation. After all, we can always vote the congressional scoundrels out, but we don’t have that possibility with the politicians in robes who constitute the Supreme Court”?

Really, striking down the ACA isn’t even testing the far reaches of the Court’s power. The Court would have substantial support in Congress and, at least as of now, would appear to have the support of the majority of the public. I wish it weren’t so, but I don’t think the Court would face any significant loss of public legitimacy should they strike down the ACA.

If You Begin to Feel Faint, Please Land Your F-22 Raptor Immediately

[ 44 ] March 29, 2012 |

John Boyd is rolling in his grave…

A U.S. Air Force scientific advisory board is urging the service to create specialized medical teams to focus on pilots with hypoxia-like symptoms and form a medical registry for F-22 pilots exposed to cabin air or on-board oxygen gas.

The set of recommendations are a part of the board’s study, which did not determine a root cause for the oxygen problems plaguing the fifth-generation fighter. The findings and recommendations were announced Thursday, two days after a Raptor pilot made an emergency landing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., because of hypoxia-like symptoms.

The advisory board study, which was directed by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley in June, found that the testing for the Raptor’s Life Support System and thermal management were insufficient, the F-22’s life support system does not automatically activate breathable air, and that contaminants have been measured in the breathing air.

The plane also has no mechanism to prevent the loss of the aircraft if a pilot is impaired and there is insufficient feedback to the pilot about the partial pressure of oxygen in the air. But the board could not identify what is causing the problems…

ACC has also implemented a “911 call” approach to flying the F-22, urging pilots to immediately land if something is not right, Lyon said.

See Stephen Trimble for an account of how this problem led to the loss of an F-22 over Alaska.

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