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Archive for March, 2014

Baseball Songs

[ 37 ] March 31, 2014 |

Happy Opening Day. For that, here’s two of the best songs ever written about an individual baseball player. First, there is Buddy Johnson’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?”

Count Basie had a hit with this the next year that I think is the most famous versions, but I’m going with the original here.

Second is Tom Russell’s “The Kid from Spavinaw,” about Mickey Mantle. Of course, it’s incredibly depressing like most of the rest of American folk music.

Not that this is any more depressing than the 2014 Mariners.

In related news, I’m not entirely sure we need a feature film based on the life of R.A. Dickey.


Left_Wing_Fox Asks Some Interesting Questions

[ 473 ] March 31, 2014 |

When I became more interested in political blogs and began reading them on a regular basis, I was shocked to learn to the movie “300,” which I really like, was considered something of a joke in liberal circles. I’ve never quite gotten a handle on why. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it has a sizable conservative fan base (something else I didn’t know anything about).

I bring this up because our own Left_Wing_Fox asks some very thought-provoking questions in my last thread about “The Incredibles.”

I think there might be a purity issue complicating things. Is it important if the media we enjoy match our image of ourselves as good people? Are boycotts the necessary way to eliminate negative messages from our culture? Are we exposed to peer pressure to dislike things because of the negative elements? Do we need to opinions of others to validate our tastes?

Honestly, it never occurred to me to stop liking “300.” (Because it’s great-looking, really…amazing-looking. It looks like it was filmed on a soundstage– it’s simultaneously old-fashioned and modernly comic-booky. Because it’s a straightforward tale of very kooky-brave people standing up for themselves. Because it’s just fun. Because I loved the imagery of the Oracle flailing around in the moonlight.) But I’ll be honest: finding out it was considered something of a joke in some circles did give me pause. But then I hit “play” again. I don’t let other people pick what gives me pleasure (no matter where they are on the political spectrum)–I pick these things for myself.

UPDATE: In the comments…

“I generally enjoy bspencer’s writing here, but I actually debated if this post was meant as an April Fool’s trolling sort of thing. Perhaps it was, but taking it at face value this entry reads like it was written by a bright but totally naive 14 y/o, who doesn’t yet have any comprehension of symbolism or metaphor.”

“Again, that’s fine, but that makes you–genuinely no offense intended–an uninformed viewer, and probably in the minority. Doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy 300. But characterizing it as a tale of kooky wunderkinder fighting The Man is incorrect and ignorant.”


I haven’t seen “300” in years. It’s entirely possible that I could rewatch it now and find it troubling. The first time I watched “Avatar” I was so bowled over by the special effects and just the feel of the film of that I didn’t recognize it had its share of troubling aspects. The film was personal to me because interstellar travel, the prospect of finding alien life is something of an obsession of mine. Similarly, the look of “300” felt spectacularly personal. To be frank, it reminded me of my art. So what I took away from the film was not “Iranians suck” but “I want to immerse myself in that sepia-toned world.”

I expected to take a little ribbing for liking “300.” Didn’t expect this.

Bangladesh and Climate Change

[ 35 ] March 31, 2014 |

Poor Bangladesh. This impoverished low-lying country not only sees its people slaughtered by the apparel industry while it makes clothes for western consumers, but it will also suffer (and is already suffering) more than any other large nation from climate change as rising waters will almost certainly create a massive refuge crisis in the coming decades. Western companies not only outsource exploitative

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labor conditions and pollute Bangladesh’s environment, but also outsource the long-term impact of their rapacious behavior on the people least able to handle it.

MLB 2014

[ 72 ] March 31, 2014 |

I  don’t know what to do with my traditional “bet” of a Planned Parenthood donation with Most Valuable Commenter Howard, since I no longer think highly of the Yankees. But I’m still happy to pledge a donation in Howard’s if the Yankees fail to make the postseason.  Let’s pick the divisions for fun, wild cards asterisked:

AL West: 1. Oakland 2. LAAofA 3. Seattle 4. Texas 5. Hou I think my only unconventional pick here is that I think the Rangers are in for a rough year.  The Darvish injury might not prove to be serious but they can’t afford to miss more than one or two starts from their ace given their thin rotation, their closer has thrown 27 umimpressive innings since 2011, and losing Profar for at least two months hurts.  The Mariners aren’t very good yet either but they might squeak past them.

AL Central: 1. Det 2. KC (*) Cle 4. Min 5. Chi It should be a very close race for second here, with the Tigers remaining the class of the division for at least one more year.  The White Sox look horrible.

Al East: 1. TB 2. Bos (*) 3. NYY 4. Tor 5. Bal Two very strong teams on top; for once, I’ll pick the younger Rays to win the division in the last year of Price.  The Yankees certainly could win 90 games, but given how hideous the infield looks (Teixeira is really not someone I’d like to gamble on, their ancient shortstop is as of now backed up by a guy who not only can’t hit but is probably worse than the 40-year-old Jeter defensively, and really, Brian Roberts?) I don’t think enough other things will do right in a tough division.

NL West 1. LA 2. SF (*) 3. SD 4. Col 5. Ari Despite the Kershaw injury I’ll go chalk here. The last three finishers are chosen pretty much at random.

NL Central 1. STL 2. Cin (*) 3. Pit 4. Mil 5. Chi An improving division. I see the Reds and Cards as closer than the projection systems seem too, but I can’t make a case for the former being better. The Pirates are a pretty good young team but I’ll put them behind the Reds based on the Plexiglass Principle.

NL East 1. Wash 2. Atl 3. NY 4. Phi 5. Mia A declining division. The Nats seem like the class of the division given the devastating injuries to Atlanta’s pitching staff. The Mets could have made things vaguely interesting if Harvey was healthy and they acquired a major league shortstop, but neither condition applies. Ruben Amaro, Jr. is already a bad general managing legend; the Phillies’ decline was inevitable but they didn’t have to get this bad this quickly.  (They have been an effective stimulus program for professional out-makers named “Young.”) A bad baseball team assembled by some of the worst people in sports will be witnessed by as many as hundreds of thousands of fans in south Florida, although there’s at least some young talent.

Faculty buyouts and the fascinating world of law school finances

[ 52 ] March 31, 2014 |

This is the first in a series of posts.

Over the past few months, it’s been revealed that several law schools are trying to buy out the contracts of significant numbers of their tenured faculty, and it’s likely that quite a few more are doing so on the down low. The terms of these buyouts naturally vary by institution, but after having looked into this at a number of schools I can say that a fairly standard package is something like two years of salary in return for an immediate resignation (this sum is sometimes paid all at once, but more commonly it’s disbursed over two to five years).

From a game theoretical perspective, rational maximizers of their utility at law schools that are under some sort of fiscal stress — a category that is coming to include the large majority of schools — will no doubt make a number of calculations.

First, senior faculty who were mulling imminent retirement before the wave of buyouts struck are now perversely incentivized not to quit, since it “makes sense” for them to try to wait out their employer until it offers a golden handshake.

Second, some people are no doubt considering the possibilities of double dipping, by retiring from a their current faculty and then taking a job at another school (of course the spread of the fiscal crisis across legal academia is making it harder to pull off this particular move).

Third, some faculty are now consulting employment lawyers, since attempts to procure putatively voluntary buyouts can end up violating age discrimination laws.

I’ll have more to say about these factors in another post, but here I’m going to offer a glimpse into the remarkably diverse world of the finances of contemporary American law schools.

You can learn a lot about the fiscal structure of a law school by dividing the school’s total effective tuition by its total full time faculty. Calculating total effective tuition within a tolerable degree of accuracy isn’t very difficult, given the information schools now must reveal in the ABA 509 disclosures. The 509 forms now require schools to disclose what percentage of their JD students get discounts on sticker tuition, and what the median, 75th percentile, and 25th percentile discount is. In addition, the ABA is now publishing data on how many non-JD students each school enrolls in post-JD (LLM) and post-BA (these are the various new “masters of law” degrees) programs.

The 509 forms also list current totals of full-time faculty, including administrators and visitors. Using these data, I’ve calculated the total tuition revenue per full-time faculty member for 40 schools. The results are startling to say the least.

For example, here are the numbers for Yale Law School and the New England School of Law respectively (all figures are for the 2012-13 academic year):


Sticker tuition revenue: $14.3 million
Discounted tuition revenue: $10.6 million
Non-JD tuition revenue: $2.0 million
Total tuition revenue: $26.9 million
Total tuition revenue per full-time faculty member: $283,157

New England

Full time sticker tuition revenue: $16.26 million
Full-time discounted tuition revenue: $11.33 million
Part-time sticker tuition revenue: $6.77 million
Part-time discounted tuition revenue: $1.8 million
Non-JD tuition revenue: 0
Total tuition revenue: $36.16 million
Total tuition revenue per full-time faculty member: $1,063,529

Needless to say YLS is not attempting to operate on the penurious sums generated by the school’s $54,650 annual tuition: it also gets about $40,000,000 per year in expendable revenue from the law school’s approximately one billion dollar endowment. This sum increases the school’s effective operating revenue per full time faculty member to nearly $700,000, which according to my understanding of basic free market principles means that the quality of education being provided to law students in New Haven is 64.9% as good as that bequeathed upon students at the Boston institution helmed by the legendary John O’Brien. (Remarkably, generating more than one million dollars per year in tuition per full time faculty member in 2012-13 wasn’t enough to keep O’Brien from threatening last fall to summarily fire faculty if 35% to 40% of the current faculty didn’t accept buyouts).

Much more to come . . .

Using Casey to Obliterate Roe

[ 44 ] March 31, 2014 |

I have more on the 5th Circuit upholding the draconian Texas abortion statute. A major part of the problem remains Casey itself;

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not just the plasticity of the “undue burden” standard but its decision to uphold the waiting period gave states a road map to banning abortion through the back door.

Medals of Honor for Genocide

[ 119 ] March 31, 2014 |

At Indian Country Today, Simon Moya-Smith asks the provocative question of whether the 20 soldiers who received the Medal of Honor for their actions in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre should have them revoked. It’s hard to argue against the idea.

Native Americans continue to feel the pierce of what occurred that deplorable winter day. The story of the brutality and the inhumanity of what occurred is passed down to us from our elders because, quite unfortunately, these dark moments of American history are not shared in our schools as much as they should be.

To be sure, a great many of you who read this column are only learning of the Medals of Dishonor because I write of them. And that begs the question as to why. I’ll tell you: because it is very difficult for this country to fully recognize what it has done to its indigenous population. Well, it is time to start recognizing, and in so doing a time of healing (and learning) can begin.

Still, the fact that President Barack Obama would bestow the Medal of Honor to the 19 commendable veterans who were, at the time, discriminated against all the while refusing to revoke the 20 awarded to the soldiers who indiscriminately murdered hundreds of free Lakota, is hypocritical.

Obviously the political backlash against revoking Medals of Honor would be immense. On the other hand, what else has this government done to even begin seriously dealing with the legacy of genocide?

….In comments, Denverite notes there is precedent for revoking the Medal of Honor.

Arizona police departments didn’t arrest enough people…

[ 13 ] March 31, 2014 |

…so Arizona Republicans decided to gift the prison company that got “shorted” a cool $1 million.

And if you think there’s

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something wrong with that, you hate freedom.

ALSO: At least New Mexico’s not using excessive force…today.

Until We Can Level Down, Level Up

[ 115 ] March 31, 2014 |

A public defender says that some people are taking the wrong lesson from the DuPont heir who was given no jail time after pleading guilty to raping a child:

If there’s one rule that you can live by in criminal court, it’s that if there’s something remotely objectionable happening in favor of a defendant, a prosecutor will object to it. So when two prosecutors act as if this isn’t that unusual or shocking, you know that maybe what the judge did isn’t so outrageous after all.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with wealth. Mr. Richards got to go home because he needed treatment and he was able to afford to go to a clinic in MA to get that.

The real takeway from this should be not that Mr. Richards got a break, but that he got fair treatment for himself because he was rich and thus, there are hundreds who deserve the same but can’t get it because they are poor.

Just because he is the scion of a wealthy family doesn’t mean that his sentence wasn’t just. We mustn’t punish him for that. We must be punished for creating a system that encourages this disparity. We fail to adequately fund prisons so they can have adequate rehabilitative programs for all needy inmates. We fail to consider anything that is slightly nuanced and deviates from the mass-hysteria of instant and lifelong incarceration for anyone accused of serious crimes.

I agree with this to a point. Certainly, the conditions of American prisons are a disgrace, and even people who commit serious crimes should not be reflexively seen as irredeemable monsters.

Having said that, however, I don’t really buy the defender’s argument here:

  • I’m not at all convinced that the sentence in this case was just even on its own terms.  Sexually assaulting a child is a violent offense; this isn’t a drug possession case.   Even in the context of more humane justice system, it’s hard to imagine this offense not meriting some jail time.  It seems relevant to note here that this 5-year-old conviction came to light because Richards was accused in another lawsuit of sexually abusing his son. While American mass incarceration is a disaster, I would say that people convicted of sexually assaulting children should be very far down on the list of people for whom we should be considering not incarcerating for any time at all.
  • As a public defender concedes, whatever we would like the American criminal justice system to look like, it’s inconceivable that a defendant without Richards’s connections would have gotten off so lightly for a such a serious offense.  And this makes the outrage in fact fully justified.  Prison and sentencing reforms are very important goals, but to exempt the well-connected from the sentences and conditions an ordinary defendant would receive is not only grossly unfair in itself, it’s counterproductive to the larger cause.  One of the many problems with arbitrary exemptions from general laws granted to the well-off is that they make it even easier to sustain unjust prison conditions and sentencing regimes.

We need prison reform and sentencing reform.  But lenient treatment for the well-connected is the last place this should start.  The argument that Richards wouldn’t “fare well in prison” wasn’t exactly wrong, but in the context of the actually existing American criminal justice system it proves too much.

The Breckinridge Obituary

[ 20 ] March 31, 2014 |

In December 1863, rumors abounded that John C. Breckinridge, Southern Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1860, traitor, and Confederate general, had died. The New York Times was not sad:

If it be true, as is now positively declared, that a loyal bullet has sent this traitor to eternity, every loyal heart will feel satisfaction and will not scruple to express it. Ordinarily, enmity is disarmed before death; reproach is silenced, and even the sternest justice makes way for pity. The form that is shrouded is a sacred thing, and the grave itself is an altar on which every bitter feeling should be sacrificed forever. Human censorship does not presume to follow the spirit that has gone to its Eternal Judge; and even the most rigid feels constrained to remember his own frailties, and forgive. But where Death strikes such a public enemy as this, it exacts no silent obeisance. Personal feeling has no part in the matter. It is to be regarded purely as a public event; and if it really has the shape of a public deliverance, it is just as right to welcome it as any other public blessing. It is just as proper, too, to speak the truth of such a criminal when dead as when living. Humanity has a just reckoning with guilt of this particular dye that can never be satisfied without posthumous infamy.

If ever there was a public man pledged to a career of fidelity and honor, it was John C. Breckinridge. He belonged to a family that had always been noted for patriotism, as well as for every other exalted quality; as a young man he was personally associated with such great-souled patriots as Clay and Crittenden; the people of his own State, in his early youth, took him into their confidence with a readiness seldom exhibited, and the people of the United States elevated him to the second office in their gift, at an age without precedent in American history. Every inherited sentiment, every implanted principle, every obligation of gratitude, forbade him to be unfaithful to his country; but an unholy ambition ruined him. By nature frank, ardent, manly and eloquent, he fell a prey to the lures of higher preferment held out to him by plotters against the peace of the country. They named him for the Presidency at Charleston, and he accepted the nomination, though it was given in violation of every principle which had ruled Democratic conventions, and was sure to divide and destroy his party. How far he was actually cognizant, at that time, of the secession plot, is not yet known. It may be that he was let into the full confidence of the prime conspirators, and fully understood that he should help them ruin if they could not help him rule. It may be that he was at first merely a pliant dupe in the hands of crafty knaves. In measuring his guilt this matters little. The time came when the treason of his supporters was no longer disguised; and it was then his duty to have renounced them and denounced them. Had he been a true man, his indignation at the use the traitors had made of him, would have filled him with al the intenser hate of the treason itself; and the very fact that he had done something unwittingly to further it, would have stimulated him to redoubled efforts afterward to thwart and foil it. Instead of this, he showed all sympathy with it just as long as he could do so safely within the public councils, and then he betook himself bodily to the camp of the rebels. It might have been in weakness that he was first made a dupe, but his subsequent career marked him one of the basest and wickedest of traitors.

We know that it is not easy to draw distinctions between the shades of this black treason against the Union. Yet we can recognize that some sort of charity may be given to a man as Stonewall Jackson, who bred to the doctrine of paramount State sovereignty, and conscientiously believed that it was his duty to obey the decision of his State expressed through constitutional forms. But no such extenuating plea can be advanced for John C. Breckinridge. In one of his last speeches in the Senate, he declared that he was a son of Kentucky, and would follow her destiny. And yet, in spite of the fact that Kentucky, within a week afterward declared, by a majority of sixty thousand votes at the polls, that she would not go out of the Union, he went home and issued a manifesto, declaring that “there is no longer a Senate of the United States within the meaning and spirit of the Constitution; the United States no longer exist; the Union is dissolved;” and that he was now about to “exchange, with proud satisfaction, a term of six years in the Senate of the United States for the musket of a soldier.” The declared intention he made good by soon afterward rallying his friends at Russellville, where a resolution was passed, in so many words, bidding “defiance both to the Federal and State Governments,” and delegates were appointed to the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy. Breckinridge was soon afterward as thoroughly identified with the rebels as Jeff. Davis himself; though in doing it he had to turn his back, not only upon the Union, but upon his own State, whose destiny he had solemnly protested that he would follow. Of all the accursed traitors of the land there has been none more heinously false than he — none whose memory will live in darker ignominy. God grant the country a speedy deliverance of all such parricides.

Breckinridge in fact survived the war, dying in 1875.

Spying Makes People Stupid

[ 34 ] March 31, 2014 |

This is dumb:

Ahead of a Swiss referendum on the country’s plan to buy 22 fighter jets from Sweden, a report raised concerns Sunday that a US-made communication system onboard could be used for spying.

According to a report in Swiss weekly Le Matin Dimanche, Swedish defense firm Saab last year brought in US company Rockwell Collins to replace Roschi Rohde & Schwartz of Switzerland, which had originally been contracted to build the communications system.

While the Swiss would still be making their own encryption keys, the physical box and the software inside would be American made, according to the report.

Several experts quoted by the paper cautioned that the US company could potentially build a “backdoor” into the system, making it possible for US intelligence to see the information gathered during reconnaissance flights.

In case you’re wondering, the Swiss Air Force currently flies (between 9am and 5pm on weekdays) Boeing F/A-18 Hornets, and Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs.

But more broadly, this is the kind of unpredictable second order effect that happens when national security establishments are allowed to expand their activities without sufficient forethought and monitoring by civilians and diplomats.  It’s dumb that NSA spying concerns might convince some Swiss citizens to vote against buying a Swedish fighter with American components to replace their American fighter with American components.  But it’s not exactly surprising that people around the world will resent the perception that US intelligence agencies are collecting massive amounts of data about their lives, and act (even in small ways) upon that resentment.

The Victims of the (War On Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs

[ 12 ] March 31, 2014 |

Monica Potts longform is always a must-read, and this is certainly no exception.

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